42 Kelly Street

Tiny reflections: past, present & future by Kim Newstead


When I was asked to submit a story on our cottage at 42 Kelly Street, I was advised that there was no set formula for the task, but that the story could include the history of the house, process of renovation, current use and any other detail of interest. I was pleased about this for three reasons.

The first reason is that only a few current residents would appreciate the significant role the Battery Point Progress Association played in saving our gorgeous home from the then Hobart City Council (HCC) wrecking ball in 1968; this gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the Association’s fantastic support that continues today to preserve, protect and promote our history and heritage in Battery Point. The second reason is that I have long thought that most recording, photographs, paintings and general written history of the Point gives undue bias to the grand and significant buildings (not undeserved) at the expense of the modest and charming workers cottages. These cottages all have history and heritage that, when unpeeled, is just as fascinating and important as landmark buildings such as Lenna or Narryna. The final reason is that it gives me an opportunity to comment briefly, albeit broadly, on the current use of our home in providing visitor accommodation and provide an alternative viewpoint to many who don’t understand the significant benefits that appropriate visitor accommodation brings to the culture and heritage of Battery Point.

I was born at Queen Alexandra Hospital, and christened at St George’s Church, spending my first two years in rented accommodation at Montpelier Retreat. My parents were newly arrived from Melbourne following my dad’s appointment as a lecturer at UTAS. He later became inaugural Professor of Electrical Engineering before being appointed to the ANU as Dean of Nuclear Physics.

Following my Battery Point baby bliss, we relocated to Montrose House and later my parents purchased the original homestead on the second bluff at Bellerive. In my early teens, we moved to a Georgian three-storey townhouse at 81 Davey Street opposite the Repatriation Hospital gardens. The house was originally built for the founder of The Mercury newspaper. In the early fifties, my sister and I were constantly admonished by our parents to stay away from Battery Point, as it was considered to be ‘undesirable’. For me, this had the opposite effect so I came to know the streets, lanes, buildings, parks and shipyards reasonably well during frequent illegal forays. I can to this day identify the sites of two brothels as claimed by older children and recall the interior of the original Prince of Wales Hotel based on a couple of sneak visits! How Cascade directors approved such an inappropriate replacement in style, ambience and general bad design beggars belief. You will shortly learn of our cottage’s relationship with The Prince of Wales Hotel. My route to Battery Point from Davey Street was often via a cake shop on the corner of Albuera Street and Sandy Bay Road. After 65 years I can still taste those delish Neenish tarts made by the proprietor who often sold me three for the price of two!

History of 42 Kelly Street

In 2009, my wife Sue and I purchased 42 Kelly Street (in 1858 identified as number 34). I had tried to persuade Sue to purchase number 42 about twelve months earlier. However, as we then lived in a large, sunny, John Button-designed waterfront house, she was not enthusiastic to move to a small, probably cold cottage without a sunroom and situated in a noisy inner city street (none of which has turned out to be true). The bribe I made was a promise that if we purchased number 42, I would add a large north-facing sunroom. The bribe worked, so in the middle of the GFC, we owned two properties – one we couldn’t sell at a fair price and one we couldn’t afford to live in because the bridging finance was a killer. It all got sorted when we were able to rent our Kelly Street purchase at a reasonable short-term rate, one of the endearing characteristics of Battery Point property ownership!

42 Kelly Street is a typical Victorian / Georgian Cottage, permanently listed on the National Heritage List (ref id 1838), constructed of double brick with sandstone features and an iron roof. I imagine the roof originally had shingles like all of the other cottages. There is still evidence of a front verandah; however, I am yet to obtain a single photo of the cottage in earlier days. Early photographs of Kelly Street buildings, other than the Hampden Road intersection, are non-existent. I would greatly appreciate seeing some if any readers know of their existence. The house has a wide, central hallway with two rooms on each side, a rear kitchen and bathroom, and four small attic rooms. We have added a large family room at the rear and used the new roof area to discreetly install an independent evacuated tube hot water and grid feed 18 panel solar system. Since the 2012 installation, we have not paid a single electricity bill; we are 100% solar powered without any batteries in a 175 year-old building!

