Long-term exhibitions

Private Secretary's Cottage

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The Private Secretary’s Cottage is one of Australia’s earliest and most enigmatic brick structures. It tells a story of adaptation and re-use that is typical of Tasmania’s built heritage. The Cottage began life as an industrial building, which was first depicted in a watercolour of 1813. Its origins are related to the Commissariat Store which was built in 1808-1811 and survives at the entry to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) complex. By the late 1820s it was used to store building materials.

In 1828 Lieutenant Governor Arthur was looking for a house for his Private Secretary who worked at Government House, then located on the current site of Franklin Square. Colonial Architect and Engineer, John Lee Archer, recommended the conversion of the industrial building as a residence. Archer’s conversion involved demolishing a nearby house dating to c. 1805 and incorporating its materials into the Cottage. The Cottage thus possesses some of Australia’s earliest joinery.

Between 1829 and 1857 the Private Secretary’s Cottage formed part of the establishment of the first Government House, Hobart and was also home to Official Secretaries and Aides-de-Camp. Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Eardley-Wilmot died in the Cottage in February 1847 after being removed from office following a scandal.

After the completion of Government House on the Queen’s Domain in 1857, the Department of Public Works occupied the Cottage. In 1871 it became the residence of the Curator of the Tasmanian Museum (later TMAG). In 1901 the building of a new wing of the Tasmanian Museum threatened the Cottage with demolition. However, only the western wall was taken down and rebuilt parallel with the extension. In 1955 the Cottage became museum offices. Its veranda was removed and the façade windows replaced by large metal-framed windows. TMAG’s 1966 extension was built on the Cottage’s front garden and intruded on its original veranda alignment. Since 1985, TMAG has restored the Cottage’s building fabric. Future restoration work will lead to a richer interpretation of the 1828 cottage and its pre-1813 core as an above-ground archaeological record of Tasmania’s founding years.

The Private Secretary’s Cottage is closed temporarily for conservation works.

Image gallery

To view a selection of images of the Cottage, click here.