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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The construction of comfort: building upon the necessities of shelter

Balala Station: one of the original slab hut homesteads subsequently extended. This is the sixth in my series on New England's built landscape and architecture. 
Next post.

While the first mansions such as Dalwood House or Lake Innes House were emerging in the Hunter or at Port Macquarie, the first slab huts now being built on the New England by the European occupiers remained rough structures, quickly constructed to provide shelter and a base.

This was a male society in which comfort ranked second to the basic necessities of shelter. Even then, there were some who wanted more. Crown Land Commissioner George James Macdonald was one such.

A sometimes melancholy and in the end tragic poet, Macdonald was a neat man whose sensibilities demanded order and a degree of comfort. When in March 1843 a party travelled up from the civilisation of Port Macquarie to attend the Armidale races, one of the party (Mrs Annie Baxter) expressed surprise at the Commissioner’s hut. While small and badly finished, it was well and tastefully furnished.

As women and then children arrived over the first decade after occupation, more was required. In some cases, the original homestead was extended or incorporated into new structures.

At Balala south of Uralla, the original homestead built by George Morse and Thomas Toule in 1841 became part of a complex around a courtyard. On one side was a slab schoolroom and bedroom, on the other bedrooms built in part of basalt and granite.

In other cases, new buildings were constructed. On Ohio outside Walcha, Abraham and Mary Nivison purchased the Ohio run outside Walcha in 1842 and moved into the original slab homestead standing on the property. Nivison wanted a better home for his family and began construction of a new homestead.

The first stage was finished in 1845. It included four bedrooms, a hipped roof structure and chimneys in every room and was built of stone rubble and covered with a lime mortar render. The design and construction method drew in part from Dumfriesshire in Scotland where Abraham and Mary were born.

With increasing prosperity, the homestead was renovated in the 1850s. A new kitchen and store were added, while the roof was raised to accommodate a loft. Six dormer windows were installed which remain a distinctive feature of the home’s appearance today. .

To my knowledge, dormer windows are not a feature of colonial New England architecture. I can’t help wondering, I don’t know, whether or not Ohio’s windows influenced the later design of Armidale’s Mallam House.

I will continue this story next week looking at what was, in may ways, the golden age of New England homestead and construction design.
Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 11 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. 


Johnb said...

I had thought to comment on the female influence on the development of these homesteads Jim only to see you reference it the other way round by a reference to the male society that built the original structures to meet the essentials of shelter and service as an operational base. Beyond that I would suggest a strong female influence in design and provision, an influence that may well extend into the homestead garden. I know my wife has a casting vote in any such decisions.

Jim Belshaw said...

Morning John. I have been thinking about that point. I have started a new tweet series - https://twitter.com/hashtag/NewEnglandarchitecturetrail?src=hash - as a way of extending the built landscape architecture series. I became very conscious of the male focus in the tweets.

I am absolutely sure that you are right, including the garden and for the reason in the last sentence! Homestead design was too important to leave it to men especially given women's roles on the place. What I don't have at the moment is evidence that will allow me to make the point and to check influences. I will have to check some of the property histories to find examples.