New England History: A new wave of mansions

The economic collapse in the early 1840s that followed the excesses of the previous two decades brought to an end the first phase of mansion building.

At Aberglasslyn outside Maitland, Aberglasslyn House, the monumental Georgian pile designed by architect John Verge for George Hobler, remained unfinished following Hobler’s insolvency.

At Dalwood, George Wyndham took his family north in search of new opportunities, leaving Dalwood House vacant. At Port Macquarie, Lake Innes House went into decline as Archibald Clunes Innes’ financial difficulties worsened.

While severe, the downturn was short and was followed by four decades of economic expansion. Wool prices were good, while the gold rushes created demand.

In 1859, Edward Ogilvie returned from Europe. Determined to establish a home that would match his dynastic ambitions, in 1860 he began construction to his own idiosyncratic design of the building  known as Yugilbar Castle. Built from local materials with imported finishings, it took Ogilvie and his German workers six years and £8,000 to complete the 40-room dwelling.

Another surviving homestead from this period is Strathbogie near Glen Innes. Built for Hugh Gordon in 1868 to a design by Sydney architect John C. Dury, the twin-gabled homestead is built from local pink granite.

In 1861, the passage of the first Robertson Land Act had a significant effect on the New England built landscape. The legislation was intended to break up the big squatting stations, making land available, but had two opposing effects.

Some land was opened for closer settlement. The free selectors had to occupy and improve their blocks, leading to the creation of smaller and simpler homesteads, the development of new small settlements. We can still see this pattern in the local landscape.

While some land was open to closer settlement, the squatters were also able to use the legislation to expand their own freehold title, using a variety of sometimes dubious techniques such as dummying. This involved sponsoring someone to select land on the basis that they would subsequently sell it back to the squatter.

These actions came at a cost, leaving station owners with smaller runs, more freehold title, and greater debts. As debt reduced, the now second generation owners began to plan new homesteads. The result was something of a building boom, creating mansions that are still a prominent part of our landscape today.

Jim Belshaw’s email is He blogs at and