On 1st August 1842 the eighty head of wild cattle that ‘Old Bill’ and Surveyor Nathaniel Kentish found grazing on the open plains beneath Mt Roland were in fine condition, but without any brand of ownership. Nevertheless, they were quickly claimed by Field Bros’ stockmen, who drove them to Launceston to be slaughtered as part of Field Bros’ ongoing contract to supply huge quantities of meat to all Government’s military garrisons and convict barracks. Although Surveyor Kentish had considered these newly discovered plains suitable for settlement, Field’s Bros promptly took out two 1500 acres leases covering the whole of the plains for cattle grazing. Granted early in 1843, these two 15-year leases effectively ended any possibility of new settlers selecting blocks on the Kentish Plains until their expiry in 1858.
This latest land lease by Field Bros was one more move towards their total takeover of all open grazing areas throughout Kentish’s back country and far beyond. It had begun in 1840 when they leased the 10,000-acre Middlesex Plains block from the VDL Co and drove their cattle over the steep Great Western Road behind Mount Roland to reach it. In the following years Field Bros expanded right up the Upper Mersey valley as far as the Pelion Plains, and by also leasing VDL Co’s vast Hampshire Hills and Surrey Hills blocks, westward as far as Waratah. It was an incredibly large area for their thousands upon thousands of free roaming cattle.
William Field –Convict to Cattle King
The brother’s convict father William Field (Snr) was born at Enfield near London in 1774 and spent his early working life as a farmer/butcher. When aged 26 he was convicted for receiving nine stolen sheep and in 1806 transported to Launceston. William left behind his young wife Sarah and infant daughter Ann whom he would never see again. At the end of his sentence in 1814, Field (now 39) had proven himself a capable cattle-handler and butcher.
William Field immediately began to lease land, acquire cattle and contract with the Government to supply their meat. He also took up living with a convict woman Elizabeth Richards who had two girls by a previous relationship with a military officer. Together William and Elizabeth had four surviving sons – William (Jnr) b1816, Thomas b1817, John b1821 and Charles b1826.
In 1818 William bought their first house in Launceston where they raised their family. Ten years later Field employed his own stockmen to run some 3,000 cattle and 2,000 sheep on the open plains between Longford and Westbury. As his meat supplying business expanded, so was his need to increase his stock. Without any fences on the open plains, his stockmen were soon chasing their wild cattle as far west as the Mersey River. By the 1830s William Field had more than 10,000 cattle with his famous WF brand mark burnt on their buttocks and had acquired the celebrated title Cattle King of Van Diemen’s Land.
William quickly became a very wealthy man, buying up big country estates such as Enfield (1,040 acres) at Bishopsbourne, Westfield (1,640 acres) and Roxford (2,470 acres) at Westbury, Eastfield (2,200 acres) and Woodfield (2000 acres) at Cressy, Stockers (2000 acres) Meander, Whitefoord Hills (2000 acres) Moltema and Blackamoor Weegena. He also purchased many town properties until he owned one-third of central Launceston. On one occasion Field became so disgruntled with his local Launceston bank, he walked in and demanded to withdraw his entire capital, which he took away in a wheelbarrow. This enormous payout emptied their entire vault forcing the bank to close its doors. In 1834 he began building the magnificent colonial homestead Westfield but died aged 63 in 1837, a year before it was completed. If the wealth William Field amassed was adjusted to present day values, it would show him to be the richest Tasmanian ever to have lived here. Upon his death, his young sons William Jnr (21), Thomas (20), John (16) and Charles (11), reportedly received more than £100,000 each.
Field Family Dynasty
As his sons grew up, these wealthy young bachelors made strong impressions among the elite social society of Hobart Town. Each Field brothers married a southern bride and brought her home to the North. Working together they continued to expand their cattle producing empire.