After purchasing number 42, I spent a couple years on and off researching the history contained in this story. In 1834, Governor George Arthur (Arthur Circus) granted 4 acres, 2 rood, and 10 perches of land adjacent to New Wharf (Salamanca Place) to Captain James Kelly, ship owner and merchant who, in 1815-16, discovered Port Davey and the Pieman River. In 1819 Kelly was appointed as Harbour Master and Pilot of the Derwent. In 1839 he had Kelly Steps built, which were opened in 1840. By 1841 our cottage existed as evidenced by payment of rates from library archives.

I have never been able to establish who built the cottage, despite many attempts. I have been told that when the Battery Point shipyards were short on work, the yard owners used the shipwrights to build cottages in the area either on speculation or to accommodate shipwrights’ families. Witness Mr. Watson’s cottages. I am also told that this accounts for much of the high standard woodwork and joinery in what would otherwise be considered modest cottages. They were built by expert craftsmen with superior skill, using fine Tasmanian timbers usually reserved for boat building. Was our house one of these? I would love to know who built my house and would greatly appreciate any information. As part of the search I have carefully studied the external features of other cottages close by and decided that, until proven wrong, 12 Francis Street is a twin built by the same builder. What was the name of the 12 Francis Street builder? Does any one know?

I have long had a love of, and association with, the sea. Battery Point is inextricably linked with the sea; perhaps this is why we both feel so comfortable with each other. Kelly Street, as an extension from the New Wharf, has also had a strong association with the sea and this continues to this day. In 1852, Battery Point had 127 residents. In Kelly Street lived John Smith coxswain with Hobart Water Police, George Stewart mariner, Michael Connor fisherman, John McArthur master mariner, Thomas Downs master mariner, Charles Bailey master mariner, John Babington harbour master, Wilfred Burgess master mariner, Robert Gardiner master mariner and Baldwin Bentley master mariner. Oddly, no James Kelly is listed as living in his street with all his seafaring mates! Our home at 42 Kelly Street has strong links with the sea. Previous owners have included a Captain, Master Mariner, Coxswain, Naval Officer and sailor Kim who has competed in 18 Sydney Hobart races, which of course finish at Battery Point.

Below I have listed all the owners of number 42 Kelly Street since it was built. Of course, there have been many more residents, but I would in particular like to draw your attention to years 1899, 1922, 1954 and 1968.

42 Kelly Street renovations

Having promised Sue a new sunroom, I had to keep my promise. I briefed my architect son, Giles (christened at St George’s) husband of Jane (relative of 1899 ancestor previously mentioned): ‘I like the Long Gallery look. Design our sunroom extension to have the same characteristics.’ He delivered in spades; however, his dad had to quickly bow to better judgement in a number of design parameters. I did get my way with generous use of Celery Top pine, exposed timber rafters and stripping adjoining painted brickwork walls back to original. As I love timber, I specified timber floors; however, I ended up with slate grey tiles because the entire room is based on solar passive principles, with the floor acting as a heat sink used to capture and store heat for the entire cottage. It also has in-floor heating for winter during the few days that the sun does not shine. Not to worry. Most of the old cottage has original polished 6 inch-wide gum butt laid floorboards with heaps of character.

As a heritage listed building, we had no problems gaining approval for our plans with the Heritage Council and City Council because the entire design was done in sympathy with the existing cottage. This was a deliberate decision at the start of the design process because we had no wish to compromise the original building and did not want to introduce any design or material elements that did so. We actually value our heritage listing and see it as a positive rather than a negative. Even the new carport in the driveway was designed with old stable-style construction to blend with the streetscape. It utilises solid 10 inch square Celery Top corner posts with the roof pitched at thirty degrees to match the original cottage rooflines. From the street the building looks, as it always has, a modest, solid cottage.

