Local Landmark: Baroona

Baroona is a prestigious estate near Singleton known for its high Victorian architecture.

The stately home contains no less than 26 rooms, and its jaw-dropping façade looks like a remnant belonging to a Dickens’ novel.

True to form, the dramatic history of the mansion reads like fiction. Not only is it the site of an infamous convict rebellion, it’s also the final resting place of Peter Pan, a two-time Melbourne Cup Winner.

Read on to learn more about one of the most fascinating homes in the Hunter region.

The Land

James Mudie was a discharged Scottish marine with an insolvent book business, who arrived in Australia in 1822 thanks to a benevolent patron from the Colonial Office named Sir Charles Forbes.

He was granted land on the Hunter River, not far from Singleton, which he named Castle Forbes after his benefactor. Mudie continued to acquire land grants through his work as a surveyor.

John Larnach was hired to oversee Mudie. The two got along so well that Larnach became Mudie’s son in law and business partner. With the help of Mudie, Larnach acquired a large block of land himself.

The Bricks

The foundations for Baroona were laid by Larnach on his land parcel in 1829. At the time of its construction, the house was called Rosemount.

Castle Forbes, where Larnach worked alongside Mudie, became a prominent agricultural establishment, producing large quantities of wool, meat and wheat with the aid of convict labour.

Larnach and Mudie are said to have had a reputation for cruelty. Local historians have quoted court records which detailed the way that the convicts assigned to the men were mistreated, flogged and underfed. The convict holding cell underneath the house is still there today.

The Rebellion

In 1833 six convicts from Castle Forbes decided to rebel. There are various versions about the order of events or the number of prisoners involved. Broadly, it’s been established that Mudie was away from the property and Larnach was washing his sheep in the river.

The rebels reportedly stole clothes, firearms, food and horses from the property. They held Emily Larnach (Mudie’s daughter) at gun point and rounded up other servants, locking everyone in the outhouse.

The prisoners attempted to murder Larnach while he was in the river and although he was wounded, he managed to escape. Larnach hid in the home of his neighbour Henry Dangar, the patriarch of the celebrated Dangar family.

Tony Poke, who is the lucky owner of Baroona today, has spent his eight and a half years in the property investigating its history.  He learned that Larnach stayed at Dangar’s house overnight, seemingly without any concern for his wife Emily, who would have still been confined.

Larnach assisted police in capturing the absconders.  After a dramatic trial, five of the prisoners were sentenced to be executed (Tony told me that two were hung at the property), while the youngest was sent to Norfolk Island.

However, an inquiry was launched into the brutality of Larnach and Mudie. The former was found to be ‘reprehensible’ for sentencing a convict to fifty lashes, twice on the same day for the same crime. Larnach withdrew from public service in the 1930s and died at Rosemount on the 10 February 1869.

Baroona

Albert Dangar, the son of Larnach’s neighbour Henry Dangar, purchased Rosemount in 1869. By then it was in a dilapidated state and architect Benjamin Blackhouse was hired to restore the building.

Blackhouse kept the original core structure of Rosemount and built two new wings around it. In 1871 Dangar named the estate Baroona. Further additions included a service wing in 1885, designed by Horbury Hunt and stables in 1887. In 1893 architect Frederick Menkens designed the tower and spiral staircase.

Every year, Albert Dangar planted trees on the property. The rows of elms, pines and oleanders lining the avenue on the property are one of its most celebrated features.

Aside from plants, Dangar was an experienced stock breeder and the property’s affiliation with world-class racehorses began with him.

Unlike Larnach, Dangar had no enemies. He died at Baroona in 1913 as a pivotal member of the Singleton community. He funded the Dangar Cottage Hospital, the local cricket ground and contributed to countless charities. He was engaged in building the All Saints Anglican Church at the time of his death in 1913.

Peter Pan

Rodney Dangar, Albert’s son, lived in Baroona and continued his father’s legacy as an established pastoralist, philanthropist and racehorse owner and breeder.

In 1929, Peter Pan was foaled at Baroona Stud. Tony told me that Peter Pan’s birth was a stroke of luck as the mare destined to breed with his sire had broken its leg. The sire was purchased by Rodney Dangar’s neighbour, who asked Dangar if he was interested in volunteering one of his mares. The rest was history.

Peter Pan was conditioned by Frank McGrath, a renowned jockey and horse trainer. He won the Melbourne Cup twice in 1932 and 1934 and was McGrath’s most successful horse. He is buried at Baroona, near his favourite patch of grass. Tony often hosts a Melbourne Cup brunch near Peter Pan’s headstone.

Today

Tony has lived in the home for eight and a half years. He says the house is so large they only use a small section of it: the living room where he spends most of his time, a couple of bedrooms and sometimes the billiards room.

Tony loves the living history of Baroona. All of the original barns and stables are still standing, as are the convict-built walls. Tony says that a blacksmith lived on the property so the hinges and other metalwork were all made on site.

And, despite Baroona’s dramatic history, Tony’s reassured me that the mansion is definitely not haunted.

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