• Helen Avaient

The authentic Woolmers convict and colonial estate in Tasmania Australia

Around 1815 Thomas Archer request a land grant near Longford, Tasmania where the Macquarie River and South Esk River meet. His extensive estate was passed down through six generations of Archers, until Thomas Archer the sixth died childless in 1994. The first born son in each generation was named Thomas, and the property was handed down to each in turn. The estate was bequeathed to the State in 1994, on the proviso that it was kept the way it was.


The large impressive family home sits above the river and is surrounded by workers cottages, stables, shearing shed, blacksmiths shop, etc. This was a village in the 1800s, where farms had to be almost self sufficient. Up to one hundred people could be living here at one time.


Thomas Archer the first had the benefit of convict labour to help him establish his property. This is one of the most outstanding examples of 19th century rural settlements in Australia. It is one of eleven sites to be on the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property List in Australia. Included in the eleven is the nearby Brickendon, owned by Thomas Archer’s brother William.


Under the Assignment System, convicts were assigned to free settlers. These masters would be responsible to feed, clothe and house them. They were also required to punish them if the need arose. Thomas I was part of the anti-transportation league, however he needed the convict labour to run his business. At Brickendon, the words “assigned servants” was used, instead of the term “convicts”. Many chose to remain at Brickendon as paid servants, even after they were freed. In 1841 all male convicts only employed by the Government.


It was a hard life for the convicts. They sheared around 200 sheep a day, after washing them in the nearby river. A man would have to be strong to lift a dripping wet sheep from the water.


Other convicts were in charge of looking after the carriages and riding horses. Oats and wheat were also grown at Brickendon over the years.


In the late 1860s convict labour was finished. The wool market had also collapsed. The entrepreneurial Thomas I started to grow apples. He made cider and transported this to the Victorian goldfields. The National Rose Garden stands on his old orchard site today.


The convict tour started at the large shearing shed, the oldest one still standing in Australia. Hewn from local timbers it used local rock for its foundations. With 800 acres, sheep were produced here.


With men, women were needed, both to produce further generations and to cook and clean. Men worked outdoors, women indoors. The women at Brickendon were kept separate from the men, their sleeping quarters were in the floor above the master and mistress. Bars on the windows were designed to keep them safe inside from the men, and to stop them from sneaking outside.


Women were punished twice as hard as men. Julie, my wonderfully informative tour guide, told the story of convict Sarah Turton. Sarah cooked for the family. However, she was caught in a male’s room and sent away to the female factory. After six months of hard labour there, she returned to Brickendon. The male? He was sentenced to ten days in isolation for his participation in the ‘crime”.


That was not quite the end of poor Sarah’s story. Once she came back, she was caught doing the same thing and left the area after that. She married a butcher, moved to Fingal, Tasmania and lived to the ripe old age of 74.


The three level storehouse still has iron bars on the inside of the windows. This was to deter break ins and thefts of the stores. The storehouse has also been used as a golf club in the 1900s.


In the storehouse visitors can see the daily rations that convicts were given. It was a good comparison to also see a visual of the amounts, wrapped in calico as they would have been in the 1800s. Note, the women were given less rations than the men.


The original part of the house was built between 1817 and 1819. Situated on flood free land above the river, the wide verandahs give 180 degree views over the fields and the Great Western Plains.


The walls were triple bricked of handmade bricks, covered with pebble bash. In 1840 the house was extended with an elegant large dining room and drawing room. A bedroom upstairs was added for the visit of Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria’s son.


The extension was based on the New South Wales style of colonial building, with the Georgian style in mind. The original roof was timber shingles, and they are still there, under a newer metal roof.


The house tour takes visitors through the part of the home that was built first. No photography is allowed inside the house. The master and mistress both had separate bedrooms, a bathroom and corridor separating them. Our tour guide explained that one of the Mr. Archers was a large man and did not want to be carried through a narrow window when he passed away. So, he had part of the bathroom changed to widen his bedroom and make a larger window in it. This way he could be passed through the larger window and outside. It boggles the mind to wonder what his thoughts were when he was planning this far ahead. No descendants changed the configuration back at all.


Thomas Archer VI closed part of the house, only using a few rooms for himself. As all the furniture and fixtures were locked away, they have been wonderfully preserved for visitors to enjoy today. A family that rarely threw anything away, the house is full of treasures and every day items used by generations.


Guided tours are run at Woolmers, one of the house, and one is a story of the convicts who lived here. Both tours take around 45 minutes to an hour and it is advisable to book ahead as the tours frequently fill up.


The table in the grand dining room is set up with the family crested crockery. The family motto is “The End Crowns the Work”, meaning that if you work hard, you will get rewarded. I wonder if the convicts that laboured there agreed with this sentiment.


Seeing the dining room set up for a meal and entertainment, it felt like the family was just about to come and eat an elegant supper. The drawing room is crowded with pieces of furniture, most would have been used by the lady of the house and her female guests. (This is a family that rarely disposed of any furniture). The men would have retired to the smoking house out in the walled in garden. There they had a double seated toilet, and a flagpole. When the flag was raised, it let the servants know that the men wanted more food and drinks.


The tour also took us through the kitchens, laundry and work areas. These rooms would have only been seen by convicts, servants and overseers. One can only imagine how busy it would have been when fully operational.


One of the people on the tour asked our guide, “Why is the estate called Woolmers?” It seems that there was a property in their native Hertforshire, England that had the same name. They liked it, wanted to sound grand, and used it.


As time progressed and cars replaced horse and carriage as a mode of transportation, the stables were used to house motor vehicles. Visitors can see examples of these cars at Woolmers.


The old coachman's cottage, built in the 1830s, is now available for accommodation hire.


Visitors can tour the grounds, rose garden and the house garden at their own pace.


Woolmers is a 25 minute drive from Launceston, just over a 2 hour drive from Hobart, and an almost 200 year step back in time.


658 Woolmers Lane, Longford, Tasmania, Australia


While visiting Woolmers, visit the near by property that was owned by Thomas' brother William. Click here for more information about Brickendon


658 Woolmers Lane,

Longford, Tasmania 7301


Happy Travels!


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