History Matters: Grand designs for early northern NSW homes

Times past: An 1837 oil painting of Lake Innes House then at its peak of luxury and hospitality.The house is now ruins.
Times past: An 1837 oil painting of Lake Innes House then at its peak of luxury and hospitality.The house is now ruins.

European occupation came to northern NSW in waves, waves that are reflected in the varying pattern of the built environment across the north.

The Hunter Valley was first occupied as a penal colony. In January 1812, a small number of convicts were allowed to take up land for farms. From 1817, further settlement was allowed, but it was not until the opening of the penal colony at Port Macquarie in 1821 and the subsequent closure of the Newcastle penal colony that the valley was opened to full European occupation.

From 1826, squatters from the Hunter Valley and Hawkesbury began to seek grazing beyond the Liverpool Plains. In 1830, the Port Macquarie area was opened for settlement, creating a new route to the Tablelands. Whereas those in the Hunter and at Port Macquarie could gain full ownership of land, those inland or further north were squatting on the land.

By the time the New England squatters were building their first slab huts, an established built landscape had emerged further south, one that we can still see today.

The presence of small farmers meant that there were smaller homesteads, while some owners began the construction of New England’s first grand homes. The remains of two very early examples survive today.

Fine example: Dalwood House south view facing the river. The French doors open into a large room that in turn opens into a central coutyard, creating air flows.

Fine example: Dalwood House south view facing the river. The French doors open into a large room that in turn opens into a central coutyard, creating air flows.

In 1829 in the Hunter, George Wyndham began the construction of Dalwood House, a house later memorialised in Judith Wright’s Generations of Men.

A National Trust property included in the Australian Government’s Register of the National Estate, Dalwood House is the oldest known example of an Australian house built in the Georgian Grecian style.

Probably designed by Wyndham himself, the house is built of locally quarried stone and bricks fired on the site with cedar for the fine joinery cut from trees on Edward Gostwyck Cory’s nearby Gostwyck holding on the Patterson River. It was Cory who discovered the route over the Moonbi Range later followed by the Great North Road.

Less remains of the second grand house, Lake Innes House built by Archibald Clunes Innes near Port Macquarie using convict labour. Construction began in 1830.

By 1840, the house had 22 rooms with an underground cistern, a bathroom, privies and a boiler for providing hot water. Separate bachelor quarters, servants quarters and an estate workers’ village were nearby. The ruins at Lake Innes are now administered by the NSW Parks and Wild Life Service which offers guided tours.

Jim Belshaw’s email is ndarala@optusnet.com.au. He blogs at newenglandaustralia.blogspot.com.au and newenglandhistory.blogspot.com.au