Saturday, 11 May 2013


Located 26 km east of Hobart on the Arthur Highway, Sorell is a service town for the surrounding farming communities. It lies in the heart of an area which was once the grain capital of Van Diemen's Land and now specializes in sheep, mixed farming and dairy produce.
Lieutenant John Bowen sent out several exploration parties from the settlement at Risdon, one of which journeyed across the hills to discover a rich valley of coal and the river which was subsequently named the Coal River. Early in 1805 a large expanse of water (Pittwater) was located and here they envisaged a fine harbor and a city on its banks. However, it was found that the water was too shallow for the passage of boats.

By 1808 several settlers were working small farms in the district and by 1815, large quantities of wheat were being grown and a flour mill had been built. The following year a site for a township was purchased and this was established by 1819, by which time approximately sixty farms were operating and the district had become firmly established as the 'Granary of Australia'. The name Pittwater was given to the whole district until June, 1821, Governor Macquarie visited the district and named the new township of Sorell in honor of Colonel William Sorell, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land - April 1817 - May 1824.

It is ironic that Sorell, whose success as a Governor was partly based on his success in suppressing the bushranging on the island, should have given his name to a town which was subsequently held up by the bushranger Matthew Brady. Brady and his gang managed to catch the local soldiers by surprise and with a good sense of irony and humour they locked the soldiers up and set the prisoners free.

A well known resident of the time was Mr. James Gordon, the first Magistrate, who received a grant of 600 acres in the Pittwater area which he named 'Forcett'. From 1815 he farmed his property as well as engaging in trade with Sydney, New Zealand and Macquarie Island.
In 1823 the population of Sorell numbered, 133, of whom 96 were convicts and their families. Descendents of many of these families still live in the district. From the first settlement of the area in 1815 until the 1860s Sorell was known as the most important grain centre in Van Diemen's Land. It was so productive that some years, grain was actually shipped out to New South Wales.

The first religious service was held in 1819. The foundation stone for a new church was laid later that year. There are three National Estate listed churches in Sorell. Of the three, St George's Anglican Church in Gordon Street is the most impressive. Built in 1826 and rebuilt in 1883 this small and attractive stone, gothic style church is an impressive part of the town centre. It was consecrated in 1828, followed immediately by the baptism of Georgiana Laing, daughter of the chief district constable. The present church stands on site of the original church which was a much larger building with a gallery for convicts. St George’s as it is today was erected in 1884 and restoration has taken place over a number of years. Adjacent to the church, the old cemetery contains many old graves of the early settlers in the district.

Scot's Church (1842) in Arthur Street is described in the National Estate Register as 'A sandstone Romanesque Revival church, built in 1842 to a design by renowned colonial architect, James Blackburn, with gabled roof, a central tall square tower, semi-circular arch-topped entrance and buttresses. Windows are tall and multi-paned, with arched tops, and simple, engaged columns at the sides. The northern facade has a fine, central recessed window, and flanking columns in relief. An unusual stone church which is a fine example of Blackburn's work. The building of the church was originally funded by donations and via the government. Difficulties in securing a minister resulted in the church being unused for many years and falling into disrepair. Ministerial shortages continued to cause difficulties through until 1920. In 1960 – 61, a group of workers, with the assistance of the National Trust and the government, successfully achieved the necessary major restoration to bring the church up to a safe standard for heritage classification by the National Trust.

The Roman Catholic Church, which is over the road from Scot's, is a small and simple sandstone Gothic Revival building. The foundation stone of this church was laid in 1864 on a site donated by Mr Andrew Council who also donated 200 pounds to the construction costs. It took 2 years to complete the construction but unfortunately Mr Council passed away before construction was completed. The building has now been fully restored.

There are several other buildings of historic interest in the township - the Pembroke and Gordon Highlander Hotels, Bluebell Inn and Barracks, Pelham House, Commissioner's Residence, The Old Rectory and the Plough and Harrow Inn.

The first school was started in 1821. In 1939 several schools from outlying areas were transported into Sorell to become one of the first area schools in Tasmania. In 1984 a fire destroyed most of the old buildings’ and a new school was rebuilt on the original site and now is a High School.

During those early years Sorell residents relied on primitive ferries for the crossing of Pittwater, or had to journey by way of Richmond to Hobart. In 1854 Sir William Denison began negotiations which finally resulted in the construction of a causeway. In 1874, at a cost of £27 000 the 5 km causeway across Pittwater linking Sorell to Midway Point and Midway Point to Hobart was completed. It had taken six years and was primarily designed to link Port Arthur with Hobart. Sorell happened to be a lucky beneficiary.
The causeway was reconstructed in recent years and little of the original work is still in evidence.

