Two and half years after Captain Rolland discovered our famous mountain that today misspells his name, three senior members of the British based Van Diemen’s Land Company also stood on top of Mount Roland. They were Chief Agent Edward Curr (28), Chief Surveyors Henry Hellyer (36) and Joseph Fossey (38). The date was 14 May 1826 and this is highly significant moment.
These men are about to write themselves into the history of the North West Coast. If they had had their way, their huge investment property we know today as the Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co) would have been located within the Latrobe and Kentish municipalities. Only one man prevented this from happening – the recently arrived Governor George Arthur. Had this austere autocratic Arthur not replaced the easy going Governor Sorell, a personal friend of Curr, the VDL Co would have been established between the Rubicon and Mersey Rivers and encompassed all of Kentish district.
Curr, Hellyer and Fossey were part of the advance party of VDL Co’s leading personnel who had arrived in Hobart on 4 March 1826. Their purpose was to search by land and sea along the North West Coast for around 250,000 acres (about 20 square miles) of good open grasslands. This sizable area had been promised by the British Government as a grant to their Company to run tens of thousands of sheep and greatly increase production of fine fleeces for the English woollen mills.
Others in the land party were Surveyor Clement Lorymer and Agriculturalist Alexander Goldie (26), with seven assigned servants responsible for a loaded wagon and a large cart pulled by two teams of bullocks, plus three kangaroo dogs to help catch their food. Superintendent of Farms and Stock Stephen Adey (45) was left behind to charter a small vessel and a whaleboat so that the Company could ferry personnel and supplies from George Town along the Coast, first to the advance party, then to the Company’s permanent headquarters wherever that was to be established. Initially the sea party and land party planned to rendezvous within the mouth of the Mersey River. They had very little time to select the location of their grant as the Company’s first chartered ship Tranmere carrying their initial stock, supplies and debentured servants was due within a few months.
On top of Mount Roland
Furnished with Captain Rolland’s map, the land party chose to ride their horses directly to the Mersey River, then climb Mount Roland. The view from the top along the North West Coast would provide them with the quickest and easiest way of locating the thousands of acres of good sheep country, similar to what they had seen riding up through the Midlands and coming along beneath the Western Tiers. Governor Arthur had told them that all the plains east of the Mersey River were being reserved for small settlers and young military officers currently being retired from the British Army. However, the VDL Co was free to choose any suitable sheep country west of the Mersey River.
From their base camp near present day Chudleigh, Curr, Hellyer and Fossey and some of their convict helpers made a three-day trek to the top of Roland. Crossing the broad second western river, which Curr called the Mersey, they climbed up the same south eastern spur as Captain Rolland had done some two year earlier. Their view from the top of Roland down the coast was a colossal disappointment – there was no sheep country, just miles and miles of undulating green eucalyptus forest.
Devastated by this disastrous discovery, the advance party were now left with only two options. They would investigate the large grassy plains in the Port Sorell area that Captain Rolland had seen while searching for bushrangers a couple of months prior to climbing Mount Roland. They would also have to sail to the far North West to check the extensive grassy plains between Circular Head and Cape Grim, recently reported by explorers circumnavigating the island.
Curr chooses Port Sorell District
The land party spent the entire month of June 1826 exploring the whole area between the Rubicon and Mersey Rivers, from Avenue Plains (Parkham) to Northdown on the coastline. At the same time Superintendent Abey and Goldie with six rowers in the newly acquired whale boat were sent to inspect Cape Grim. The boat party however became weather bound for three weeks near Rocky Cape. When they finally arrived at Circular Head supplies were so low, Abey and Goldie was forced to return before ever reaching Cape Grim. They arrived back at the Mersey River on 8 July.
By this date Curr had already become convinced the area between the Rubicon and the Mersey Rivers, although considerably smaller than the promised grant, was quite a suitable site to begin their huge venture. As a new member of Governor Arthur’s executive council, Curr was confident he could persuade him to grant this isolated area of land to the VDL Co.
Before he and Superintendent Stephen Abey left for Hobart on 13 July to seal the deal with the Governor, Curr have Hellyer instructions to move their present base camp at Northdown to Frogmore near Latrobe.
This was because their Company’s headquarters would need a river port, where their vessels could be loaded and unloaded. Also, it would enable the three surveyors to continue exploring the whole hinterland south of Frogmore (Kentish) for any river flats that they could be used in conjunction with the Port Sorell-Frogmore land grant they intended to secure in Hobart .
Exploring Kentish from new base camp at Frogmore.
On 12 July 1826, Fossey and Lorymer made a quick trek directly west from their new Frogmore base camp to check what rivers were in the area. They followed the south bank of the Mersey along to Spreyton, then climbed over Kelcey Tiers, crossed the Don River at Melrose and the Forth River south of Paloona. After climbing up to the Kindred district and looking around, they returned the same way. Then between August and October, during the wettest, coldest months of 1826, these VDL Co surveyors, fresh from England without any experience in our Australian bush, began a thorough exploration of what we know today as our Kentish Municipality.
