Ever since I was young, I have loved visiting historic homes. There is something that hits me when I think about the people who have lived inside the walls across generations – and wonder at the lives they led.
In Australia, despite the beauty and opulence many of these homes display even today, there is no doubt that life would not have been easy – particularly for those young families colonising a new country.
I also think it is important for children to learn about the past and I hope my children will develop a love of history. So, on a recent trip to Tasmania, we made the detour to visit Woolmers Estate.
This beautiful colonial pastoral property is not important just for its buildings. It is significant because it was built using assigned convict labour.
I had not realised that most convicts sent to Australia were actually assigned to provide labour to settlers in exchange for food and clothes.
Established around 1817 by Thomas Archer, Woolmers Estate is located just outside Longford in northern Tasmania (about 10 minutes from Launceston Airport).
Featuring a grand residence and formal gardens, as well as a woolshed, blacksmith’s shop, stables and coach house, it really is a country estate that incredibly remained in the hands of the Archer family until 1994.
In what I personally thought was a fairly sad ending to the story, Thomas Archer VI did not marry and died a childless bachelor in 1994. He left the property to the Archer Historical Foundation and the next year, the site was opened to the public.
Today Woolmers Estate is a World-Heritage listed convict site where you can see, eat and even stay. It is also home to the National Rose Garden.
We opted to pay a bit extra for the guided homestead tour, which allows you to see inside part of the homestead, including the exquisite dining room. The tour, led by a descendent of another branch of the Archer family, was passionate in his story-telling.
Like the fact the original Thomas Archer, who was a large man, had his bedroom window enlarged before he died so his coffin, which could not have fitted through the narrow doorways, could be easily removed from the room.
Built and extended upon over 6 generations, including the Italianate front added in the 1840s means the main house is full of beautiful furniture and interesting artefacts.
The dining setting features the Archer family crest & leaves one wondering how nerve-wracking washing up must have been for the servants. No hiding a broken dish here.
And this is not just look-at history, as my two children found out when they were allowed to sit on a very strange-looking buffalo horn chair.
With the escorted tour now over, we were free to wander through the out-buildings, including what is believed to be the oldest operating woolshed in Australia.
We also enjoyed a scrumptious rustic lunch on site at the Servant’s Kitchen (the kitchen is open from 10am-3pm). Highly recommended.
Today Woolmers Estate is one of 5 convict sites given World Heritage status as part of the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. The other properties you can visit are:
More information on Woolmers Estate, including family friendly accommodation.