Principles incorporated in the addition included maintaining a common ceiling height whilst providing a clear transition from old to new. Giles was most particular that we did not attempt to extend the cottage to look the same in the new construction. Instead, by good architecture and design, we treated each element differently resulting in a definite old and new that still blend seamlessly together. This required an expensive excavation because the only way to fit the new with the old and maintain ceiling height was to place the new roofline below the old roofline. Solution: dig down two metres. The end result: superb! As we lost some of our open backyard by building the new sunroom it was decided to incorporate an inside-outside patio. This was lined in sandstone to fit in with the character of the cottage, which has sandstone lintels and foundations. In summer, three large windows slide back to bring the outdoors indoors via the patio that extends inside. Double-glazing and over specification on insulation allow us to suck warm air from the new solar passive room and pipe it into the old cottage. As a result, the entire house is now rated over five stars, based on the energy efficiency of the sunroom and some simple draught removal tricks, including attention to doors, windows and stuffing all the unused chimneys in the old cottage with insulation batts. The heating of the old cottage was solved by placing a Nectre wood-burning heater inside an internal fireplace. It requires about two tonnes per year to heat the entire cottage.

Sue and I have built and renovated ten homes and this extension was the easiest we have ever done, mainly because builder son Nicholas  (also christened at St Georges’) did it without a hitch. As you know if you watch Grand Designs, you always wait for glass and the builds always go over budget with time and money. Yes, we waited for glass; however, Nick and his team came in on budget and on time with a quality build for mum and dad. Who could ask for more?

Visitor accommodation

Seven years ago my youngest son Jeremy (also christened at St George’s) who lives in Melbourne told me to stay with AirBnb on an overseas trip we were planning. I had never heard of them; however, in Sicily and Tunisia we booked AirBnb and immediately thought how much better it was compared to hotels, guesthouses and apartments, not to mention the incredible value, experiences and rates. What we liked was staying with locals and quickly being able to get behind the scene and involve ourselves in the real destination. Knowledgeable tips on what to see, where to eat, when to go greatly exceeded our expectations. Unlike contrived herd-like tourist packages, Airbnb enabled us to stay with nice people in their homes and learn to live like a local. It reinforced for us what we enjoyed about visiting new places – the joy and fun of being a traveler rather than a tourist.

On return from this trip we decided to list our unused attic, comprising a bedroom, bathroom and small day room with AirBnb and provide our guests with genuine and unique information to suit their interests. My eight years as General Manager at Tourism Tasmania provided some credibility. We made no changes whatever to the cottage other than fitting an extra smoke alarm in the stairwell and fire extinguisher in the bedroom, as well as purchasing a new bed and bedding. Our own visitors, children and grandchildren continue to use the attic when they come to stay. For our Airbnb guests, we do not provide any food, food storage or preparation – it’s room only. Clearly we are not a B&B or self- contained accommodation, much to the confusion of out-of-date regulators who seem incapable of comprehending a genuine, short-term homestay facility. Fortunately, our insurers do understand and have been happy to provide the insurance, including the required public liability. The result is that five years later, we have had over 70 very happy individuals and couples from all over Australia and overseas stay with us for between two and five days. We have learnt a lot and so have our guests. We plan to continue sharing our 1841 cottage with guests of our choosing in the foreseeable future and we all ways send them on the In Bobby’s Footsteps: Battery Point History Walk, which they enjoy a great deal.

Dreams for the future

I have a dream that one day all the electrical and communication services in Kelly Street, as the major pedestrian link from the Battery Point village to the waterfront and Salamanca, will be placed underground. The next time you walk down to Kelly Steps, look skyward and imagine just how much the ambience of the entire street would be improved by placing the existing spaghetti mess underground and installing the majestic street lights that exist in Hampden Road. One is allowed to dream.

Because one is allowed to dream, my other recurring dream is that very shortly residents will rally and hold a simple community Christmas Eve party (bring a plate and drink) with no charge, from 6.00pm to 7.30pm in the small park above the shipyards. Dogs and children will be welcome and perhaps a string quartet of students from the Music School will play. There will be no permits, no bureaucracy – just the community coming together for an hour or so to celebrate Christmas and our fortune in living at Battery Point.