Part 1: Tarleton, Ballahoo Island, Frogmore, Sherwood and later Latrobe 

Following the discovery of the Kentish Plains in August 1842, Field Brothers were quick to take up two 15 years leases (1843-1858) over the whole of area, totally ending any prospects of new settlers purchasing these rich new plains for themselves. We shouldn’t assume however, that during this same period, our pioneers were blocked from settling in other parts of the Kentish municipality.

As we have seen previously, in the late 1840s and early 1850s, Merseylea and Native Plains area were settled by several of Field Brothers stockmen and their families. The various blocks they purchased covered quite an extensive area reaching almost as far west as the present township of Railton. Next to arrive were Henry Kimberley and two related families of Thos Bramich and Alexander Hogg. These were the first real settlers within Kentish Municipality, nearly a decade prior to the pioneers of the Kentish Plains.

At the same time, other new settlers were arriving by sea to occupy various inlets and creeks within the Mersey, Don and Forth Rivers. They were seeking to harvest the abundant timber in the area. Following the Victorian Gold Rush of 1852-53, the demand for split and sawn timber in Melbourne became insatiable and prices skyrocketed. Thus, the local timber industry was born and became our first major export commodity. Likewise, when coal was discovered in several places along the southern banks of the Mersey Estuary, it too spawned another influx of settlers. Government surveyor Charles Gould and geologist Alfred Selwyn visited the Mersey estuary to examine the extent of the coal deposits. They declared that the new Mersey Coal Field covered all Kelcey Tiers, Bonney Tiers, then at Frogmore it turned south to embrace the entire extent of the Badgers Range. Gould even wrote on his map, close to the present township of Sheffield, the comment: ‘coal reported here’. Quickly coal became a second primary industry needing scores of coal miners and support workers. As these two major export industries – timber and coal evolved side by side, a surge of small settlements developed around the Mersey estuary. Within a decade, these same pioneers were spreading inland and encompassing the Kentish municipality. Let’s look at how these various coastal communities impacted our Kentish district.

Frogmore, Ballahoo, Tarleton, Sherwood, Dulverton 

Back in 1826 Frogmore and the Mersey River were both named by Edward Curr when his VDL Co surveyors made a base camp there while searching up through the Kentish district for a suitable land grant to establish their large pastoral company. Frogmore was strategically important because it was the first possible place to cross the Mersey River from on side to the other. It also had suitable inlets nearby to load and unload small ships.

In the late 1830s and 40s Frogmore was occupied successively by Captain Wm Moriarty, his sister Miss Lucinda Moriarty and Henry Bonney, police magistrate at Westbury. Frequent flooding in the Mersey River caused them all to give up. However, in 1845 when Thomas Johnson and Dolly Dalrymple arrived to take over Frogmore, they immediately acquired additional land at Tarleton, Ballahoo and Sherwood and began exporting timber to Launceston and the mainland. Johnson created a loading place for small ships up Ballahoo Creek, where the present bridge on Spreyton Road crosses over this creek, about of a kilometre from Frogmore. Thomas Johnson and Dolly Dalrymple with their family stayed on to become a very significant pioneers, not only of Frogmore, but indeed the whole Kentish district.

Johnson was soon joined by many other timber traders and entrepreneurs, all needing tree cutters, splitters, pit sawyers and bullock drivers. They worked hard accumulating great quantities of split palings, shingles and sawn timber such as uprights, beams and battens which were stacked in the bush, waiting fine weather so bullock teams could haul to Ballahoo Creek. In wet winter weather these woodsmen hand-carved axe and adze handles, made spokes and felloes for wagon and cart wheels, all of which were in high demand.

The discovery of coal in 1851 greatly increased the rapid development in this Mersey region. Eager merchants arrived, companies and syndicates were formed locally, in Launceston and Melbourne, to export both timber and coal. Mines and adits opened on properties owned by Zephaniah Williams, Alfred Nicholas, Nutt & Gleadow and James Gwynne at Tarleton; Thomas Johnson, Francis von Bibra and William Dawson at Sherwood; and John Ramsdale at Dulverton. The need for experienced coal miners became so great, they sent to England and Wales for them. In 1854 over 100 Welsh miners and their families arrived in various ships at George Town in the Tamar River, where they transferred to the coastal steamer Titania and brought to the Mersey to disembark up Ballahoo Creek. New settlements sprung up at Tarleton, Ballahoo Island, Frogmore, Sherwood and later Latrobe. Both Tarleton and Ballahoo were surveyed as township sites, the former place quickly selling over 40 blocks.

By the mid-1850s when the mines were producing 1000 tons of coal a month, the population of Tarleton township rose to 300 with two hotels, three stores, provision for a couple of churches and a school. Other settlements like Ballahoo and Sherwood had similar facilities.

But the coal seams proved to be very narrow and fractured. Most of the mines contained fault lines causing the coal to abruptly stop. After great expectation and the spending of thousands of pounds, all the main mines around Frogmore ended up becoming unprofitable and gradually fizzled out. By 1866 Tarleton’s population had reduced to 60 and in 1870 William Riley’s family were the only one still living in the township.

Settlers moved Inland 

The Victorian Gold Rush caused such an exodus of able body men to cross Bass Strait that Governor Dennison was forced to introduce very liberal land purchasing legislation to counter the mass departure. The new Pre-emptive Land Right Laws permitted individuals to buy their own blocks of land on much easier terms than previously. One could select up to 640 acres for the cost of 30/- per annum for 10 years. At the end of that time occupiers had a choice – buy the property for £1 an acre or just walk away. The scheme became so successful that after a just a few years it had to be terminated. Many Welsh mining families quit the mines, bought their own inland blocks of land, where they commenced cutting their own timber and digging for their own coal. Other investors and mining speculators took out leases over inland areas including the entire length of the Badgers Range. It seems strange today, but the gritty gravelly ground of the Badgers range was all leased out long before anyone could get their hands on the fertile Kentish Plains. New coal deposits were found, mainly on the Railton-Dulverton side of the Badgers, where it continued to be mined for the next ninety years. At times up to 25 small mines were operating employing a total of 100 men. By 1935 there were still 50 coal miners employed between New Bed and Dulverton. Last of these mines to close was The Black Beauty in 1944.

