A dignified mansion

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 | 4 comments

Tears in my Eyes – # 3 in a series of genealogical reality experiences

A dignified mansion

As the European industrial age that started in the late 18th century gathered momentum in the early 1800s, many London citizens were to lead very successful and rewarding lives, profiting from the demand for new industrial goods and appliances and the boom in real estate.    But when the English agrarian population revolted and fled massively to the cities in the 1840s, overcrowding and unemployment resulted.  The outer suburbs of London deteriorated rapidly as crime became more prevalent, and the landed gentry felt dispossessed of their heritage and status.  Artists went to Italy, businessmen headed for Australia.

The messages from the Antipodean colonies were improving monthly and to some it seemed there was more opportunity there than at home.  Stephen Amand Wright’s four sons had already done well and he was inordinately proud of them.  It was little surprise when three of them decided to migrate to Adelaide, Australia.  After much deliberation, Stephen and his wife, Lucy, decided to join them and departed London in January 1850, leaving their eldest son, Stephen Peltro Henry, and his two sisters behind to manage the family’s affairs.   Born in 1819, young Stephen had a respected job as Clerk in the Ordnance Department at the Tower, and doted on his wife, Elizabeth, and 5 children.

In 1855, on learning his mother was very ill he too decided to join the family overseas.

Even though the first Europeans had settled in Australia nearly seventy years earlier, Adelaide was well behind Sydney and other Australian towns in development.  Since there was no penal settlement there, labour for creating and maintaining Infrastructure was in low supply.  Adelaide offered the flavour of a small English city – peaceful, urbane, sophisticated. A refuge in primitive surroundings. Indeed, contrary to the random and sometimes deadly interchanges with natives in NSW, aborigines from the peaceful Kaurna tribe even had small camps along the banks of the Torrens River.

The climate was bearable, the soils rich, and the location bounded by the sea and pleasant rolling hills.   With clear sunshine, plenty of fresh water, and space, glorious space, the town of Adelaide made London with its slums, crowds, crime, and dreary skies, a place to forget.

For smart emigrant entrepreneurs like the Wrights, the chance to become prosperous was very real and very attractive.  And with an extended family in town, members were able to support and promote each other. The family encompassed architects, land agents, and more general businessmen including one with interests in copper mining.   With semi-political ambitions the prominence of the Wrights became highly public.  In 1858, in recognition of his business acumen and civic pride and contributions, Stephen was elected Mayor of Glenelg, no mean achievement having arrived in the community just three years earlier.    A year later his brother, Edmund, became mayor of Adelaide.

In 1860 the family patriarch died, and was buried alongside his wife, Lucy, at the Michigan Anglican Cemetery. The rest of the 1860s saw widespread expansion of the remaining family, but in 1865 winds of change started to arrive and the heat of summers made family members look to alternative places to live.

Finally in the unpleasant heat of middle summer, on Thursday January 18 1866, Stephen, Elizabeth and now eight children, boarded the Coorong, a steamer of 390 tons, bound for Melbourne.  After a short stay there the family continued to Hobart on the Derwent of 350 tons. The boats carried a limited number of passengers and were primarily used to transport freight between ports.    For Tasmania, sea transport was vitally important.  On the mainland rail carriage eventually overtook ship traffic for freight transportation.

And so a new life began for the Stephen Peltro Henry Wright family.   Tasmania, and the Hobart area in particular, offered a much cooler climate than the Adelaide suburbs.  In fact Tasmania was often publicised as a better place for one’s health than elsewhere.  Of course there was an extensive penal colony at Port Arthur and more convicts in the town and countryside than in Adelaide.   But also there was a lot of fertile ground along the Derwent river for crops and livestock.  And constant streams of fresh water flowed from the gullies of Mt. Wellington, which dominated the Hobart skyline.

Here then were new boundless business opportunities attracting the politically astute and highly creative Wrights that added to the other benefits of climate and better health. Stephen bought a house first in Davey St., Hobart, then later moved north of Hobart to O’Brien’s Bridge, which later became part of the town of Glenorchy where he soon became a member of the town council.

In 1868 he bought what was known as “The Grove Estate”, 46 acres of land bounded on the East by Humphrey’s rivulet and in the North by the Derwent.   Little did he know at the time how incredibly influential he and The Grove and his family would become, not only in the development of the surrounding town, but also in the world agricultural commerce scene and the High Society of Hobart.

