Woolstone History – McRae/Churches

(extract: p.226-238 Kelso Village Book 1 : Published 2001 by Alan McRae and Carol Churches ISBN 0-646-41551-4)


One of the better known landmarks and one of the most impressive 19th century mansions in Kelso is “Woolstone”, though lately it has become known as Woolstone House. This historic building has cemented its place, not only Kelso’s history and social life, but also for Bathurst. Its history began with a man named Thomas Kite.

On 15th January, 1812, Thomas Kite, at the age of 24, was sentenced to death by hanging after being convicted of stealing £5 from his employer, a Mr Hugh Jones, where Thomas worked as a porter in his Drapery business. Kite’s salary was agreed upon at twenty guineas a year and he was to live with the Jones family. His death sentence was commuted to transportation for life after the jury recommend leniency as four witnesses had given testimony as to his good character. He was put into aLondon prison and later put aboard the convict ship “Fortune”, on 3rd December the same year, arriving in the colony of New South Wales on Friday, 11th June, 1813. Ironically, this was the same year that Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth found a way through the Blue Mountains and eventually the Bathurst Plains was settled.

On his arrival, Thomas Kite was assigned, firstly, along with two other convicts, to Lieutenant Purcell at Windsor, where he worked for about eighteen months. In 1815, he was sent to join Cox’s road gang, though the road was somewhat completed by the time he arrived. He remained at Bathurst and was assigned to the road gang working out of the local depot on the ‘Government side of the Macquarie River.’ Kite worked hard, continually showing his initiative with the jobs that were assigned to him. All the convicts who worked under William Cox, the acting Commandant, at Bathurst would later receive their emancipation.

In 1818, Thomas Kite was one of ten men selected by Governor Macquarie and given free land grants at Kelso on the Bathurst Plains. Possibly William Cox had some hand in this. Following this Thomas was given his conditional pardon on 28th October, 1818. Thomas Kite’s grant totalled 80 acres, however as he built ‘a substantial dwelling’ as his residence on the eastern side of the Macquarie River, fairly quickly, his allocation was not reduced, unlike his neighbour, George Cheshire, who lost 20 acres.

Kite was fortunate in these difficult times, he prospered almost from the start, and in 1820, even received a payment from Government Stores over the river at Bathurst, for meat and grain he had grown to deliver to the provision store and granary.

On Tuesday, 26th December, 1820, Thomas married Sarah Bayliss, the 16 year old daughter of Sergeant Bayliss of Windsor and the couple would have nine children. Sergeant Bayliss had come to New South Wales in 1790. Their first daughter Ann was born on 8th December the following year, just two weeks before Governor Macquarie’s final visit to Bathurst, before he left the Colony of New South Wales.

Before Sarah Kites death in 1844, she bore nine children – Ann (b. 1821 – married William Lee Jnr.), Jane (b1825 – married Captain Barlow), Eliza (b. 1827 and died aged 15 years), Thomas Jnr (B. 1833 – married Emma Bloomfield), William (b. 1835 – married in 1901 to Elizabeth Wright), Elizabeth (b. 1838 – married Mowbray Stenhouse Forrest), George (b. 1840 – d. 1873 – did not marry), Emily (b. 1843 – married George Lee, M.L.C.) and Sarah (b. 1823 – married Richard Young Cousins.)

In 1821, Thomas Kite was one of a number small settlers who wrote a community letter to the Colonial Secretaries Office in Sydney, complaining that the boundaries of their land had been changed three times in four years by the government surveyors.

Thomas Kite continued his hard work and by 1828 the census showed he owned 150 acres, of which 80 were under cultivation. He also owned a number of livestock including 18 horses, 230 cattle and 1000 sheep, which was quite an achievement in only a decade. He had four assigned convicts and three ex-convicts to run his farm, with three of these being shepherds.

By 1828, Thomas Kite decided to open a single storey inn, this going under the sign the “Dun Cow”, the building later being ‘incorporated’ into “Woolstone”, when it was later constructed. Whether this inn was the original house, with some extra rooms added or a different building is yet to be established. Licensed the same year by the Bathurst Magistrates, Thomas Kite was able to monopolise the whole of the legal inn trade on the Bathurst Plains. He operated the small, but much needed establishment for three years, probably with the assistance of one of his convict servants Ben Mansfield, until towards the end of 1831. George Kable then leased it off Thomas in 1833.

