Every morning we woke up in Tasmania we had a sense of excitement – what would we do today? What would we see? What would we discover? What interesting things would we find out? Our first few days were spent in Hobart and from the first moments of driving into the city in the airport shuttle bus we could see what a really beautiful city it is – so many wonderfully preserved and elegant old buildings, so much new architecture to admire, so many stunning views and vistas…
One of the reasons for visiting the island state was to connect with my family – my family history to be exact for I don’t think any of my distant relatives still live there. My great-great-grandfather and his brother-in-law moved to Tasmania from London in the late 1830’s early 1840’s and set up an import export business, Nathan and Moses. They had warehouse, at least two shops, and several ships which traded across the Pacific, South China Sea and no doubt the Southern and Indian Oceans.
Samuel and his family moved out of the town, to a fabulous mansion called Boa Vista where they entertained lavishly. By the time they moved up from the town, they had several children, including my great-grandfather Louis. They returned to England in the 1860’s but Louis remained behind and I think eventually moved to live in Sydney on the mainland, or the Big Island, as Tasmanians call it. However, Boa Vista remained in the family, until both Samuel and his wife had died, and it was eventually sold in the early 1900’s.
Various things happened to the old mansion, but eventually, sadly it was pulled down, and, built on the site now is a school, a Friends’ School – which is a little coincidence, since my son, their great-great-great grandson, went to a Friends’ School here in England. However, I knew from my research, that the gatehouse of the old place was still in existence, I had seen many photos of it, so on our first full day in Tasmania, we set off to look for it.
It was a most glorious day; brilliant, crystal clear blue skies, perfect gorgeous sun, just right for a stroll to see the old family residence… it was a little further than we anticipated. It was a very easy walk in one sense, a main road out of the city, past the synagogue in which my family had such a significant role, up a very steep hill, through an area of low-level industrial and business units, past some wonderful and interesting houses – we did stop to take a lot of pictures on our expedition, partly because the buildings were so interesting, partly to have a rest in the shade…
To be honest, it got to a point when we thought either we had somehow missed it, or that it was going to be too far for us in this unaccustomed heat – almost straight from a very wintry England to a brilliant summery Tasmania – and I had just said, ‘we’ll walk to the next rise and if we don’t see it we’ll turn back and catch a bus up here on another day…‘ when we saw it!
There was the gatehouse! The porticoed gatehouse or lodge! I was so excited I was almost beyond words. Originally this would have been in open parkland, now it is all built up, with houses on either side and on the opposite side of the busy road, the school behind, but the views, oh the views! Standing by the gatehouse I could see straight across rolling hills to kunanyi – Mount Wellington – no wonder it was called Boa Vista, Beautiful Vista, it was just breathtaking!
The view – the boa vista
I stood, imagining Louis as a little boy then a young man here… maybe arriving at the gatehouse and getting out of his carriage or off his horse, or maybe setting off with pet dogs to walk around the estate and see wildlife which to our English eyes was exotic but to him would have been as usual as rabbits or badgers are to us.
One of the first things which struck me when I got off the plane was the smell, the distinctive, perfume of the island – Louis, born in Hobart would have grown up with this, it would have been natural to him… did he dream of it when he moved to England, to the ‘great stink’ of London?
Maybe I am fanciful, but I felt very close to my unknown ancestor, here and in other places we visited…
After our exciting discovery, the long walk back to town, but at least it was down hill!