Stephen, a natural leader with foresight and ingenuity, was literally about to bring significant changes to the world he and millions of others currently knew.

One of his first acts was to plant Hops. Hops were grown up long poles, and whole families, headed by the estate workmen’s wives, were involved at harvest time.  Picking started at daylight, about half-past four, and continued all day.  It was hard work, but the money was welcome, as there were few other ways for women to earn cash.  At the end of harvest the pickers were paid off and the occasion was festive with parades in the streets. Amazing as it might seem, by the end of 1868 Stephen had been elected as a Councillor of Glenorchy in recognition of his stature in the community.

Stephen was a determined man of industry.  He now became a businessman farmer and invested not only in hops but also in apple trees.  Hops required special drying kilns so he had some built, albeit with extra storage facilities that had unanticipated uses and benefits in later years.  These became the largest kilns in Australia.     Painting in Glenorchy Council Chambers

The Grove homestead had an enviable position in Glenorchy.  The house had views from the rear of Mt. Wellington and views from the front of Mt. Direction across the Derwent river. By 1870 Stephen had enhanced the main house with formal gardens.

This was a magnificent Georgian structure with adjoining buildings housing the kitchen, laundry and out-house facilities.  Gardeners were employed to help maintain the residence and surrounds in beautiful condition.

Stephen became a member of Tasmania’s Royal Society.  His wife Elizabeth ordered a number of plants in many lists from the Royal Society’s Garden in Hobart.  Among her purchases in 1880 were 12 Giant Sequoia Redwoods (Wellingtonia) for 2 shillings each.   On learning that Stephen had served as a member of the South Australian Board of Education the Tasmanian Government appointed him member of their Board of Education replacing Sir Robert Officer.  Stephen’s influence and importance grew.

The children found significant societal partners and married.  Matriarch Elizabeth died in 1884 and her passing was felt by family and local citizens alike. Harold married the daughter of the Premier 6 months later, and Stephen died, bereft, in September 1886. Through 18 years in the district Stephen was a leader in civic, business, and personal endeavours. He instilled pride and love in his family and his charitable acts endeared him to the community.  His burial on 17th September was attended by farmers from towns up and down the Derwent, and by dignitaries from Hobart.  He was buried alongside Elizabeth at St. Paul’s Anglican Church Glenorchy.

About this time, as the fortunes of The Grove started to grow more rapidly, the remaining sons established The Wright Brothers Company for management and distribution of the agricultural products they were now farming successfully. Their hops plantation was the largest in Tasmania.  Fourth born son, Harold, became spokesman and leader of the estate initiatives. He followed in his father’s footsteps in many ways – as an astute businessman, community supporter, and charitable social host of The Grove.

One of his first new efforts was to create a beautiful welcoming avenue of poplars along one of the entrances to the estate.   And to invest further in the apple business with packing and storage sheds.   Blessed with natural instinct, Harold was the first grower to export apples to England.  In the first batch the apples in all but one barrel arrived ruined, so Harold  worked with shipping experts to successfully develop better packing and preservative methods.  Years later he was even able to ‘brand’ his apples by wrapping, which increased their value in London.

In 1887 Sydney, a little over 1000 kilometres to the north as the eagle flies, the career of a gentleman named Francis Rogers is advancing.  Born in 1841, married in 1868, he has four children, and is a well respected judge on the northwest rural circuit.

His sister Maude Florence, born twenty years after him in 1861,  was raised with his children after her mother’s death. As such, she is an awkward fit in the family and learned independence early in her life. Endowed with her parents’ intellectual and social capabilities, and following in her mother’s footsteps, in her mid twenties, she studies to become a teacher.

Howard Wright, Harold’s older brother, had taken on his father’s responsibilities with respect to membership on the Tasmanian Board of Education.  On a visit to Sydney and observance of training programs there, Howard is introduced to Miss Maude Rogers. While 12 years her senior they find a common bond, and marry after a short courtship in Hobart at the Church of St. David October 1888, the same month Maude receives her diploma.

Maude enters a successful family of high repute. The late 1880s and the 1890+ decade become prosperous times for the Wright farming entity.   Over 100 workers are engaged in the hop and apple business.  Harold builds eight 4-room cabins on the estate for families who want to work for the company. but have nowhere to live – an example of the type of action that endears him to his workers.  At the same time he builds a sportsground and an 18 hole golf course “GroveLinks” for use by local citizens (including those in Hobart). He also helps form local Glenorchy cricket and football teams. The Grove and Glenorchy become almost synonymous.

