Our earliest districts get their names 

The difference in the names above is so subtle, it is hardly noticeable. So, it’s not surprising that they led our early settlers, some barely able to read, into utter confusion. Though similar in sight and sound, the origin of each name comes from a completely different source.

Kentisbury (spelt without the letter h) was the official name given to our district when Tasmania was first divided into counties and civic parishes. It had nothing whatever to do with Nathaniel Kentish’s discovery of our open plains. Let’s look at how our various districts around Mount Roland were originally divided up and from where their names were derived.

For the first 21 years of our island’s settlement, Van Diemen’s Land was part of NSW. The local survey department was just a branch of Sydney comprising one deputy officer and three assistants. It had many deficiencies and by the 1820s there were increasing numbers of disputes with landholders over inaccurate boundaries and land measurements.

Need for Counties and Parishes 

Upon the formal separation of Van Diemen’s Land from NSW on 3 Dec 1825, Governor Arthur (1824–1836) appointed three local commissioners to introduce the same survey system as used in Old England. It involved the whole of island being divided, first into counties, using rivers or other natural features where possible as boundaries. Then subdividing each county into many smaller civil parishes. When this was done, surveyors allocated to every individual property a Lot number and marked its accurate dimensions and precise location on parish maps.

To achieve these accurate maps, surveyors first needed to establish a grid of ‘trig points’ across the whole island as permanent reference markers. These were visible stone cairns erected on the tops of scores of mountains and prominent hills. Surveyors, using telescopic sights and theodolites mounted on tripods, could then lock onto these same mountain-top markers to create accurate boundaries for each property. From this information, the Government made title deeds and continues to maintain change of owners, building improvements and property valuations to use for land taxation, rates and other administrative purposes. This method of land surveying is called ‘the cadastral system’ and was developed in England and Europe centuries ago. It is still in use in Tasmania today and most other parts of the world.

Because our island was largely unexplored at the time, this system took successive surveyors many decades to complete. As each new county was created in Van Diemen’s Land, they allocated to it a name chosen from the forty counties already existing in England. Then as each new county was further subdivided into civil parishes, they chose only names from among the many civil parishes within its identically named county in England.

1833 Beginning the Trigonometrical Grid 

In August 1833 Surveyor James Sprent was appointed to begin this gigantic trigonometrical task. He was assisted at times by Surveyor James Calder, both men having large parties of convict workmen. Commencing down on the Tasman Peninsular in the south east corner of the island, for the next three years, these competent surveyors gradually worked their way northward up the eastern more settled side of the island. They built scores of large visible stone cairns on the tops of mountains and high hills that often had to be cleared for visibility first.

By January 1836 Lieutenant Governor George Arthur could announce the division of the eastern half of our island into 11 counties – Buckingham, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Glamorgan, Kent, Monmouth, Pembroke, Somerset and Westmoreland. The two most northerly counties bordering Bass Strait were divided by the Tamar river and became the County of Dorset in the North-East and the County of Devon in the North-West.

1836 Devon County’s Boundary Defined 

As we just mentioned the County of Devon’s eastern boundary was the Tamar River, its northern boundary extended westward along the coastline to Emu Bay, its western boundary went south along the VDL Co road to Surrey Hills. Then continuing to follow the Great Western Road eastward, its southern boundary passed through to Middlesex Plains, went behind Mount Roland on to Deloraine. From there the boundary followed the Meander and South Esk Rivers back to Tamar river. While some of the south-eastern counties were being subdivided into civil parishes, no attempt to do this in Devon was made at this time.

It was a further 20 or so years before all seven western counties were added. They were Wellington, Russell, Montague, Lincoln, Franklin, Montgomery and Arthur. Along with King and Flinders Island, the total number of counties created in Tasmania came to 20, compared to 40 in England. These counties remain in use today, only instead of Counties they are now called Land Districts. 

1837–1847 Trig Work suspended for 10 years 

When Sir John Franklin replaced Governor George Arthur in 1837, he immediately ordered the suspension of all trigonometrical survey work, as one desperate measure to cut the costs during the severe economic depression that was developing on the island. The entire Survey Department were retrenched, except for senior surveyors James Sprent and James Calder who were retained as permanent staff but assigned to more pressing survey work, such as providing the VDL Co with its title deeds.

While Nathaniel Kentish was writing the report about his exciting discovery of his open plains in September 1842, Surveyor James Sprent was at Emu Bay preparing to trek into the Middlesex Plains. After two decades delay, the Government finally decided to do something about providing the VDL Co with proper title deeds for its various land grants at Middlesex Plains, Surrey Hills, Hampshire Hills, Emu Bay and Woolnorth. They assigned this task to Surveyor Sprent. It’s hard to imagine the enormity and difficulty of this survey work that stretched across the back country from the Middlesex Plains to Cape Grim.

1848 VDL Co finally gets its title deeds 

First, Sprent had to check Hellyer’s trig points and incorporate them into the ever-expanding state-wide grid, then measure out and mark on each property the Company’s boundary lines, most being many miles long. To complete this task and prepare the deeds took Sprent five years. It wasn’t until 28 July 1848, twenty-four years after the VDL Co was formed that the Government was finally able to grant them their title deeds for nine separate areas of land totalling 366,425 acres. By then the VDL Co had long since given up any hope of making a financial profit for its English shareholders.

