Tahlee Homestead is a heritage-listed former pastoral property of 68.8 hectares, on the original site of the Australian Agricultural Company (1826-1853).
In 1824, London was in the midst of an enormous stock market boom. With Australian wool becoming increasingly important, two companies, the Australian Agricultural Company (AA Co) and the Van Diemen’s Land Company were floated on the London Stock Exchange to promote raising fine-wooled sheep in the Australian colonies.
The AA Company became a major force in the Australian coal and pastoral industries and in the settlement and development of the Hunter River and Port Stephens regions.
The AA Company appointed a chief agent, Robert Dawson, who sailed from England in June 1825. By January 1826 people and stock were settled, so Dawson sailed to Newcastle and travelled across the country to inspect Port Stephens, an area which, of all those suggested, had the great advantage of access by water.
On the northern shore of Port Stephens, Dawson noticed land which seemed ideal. About 800 acres were suitable for growing corn, while the surrounding hills provided good sheep grazing country, with plenty of fresh water and lime (oyster shells) for building and all situated on a magnificent harbour.
In February 1826, Dawson arrived with cattle, sheep and convicts with the express purpose of growing fine wool for the mills of England.
Initially known to Europeans by its Aboriginal name, Caribbean, the settlement at Port Stephens was renamed after the banking peer, Lord Carrington, brother of the company’s first governor.
Within four years, by 1830, a new waterfront area of Carrington village, a few hundred metres away from Tahlee, boasted of being the first planned company town in Australia with a population of more than 500 souls and a school for 50 children.
Robert Dawson (1782 – 1866)
Men of great reputation
Tahlee House (from the local Aboriginal word, Tarlee, meaning “sheltered from the wind and above water“) became the home of four of AA Co’s chief agents: Robert Dawson, Sir William Edward Parry, Captain Henry Dumaresq and Captain Phillip Parker King.
During Parry’s residency, Tahlee was a very happy place to live and work – the convivial commissioner and his wife enjoyed their days there with cricket matches, dinners, balls and picnics, despite the limitations imposed by the isolation and smallness of the community.
When Parry left after his four-year term, pastoral operations were well established at Tahlee.
Although the fine wool produced at Tahlee continued to bring excellent prices on the London market, all was not well with the sheep themselves, and the district finally proved too wet underfoot for the early sheep flocks. The AA Co acquired better land in the Peel Valley.
In 1854, King was the final AA Co commissioner to live in Tahlee House. The AA Co headquarters moved to Stroud, and they sold off the Tahlee Estate. Frederick Manton, from Sydney, purchased the Tahlee property from the AA Co in 1854, and his family used the property for grazing. However, the house burned down in 1860, leaving only the walls.
In 1880, Robert Hoddle Driberg White, Member of Parliament for Gloucester (from 1882), purchased the property and rebuilt Tahlee House as a gentleman’s country residence.
The present Tahlee House, dating from 1880, may be the fourth house on the site.
Considerable development took place during this period. White added improvements and extensions. A billiard room and ballroom were constructed with marble for some of the fireplaces in these buildings imported from Italy.
Guests arrived by yacht, landing below the home at a convict-built Cornish boat harbour. They were then taken by horse-drawn tram up the hillside through magnificent botanical gardens.
There were summer houses and bird aviaries with 12 gardeners to look after the terraced gardens, luxuriant with towering New Zealand kauri trees (Agathis australis), Japanese elms (Zelkova Serrata), hoop pines (Araucaria cunninghamii), African olives (Olea europaea var. Africana) and bamboo thickets.
White added a large lounge room to entertain the Sydney social set. In 1890 he built a separate billiard room and ballroom capable of seating about 300 people.
What’s seen today is largely the legacy of White’s ownership while the boat harbour, wine cellar and servants’ quarters to the rear of the main house recall the AA Company’s tenure.
On his death, the estate was held in trust for his widow and then passed to their son, Alfrey Beecher Stewart White, who lived primarily in Sydney, using Tahlee House as a country retreat.
In 1948, the staff of Gospel Fishermen Mission from Tanilba Bay visited Tahlee for a picnic. Over the next year, applications were forwarded to Mr White to rent the property to the Mission. In 1949, the property was leased to the Mission as a camp centre.
In June 1949, the Director, Godfrey Theobald, and his family moved into the Waterfront Cottage and began using the ballroom and billiard room at Tahlee and in 1951, the ministry established a missionary training camp on the site.
Alfrey White continued to visit Tahlee House. In 1959, he offered the property to the Mission, who accepted after a large donation made it possible for the purchase to take place.
Tahlee Homestead operated as a bible college from 1959 until around 2005.
More than 1,000 students have trained at the college and many of these are now in Christian service in Australia and in countries all over the world.
Extensive renovations have been carried out on the property. The Mission has concentrated on running camps and events for children, young people and families.
In 1964, several structures were relocated from the Greta and Singleton migrant camps to the site for use as residential accommodation.
Tahlee Homestead is a heritage-listed former pastoral property of 68.8 hectares, on the original site of the Australian Agricultural Company (1826-1853). It was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2nd April 1999.
Now known as Tahlee Ministries Incorporated, the estate remains in use for religious purposes – tours of the historic buildings are possible by prior arrangement.
Currently, significant features include:
- Tahlee House and outbuildings 1828–1888 (stone and timber, iron roof, stone cellar),
- Boat Harbour 1828 (stone)
- gardens 1830-1890,
- caretakers cottage 1890 (timber)
- Reception & Ballroom building 1888–90 (timber),
- Residential Bible College 1959–99 (timber, brick )
- relocated Nissen Huts and Cinema from Greta Migrant Camp (timber and iron, relocated in 1964)