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.