Our Rich Colonial Tasmanian Heritage

Alexander McGregor, the builder of Lenna, was a boy of 10 years when he arrived on 28 February, 1831 in Hobart Town, Van Dieman’s Land, on the ship ‘Drummore’ with his family. Born in Paisley Scotland, he grew up to be a canny Scot, shrewd, practical and hard working.

With his brother John, he learned the ship building trade and took over the Domain shipyard which later was solely run by John. Alexander became more interested in business and flourished as a merchant trading from his offices and warehouses on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Lords place, the present site of the Hobart Post Office in the CBD.

Alexander built the largest fleet of sailing ships individually owned south of the Equator, including whalers, barques, schooners and a brigantine. The Hobart-built ships were considered superior in all ways to many of the same type built elsewhere. As the local hardwood was an ideal timber and vessels built from it were extremely hardy, the ‘blue gum’ clippers became famous throughout the world.

Alexander sailed his ships under his blue and white McGregor gridiron flag, and we are fortunate to have one of the original flags on display today in the Chandelier Lounge Bar.

The brother’s merchant and shipbuilding businesses continued to grow. With the plentiful supply of whales and as the Windjammers were the only link with the rest of the world in the early 1800’s, Hobart Town became the centre of a big ship building and whaling industry.

Whaling was a valuable and colourful industry in the early days of Van Dieman’s Land. The industry prospered and brought with it mariners from every corner of the globe to the rich whaling waters of the south. Whale boat rowing races were regularly held on the Derwent between the crews, as their clipper ships at anchor awaited supplies. The races were fiercely competitive, most races starting and finishing at Battery Point, the course distance being some 5 miles. In the peak years, from 1840 to 1846, no less than 123 foreign whalers, mostly American and French, called at Hobart Town for refitting and repairs. Over the Whaling period the value of oil to the State was 2,245,450 pounds.

Historic Battery Point and Salamanca

The site of Lenna was originally owned by Captain James Bayley. He subsequently sold the property to Alexander McGregor who was his partner in the whaling trade and whose daughter, Miss Harriett Bayley, became McGregor’s first wife. The most famous of his ships and his favourite was the ‘Harriett McGregor’.

“Lenna” is the Tasmanian Aboriginal word for “house” or “hut”. Lenna was erected in stages, work on the first section facing McGregor Street (then called Cross Street) in Battery Point was started in 1874 and incorporated the original Bayley house, now the hotel kitchens. The next section was added in 1880. Built of local sandstone and handmade bricks, the Italianate style building is on the Heritage Register and is a historical Hobart landmark mansion, and just a few short steps from the former waterfront buildings in Salamanca Place.

John McGregor built the gabled house ‘Hillcrest’ on the corner diagonally opposite, a few years before ‘Lenna’. It is interesting to note the different architectural styles each brother favoured.

Behind Lenna and across Princes Park, remains the cottage of the original Battery Point signal station. Being so close to the waterfront, the lookout on top of Lenna (McGregor’s Lookout) was well-suited for a semaphore, signalling ships in the Derwent River.

One of Alexander McGregor’s main trade routes was between London and Hobart and when his ship was some 80 days out of London, having sailed via The Horn, he would commence his vigil in this lookout, telescope to eye, watching for her to appear down the channel.

On Hobart’s Waterfront

Other famous barques owned by Alexander McGregor were the ‘Lufra’, ‘Helen’, ‘Loogana’, ‘Bella Mary’, ‘Isle of France’, ‘Flying Childers’, ‘Emily Dowling’, ‘Asia’, ‘Derwent Hunter’, and ‘Waterwitch’, the ‘Witch’ as she was known locally, was a weatherly vessel and was one of the very few that could beat to windward with a whale lashed alongside. This historic oldtimer was broken up in 1896. His schooners were ‘Petrel’, ‘Hally Bayley’ and the brigantine was ‘Camilla’.

Early photographs, prints and paintings of Alexander McGregor’s ships are throughout the hotel. An original oil painting of the barque ‘Harriet McGregor’ painted by Richard B. Spenser in 1878 is a feature of the collection. The Tasmanian Maritime Museum, corner Davey and Argyle streets, has a wonderful collection of these also, together with maritime artefacts and models. A visit there is full of interest

In 1914, Lenna was purchased by the late Sir Alfred Ashbolt. Many older Hobart residents have happy memories of parties held in the ground floor “drawing room”, now the Chandelier Lounge. The original gas-lit crystal chandelier still hangs in this room. The light was converted to electricity during the Ashbolt’s ownership. Our reception room was the “morning room”, and the small room adjacent to the dining room was a study. The eastern end of the dining room was the original dining room, and the western end, a day nursery. On the first floor, the smaller of the function rooms was the main bedroom, and the dressing room off it is now a bar. The seven attic rooms on the second floor were servant’s quarters, housing a cook, housemaid, parlour maid, chauffeur, “useful maid”, a nurse and a gardener.

While Sir Alfred Ashbolt was in London serving as Tasmania’s Agent General, the house was leased and used as a guest house for some years by Mrs Cremmer. From 1942 to 1971, the house was owned by Mr and Mrs A.E (Jack) Boyes and family who had planned to convert it to a hotel, but after Mr Boyes’ death it was divided into three apartments and remained thus until 1971.

Luxury Hotel Accommodation

In 1971, Innkeepers Limited purchased the property and in 1973, work commenced on the new wing of Lenna. The Architect was Mr Ermin Smrekar of Melbourne. The whole concept has been to blend the charm of old Lenna with the new building, combining all of the comforts of a first class hotel. The original fountain, which stood in front of the first residence on the site, has been installed in a new setting, testimony to our commitment to provide traditional elegance and service in modern comfort and surrounds.

Lenna is listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register, which acknowledges Lenna as being an important part of the cultural fabric of Tasmania because of its contribution to culture and society. A tower at the top of Lenna was used to look out for the safe arrival of Alexander’s ships. Today, guests take great delight in climbing the stairs to the McGregor Lookout to enjoy the panoramic view of Hobart and feel a sense of history…