Lt. William Caswell (1789-1859) retired from a 23-year career in the Royal Navy to become a settler in NSW and arrived with his wife Susan (1806-1886) and two children on the ship Pyramus in 1829.
Lt. Caswell received his initial land grants of ‘Balickera’, ‘Tanilba’, and ‘The Woodlands in March 1831.
The 50 acres at Tanilba was chosen as the homestead site because of its commanding views across Port Stephens. ‘Tanilba’ signifies a place of white flowers near the water.
Aerial view of Tanilba House courtesy of Glen Short and Deidre Hall.
In early 1830, before the grant became official, the Caswell family and three assigned convicts arrived by sailing ship to Tanilba.
The Caswells built a rough slab house and convict huts were erected. As the family grew, a larger cottage was built, more convict servants were assigned and a gaol was built, and a fruit orchard, vineyard and vegetable gardens were also established.
Caswell made plans to build his ‘stone castle’, and by 1837, the foundations were laid, the stone was quarried from Sunset Point and shell middens were burnt in lime kilns for mortar.
The walls of the house were half-metre-thick with high ceilings, chandeliers, French doors and some unique furniture made by convict Ninian Melville, a cabinet maker by trade.
The ‘castle’ proved a drain on the family fortune and with drought and the cessation of convict transportation, Caswell became insolvent and was finally forced to abandon Tanilba.
In 1844 he moved his family to their farming property ‘Balikera’ on the Williams River.
1856: The estate was leased to John and Walter Heap
1859: Caswell family return to England, sadly William (now Commander) Caswell died at sea
1860-1871: Leased to Jacob Hoffman
1886: Susan Caswell died in England, aged 81 and the executors put both Tanilba and Balickera up for auction in 1897.
1897: Elizabeth Holmes purchased the estate for £152, undertaking extensive repairs and modifications to the house.
1913: Walter Clift purchased the estate for £600.
1920: Henry F. Halloran, a real estate developer, purchased the estate and made further renovations and added a conservatory. Henry designed and built the elaborate pseudo-convict stonework in the grounds and a Temple.
Tanilba was used as a guest house until 1943, when the Gospel Fishermen leased Tanilba as a Christian Retreat.
In 1980 a National Trust Preservation order was put in place for Tanilba House and The Temple of the Stork, a significant State Heritage listed property. The Olive tree, planted by Susan Caswell, is the oldest surviving olive tree in NSW.
In March 2018, Glenn Short and Deirdre Hall purchased the property and very passionately restored the beautiful old house and grounds to its former glory.
Today, the property features:
- A convict built six bedroom stone homestead built in 1831.
- The homestead overlooks the magnificent Port Stephens.
- 3 Acres of gardens and grounds.
- Home to the first vineyard in the region.
- Stone and timber column with a 30m long wisteria arbour.
- Stone wishing Chair.
- Original convict gaol.
- Oldest olive tree in Australia.
- 150-year-old fig trees.
- 150-year-old Mulberry tree.
- A circular stone wall driveway and magnificent entry columns.