Just Across the Road

Chapman family at Maritimo
Chapman family at Maritimo

What is the story behind the house that looks over to ours, shares our street name, and watches us as we come and go? Our Girl Friday, Kristen Erskine digs a little deeper to find out.

A young Nutmegger put up his age and set sail from New Bedford, Connecticut, aboard a whaler in the early 1800s. He eventually served on the Menkar (named for one of the stars in the constellation Cetus also known as The Whale). The ship was crippled on a reef in Poverty Bay, New Zealand and limped to Hobart Town in 1858 where it was condemned and wrecked. Undaunted, Charles Augustus Chapman then joined one of the ‘luckiest and most profitable ships’ of the time, the Runnymede barque.

Three years later he married Jane Gaylor, sister of Charles (the founder of Customs House Hotel) on December 7th 1861 and continued his life at sea until he sought his real fortune by heading to the west coast and purchasing mining concessions with Dr Crowther around 1882. With the fortune he made from selling the shares in the Anchor Tin Mine he retired to Hobart Town and purchased 3 acres of land in Sandy Bay between the dairy farms of what would be Dynnyrne and the huge orchards that stretched to Nutgrove Beach.

By 1885 Maritimo (from the Portuguese for “view to the sea”) stood proudly facing the ocean where he’d spent most of his life. Already a father of four, he and Jane produced three more children with the youngest being premature and dying at birth.

I’d first laid eyes on the house whilst taking my eldest child to a nearby park. At that time it was one of those fantastic “haunted” houses, set well back from the road and virtually invisible because of the trees surrounding it. I just noted it as I walked to and from the park and as the years passed and more children joined us and more trips to the park ensued, a fair number of stories revolving around this mysterious house appeared in my writing.

Last year this all changed. We had a chance to move house and lo and behold it was directly across the road from that house which had fueled myriad plots conceived during those occasional idle moments whilst caring for my children.

When it occurred to me to look up, from beneath the boxes and chaos I realised a magical change had been wrought on the house. The hidden had become visible, the house standing proud on its gentle hill. The gigantic shrubbery tamed and snipped and trimmed. The white paint covering the bottom storey scrubbed away allowing the original sandstone to glow. And oh, what a glow in the morning, the house facing east and the stone changing hues with the dawn. There are children again, skipping and running and throwing balls. Some days I’m tempted to take them a hoop and stick across and see if they can recreate some late Victorian childhood games.

My dreams of living across the road from a haunted house have been tamed by the shouts of laughter, birthday parties, fertile pear trees and sharing a cider on the verandah. I am quite content. Some homes are grand and forbidding, Maritimo, now I’ve had the chance to get to know it, was simply lonely, needing a family and warmth within again. Not haunted at all, just waiting, for the walls to echo once more with children’s delight and for the spaces to be cherished again, the gardens cared for and reimagined.

The only photograph I’ve seen of Charles and Jane Chapman is in front of the home with some of their children, who were obviously trying very hard to be “good” but there is mischief in their grins and even Mrs Chapman is smiling slightly. I suspect she and her husband would be well pleased to see their home now. Once again a warm and congenial family home, still a “view to the sea”, and settling into a new generation growing within its sturdy walls. Meanwhile, I’m marking out other houses to feature in my haunted writing, Maritimo is far too sunny natured now.