Signposts of agricultural history

 

A combined barn and stables ruin are a picturesque element and landmark on the Midland Highway. The ruin and other remaining features across the property tell the story of the evolution of one of Tasmania’s important early colonial agricultural estates - Rockwood.

Rockwood was established during the 1820s when large land grants were used to encourage pastoral activities in the fledgling colony. The size of the grant was proportionate to the capital brought to the colony by the settler. The grants remained free until 1831, and during this time pastoral estates covering thousands of acres were established over the most valuable grassland plains of the midlands, central highlands and south east.

An 1823 grant of 300 acres is the origin of Rockwood. Early records show several changes in ownership, with the property passing to Robert Harrison in 1841. Rockwood is most associated with Robert’s son, Thomas John Harrison. Census records of the day show that Thomas John was residing in a timber house on the property. Another 18 people resided on the property – eight free settlers and the remainder assigned convicts.

The development of Tasmania’s pastoral industry was greatly aided by access to assigned convicts who provided low cost labour. With this assistance, Rockwood continued to develop. By the 1860s a large stone house had been constructed on the property.

Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office: PH30-1-402


 

A painting and photograph from the 1860s show the two-storey stone building was three bays wide with a return verandah on the ground floor. An extensive collection of outbuildings can also be seen in these images, including the combined barn and stable to the east of the stone building. This was a substantial building. The ruins themselves measure approximately 25 metres long and 10 metres wide.

 Tasmanian Heritage and Archives Office:
Rockwood, photograph, Whishaw Collection, Tasmanian Archives: NS165/1/2


Rockwood’s success was not to last. Thomas John Harrison defaulted on the mortgage and Rockwood was put on the market in 1892. The Mercury notice of the sale lists the property as being 1900 acres laid out in pasture, cultivation and orchards. Buildings included the ‘large stone dwelling house’, dairy store, stone dwelling, gardener’s cottage, slaughter house, stables and shearing shed.

Rockwood once again entered into a period of frequent changes in ownership. The last reference to the stone house in the Mercury dates to 1894. By the time Rockwood is for sale again in 1920, the sale notice references only ‘two cottages and usual outbuildings’.

Today, the significance of Rockwood extends beyond the barn and stables ruin. The original entrance to Rockwood was through a bridge over Pass Creek. The bridge abutments and road embankment across Pass Creek which provided access to the entrance of Rockwood still remain, and a group of poplar species, elms and an oak that marked the entrance are still visible on the northern side of the Midland Highway.

There are also a large number of archaeological features across the property. Collectively, these features have the potential to provide information on aspects of Tasmania rural culture including class differences, economic fluctuations and Tasmania’s changing rural landscape, practices and technologies.

To read the full Tasmanian Heritage Register entry, click here. If you would like to provide comment on the provisional registration of this entry, details are available here.

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