Stately Homes the mirror and metaphor of colonial South Australia

Author: Robert Muir Stone

Stone, Robert Muir, 2012 Stately Homes the mirror and metaphor of colonial South Australia, Flinders University, School of Humanities

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Abstract

Established by an Act of the English Parliament in 1834, South Australia was intended to be a model colony. Without convicts, it was to be populated initially by British migrants drawn from the disaffected middle classes - those who were influenced by such factors as religion, politics and self interest - as well as sponsored emigrants ('young marriageable persons') of both sexes who would ease the overcrowding in England. The capital, Adelaide, was a planned city, its population selected according to Edward Gibbon Wakefield's (1796-1862) economic, social and political theory of colonisation. The proposed colony of South Australia was therefore an attractive proposition for those who professed ideas of civil liberty, social opportunity and equality for all religions. Regardless of the opportunities for social improvement afforded to the middle classes, there was no comparative incentive for the English aristocracy and landed gentry to emigrate, however, which left a vacuum in the social hierarchy of the colony. This vacuum was filled by a distinct class who emerged from within the colony and who are described in this thesis as the 'new gentry'. The new gentry styled themselves leaders in the community, and built stately homes as a visible manifestation of their wealth and position in society. However, stately homes are more than just physical objects; they also contribute to a wider cultural landscape and the construction of particular perceptions of 'the past', both in terms of human behaviour and social complexity, and the origins of an area or set of ideals. Over the first 80 years of the colony, economic accumulation, social positioning and closely negotiated social interaction resulted in the creation of a densely layered landscape - both in terms of creation and consolidation of the notion of the 'new gentry', but also of the physical expression of this negotiated social class on the landscape of Adelaide. Stately homes were built in prominent positions with display in mind and had architectural finery that would have impressed both the passer-by and the visitor. They made a statement about the nature of basic social relationships, such that the architectural symbolism of wealth, taste and authority was both intentional and obvious; they also conveyed a message of exclusion based on social status and class. Between the years 1850 and1880 the new gentry formed themselves into a tight social network and built their homes in exclusive residential enclaves with symbolic barriers which has a significant impact on the cultural landscape. The stately homes of the new gentry were not mere copies of the homes of the English landed gentry. The new gentry aimed to create their own version of the landed gentry based on an independent image of colonial Australia, yet at the same time remaining conscious of those characteristics which were essential to separate them from the rest of society. The highly independent nature of the new gentry was also reflected in the architectural designs of their houses; there was no one dominant style, yet there were sets of common architectural features. On the critical question of their use, these houses were not merely objects of bricks and mortar, but could be compared to a theatre in which the real life dramas and social interactions of the occupiers and visitors were played out. The internal configurations and spatial dynamics of these houses played as important a role as the exteriors in reinforcing the much sought-after image. The internal design of stately homes in part communicated social roles by presenting barriers to procession through the house. Again, there was no one dominant internal configuration, yet a consistent pattern of specialist rooms and, through processional pathways, common social barriers, is evident. It can be concluded from a study of the floor plans of their stately homes that the new gentry not only had a common understanding of the external architectural features which reflected their status in society but also the division and use of internal space in order to separate and control the movement of people according to their class and social status. Towards the end of the 19th century events took place that had a profound impact on this exclusive world of the new gentry and, in turn, on the role and status of their stately homes. Many large pastoral leases were resumed by the government and sold for farming. Being designed to accommodate an earlier cultural and social scene, the economic base which supported these stately homes was now diminished, resulting in many becoming redundant and either demolished or sold for alternative uses. Stately homes had a major impact on the 19th century cultural landscape, but to what extent has this been reduced through changes in the underlying culture that led to the building of these stately homes? Today, decisions must be constantly made as to which stately homes are worth preserving and, for those to be kept, what sort of restoration, renovation or adaptive re-use is appropriate? Demolition of former stately homes can result in the total or partial obliteration of our tangible cultural heritage, whereas demolition of associated buildings and re-use of stately homes can significantly reduce the intangible cultural heritage that is the image of life in the 19th century. Over 50% of the stately homes considered in this thesis have undergone a change in use with a consequential impact on the state's cultural heritage. Preservation of heritage is one form of cultural salvage and a world that is about to be lost is in need of preservation.

Keywords: New gentry,stately homes,processional pathways
Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2012
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: A/Prof Heather burke