William Aikenhead was born in Launceston in 1842. As a young man he worked for an insurance company, before joining the Examiner newspaper where his father was the proprietor. After spending time in Victoria he returned to Tasmania, purchasing his father’s interest in the Examiner, where he stayed for eighteen years. In 1887 ill-health caused him to leave the Examiner. After building a home in Devonport he found improved health allowed him to pay an influential role in the town. Among other roles he was Chairman of the first Devonport Town Board, a member of the Fire Brigade, and on the Licensing Bench. He was also a coroner and a Justice of the Peace and was elected to the State House of Assembly.
It was in 1887, just before Torquay, Formby, and Wenvoe amalgamated to form Devonport, that William Aikenhead built his home on Victoria Parade. Malunnah, as the house was to be named, was an imposing two story structure with wide verandas and wrought iron work set in extensive grounds of approximately three acres. From the first floor a steep staircase led to a turret fitted out as an observatory with windows on all sides.
Views from the turret encompassed the sea, the Bluff, Wright’s Island, Pardoe, Torquay, part of Formby and the harbour. At the rear of the house there were stables and there was also a coachman’s cottage. Plans and specifications were prepared by a firm of architects in Launceston, Messrs Harry Conway and Son, while the building contract was let to Mr T. Kenner of Emu Bay who sub-let the masonry and brickwork to Mr Peter Hoeck.
In 1916 Mrs Mary Lane bought Malunnah for £1,600. She reportedly doubled the size of the house and by 1923 it was said to include seventeen main rooms, including three living areas, eight bedrooms and a drawing room with large bay windows. Mrs Lane appears to have been somewhat of an entrepreneur: she also took over the Palace Hotel, eventually selling that to build Lane’s Grand Hotel. The Lane family successfully ran Lane’s Grand Hotel until it was demolished in 1968.
Malunnah is known to have hosted royalty when in 1946, during his tenure as Governor General of Australia, the Duke of Gloucestor with his wife and their two young sons spend a holiday at Malunnah. It was reported in the press that the Duke and Duchess would arrive in Hobart on the battleship King George V, before being driven to Devonport to stay at Malunnah. The royal family were due to remain from 10th January to 14th February 1946.
Much excitement was generated in Devonport by the visit and the Lane family undertook work to improve the grounds and renovate the interior of the house. By the end of the renovations a third bathroom had been added and a study was set aside to be used by the Duke. During the war a wing on the north side of the house was divided off from the rest of the house as a flat for a serviceman and his family: this wing was renovated to be used by the Duke and Duchess’s young sons and their nurses. To improve privacy for the family a new fence was erected along the front and side of the house.
Malunnah remained in the hands of the Lane family until it was placed on the market in 1999. It was bought in 2000 by Ms Atika Rea, with the intention of restoring it to its original state, although those plans were not to come to fruition as she had hoped. Much of the land the house stood on has been subdivided and now forms Malunnah Close.
Bass Strait Maritime Centre history file – Malunnah
The North West Post, February 1888
The Advocate, Wednesday 24th October 1945 page 2
The Argus (Victoria), Saturday 5th January 1946 page 8
The Mercury, Monday 7th January 1946 page 9
The Mercury, Thursday 10th January 1946 page 4
The Examiner, Saturday 23rd July 1983 page 6
The Examiner, Sunday 19th January 1986