The man responsible for opening the door for the original pioneers to take up land on the Kentish Plains was surveyor James Dooley. During 1858-1862, he spent considerable time surveying the first blocks of Crown Land to be offered for sale to the first purchasers. Over his lifetime, Dooley contributed a lot to the Kentish district, first as land surveyor and assessor, later as a State politician fighting hard for the development of this north-western district. But the region also served him well as he constantly took advantage of his priviledged Government position to purchase the best blocks for himself, accumulating a vast amount of valuable real estate over his life time..

James Monaghan Dooley was born in 1821 in Tipperary, Ireland, son of a well-to-do farmer. After qualifying to become a surveyor in Dublin, Dooley worked in several places around England to gain further experience. While in Lancashire, James Dooley (26) married Alice Ainsworth (21) of Preston on 19 May 1846, before returning to work in Ireland. Nine years later, James & Alice Dooley, with their three children, sailed from Plymouth aboard the Red Jacket to Melbourne, then by the 146-ton Black Swan to Launceston, arriving on 5 Dec 1855. They had been nominated by former friends, brothers Chas and Palmer Kent who preceded them to Tasmania a few years earlier. Dooley came with excellent references from the Land Valuation Office in Dublin and twelve days later, gained a position with the Tasmanian Survey Department, as a contract surveyor for the County of Devon. Dooley was told to proceed by small sailing craft to the Forth River, centre of a new district experiencing considerable growth.

Dooley Lived at Forth 1856-1870. 

He became neighbours with the two pioneer settlers James Fenton & James (Philosopher) Smith at Hamilton-on-Forth (later just Forth), about three miles up the river. At first Dooley rented a house and office next to the hotel but following his promotion in 1860 to District Surveyor for this new region around the Mersey, Forth and Leven Rivers, Dooley built his own house.

James (35) & Alice (28) Dooley with Mary Ann (8), Rose Ann (4) and William (2) were the first Catholic family in Forth. After arriving, five more children were born: James Joseph b1857, Eliza b1858, Geo Alfred b1860, Andrew Joseph b1863 and Alice Mary b1867. Sadly, their eldest child Mary Ann (14) died of scarlet fever in 1860.

That same year, Dooley applied for six acres at Forth for a Catholic place of worship and burial ground. In 1862, James’ brother Michael Dooley with his wife Eliza and their three children arrived from Ireland. A carpenter, Michael erected some fine buildings at Forth, including St Joseph’s Church (now Mackillop Hill Spirituality Centre), while his son John built the Catholic school at Latrobe and the Catholic church at Ulverstone.

Surveying the Kentish Plains 

As the expiry of Field Bros’ 15-year lease of the Kentish Plains came closer, interest in opening this area for settlement increased, especially upon the residents of Tarleton, Ballahoo and Sherwood. It was really the collapse of Mersey coal mines that led to the birth of the Kentish’s agricultural community. People decided to select properties on the Plains – some as investments, others for farming. Surveyor James Dooley estimated the level portion of the Kentish Plains to be about 3,000 acres. The total area, including the surrounding belt of rich bush land, would be more than 20,000 acres. Dooley felt that much of these hilly areas, which were not too heavily timbered, but well-watered on very good soil, were more favourable for settlement than the open plains.

During 1858, many prospective settlers began visiting this remote new region and ‘selected’ their potential settlement sites. Once surveyed, these bush blocks could then be purchased under the newly-enacted Waste Lands Act. Settlers could select their own blocks up to 150 acres and purchase them for £1 per acre for cash. If credit was required, 20% was added to the total price. Alternatively, Government surveyed blocks were periodically offered at public auctions in Launceston.

Dooley foresaw the need to reserve a site for a future township to service the need of these new very isolated settlers. He chose a large oblong shaped section of land that straddled Kentish’s rough track, midway across the open plains, at the point of highest elevation between the Mersey and the Forth Rivers. Surrounding this new town reserve, he began to survey several desirable blocks, then worked southward across the Plains towards Mt Roland. Dooley created scores of bush blocks, roughly 100 acres each, most of them located between the Don and Dasher Rivers.

