I linger at Lovely Banks, am "let down" by Oatlands' oldest inhabitant, plan a pageant a century ahead, accuse a road of being drunk, find Falstaff's brother and meet a lady who fled a wake.
It was Sunday morning when the magpies woke me at Melton Mowbray and they kept up their song to hearten me on my way. It was, as the Sabbath should be, a heavenly day, with glorious sunshine and I might have tried out Maeterlinck's estimate of the "joy of running barefoot through the dew" but for the cobbles among the grass.
About three miles out is Lovely Banks, the well-named and well-known estate of the Bisdee family who have been in occupation for over a century. One Mr Guest had an inn here, but the original Bisdee presumably was not a customer, since it is recorded that "Mr Bisdee is one of the few who have as yet made good malt liquor on their own farms. He grows the grain, malts it and brews it on the spot."
It is just over three miles to the top of Spring Hill, and the view makes one endeavour to walk backwards. From the top I saw for the last time on this journey the southern mountains, including Mount Field. I was looking for Mr Vincent’s London Inn, where it is recorded that Cox's coach spent a night on 10 December 1836, but I could not locate it, although perhaps I photographed it unknowingly. Often there is nobody about to ask. A mile or so short of the summit is Tedworth, where the dogs objected strenuously to my camera. A little boy enjoying a swing on the lawn replied to my query as to who lived there with the informative response : "Daddy does".
Descending Spring Hill I missed Dr Dessailly's house approaching Jericho, but I "snapped" a tumble-down brick wall and house which perhaps once made up "P. Harrison’s excellent new inn" of 1820. From a distance I also had a shot at Northumbria where "Mr Gregson had run a plough furrow as a racecourse round the outer edge of 14-tree Plain". A small stone cottage on the hill on the left of the road was evidently the residence of Dr Hudspeth, Assistant Surgeon. Halfway between Jericho and Oatlands is Lemon Springs, where Lemon the bushranger used to lie in ambush and surprise unwary travellers. At the summit of a little rise is a stone house bearing over the door the legend "By G. Munnings". This was the once well-known Bath Inn. Presumably the room where the old lady was peeling onions was the former "Pump Room", and the white face dimly seen through the side window was the ghost of Beau Brummell.
I took a final rest where the first view is obtained of the saucer-like plain of Oatlands and the row of distant pine trees marking the main street. This last look at the prospect was a sight to linger over. Near me was an island haystack in a seagreen paddock; ploughed and grassed fields sloped gently away over the plain, and encircling all was the saucer-rim of hills, with the well-named Table Mountain ruled straight across the western sky. Then the sun dipped, and the long shadows of trees and steeples merged into the gathering darkness.
Oatlands was not much of a place a quarter of a century after Hobart's settlement, for the original idea was to make the town at Jericho. There were just a few cottages, a barracks and officers' quarters, and a church and gaol were in progress. The gaol was completed in 1834, but its interior is now almost as dilapidated as the Port Arthur buildings, though the outside walls and the buildings that were part of the system are in good repair. Twenty years ago one of the old main-road coaches was a prisoner in the gaol court-yard, manacled by the debris of half a century, but it has escaped somehow and its corner is now vacant.
Anstey Barton, three miles west of the township, has seen its centenary; and its founder, Thomas Anstey, lives in the Church of England cemetery under a stone dated 1853. Oatlands is one of the many Tasmanian towns which from their appearance might well have been transplanted bodily from the Old Country. The majority of the houses, and cottages too, are built substantially of handsome stone, after the true English model of those days. The shell of an old windmill stands near the summit of the hill overlooking the lagoon now called Lake Dulverton, formerly known as Lake Frederick.
Oatlands looks like a place with a history, and I understood from the reading of many travel books, that an infallible way to extract information was to find an old man, treat him to several glasses of beer and reproduce his loquacity in print, taking the French leave known as "journalistic licence" to add any picturesqueness that the potations had failed to effect. Very soon the typical old man beloved of the story-teller actually came in sight, adorned with a flowing beard and hobbling along with a tapping stick-the oldest inhabitant for a certainty, and he readily fell in with my idea of liquid refreshment. But, though he talked a lot, all I choose to record is his reply to my initial query : "Have you lived long in this district" "Quite long enough," he volunteered, libelling Oatlands with his first sentence, "quite long enough; I come up here from Hobart exactly five months ago to live along o' my married daughter."
