Kentish’s First Great Leader

On the same day that Francis von Bibra’s family bought land on the Kentish Plains in 22 Feb 1859, Robert Manley also purchased a prime 200 acre block adjacent to their blocks, on the opposite side of the Don River. Young Robert (21) was from Patterson Plains, now St Leonards, near Launceston and one of very few original settlers who paid cash for their selection. It would have been inheritance money received from his father’s estate. A relative of Robert, Philip Buesnell, also from Patterson Plains, purchased the next block, which after a few years he sold off to Robert. So, by 1875 Robert Manley owned the two prime properties in West Kentish known today as Glenmark and Vermont Vale. It was Glenmark that Robert raised his family and, despite his relatively short life, was acclaimed Kentish’s first leader.

Family Background 

Robert Manley (b1838) was the oldest of three children raised on the 600-acre property Sidbury at St Leonards, on the outskirts of Launceston. Sadly, Robert’s father died in 1845, leaving his courageous 30-year-old widow Mrs Anne Manley with a large pastoral property and three very young children: Robert Jnr (6), Anne (2) & Charles Manley (1). Anne sold off most of her husband’s extensive estate, retaining only the large homestead where, a year later in 1846, she opened the first boarding school for girls in Australia. She began employing skilled teachers and three years later Mrs Anne Manley (33) married the new French teacher – and dancing master – Clement Buesnell (33) on 10 June 1848. With Clement, Ann had two more children: Clement Jnr, followed by Francis Buesnell, who died aged 2.

In 1853 Mrs Ann Buesnell was advertising in Melbourne newspapers that she conducted a Young Ladies Boarding School near Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land that taught English, French, Italian, Geography, History, Writing, Arithmetic, Pianoforte, Singing, Dancing Drawing and Needlework. Hence all her five children received an excellent education. Her oldest daughter Miss Anne Manley was academically gifted, and upon completing her education, joined her mother’s teaching staff.

Two decades later, in July 1881, the two Annes, mother and daughter, purchased a building in Elizabeth St, Launceston and opened their Broadland House Boarding School with the now 38-year-old daughter Miss Anne Manley as Principal and her 66-year-old mother Assistant Principal. As Broadland House still exists, these two ladies are credited with founding the oldest continuously operated boarding school for girls in Australia. In 1914, Broadland House moved to its present site in Lyttleton St, Launceston, and in 1981 was amalgamated with the Launceston Church Grammar School. Two years later Broadland House became the famous Grammar School’s junior campus.

Manley Shows Leadership 

On the Kentish Plains, Robert Manley, with his excellent education and cash resources, had a huge advantage over many of the other pioneer settlers. He supported Francis von Bibra in his attempts to educate the settler’s children and helped built the first school house. From the mid-1860s on his Vermont Vale property, Manley kept a storeroom containing various basic supplies to sell to surrounding settlers. Prior to this, everything the earliest pioneers needed had to be obtained from Deloraine. Hercules Hanton pushed a wheelbarrow with a bag of flour all the way from Deloraine to White Hawk Creek, Barrington. In another incident, Edwin & Jane Morse failed to reach Kentish before nightfall and had to shelter beneath their wagon. Jane was pregnant, and their difficulties were greatly compounded when during the night Jane unexpectedly gave birth to her 8th child.

Just how Robert met the woman who became his wife we can’t be sure, but in 1873 the 35-year-old Robert Manley crossed by boat to Melbourne to marry Caroline Cooper, daughter of influential colonists living at Bundoora, now a northern suburb of Greater Melbourne. After their wedding, Robert and Caroline returned to Vermont Vale, West Kentish, where their seven children were born: 1874 (daughter), 1876 Robert Jnr, 1878 (daughter), 1880 Horatio, 1883 Charles, 1885 Gordon, and 1888 Eric. 

