William G Ellison originally built Chigwell House as a wooden structure around 1837. Ellison ran the Hobart Town Courier in Hobart Town and travelled to work every day by steam ship.
It was described as a valuable dairy farm and country residence, beautifully situated and commanding the most delightful view. The two-storey house was sold to a Dr Rowe around 1846, who renovated and sold the property within nine months to the prominent early pioneer settler and merchant Henry Bilton.
Between 1858 and 1860 two fires devastated the house. The second fire in 1859 was said to have been deliberately lit. It was Bilton who built the two storey sandstone Old Colonial Georgian style house still standing today. The new stone house boasted twelve rooms, as well as two storerooms, a dairy and a cellar.
A small township grew around Bilton’s original large house forming the beginning of the Chigwell we know today. In the 1870s the main railway line from Hobart to Launceston was built running through Bilton’s property. By 1900 there was a suburban service, and trains from Cadbury’s factory in Claremont meant that it became easy to commute to Hobart for work and school.
Henry Bilton and his wife continued to live at Chigwell House until Henry’s death in 1889 at the age of 90.
From this time Chigwell House had many owners, the most notable was Mr John Cameron McPhee who purchased the house in 1939. A businessman, and philanthropist, McPhee had a long and distinguished career in state politics, including two periods as Premier of Tasmania from 1928 to 1934 and then, following a knighthood, from 1941 to 1945.
The McPhee’s kept a busy and productive household. The property included a pine plantation, a large garden and a lawn tennis court. John McPhee Jr remembers building an air raid shelter during the Second World War up in the quarry behind the house.
Sir John McPhee died at Chigwell House in 1952. In 1957 the State Government acquired thirteen acres from Mrs McPhee for the new subdivision. By 1964 there were 846 houses on the new suburb called Chigwell.
The McPhee family continued living at Chigwell House until 1959. After a few different owners, the Housing Department bought the property in 1979, it was said to be in excellent condition and was registered with the National Trust. For some years it was used as a community centre.
The Sum Of The Parts
As part of the Chigwell History Project – From Barns to Bank Houses (2005 & 2007), a group of grade 3/4 students from Mt Faulkner Primary School learnt about the history of significant buildings in the Chigwell area; Chigwell House, Chigwell Barn, Lowes Bridge, Berridale Inn and Lowestoft. The students photographed each of these buildings and their environs in order to build a picture of the details and parts that make up the ‘whole’, thereby creating a contemporary pictorial history. Photographers: Laura Telega, Tempany Jarvis, Andrew Holzinger, Noah Thorn, Danielle Stokes.