Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Brown's River Probation Station

It was the construction of the main Government sponsored road (Browns River Rd, now known as the Channel Highway) from Hobart to Kingston (then named Brown’s River) that necessitated the formation of a probation station to provide the convict workforce. The probation station system was unique to Tasmania and the browns River Probation Station was one of the first stations to open. Brown's River Probation Station was planned in 1838-39 by Daniel O'Connor, a Brown's River landowner and architect. A site was selected near present day Taronga Road and work began in July 1841.

It was said to have covered a five acre square. The site has a range of surviving features scattered on private and public land on either side of Taronga Road. These features are in varying condition and include sandstone quarries, foundations and retaining walls. stone washing tank, a stone boundary wall, a well, and a brick making area including the remnants of claypits and brick clamps. The only surviving related structure is Acton built in 1842 nearby on the Channel Highway, which was used as a residence for the Superintendent of the Probation Station.

At the station, the convicts were housed in purpose built dwellings along the ridge of Taronga Road and slightly down the north face. The station initially consisted of mainly timber buildings. In 1843, the buildings were noted as being of “ a most miserable description”. A number of new buildings were built in 1843 and these were made largely of sandstone and brick. Many of the materials used to build the station were sourced locally. Other materials were bought by sea and bought up to the station site from a landing below the nearby Alum cliffs via a track.

By 1843, the station is reported as consisting of the Superintendants House (Acton), a cook and bakehouse, two mess rooms, separate apartments for the convicts, solitary confinement cells, a track from the landing at the beach, a well, and a water tank for washing. It is presumed there was also a number of houses & barracks for the various officers & free men working at the station. There were also sawpits, quarries and a brick making area known as the Brickfields.

Work continued slowly during the next three years to bring the barracks up to its full complement. During the 1844-45 period, the station housed its greatest number of convicts, at its peak some 300 men and 67 staff.
Apart from the superintendants house, the most readily viewable remaining part of the station is the Brickfields brick making area. The Brickfields track has been constructed to provide an opportunity for pass through the site of the brickworks which provided the convicts with work and was predominately used to provide materials for the construction of buildings for the station.

The track has been constructed to protect the remaining relics in the heritage listed site with visitors utilizing a raised walkway in order to view the location of the original brick kilns and brick rubble still present. Bricks, after their firing in the kilns, were transported via a path across the creek travelling north around the ridge to the main station site, located at the end of what now is Taronga Rd.

After the road to Brown's River was finally completed in 1845, the station became a hiring depot and its numbers declined. By the next year it housed only 85 men, with a mere 43 convicts available for road parties. Numbers continued to decline and by 1850 the station was empty and left to decay.

Main Information Source – Information signs at Probation Station site

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Signal Station, Prince's Park

The oldest remaining building in Battery Point was built in 1818 as a guard house for soldiers of The Mulgrave Battery and later became a signal station relaying messages from Port Arthur via a similar station on top of Mount Nelson. For many years all shipping intelligence and Government, military and penal station messages were transmitted using the navel system of signal flags hoisted on the signal mast at the headquarters station on the site at Prince's Park, above Castray Esplanade.

The semaphore station and its signal mast were constructed above the Mulgrave Battery, allowing communication with ships entering the mouth of the river, and through a relay system of masts, all the way to Port Arthur penitentiary on the Tasman Peninsula. The first type of mechanical semaphore used in Van Diemen's Land in 1829 was a copy of a type then recently invented for shipping intelligence on the west and south coasts of England. This semaphore had two revolving arms, one above the other. Each arm had three positions on one side of the staff, and three on the other, being revolved for that purpose.

The first circuit of stations, and one which lasted until the end of the system, consisted of the stations at Castray Esplanade, Mt. Nelson, Mt. Louis (near Pierson's Pt.), and Mt. Royal (near Three Hut Pt.). From these stations a comprehensive view of shipping movements In Storm Bay, D'Entrecasteaux Channel, and   the River Derwent could he obtained. At first, the arms were operated by hemp ropes. These were found to perish and vary in length at different temperatures, so chains, consisting of rods of iron about 2 ft. in length with eyes forged at the end and coupled by hooks, came into use.

With the semaphore, a number of flags and pennants were also used, and while limited in its usefulness, this code was a great improvement on the previously used navel flag code. Two other flags used were the Blue Peter or "get ready" flag and the tri-colour, which was used to signify that the number shown on the arms was a number only and had no reference to the code. In the code book, each letter of the alphabet had its own number. Under each letter were words beginning with that letter, each having its own number.

Grouped under appropriate headings for quick references were also numerous orders, questions, answers, and information of all kinds. Every bay, hill, cliff, river, road, and town had its number, so that it was seldom necessary to spell out a signal. A look-out was kept at all stations from dawn to dusk to take signals from any station in sight. No satisfactory system of night signaling was evolved until the introduction of the Morse lamp code.

