Wallpaper is a lot more interesting than you would think.

Source: Alan Townshend presentation

I went to a fascinating talk by renowned wallpaper expert Alan Townshend, one of many interesting talks held by the Tasmanian Historical Research Association. Alan’s presentation dealt with early Tasmanian (Van Diemen’s Land) wallpaper, and associated frippery.

It wasn’t long after the free settlers, led by David Collins, and accompanied by enough convicts to build a future, arrived on the Ocean into the fledgling “don’t you dare come here you naughty french types” occupation by Lt Bowen at Risdon Cove, that opportunities for massive profits were apparent.

If you read my account of my great great great great great uncle, William Collins, substantial remnants of whose 1804 shop still exist under the Bank Arcade, you would have seen that way back then he had the wealth to pretty up an otherwise stark set of sandstone blocks.

Source: Michael Monaghan

Collins arrived intent on a fortune from whaling, establishing a whaling station on Droughty Point, very close to the land later granted to my first fleet ancestor, Andrew Goodwin. Others, like John Ingle, were astute enough to see that the settlers would want supplies, which he would obligingly provide at a suitable margin. Harris and Hopley served their respective roles as surveyor and surgeon, gaining the grants and free labour their public service demanded.

All these men married daughters of the remarkable Jane Hobbs (nee Maine), an American who married in New York an English Commodore, William Hobbs. Being a Commodore, Hobbs was well connected. After he died after a fall on his ship, the English heirarchy saw the benefits of four free english girls accompanying the gentlemen on the Calcutta. True love (arguably of wealth) inevitably followed. The next generation of the family (Gunning, Kearney, Burn) ended up with huge swathes of grazing land stretching from north of Hamilton to near Triabunna. They were also significant players in the establishment of Richmond.

Hopley had already married my direct ancestor, Judith, in England, and sponsored Jane and her children out on the Calcutta, first to the unsuccessful attempt to settle in Port Phillip, then by the Ocean to the first permanent European settlement in Van Diemen’s Land. Jane’s son, James, became a successful explorer and married Sarah Hone, the daughter of the early Hobart Town legal doyen, Joseph Hone. He was also besties with the son of Lt Governor David Collins, and built the extant Nugent on the White Kangaroo Road east of Campania, and adjacent to Gunning’s Weston Villa (now the site of Campania House).

Word of the commercial opportunities spread like covid19, and as the traders returned to the mother country to load up with necessities like wallpaper, alcohol, waterford vases, cravates, french frocks and ceylonese spices, other traders thought they better hop on board to serve the interests of the new colony, also at, by now, a rather larger suitable margin.

A later long time owner of the Bank Arcade, Whitesides (from 1849-1922), turned it in to a european style emporium, with glass ceiling over the central arcade and large glass fronted shops.

Whitesides Arcade.c1881 by Alfred Winter from the Album of Photographs of Tas by RC Poulter, sourced from Short: A different view of Hobart p49

An early arrival, hitching a ride with the boy’s own annual Capt Jeffrey on the Kangaroo, was Capt William Bunster, who found love, or company at least, with Lucy Goodwin, the Norfolk Island daughter of my two first fleet ancestors, Andrew Goodwin and Lydia Munro. Bunster was a low key operative, but by the mid twenties was the owner of four large warehouses on the old Hunter Street wharf (remnants remain behind the later Henry Jones IXL facade) and an emporium in Elizabeth Street (opposite where the Cat and Fiddle Arcade is now), a premises big enough to hold official events and dances. By the mid 1830s he owned a large two storey dwelling at 33 (still there but now numbered as 55) Campbell Street, and the sprawling mansions of Trefusis, on the Tooms Lake Road, again still existing and still as a thriving merino business.

Bunster warehouses are 1,3,4 and 5 from the left. The right photo is his house now numbered 55 Campbell Street, Hobart.

Bunster’s ads for his Emporium were certainly as frippery-full as those referred to by Townshend in his talk.

Now to the wallpaper.

Townshend, through decades of research, tells all sorts of amazing tales of the earliest days of European Tasmania. Within a few hundred metres of the squalor of Wapping, most vividly depicted by the countless reports of the Hobart Rivulet providing a repository for dead bodies of humans and animals, raw sewerage, and (eerk) drinking water, the “upper” class paraded in their english, french, and ceylonese finery. Once home, invariably in the higher links of Sandy Bay, North Hobart and New Town, they probably barely noticed the thousands of pounds worth of the most expensive wallpaper money could buy. The sketches and later the photographs show the splendour of the clothing and furnishings that arrived regularly from back home.

Source: Alan Townshend presentation

An amazing story is the role of wallpaper in solving mysteries of history. Over in Cape Town, South Africa, one Henry Wylde, a former official from Port Jackson, was in charge of closing down the legal aspects of the slave trade. The slavers employed the time honoured tactic of spreading scurroulous falsehoods about him, a particularly pernicious aspect being that he had made his own daughter pregnant. The facts that his wife had chosen to remain in London, and he had recently been on a vacation with his daughter, were grist to the mill. Eventually a Royal Commission totally exonerated the pair of any naughtiness.

In the meantime, a young James Booth was charged with closing down the maritime aspects of the slave trade. The two parties met through the course of business, with James then marrying Wylde’s daughter. They then disappeared from history for some years. Hold that thought.

Whilst renovating Oak Lodge, a very early Richmond, Tasmania, residence, Townshend noticed that the wallpaper was a twin of wallpaper he had seen in the Commandant’s House at Port Arthur. The Commandant for many years was one Charles O’Hara Booth.

Ready to make the link?

Deeper exploration revealed that James Booth was the brother of Charles O’Hara Booth, and that James was the owner of Oak Lodge, when his brother was at Port Arthur.

So the mystery of the disappearance of James and his wife from Cape Town was solved not by elementary deduction, dear Watson, but by wallpaper.

Acknowledgements: Alan Townshend, Noel Frankham, John Short

Michael Monaghan

May 2023

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