In 1830, Thomas Kite received another grant, this time one square mile (about 640 acres.) To help work it he applied for four more convict assignees, of which two were granted. It seems from this time that this now quite successful businessman really started to amass his ‘empire’. He also purchased some 1050 acres of land as well as receiving yet another land grant of 640 acres. By 1834 the wool boom had commenced, with wool prices rising sharply. Also an Act of the Colonial Legislature allowed for an easier flow of capital from England into the colony of New South Wales.

When Thomas’s youngest daughter married his property manager, Richard Young Cousins, in 1840, he had a home built for them on his land adjoining his “Woolstone” block which was called “Kelsoville” (this home still stands and can be seen from the Great Western Highway). Later Thomas purchased A.K. McKenzie’s property “Dockairne” where he established orchards and grew outstanding cherries.

Thomas Kite also purchased town land in Bathurst, Orange and Sydney, as well as acquiring properties such as “Kangarooby” on Molong Creek (11,520 acres), “Cobong” on Cobong (Goobang) Creek (40, 960 acres), “Burrawang” on the Lachlan River, to name a few. By 1839, Kite was possibly the most successful grazier in the central west, except maybe Thomas Icely.

By 1851, Thomas Kite held more then 200,000 acres of land. From 1853, he began to sell of some of his properties, which included “Wardry”, near Condobolin, to his son-in-law, Richard Young Cousins. With the money he began to invest in further blocks of land in towns and cities, though there were few of the latter. He purchased premium sites in Sydney. In the 1860′s and 70′s Thomas purchased shops and dwellings in Bathurst and Orange.

Thomas Kite passed away on Wednesday evening, 13th September, 1876 and is buried at Kelso. He was in “unimpaired health until a few weeks before he died.” A report in the Bathurst Times on 16th September, 1876, reports – “Thomas Kites remains were conveyed to the cemetery at Kelso and were followed from his residence by a numerous concourse on foot. Reverend A. Blackett, the Rector and Bishop Marsden officiated. A muffled peal of bells were rung by the Cathedral belfry.”

Thomas Kite’s estate, at the time of his death in 1876, was valued at around £800,000 ($1,600,000).

Around 1880, his son William supposedly added substantially to his father’s original cottage, having constructed around it a two storey Victorian Italianated mansion of brick and stone under a hipped slate roof . It seems ironic that his father’s old mud cottage was to form part of the new, elaborate and substantial building and would be out of character.

Woolstone is a rectangular main block with a surmounted square Norman-style central tower in the main facade, flanked by matching faceted bays. Another feature is the two storey cast iron figaree verandah, supported by fluted cast iron posts and originally imported by ship from England. This initial verandah went all around the house, however later it was partially removed so that it is now only on the front and sides. A unique feature for Kelso, is the cast iron balustraded ‘widow’s walk’ on top of the building from which excellent panoramic views over the river flats and both Bathurst and Kelso are obtainable.

The site chosen to build “Woolstone” turned out to be relatively convenient, being about a mile from Bathurst and half a mile from the Kelso Railway Station. The building has always had direct access from the Great Western Highway (this name is somewhat of a misnomer since the Highway is no longer ‘great’, its length being a mere one-fourth of what it was when it was named.) The actual front of the building faces the old trunk road known in the early days as Peel Road, now Gilmour Street, which went on to the Turon goldfields, Sofala, Hill End and Mudgee.

For over a century this Kelso landmark has been described at various times as “palatial”, “ideal gentleman’s residence”, “magnificent”, “elaborately finished”, “undoubtedly the finest built residence in Kelso and Bathurst”, “it is a building of great splendour”, and the list goes on. William Kite spared no expense on this lavish building at Kelso, with its architectural complexity and opulent ornamentation. Unfortunately, this mansion was to pass from owner to owner and despite its near ruin, it would survive periods of total neglect and vandalism, soldiers during the war, to become the showpiece that it is today.

