Just twenty years old, Scotsman Joseph Moir arrived in Hobart in 1829, one of thousands of hopeful free immigrants who sailed to Van Diemen’s Land in the 1820s. By 1840 he had acquired several properties, government employment and a reputation as a builder of notable colonial buildings such as St Mark’s Anglican Church, Pontville. He returned briefly to Scotland in 1844 to marry Elizabeth Paxton with whom he had at least five children.
Joseph Moir erected his shot making enterprise on 39 acres subdivided from an 1817 grant of 100 acres to John Williamson. He chose his site carefully. A road frontage facilitated straightforward transport of raw materials and product. A windmill pumped water from a reliable creek to a cistern on the site of the current overflow carpark and substantial timber reserves provided fuel for the furnaces and cauldrons. Sited far from residential neighbourhoods Moir could also relax in the knowledge that toxic fumes would blow safely out to sea or over forestland.
Moir probably began building his shot making works after erecting the family home between 1855 and 1862. A stone building above the cliffs overlooking the River Derwent stored gun powder for his ironmongery as well as stores of arsenic and antimony. Another building south-west of the magazine contained the furnace for preparing lead with the arsenic and antimony.
Little is known of working conditions in Joseph Moir’s shot tower. The work was highly skilled, noisy and almost certainly dangerous. That workers took great pride in their trade is indicated by an engraving in a window in the factory, reading, ‘George Matson Premier Shot Maker Tasmanian and Australian’. No further information about George Matson is known. The following descriptions of a contemporary works, Melbourne’s Coop shot tower (now incorporated in the Melbourne Central complex on Little Lonsdale St) provides some indication of the nature of the work involved.
Joseph Moir began building his residence soon after acquiring the property in 1855. Family lore suggests that he built the battlemented tower as practise before attempting the more substantial shot tower. By 1885 the property was well known for its gardens and orchards with its hot houses, summer houses and conservatories.
Moir’s sons, James and Joseph, carried on the business after his death in 1874. Although James won merit certificates at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition and the 1880-81 Melbourne Exhibition the business struggled and it was leased by the mortgagors to his brother, Joseph in 1887. Joseph found himself unable compete with mainland competitors when generous colonial tariffs were removed after Federation. He relinquished the lease to his brother-in-law, William Baynton who continued the business until closing its doors in 1905. During these years Baynton’s wife, Florence, operated a tea house in the residence.
The top of the tower can be accessed via a 259 step circular staircase and offers spectacular views up, down and across the Derwent River. There is a museum at the base of the tower and a tea rooms alongside, as well as toilet facilities for the disabled.