In 1833 Capt. Charles O'Hara Booth, of the 21st Fusiliers, was appointed commandant at Port Arthur, and a more efficient type of semaphore was deemed necessary. Capt. Booth set about making an improvement in the locations of semaphores. Accompanying his men into the bush he sought out sites on, hills, cliffs, and other prominent places, changing sites for better ones as occasion required. Capt. Booth found that smoke from bush fires in summertime and sea fogs in winter time made certain sites undesirable, and that change became necessary. The sites chosen for a semaphore was usually a high hill which was cleared of timber growth, leaving one large tree standing wherever possible for construction of the signal mast.

Another circuit of stations consisted of Mt. Nelson, Mt. Augustus (near Pipeclay Lagoon), Mt. Communication (Tasman's Peninsula), and thence to other stations on Tasman's and Forester's Peninsulas, which at one time numbered 21 or more. The military posts spread out around the country side also sometimes had temporary semaphore posts but these were not considered part of the regular system. The only safe guide as to the positions of regular semaphore stations are the code books, some of which are still in existence.

The old signal station building at Princes Park is a lasting memory of early communications from the early years of the colony and has been really beautifully preserved in it’s original position and setting. Well worth checking it out.

Main Information Source
Trove Website (Digitized newspapers - The Mercury 9/1/1940)

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Bush Inn, New Norfolk

As originally built, the Bush Inn at New Norfolk was a typically English Inn of the nineteenth century. 1823 the arrival of a most extraordinary woman, Ann Bridger, who would within a year be the proprietor of the Black Snake Inn, and a year later be destined to play a major role in the lives of so many people in the young town of New Norfolk, and in the development of the town itself. Ann Bridger, a widow, bought with her from England her son, Henry, and two daughters, £500 ($1,000) in cash and £200 ($400) in ‘various merchandise for investing in agricultural pursuits’, and a desire to succeed.

It didn’t take long before Anne Bridger had entered into a business in her adopted homeland, as the proprietor of the Black Snake Inn at Granton.  The inn had a reputation as being ‘a shady thieves’ kitchen’, but before long Mrs Bridger had transformed the inn to a respectable Public House.  It was known as the ‘halfway house’ to those who journeyed to New Norfolk. New Norfolk was one of the fastest growing areas of the Colony, and an astute business woman like Mrs Bridger would have looked upon that as a potential opportunity for making money.  This opportunity was realized when she decided to move her business and family there in 1825, to build the hotel still bearing the name of the Bush Inn, Australia’s oldest continually licensed hotel.

In the early days of the Inn, its rooms were used by many different local groups as it was the only substantial building in town at the time. A group of devout Methodists from the local area used to hold their services in the taproom of the hotel and the taproom was the meeting place for the group who gathered to discuss the building of a toll bridge to cross the Derwent. That was in 1838 and the first bridge was built in 1841. The Bush Inn also enjoyed Vice Royal patronage with Sir John and Lady Franklin being frequent visitors. Lady Franklin visited the hotel in 1837 after a boat trip from Hobart and planted a pear tree in the hotel's garden. The tree still bears fruit to this day.

Inspired by the beauty of the surrounding countryside, it is generally acknowledged that Irish composer, William Vincent Wallace wrote the theme song to his famous opera, "Maritana" whilst he sat on the hotel balcony in 1838. This was just the first of a series of significant events that took place at the Bush Inn over the next 100 or so years.

In 1888 the first trunk telephone call in the commonwealth was made by the then proprietor, Captain Blockey. This was made just 10 years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. When Dame Nellie Melba visited the hotel, she was surprised to discover that the theme song for "Maritana" had been composed at the hotel. To mark her interest in the special event, Melba sang the song for all the hotel guests who gathered on a stairway leading to her private suite to hear this one off event.

In 1932, broadcasting history was made when the opera "Maritana", was produced and broadcast through a national network. It was the first time in the world that an opera had been broadcast from the actual spot that the theme song had been composed. In 1939, further telephonic history was made when the first overseas call was connected through to London.

The Bush Inn is typical of many of the early Tasmanian roadside Inns built simply in the manner of the time. Frequent alterations and additions to the original building have given it a pleasing rambling character and , if anything, have enhanced its Old World appearance and atmosphere

Updated 18/8/2015
Thank You to Carol Brill for Corrections & Clarifications

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Gellibrand Vault

In 1824 William Gellibrand and his son Joseph arrived in Van Diemen’s Land. William was a well-connected settler and was granted 2000 acres of land at South Arm and assigned ten convicts. Over the years many convicts, men and women, served under him. He was known for the care he showed them, providing them with a comfortable hut and clothing that did not distinguish them as prisoners. William helped some convicts to establish a fresh start giving them the opportunity to raise families and contribute to founding the community of South Arm.

Shortly after his arrival William built a home made of cedar with sandstone brick foundations on Arm End. William also built his own tomb. Miss Jane Mortimer, a regular visitor to the homestead, mentioned that every morning after breakfast William went to dig the vault located just below the house at the top of the dunes beneath she oaks, overlooking Mary Ann Bay. He liked to spend sunny afternoons sitting on it reading. He must have had a strong sense of attachment to this place.