Eldest son William Field Jnr (1816-1890) inherited Enfield estate Bishopsbourne from where he managed the business side of the family’s vast enterprise. He was an excellent judge of stock and as a youth began making large purchases on behalf of his father. Barely 19 years old, William Jnr once bought a 1,000 head of cattle at £4 each and quickly made £1000 on the deal. He became the owner of a lot property and stud stock, so like his father became one of the richest men in northern Tasmania. He had a large family and was prominent in civil and sporting circles.
Second son Thomas (Tom) W Field (1817-1881) lived in the picturesque Westfield homestead as seen from the Bass Highway near Westbury. Within its entrance hall, he hung a magnificent pair of cattle horns measuring nearly 2m between points. More than any other brother, Tom spent time in the saddle checking their wild herds. Each year he accompanied their stockmen mustering cattle to move them up or bring them back from the high country. A notable breeder of stud sheep and fine race horses, Tom was elected to the first House of Assembly in 1856 and still in parliament when he died aged 64 in 1881. He had 14 children.
Third son John Field (1821-1900) was left Eastfield Cressy but upon his marriage in 1854, he moved into Calstock Deloraine, an estate he purchased the year before, John and his brother Tom shared the responsibility of managing their thousands of cattle. In 1863 John was elected to the first Deloraine Council. When his racing stable produced the winners of the Melbourne Cup in 1884 and 1885, Calstock Deloraine became known as the principle breeding place of race horses in the colony. Widely known as the sporting Squire of Calstock, John Field was Deloraine’s largest property owner. He had a family of two sons and four daughters. After his brother Tom died in 1881, John’s own son John Field Jnr joined his father managing their cattle empire.
Youngest son Charles Field (1826-1857) inherited Woodfield Cressy, but upon his marriage began managing Whitefoord Hills Moltema and Avenue Plains at Parkham. Sadly, Charles died at the early age of 31 and his brothers Tom and John Field took over his estates as well as purchasing additional grazing land at Native Plains on both sides of the Mersey River.
Expanding Up into the High Country
These wealthy young graziers quickly learnt that while the coastal districts dried out each summer, the extensive grass plains up in the high country retained their moisture and greenness throughout the warmer months. Field Bros developed a strategy of droving their cattle up into the high country at the beginning of each summer to rest their lowlands; then about April-May make the long return journey back down again. After their cattle had climbed the steep route to the top of Gad’s Hill, behind Mount Roland, they quickly found it necessary to rest them there for a while. Field Bros purchased land on Emu Plains and built stockyards there.
Upper Mersey Valley
Exploring south from Gad’s Hill, the brothers discovered the whole upper Mersey Valley was long series of open plains, prime cattle country for summer grazing. So, from Emu Plains, Fields allowed their cattle to spread south onto Borradaile Plains, February Plains, Howells Plains (now covered by Lake Rowallan), Lees Paddocks and Pelion Plains.
For the next few decades Field’s cattle dominated the upper Mersey Valley, but as their meat supplying enterprise began to decline, other pioneer families such as Hows, Lees, Miles and Walters from Mole Creek and Howells from Bothwell began leasing these plains. About 1900 they were joined by Kentish families like the Coxes, Davies, Days and Sloanes. Following the 2nd World War, the Forestry Department took over much of the valley, built the Arm River Road and put in 10s of 1,000s of planation trees.
Middlesex Plains 1840-1940
By contrast, the Field family occupied the Middlesex Plains for one hundred years. After leasing it in 1840 they constructed the original stockman’s hut. But the following year, in April 1841, Middlesex Plains became the scene of the last recorded aboriginal attack upon white settlers anywhere on the island. The few remaining free aborigines surrounded Field’s hut and would have killed the sole occupant had not it been for the arrival of a couple of fellow stockmen with guns.
Ten years later Tom Field purchased a 2,000-acre block that joined the 10,000 acres they were leasing from VDL Co where they built more huts and a ‘weening paddock’ to separate the young calves from their mothers. Without fencing, the high country was just one big open paddock, so Field’s cattle were soon roaming the Vale of Belvoir, eventually reaching the Hampshire and Surrey Hills blocks. Fields were noted breeders of Durham, Angus and Hereford cattle, which now interbred with the remnants of the fine black cattle imported by the VDL Co.
