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Lake Innes Ruins, Port Macquarie, New South Wales facts for kids

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Painting Lake Innes House 1839
Oil painting of Lake Innes house in 1839 when it was at the peak of its productivity.

Lake Innes Ruins are 11 kilometres south of Port Macquarie, Australia. They are the relics of the house and stables once belonging to Major Archibold Clunes Innes, a retired officer of the British military. The ruins also include the remains of servants' cottages, an estate-workers' village, a farm that supplied the house with food, a brickmaking site and a boathouse by the lake. The site contains a rich history about the settlement of New South Wales, convict labour and the culture of the 1800s. It is managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and is accessible to the public.

Major Archibald Clunes Innes

Major Archibald Clunes Innes
Major Archibald Innes circa 1825.
A silhouette of Major Innes by W.H. Fernyhough, 1836.

Archibald Clunes Innes was born in 1800 at Thrumster, Scotland, the sixth son of Major James Innes. He was commissioned an ensign in the 3rd Regiment (the Buffs) in 1813 at the age of only 13 and served in the Peninsular War. He came to Sydney as captain of the guard in the convict ship Eliza in 1822. Between January 1824 and May 1825 he served in Tasmania where he was commended for recapturing escaped convicts. In December 1825 he was appointed aide-de-camp to the lieutenant-governor of New South Wales and became a magistrate in November 1826. After this he became commandant of the penal settlement at Port Macquarie. In 1828 he resigned his commission and was appointed superintendent of police and magistrate at Parramatta. He served here until his resignation in 1829. In the same year he married Margaret, daughter of the Colonial Secretary, Alexander McLeay.

In 1830 the couple came to Port Macquarie and Archibald was granted 2568 acres and was awarded contracts to supply the surrounding convict population with food. At this time Port Macquarie was a major convict settlement. Archibald gradually built his property over the next decade adding sections to his original modest house. By 1840 it consisted of 22 rooms and was known as one of the most luxurious houses in the area. Unlike most houses of this time it had an underground cistern, a bathroom, privies and a boiler for providing hot water.

During the 1830s and 1840s Lake Innes House was an important social centre in which Major Innes provided generous hospitality to a succession of prominent house guests who in 1847 included even Sir Charles Fitzroy, at that time the Governor of NSW and his wife Mary. As his wealth grew he acquired more and more property. He bought sheep and cattle stations all over northern New South Wales, among them Yarrows on the Hastings, Brimbine and Innestown on the Manning, Waterloo, Innes Creek, Kentucky and Beardy Plains. He also bought Furracabad. The township on this station which is the present Glen Innes, was named after him. In his first few years at Lake Innes he produced the first sugar grown in the district and in 1844 he planted thirty acres of vines.

Major Innes was convinced that Port Macquarie would become a major port and settlement area. However the entrance to the Hastings was too dangerous to encourage a large amount of shipping and the road that was built up to the Tablelands was found too hazardous. It was this miscalculation and the general economic depression of the 1840s which lead to his financial ruin. In addition the transportation of convicts to NSW ceased and the Port Macquarie Penal Settlement closed. This deprived him of his contracts to feed the convict population and meant that he no longer had the use of convict cheap labour to run his property. In 1853 he abandoned Lake Innes House and accepted employment as assistant gold commissioner and magistrate at Nundle and later police magistrate at Newcastle, where he died on 29 August 1857.

The Grandeur of Lake Innes House

Annabelle Innes circa 1840
Annabella Boswell (née Innes) circa 1840.
Annabelles Innes sketch Lake Innes House circa 1845
A sketch of the layout of Lake Innes House by Annabella Boswell circa 1845.

Descriptions of the house when it was a luxurious residence are contained in two diaries of young women who lived there. The most famous diary is by Annabella Boswell, Major Innes’s niece, who was there between 1843 and 1848. The other diary is by Louisa Isabella Parker who received some of her education at the house. She lived there periodically between 1848 and 1853.

Annabella said that the house consisted of twenty-two rooms which were all well furnished. In addition there was a separate building called the bachelor’s hall which consisted of a sitting room and three bedrooms. She had drawn a plan of the house which is shown on the right and gave the following description of its overall layout.

“I have by me a rough plan of the house and grounds, stables and outbuildings, which gives some idea of their size and extent. There was a wide double verandah to the front of the house, which faced the Lake and the setting sun. A verandah extended along the whole of the south side. The drawing-room was a large square room at the corner 10ft by 24 ft, with two French Windows to the west and two to the south opening on to the verandah."