In early August Hellyer and Lorymer left to trek right up the Mersey River from Frogmore to the base of Mount Gog examining all river flats for potential grazing sites. They named the flats found at Merseylea Crowland, at Kimberley Swanland and at Armistead Claremont Park. They did a loop around Panorama Sugarloaf at Lower Beulah and returned down two rivers they named Munnow (now misspelt as Minnow) and the Dasher to Kimberley. While crossing the swollen Mersey River on 15 August 1826, a convict named William Green and his horse were both swept away and drowned. Reporting this incident to Curr still in Hobart, Superintendent Adey wrote: The accident is attributed to the man’s own obstinacy. Green had been separated from his companions and camp food for three days. This was the first of 11 drownings of VDL Co employees over the next few years. Not one of their bodies were ever retrieved.
Hellyer and Lorymer’s next exploration was to trek south from Frogmore taking much the same route as the present road to Railton, where they named Brandy Brook (since diluted to Red Water Creek). Continuing over a hill they named Sun Ridge (Sunnyside), they travelled along what is now the Stoodley-Beulah Road out over the Dasher River and climbed up Richman’s Hill, to overlook Claremont Park, now Armistead land between the Mersey and Minnow Rivers they had seen before. It appears they were investigating a direct route between Frogmore and stock station they planned for the Minnow River flats called Claremont. From here they trekked west, did a loop around Vinegar Hill and returned over Sunnyside to Frogmore. What we know today as the Badgers, they named Ellice Range with its southern most hill closest to Sheffield called Altamont. Almost at once they began to clear this cart track. Using bullocks, they opened a track to Brandy Brook (Railton) then followed the present Sheffield Road to the hills south of Stoodley where they needed to avoid a very heavy forest.
Up the Dasher River to Mount Claude
The three Surveyors seem to be working their way westward, exploring up each river in turn. In mid-September 1826, with four convicts carrying a month’s supply of food, Hellyer and Lorymer followed the Dasher River right to its source. This time they discovered the rich grassy flats of Duck Marsh, Paradise and Claude Road, all of which they called Attwood Park after a VDL Co board member Matthias Attwood, banker and Member of Parliament for Cornwall, who came to Van Diemen’s Land and accompanied the surveyors in their search for this land.
Having climbed Mount Roland previously, the explorers by-passed it, but did ascend both Mount Van Dyke and Mount Claude which they named after two Flemish painters. From the top of Claude, Hellyer saw in the distance vast grassy plains across the high country towards St Valentine Peak.
Also, south of Mount Claude were more extensive plains Hellyer would later call Borriadale Plains. Wanting to get a closer look of those plains directly to the west, they tried to cross the Forth Valley, but were blocked by the very steep Forth Gorge (now the site of the Cethana Dam). They were forced to return via the Dasher River route. Just east of the present Claude Road bridge they encountered some aborigines returning from the ochre mine on Mount Gog. What skirmish took place we don’t know, only that Hellyer called the small stream entering the Dasher between Paradise and Claude Road as Spear Thrown Creek, now sanitized to Stave Creek.
After a very long and difficult exploration, but very excited about his important discoveries of vast areas of open plains, Hellyer and his party arrived back to Frogmore on October 17 exhausted and completely out of food. To their utter amazement, they found the base camp at Frogmore dismantled and the food they so desperately were relying on gone. Superintendent Adey, having no one left to look after the food supplies, was forced to take everything with him. However, within two days he returned to Frogmore in the Company’s little vessel Nelson to find Hellyer and takes him directly to Circular Head. Lorymer and the convicts were left to care for all horses and working bullocks.
Curr’s Clash with Governor Arthur in Hobart
Down in Hobart, Curr ran into real trouble when Governor Arthur absolutely refused to grant him the Port Sorell district. Arthur reiterated that such a huge enterprise should be located well away from smaller grants and insisted on Circular Head. Bitterly disappointed, Curr was left with no option but to defer to the Governor’s demand. In Hobart on 4 September 1826 Curr was forced to write and inform his advance team of the fateful decision to abandon our eastern end of the North West Coast and establish their enterprise at Circular Head. The obstinate attitude of Governor Arthur completely changed our entire Coastal history. Although Kentish was amongst the first municipalities on the Coast to be thoroughly explored, it would now become the last to be settled.
Curr sent Abey from Hobart back to the Mersey River to advise all survey parties of this decision. Arriving at Frogmore mid-September 1816, Abey just missed Hellyer and Lorymer who had only a day or so before, set out upon their longest inland exploration. Meanwhile, the Company’s first chartered vessel Tranmere from England bringing the VDL Co’s stock and employees arrived at George Town much earlier than anyone expected. The advance parties were totally unprepared for its arrival, hence the haste to vacate Frogmore and get to Circular Head. When Goldie collected Hellyer from Frogmore and sailed him to Circular Head, they arrived at the same time as the Tranmere which after riding out a storm for three days, disembarked her passengers and stock onto the Stanley beach on 27th October. Once unloaded the Tranmere was sent back to the Frogmore to pick up Lorymer and his convicts, all their working bullocks, carts and horses and transport them to Circular Head.
This abrupt departure from Frogmore terminated the VDL Co’s interest in Port Sorell and the Kentish area north of Mount Roland. As the Company’s long story has unfolded further west, many historians completely ignore their advance party’s initial ascent of Mount Roland and their intense exploration of the Kentish district during the winter months of 1826.