The Private Secretary’s Cottage is the second-oldest building in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery precinct, after the Commissariat Store. It is situated on a bank above a remnant of the original foreshore – the very site where the European settlement of Hobart began. The Cottage may originally have been built as an outbuilding for the Commissariat, and by the late 1820s was being used as a lumber store.
Between 1828 and 1829 the colonial architect, John Lee Archer (1791–1852), converted the building into a residence for Lieutenant Governor Arthur’s private secretary, due to its proximity to Old Government House. The cottage was regarded by its mid -nineteenth century occupants as an attractive place to live, with its generous garden and position overlooking the harbour and towards Government House. The cottage was not always a happy place, however. In February 1847 The Courier reported that Sir John Eardley Eardley-Wilmot had died there, some months after his controversial demise as Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land.
After the present Government House was completed on the Domain in 1857, the cottage was occupied by the Director of Public Works. In 1871 it was incorporated into the museum precinct, as a residence for the curator and, later, for the museum caretaker and other staff. From the 1950s onwards, the cottage was used for museum offices and storage.
Over time, several unsympathetic alterations have changed the fabric of the cottage. At one stage it was threatened with demolition and, in 1901, the northern wall was torn down and realigned to make way for the third stage of the museum. However, despite these alterations and the fact that the cottage has been hemmed in by successive additions to the museum, a combination of chance and economic necessity has ensured the building’s survival. In the late 1970s, a conservation study highlighted its significance and subsequent restoration works have partly reinstated the building’s original form and materials.
The cottage today stands on the last remaining section of original shoreline in the Hobart waterfront.