During these first three difficult decades of the new settlement in Kentish, young Robert Manley became their outstanding and undisputed leader. It was a period when the earliest pioneers endured real privation and extreme isolation because of the shocking condition of the road/tracks, which after rain became impassable. They received practically no support from the state government in Hobart and had to initiate and build everything themselves – from schools, roads and bridges. Robert was on the first Kentishbury Road Trust, the first local Board of Education and the first local Board of Health. He became Kentish’s first Justice of Peace in 1874 and the first Coroner in 1879. Manley chaired most public gatherings, including the first meeting on 19 Sept 1879, urging a branch railway line be built from Railton up through the Kentish Plains. This took another 30 years to become a reality. He had better results from the meeting he chaired in August 1886 requesting a resident doctor for the district. One arrived the following year.

At the first visit of a parliamentarian to Kentish, Manley led 30 horsemen a mile out along the Railton Road to meet the Hon William Moore and escorted him into town. After passing beneath two welcoming arches made of ferns and flags, the procession finally stopped in front of John Powlett’s Sheffield Inn, where Robert Manley made his welcoming speech. That evening 10 settlers sat down to dinner to listen to what Minister Moore might do for Kentish. A similar welcome was given to the first visit of the State Governor. Manley also became local representative on the board of the Devon Cottage Hospital, the Devon Agricultural Show and the NW Chronicle newspaper.

Manley Joins Kentish’s Second Gold Rush 

When gold was discovered in the Minnow River in 1877, hundreds of ‘hopefuls’ flocked to this Lower Beulah site. It sparked Kentish’s second gold rush with the flow-on effect of kick-starting the township of Sheffield. That year several new residents arrived and the two first shops were built in Sheffield, one at each end of the township. Robert Manley joined forces with young entrepreneur Saul Oppenheim of Latrobe to construct the first split-shingle general store in Main St. It was close by the Sheffield Inn erected on the corner of Main & High Streets, the latter street then being the western boundary of the township. Their partnership lasted three years, after which Manley became the sole owner. But over the next couple of years as more and more reports of gold, silver and lead discoveries kept coming in, Manley himself was smitten with the ‘gold fever’. He off-loaded his retail store to engage more directly in various mining ventures, hoping this would be a short-cut to wealth. Manley sold his shop to Charles Ward of Hobart. A new brick two storey shop was later constructed on this site which still stands. Now known as ‘Mountain Mumma’ the history of this site is told in the book Grains, Groceries & Gourmet Meals. Manley retained his agency of The Mutual Fire Insurance Co which was becoming a popular necessity for all farmers and continued to provide leadership to the ever-growing Kentish community.

At first Manley showed interest in gold mining at the Minnow River, but soon moved to Mt Claude, which some were claiming was about to become ‘a second Mt Bischoff.’ Manley joined the Latrobe Silver-Lead Company working at Round Hill near Mt Claude and conveyed a large quantity of their mineral specimens down to Hobart. His intention was to try to amalgamate their Latrobe Company with a couple of other mining ventures and form one strong Tasmanian Company. Manley was successful and by October 1881 the new Tasmanian Silver & Lead Mining Company had been floated in Hobart giving them more investment money. He became the local agent for selling shares. However, deep disappointment followed when the lodes of minerals fizzled out and a lot of money lost. Undeterred, Robert Manley with William Betts moved their men out to the Five Mile Rise near Lorinna, where they continued some diggings.

Ladies Boarding School comes to Kentish 

It came as a huge surprise to everyone when only a couple of years after Robert’s mother and his sister Miss Anne Manley had purchased Broadland House in Launceston, that completely out of the blue, Cupid struck. Forty-year-old school principal Ann Manley was courted by a visiting sea captain from Sydney and she made a life-changing choice. On 28 August 1883, in her mother’s home, Anne was married to master-mariner Captain Archibald Fletcher by Rev James Lindsay of Chalmers Church, Launceston. This unexpected turn of events meant Anne moved to NSW leaving her 68-year-old mother in Launceston to run their school of thirty young ladies. Anne’s mother continued with the school for 15 months, then decided to sell Broadland House to another career school mistress Miss Jane Hogg, who took over in August 1884.

