Past Owners

DRAFT on behalf of National Trust

‘WOOLSTONE’ at Kelso

When Bathurst was proclaimed as a new town on Sunday 7th May 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie ordered that no major buildings were to be erected on the Bathurst side of the river until the land was properly surveyed. There were no such restrictions on the eastern side of the River, thereby unofficially establishing the formation of the village which, some years later in about 1823, came to be known as Kelso It was so named after the town of Kelso in Scotland, the birthplace of lady Mary Brisbane, wife of Sir Thomas Brisbane, governor of the Colony of New South Wales from 1821-1825. This was to be
where the first farmlets would be granted and non-government settlement began.

So the Macquarie River was to become the division between Bathurst and Kelso, the Government side with officials, soldiers and convicts, and the Kelso side for free settlers and in fact in the early years Macquarie placed a guard of soldiers at Emu Ford and only allowed passes for’ gentlemen and respectable free people’ .

And so the Macquarie River was to become the division between Bathurst and Kelso, the Government side with officials, soldiers and convicts, and the Kelso side for free settlers. In fact in the early years Macquarie placed a guard of soldiers at Emu Ford
and only allowed passes for ‘gentlemen and respectable free people’.

Unlike the design plan drawn up by Surveyor-General Thomas Mitchell for the city of Bathurst, there was no such official plan for the village of Kelso. It commenced in February 1818, when Governor Macquarie granted 80 acres along the River each to ten settlers, five free men and five pardoned convicts. These men and their families were to form the nucleus of the village.

One such pardoned convict was Thomas Kite who had arrived in the colony on 11th  June 1813 having been transported for life for stealing 5 pounds from his employer’s Drapery business. He joined William Cox in 1815 making the road over the Blue Mountains, subsequently received his pardon for such work, and remained in Bathurst.  Kite quickly prospered on his 80 acres, and had soon amassed many thousands of acres around Bathurst and beyond. In 1820 he married Sarah Bayliss and they had 9 children – Ann, Jane, Eliza, Thomas, William, Elizabeth, George, Emily and Sarah. Despite Kite’s extensive landholdings, he saw no need to alter the site of his residence, and remained on the plot first assigned to him by Governor Macquarie in 1818.

In 1828 Kite decided to open a single storey Inn under the name of ‘Dun Cow’, being part of his residence. It faced Gilmour Street, which became the trunk road to the goldfields of Sofala, Hill End and Mudgee. Kite died in 1876 and his son William moved from his home Dockairne to his father’s home which had been named Woolstone, and around 1880 constructed a two-storey Victorian Italianate mansion of brick and stone under a hipped slate roof, incorporating Thomas’ original cottage in the rear portion of the new house.

The house is a rectangular main block with a square Norman style central tower on the main facade, flanked by matching faceted bays. It also has a two-storey cast iron filigree veranda, supported by fluted cast iron posts imported from England. It has a cast iron balustrade widow’s walk on top of the building which provides excellent panoramic views over Bathurst and Kelso.

The house was built with a ballroom and cedar fittings throughout, and electric bells to summon the servants and three large cellars. Italian marble was imported for the six fireplaces.

William Kite was for a time, Sheriff of Bathurst. Unfortunately, William’s monetary misfortunes caused a sale of the contents of Woolstone on 28th August 1891 followed in 1898 with the bank taking possession of the entire property.  It remained in the bank’s hands until 1903 when an in-law of Tomas Kite, Mr E C Cousins, paid out the mortgage (£1,600).

 Cousins sold within a year.  On 1st  August 1904 the property was subdivided and Arthur and Elizabeth Brownlow of Rockley purchased Woolstone (£2,300) and resided there until the end of World War 1 when they moved back to Rockley. Elizabeth Mary Brownlow was the daughter of Jacob Barnes of Triangle Flat.  The subdivide lot known as the ‘Blackman portion’ was sold to an in-law of Kite, L.M.Lee but was re-purchased by Brownlow in 1907.

A decision was taken by the Church of England to open a boarding school called Lydia Ladies’ College and for this purpose a row of toilets and showers were built in the backyard, and a telephone installed. However, on opening day, 9th October 1917, only one pupil turned up, and so the project was abandoned. It seems prospective students
were afraid of a ghost that reputedly lived in the building. 

In 1920 Thomas Joseph Briscoe became the new owner via an assignment from Harold Paul (£1,820), and Mr. Briscoe’s Estate sold it in February 1924 to Mr Harold Hastings Holden (£1,000). In August 1926 a Charity event was held in the house in aid of the Bodington Home for Consumptives, and in 1927 the Kelso Football’s Club Charity Dance was held there.

The next owner was David Thomas Whiteman in 1927 (£1,800) who was a shearing contractor.  His many descendants held a reunion at Woolstone in 2012.

Joseph Thomas Davidson, a commercial agent, bought it in 1933(£1,300) , and he quickly on-sold in 1935 to Arthur Joseph Dobel a grazier (£1,250). 

Kingsley Savage lived there as a teenager with his family who rented in 1939-1940.  He has written a memoir which recalls several supernatural experiences. During World War II the house was occupied by the Australian Army as offices.  They left evidence of partition wall mortised into the floorboards and dates signatures on the tower walls. 

Ruby and Robert Leslie Currie, a dentist, purchased after the war in 1945 (£1,250) .  It is believed the house was often unoccupied and fell into disrepair. 

In 1959 Cecil Albert Gregory (of Gregory’s Maps) purchased the property(£5,500) .  He had a plan to turn Woolstone into a history and folk museum, however he could not raise the enthusiasm of the Council and public, and so abandoned the project.

In 1963 it was purchased by John Henry & Alice May Ghilks (£5,000). John was an antique dealer from England and as his father had been head game keeper for the Duke of Portland in Sherwood Forest, UK, he obtained and planted two oak trees grown from original Sherwood Forest acorns.   John set about restoring the property. During restoration of the roof, slate tiles were used from St Michaels and St John’s Cathedral in Bathurst.  The Ghilks filled the house with antique furniture purchased from the sale of an English manor house. 

Mr Aaron Schembri was a builder and the next owner in 1980 ($147,500).  He added a rear kitchen, a veranda to connect the stables to the home, and outside toilets. 

The next owners, Rod and Ivija Smith, in 1982 ($360,000), completed the restoration work and turned the house into a reception centre, restaurant and guest house. Many residents of Bathurst enjoyed memorable weddings and dinners at The Stables restaurant for the next two decades. 

Steve and Julie Bracken purchased the property in 2000 ($610,000), and continued to run the restaurant, but soon sold to the current owner Mr. John Cosco in 2002. 

Mr Cosco has carried out extensive restoration work to return Woolstone to its original splendour.   In the course of renovations he has uncovered 3 original wells dating to the 1930’s.  He has also discovered that Thomas Kite’s original 1830’s house which stood where the SE corner of the 1870’s mansion now exists was completely demolished and new footings constructed to underpin the mansion.  The only relic of the original house is the wood stairs with colonial hand-forged nails which was relocated between the attic level and widows walk in the mansion.  It is also possible that the sandstone step carved with the word ‘ENTRANCE’ that graces Thomas Kite’s grave at nearby Ttrinity church may have come from his original house. 

Mr Cosco is committed to ensuring Woolstone continues to contribute towards both the heritage streetscape and to the history of early Kelso.

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