Maude is now the matron of Howard’s house in Davey St., Hobart.  Bought long ago by Howard’s father, it sits in a prestigious enclave of homes with an expansive estate and fine views to the Derwent River.   Other large houses for wealthy citizens are still being built there. It doesn’t take long for Maude and Howard to become pillars of Hobart High Society as Maude becomes chairperson of several charitable organizations. Their friends include the governor, a variety of successful business people, and other respected wealthy land owners.

In late 1894, and early 1895, the Tasmanian Exhibition takes place in Hobart.  As members of the socially privileged upper class, Howard and Harold and their wives were among those granted special season ticket passes.  This international exhibition helped put Hobart ‘on the map’ so to speak. Its aim was ‘to promote and foster industry, science, and art, by inciting the inventive genius of the people to a further improvement in arts and manufactures, as well as to simulate commercial enterprise by inviting all nations to exhibit their products both in the raw and finished state’.  The passes provided a mini photo album of family members:

4 Wrights

Back in Glenorchy, the agricultural business and the family blossomed. One year the Wright Bros. sold 5,000 cases of apples, picked from 4.5 acres.

Federation in Australia, proclaimed January 1, 1901, instituted a Federal government and changed relationships between states so that in effect more completion ensued, especially in agriculture with the elimination of tariffs.  The ‘white Australia’ policy effectively stopped the import of islanders for labour – especially in Queensland cane fields, and in part emboldened labour groups to push for greater consideration and recognition of value.

Despite the love and respect with which The Grove and the Wright family were held, the hop pickers called a strike in 1901, led by a Mrs. Fulton, demanding higher wages.   While the workers won this round, Harold decided against planting hops the next season, and concentrated on apples only going forward.   In the end the hops workers hurt themselves.

Harold’s wife died and he remarried a minister’s daughter. He dedicated more land from the estate for public use, and built a dock and bought a boat, becoming a skilled oarsman and yachtsman. He also arranged hunting parties for quail and snipe, and established cycling tracks at the sportsground.

His generosity and altruism were no better evidenced than when magnificent balls were staged in the Hop kilns.  These balls could be instigated by all sorts of groups for various reasons.  For appropriate causes Harold would even pay for a special train to be available to take passengers back to Hobart city after the revelling was over.  The railway had cut through the property in 1876. It helped immensely with the speedy transport of packaged fruit to Hobart and beyond, and now Harold used it for convenience purposes as well.

But the winds of change were on the horizon.  As members of the family moved away or died over the years, and apple prices plummeted, much of the estate and its assets were sold off. Good years juxtaposed with poor years, but even as late as 1935 Harold attended the opening of The Grove Esplanade, a half hectare reserve on the banks of the Derwent especially set aside for the children of Glenorchy.

By 1940 at age 89 however Harold no longer had the energy to look after The Grove.  Further subdivision of the land was imminent and so he started the process of closing  things down with a sale of redundant farm equipment and his own relocation to Sandy Bay.  On 4th January 1842 he passed away in a private hospital in Hobart.

His death signalled the end of an era. He had lived at The Grove for 72 years.  The Grove’s role in hops and apple production was pivotal to the State’s agricultural development.  The magnanimity of the Wright family over the years had created a reverence and love in the wider Glenorchy community unmatched by any other local family.   While many of the Wrights had married into High Society they never forgot the common folks who tilled their land, picked the crops, or birthed their children on the estate.  Land was donated for sports and other recreational facilities and open to all.  This pioneering family, while happily well-off, had also brought prosperity to many  – not just the workers on the estate per se, but to the owners and employees of all the commercial facets of the emergent apple-related industry – from canneries to rail transportation to mercantile shipping.  From landed gentry in South Australia a century earlier the sharp business acumen and creative innovation inherent in the Wright genes had made a remakable impact in the fair state of Tasmania.  From local politics to business dealings the Wrights had definitely served their fellow man well.

Still intact DSC00125After the Wright family departed the Grove the magnificent mansion of old was rented out by the new owners, who continued to keep it somewhat intact.  Clearly however as modern conveniences became more available there was a need to update the dwelling and no-one took on that obligation.  Its historic value was clearly recognized, and so it was left alone but not cared for.  At some point in the 1960s Chinese gardeners planted vegetables and supplied local markets with produce. But the house started to disintegrate and became unsuitable for living.