Later on in the morning, however, I did pick up a few scraps at no cost for refreshment. Wandering round the churchyard I was attracted by the sound of hilarity and considerable tossing backwards and forwards of the most over-worked Australian adjective between some workmen. From one I learned that the house I had photographed at Jericho yesterday was a misdirected shot, and that of "P. Harris’s new inn" only the foundations remain a mile or so south of The Grove. But Ross distinctly says that the "New Inn" was just beyond the Jordan bridge on the Oatlands side. Whichever is right, it shows how easily argument can arise over old landmarks. In the graveyard we also discussed the probable route of the old main road from Oatlands through York Plains, but though my friend had investigated it he confessed himself baffled. Some day I shall visit Carr Lord's property and try to trace out the road, unless it has all disappeared under the plough. I learned that Presnell's White Hart Inn at Sorell Springs, certified in 1829 as "one of the best and oldest inns between Hobart Town and Launceston", has been entirely demolished. It was at the White Hart that the postal messengers exchanged their despatches and parcels, "it being considered the most convenient and central Point".
If Oatlands conducted any centenary celebrations they were carried out so quietly that I did not hear of them and I trust they will make more of their two-hundredth birthday. With apologies for my enforced absence, I offer posterity some hints for the occasion. If I were Chairman of the Celebrations Committee in 2021 I should have a temporary axle placed in that old windmill, some sails in the original manner, and then (after prayers for wind) use the power to grind fresh coffee for the evening supper. The gaol courtyard should be the scene of a pageant of old Oatlands, with Macquarie bestowing its name, bushrangers, aborigines, huntsmen, warders and all the personages of the day. Included would be a lantern or cinema show of the original Oatlands, the postal messengers passing through with their packs, McMahon's lumbering wagon, Fawkner and his bullock dray of type and press, Cox's first tandem arriving, the subsequent coach, the cricket team in top hats, and the train that will be an anachronism in seventy years' time. I still have hopes that the Scenery Preservation Board will acquire that windmill and restore it. Tasmania has allowed too many historic landmarks to crumble to oblivion.
As I swung out of Oatlands a heavy fog blurred everything, in contrast to the glorious sunshine of the four previous days. I noticed a substantial stone trough by the roadside, fed by a pipe. But customers are few, and for every thirst quenched there, a hundred drinks are served from the petrol bowsers a mile off. But when it comes to hanging on, the sedate old trough will outlive the flaunting bowser.
In the old days, as a resident of three score years informed me, there were seven public houses in Oatlands. It is my firm belief that when the main road reached there it got on the "jag" at one or several of the houses and thereafter had but a hazy idea of how best to proceed northwards. It made three attempts before it was finally successful in negotiating St Peters Pass. As you ascend you will notice on the left an old road, which on the downhill grade appears again on the opposite side. This must have been the second road. The first went somewhere to the right of the hill and traversed York Plains, at the northern end of which B. Nokes had an inn. At Sorell Springs a number of coins were ploughed up not very long ago, evidently lost by some of the individuals who were in the habit of knocking down their wages at the hostelry.
Two miles beyond Presnell's White Hart Inn the road turned suddenly to the right and entered the Salt Pan Plains. The larger of the pans was forty acres and the smaller twenty acres, several tons of salt being gathered annually. "Here", says Ross, "the traveller will enjoy one of the most magnificent views the island affords." It is tempting, yet impossible, to compare this vaunted view with the best that are known today. One cannot, obviously, classify and tabulate views in definite order of excellence; yet I would not hesitate a moment to provoke the inevitable argument as to the finest views of cultivated areas in the island. I would even essay the impossible, and tabulate them:-number one, from Table Cape, taking in both seascape and farmland; number two, looking back from road or rail a mile beyond Macquarie Plains, with hop-grounds, orchards and the river at your feet, and the Mount Wellington Range for a background: number three, White Hills (near Western junction) from the train-in Spring. And whilst I am on the subject, I name the panorama from Mount Olympus as the grandest I know of in virgin country. And if you can beat these you will be naming prospects that it will be worth travelling from the other side of the equator to enjoy.
