I discover the worst-paid road contractor in the world, browse round Longford and Hadspen, go to school at Hagley, "fall in" badly at Deloraine and receive a present by post.
As I trudged along from Launceston on my way to Longford, trying to dodge the bitumen in favour of the grassy sides, I wondered what the road contractor would have said had he been offered the same reward that was earned by the maker of the first road between the two points. The undertaking was directed by Captain Ritchie, Commandant of Port Dalrymple, in 1813, the road-maker sending in an account for 30 pound, but making the sporting offer to accept "one cow in lieu thereof". On being informed of the road construction, Governor Macquarie despatched a formal authority to Lieutenant-Governor Davey to arrange for the issue of "one cow from the Government herds to the man who made the new road alluded to". We are not told whether Commandant Ritchie had called for tenders for the work. If not, it was a sad oversight, for obviously Longford might have got its road for half a cow or a few sheep had a little competition been encouraged.
The road that was built in exchange for the historic cow must have been appreciated in 1820, for on 10 November of that year Lieutenant-Governor Sorell decreed a general muster, which all and sundry were ordered to attend, the census including a tally of goods and chattels as well as of humans. The muster of three years later showed that the district of Norfolk Plains contained 204 free people, 349 convicts, 25,482 sheep, 3,513 cattle, 107 horses, 1,108 pigs; and there were 2,472 acres under cultivation. In 1820 Sorell had been "deeply impressed" by the necessity for a school, and though three years later twenty-seven children are listed as receiving instruction (probably in a private house) Governor Arthur in 1826 is still urging the building of a school. That road-maker of 1813 must have departed this life, or he would certainly have offered to run up a building in consideration of being presented with some addition to his livestock.
Longford's history may be said to date back to the early part of 1806, when Paterson reported to Governor King at Sydney that a river had been noticed to join with the South Esk. The junction of the Lake River and the South Esk is the site of Longford. The real "discoverer" was, however, Lieutenant Laycock who passed through the area and slept on the bank of the Lake River during the first journey from north to south, in February 1807. In June 1812, Macquarie directed that the district, which he called Norfolk Plains, should be the home of some of the settlers from Norfolk Island on their withdrawal in a few months' time. Farms were to be surveyed for them and they were to be fed and clothed at "Government expense" for a stated period. These people were given from thirty to fifty acres of land, but they were not equal in calibre to the Old Country settlers of later years, and, with but few exceptions, they must be described as failures. It must be conceded that they were handicapped by lack of capital, but more than one historian has used the term "idle and dissolute" regarding them. Norfolk Islanders had no pan in the building up of this now rich and prosperous area.
In the infant days of the colony settlement was practically all quite near the two main towns of Hobart and Launceston, not only to be near the markets but for reasons of safety. Today it seems ridiculous to allude to Longford as an isolated area, but as late as 1823 a settler at Lake River (Mr T. O. Curling) tells of a neighbour and his men "going armed to plough", and of setting traps for bushrangers "to catch them like rats and mice". But those stalwarts of the first quarter century of settlement had their reward, for they watched the place grow into the Eden that it now is. As I walked those lanes and river banks on the quiet autumn days I was sure that I was in one of earth's most favoured places. Indeed, how could there be better? The plain is set between two great mountain ranges, the soil is fertile and watered by two large rivers as well as the regular rainfall, and the climate is equable. It is a veritable Promised Land.
These settlers of the right type began to dribble in during Governor Davey's regime (1813-17), the tempo increasing rapidly under Governor Sorell (1817-24). Some of them had had posts in the Imperial Service in New South Wales and Tasmania and resigned in favour of life on the land. They either brought with them or very soon imported plentiful supplies of acorns, willow slips, hawthorn and briar berries, poplar seeds and such like, because their lanes and roadsides, their gardens and orchards are just pieces of transplanted England. Later visitors, astonished by the appearance of the country, have declared that certain areas are "more English than England". Colonel G. C. Mundy who visited Australia in 1848-51 and wrote Our Antipodes says that there were in Tasmania "hedges of hawthorn the like of which I never saw before, even in England". And I recalled that when I accompanied General Pau's French Mission through the Cressy-Longford area one excitable member exclaimed : "This is not Australia : this is Picardy".
The obvious site for the residences of the early homeseekers was on the banks of the lovely South Esk River, and there they nestle with their gardens, their barns and wool-sheds and private jetties. This great river, its beginnings fed by the snows of Ben Lomond, is said to drain more country than any other Tasmanian stream. But it is not always well behaved. It overflows its banks in exceptional rains, and the 1929 flood forced residents to employ boats for egress from their top storeys and made the valley into a picturesque but most unpopular lake. It also carried away the historical seven-arch bridge at Perth (constructed of massive bluestone) which had been built in 1837-39 to replace the original punt.