In 1853 Tom Field was involved in an elaborate plan to help the well-educated Irish exile John Mitchel escape from Van Diemen’s Land. Tom was to collect him at Westbury and temporarily hide him on a remote cattle station, most probably Middlesex. But John Mitchel was able to escape without Field’s help and sailed to America where in his new life became famous. On a visit to Middlesex in 1875 Tom Field discovered a stockrider had broken his hip eight weeks earlier. Tom contacted the nearest doctor, Dr Ed Walker of the Leven River (later Ulverstone), and paid him £10 to make the six-day return journey up the Forth Valley to attend to him. The stockrider’s thigh bone was so out of alignment, Dr Walker was forced to break the bone again and reset it.
From the late 1870’s the whole back country began swarming with prospectors searching for minerals. The Middlesex-Forth River region became the centre of a gold mining boom which didn’t last. But the tin mine at Mt Bischoff did. In February 1878 Tom Field guided
Governor Frederick Weld’s party from Chudleigh to Waratah to inspect it, staying overnight at Middlesex Plains.
Three year later Tom Field (64) died, followed by William Field (76) in 1890. Their diminishing cattle business was now left to sole surviving brother John Field of Calstock, who now needed the help of his son John T Field Jnr.
When this final Field brother died in 1900, his son John T Field Jnr inherited Calstock, The Avenue, their own 2000 acre block at Middlesex, plus the lease of the VDL Co’s 10,000 acres next to it. John Jnr often attended the annual meeting of the National Association of Graziers in Sydney. In 1922 the old VDL Co was finally wanting to sell off its huge Government grants, so John T Field Jnr purchased Middlesex Plains. Like his late father, John Field Jnr now became one of the largest landholders in Tasmania, a well-known horse racing enthusiast, but remained all his life a bachelor. So, when he died in January 1940 aged 82, all his properties were put up for auction and Field’s massive investment in Kentish came to an end. Middlesex Plains was purchased by F H Haines who clear fell the area leaving very unsightly piles of waste logs for generations of early tourists to see en-route to the pristine Cradle Mt National Park.
Kentish Plains 1843 -1858
The two 1500 acres leases obtained by Tom Field of Westfield in 1843 lasted for only 15 years. Lot 151 included the future township of Sheffield and land on its northern side. Lot 152 included land just south of the township between the Dasher and Don Rivers. Shortly afterwards Tom Field erected the first building on the Kentish Plains, a 10ft x13ft stockman’s hut made of timber slabs. It was on the property known as Selika at 134 Old Paradise Road currently owned by Matthew and Kathy Osbourne. A previous owner John Langford built a stone house there and Field’s slab hut was 100m or so on its northern side. Nearby Field’s also constructed a 105x160ft stockyard divided into three smaller enclosures.
Across the other side of the Kentish Plains, at 91 West Kentish Rd, now owned by Graham and Amanda Pump, Tom Field built a 110x80ft sheep yard. These two split timber structures were the first ever constructed by the new white invaders. The first cattle to graze the Plains came from Field’s Whitefoord estate, where white clover seed had recently been sown. Hence clover quickly spread across the Kentish Plains. In 1858 as the leases were about to expire, the Government surveyed the Plains into saleable blocks. As new settlers came clamouring to purchase them, Tom Field was forced to round up his stock and back track with them to Hampshire Hills.
In reviewing Field Bros’ long domination of our Kentish district, it is remarkable how these four sons of an ex-convict were able to utilize such enormous areas of it their cattle raising purposes. Kentish significantly contributed to them becoming amongst the largest landholders and wealthiest men on the whole island. How ironic that Kentish’s second group
of occupiers should be our poor pioneer settlers who spent years struggling to clear their small 50 acres lots, pay off their debts and own more than a couple of cows.
Next Article: Field’s Renowned Stockmen of Kentish