Foundations of Eskleigh


In 1867 pastoralist William Gibson of Native Point, near Perth, bought the property Scone, just across the South Esk River, from David Ritchie who wanted to concentrate on his flour milling enterprises.

It is said William Gibson bought Scone for his son, also William, who was 22 years old at the time.

Work started on a grand house at Scone in 1870 while young William Gibson was in Europe and before his marriage to Elvina Beaumont Grubb, of Newnham Hall, Launceston, in March 1871.

William Gibson senior engaged Launceston architect Harry Conway to design the new homestead at Scone and in the early 1880s William Gibson junior employed Melbourne-based architects Terry and Oakden to extend and embellish the house.

Larger rooms and the distinctive campanile, or tower, were added with the work done between 1882 and 1884 by Launceston builders J. and T. Gunn.

For a time it was believed that Scone was the first private home in Australia to be lit with electricity but it probably did not pre-date the lighting of the manager’s house at the Mt Bischoff tin mine, on Tasmania’s West Coast.

The electricity at Scone was produced by a generator driven by water flowing from an old grain mill water race.

The National Trust of Australia (Tasmania) heritage register description of the house at Scone says it is in the style of an Italian villa with four granite pillars at the front entrance.

“The surrounding verandahs feature beautiful cast-iron lace incorporating the monogram of William Gibson, and boast an original floor of Italian terrazzo.

“Beautiful stained glass panels flanking the front door depict Australian flora and fauna, with these designs also used as motifs on the painted ceiling.

“A stunning staircase, with a balustrade decorated with bosses and Tudor roses, leads up to a spacious landing where a beautiful original light fitting features in the centre of the painted ceiling.”

Ownership of Scone passed to William Beaumont Gibson, grandson of William Gibson junior, in 1943 and he sold the house and 20 surrounding acres for use as the Eskleigh Memorial Home for people with permanent disabilities.

The Eskleigh Memorial Home opened in November 1947 and was the first home of its kind in Tasmania. Last year it celebrated 70 years of continuous operation.

As part of its 70th celebrations the history of Eskleigh was researched and the result is the new book Home of Peace: the Eskleigh Story ($25) which is now available from the Eskleigh office at Perth.

(Published in the Sunday Examiner on 6 January 2019 as part of the Launceston Historical Society series.)

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