Old Farm Strawberry Hill, 174 Middleton Road

Old Farm Strawberry Hill

The Old Farm Strawberry Hill owned by the National Trust was named “Old Farm” as it is the oldest farm in Western Australia and was built on what was originally called Strawberry Hill.

This farm was established in 1827, when Major Edmund Lockyer, Dr Alexander Collie and John Lawrence Morley selected this site as the town’s government farm. It was then purchased by Sir Richard Spencer and his wife Ann in 1833. They lived in a little cottage until the current 2 storey stone house was built in 1836. They set about establishing the first cultivated gardens which were always producing something new. The new house and gardens of the time  became the social centre of Albany.
You can wander around the beautifully restored home and gain a real insight into the colonial way of life. Walking around the garden you can not help but be impressed especially with some of the original fruit trees still in the garden today.The original farm covered 1536 acres - today just six remain.

Phone: (08) 9841 3735

Address : 174 Middleton Rd Albany

Open: 10am - 4pm daily; closed last two weeks of July and the whole of August.
Admission: Entry by Donation
Facilities: Picnic area and educational program.

Below are some historical extracts:

Major Edmund Lockyer recorded the discovery of the site in his diary on Friday, January 12, 1827, 18 days after his arrival at Princess Royal Harbour.

"I made an excursion into the country to look for some timber fit for the sawyers to work on and found some fit for immediate purposes. Two miles off and the ground the timber is on is excellent soil, in extent from 700 to 1,000 acres, which will make an excellent farm for the settlement. Shall immediately see about making a bush road to it as the sawyers must have a guard to protect them at their work. The sheep will also have a good feed there."

In a letter to the Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay, on April 2, 1827, immediately prior to his departure aboard HMS Success, Lockyer wrote : "Near the sea shore (Middleton Beach) is a large lake of fresh water of a mile in length and a quarter in breadth (Lake Seppings). Between this lake and the settlement there is some good land which would answer well to commence a farm on to produce vegetables as well as grain."

Prior to the King George Sound settlement (Albany) being transferred to the control of the administration of the Swan River settlement (Perth) on March 7, 1831, it was administered by three successive commandants appointed by the governor of New South Wales. They were Captain Wakefield (1827), Lieutenant Sleeman (1828-29) and Captain Collet Barker (1829-30). These officials (with the constant dread of food shortages through the non-arrival of supply ships) continued the development of the government farm on the plan outlined by Major Lockyer.

On March 21, 1831, Royal Navy Surgeon Dr Alexander Collie was appointed first government resident at Albany and began living in a small wattle and daub cottage at the farm. Collie called the eighth of an acre of strawberries he was cultivaing "Strawberry Hill".  The first recorded reference of this name is in Collie's report, written at the end of his tenure, on October 9, 1832. Collie returned to Perth to succeed Dr Charles Simmons as colonial surgeon. He died at the Albany home of his friend George Cheyne on November 8, 1835 and at his request was buried beside his faithful Aboriginal exploring companion Mokare.

Collie's successor as government resident was Lieutenant DH Macleod, but it was farm superintendant John Lawrence Morley who handed over Strawberry Hill to Sir Richard Spencer.  Napoleonic War naval hero Spencer was appointed government resident on November 20, 1833 and purchased the whole farm for £15/3/8.  Two months earlier, on September 13, 1833, he had sailed into Princess Royal Harbour on HMS Buffalo with his wife Ann, their brood of nine, soon to be 10 children and around nine servants.

In addition to supplies, personal effects and considerable agricultural plant unloaded at Middleton Beach, the newly arrived official brought with him livestock comprising thoroughbred merino sheep from the flock of Lord Western, one bull and two heffers of the South Devon breed, one Guernsey cow, two polled Suffolk cows, one polled Cumberland cow, several mules, a horse, fruit trees, pigs and poultry.

In May 1836, a contract was signed for the erection of the present granite two-story building which was built on to the rear of the older wattle and daub structure. The contractor had recently arrived from Tasmania and supplied labour for the building at a cost of £100.

