• Helen Avaient

A taste of colonial history at Franklin House

Franklin House near Launceston is the birthplace of the National Trust (Tasmania) and was the first heritage property taken over by the Trust in 1960.


Originally built in the Franklin Village four miles from Launceston, it is now in the middle of an industrial estate. This can be a little difficult to locate, but once you do, it is most assuredly worth the visit.


Passing through the ornate portico and into the house, I was greeted by two knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides. These volunteers give a history of the house and its previous occupants, and then I could wander on a self-guided tour at my own pace, through the house and extensive gardens. It took just over two hours to admire both.


This Georgian style home was built in 1838 for Britton Jones. Britton, a former convict, was a brewer and innkeeper. He built the house as an investment rental. Australian red cedar from New South Wales was used as ballast on ships coming to Tasmania. Britton purchased this wood and used it to make doors, doorways and shutters in the home. Clay from the site was used to make the bricks for the house. The house is in remarkable condition considering it is over 180 years old. The window shutters still work, and nestle back into the thick walls. Volunteer guides can show visitors this clever storage idea.


Between 1842 and 1866 it was a leading private school for boys, the schoolmaster was William Keeler Hawkes. After 1866 it was a private residence, and changed hands several times before 1960.


A schoolroom has been recreated with life size mannequins displaying teacher and students. This is a big hit for the various school groups who come here. It was a bit of a shock at first glance. Until I looked closer, I thought it was a real child sitting at the desk!

Photos on display show the dormitory style bedrooms upstairs for those boys who lived in. Day students would often walk the four miles from Launceston and then back home after school each afternoon!


Today, these areas used for sleeping boys are displayed in a living room style.


Wandering through the house, you cannot help but admire the work of the Trust in collecting artifacts from the 1800s and allowing visitors to see them in a natural setting, rather than locked away behind glass.


The house came with ten acres of land when William Keeler Hawkes purchased the property. This was perfect for growing vegetables for the boys at the school and the family. Patrick was the name of the gardener and he was paid one pound a week. Fruit trees such as cherries, pears, apples, plums and green gages were grown here. Vegetables grown included mangles, oats, spinach, parsnips, cabbages, carrots and lettuces. Patrick was able to sell the surplus produce and in one fruitful year he made an extra one hundred pound from the sales, twice his yearly wage.


Ornamental trees and flowers were also planted, and today the garden is enjoyed by visitors just as much as the house. This is a popular venue for weddings. Chestnut, oak and a Irish Strawberry tree planted in the 1800s are still thriving in the garden today.


A lot of work has been put into recreating the garden to reproduce the 1800s design, and it is beautifully maintained by enthusiastic volunteers.


Read the reviews on tripadvisor and almost every review will mention the tearooms that are now on site, and the delicious scones they serve.


On the walls of the tearoom are some fascinating insights into the lives of women in colonial Tasmania. The boards were part of an exhibition created by Anne McLaughlin as part of her university studies. After the exhibition, they were donated to Franklin House. It is marvelous to be able to read about the hardships and joys of these colonial pioneer women, who are often forgotten by history.


Doctor Clifford Craig and his wife Edith (both born in Victoria) had a keen interest in early Tasmanian homes and colonial furniture. Edith co-published a book in 1964 titled Early Houses of Northern Tasmania. She helped establish the National Trust of Australia (Tasmania) and arranged for the purchase of Franklin House, which was called The Hollies at that time. She was also on the committee of another National Trust home nearby, Clarendon House.


Before cars were invented in the twentieth century, the major mode of transportation was the horse. For gentry, they were also a popular form of recreation and sport. Therefore it was a sign of wealth if your horses were in first rate condition. This required stables, a coachman, stable boy etc. A groom often had to exercise a horse for up to two hours a day to keep them fit.


The national Trust altered the coach wing at Franklin House. Part of it was converted into the tea room and its kitchen we see today. The stall dividers in the stables had disappeared, and the Trust replaced them with ones modelled on those found at Entally House, near Hadspen.


Today, a television dominates the family living room in most house. In the 1800s people would play cards, talk and listen to music.


Over the fireplace we can see a portrait of a beautiful woman. Having your portrait painted was a way of preserving a memory of someone, trying to capture their beauty, status and importance in society. Who said that selfies are a modern invention? Portraiture was selfies before cameras were invented. Usually, only the rich and famous had their likenesses preserved. Artists survived financially under the patronage of the wealthy.


There is signage throughout the house that provide information into the differences between life in the 1800s and modern day.


I also got to have a glimpse into the less glamourous side of the house, the working kitchen area. When I visit heritage homes, I am grateful for the modern conveniences we have now such as running water and ovens. In the wall here you can see the stone baking oven.


I was impressed with all aspects of Franklin House, back, front, inside and gardens. It was a privilege to be able to explore properties like this. Thanks go out to the National Trust (Tasmania) and all the incredible volunteers that keep this place alive for visitors.


413 Hobart Road, Youngtown, Launceston, Tasmania

Check their website for opening hours

https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/franklin-house/


Happy Travels!


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