Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Carrington and Tahlee - Off the Beaten Track

Today the settlements of Carrington and Tahlee lie proverbially "off the beaten track" on the northern shores of Port Stephens, New South Wales.

In their heyday in 1830's and 1840's as headquarters of the Australian Agricultural Company, (AAC) they were thriving settlements.

In 1834 at the end of the term of Sir Edward Parry as Commissioner (1830-1834) of the AAC, "there was a busy settlement at Carrington of nearly 500 souls and a school  for 50 children." [Port Stephens Story published by the Port Stephens Historical Society 1980, page 16]. The School which opened on 17th May 1830 was the first in the Port Stephens area with Mr and Mr Mawson as schoolmaster and mistress. [Port Stephens Story, page 55]

On a recent visit we were able to tap into the colonial and some more recent history of the area:

1 Church of the Holy Trinity, Carrington

Convict Church at Carrington circa 1847 - Front view
Photo taken January 2014

Convict Church at Carrington circa 1847- Rear view
Photo taken January 2014
Built by convict labour in 1847, this sturdy stone church was the first permanent church established by the AAC at Carrington by Commissioner Phillip Parker King (1839-1949). 

It was consecrated as the Church of the Holy Trinity in 1851. With the relocation of the headquarters of ACC to Stroud, it was closed in 1862 in favour of St Johns at Stroud.It was restored in 1880 under the patronage of Robert Hoddle White MP and rededicated as the Church of St Andrew in 1888. It was finally closed in 1947 and is today a private property.

The church's bell was a relic of the convict days at Carrington. From an article in the Sydney Morning Herald we have the following description:

"An interesting relic of early the days is attached to the church; this consists of a bell made in England in 1829, and brought out by the company and used for the purpose of sounding an alarm when a convict escaped: with the departure of the convicts the bell was no longer required for this purpose, and it was attached to the church by means of a wooden belfry. Unfortunately the woodwork rotted and the bell fell, being cracked in the fall, and could not, of course, be rung....... "[Sydney Morning Herald, Saturday 29 December 1934].

At time of this article being written, the bell could be seen outside the entrance porch of the church, securely concreted to a plinth. But where is it today?

 2) Tahlee House

Tahlee House - January 2014. View looking up from walkway
Tahlee House situatedt 600 metres to the west of Carrington was originally built by convict labour in 1826 as the residence for the Commissioners of the ACC. 

It first occupant was Robert Dawson (1826-1828). He supervised the construction of a Boat Harbour below the house to protect small boats from the south westerly winds. Built by convict labour under the supervision of stonemason Daniel Ivey, it is still intact today.

In the 1830s, Sir Edward Parry made several additions to Tahlee House.  Captain  Phillip Parker King was the last Commissioner to reside there House in 1840s. He oversaw the relocation of ACC to Stroud in 1853.

Mr Frederick Manton purchased the Tahlee Estate from the ACC in !854 for 2500 pounds. The house however burned down in 1860 leaving only the walls standing.

Tahlee House was to come into it own again in 1880's following its purchase by Robert Hoddle Driberg White for 850 pounds. Robert White was a member of Legislative Assembly of the New South Wales Parliament for the seat of Gloucester (1882-1887).

He fully revitalised Tahlee House adding a billiard room and ballroom. He entertained the social set being well known for bringing guests from Sydney on his steam yacht, Kingfisher. The ground were beautifully landscaped. In 1886 White also bought a valuable Hele organ for house.

Tahlee House with distinctive cannon - January 2014
One interesting feature at Tahlee House is the six pounder cannon on the front lawn. It has the Royal Cipher of George III (GR) inscribed on it. It is one of several cannons that were on the Tahlee property which have casting dates of 1812 and 1819. It is believed that they originated  from the Dawes Point Battery (Sydney) on its dismantling in 1870s and 1880s. 

Cannon on front lawn at Tahlee House.
Photo taken January 2014

Close-up view of cannon on front lawn at Tahlee House.
Photo taken January 2014

Royal Cipher "GR" inscribed into the cannon.
Photo taken January 2014

3) Tahlee Bible College

In 1949, the Christian missionary group, Gospel Fisherman Mission (now Tahlee Ministries Inc) leased the property from Alfrey Beecher Stewart White (son of Robert). In 1959, the Mission purchased the property from Alfrey White after a large donation was given to the group.

The Tahlee Bible College commenced operations in June 1959.

In the early 1960s, the college purchased disused  buildings from the Greta Migrant Camp which has closed in 1960. These Included the picture theatre and ten accommodation huts. In 1963, eight Nissan huts each containing five rooms were purchased for twenty pounds each from the Australian Army at Rutherford.

Picture theatre, now admimstration building at Tahlee Ministries
 January 2014
Accommodation huts at Tahlee
January 2014
Nissan hut at Tahlee - January 2014
Tahlee Bible College is heritage listed on the NSW State Heritage Register.

The Australian Agricultural Company established in 1824 was a very important part of the settlement of Carrington and Tahlee from 1826-1849.

The charter of the company encompassed the grant of one million acres of land at Port Stephens New  South Wales. This was contingent upon certain conditions being met, including the employment of a large number of convicts.

History Services NSW in its Convict Database has records of: 
  • 1225 convicts in the Port Stephens district, of whom
  • 1096 were assigned to the Australian Agricultural Company.
    If you are researching a convict ancestor in the Port Stephens area, you should go to our website at:

    Blog prepared by Mary McGuinness

    All photos taken taken  in January 2014