When the lovely farmhouse at Stanton was first built in 1817, she was a typical rectangular symmetrical unpainted Georgian house, built from convict bricks produced on the property. It is a Tasmanian Heritage Listed property noted as being significant to the history of Tasmania and therefore it must be protected and managed for future generations.
On 23rd December 1816, Thomas Shone arrived in the Derwent Valley, at what was to become the property Stanton. Thomas came from Sydney, having served four years of a sentence for passing a forged note in Shrewsbury, England, where he worked in a solicitors’ office.
His pardon came gift-wrapped with a 60 acre land grant and three convicts, and with the Van Diemen’s Land hierarchy trying to ‘domesticate’ the areas outside of Hobart Town, Shone was given a wooded tract of land just outside of the fledgling township of New Norfolk.
This area had been settled largely by free settlers from Norfolk Island, displaced by that island’s closure as a convict ‘depot’ in 1808. The area still is home to the descendants of these rugged individuals. The name ‘Stanton’ was chosen by Thomas as an acknowledgement of his home village of Stanton-upon-Hine, in the old county of Salop, England.
He wasted no time in clearing land, erecting rough fencing for stock, finding a water supply and erecting rough shelters. The area now known as Magra was originally called Back River after the small river near Stanton. The bricks were made by the convicts on the property, and the two-storey Georgian Stanton dates from the following year, 1817.
There is some evidence that the front of the house may have been built first, and then when more bricks and money became available, the back sloping section was added. The original kitchen was a separate building at the rear, and a variety of outbuildings were erected nearby, including an oast house, stables, shearing sheds and quarters, barns, and smaller homes for other family members and retainers.
A subsequent additional land grant of 60 acres, and Shone’s success at raising sheep and cattle, and growing wheat, barley, hops, vegetables and soft fruits, meant that he was in a position to purchase further land totalling approximately 200 acres in the Back River area. He also owned farms at Ouse and further along the Derwent towards present day Bridgewater.
The Shones’ success as farmers did not escape the attention of bushranger Martin Cash. This Irish convict had been at Norfolk Island, escaped from Port Arthur, and ranged around the southern parts of the Midlands and Hobart with his gang members Jones and Cavanagh.
Cash’s Cave remains in the heavily bushed gully in the hills behind Stanton, and it was from here that he watched the property until, in February 1843, during an afternoon social gathering, he and his gang kidnapped a neighbouring farmer, James Bradshaw, and used his identity to gain entrance to the house. Once inside, they herded the family, servants and friends into the living room, until 16 people were at gunpoint. Removing valuables from their person and from the house, the Cash gang made off back into the hills, eventually being captured finally in August of that year, after a celebrated foot chase through the streets of Hobart.
This robbery is documented in Cash’s autobiography. You will find two copies of this book in the Drawing Room. It is also the subject of a chapter of Frank Clunes’ book, Martin Cash (1955).
An interesting postscript to the event is that, during the enquiry into the robbery, the presiding magistrate decided that ‘Thomas Shone is not a fit and proper person to be supervising convict labour, and they will therefore be removed.’ Shone understandably petitioned his innocence, the crux of the matter seeming to be that the powers-that-be suspected Shone of at worst complicity, at best sympathy, with the bushrangers, and that he was not deemed to have put up a sufficient fight during the robbery.
Shone protested that he and his family and friends were at gunpoint, the bushrangers took many things of value from the house, and what else was he supposed to do? Authority won out, and Shone lost his convicts.
Thomas Shone’s family owned Stanton until 1935, when the three brothers who conjointly owned the property, decided to sell up. But by the terms of their father’s will, they were bound to allow their mother and any unmarried sisters to have the use of the house until such time as they died, remarried or chose not to reside there. By 1935, their mother had passed on, but two spinster sisters, Lil and Amy (pictured) remained.
Their solution was to sell to a distant cousin, James Cockerill, but with very strict provisos regarding the division of the house — the Shone sisters had the use of the drawing and dining rooms downstairs, and the three bedrooms across the front of the house. One of those rooms now being the Library/tea room. The Cockerill family lived in the three back bedrooms (two of which are now bathrooms), and the two larger rooms downstairs (now the kitchen and proprietor’s living room), with all residents of the house having common use of the front hall (entry) and staircase.
