If walls could talk

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Jessica Howard

I’ VE hit the his­tor­i­cal prop­erty tri­fecta – this is the house of sex, mur­der and hid­den trea­sure. You can­not walk 2m on this prop­erty at Lewisham with­out com­ing across some­thing with a story be­hind it, of­ten of the sor­did or spooky va­ri­ety.

Orig­i­nally known as the Rose and Crown Inn, An­drew Wal­ton’s ren­o­vated fam­ily home was built in 1825 and was the lo­cal haunt for whalers on their way home af­ter a day at Storm Bay.

With the help of his­to­ri­ans such as Peter McPhee and Ian Evans, builder An­drew has been able to dis­cover much of the home’s colour­ful his­tory.

Orig­i­nally from Eng­land, his choice of house is very fi tting as its style and his­tory is much more English than Aus­tralian.

Built by Sa­muel Thorne, an ex- naval offi cer who fought along­side Lord Nel­son, the res­i­dence was leased to Scots­man Alexan­der Simpson, who ran it as a pub but was also us­ing it for an­other ven­ture be­fore meet­ing his demise.

“He was also run­ning a brothel up­stairs – they even know the names of the women who worked here,” An­drew said. “So Simpson wasn’t re­ally well liked be­cause he was ba­si­cally pimp­ing out con­victs’ wives.”

“One night, a fella called Charles Rout­ley was in the pub and he and his ac­com­plices mur­dered him.

“They tor­tured him in the house, in­clud­ing mu­ti­lat­ing his thigh mus­cles, then he was hung and de­cap­i­tated.

“The only way they recog­nised him when they found his body, at the back of the prop­erty, was be­cause he had very long fi ngers.

“They never found his head – it’s prob­a­bly still out there some­where.”

The up­stairs room where the “ladies of the night” worked is now the mas­ter bed­room and the money be­lieved to have been kept on the prop­erty was never found.

“It’s thought that Rout­ley didn’t fi nd Simpson’s money, so I had a fella come up here with a me­tal de­tec­tor but it was con­stantly go­ing off,” An­drew ex­plained. “There was an ex­te­rior kitchen at the rear of the house and the area is strewn with bits and pieces that sent the de­tec­tor off.

“So we gave up in the end. It would be nice to fi nd some­thing but there might not be any­thing.”

The Wal­ton fam­ily has found quite a few in­ter­est­ing bits and pieces through­out the prop­erty, in­clud­ing a 1797 cart­wheel penny ( the fi rst kind of penny minted for Aus­tralia) and a whale tusk scrimshaw which was found near the front door.

Fol­low­ing the grisly mur­der in the mid1820s, Robert Thorne took over the prop­erty and lit­er­ally left his mark on the house and its his­tory.

“When we started ren­o­vat­ing the in­side and strip­ping the years of paint off the door jambs we found all sorts of rit­u­al­is­tic mark­ings,” An­drew said.

“The idea be­hind them was to ward off evil spir­its, so I think Thorne must have been brick­ing it [ ex­tremely scared] think­ing Simpson’s ghost would come back to haunt him.

“Th­ese kind of mark­ings are very com­mon in Eng­land but al­most un­heard of in Aus­tralia.”

On al­most ev­ery door and door jamb, the etched name of Robert Thorne can still be seen along with many other Chris­tian sym­bols.

One of the rarest mark­ings of all is of an apos­tles’ cross, of which there is only one other known in Tas­ma­nia, at Shene in Pontville.

An­drew said dur­ing the ren­o­va­tion a dead cat was also found in the walls, prob­a­bly orig­i­nat­ing from an old su­per­sti­tion to keep fa­mil­iars ( witches) away.

De­spite the bloody his­tory, An­drew says the fam­ily has al­ways felt safe and at home.

He says the for­mer own­ers had pulled out the ouija board and claimed to have con­tacted Simpson’s ghost, but the Wal­tons have not had any supernatural ex­pe­ri­ences.

Three psy­chi­atric nurses from the New Nor­folk asy­lum took over the prop­erty in the

When we started ren­o­vat­ing the in­side and strip­ping the years of paint off the door jambs we found all sorts of rit­u­al­is­tic mark­ings

1970s and op­er­ated the home as a cafe and art gallery be­fore the Wal­tons pur­chased the prop­erty six years ago.

With the house al­most fall­ing down, An­drew and his crew have al­most com­pletely fin­ished the ren­o­va­tions.

“When we first got it there was no in­su­la­tion and the wind would whip through,” An­drew re­called.

“I was in the gar­den on a windy day watch­ing the old chim­ney near our bed­room and it was sway­ing back and forth.

“The first night we stayed in there I could hear it creak­ing and just kept wait­ing for it to come through the house.

“The house is like a ship. It moves. Be­cause it’s not got any con­crete in it and it’s on semire­ac­tive soil, when it gets wet all the doors can’t be opened be­cause the whole house has moved up a notch.”

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