Historic Tanilba House undergoing restoration as new owners lodge DA to formally allow functions

RESTORATION: Tanilba House's new owners Glenn Short and Deidre Hall on the verandah of the state heritage listed property located in Creswell Crescent, Tanilba Bay. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts
RESTORATION: Tanilba House's new owners Glenn Short and Deidre Hall on the verandah of the state heritage listed property located in Creswell Crescent, Tanilba Bay. Pictures: Ellie-Marie Watts

The restoration of the 180-year-old Tanilba House to its former glory has become a labour of love for its new owners, Glenn Short and Deidre Hall.

The couple, who recently exchanged their marriage vows on the sprawling 1.2-hectare property situated at the top of Tanilba Bay’s Creswell Crescent, has spent in excess of $100,000 on material alone since purchasing the historic home last March.

The current version of Tanilba House was built with convict labour in 1837 by British Naval admiral William Caswell, is believed to be the oldest in Port Stephens and has a state heritage listing which the owners are keen to respect and protect.

The couple, who are living in the stone-clad residence, have lodged a development application (DA) with Port Stephens Council to formally use the dwelling for functions.

“Weddings and functions have been taking place here for some time so we wanted to formalise this and give the public the chance to enjoy this magnificently built home and its magnificent flora,” Mr Short said.

“Since purchasing the property we have spent the majority of our time, energy and money on painstakingly restoring the home to its original condition. This has even included painting the interior walls in 1830s’ colour scheme.”

Mr Short said they have about 99 per cent support from the neighbouring community, and any concerns about car parking had been addressed in the DA and that all existing trees, including a near-200 year-old olive and 150-year-old mulberry tree, would be retained.

Tanilba House's new owners Deidre Hall and Glenn Short.

Tanilba House's new owners Deidre Hall and Glenn Short.

A retired robotics engineer, Mr Short said he has had immense joy putting in the long hours to meticulously restore the home’s interior – featuring four bedrooms, kitchen, cellar and maid’s and governor’s quarters – in an effort to revive its historical significance. 

Detached from the house among the century old flora are a fisherman’s quarters and jail. At one time it had its own vineyard.

“A lot of the furniture is Australian cedar and I have tried to match the colour scheme to that of its original era.”

Mr Short said that he has learned a lot about the property’s previous owners, the Hallorans and Helen Taylor, whose family purchased the property in the 1970s. Ms Taylor, who regularly conducted open days, as well as weddings and birthdays, died in 2015.

“From my understanding it was Helen’s family who saved the home from demolition and in fact Tanilba House was one of the very first to be listed as state heritage significant,” he said.

A historical photo of Tanilba House. Date unknown. Picture: Fairfax Media archive

A historical photo of Tanilba House. Date unknown. Picture: Fairfax Media archive

Tanilba House: a history

Tanilba House is one of the grand homes which helps form the rich fabric of the history of Port Stephens.

Built by convicts for Lieutenant William Caswell who received a land grant of 50 acres in 1831, the historic home still stands today, offering scenic vistas of Tanilba Bay, on the Tilligerry Peninsula.

Tanilba House was originally built as a family home. The half-metre-thick stone walls, decorative edges and high ceilings are all part of the colonial charm.

In addition to the land at Tanilba Bay, the Caswells also had 920 acres on the Williams River granted to them - this became known as Balickera.

Lieutenant Caswell was known to leave Tanilba at 3am each day on horseback to ride to supervise his other farm.

In the early 1840s the Caswells returned to the Balickera farm and Tanilba House was leased intermittently until 1897.

In 1882 a visitor described the house as a "deserted residence fast moulding into decay".

Lieutenant Caswell died in 1859 and Mrs Caswell in 1886 at the age of 81. 

A historical photo of Tanilba House. Date unknown. Picture: Fairfax Media archive

A historical photo of Tanilba House. Date unknown. Picture: Fairfax Media archive

It was after Mrs Caswell's death that the home was sold to Elizabeth Holmes in 1897 who started restoring the old residence.

Mrs Holmes sold Tanilba House to W.J. Ebbeck in 1905, who converted it into a holiday house for fishing parties from Newcastle and Maitland.

It changed hands again in 1913 and became the residence of Walter W. Clift who in turn sold it in 1920 to property developer Henry F. Halloran.

Mr H.F. Halloran was a real estate agent, developer and landscape architect in Sydney and other parts of NSW.

Many say he envisaged a flourishing town surrounding Tanilba House and it was under his guidance that the old house was updated, the conservatory added, ornate fences built and the adjoining "temple" constructed.

Mr Halloran died in 1953 and the house began to go downhill.

For almost 20 years Tanilba House was used as a holiday destination before being leased to religious group "The Gospel Fisherman".

Helen Taylor’s mother, Helena Oberland, took over the lease in the mid-1950s, using it as a guest house and riding school. 

The Oberland family bought the property in the late 1960s, saving Tanilba House from demolition.

In 1980 the state government stepped in and, realising its importance, placed a permanent conservation order on the property, but without giving any regular grants to help with its upkeep.

Ms Taylor lived at Tanilba House from the mid-1980s. She staged exhibitions, plays, poetry readings and concerts in the historic home. 

It was also opened to the public as a museum until her death in September 2015.

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