Thomas Archer (1790-1853) arrived in New South Wales on the ship Guildford in 1812. He achieved success as a public servant, starting as a Clerk in the Sydney Commissariat before being appointed acting deputy assistant commissary in November of that year. He was transferred to Port Dalrymple (now George Town) Tasmania, as clerk in charge, in 1813. He was made magistrate in 1814 and coroner of Cornwall County in 1816.
In 1817, he was granted 800 acres (320 ha), which formed the core of his Woolmers Estate. By 1819, the very first part of modern Woolmers, the weatherboard section of the main house, was under construction using wood logged and milled on the property. He retired as a Public Servant 1821 to focus on his Woolmers Estate.
By March 1825 Archer held 6000 acres (2428 ha) by grant and much other property by purchase. In 1826 Thomas was appointed a member of the first Legislative Council, and remained a member until ill health forced his resignation in 1845. He was a driving force in the Council.
His successes inspired his brother Joseph to emigrate; later they were joined by two other brothers William (1788-1879) and Edward (1793-1862) and by their father. The Archer brothers were good farmers. They lived on and developed their land, and in 1826 earned high praise from those in charge of the Colony. The homesteads they built included Woolmers, Panshanger, Brickendon, Northbury, Fairfield, Cheshunt, Woodside, Palmerston and Saundridge. Many are still in the hands of descendants to this day and are among the finest in northern Tasmania.
The main house was completed in 1819 with a further more elegant addition in Italiate style being added in 1842-43, designed by Thos. Archer's son, William Archer, an architect of international repute. The property consists of the main house, convict housing, coach house, chapel and various outbuildings.
The Archer family, inspired by Thomas, became the largest property owners and Merino wool producers in Van Diemens Land. VDL was formally renamed Tasmania in 1856.
Walled Garden and Rose Garden
The walled gardens located in the Homestead precinct, established initially by Thos. Archer are in the process of being restored to their former glory. The Rose Garden is situated on the site of the earlier apple orchards and was opened to the public in 2001. The Rose Garden reveals a wide selection of roses that showcase the history and development of the rose over the centuries. The Festival of Roses held on the third Sunday in November, has become an annual event to coincide with the first bloom of the year.. The next is on Sunday 18 November 2018. Woolmers will be displaying thousands of roses, Antique Fair, Art Exhibition together with showcasing local produce. There will be more than 80 stalls ranging from wine, food, jewellery, art and crafts. Special Guests are Ben Milbourne, Gardening Guru Angus Stewart and Henry and Anna from Tasmanian Truffles. There will be kite flying, whip cracking, Thomas the Train and much much more for families and children.
Under the Assignment System, transported convicts were assigned to free settlers, who were then responsible for adequately feeding, clothing and housing them, in return for their labour. Masters were also responsible for ensuring that their workers received religious instruction, and were not required to work on Sundays. The system was founded on the premise that convicts could be reformed through meaningful employment, under the moral guidance of their masters, while masters could access cheap labour, and the Government was relieved of almost all expense. Woolmers was built substantially using convict labour.
Skilled workers were, of course, in great demand. However, one of the great strengths of the system was its capacity to rehabilitate convicts, by giving them employable skills through on-the-job training. These could then be put these to good account when convicts received a Ticket-of Leave, which permitted them to engage in paid work on their own account. Most convicts received a Ticket-of-Leave well before the expiration of their original sentence.
Convicts who began their lives on the Archer properties as “assigned servants” (the term “convicts” was seldom used) often chose to remain there for years, and in some cases decades, after they were free to leave and seek employment elsewhere. At Woolmers & Brickendon, there are numerous buildings where convicts and ex-convicts once laboured and lived. Over the years, they were joined by free workers, some of whom were assisted migrants from Britain, seeking to make a new life in the colonies. All of this occurred under the leadership of the Archers.
World Heritage Listing
Woolmers, together with the neighbouring Archer property, Brickendon, is one of eleven Australian convict sites awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO in 2010. Woolmers & Brickendon were recognised jointly for their ability to convey the story of the convict Assignment System, which operated in Van Diemen’s Land until 1840.
Major tourist attraction
Woolmers is now a major tourist attraction. Guided and self-guided tours of the Estate allow you to experience a special journey through time, from the establishment of the estate in 1817, by Thomas Archer 1st, to the last descendant, Thomas Archer 6th in 1994, and marvel at the array of personal collections and possessions accumulated through six generations of the family. The Estate also caters for weddings and other functions. It is open year round, except for major public holidays.
AccommodationWoolmers has taken six of its historic cottages and turned them into quality accommodation with modern conveniences while keeping the authentic feel of the 1840s convict era. This unique self contained colonial accommodation overlooks the meandering Macquarie River in Tasmania, treed farming land, ever-changing scenery and mountainous backdrop which come together to create a memorable experience for visitors. For more information, see here.
Connection between the Convicts and Wenches event and Woolmers Estate
The purpose of the Convicts and Wenches event is partly to encourage a happy and healthy lifestyle and partly to commemorate the founders of Australia. The majority of the population of Tasmania (then Van Diemen's Land) in the mid 19th century was comprised of convicts or "assigned servants" as they were better known. The largest private employer of assigned servants in VDL was Woolmers and other properties forming part of the collective Archer properties.
In fact, it and neighbouring Archer properties Brickendon, Panshanger, Northbury, Fairfield, Cheshunt, Woodside, Palmerston and Saundridge employed more assigned servants (convicts) than were ever sent to Port Arthur.The organisers of Convicts and Wenches are delighted that Woolmers, as a premium tourist destination, has agreed to host the CnW annual Fancy Dress competition. Runners are encouraged to dress up on the day. Holm Oak Vineyards of Rowella will be awarding a bottle of specially labeled wine to the 30 best dressed participants.