During this period business and some community services were established. However, it was after the first Municipal Council was proclaimed in 1862, that further progress came. The electric telegraph service was introduced in 1876, in 1892 the Sorell to Bellerive railway was built but found to be uneconomical so it closed in 1926, a water supply connected in 1916 and electricity came to the town in 1930 although some outlying areas were not connected until late in the 1940's

Sorell is now considered a commuter town as it is only an easy 20 min drive to Hobart and is only 10 mins from the Hobart airport. Although the town has  grown over time, the historical areas of Sorell have been well preserved and blended into the new buildings & landscape.


  1. Hi Jeff

    I have only just found this blog on Sorell. Was interesting to read about this. I have a colonial property in the area, called Horsecroft, which is located off the Pawleena Road, just past another historic property Cornhill.

    Horsecroft dates back to 1826 and was built originally and lived in by the Glover family well into the 1850s or beyond. Its only had from memory about 5 owners. Captain William Henry Glover was the Police Magistrate at the time of Brady's capture of Sorell and was locked up in a cell with the other soldiers. He was a local farmer and the property was well known for its grain and other products produced.

    When I bought it back in late 2007-08 it had been owned by the Pearce family for about 80 years. It is a typical early (colonial regency property) of the era with cedar joinery etc, but was in very run down condition. We have been restoring the property ever since.

    David Mitchell

    1. Hi David,

      My name is Richard Walpole. I spoke to your neighbor when I was in Sorell a week ago as I wanted to visit my gret great grandfather's house. I had a quick look from the outside...I hope you don't mind. My G G Grandfather was Edward Walpole and he came to Sorell with his mother and step father (William Glover) in 1824. My father often spoke of "Horsecroft" and I am glad to see it still exists and is being renovated.

  2. Hi, David and Richard. I'm the neighbour who lives in the Pearce's newer house next door (number 87). I'm also the principal at the local school (it's both primary and high school, Geoff). I was speaking to a lovely old local lady at our recent ANZAC assembly who grew up in Horsecroft. I believe her name was Nancy, but from our conversation, I don't think she was a Pearce as she knew the Pearce family but didn't speak of them as her family.

    1. Hello Everyone! Firstly, I love the blog. I have some info to add. Nancy was a Pearce. Now Nancy Weeding, formally Pearce. A lovely lady who lives near to where my parents used to live. My Dad played cricket with her hubby many years ago. Nancy has a wonderful memory, (so does my Dad, Now 92). I used to go to school with some of the Pearce children who lived at Horsecroft.

    2. Awesome. Thank you for the extra info. All helps to fill in the pieces of the overall puzzle. :)

    3. Hi there, I am sorry I know we have met on a number of occasions but I don't know your name, so please forgive me. As you might have gathered by my less frequent visits to the property things have changed for myself and my former wife Patricia. Thank you for the information about Nancy. I really would like to catch up if possible next time I am out at Horsecroft to learn a little more about the Pearces' but also about memories of Horsecroft. As you will see from my post below, sadly my wife and I have parted and so I will be putting Horsecroft up for sale in the near future. But I would be most happy to show you through the house if you would like to see it. Horsecroft has the potential to be a really special place, and I hope who ever buys it will see what we have tried so hard to create in restoring it back to sound and original type of condition. Kind regards David

  3. Hi all, my name is David Mitchell and together with my former wife, we bought Horsecroft. The aim had been to restore the house, the barn and grounds back to as near original condition as possible, with celebration of its significant early colonial history. It is a lovely house and has so much potential to be something really special. The original cedar joinery and other aspects of the interior of the house are really beautiful. All work that has been completed has been done to the highest quality possible that I could achieve.
    Richard, in case you see this, I would be really pleased to make contact, either by email ( or mobile 0419565786), especially given your family connection to the property. Similarly Geoff I would be pleased if you wanted to get in touch. Basically I would be pleased to show anyone who is interested to have a look through the house.
    In restoring the inside of the house I have taken before, during and upon completion photos, as I thought this would be helpful in future. I also have taken the time to research on line as much information about the past of Horsecroft and the families who have lived there.
    It is sad to have to advise I will be needing to sell the property in the very near future as my former wife and I have parted and so settlement will necessitate its sale. It is likely I will have the property for sale around August. I am wanting to finish off a number of internal restoration projects first before its sale.

  4. Work on the property has continued throughout August, with a variety of internal restoration/renovation projects coming close to completion. Similarly, we have pushed on with some external tidying up, painting the front of the house, scraping back and repainting weatherboards etc. But still more work to be finished off as rapidly as possible. I am really pleased at how well it is coming up. It is a pity I can't add photos of the place as that would be really nice to show what has been achieved.

  5. Hello there,
    My great, great grandfather was a shoemaker in Pittwater in 1850-1852 and possibly 1848. Would you be able to let me know if you know of anywhere I can find a record of shoemakers of the above periods. His name was Thomas Murray.
    With thanks,

    1. Hi Diane,

      You could try the Tasmanian Archive & Heritage Office as they have many records from the period.

    2. Thank you but unfortunately they have nothing that I can connect with