Tanilba House (1831)

Tanilba House c1831 is the oldest original home in Port Stephens. State heritage listed, she sits proudly on a peninsula surrounded by the bay on 3 acres of manicured gardens on the Tilligerry Peninsula.

Tanilba is an indigenous word and means "Place of white flowers", presumably due to the many flannel flowers that originally covered the peninsula.

Tanilba House was built by convicts for Lieutenant William Caswell who retired from the English navy and sought his fortune in the colony of NSW. Arriving with his young wife Susan in 1829, he took possession of a 50 acre land grant in 1831 and romantically set out to build his wife, and many children, a comfortable and impressive home.

Tanilba is unique for many reasons, but her position overlooking the bay is unusual for the early 1800's when most of the focus and funds were invested in wool and food producing country farms away from the sandy coast.

Tanilba still retains many of her original colonial features and offers scenic vistas of the surrounding bay from many parts of the property.

The garden contains various heritage listed items including arguably the oldest olive tree in Australia, a wisteria covered pergola, an ancient Bunya pine and two c150 year old fig trees.

Tanilba House was designed to be a family home and farmstead. The half-metre-thick stone walls, extensive verandahs and high ceilings are all part of its colonial charm.

In addition to the land at Tanilba Bay, the Caswells also had 920 acres on the Williams River granted to them - this became known as Balickera.

Lieutenant Caswell was known to leave Tanilba at 3am each day on horseback to ride to supervise his other farm.

In the early 1840s the Caswells returned to the Balickera farm and Tanilba House was leased intermittently until 1897.

In 1882 a visitor described the house as a "deserted residence fast moulding into decay".

Lieutenant Caswell died in 1859 and Mrs Caswell in 1886 at the age of 81.

It was after Mrs Caswell's death that the home was sold to Elizabeth Holmes in 1897 who started restoring the old residence. She originally wanted to demolish it to make way for a grand victorian home but her architect recommended she retore Tanilba instead.

Mrs Holmes sold Tanilba House to W.J. Ebbeck in 1905, who converted it into a holiday house for fishing parties from Newcastle and Maitland.

It changed hands again in 1913 and became the residence of Walter W. Clift who in turn sold it in 1920 to property developer Henry F. Halloran.

Mr H.F. Halloran was a real estate agent, developer and landscape architect in Sydney and other parts of NSW.

Many say he envisaged a flourishing town surrounding Tanilba House and it was under his guidance that the old house was updated, the conservatory added, ornate gates and fences built and the adjoining "temple" constructed.

Mr Halloran died in 1953 and the house began to go downhill.

For almost 20 years Tanilba House was used as a holiday destination before being leased to religious group "The Gospel Fisherman".

Helena Oberland, took over the lease in the mid-1950s, using it as a guest house and riding school.

In 1980 the state government finally realising its importance, placed a permanent conservation order on the property.

Helen Taylor lived at Tanilba House from the mid-1980s. She staged exhibitions, plays, poetry readings and concerts in the historic home.

In 2017 The current owners, Glenn Short and Deirdre Hall purchased the property and have been tirelessly restoring the home and further enhancing the extensive grounds. While Tanilba's ongoing restoration will be a long journey, she sits well loved and proud atop the hill on her whale tail shaped peninsula, ready to greet a new generation of visitors.

Website IIĀ tanilbahouse.com.au