Advertising for First Settlers 

Following the formation of the Mersey Settlement Association at Tarleton, its chairman William Dean became the prime mover, pushing for settlers to take agricultural land on Kentish Plains. Commencing mid-Oct 1858, Dean placed the following notice in the Examiner for a period of three months:

TO PARTIES who are desirous of selecting Lands under the new Land Regulations -The country known as the Kentish Plains, has been thoroughly explored by Messrs Thomas Johnson and Surveyor Wm Dawson. Those gentlemen after due examination, give it as their opinion, that there are more than 20,000 acres of good agricultural land on the said plains 

and their vicinity. The nearest shipping place, Tarleton, is only eleven miles distant. A road has been surveyed and opened by the united efforts of those people who have already made selections of land there. Mr. Wm. Dawson will always be most happy to give every information that may be required, and accompany parties wishing to make selections there. W. B. Dean, Chairman. 

Another advertised inducement to settle in Kentish read: ‘No aboriginal natives, no wild beasts, no earthquakes, and the climate might be fairly considered the best in the world – the vicinity of the coast being cooler than in England in summer, and warmer in winter, and there are no continuous high winds.’ 

The response to these advertisements led to the first casualty on the Kentish Plains. On 22 Nov 1858 Francis von Bibra was forced to request assistance from the nearest police station at Torquay (East Devonport) to help find a young man named Nottage, now missing for four days. It was believed he may have developed ‘an unsound mind and become lost in the bush’. Though the police arrived and assisted the searching, Nottage was never found until months later, having perished in the bush.

First Kentish Land Sales 1859 

The following names are among those who made the first land purchases on the Kentish Plains during 1859. From Tarleton: Francis von Bibra, his daughter Isabella von Bibra, John Davies, Thos Johnson (3 blocks), Lewis Johnson, James Krepp, John H Dawson, James Powlett. From Red Hills: John Bennett (2), Elizabeth Bennett. From Forth: James M Dooley, John Pleas. From Launceston area: Robert Manley, Chas Kent, Thomas Stephens. By the end of 1859, Dooley reported to the Surveyor-General that about 4,000 acres had been applied for, survey fees paid by 22 applicants and seven dwellings were erected. A population of at least 30 persons were residing there and about 100 acres under cultivation. 1,000 acres have been sold by auction and another 2,000 acres ready for auction.

Settlers distracted by Gold Discovery – May 1859 

The momentum for opening of the Kentish Plains was somewhat disrupted in May 1859 by some sensational news. While checking the pencil pine timber in the upper Forth valley, James (Philosopher) Smith of Forth, John Johnson & James Jones of Tarleton had found specks of gold in the Forth river. Their discovery was close to the present township of Lorinna. This dramatic development, reported in Launceston newspapers, created lots of excitement. Two separate public meetings were held: residents around Forth met at the Leith Inn, while Mersey residents met at Thos Johnson’s Dalrymple Hotel, Ballahoo. At the Leith meeting on 13 July 1859, they resolved to cut a bridle track back to Lorinna following the Wilmot River to the Vale of Belvoir.

This was to avoid trekking through several steep and dangerous gorges in the Forth valley. Surveyor Dooley volunteered his services to mark out this track, and a committee was appointed to collect subscriptions to defray expenses of cutting it. It was some weeks before Dooley could get away from his survey work on the Kentish Plains. Longer still before a track was cut and mid-November before the first prospecting party travelled inland.

However, at the meeting at Ballahoo, ex-Launceston town surveyor Wm Dawson offered to extend the rough track recently created up to the Kentish Plains, by taking it over Mt Claude, south to Gad’s Hill and down to the old VDL Co track to the Forth River crossing. Many miners offered to assist Dawson cut this extended bridle track. Dawson started almost immediately and by August 10 was back at Tarleton to report the track was almost complete. Ten men had pushed ahead of him and by the time he reached them, they were already prospecting. He said he had the pleasure of seeing a youth wash 14 specks of gold from one dishful of gravel in the Forth River. They called it ‘Golden Point’. Over the decades, this was the first of several gold rushes into the Kentish back country, none of which has ever found ‘the elusive golden lode’, though some prospectors have spent their life-times looking for it.