Woolstone contains 10 rooms, plus kitchen, bathroom, pantry, storeroom and laundry. One room was originally a ball-room with hand stencilled walls and ornate cornices. The ceilings are about fifteen feet high giving the rooms a very spacious look. Cedar fittings were used throughout, in particular the massive cedar doors and window frames. Cedar was used for the central staircase off the hall which allowed access to the upstairs rooms – six large bedrooms and two sitting rooms. Walls were constructed of brick with most walls being 12 inches to 18 inches thick.
At great expense, Italian marble was imported for the six fireplaces with the intricately carved mantle pieces and hearths complimented by the surrounding patterned tiles. A well had been sunk in the back yard and later a ships tank was also added. Three large cellars, each about 20 feet by 12 feet, were also constructed. Stables were constructed at the rear of the building. The fences were post and rail and there was a creek running past the rear of the building which is now known as Raglan Creek.

William Kite was a Justice of the Peace and also acted as Sheriff. He was also Vice President of the Hospital Committee and donated in 1877, at least £500 ($1,000) towards the new Hospital. A keen supporter of the Bathurst A. H. & P Association, William was a Vice President and a Treasurer of the Association. As was his father, William was a keen supporter of Holy Trinity Church and presented it with an organ (in memory of his son Willie 1861-1882) and at least one of the specially constructed glass windows. For a considerable time he was a warden of the church. One of William’s passions was for racing and coursing, and ironically named one of his horses “Woolstone” which was to win the Tattersall’s Cup, on two occasions. With many wins in the Western Districts, William was especially proud when he won the Sydney Cup in 1885. William was also the President of the Philharmonic Society.

Unfortunately William Kite had monetary misfortunes in the late 1880′s which forced him to take stock of his financial situation.

On 28th August, 1891, the Bathurst Times newspaper reported that the Royal Hotel in William Street, Bathurst was the venue for the sale of the property in the residuary estate of the late Mr Thomas Kite. Local auctioneers, Messrs. F. Oakes and Company held the sale with the room being crowded – “the attendance being the largest seen on a similar occasion for some time past”. One has to remember that money was tight in the 1890′s and it was a decade when many of the private banks had to temporarily close their doors, many not to reopen them. Despite the drought also the prices realised were considered satisfactory for the time. The new owner wished to turn the house into a museum.

William Kite died on 18th June, 1901, during the first year that the colonies had combined to form the Commonwealth of Australia.
The prestigious Royal Hotel in Bathurst was again chosen for the sale of “Woolstone” on 1st August 1904. Just four years after the colony undertook Federation the property was up for sale in three lots. Local auctioneers, E. H. Taylor and Co and H. Cutler and Co, had received instructions from Mr E.C. Cousins to sell the property as the latter had decided to reside in Sydney. Lot 1 – was for 30 acres of rich black flats, half of which is under lucerne, and is second to none in the famous Bathurst Plains. Lot 2 – consisted of 10 acres of beautiful orchards and lucerne paddocks, on which stood the ‘palatial residence’ of 12 large rooms, most elaborately finished and now fitted throughout with electric bells. Lot 3 – was for 20 acres of high land, half of which was under lucerne and was, at the time, considered suitable for building blocks.

In 1904, Mr Arthur Joseph Brownlow and his wife Elizabeth purchased “Woolstone” off William Kite’s Estate. Mrs Elizabeth Mary Brownlow was born at Rockley and was the daughter of Mr and Mrs Jacob Barnes of “Triangle Flat”. After their marriage at St Peter’s Church of England, Rockley in June 1892, the couple settled at first settled at “Briar Park”, Rockley before moving to Kelso after purchasing the historic mansion. The family resided at Kelso till towards the end of the First World War, when they moved to Manly. The Brownlows had two sons and three daughters at Kelso.

During the last year of the First World War, “Woolstone” was put up “TO LET OR LEASE” in April, 1918, as a “Gentleman’s Commodious Residence” at moderate rental. The building had been thoroughly renovated inside and out. There was still an abundant and convenient water supply and “Quirk’s Air Gas” had been installed throughout. An advertisement at the time stated that “Woolstone” Kelso was standing in its own grounds of 12 acres which were sub-divided into three paddocks – splendid orchard and garden. A fowl (chicken) run was also included.