William Gellibrand was a significant figure in Colonial society. He was a merchant and exporter and served as a Justice of Peace. William and his descendants were active in Tasmanian social and government circles. Joseph Gellibrand became Tasmania’s first Attorney General. Three of Joseph’s sons became politicians.

William died in 1840 aged 75 and was buried at the Vault. Two of his grandsons are also buried in the vault.
Arm End then passed to his grandson George Gellibrand who, after leasing out some of the land, placed it on the market in 1844. He described it as being studded with the tallest trees in the colony and having the very best winery on the island, covering two acres of fertile ground with full bearing fruit. Fruit trees were grown and mulberries did very well.

In 1995 it was acquired by the state, on behalf of the people of Tasmania and in 2011 the area was declared a nature reserve and named Gellibrand Point Nature Recreation Area.

Main Text & Information Source – Friends of the Arm website 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Richmond Bridge

Richmond Bridge is a lasting symbol of Tasmania’s convict heritage. The sandstone arches of Australia’s oldest known large stone arch bridge have spanned Tasmania’s Coal River since its completion in 1825. Built by convict labour, the Richmond Bridge reminds us of the forced migration that contributed to the development of Australian society. The Coal River district was first explored by Europeans in 1803; in 1819 Macquarie granted Lieutenant-Governor Sorrell land at ‘the crossing point of the Coal River’.  As settlement and cultivation of Richmond developed (from about 1820 it was known as ‘the granary of Australia’ and all available land in the district was being cultivated with wheat commanding high prices), increased road traffic made a bridge over the Coal River a necessity.

The crossing place where the wagons could ford the river, south of where the bridge now stands, was frequently flooded in winter and spring, creating delays or posing a risk of carts and stock being washed away. By 1820 road construction to Richmond had commenced, following a route south, through Cambridge.  The necessity for a bridge was pointed out (it is claimed) by the Royal Commissioner John Thomas Bigge when he visited in 1820 as part of his Commission of Inquiry on the state of Agriculture and Trade.  (So, initially, the bridge was known as Bigge’s Bridge.)

The Coal River was forded at what became Richmond, this being the nearest convenient crossing point from where the river narrowed about a kilometer upstream of the tidal flow.  The relatively low height of the river escarpment at this point provided an ideal approach for a bridge and thus the bridge later provided a focus for town development.

Built by convict labour it was probably under the superintendence of Major Bell of the 49th Regiment, who was Acting Engineer and Inspector of Public Works, and William Wilson, who was superintendent of Stonemasons.  David Lambe, Colonial Architect, visited the site before it was completed.

The attribution of the designer is not certain – both Thomas Bell and David Lambe have been attributed with the design but it seems more likely that it was Bell who had six years experience as Acting Colonial Engineer and overseer of several building constructions rather than Lambe who would have had to design the bridge as a twenty year old just arrived from England, site unseen, and at least eight months before his own appointment as Colonial Architect by the Lieutenant-Governor, and indeed the latter’s own appointment.
 The building of the bridge meant that heavy traffic was able to proceed without delay between Hobart and the East Coast, and Tasman Peninsula, when the Coal River was in flood, though the two Pittwater ferries still continued to operate for people.

The Hobart Town Gazette of 13 December 1823 announced that the first stone had been laid (11 December 1823) in the presence of James Gordon and George Western Gunning and ‘a number of the respectable settlers of the vicinity’.  The construction of the bridge and the establishment of the Richmond township are closely linked events.  Within two months of the bridge work starting, the township of Richmond was named.
 The bridge was opened in 1825.  This early date ensures that it is the oldest, existing, Australian bridge.

The bridge served to consolidate Richmond as a focus for commercial and institutional development.  The township developed to the south-west of the new works, being along the road to Kangaroo Point where a ferry/punt connected with Hobart.  The early town layout is shown on two undated plans from the mid-1820’s.  The first buildings constructed in the new town were part of the police and penal systems – a court house, gaol, gaoler’s quarters and residence for the Police Magistrate.  Several private houses soon appeared and within ten years two inns were catering for local trade.

It is widely recognised across the nation featuring in numerous publications, tourist and historic literature and in the work of major Australian artists. Images of Richmond Bridge have also appeared on postage stamps.
The fame of the bridge has magnified the status of Richmond far beyond its size and population. The bridge and its surrounds draw almost two hundred thousand visitors annually to Richmond to experience the idyllic setting with its connections to the beauty of a past era.

Australia’s oldest bridge is said to be haunted by the ghost of George Grover, a flagellator supposedly thrown off the bridge by the convicts he tortured during its construction. Grover was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1825 for stealing and by 1829 records show him as the Flagellator at Richmond. His death in early March 1832 resulted in an inquest concluding that he had laid down whilst drunk and “fallen or was pushed” from the parapet of the bridge, 27 feet in height.” Grover’s ghost is said to appear on the bridge at certain times”.

The ghost of a large black and white dog, sometimes called ‘Grover’s Dog’, is also seen on the bridge. One lady reports it appearing at her side on several occasions as she walked the bridge at night. It would walk alongside her from one end to the other, and then disappear as quickly as it had come.

Main Text & Information Source
Australian Heritage Database