Eventually, in their 90s, one of the sisters passed away and the other moved into New Norfolk, and the Cockerills gained the use of the entire house. The Cockerills remained at Stanton until 1988, when the house and its remaining 16.5 acres were purchased by Ian & Bev Rumley from Bushy Park.
Much work was required to halt the building’s decline and the Rumleys were responsible for building the sympathetic outbuildings and single storey extension of today, and with their convict brick facings and period fittings forming a sort of courtyard, they mirror what was a common arrangement of buildings in working properties.
Around 1940, the two storey timber verandahs were added to Stanton, and unfortunately paint was applied to the beautiful honey-coloured bricks.
The McDiarmids restored the verandahs, but removing the paint was put in the too risky basket. The convict bricks are notoriously brittle and the cure may have be worse than the disease.
The rather sandstone steps which lead to the grand front door are wonderfully worn with 197 years of constant comings and goings, are original. When around 1940, the new owners, the Cockerills, added the Victorian verandas the steps were fortunately moved forward and incorporated.
There was no doorway through the now Library upstairs. According to a neighbour Phil, who was a past resident of Stanton, the many kids who lived here used to careen around the veranda, jumping in and out of each other’s bedrooms and generally causing utter mayhem.
When the Rumley family bought the property in 1988, Ian Rumley set about adding access to the first floor veranda by converting the window in the Library of the French doors. They also replaced the ground floor veranda floorboards with the beautiful and immense sandstone blocks you see today.
The symmetry of Stanton is not lost by the addition of the verandas and the living quality is much enhanced. The house seems to sit comfortably with the verandas, and the McDiarmid’s, the owner’s immediately before us replaced the rather dangerous upstairs floorboards and joists, and installed lighting both upstairs and down.
Architecturally, Stanton has several stand-out points, the most obvious being the staircase, the sandstone fireplaces and chimneys, the beautiful pit-sawn floorboards and the Bell-curve roof. All of which are now protected from further ‘improvement and modernisation’ under the Tasmania heritage legislation.
There are only three sandstone cantilevered staircases in Australia, and Stanton is one of them. We believe there is one other in Tasmania near Richmond and the other in Sydney though this has not been confirmed.
When the Rumleys arrived in 1988, a length of plumbers’ pipe was used as a staircase railing, and so Ian Rumley sourced the present simple wooden banister from an old house, Belmont, in Hobart which was being restored.
Mrs Helen Andrews (nee Shone) visited and mentioned to Helen McDiarmid that when she lived at Stanton as a girl, the original banister was very similar to the present one. The five chimneys of Stanton accommodate seven fireplaces, and five of the surrounds are unusually made of sandstone. In Georgian times, these would often have been painted to highlight the stonemason’s skill with carving and we have left them thus.
The new wing in which we reside is built over approximately where the washhouse used to be and there was another chimney which serviced a large boiler. A newspaper photograph taken from the rear of the house in 1935 showed an open but covered walkway across the rear of the house, leading to that washhouse.
The ravages of bushfires through the 19th century have meant that these have disappeared, but thankfully the home itself was saved. Bushfires remain a threat, and as recently as January 2003, a helicopter was uplifting water from Stanton’s largest dam to help in saving neighbouring properties.
Helen and Mark McDiarmid owned the house after the Rumleys and before us. They looked after the property for approximately 10 years and were responsible for converting it into a thriving bed and breakfast business, updating the property by adding much needed bathrooms, and establishing the gardens. Helen was a great force at Stanton and much of the wonderful restoration was done under her remit. Her vision was that Stanton should always be a happy welcoming home, alive to the sounds of family, friends and guests. This vision was realised and everyone who met Helen speaks generously of her charm and energy which is still felt at Stanton. When Helen passed away Mark’s life took a different path.
The Wests 2013
We are delighted to be a part of Stanton’s story. We will make our own changes and improvements which we hope will be recognised by those in the future as positive, significant and sympathetic.
The talented and accomplished local builder and cabinet maker, Nathan Stewart, who worked with Helen and Mark to restore much of the beauty of Stanton over the preceding 10 years is now building a beautiful kitchen for us as we take the house and property into the next phase of its life.