Fenwick House | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

Culture and heritage


Fenwick House

Item details

Name of item: Fenwick House
Other name/s: North Coast (Boys) College; Shaws Bay Hotel
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Residential buildings (private)
Category: House
Primary address: 3 Brighton Street, East Ballina, NSW 2478
Parish: Ballina
County: Rous
Local govt. area: Ballina
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
3 Brighton StreetEast BallinaBallinaBallinaRousPrimary Address

Statement of significance:

Fenwick House is important to the history of shipping in Ballina/the shire, it is associated with the personality of Thomas Fenwick, who is noted for his service as tug operator in the late nineteenth century. The item is also associated with the descendants of the Fenwick family. This item is associated with education due to its use as the North Coast (Boys) College. Fenwick House is the only example of residential Victorian Italianate architecture in the Ballina shire.
Date significance updated: 17 Feb 10
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: James Fenwick
Physical description: Exterior of building completely ruined; very grand high Victorian interior. Date 1886. 14 rooms still intact. Built of Grey Scottish Granite roofed with slate (imported). The verandah which ran round both storeys supported by cream Corinthian columns. Entrance is through a big cedar door, flanked with stained glass, with a beautifully proportioned hall with flagged floor. Through a triple archway there ascends a beautiful cedar staircase. Doorways are of cedar, deeply recessed. Some fireplaces of marble. Architect's drawing of original building is in Museum. The first owner was Captain James Fenwick, owner of a tug fleet. Architectural Style: High Victorian interior. Building Material: Grey Scottish Granite, imported slate roof, Corinthian columns, cedar doors and staircase
Current use: Residence


Historical notes: The Ballina Shire area has an array of historic houses. Predominantly, these houses are timber and date from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Also, the majority of these houses are of timber (weatherboard) and (corrugated) iron, with varying degrees and styles of late Victorian and Federation ornamentation. Federation housing of historic significance in the shire also includes a number of examples of ‘worker’s cottages’.

Fewer of the shire’s historic houses are masonry, the most well known example being Fenwick House. Fenwick House is among the oldest houses, and certainly the most opulent historic house, surviving in the shire. Other masonry housing dates from the 1940s, these being good examples of art deco architecture as well as being significant given their distinctiveness compared with historic timber housing stock.

The array of sizes and styles of older housing in the Ballina Shire at first glance reflects the different degrees of ‘success’ the earliest settlers and those following achieved. Larger Victorian and Federation style homes were established as the dwellings of successful farmers or other semi- and/or professional occupations. Bungalow type housing housed less well to do settlers, but successful nonetheless. Cottages, the most modest and/or simple form of timber architecture represented in the shire, were the homes of labourers, both in rural areas and in towns.

The shire’s historic houses also, to varying degrees, reflect other historic/social phenomena. For example the economic differences that existed between the occupants of some households in past eras is reflected by the servant's quarters at Fenwick House. That some housing had former uses such as maternity hospitals reflects changing attitudes/approaches to women’s confinement and care given during childbirth and after. There are many other phenomena that the nature and fabric of housing reveals.

Thomas Fenwick came to Ballina in 1874 and established a tug service on the bar of the Richmond River. He quickly etablished himself as a skilled tug master often beating rival tug boat operaters to stranded vessels, therefore securing the rights to tow. Fenwick married Mary Cummings in Sydney in 1872, they had three children. Mary died in 1882 and Thomas re-married Sarah Shaw in the same year.
Fenwick house was built by Thomas Fenwick in 1886. The house was designed by architect James Fenwick and is said to be based on a similar design of a relatives home in Thomas Fenwicks' native Scotland. The house cost 9000 pounds to build and originally stood on three acres.

Thomas Fenwick spent 20 years as tugmaster on the Richmond River, he died in Sydney on 14 December, 1896 and was buried at East Ballina cemetery, close to Fenwick House

Fenwick House is less well known as being associated with private education in Ballina than with the personality of Captain Tom Fenwick. Nonetheless, it is recorded that in 1922 ‘an Evangelical religious group’ purchased the building from the estate of Tom Fenwick and ‘converted it to become the North Coast Grammar School for Boys’. The school's prospectus dating from this era gives important insights into how the building was used and conditions at the college, as well as the nature of education it provided.

