Rediscovering a hidden past

5Roxborough House, circa 1930, with Scotch College to the rear

As the next chapter in the history of a Hobart city corner takes shape, a footnote to its past is being rediscovered and restored.

The corner of Elizabeth and Brisbane Street in Hobart has long been associated with the name Roxborough. As a new small-scale apartment block called The Rox takes shape, it is a building being restored and adapted at the rear of the existing Roxburgh House that is allowing the story of the Scotch College to be retold.

The original Roxborough House was built as a residence around 1822. It was described in an 1823 auction notice as a “large commodious three-storey stone building" that “when finished … will be one of the delightful Residences in or near Hobart town." Multiple transfers of ownership and changes of use were not kind to the building. From the lofty claims made in 1823, the building became so dilapidated that it earned the name of the Rat's Castle.

In 1879 the Rat's Castle was demolished and the site sold to Scottish schoolmaster Alexander Ireland and by 1880 the current Roxburgh House was built, with Scotch College conjoined to the rear. A Mercury article from 1886 provides an insight into the tutelage being provided. At the annual fete and end-of-year award ceremony, Ireland noted that great attention was paid to English composition and “any boy leaving the school was able to express his thoughts on any subject with which he was tolerably familiar in concise and grammatical English." It was also noted that the boys were “building up their characters" and that “every path was now open to all". The college continued at the site until 1900 when it moved premises. In 1913 it amalgamated with the Hutchins School.

The Scotch College building has been obscured from the community since the construction of a 1956 building fronting Brisbane Street, which also linked into the school building. The 1956 building's original function was as the Total and Permanently Incapacitated Hostel for returned soldiers, with its later use as a commercial retail outlet. Successive alterations to the school over many years further hid the architectural detailing, history and use of the building. The removal of the 1956 building along with the conservation and reconstructive works to the former Scotch College wing have provided significant heritage benefits, as has the creation of a laneway and courtyard which will separate the new apartment complex from the historic buildings.

RHS Image: The original windows of Scotch College had been removed and replaced with large paned windows during the 20th century. LHS Image: Conservation works have reconstructed original window openings

The transformation of the former Scotch College building into two apartments is taking shape. Modern openings have been removed and new windows with timber framing and sandstone lintels are being reconstructed in their original locations. Original wide butt-jointed timber floorboards and the timber-lined raked ceilings and roof timbers are being revealed and restored, with brick corbels retained as features. The original front entry to Brisbane Street is also being reinstated, but with a new minimalist steel canopy to reinterpret the original porch. Construction of the Rox and the conservation of the former Scotch College has been an idea of the current owner since 2016, with work commencing in February 2020.

“I'm passionate about historic heritage and I want to highlight that our authentic tourism offerings can be as much about these original heritage places as our natural heritage. I also wanted to create something that would benefit the city.

The Rox in construction, with the 1880 Roxburgh house to the right

“It's rewarding seeing everything coming together. The architect's vision was terrific, the build has been stunning, and the project manager has been instrumental in fine tuning decisions. We've learnt a lot, and we've tried always to make the most appropriate choices.

“But I'm most passionate about bringing out the story of Scotch College."


 

With thanks to the owner for the historic image. Historical information sourced from a report by Brad Williams, Praxis Environment.

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