20 Runnymede Street
At the height of the bay whaling industry in the 1830s, Hobart was a leading international whaling port. Whale oil was one of Tasmania’s most valuable exports. Shipwrights, sailmakers and ship chandlers, coopers, smiths, food provedores, waterside workers and lodging-housekeepers all depended on whaling for their livelihood.
As bay whaling declined in the 1840s, it was replaced by deep-sea sperm whaling enterprises that required much greater capital investment.
One such merchant was Alexander McGregor. He and his brother, John, ran a large shipyard on the Hobart domain during the 1850s–60s, during which time Alexander emerged as an influential deep-sea whaling and trading merchant, with the largest individually owned fleet of sailing ships south of the equator. In the late 1870s, McGregor rebuilt the original Lenna cottage, transforming it into a grand home that demonstrated wealth and influence.
As the 19th century drew to an end, McGregor recognised that the potential for sperm whaling was limited and diversified his interests. At the time of his death in 1896, he presided over a thriving general merchant seafaring business.
The changing scale of trade, and the necessary improvements to port facilities with the introduction of larger, faster ships and steam vessels, forced out small businesses in favour of larger concerns. New finger piers and the large Princes Wharf storage sheds left the stone warehouses on Salamanca Place empty. They were initially recycled for light industry and other businesses and for the boutique, restaurant and arts precinct of today.
Lenna has a commanding position over Sullivans Cove and the Derwent estuary.
McGregor capitalised on this by building the unique clerestory, or lookout tower with windows, at the top of his building.
The clerestory gave him an eagle-eye view to see what ships were coming up the river. He could see the Marine Board’s flags at the top of Mount Nelson signalling which country the ship was coming from. If it was a trader, he would order his watermen out to be the first to meet it and guide it into dock like tug boats do today.
By reaching the ship first, the watermen could find out what cargo it was carrying and notify McGregor. This helped make him very wealthy.
– Robert Vincent, Heritage Architect