Ancanthe: Mt Wellington on the skyline

Brushy Creek Valley

It is to be hoped that David Mackenzie Crean has some historical blood filtering through his veins …

If so, he might like to investigate Ancanthe’s history in depth and even possibly reconsider the subdivision.

He might think of the character of place and how it will be dramatically changed post-subdivision.

He might think of the supreme importance of Ancanthe to the history of place-Tasmania (and Mount Wellington in particular); that is aesthetically, symbolically, historically, architecturally, botanically and most importantly for its significant landscape values.

For where else in Australia does one find a replicated small Greek temple1, set against the high backdrop of a wild rugged mountain face, close to a capital city, a place too, which carried a vision for an indigenous ‘mountain’ garden containing the flora of the entire southern hemisphere?

One has to dig into the original history of Ancanthe and the diaries of Lady Jane Franklin. What she wrote, how she felt, what her intent was of the ‘development’ of this valley area, c1840s. The valley and its stone building, that is the projected ‘development’ and its surrounds is one steeped in the history of place, one connected upwards to Mount Wellington yet outwards to an international botanical world audience. This type of assessment didn’t seem to be mentioned in the relevant information I’ve perused to date.

In 1840 Ronald Gunn, that indefatigable collector of plants was in Hobart as the private secretary to Sir John Franklin. In 1840 too, two ships docked in Hobart, the Erebus and the Terror en route to Antarctic waters. On board was Joseph Hooker, as surgeon-botanist, whose father William Hooker, was then Regius Professor at Glasgow. By 1841, William had become the new Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Gunn already communicated with Hooker, and it is clear from the letter correspondence between Gunn and Hooker2 that a botanical indigenous garden was projected in the vicinity of Ancanthe as early as February, 1840. Gunn in writing noted that there was a dense grove of fern trees, ‘fagus3, pomaderris, Crytocarya4, ’ a splendid collection of Crytogamia5 and that he was looking forward to meeting up with William’s son, Joseph upon his arrival to help in laying out the ‘garden’ to advantage. Already the area was known as Sassafras gully. It would appear to have been a valley rich with the type of flora that grows as ‘wet’ and/or mixed forest in Tasmania. Sir John Franklin’s designated ‘big’ tree was located just downstream.

When Joseph did arrive, there were a number of excursions to Lady Jane’s projected ‘mountain’ garden area. A particular one in October 1840 gives some flavour of expectation, anticipation, excitement, even joy at this wild landscape and its offerings. The party had lunched on sandwiches and wine. Here is Lady Jane post lunch,

[They] ascended a new path which Mr. Gunn has made to go to the summit of the garden from the upper end and proceeding along a groundsel covered path ascended to the prospect6 hill. The distant scenery however was somewhat overcast, the sunny morning having ended in a misty and somewhat sultry afternoon. While descending this hill and just after enquiring of Mr Gunn whether he had ever found any snakes here, I hear a scream and found him and Mr Hooker bending over the ground; I thought to be sure it was a snake but it was only a new orchis’ which Dr. Hooker had not seen before and which he had come upon on the newly made pathway… and a real snake however I found had been killed by them a little while before and Mr Hooker visited my garden on this occasion for the seventh time. I begged him to gather for me a little of his father’s moss as I called it, the Hookeri piñata which abounds in every direction…7

It seems highly likely that the ‘prospect’ hill that the party climbed was one directly above the Ancanthe site, (Fossil Hill, Brushy Hill, a twin hill not named) these hills at heights between 320-400 metres. They form a part of the Mount Wellington foothills and separate Brushy Creek from the New Town Rivulet. They are important because it is likely that they were part of a very early route to the summit of Mount Wellington.

In choosing the area for the temple and its associated garden, Lady Jane Franklin had picked out her location very carefully. Very carefully indeed. Her ‘mountain garden’ was not a sudden whim; she had thought about this garden and its particular location for some considerable period of time, discounting other sites, (e.g. Ridgeway). It was at the confluence of two streams, (Brushy Creek, New Town Rivulet) surrounded by high hills, with considerable local relief, an area thickly vegetated, the elegant building (James Blackburn the architect) placed slightly to the left of the mountain summit, to allow a clear line of sight as the eye was directed up, up and further up. The north eastern face of Mount Wellington is particularly dramatic even in 2012 and would have offered a Sublime setting in the 1840’s.