That mammoth task out of the way, in 1848, Surveyor-General Power now ordered the immediate resumption of the important state-wide trigonometrical work that had been stopped. Again, James Sprent was once more put in charge and spent the next six years, until 1854, erecting a total of 206 trig points across the island on all the principal mountain tops, some exceeding heights of 5000 feet. Considering the difficulties of transport, the rugged nature of the trackless country and the rigours of the climate, once again the task carried out by James Sprent can only be described as stupendous.

Trig Point on Mt Roland 

This raises the question as to when a trig station was first erected on Mount Roland? We don’t really know. When Surveyor James Calder climbed Mount Roland in October 1845 to check for potential grazing land along the Coast, there was no trig station.

Twenty-four years later when Henry Dawson led a party of early settlers up the mountain on 30 January 1869, they reported: “On the highest point we saw an old surveying station, it has been a square structure, made of seven or eight inch saplings ten feet long and pinned together at the corners. It was mostly blown over and lies scattered down the rocks: it must have been erected many years, judging by the appearance of the timber. Upon one log we saw the initials A C W and “F G Groom 1861” – these being the only indications that the place had been visited by human beings before.” This date of 1861 is far too late to be the original erection, as James Dooley would have been using it when he began surveying the Kentish Plains in 1858. Perhaps the two workmen had been sent up to repair the wooden marker.

Our civil Parishes named by Sprent and Calder 

In Dec 1855 Survey-General Robert Power was asked to retire and our prodigious worker James Sprent (47) took his place. For the next four years he and James Calder worked together continuing to sub-divide the various counties. By October 1858 they had fourteen additional counties divided into 217 parishes. Just as Sprent was publishing his new more accurate and more detailed map of Tasmania in 1859, ill health forced him to retire and James Calder replaced him as Surveyor -General. Most of our Kentish district in the County of Devon was not split up into civil parishes until around 1857.The following Parish names given to land, most of which fifty years later, became our present Municipality of Kentish:

MoinaStavertonRoland (Beulah) 
BelvoirBelstoneLoxbere (Mt Gog) 


As you can see the four parishes in the first column are west of our Forth River. The second and third columns are located between the Forth and the Mersey Rivers. Just over half these names were chosen directly from existing parish names within the County of Devon in SW England. But this little sample give us an insight into how accurately their handwritten notes transcribed the original English parish names.

Firstly, the spelling wasn’t very accurate – Parish of Burrington (Devon, Eng) became Barrington (Tas), Stoodleigh (Devon, Eng) became Stoodley (Tas) and Loxbeare (Devon, Eng) became Loxbere (Tas).

Secondly, our local parish of Dulverton turns out not to be in Devon (Eng), but close by in the County of Somerset (Eng). Interestingly, about twenty years earlier, in 1836 when the lower midlands of Tasmania were chosen as the County of Somerset, the district around Oatlands was made the Parish of Dulverton. This is how Lake Dulverton at Oatlands derives its name.

So, to this day, Tasmania continues to have two Parishes of Dulverton. The adjoining County of Somerset (Eng) also has a Parish of Barrington, so we don’t know whether our local parish of Barrington (Tas) is really a spelling mistake from Burrington in Devon (Eng) or another geographical glitch borrowed from the neighboring County of Somerset (Eng). Perhaps we should wonder what kind of drinks these two surveyors had while they worked.

By this late date Calder had recently developed a desire to include in their list of parishes some local and Aboriginals names. In the above list, we have Wilmot, Belvoir and Roland as existing place names given by earlier surveyors, and Narrawa and Moina (also nearby parishes of Castra, Neitta & Natone) as Aboriginal words. All these Parish names remain in place to this day and are used by the Land Department on our Titles Office to describe the location of your land.

Kentisbury and Kentishbury 

The parish of Kentisbury (spelt without h) is of special interest. As mentioned above, it is copied directly from an identical parish in the County of Devon (Eng). Its boundary on the west is the Forth River. Its northern boundary runs from Forth River up to the Nowhere Else Corner, east along Top Barrington Road to White Hawk Creek, across the Don River and over to Nook, east along Little Nook Road and across to the Badgers. Its eastern boundary runs around the base of the Badgers, south over Vinegar Hill and follows parallel to the Dasher River out to Paradise. Its southern boundary runs from Paradise west along the base of Mount Roland to Gowrie then across Staverton back down to the Forth River joining it near the finishing end of the Lake Barrington Rowing course.

That would have been fine, if the newly discovered open plains in the very centre of this large new parish of Kentisbury hadn’t been named by these same surveyors Kentish Plains after their discoverer Nathaniel Liscomb Kentish (spelt with h). It didn’t take long for Kentish Plains to become Kentishbury (spelt with an h). While the Land and Title Office kept rigidly to the Parish of Kentisbury in all their documentation, in popular usage by locals, the general public and the press, it was constantly spelt Kentishbury. Even the first post office in the township went by the name Kentishbury for several years until it was replaced by Sheffield. So why would two senior surveyors Sprent and Calder think it a good idea to have a place called Kentish Plains in the centre of the parish of Kentisbury? What were they thinking or drinking? It caused endless confusion at the time and still does today.

As the first settlers arrived to take up their bush blocks, the only addresses they had were parish names such as Wilmot, Barrington, Staverton, Stoodley, Dulverton, Kentisbury and Kentishbury, which soon became the names of the new emerging districts.

With the rise of the township, its name Sheffield, gradually replaced Kentishbury as the accepted centre of the Kentish district, while the prosperous district on the route to Staverton became West Kentish. 

Next time: Coastal Expansion inland from Tarleton, Ballahoo & Sherwood