Limestone was also known to exist on the northern outskirts of Railton since the mid1850s. Amos Langmaid purchased four blocks of land there and opened a quarry and kiln in 1860.

He began by crushing the limestone with his hammer. Other early settlers who moved inland included the following – at Native Plains: Henry Weeks and Arthur Wells in 1862. New Bed: Henry Cooper, Michael Maloney and John Allford. Sunnyside: Thos Brown, Wm Jones, James Powlett and Joseph Richards. Red Water Creek: James Cables set up the first saw mill there around 1857 but soon moved up onto the Kentish Plains. In his place Sam and William Winter commenced their own sawmill. This was close to the present Railton school where a small settlement developed with a church, inn and a school. Stoodley: J S Nottage, George “Chummy” Webb, Henry C Shipp, M Sheean and Joseph Spillane. By 1857 an immense amount of timber was cut and stacked in the bush around Sunnyside and Stoodley waiting for the summer months for it to be hauled to Ballahoo Creek.

Kentish Plains: By 1858 the timber workers reached the top of the Stoodley hill and began cutting into the Forest of Arden. Gradually they cut closer to the convict-built cart track between Kimberley and the Kentish Plains regularly used by Field’s stockmen. One night the bullocks belonging to the timber cutters wandered away and next morning while searching for them, they surprized themselves by stumbling out of the forest onto the Kentish Plains. When their story was told back in the taverns of Tarleton, it sparked renewed interest in accessing the Kentish Plains, especially as Surveyor James Dooley was now at work surveying them into saleable blocks.

These surveyed blocks were first offered for sale early in 1859 and many of the first purchasers were the moneyed men from Tarleton, Sherwood and Latrobe – property owners, mine owners, publicans and shop keepers. A short time later, when the mineral potential of Kentish’s back country began to be realised, the great majority of prospectors who rushed back into the mountains, were originally miners from Tarleton. Over the next few decades, it was these same old Mersey River miners, who discovered of most of major mines that flourished for so long in the Kentish outback.

Railton receives its name 

In 1857 a light railway was proposed to bring produce from the Deloraine district to the wharves at the Mersey River, but after a suitable route was surveyed the whole idea collapsed. Seven years later a second attempt was made in 1864 when the new Mersey & Deloraine Tramway Company was formed comprised mainly of Hobart shareholders. It was designed to come up through the coal country of Dulverton, pass close to Langmaid’s limestone kilns and intersect with the rough road recently opened to the Kentish Plains. Then continued across the Native Plains and over a sizeable railway bridge to be built across the Mersey River. The Government committed give this Company ½ mile of land on each side of the railway line where in a couple of places the Company planned to create two townships to service these new rural districts

In July 1865 this Company unanimously appointed as their civil and mechanical engineer Stephen Grey a young man who had recently set up business in Hobart. To give himself the best access to all the railway construction work, Grey chose a site half way between Latrobe and Kimberley, where his proposed line intersected with the rough bush track from Tarleton to Kentish Plains. This would be one town site and here Grey erected his main office, a big storage shed and a house for his new wife.

He appointed Moses Philbrook of Don to take charge of this storage shed and the hundreds of tons of iron rails that were stacked nearby. Stephen Grey named this place ‘Railton’. 

On all his tenders requesting quotes for various projects such building the railway station at Latrobe or the bridge across the Mersey River at Kimberley’s Ford, Grey always gave his contact address as ‘Railton’ near Latrobe. When his first two children were born there, the birth notices in all three Tasmanian newspapers stated, ‘born at Railton’. At the 3rd annual meeting of the Tramway Company in Hobart in Aug 1867, one of the directors reported he had recently visited a place called Railton. Stephens laid down a long siding at Railton to tap into the timber trade from around Red Water Creek and Stoodley hills, as well as for the wagon loads of farm produce that was starting to come from the Kentish Plains. When the railway bridge across the Mersey River was complete, Grey named the second township Kimberley as ‘Kimberley’s Ford’ now became obsolete. He arranged for the surveying of both new town sites, which produced 157 allotments in Railton and 160 in Kimberley.

Interestingly, when Amos Langmaid discovered settlers were constantly passing his limeworks, midway between Tarleton and Kentish Plains, he opened his Kentishbury Inn with Elijah Hedditch in charge and did good business for several years. As the railway line progressed passed his place, in 1866 Langmaid changed the name of his public house to Railway Inn, Kentishbury Rd. But when the line still hadn’t opened in 1870, Langmaid sold his inn to John Ramsdale. Shortly afterwards, its license was refused because the building had become ‘dilapidated and short of furniture’.

By now the opening of the railway line was running well behind schedule and the Company fast running out of money. In July 1871 engineer Stephen Grey quit his job and sued his employers for unpaid wages, before moving interstate. The railway line eventually opened on 1 Jan 1872, ran for 4 months and closed permanently on 19 April when the Mersey-Deloraine Tramway Company went broke. Very little of significance happened within the surveyed township of Railton until 1885. That year the Launceston-Deloraine Railway Line was extended through to Latrobe and a proper railway station at Railton opened on 30 May 1885. This signalled the beginning of the township we know today.

Next Time: Coastal Expansion inland from Spreyton, Don and Forth