Sassafras Valley was known to Lady Jane Franklin as she had climbed to the summit of Mount Wellington in 1837. The Hobart Town Courier 22 December 1837 gives a further insight to the perception of this valley,

The ladies proceeded in a spring cart, and the gentlemen on horseback as far as Sassafras Valley a romantic little spot at the head of a secluded ravine immediately at the foot of the great northern buttress of Mount Wellington. Here the cart track terminates and from this spot therefore the party commenced their delightful walk. A rude pathway formed some since by the descent of timber – climbs abruptly from near the head of the ravine and by this track the party began the ascent,…

Prospect outwards towards the Derwent and prospect upwards to the awe inspiring, dramatically sublime summit of Mount Wellington was captured well and recorded for posterity by a number of colonial artists across time. Most chose to place the building in its relationship to the hills and/ or mountain at its rear. There is John Skinner Prout in 1844 (TMAG), the building set totally within its natural landscape setting, there is the work probably of Thomas L. Winter, who was a member of Prout’s School of Sketchers (Mitchell Library Sydney), another very natural depiction. Then we have the pencil sketch held by the State Library of Victoria, given a circa date of 1846-47. It clearly shows the small building set against the backdrop of the high mountain. Peter Gordon Fraser, Tasmanian colonial artist painted the landscape and prospect view [River Derwent from Ancanthe8] looking out from the temple (perhaps from the ‘prospect’ hill) c.1850. There is a certain wildness in the vegetation depicted in the foreground of this scene, with its long depth of field view stretching out into the distance across the river. Perhaps the most evocative piece of art work cited though, is that of the famous Australian colonial landscape artist William Piguenit, (born in Hobart, draughtsman in the survey department). He completed a beautiful painting which he titled “Mount Wellington from New Town Bay 1979.”9 There is the juxtaposition between the tranquil rustic scene in the foreground-middle distance to that beyond. This is a painting where the viewer is intended not to look outwards, but to look inwards and upwards at the huge mountain and its foothills. There almost hidden, and yet mysteriously present, strategically positioned right at the cusp between the settled, and the dramatic mountain, sits Ancanthe. The Museum is nestled amongst all of its surrounding vegetation – a definitive statement of Greek symbolism at the foot of its wild backdrop above. Artistic licence perhaps, but nevertheless it could appear that Piguenit wished his viewers to take away with them some meaning of mystery and enclosure to this small refined piece of Greek architecture, hidden amongst its trees at the foot of the mighty mountain. Then too, there is a lovely watercolour work by Curzona Allport (probably 20th century) of the temple, showing some of the orchard trees. All of these works have Associative Cultural Landscape significance.

What is at issue in this proposed subdivision is the lack of any serious discussion (to date) as to the character of place, or to the heritage landscape of “place” and how that will change dramatically. It is not just about the Ancanthe “site” or indeed the subdivision “site”; rather it is about the cultural connections across land which reaches from the commencement of the foothills to the summit of the mountain. And of its historical significance. It is well recognised in other states, that curtilage is an essential part of heritage protection. The NSW Heritage Office’s 29 booklet on curtilage includes information on extended curtilage requirements. The Burra Charter which was incorporated into the Hobart City Planning Scheme 1982 specifically notes in Article 8, that conservation requires the retention of an appropriate visual setting and that new construction or intrusion or other changes which would adversely affect the setting or relationships are not appropriate. Further the Burra Charter notes at Article 24 that meanings and associations with a place should be respected, retained and not obscured.

ICOMOS10, has recently released its Valetta Principles which specifically state that a ‘buffer zone is a well defined zone outside the protected area whose role is to shield the cultural values of the protected zone from the impact of activities in its surroundings. This impact can be physical, visual or social’.

If one is to assess the changes to the character of the place, find the connections, it is useful to chart the layers of landscape and land use ‘development’ change across time. Some are much more destructive of landscape character than others. For its entire life time, even following European/English settlement, the Ancanthe site has been surrounded by natural extensive areas. It was originally vegetated by forest and enclosed, later it had a more open farmland aspect. There have never been multiple aggregated large houses or unit development up the spur line of this hill.

