Tanilba House prior to renovation in 1920.

Lt. William Caswell (1789-1859) retired from a 23 year career in the Royal Navy to become a settler in NSW.  He arrived with his wife Susan (1806-1886) and two children on the ship Pyramus in 1829.  


Lt. Caswell received his initial land grants of ‘Balickera’, ‘Tanilba’, and ‘The Woodlands’ in March 1831. 

The 50 acres at Tanilba was chosen as the homestead site because of its commanding views across Port Stephens. ‘Tanilba’ signifying a place of white flowers near the water.

Aerial View of Tanilba House Courtesy of Glen Short and Deirdre Hall

 In early 1830, prior to the grant becoming official, the Caswell family and three assigned convicts arrived by sailing ship to Tanilba.


A rough slab house was built, convict huts were erected and as the family grew, a larger cottage was built, more convict servants were assigned and a gaol built, a fruit orchard, vineyard and vegetable gardens were also established. 

Caswell made plans to build his ‘stone castle’, and by 1837, the foundations were laid, stone was quarried from Sunset Point and shell middens were burnt in lime kilns for mortar.


The walls of the house were half-metre-thick with high ceilings, chandeliers, French doors and some unique furniture was made by convict Ninian Melville, a cabinet maker by trade.

The ‘castle’ proved a drain on the family fortune and drought and the cessation of convict transportation, Caswell became insolvent and was finally forced to abandon Tanilba. In1844 he moved his family to their farming property ‘Balikera’ on the Williams River.

1856:  The estate was leased to John and Walter Heap

1859:  Caswell family return to England, sadly William (now Commander) Caswell died at sea

1860-1871:  Leased to Jacob Hoffman

1886:  Susan Caswell died in England, aged 81 and the executors put both Tanilba
and Balickera up for auction in 1897.

1897:  Elizabeth Holmes purchased the estate for £152, undertaking extensive repairs
and modifications to the house.

1913:  Walter Clift purchased the estate for £600.

1920:  Henry F. Halloran, a real estate developer, purchased the estate and made further renovations and added a conservatory. Henry designed and built the
elaborate pseudo-convict stonework in the grounds and a Temple.

Tanilba was used as a guest house until 1943 when the Gospel Fishermen leased Tanilba as a Christian Retreat. The Oberland family initially leased the estate in 1960 as a ‘Holiday Farm’, then purchased the property in 1970. Daughter Helen Taylor staged exhibitions, plays, poetry readings and concerts in the historic home for many years.

In 1980 a National Trust Preservation order was put in place for Tanilba House and The Temple of the Stork and is a significant State Heritage listed property. The Olive tree, planted by Susan Caswell, is the oldest surviving olive tree in NSW.

In March 2018 Glenn Short and Deirdre Hall purchased the property and have very passionately restored the beautiful old house and grounds back to its former glory.

Today, the property features:
  • Convict built 6 bedroom stone homestead built in 1831.

  • Overlooking magnificent Port Stephens.

  • 3 Acres of gardens and grounds.

  • Home to the first vineyard in the region.

  • Stone and timber column 30m long wisteria arbour.

  • Stone wishing Chair.

  • Original convict gaol.

  • Oldest olive tree in Australia.

  • 150 year old fig trees.

  • 150 year old Mulberry tree..

  • Circular stone wall driveway with magnificent entry columns.