St. Thomas' Church, Port Macquarie, 1832-1842 Joseph Backler a7469002h
St Thomas' Church, Port Macquarie circa 1840.
Lake Innes Drawing Room
The drawing room as described by Louisa Parker.
Lake Innes Port Macquarie
Lake Innes House before the fire.
Watercolour Lake Innes House circa 1850
A watercolour of Lake Innes House, circa 1840.

A more detailed account of the house was given by Louisa Parker (née McIntyre) who recalled her first sight of the house when she was a child.

“I can vividly recall my first visit to Lake Innes. At the invitation of the Major and his wife, I accompanied Mrs. and the Misses Innes home in their carriage one Sunday after morning service in St. Thomas' Church (see painting of a gathering at St Thomas’ Church at about the time described by Louisa on the left). The carriage was drawn by four horses, and a coachman was in charge. Three or four gentlemen visitors rode behind the carriage. After an exceedingly pleasant drive, we passed through a white double gate, which gave entrance to the outer enclosure of the estate. About a mile from the house was another double white gate, and the drive then ran between well- kept hedges of lantana. On approaching the end of this avenue, I got my first glimpse, of the observatory towering among Norfolk Island pines and gigantic bamboos. The latter were waving and creaking above the gate at which we had just arrived.

The gentlemen then dismounted and handed us out of the carriage, and we passed along a broad, winding walk, bordered with ornamental shrubs and monthly roses, through which glimpses of the lake were to be seen. Beds of various shapes and sizes, well filled with flowers, and well-kept walks met the gaze, and a very pretty latticed summer-house attracted my notice. On reaching the house, we passed under an outer verandah, and went up a few steps, and were on the upper verandah, which was flagged with square blocks of stone. A gentleman rang the doorbell, and a liveried butler appeared, and we entered a fine, spacious hall, hung with pictures of a sporting character. To the left of the hall was the library, which was well filled with Volumes of all sizes. This room was the general resort. On the opposite side was the dining room, wherein was a table which, judging by its length, bespoke great hospitality. Suspended above it from the ceiling were three large cut-glass chandeliers, which had a very pretty effect. The walls were hung with pictures, depicting mostly historic scenes, and were enclosed in massive gilt frames. Very noticeable among the pictures was one of the Major in uniform, and he was depicted as a handsome man, and was accredited as being such in his youthful days. There were large pier glasses at each end of the room, and folds of rich-looking tapestry fell over the doors. I remember also seeing statuettes in bronze of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington. Leaving the dining room, a passage was entered, and at the north end of this was a sitting room, and at the south end was the drawing-room, which was furnished in the rich and elaborate style of the period, the chairs and settees being covered. with gold-figured satin. It was a large room, and was decorated with rich tapestry, while large pictures in gilt frames hung from the walls. I cannot properly convey an idea of the beauty of that room, and it must suffice to say that it contained the best that the decorative art of the day could suggest. There was a long corridor to the east of the drawing-room, and on each side of it were sleeping apartments, the first to the left being Mrs. Innes' bedroom and dressing-room. Opposite was another fine bed and dressing- room, which were occupied by the Governor and his wife (Sir Charles and Lady Mary Fitzroy) during their visit. Then came the 'French room,' furnished after the fashion which the name implies. I remember that the curtains seemed to fall over the bed from the ceiling. Then followed other bedrooms, one of which was called the 'green room,' and was occupied by Colonel Grey or Captain Geary on their visits. At the end of the corridor was the bath-room, to which the water was laid on. A few yards from the bath-room was a flight of steps, leading to four other rooms, occupied at an earlier day by the governess and her young charges. These apartments included the school- room, governess's room, and a play- room.

Ascending a flight of steps from these rooms, the observatory was reached, from which a fine view of the lake and the surrounding country was to be had. From the east end of the passage a door led into the courtyard, which was bricked, and in which the kitchen (a two-storied building) stood at the back of the house. Above the kitchen were the butler's apartments. Numerous other buildings filled the ground at the back of the residence. In the second entrance from the court yard stood a building of Gothic design, with a large clock over the entrance which proclaimed the hours. To this apartment the bachelors resorted in order to smoke, and for this reason it earned the name of 'bachelors' hall.' The homestead formed quite a village, with the abodes of the employees, carriage houses, stables, etc. The orchard contained an abundance of fruit, and a vineyard supplied grapes from which wine for the table was made. Visitors were constantly coming and going.”

The Piper of Lake Innes House

Pipers dress in 1840s
The full dress of a Scottish piper in 1840.

Annabella often referred to Bruce the piper who entertained the residents of the house. In one part of her diary she says that “Bruce played some pibrochs early for Mr Macleay’s benefit. I had no idea the bagpipes could sound so beautiful, though I liked them at all times the sound is so different in the open air when the piper is walking up and down."