Historical landscape assessment appears to have been largely avoided in the Minutes of the December 12, 2011 meeting of the Council. Likewise missing was any mention of the almost defunct Register of the National Estate which listed Ancanthe back in 1981; a national assessment of its heritage significance. Missing too, was any mention of the Local Area Plan for Lenah Valley (1998) in which the subdivision area in question was seen as having “limited” urban settlement capability, (Figure 3.1) was mapped as an area with “critical landscape” significance (Figure 5.1) (‘subdivision of land should be strictly controlled’) but in which a zoning for residential use seemed okay, a curious decision given other comments. While Council’s Senior Cultural Heritage Officer spoke of the heritage landscape connections in his excellent report, he was overruled by a legal interpretation of “place.” One which – in its interpretation as to meaning of place – wasn’t going to venture across the title boundary line re Principle 20 and Clause F.4.4 of the planning scheme.

With the proposed 16 lot subdivision a residential ‘layer’ is highly likely. A very twenty first century residential layer. Stringline settlement occurred up Lenah Valley Road and Brushy Creek Road in the 1950’s, but these are small houses compared to those built today; they are surrounded by garden, trees and shrubs and were set low in the valleys. By contrast, we get some idea of what’s coming (if the proponent is successful) from viewing the opposite hill. There, houses are large, two, and three storeys (in several instances) on the sloping hillside, take up a large amount of their block and reflect modern design styles (e.g.gray, minimalistic, darkened windows, rendered concrete). The built form is accentuated as homes sit in a treeless landscape, emphasising their closeness to each other, their size and particular features. There is a perception of dense aggregated urban built hard form.


The proposed character of place change which is likely to eventuate following the subdivision is therefore seen potentially to be a drastic one; form, height, texture, structure, colour, blockiness, of housing form similar to much modern development around Hobart and its suburbs.

In the wash up if there is total disagreement between what is meant by “place”, what is meant by “area”, an argy-bargy over “site” versus an argy-bargy over area and place, this is a tragedy for Ancanthe. The planning scheme however is bound by LUPAA 1993, so that in Schedule 1, Part 1 (2) the clause at (g) to conserve those buildings, areas or other places which are of scientific, aesthetic, architectural or historical interest or otherwise of special cultural value might be a little more difficult to easily dispose of.

Oh and a further thought; the new Chair of the Heritage Council (TT HERE)will have to politely excuse herself from any further decisions re Ancanthe; she completed as I understand it11, historical documentation for Dr. Crean’s application.

Gwenda Sheridan completed a 5-volume research study in 2010 on Mount Wellington’s historic landscape values for the Wellington Park Trust. She is a member of the PIA and ICOMOS.


1 Robert Vincent in association with Michael Grant, Sandra Champion, Sue Small. Lady Franklin Museum. Ancanthe Park. Lenah Valley Hobart. Conservation Management Plan. 1997. Unpublished for Hobart City Council.
2 T.E. Burns & J.R. Skemp. Van Diemen’s Land correspondents. Letters from R.C. Gunn, R.W. Lawrence, Jorgen Jorgenson, Sir John Franklin and others to Sir William J. Hooker 1827-1849. Queen Victoria Museum. Launceston. 1961.
3 Tasmania’s myrtle-beech.
4 In all likelihood Tasmania’s native laurel, Anopterus glandulosus.
5 An extensive class of flowerless plants, ferns, mosses, lichens and fungi (Paxton’s Botanical Dictionary 1868).
6 Prospect had a particular meaning in nineteenth century landscape terminology. It meant a long distant, depth of field view.
7 Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office. Folder 13. October 1840.
8 Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office. The Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts.
9 Held by the National Gallery of Victoria.
10 International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). The Valletta Principles for the Safeguarding and Management of Historic Cities, Towns and Urban Areas. In: ICOMOS News. Vol 18 (1) July 2011.
11 Reference in Paul Davies. Heritage Assessment. Proposed sub-division 270A Lenah Valley Road, Lenah Valley. Nov 2011. Incorporated into Special Development and Environmental Services Committee Meeting (Open Portion of the meeting) Hobart City Council. Monday 12 December 2011. 97.

Earlier on Tasmanian Times:
Leo Schofield: HCC must knock this obscene plan on the head
David Crean’s subdivision proposal sparks opposition