Captain James Kelly, born in Parramatta, NSW in 1791, was one of the early colony’s leading mariners. In 1815, the sea adventurer circumnavigated Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and in 1818, he became the first European to settle on Bruny Island – a wild, windswept landmass located off the south-eastern coast of Tasmania – after the Colonial Administration awarded him a 100-acre land grant.
Some years later, perhaps in the 1830s, Captain Kelly built a weatherboard cottage on the northernmost point of his land holdings: at the edge of an ocean-front cliff flanked by two pristine sandy coves, overlooking the Southern Ocean.
The cottage – which we now know as ‘Captain Kelly’s Cottage’ – is one of the oldest standing examples of Australian colonial architecture – a style characterised by its simplicity.
‘There’s no ornamentation, no decoration, no extraneous detailing,’ explains Scott Cordwell, co-owner of Tasmanian building firm and HIA member Cordwell Lane.
‘By necessity, everything was built for purpose, fashioned out of the material that was available at the time’ – which, in the case of Captain Kelly’s Cottage, was timber, pit-sawn on-site; convict-made bricks; and small panes of glass brought over from England.
However, by the 2000s, the cottage was dilapidated and time-worn, its colonial charm buried beneath decades’ worth of unsympathetic, crudely-constructed additions and alterations. Fortunate, then, that the building’s current custodian, Melbourne architect John Wardle, was intent on uncovering its hidden stories, and respectfully re-instating its integrity and functionality as a home and as a piece of architecture.