By this time,  the farm's gardens had been established and were producing blood oranges, grapes, raspberries, gooseberries, asparagus, figs and almonds. In March of the same year, the farm paid host to an illustrious visitor when Charles Darwin arrived at Strawberry Hill with Captain Fitzroy, commander of HMS Beagle. Darwin was on his outward bound journey from Australia and spent eight days in Albany. He described Strawberry Hill as "a small and neat farm in what is the only cultivated ground in the district".

In 1837 Spencer wrote to the bishop of Australia with a view to obtaining assistance in building a church. He states in his letter that there "now in Albany 45 houses and 180 inhabitants."

This extract is from a letter Spencer wrote to a friend in the Isle of France (Mauritius) in 1836.

"You appear to be astonished that I should emigrate. What could a poor man in England do better to provide for 10 children? The best prospect I had for my eldest son was to get him the appointment of clerk in a public office, and to obtain that seemed almost impossible. In the Admiralty, Sir James Graham positively refused it; from Lord Grey I had some hopes, but the pain and annoyance of making application quite upset me, and I thought it better to make farmers of them all."The advantage of this place over the 'Swan' is the climate. Without any exception this is the finest in the world. I have one of the most beautiful and fertile spots in the world, about 1.5 miles from the town and the same distance from Middleton Bay, which is in front of our windows. We have as fine a crop of wheat as ever was seen ready for reaping on New Year's Day and we have eaten sea-kale, asparagus, figs and almonds, all of our own growing. When you consider this was a wilderness when we arrived, and only 17 persons in the colony, you will see that we have not been idle. Our sheep are now thriving wonderfully; they have only been a year and eight months at Hay (the Hay River west of Albany), and they have trebled their number. Our inhabitants have not increased in numbers so fast as we. might have hoped, and I am sorry to say not one farmer has yet come out."

Spencer pioneered farming methods suitable to Albany’s difficult terrain and climate and worked diligently to administer the turbulent pioneer settlement of the town. When he died at the farmhouse on July 24, 1839, Albany had 60 dwelling houses, many of which were built of stone and brick, 139 settlers, 103 head of cattle, 2,200 sheep, 18 horses, 15 donkeys and pigs and poultry in abundance. There were also some 70 or 80 acres of land under cultivation. When he arrived, five or six years before, there were just 17 settlers, no cultivated land, no sheep and only three cows, three horses and a few chickens.

On August 14, 1839, Lady Spencer wrote to Messrs. Philip and Henry Mules, solicitors of Honiton, Devon, notifying them of her husband's death at the farm.

"I have met with the greatest loss possible for a wife and mother, in the person of my beloved husband, who was suddenly taken from us after an illness of 48 hours. On the evening he was taken ill he was sitting, laughing and talking, in  the midst of his family, apparently in excellent health. This was on July 22 and on the 24th he was gone. Augusta and Eliza (later Lady Grey) were with him till all was over."The cause of his death was another stroke of paralysis brought on by over excitement.  Edward and two others of our boys arrived from the Hay River a few hours before he breathed his last. We have buried him a short distance from the house in a spot he pointed out to Eliza not very long before his death; it is on a hill - at the top of the garden, which commands a beautiful and extensive view of the sea, and when a ship of war arrives, a flagstaff is to be erected."

Spencer's grave is situated on what was Collie's "Strawberry Hill" (today's Seymour Street), which when he was buried, was in between a sheep paddock and a wheat field overlooking King George Sound. Lady Spencer died on July 19, 1855 and was buried beside her husband, but most of their children are buried in Albany's town cemetery on Middleton Road.

Originally, half  the farmhouse's roof was shingled and the other half-covered with slates brought from England. All the timber on the top floor is pit-sawn maple, while the drawing room until the early 1930s, was papered with a wallpaper depicting scenes of South America, lagoons, wild animals and other subjects.

Two olive trees, which were planted near the house were brought from Italy by Spencer, but unfortunately no longer exist,  while at the front door hangs a bell, worded "Kelat, 1881, Liverpool," which was taken from a coal hulk used for many years at the Albany Town Jetty. Another interesting relic is a chest of drawers in the drawing room which is reputed to have belonged to the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

The property came into the ownership of Chief Government Architect of Western Australia Francis Bird, in 1889 and was owned by the Bird family until the 1930s. The Old Farm was purchased as an historic monument by the Federal Government in 1956 and in 1964 was transferred to the National Trust.



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