On Tuesday, 19th February, 1924, another sale took place at “Woolstone”. The executive for the Estate of the late T. J. Briscoe had instructed Palmer and Richardson, auctioneers, to sell by public auction the furniture and effects in the estate. This consisted of such items as bedroom suite, kapok mattress, a quantity of new table and bed linen, toilet crockery, leather armchairs, double barrel Greener shotgun, fishing rods and nets and numerous sundry items. All items were for sale without reserve.

“Woolstone” was often put to good use on occasions as a charity raising venue, one such occasion occurred in August, 1926, in aid of the Bodington Home for Consumptives. The mansion was loaned for the occasion by Mr and Mrs J. Davison and Mr and Mrs Ryan. The commodious rooms were decorated with wattle which grew in many parts of Kelso at that time. In spite of the wet weather there was a splendid attendance and the effort was described as “a marvellous success.” The music was supplied by Tooby’s Orchestra and a large number of patrons danced. As happened at many such functions at this time many also indulged in cards and other amusements (games).

The gent’s card prize was won by Mr B. Rivett (presented by Mr A.J. McDonald) and the lady’s card prize was won by Mrs Gorman of Kelso (donated by Miss Webb). Two booby prizes (presented by Mrs Mofflin) were won by Master C. Harvey and Mrs Shillabeer. The chocolate waltz was keenly contested, the winners being Miss E. Redding and Mr W. Redding. This pair received a prize donated by Miss Ewer. The results of other competitions were: doll (given by Miss Jacobs), won by Mrs E. Marsden; doll (given by Mrs Broadbent), won by Mr Shillabeer, box of sweets won by Mr Kirkman. The committee thanked the residents of “Woolstone” for the free use of the building, also to Mr A. J. McDonald and L. Edgley and Co for the donation of the tickets.

Woolstone hosted the Kelso Football Club’s Charity Dance in aid of the “Bathurst Times” radio appeal, with the event arousing much interest. Mr Jack Bell and members of the Kelso Football Club had made all the arrangements for the dance which was held on 15th June, 1927.

The various sales of “Woolstone” were not without its incidences as the Bathurst Small Debts Court heard on 25th February, 1928, when a complaint arising out the sale of the property in June the previous year, was heard. Albert George Walker, auctioneer, of Russel Street, Bathurst sued Ethel Annie Paul, trading as Frank Glasson and Co, for £22/10/10 ($45.10), being half the commission on the sale of the property. The sale was on behalf of Mr H. H. Holden to David Whiteman (a shearing contractor of Kelso) for £1,800 ($3,600). Albert Walker claimed that he had introduced the buyer to Glasson and Co, thus being the effective cause of the sale.

Mr J. B. Scoble S.M. adjudicated with Mr R. H. Browning appearing for the plaintiff and Mr W. H. Henlen for the defendant, who denied indebtedness. Albert Walker stated that he remembered introducing Whiteman to Glasson and Co about November,1926 and that he thought the selling price was £1,500 ($3,000). Walker explained that he did not have “Woolstone”, but that Glassons had it. Whiteman was in turn introduced to Mr Paul, the manager and Walker even offered the use of his car. Paul had insisted that they go and look over the property in Paul’s sulky. Whiteman actually drove his lorry out to the property and Paul went by horse. It appears that no sale eventuated at the time of this visit. Glasson’s did finally sell the property to Mr Whiteman and when Albert Walker heard about it, he wrote to Glassons on 10th July, 1927, for his half commission, but received no reply.

The purchaser, David Whiteman, was also called to give evidence however he could not recall any mention of splitting the commission. After hearing all the evidence the Magistrate, Mr J. B. Scoble, non-suited the plaintiff.

In November, 1932 Woolstone was up “FOR SALE BY PUBLIC AUCTION”. Frank Glasson and Co, auctioneers of Bathurst had been instructed by Mr David Thomas Whiteman Esq. to sell ‘on the ground’ on Thursday, 5th November, at 3pm, “Woolstone”. The building was to be sold with 32 acres of rich alluvial land. By this time Woolstone boasted a garage as well as a septic tank.

In 1939 – 1940 Mr Kingsley Savage, of South Australia, lived there . He came from Adelaide with his father who established a business in Bathurst. The house was set back from the road , amongst an overgrown, unattended garden, at the end of a ‘U’ shaped drive. At the rear was a row of brick cubicles – six showers and six toilets. He recalls years later the glass fanlight above the door with “Woolstone” etched into it. At the end of the ballroom were double French doors which opened onto a conservatory. The kitchen had the longest stove that he had seen, about six feet long and 3 feet deep and a kitchen sink with just one tap! The floor of the bathroom was covered with lead sheeting. The building was surrounded with a four foot high stone wall.