But I continue my journey on past Mr Askin Morrison’s old homestead, with its flagged kitchen and its stone sheep-dip, on the right-hand at the foot of St Peters Pass. Presnell, of the White Hart, followed the trade, for when the York Plains route was superseded he put up the Half-way Inn at Antill Ponds.
There are some old-timers heading for decay at Rockwell, and a little further on is the residence of Mr Harrison, J.P. built in the eighteen-twenties. While I was busy with my camera the Melbourne aeroplane flew over; the wagon-driver with his load of firewood crawling across the Woodbury paddocks did not even lift his head to look at it. As I watched his unconcerned progress I fancied I saw the little feet that trod the paths between the mossgrown apple trees a hundred years ago suddenly arrested in their pattering progress as a bird soared overhead where the aeroplane now flew.
Approaching Tunbridge the sun came on duty again and bathed the lovely prospect in brilliance. The 1829 Almanac records that Blackman's River is the "scite" of the new township of Tunbridge. I much doubt whether all those broad streets will ever have houses in them. My search for the graves of the horsemen murdered by blacks which were said to be at the end of the bridge was unsuccessful. Perhaps the railway line has covered the graves; or, more likely, the original bridge was in a different place. At Tunbridge, I ran up against an old chap who had had custody of the road roller used by the prison gangs. It was so big and unwieldy that he cut off one end of it for a grindstone, and disposed of the remainder by digging a deep grave and employing a team of horses to assist at the burial of the cumbersome relic.
On beyond Tunbridge, hidden behind a
little forest of pine trees and willows, is Mona Vale, an imposing
baronial hall built by Mr Robert Kermode-a Manxman-in the very early
days, where royalty has often been entertained.
The Council Chambers also bear the date 1836, and above the door are three cannon carved in the stone, and just beneath them a kangaroo and an emu which have stared at one another through the years that have made the bird an anachronism as far as Tasmania is concerned, and the forester kangaroo nearly so. Ross was named by Governor Macquarie during his journey of June 1821 . Many of the buildings have survived their hundredth birthday; but others, including the first church and the gaol, have been demolished and their stones used elsewhere. The workmen constructing the main line railway in the 'seventies camped in the gaol buildings, an elderly lady resident informed me, and she had particular reason for remembering it. One of the women-folk of the navvies had died, and the lady-then aged about seven-was sent across with her little sister to deliver a black dress to one of the mourners at the camp. The infants, pushing open the door, burst in on a scene of mingled revelry and wailing. Men and women were sitting round a coffin, bottles, glasses and refreshments embellished the tables, and a real Irish wake, or the remnants of it, was in progress. The children hurled their parcel into the room and fled with their fingers in their ears to shut out the din that has remained one of their most vivid memories for three-score years.
In a back street on the way to the railway station is a tiny brick cottage once the home of the Irish exile, Meagher, which will soon doubtless follow its ill-fated occupant into eternal oblivion. Meagher had moved from Campbell Town to escape the "curious crowd"- one can scarcely imagine a "crowd" in Campbell Town even after its century of existence-and he dubbed Ross merely "a little apology of a town". Of the cottage itself he wrote : "The appearance of it was most prepossessing and the interior arrangements singularly inviting. Just fancy a little lodge, built from head to foot with bright red bricks; two flower beds and a neat railing in front; a laburnum bush in each bed. . . Just fancy all this and you will have a pretty correct picture of the establishment in which, with a domestic servant of all-work and a legion of flies I have now the happiness to reside." I do not know whether the folk who live there now are descendants of the "devout Wesleyan", Mrs Anderson, who was of such generous proportions that Meagher declared her to be her husband's better half and three-quarters. Had the laburnum bushes remained, no doubt by this time they would have been of the dimensions of Jack's beanstalk; but "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" may be said alike of them and of the body of their poetic admirer.
Tasmania by Road and Track - by E T
Emmett was originally published by Melbourne University Press.
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