With her daughter now living in Sydney and the school sold, Mrs Anne Buesnell decided to move to Kentish where her two sons Robert and Charles Manley owned several farms and were doing very well. Arriving in October 1884, Robert set his mother up on his Vermont Vale property, while he and his family move up to Glenmark, West Kentish. Now it was her turn to surprise both her sons when this 69-year old former school principal declared she wasn’t ready to retire. Over the summer of 1884/1885 Mrs Anne Buesnell advertised in northern newspapers that she was opening a girl’s school for a limited number of young lady boarders at Vermont Vale, West Kentish – the first term commencing on 20 January,1885. This may well have been the first boarding school for girls on the North-West Coast. It doesn’t however appear to have operated more than a couple of years.

1889 – Robert Manley’ Untimely Death 

By the end of the 1880s, Robert Manley, with his wife Caroline and seven children, was a large property owner and at the peak of his influence and popularity. His Kentishbury Road Trust was grappling with some big community issues – should the Kentish district should be added to the Deloraine Municipality, or form part of a proposed new Latrobe Municipality? How could they get a branch railway line up into Kentish?

A tragic set of circumstances over the next decade would decimate the Manley influence in Kentish. Firstly, in the middle of winter 1889, Robert himself dies following a severe attack of pneumonia on 22 August, aged 51. Only a few days earlier, he had occupied the bench as local magistrate. The whole community mourned Manley’s sudden unexpected death. Five hundred followed his funeral procession from the Methodist church in Sheffield as his coffin was carried up Main St, around the corner into High St and buried in the Pioneer Cemetery now King George V Park. Caroline Manley was left with a young family that consisted of a daughter (15), Robert Jnr (13), daughter (11), Horatio (9), Charles (6), Gordon (4), and Eric (8 months). Thus, ends the life of Kentish’s first recognised leader.

Seven months after Robert’s death, Caroline Manley and her aged mother-in-law Mrs Anne Buesnell had a serious accident. On 13 March 1890 these two ladies were riding in a buggy towards Latrobe. In Frogmore Lane, that leads to wooden bridge across the Mersey river, they met a bullock team in the middle of the lane. While trying to draw his team over to one side of the lane, the bullock driver cracked his long whip, which flicked in the face of the ladies’ oncoming horse. The terrified horse reared, swerved violently and dashed the buggy into the fence. Old Mrs Buesnell was thrown out onto the gravel roadway, receiving both head and internal injuries. The unconscious lady was carried to back to George Atkinson’s Frogmore House, where all three Latrobe doctors come to attend her. Several months later when Mrs Buesnell has improved sufficiently, she travelled up to her daughter’s home in Sydney, but died there on 15 Oct 1890 aged 75. Mrs Anne Bushnell’s incredible career as a teacher and principal of young ladies’ colleges spanned nearly 50 years and established her as a pioneer leader of 19th Century education for girls in Australia. Caroline Manley sustained a third sad loss on 22 Feb 1892 when her 8-year-old son Charles died of croup.

With her family too young to manage her late husband’s two prime farms and other properties, Caroline gradually sold them all off and moved to a much smaller property at Nook. These were the very difficult years of the 1890s’ depression and Mrs Manley may well have lost most of her cash in the crash of the Van Diemen’s Land Bank, which occurred on 3 August 1891. After 5 years at Nook and little prospect of work, Caroline Manley and most of her family moved back to Victoria. Her oldest son Robert Manley Jnr was the only one to remain here. He had a clerical job at the Kentish Butter Factory in Main St, Sheffield, became Secretary of the Sheffield Football Club, auditor of the Sheffield Horticultural Society and joined the Sheffield Rifle Club. He later moved to Launceston, then interstate. Mrs Caroline Manley’s boys eventually bought properties in Gippsland, while she, the wife of Kentish’s first leader, spent her last days living in St Kilda. Caroline died in the Austin Hospital, Melbourne on 11 Jan 1935, aged 86.

Next time: Thomas Johnson & Dolly Dalrymple’s Impact on Kentish