One of the best known of the many estates is "Woolmers", on the Lake River, originally built by Thomas Archer in 1819, the "'new' building replacing it in 1834. Calling there for a few minutes and being hospitably entertained to morning tea, I was shown several rooms and was interested to notice the original hand-sawn floor boards and weatherboards, fastened with hand-made nails, a bedroom with a French four-poster bed and hangings, period furniture, and paintings of "Woolmers", "Panshanger" and others; Macquarie paid "a friendly visit" to the homestead, in 1821 on his return to the south from Launceston. At the same rime he named the nearby settlement "Perth" when he called on Mr David Gibson. When James Backhouse, the Quaker passed through Perth twelve years' later he remarked that there were but ten houses and two of them inns. It speaks well for our sobriety that though there are now ten times ten houses there is but one inn!
Walking round the streets of Longford today it is difficult to visualize the conditions in the days of the building of "Woolmers", "Brickendon", "Panshanger" and the many other substantial homes. Unfortunately, scarcely any of the settlers of the period and this applies to the whole island left any documentary account of their doings. They kept dairies, but no diaries! Even their early letters have mostly been destroyed. Just here and there a few have been brought to light, telling of the conditions that we have forgotten. Historic facts handed down orally from father to son become distorted or misunderstood. These pioneers were too busy overcoming their difficulties to record them.
Lack of instruction in education and religion must have constituted a major problem. Governor Arthur did good work in this regard. In ,1820 he placed a gentleman in charge of the "King's Elementary School" at Norfolk Plains. And no doubt the advent two years later of the Reverend R. R. Claiborne was appreciated, for he a combined farming and teaching. His terms were 35 pounds per annum, including board. An advertisement of his in December 1830, in a Hobart newspaper, reads quaintly today: "The Reverend R. R. Claiborne begs to inform the public that the Christmas vacation will terminate on January 20 and that his carts will be in Hobart Town at that time, when he will take to Norfolk Plains such pupils as may desire to avail themselves of the opportunity"
A small, badly-built church was finished in 1831, but later it was decided to build the Cathedral Church of the district, and in 1839 Governor. Sir John Franklin laid the corner-stone of Christ Church. Features of the church are the lovely west window designed by William Archer of Cheshunt', Deloraine, and presented by Mr Charles Reid, a resident, the clock provided by the Government, and the bell which bears the inscription that It was presented by His Majesty King George IV. Breaking through the briars and long grass in the oldest parts of the churchyard, some quaint inscriptions on the weathered stones reward the searcher. One frequently copied out by visitors is that above the grave of Solomon Farr, who died on 22 April 1833, his widow handing to the engraver the verses: -
O silent grave to thee I
And Charles Stephens who "died by lightning" On 19 November 1843, has: -
How many fall as sudden
If a plebiscite were
conducted to find the prettiest inland town in Tasmania, Deloraine would
be high up on the list. The main buildings are substantial and ornate,
church spires rise among the wealth of trees planted by a wise
generation that has done its work and departed, the streets and roads
wind round the hills, and the inevitable river bisects the town. Away
behind the hills are the majestic Western Tiers, with the bold Quamby
Bluff a detached peak guaranteeing a matchless new for anyone energetic
enough to climb its steep sides.
Deloraine must have been a
very tiny place when in 1856 was decided to make it the terminus of the
first real railway to be constructed. A survey was duly made for a line
from Launceston, but Parliament turned it down. Another attempt was made
six years later, but it was not till 1865 that Parliament passed an Act
for the formation of a company with a capital of £400,000. A poll of
landholders was taken to ascertain if they would load themselves with a
special rate to enable the Government to guarantee interest. The Duke of
York turned the first sod on 15 January 1868. The company could not
raise the required cash of £100,000 and managed to get Parliament to
reduce the amount by half in spite of bitter opposition from a minority
headed by an irate gentleman named Lowes, who declared the Bill to be a
fraud and spat upon it saying it was all it was fit for. The first
tender of some £200,000 omitted rails, rolling stock, stations and the
Longford bridge equal to tendering for the construction of a house,
omitting the roof, floor and chimneys and an additional £110,000 had to
be provided. But in spite of its
precarious birth the railway (gauge 5 feet 3 inches) duly reached
Deloraine and Governor du Cane opened it on 10th February
1871. But things did not go smoothly for quite a number of years. The
company lost money and the Government drove a hard bargain in taking
over the line next year. But the real fun began when the Government
tried to collect from landholders the rates they had agreed to pay. The
Government having allowed the Main Line Railway Company to build their
line from Hobart to Launceston without any tax on landholders, the good
folk of the Launceston-Deloraine district objected so strenuously that
there were riots. The tax collectors found premises barred and mastiffs
turned on them, After a spasm of window smashing, pulling down of
Government fences and the resignation of twenty-six police magistrates,
the Government gave way on the special tax. Then of course the people
who had no railways anywhere near them objected to being taxed to make
up railway losses; but as their objections did not go so far as a riot
they are still paying-and will till the crack of doom, for even if all
these non-paying railways were scrapped tomorrow there would still be
the interest on the borrowed millions. If the gentleman who expectorated
on the Deloraine Railway Bill could come to life again he would at least
be able to declare "I told you so: serve you right.
Tasmania by Road and Track - by E T
Emmett was originally published by Melbourne University Press.
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