Tomago House was built in the 1840s and formed the nucleus of what was, in the mid-19th century, a vast agricultural estate and the country residence of one of the nation’s leading politico-legal figures, barrister Richard Windeyer.
Work on the house started in the early 1840s – its design is attributed to Colonial Government Architect Mortimer Lewis.
Richard Windeyer died in 1847, leaving his wife Maria to complete the property, and refinance the great home to maintain viability. This she did, adding to it a Chapel built in 1860-1861.
Tomago House is noted for its fine verandahs looking over pastoral land, interiors that reflect the lives and times of a family of status and a social history which spans three generations. The house has remained the Windeyer family home for 150 years.
On 26th April 1832, he married Maria Camfield, and their only child, William Charles, was born on 29th September 1834.
Although he constantly intended to follow his parents and their family to Sydney, his departure from England was hastened by a letter from his father.
‘Dr Robert Wardell’s death and Wentworth’s expected departure and the division of the Bar makes the moment particularly favourable for your debut’.
He set out with his wife and infant son arriving in Sydney on 28th November 1835.
He soon gained a considerably sized legal practice and became a bar leader.
In July 1846, he and Robert Lowe appeared for the defendant in Attorney-General v. Brown concerning the right of the Crown to grant the Australian Agricultural Company the sole right to mine coal near Newcastle.
The arguments for the defendants failed but enabled Windeyer to array much legal and historical learning in support of the political view that the colony’s lands should be in the control of the colonists, not in the grant of the Crown.
In February 1838, he bought his first land at Tomago in the Hunter Valley, not far from his father’s farm at Tillegrah on the Williams River.
By 1842 he held about 30,000 acres. Windeyer spent vast sums of money on draining extensive swamp lands in the vicinity of Graham’s Town and building a homestead at Tomago and other improvements, though with little return.
He planted thirty acres of vines and imported a German vine dresser from Adelaide. Windeyer made his first wine in 1845 and received permission to import seven vine-dressers and one wine cooper from Europe.
The vineyard was established with plantings from James King of Irrawang, who was known to be producing good wines by 1840. Windeyer was one of the first successful vignerons on the Hunter.
At Tomago, Windeyer ran cattle, horses and pigs and tried growing sugar cane and wheat.
In 1846 with a Mr Reynolds, then president of the local agricultural society, he imported the colony’s first reaping machine from South Australia.
Despite all his expensive improvements and mechanized farming, he won one prize for pumpkins.
However, after his death, wine from Tomago won a certificate of merit in Paris in 1855.
Progress on Tomago House was slow and hampered by the 1840s depression and it seems likely that the house was fit for habitation by 1847.
Tomago House is one of the most important houses of the 1840s to survive largely unaltered in a geographical context that is also intact.
It retains its original form, with its trees, farmland and wetlands.
Planting is historically and botanically significant, including species contemporary with the early to late European development of the site from the 1830s to the 1890s, and remnant indigenous species.