The outbuildings were torn down and the roof was exposed in rusty state.  Broken window panes were not replaced and the front door was boarded up.   The flower gardens went to seed.  A large lone tree grew up providing early morning shade, but the grandeur was sadly gone and what ended up remaining was just a relic of a glorious past.

 

Somewhere in the 1980s vandals broke in and created a fire, burning all the timber framework inside and causing the roof to cave in, so that all remained were the original brick walls and chimneys.

In 2009 I was busy tracing the life story of Maude Florence Rogers who happened to be the niece of my great great grandfather, Joseph Taylor.

As I learned more I became intrigued by what had happened to the Glenorchy home of the Wright family she’d married into. I undertook a little pilgrimage to Tasmania to see what I could learn. The above information was all I could learn in advance of my visit, save for an aerial photo of the area from which I deduced the home’s approximate location.  The photo was indistinct but not encouraging.  Was the home still standing?  Had it been reconstructed and restored as a memorial to the pioneers of the town?  What state was it in?

From outside a private wire fence I could identify the shell of a building in the distance. I drove around several streets until I came to the entrance of a timber merchant’s yard.  Tentatively I proceeded through the gates and parked by  an administrative building.  A family named McKay owned the timber yard.

A gentleman escorted me to the red brick building 100 yards in. As we came closer I was in misery, and tears flowed from my eyes.IMG_3372A

What had once been a beautiful, elegant mansion, was now an unkempt, broken, monument, witness to time and apathy. Lacking attention and open to the elements, invasive plant varieties had seeded inside the edifice, and extensive shrubbery had become established, with roots creating pressure on interior walls and arches, so that large cracks in the brickwork had occurred, window ledges had collapsed, and in some cases whole walls had caved in. It was an absolute travesty!

IMG_3389AThis had once been a magnificent home that craftsmen had painstakingly laboured over to construct.  It had the latest modern plumbing conveniences of the times, some pipes still in place attesting to the fact.  Remnants of heavy plaster still adhered to select walls.  Solid wooden beams framed doorways and ornate cement keystones decorated the front entryway.  A hole showed where guests had pushed the doorbell requesting entry.  No ghosts answered my simulated attempted ring.

I was angry, and heartbroken.

The brickwork was of a unique style and calibre – using a technique called ‘Flemish Bond’ wherein for every longitudinally laid brick, one was put in end on, presumably for strength of the wall, which may be why parts of the building had stood for so long.IMG_3384A

I grew sadder.  I wondered why no-one had cared.  The local council chambers had paintings of the Grove estate, the Hop Kilns, the river view, and the mansion.  The Wright name was prevalent in town, well remembered and revered.  Was there no civic pride, no wish to permanently recognize, remember, and thank those who had made the town what it was?

Perhaps by today the lumber supply company has had the old mansion dismantled, for it was an eyesore on their property and it was probably far too late to find a benefactor to restore it – a mammoth and very expensive task in any event.

I realize not everything lasts forever, and progress often overtakes the past.

Given the impact the Wright family had on the Glenorchy environment, the local agricultural industry, and indeed the culture of Tasmania, this loss hurts far more than others.

 

4 Comments

  1. So sad and heartbreaking, Warren.Seems to be a mark of “progress”? unfortunately,that so many historic family homes and public buildings – in city and rural areas alike – are being neglected, or demolished for supposed new,improved development.

  2. Yep, very sad since the Wrights did so much for the Apple industry in the state

  3. Thank you for your written piece on this beautiful property,Warren! I honestly thought i was the only one out there that cared for this property. I have been watching her slow demise, year by year, taking photos, wondering about her from behind the wire fence.
    i am a local history buff, and have wanted to go in and walk around, before she eventually falls…it won’t be long now. Such a shame this beautiful building has disintegrated, while others are restored. I wish I had a couple of million to buy and restore..I’ve seen them do it in England, on Restoration Home, Restoration Man. i would have liked to more about the house before the Wrights moved in, and who built the Grove, any ideas? Regards,Tracy.

    • Hi Tracy. Have sent you an email detailing a source of much more information about the Grove and the mansion. It truly has a fascinating history.

      Best regards

      Warren

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