The piper that she referred to was Peter Bruce who came as a free settler from Scotland in about 1840. He was part of a family whose members were renowned for their ability to play the bagpipes and are mentioned in the texts on the history of piping. His father was Alexander Bruce (1771-1840) of Glenelg, Scotland who had been taught by the famous MacCrimmon pipers and his uncle John Bruce (1775-1847) was the piper to Sir Walter Scott. It is also mentioned in the texts that two of Alexander's sons Peter and John, who also played the bagpipes very well, immigrated to Australia.

Although Peter played the pipes to entertain the guests he was also employed as a servant. Annabella mentions that he assists the butler serve at the table when required. However his main occupation seems to be a farmer as she says that “in the fields grew oats and lucerne for hay also maize and Indian corn, Bruce having the charge or oversight of all."

At the time that Annabella wrote her diary in 1844 Peter Bruce was about to marry, Helen, her cousins maid. She mentions that the wedding of Bruce and Helen was held in the drawing-room The bride was Helen Sanderson, a Scottish girl, who immigrated to Australia in about 1838. She was on board the same ship that Annabella’s maid Christina Ross had taken to come to Australia. The couple had several children while they lived at Lake Innes and in the early 1850s they moved to the goldfields at Bathurst and then to Beechworth. Eventually they came to Benalla in Victoria where Peter bought some land and became a farmer. He continued playing the bagpipes and his obituary mentions that he was known “as one of the best pipers in the colony.”

The Convicts of Lake Innes

James and Martha Lahey circa 1850
James and Martha Lahey. He was the butler in the early 1840s.

The vast majority of the servants at Lake Innes house were convicts. Even the two butlers that were mentioned in the girls’ diaries were both convicts. Annabella mentions that the name of the butler while she was there was Lahey. She also mentioned that his wife was the ladies maid to her aunt Margaret Innes.

The butler that she refers to was James Lahey, an Irishman who came to Australia in 1838 on the convict ship Patriot. He had been a soldier in the 41st Regiment in India until he was convicted of attempting to stab the adjutant. At the time of his conviction he had been married to Martha Eaton for almost ten years and she followed him to New South Wales after his transportation. James was assigned to Major Innes and served as his butler for several years. After he obtained his pardon he continued to work for Innes for some time as a hotelier in Wauchope and then became a grazier.

The other butler mentioned in the diaries was George Wilson. Louisa Parker describes him as a tall Scotsman who was a former soldier who served at Waterloo. She said he wore a butler’s uniform and waited at the table always being attentive and considerate. George Wilson was a convict who was transported to Australia for forgery in 1838 on the ship Lord Lyndoch. At the time of his conviction he was 43 years old. His occupation on the indent is stated to be soldier and indoor servant. He was sent to Port Macquarie Penal Settlement and obtained his Ticket Of Leave there in 1847. It may have been from this time that he went to work at Lake Innes.

When the Innes family went to Newcastle in 1853 Louisa Parker mentions that George went with them. It appears that he continued to work for the family until he became quite old. Thomas Wilson (not a relative) mentioned in 1867 in his diary that “old George” who was butler to Major Innes called at his house. He died at Port Macquarie in 1876.

Another servant mentioned several times by Annabella in her diary was Mrs Halloran who was the wife of a convict servant at Lake Innes. She said:

At the poultry yard were two cottages built on a piece of rising ground worked in the fields, the other for the Hallorans. There were pig-sties and sheds for the poultry, but I must own both pigs and fowls enjoyed a good deal of freedom. Halloran was a quiet elderly Irishman. I don’t quite know how his wife found her way to the colony but there she was and she was a decent, industrious creature, more than content to find herself so comfortably provided for, and quite happy among pigs and fowls, or as she herself called them, “The pigs and the rest of the poultry."

James Halloran was an Irish convict who had been convicted in Ballinrobe, County Mayo in 1839 of stealing timber. He was transported on the ship Middlesex and arrived in Sydney in 1840. It mentions on this record that there was a petition on behalf of “his destitute wife and family praying that she may be permitted to join her husband with her children."

The Hallorans had a son at Lake Innes in 1842. James obtained his pardon in 1846 and it seems that sometime after this the family moved to Sydney.

Not all of the convicts employed at Lake Innes were as agreeable and well behaved as these. Richard Young was a former soldier who had been convicted of desertion in County Mayo in 1834. He was transported to Sydney on the ship Forth in 1835. In 1837 he was assigned to Major Innes and two years later he absconded and became a notorious bushranger sometimes called “Gentleman Dick”.

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