He learnt that some time previously, a Church of England syndicate had decided to open a boarding school there , to be known as Lydia Ladies College, so they had the “row of toilets and cold water only showers built in the back yard near the back door, but on opening day one solitary pupil appeared, forcing them to abandon the project.” Telephone wires were run to Woolstone in anticipation of the new school. See page 96 for more information on this school.

At times during the Second World War this home was occupied by the Australian Army.

In early March, 1962, a plan was put forward by a former Bathurst resident and well known Sydney businessman who made road maps – Mr Cecil A. Gregory. He had had a life-long experience as a journalist and publisher. His plan was to turn “Woolstone”, which he had purchased several years earlier, into an early history and folk museum. Gregory’s plan, which he estimated would cost around £10,000 ($20,000), would not only prevent demolition of the historic building but would also help tourism in Bathurst.

Within days Mr Gregory had installed a caretaker until such time as he could visit and put forward his plan to local businessmen. His idea was that the project would be managed by a representative Trust with the Bathurst Historical Society to receive the expected annual surpluses. The project was to be tackled in two stages – the first was to lease or purchase the property and the second part involved the restoration of the home to museum standard.

Gregory felt that there would be an average of 35,000 adults visit (paying 2/- or 20 cents) each and 10,000 children to school parties giving an estimated £4,700 ($9,400) income. The total outgoings once the museum became operative was set down at £1,700 ($3400). Money would be made available to the Bathurst Historical Society to enable it to carry on its valuable work of collecting and collating records and relics for the proposed museum.

It was felt that a museum of the class contemplated, could also become an important stop in package tours across the Blue Mountains by air , road and rail – including tours for overseas visitors – and would also serve as a means of generating interest to the rising generation in early Australian exploration and happenings. One of Mr Gregory’s conditions for the museum was also that a road, directly off the highway, would be needed to “Woolstone”. Adjoining land would also be given as a playing ground.

Mr Gregory had also approached the then Minister for Tourism Activities and Chief Secretary, Mr C. A. Kelly, who then had approached the NSW State Treasurer, though the latter was sympathetic, had regretted his inability to help. The Bathurst Historical Society’s historic Folk Museum display was in Webb’s old building and there was also an idea that their display could be rented to the proposed “Woolstone” museum for at least twice the price currently being obtained though admissions. Mr Alan Morse, a former Bathurst Mayor, and public accountant had carefully examined the proposed budget of the museum and he considered “the figuring sound and the prospects of “Woolstone” as a museum bright conditionally on its being run on business-like lines.” Mr Morse felt that the people of Bathurst and district should get behind the venture.

In early July, the Mayor of Bathurst, Alderman O. G. Parnham, praised the “Woolstone” offer and other Bathurst citizens said that the offer should be taken up. Alderman P.J. Moodie, a member of Bathurst City Council for many years said that the offer was “a fine gesture”.

In later correspondence in mid July, to Bathurst City Council, Mr Gregory stated that he was no longer intending to lodge an application for a motel in the area, as he had originally proposed. He also stated that he would be honoured to have a seat on any Management Committee. Gregory proposed that this Committee would compose of representatives of surrounding shire councils, the Bathurst Historical Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Olympic Way Committee and other organisations if they cared to appoint them. Later Gregory thought that the Government Tourist Bureau and the Royal Historical Society may also be appropriate on the committee. In the letter Gregory claimed that there was ill-based criticism of his supposed nefarious and self-serving interests concerning his motel project on part of the land.

It seems that there were a number of critics to the scheme – one felt that “Woolstone” would soon become a “white elephant” heading for the scrap-heap, another said that Gregory was after a way to “get rid of it” and as Gregory said in an interview in the Western Times of the day “the biggest problem was the apathy, the unimaginativeness, the ‘couldn’t-care-lessness’ and even the actual obstruction that I have encountered since I proposed the “Woolstone” scheme.”