Kentish Land Sales 1860 -1862 

In 1860, land sales on the Kentish Plains included the following purchasers: From Forth: James Dooley (3 blocks), James Fenton, John Pleas. From Tarleton/Latrobe: Thos Johnson (4), James Johnson, James Powlett, John Powlett, Henry Bentinck, Robert Bell (3) E Bell, John H Dawson, W King, Jas Husband, J Kinsella, James Jeffries. From Red Hills: James Bennett (5), Elizabeth Bennett. From Westbury/Deloraine: Wm Archer, Joseph Crack, James Duggan, John Dyer (2), Wm Excell. From Launceston area: G P Adams, Phil H Buesnell (2), Chas Kent, Edmund Lord (2), G Pullen, Thomas Stevens (2). From Circular Head: Chas T Tatlow.

In Sept 1860, Dooley published his first map that included the Mersey/Forth area. It included the track from Tarleton to Kentish Plains, first cut by various wood cutters such as von Bibras family, Thos Johnson and others. Dooley also completed sub-dividing the township of Sheffield into streets and blocks, the site of which he had reserved the previous year.

In 1861, property purchasers included from Tarleton: Chris Chilcott, Wm Excell, James Cables, Wm T Noyes. From Westbury/Deloraine: Henry Arnott, James Boutcher, Wm Braid, David Hope, Hercules Hanton, Wm Morris, Robert Pease, Geo Redpath, Henry Smith. From Launceston: Chas Kent. From Hobart: Wm Jackson. Beside government employment, Dooley began to develop his own private practice, purchasing some of the best blocks of land for himself to resale later. By the end of 1861, Dooley owned three properties on the Kentish Plains, one whole town block in each of the townships of Sheffield, Latrobe and Torquay

(East Devonport), and Forth. He also owned property at Ulverstone and put another 41 acres there in his 12-year-old daughter’s name.

The 1862 purchasers were: From Tarleton: Richard Boothman. From Westbury/Deloraine: Reuben Austin, John Duff, Angus McNab, Wm Bilham, James Cameron, James Husband Jnr, Peter Pease, and Wm Wilson. From Launceston area: C Buesnel. 

By Dec 1863, Dooley completed a monumental report advising the suitability of other rural districts for agricultural developments in this part of the County of Devon. He suggested 3,000 acres at Gunn’s Plains, 5,000 acres at South Riana/Upper Natone, but the place with the most potential he enthusiastically wrote was the Vale of Belvoir. This was beautiful country, well adapted for European migrants. It contained extensive tracts of fine pastures lands, bordering on the Middlesex Plains, offering glimmering indications of wealth through minerals, pastoral, agricultural, timber and pine exports. Dooley feared that his suggestion of a road to the Vale of Belvoir would be thought too visionary, but in proportion to its magnitude of its potential, he was more optimistic about it than the current development of the Kentish Plains.

Dooley in Parliament 1872 -1891 

Dooley left the Government Survey Dept in 1865 to do private surveying, land speculating and gold mining. In May 1869, Dooley was accused of dishonestly acquiring a number of properties for his family members by using other names, even forging his daughter’s name who was a minor at the time. The Government did not feel justified in giving Dooley any further contracts and replaced him with Surveyor Richard Hall. Dooley moved to Latrobe at the end of 1870 and erected a large house in Gilbert St. Two years later he was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly as the member for East Devon, which included the Kentish district. Dooley’s subsequent career spanning nearly two decades as a controversial politician and a fighter for his North-Western constituents is another story. He was still in parliament when he died in Feb 1891, aged 69. His funeral was one of the largest held on the Coast. Dooley was buried with his wife and four children in the Catholic cemetery at Latrobe. At the time of his death, he owned 46 properties between Latrobe and Ulverstone, including 3 farms in Kentish. Within the Sheffield town boundary, he still owned 9 acres of town blocks comprising dozens of different house allotments.

Next time: Francis von Bibra – First pioneer settler on Kentish Plains