21 January, 2019

Explore history and heritage at Tasmania’s National Trust sites

In a state blessed with venerable buildings, these are on every history buff’s wish list.

If you like heritage architecture, interior design and gardens, or simply enjoy stories of the past, it’s time to go to Tasmania. From a convict penitentiary to a magnificent mansion, these 19th and early 20th century National Trust properties are top options for a fascinating, affordable history lesson.


With a grand Georgian facade of soaring columns, this is surely Australia’s most impressive heritage house. Close to Launceston, Clarendon was built in 1838 for a wealthy pastoralist, merchant and magistrate, but near ruin when donated to the Trust in 1962. Today, it’s filled with period furniture, artworks and curiosities that visitors are welcome to touch, and tours begin with an invitation to sit on valuable antique sofas. Made over in 2014, including with sumptuous curtains and upholstery, the dining and sitting rooms are particularly beautiful. Take time to wander Clarendon’s seven hectares by the South Esk River, from gardens to old outbuildings.

Clarendon (Image: Clarendon)
Clarendon (Image: Clarendon)


Close to Hobart’s CBD, tucked down a New Town side street near the River Derwent, Runnymede is an elegant sandstone villa built around 1836. It was home to a lawyer, then Tasmania’s first Anglican bishop, before being purchased by master mariner, whaler and ship owner Captain Charles Bayley, who named it after his favourite ship. His seafaring family lived here for more than a century, which is why the National Trust has filled this house with maritime artefacts. Runnymede is also a window onto prosperous mid-19th century domesticity, and is surrounded by lovingly maintained gardens featuring many historic plants, including trees the bishop’s wife planted.

Runnymede (Image: Runnymede)
Runnymede (Image: Runnymede)

Hobart Convict Penitentiary

Only a fortunate few lived in style during Tasmania’s colonial era. Many endured the harsh conditions of a convict’s life, including the 40,000 men who did hard time at this former prison barracks they called The Tench. Built in the early 1830s, Hobart Convict Penitentiary includes 36 solitary confinement cells (eventually declared inhumane), underground tunnels, a chapel, courtrooms and gallows – which you can see in now-harmless action on guided tours, including the ghostly evening option. There’s also Pandemonium – The Convict Film Experience, a four-metre-tall projection on the chapel walls that immerses visitors in the sights, sounds and misery of the men transported to Van Dieman’s Land.

Hobart Convict Penitentiay (Image: Hobart Convict Penitentiary)
Hobart Convict Penitentiay (Image: Hobart Convict Penitentiary)

Step back in time in Devonport ...

Tasmania’s other National Trust properties include the gracious 1916 home of Australia’s 10th Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, and his wife, Dame Enid, who was also the first woman elected to federal parliament. Home Hill is much as it was when she last lived here in 1981, including original furniture, memorabilia, both personal and political, and beautiful gardens. It’s a short drive from where Spirit of Tasmania docks, as is the Latrobe Court House Museum.

… and Launceston

Built in 1838 for a successful businessman, Franklin House soon became one of the colony’s most prestigious private schools, but was eventually surrounded by semi-industrial development. Tasmania’s National Trust was formed to save it from demolition. Admire this Georgian-style home’s antique furniture, curios such as a charming music box, 180-year-old oak tree, and the weather-worn milestones relocated here. Then visit the Old Umbrella Shop, a historic store where brollies both fun and elegant, plus various gifts, can be purchased.

Inside Home Hill (Image: Home Hill)
Inside Home Hill (Image: Home Hill)

Spend the night at Penghana

Opportunities to pop into Penghana, an 1898 red-brick mansion overlooking Queenstown, are limited to April-November afternoon teas and National Trust members at certain times in summer. That’s because it’s primarily a B&B, so here’s your chance to immerse yourself in a National Trust property’s heritage – and plenty of contemporary comforts.

Penghana (Image: Penghana)
Penghana (Image: Penghana)


Information included in this blog is correct at the time of publishing. Please contact individual operators for further information.

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