By early August, 1962, the proposal was certainly having a battle winning support of the Bathurst City Council aldermen of the day at its meeting in August, 1962 when they met to discuss if the interested parties should meet with Mr Gregory. Aldermen such as J. Cummings “who wanted to drop it and let the shires and what have you do what they like”, J. L Alexander, was more understanding in stating that “the door should not be closed”, whilst Les Bant asked – “if a place had to be 100 or 150 years old to be considered for such a project and considered that the whole matter is worth consideration.” The Bathurst Historical Society was also not happy with the proposition and they considered that the building was not considered a historical structure in the view of the society. Council said that the building was 74 years old (in fact it was closer to 82). Alderman Larson moved finally that the meeting go ahead and it was seconded by Ald J.N. McGrath.

In the Western Times newspaper of 30th August, 1962, it appears that all the negative views and unwillingness to embrace the project from the local council, the local historical society and others, as well as indifference and undisguised hostility in various quarters led to the offer being withdrawn by Mr C.A. Gregory. He wrote to the Bathurst City Council to inform them of his decision.

A little over a year later, in October, 1963, the Western Advocate had the headline “WOOLSTONE’ TO BE RESTORED”. Mr John Henry Ghilks, though the newspaper spelt it ‘Jilks’, and his Australian born wife Alice had purchased “Woolstone” from Mr Gregory and had intended to open a museum and antique shop by Christmas. They planned to restore the old home into something like its original condition. Mr Ghilks, of Sydney, who came to Australia from Nottinghamshire, had been an enthusiastic collector of antiques all his life. John Ghilks really saved the building from demolition and would put in a great deal of effort in restoring the old home. As restoration proceeded the real state of the building became apparent.

John Ghilk’s father had been, at one time, head game keeper for the Duke of Portland, whose estate surrounded Robin Hood’s headquarters Sherwood Forest. This English antique dealer had planted in the “Woolstone” grounds two small oaktrees, which had been grown from original Sherwood Forest acorns.

In 1965, John Ghilks received a “150th Anniversary of the foundation of Bathurst Award” for the “Best Preserved and Restored Old Building in Bathurst and District” for his efforts in restoring the building. Slates used during the restoration of the roof came from St Michaels and St John’s Cathedral. They had originally been shipped over from Wales. All the slates on the roof had to be completely removed and replaced.

“Woolstone” had been cleaned and part of the museum had already arrived. The couple planned to have a large display, including a room devoted to relics of the old war days, including blunderbusses, pistols, lances and pikestaffs. A pistol reputed to have been owned by Dick Turpin was also to be included. The bedrooms had already been equipped with period furniture including Queen Anne four poster beds and hand made tapestries. Another room would be arranged as an old-time English hotel with beer pulling equipment and other antique barroom items. The Ghilks were on the lookout for relics of the gold mining period which they could display.

Aaron Schembri later purchased the building from Mr Ghilks. Aaron put in a rear kitchen, added the verandah to connect the stables to the house and installed ladies and mens toilets outside. Also during restoration of the high, ornately corniced ceiling ballroom, at which time the walls completely wallpapered, Arron found that on removing the wallpaper the original handpainted pattern work was under it.

The Western Advocate records “the death at “Neringah”, Wahroonga on 25th January, 1969, of Mrs Elizabeth Mary Brownlow, widow of Mr Arthur Joseph Brownlow. The service was held at Holy Trinity, Kelso, where the couple had worshipped for many years while they were living at “Woolstone”. The altar in the church stands as a memorial to their son Harold who died in 1909 (two other children Lillian and Dorothy predeceased the couple though they were both married before they passed on).”

It was mid 1989 before the ‘old mansion’ was restored, hidden as it is, even today, by the garden with its towering trees. Rod and Ivija Smith purchased the building in September, 1982 and utilised the potential of the structure, turning it into a reception centre, restaurant and guest house. The restaurant opened in September, 1989, after much opposition from local residents. The mansion also became known better as “Woolstone House”. In 1989, Rod and Ivija Smith, won a Heritage Award.

In April, 1997, “Woolstone” was on the market again, with L.J. Hooker Rural in Sydney being the principal agent. Smith’s sold to Steve and Julie Bracken in 2000.

( In 2003 Bracken sold to Clywin who restored it to its original appearance.)

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