Monday, 1 July 2013


The Huon River was first explored by the French Admiral, Bruni D'Entrecasteaux, who named it, a nearby island, a soft pine and the Kermandie River, after the commander of his support vessel, L'Esperance, Captain Huon de Kermadec.
As far as can be determined the local Aborigines didn't settle in the Huon Valley although it is true that when d'Entrecasteaux entered the river in 1792 his party did make contact with an Aboriginal girl Oura-Oura near the present site of Cygnet.

The establishment of the British settlement at Hobart Town in 1804 led to the exploration of the area by the botanist Robert Brown but he dismissed it as unsuitable for settlement because of poor soil. This did not stop the timber getters and whalers from camping in the area while searching for stands of timber and schools of whales.
It is thought that the first white man to settle permanently in the area was a 'bolter', an escaped convict, who was found by timber getters in early 1820s. The man, whose name was Martin, had built a primitive camp near Price's Creek. Later, as settlement began along the banks of the river, Martin became absorbed into the local community. He owned two boats with the unusual names of the Fighting Pig and the Crooked Eye and was well regarded.

The first land grants in the district were made to John Price at the present site of Franklin in late 1834. He was followed by John Clark who, in 1836, took up land north of Price's Landing and the Kellaway family who settled on the opposite shore at Woodstock.

In 1839 Lady Franklin bought John Price's land and divided it into 50 and 100 acre blocks which she had cleared and sold to poor, free settlers. She had a vision of the kind of settlement she wanted to create in the Huon Valley and was prepared to back her commitment with financial assistance. She did much to help the settlers including, as she mentioned in a letter to her sister in England, giving one family a milk goat and the next year buying it back because they were in such bad straits.

Despite its closeness to Hobart, Huonville was not permanently settled until 1839 when Thomas and William Walton took up a land grant. The area had seen a few escaped convicts and timber cutters, but dense bush, lack of arable land and difficulty of access proved impediments to permanent settlement.

The development of Huonville started around 1847 when the Wharton family were granted 1644 acres (1 sq. mile) and built a brick house known as 'The Inlet' near the site of the present bridge. The house still stands (it is a private residence) and is located at the end of Short Street which runs beside the river. This is not surprising as, before the first bridge across the river was built in 1876, all the houses were built facing the river because it was the only available form of transportation. The bricks for the house were hand made from clay dug next to the house.By 1853 a hundred people, mostly convicts, lived at Huonville. Over the next few decades better transport via a track to Hobart in 1855, a coaching service in 1869, a bridge over the Huon River in 1876 and the growing apple industry led to steady development. By 1866 Huonville believed it merited a railway link to Hobart, and there was a widespread belief that the Huon provided much of the economic impetus for Hobart.

Since the land on which Huonville is now located was originally privately owned the early buildings in the town were built along Glen Road and past Ironstone Creek. The construction of the bridge in 1876 (it cost £4400 and was a toll bridge charging 2 pence for walkers and 6 pence for horses) ensured that a town would eventually grow up where the road crossed the river.

In the early days the 'town' was nothing more than the Picnic Hotel and a shop or two along the river. The Picnic Hotel was burnt down and subsequently rebuilt as the Grand Hotel which still stands near the bridge. By the 1880s Huonville, with a hotel, shops, wharf and bridge, was the main town north of Franklin. But there was confusion over nomenclature. Government plans called the area Victoria, but both Huonville and Ranelagh were known as Victoria, and there was even confusion with the state of Victoria. It wasn't until 1889 that the town became known as Huonville.

The first bridge was timber with blackwood arches and had a lift span on the northwest end to let sailing ships through. Unfortunately the animals which were driven across the bridge tended to leave dirt and the lift span was notorious for not working properly. The original bridge was eventually replaced in 1926 and in 1959 the present steel and concrete structure was completed.

At Ranelagh, which is only a few kilometres from Huonville and is now almost a suburb of the larger town, a farm was established on one square mile of land which stretched from Ironstone Creek to the river. This property was originally known as Victoria and included the present site of Huonville. It was here that one of the largest hopfields in Tasmania was established.

At the time it seemed that Ranelagh would become the major centre in the valley. However the construction of the bridge further downstream ensured that Huonville prospered while Ranelagh made little progress. It is a comment on the changing fortunes of the two settlements that Ranelagh has three churches (Anglican, Roman Catholic and Uniting) while Huonville, now the larger centre, has only one (Congregational).
By the 1920s Huonville was the Huon's administrative centre. Banking services from 1917, a short-lived high school in 1921, a new bridge and the arrival of electricity in 1926, and the ever-growing apple industry added further impetus to its importance.

Until the 1960s its prosperity was based on apples, timber, small fruits and hops. Britain's entry into the European Economic Community in 1973 was a severe setback, and many orchards were wiped out. Recently a more specialized apple industry, salmon farming and the wine industry have seen a resurgence in Huonville's prosperity.

Huon Valley Apple & Heritage Museum