Redlands, on the banks of the Plenty River alongside the famous Salmon Ponds in the Derwent Valley, is one of Tasmania’s most well-known rural estates. Once a thriving hop and grain farm, the estate contains an astonishing collection of heritage buildings and magnificent gardens featuring some of Australia’s oldest European trees.
The property has a remarkable history, with many overlays of stories from its convict past to modern times. There are intriguing links to the royal family and the emergence of colonial Tasmania’s new-landed elite, our first banks, the development of trout fisheries and irrigation, and the property also holds a primary place in Tasmania’s hop farming history.
At its peak the farm employed as many as 200 hop pickers with their families living on the estate, and many Tasmanians still hold fond memories of working at picking hops. In those days there were pickers’ huts, a bakehouse, general store and even a butcher’s shop. Only one of the pickers’ huts has survived but most of the other buildings are intact, though in disrepair.
Now, after years of decline and neglect, the property is undergoing a modern transformation as a family residence, working farm, whisky distillery and tourism development.
Peter and Elizabeth Hope fell in love with and bought the rundown property several years ago and set about restoring the home, the gardens and clearing the weeds and blackberries choking the Plenty River and convict-built water canals that run through the property.
Turning Redlands back into a working farm is an enormous undertaking both financially and physically.
Peter Hope, co-owner with his wife Elizabeth and son Geoffrey of the Elizabeth Hope pharmacies, is by profession an agricultural consultant. A landmark climate and soil study that he carried out in the 1970s of the Coal River, Derwent and Huon valleys laid the groundwork for Tasmania’s now thriving grape and wine industry.
Peter says many former great estates in Tasmania have fallen into disrepair.
“The problem is properties can’t make enough money from farming for the upkeep of heritage buildings,” he said.
“The only way to get money from these properties to restore and maintain the heritage buildings is to think differently. We hope what we’re doing here will provide a template to help others find ways to save our heritage estates,” he said.
The Hopes plan to turn Redlands into a heritage tourist attraction with a whisky distillery and visitor centre, linking the property to the next door Salmon Ponds on one side and to the proposed Derwent Valley tourist railway turntable on the other.
“We’ve already restored Australia’s first convict-built irrigation canal system linking the Salmon Ponds and Redlands and cleared a horse and carriage way along the banks of the Plenty from the ponds through Redlands.”
Bill Lark and his wife Lyn will join Redlands Estate Distillery as investors and whisky consultants. Lark Distillery’s single malt whiskies have won gold medals and international acclaim and are exported around the world.
“Redlands will grow all the barley to be processed on site into a premium single malt whisky, making it one of only a handful of whisky distilleries in the world that grows its own barley and processes its own malt,” Bill said.
The distillery will be housed in the heritage listed, convict-built Georgian oast house and granary which make up part of the Redlands estate.
The visitor centre will include a whisky tasting room, cellar door sales and serve other Derwent Valley produce, including wines and bread baked on site in one of Tasmania’s oldest bakehouses. To help pay for the development, the Hopes are seeking planning approval to stratum title three buildings to create premium tourism accommodation.
Was the man who built Redlands – pioneer Tasmanian businessman and gentleman farmer George Frederick Read – the son and heir to the English throne?
Redlands was a land grant in 1818 to George Federick Read. Read is reputed to be the son of the then Prince of Wales and later George IV of England. The story goes that for a time the prince was married secretly to Maria Fitzherbert, a Roman Catholic. In 1795, when George Frederick was just eight years old, the marriage to Maria was annulled, partly because the English Parliament believed the only way to get the Royal out of financial difficulty was to find a suitable spouse with a large dowry for the king.
The result for their son George Frederick, who had taken the name Read – the name of the nanny and wet nurse who had raised him – was that he was sent to sea. At the age of 11 George Frederick Read joined the East India Company as a midshipman with privileges, under the guiding hand of guardian Sir John Aubrey, Lord of the English Treasury and acknowledged ‘father’ of the House of Commons.
Read first visited Tasmania in 1808 while still in the service of the East India Company, and again in 1812. He later became master and part-owner of the brig Lynx. In 1816, Read married in Sydney, where he established a business as a merchant, before moving to Hobart.
Read was a power in the young colony. He was a merchant, shipowner, landowner and, interestingly, a director of one of Australia’s first banks – the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land. He owned many properties in Tasmania, Sydney and Victoria, was appointed a magistrate and was a member of the Port Phillip Trust. The Trust played an important role in the early development of Victoria.
Read leased the property until the mid-1800s, when one of his sons took over its management. In 1843 Redlands was claimed to be the first property in Australia to be irrigated through a system of handmade irrigation channels – part of which were lined with Huon pine.
Redlands Gardens are a significant part of the history of the Estate. They were landscaped in the tradition of English ‘Pleasure Gardens’ and gentlemen’s parks of the 18th and 19th centuries.
You enter Redlands through an impressive avenue of cork oaks and there is a significant collection of mature trees including elms, copper beech, a magnificent 150-year-old magnolia grandiflora, maples and sycamores.
The property also features avenues lined with poplars, which once sheltered the hop fields. At the back of the homestead stands a huge pear tree – dating from the Napoleon era and still producing an enormous harvest of pears each year. There is another link to Napoleon. Willow sticks taken from willows at Napoleon’s grave on St Helena were planted along the Plenty River at Redlands.
Words: Mike Lester
Images: James Emms