Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

New England's built landscape - a new wave of mansions begins

Aberglasslyn House: The monumental Georgian pile designed by architect John Verge for George Hobler remained unfinished following Hobler’s insolvency in the crash of the early 1840s. This is the seventh in my series on New England's built landscape and architecture. 

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 for a number of years. At Port Macquarie, Lake Innes House went into decline as Archibald Clunes Innes’ financial difficulties worsened.

While severe, the downturn was relatively short and was followed by four decades of economic expansion. Wool prices were good, while the gold rushes created a demand for meat and other agricultural products. With greater security and more funds, the squatters began to invest in new homesteads.

 Yugilbar Castle: It took Ogilvie and his German workers six years and £8,000 to complete the 40 room dwelling to Ogilvie’s satisfaction.

In 1859, Edward Ogilvie returned from Europe with his new wife. Determined to establish a home that would match his dynastic ambitions, in 1860 he began construction to his own somewhat idiosyncratic design of the building that would become known as Yugilbar Castle.

Built from local materials with imported decorations and finishings, it took Ogilvie and his German workers six years and £8,000 to complete the forty room dwelling to Ogilvie’s satisfaction.

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 for closer settlement, 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, but also greater debts that had to be serviced. As debt reduced, the now second generation owners began to plan new homesteads.

The result was something of a building boom, creating some of the bigger mansions that now form such a prominent part of the built landscape.

 Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 18 October 2017. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015, here for 2016, here 2017. 


Hels said...

I have never heard the name Aberglassyn House mentioned, but this Georgian mansion could have suited any of the landed gentry back in Britain at the same time. It was called cottagy at the time, but to my eyes it was very large, elegant and grand. And the geographical location and surrounding landscape must have been beautiful.

Nor had I heard of the Robertson Land Act of 1861. Of course the big squatting stations had to be broken up, but the economy always boomed and busted unpredictably. No wonder mansion-building ended.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Hels. It was intended to be so! Pity George Hobler went broke before it was quite finished, but no expense had been spared to that point.

On the Land Acts, we tend to forget (I know that I sometimes do) that there was no such thing as Australia prior to Federation and no Oz history as such, just the very varied histories of the different colonies. I assumed knowledge of the Robertson Land Act, but that was of course a NSW Act.I should have said so!

Neither the crash of the early 1890s nor the 1902 drought stopped the new homestead building phase in New England. By then, they were sufficiently well established to ride through it. It was the war and the events following the way that first brought it to a shuddering end and then took homesteads in a new direction.

Johnb said...

I’m thoroughly enjoying your series of articles on the built landscape Jim. These two buildings rank a compare and contrast, both are built to a North European design but Yugilbar makes a concession to its Australian location whereas Aberglassyn does not. As Hell points out it could just as easily have been found in the Cotswolds, not the Hunter Valley with its Summer heat.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, John. The adaption to climate is an interesting one. Its a full research topic in its own right!