‘The Dormitories are upstairs, and arrangements may be made for sleeping out in the balcony if desired. There are two bathrooms, and water is laid on from the supply which comes from a mountain stream at Alstonville. The table will be furnished with plenty of plain, wholesome food, and parents may rest assured that their boys will be well fed, carefully looked after, and receive every home comfort. ‘

The object of the college indicated, like the girls school, it sought to cater to both Ballina and boys from other localities, as well as the benefits the sea could bring to both academic and recreational learning.

‘The College has been inaugurated so that an up-to-date educational institution, centrally situated on the North Coast, may supply a long-felt part of the parents who do not approve of sending their sons to a very cold climate, nor to a locality altogether out of reach of emergency, and who moreover lean to the opinion of many leading educationalists - that seaside [emphasis in document] conditions constitute, for boys at any rate, a powerful ally which, under proper control, will undoubtedly result in their mental, moral and physical activities mutually reinforcing each other, and producing that desideratum - by no means too common in these days - a manly and evenly balanced character [emphasis in original document].’

That the nature of education the college provided was in the ‘the old English school tradition’ saw it adopt the motto ‘With all our Strength’ (but spelt and recited in Latin); the school prospectus also emphasising a 'classical' education and discipline.

‘The curriculum embraces all the subjects required by the Department of Education, and boys are prepared for all examinations including those of the Naval and Military Colleges. Shorthand and bookkeeping are taught also, while Art is taught in Drawing, Design and Modelling. Latin and French are taught by the Direct Method. The Principal, who has specialized in Science, imparts a good working knowledge of the Physical Sciences, which are in these days of scientific achievement such an important factor in every present day enterprise. The physical training is in the charge of Major Burke, who, besides having twenty-one years’ experience of teaching in secondary school, is a highly qualified specialist in this most important branch of instruction, with which he correlates Hygiene and Philosophy.'

The discipline will be firm but kindly, and all work must be satisfactorily finished before the afternoon privileges are allowed. Bathing and boating are permitted only at stated time and under strict supervision. School will be opened by Scripture reading and suitable selections from the Church of England Prayer Book and Bible and Prayer Book instruction will also be imparted; but exemption may be granted to members of other denominations by written requests of parents.’

Like the North Coast Ladies Methodist College, the North Coast [Boys] College was short lived. To date it has not been recorded in local sources as to why the College closed. Further research is required to determine the circumstances surrounding its folding. The history of the boy’s college at Fenwick House is only part of the historic values attributed to this building.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Accommodation-Activities associated with the provision of accommodation, and particular types of accommodation – does not include architectural styles – use the theme of Creative Endeavour for such activities. Houses and cottages-
6. Educating-Educating Education-Activities associated with teaching and learning by children and adults, formally and informally. School buildings and sites-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Fenwick House is important to the history of shipping in Ballina/the shire and with the history of education
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
Fenwick House is associated with personality of Thomas Fenwick, who is noted for his service as tug operator in the late nineteenth century. The item is also associated with the descendants of the Fenwick family. Fenwick House is also associated with the history of education in the Ballina area.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
Fenwick House is the only example of residential Victorian Italianate architecture in the Ballina shire.
SHR Criteria f)
Fenwick House is the only example of residential Victorian Italianate architecture in the Ballina shire.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Regional Environmental Plan  23 Dec 94   
Local Environmental Plan 198819 Mar 93 261269
Local Environmental Plan I5225 Jan 13   
Heritage study     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
National Trust Country Register0736National Trust of Australia (NSW)  No
Draft Shire Wide Community Based Heritage Study2008 Ballina Shire Council  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenArcher, John1987The Great Australian Dream:The History of the Australian House
WrittenBallina Shire Council2008Draft shire Wide Heritage Study
WrittenBoyd, Robin1991Australia's Home: a Pioneering social history of our Domestic Architecture
WrittenDrew, Phillip1992Veranda: Embracing Place
WrittenLang, windsor1947The Exploits of Captain Thomas Fenwick

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 1040004

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