The First 20 Years

In 1862, the population of our NW coastal towns were: Deloraine 800, Sheffield 6, Tarleton 78, Latrobe 49, Torquay (East D’port) 128, Formby (West D’port) 49, Leith 26, Forth 14, Ulverstone 15, Emu Bay (Burnie) 72, Wynyard 56, and Stanley 445. The growth of Sheffield, for its first fifteen years, was pitifully slow. The only buildings erected were the following split-timber premises to service the needs of the settlers on the surrounding Plains:

Sheffield Inn 1861

On 6 August 1861, recently married John Powlett (28) purchased a 2½ acre block on the corner of Main & High Sts, now the site of the Ampol Service Station. He immediately erected the first building in the township, a single storey split-shingle structure, designed to provide basic accommodation for new and prospective settlers arriving on the Kentish Plains. Over its entrance, a blue coloured sign said Sheffield Inn. It opened on 19 Dec 1861 after being granted a discounted liquor license because so few patrons lived in the area. As the Kentish community grew, John & Elizabeth Powlett became the popular hosts of Sheffield Inn, which became the district’s arrival and departure point, the central location of its social life and public gatherings. All of John & Elizabeth’s six children were born in Sheffield.

On 14 Oct 1862, Sheffield Inn became the first Post Office for the entire Kentishbury district, and John Powlett was appointed postmaster. His younger brother James Harlin Powlett won the contract for conveying the mail bi-weekly to and from Latrobe, which during winter months often became an almost impassable bog. For the next decade, all the mail for Kentishbury was handed out across the bar counter. In March 1865, the Sheffield Inn also became the main meeting place of the newly formed Kentishbury Road Trust. Elected members who met monthly on Saturday mornings were Edmund Lord (chairman), Francis von Bibra, James McFarlane, Henry Cooper, and Thomas Johnson. John Powlett joined the Trust in 1867, becoming its treasurer until the summer of 1871, when in a surprise move, he sold up and moved to Highclere to be closer to Mt Bischoff. Sheffield Inn was bought by his wealthy father-in-law James Bennett, who leased it between Feb 1872 and July 1873 to Latrobe identity Mark Cullen. Then it was purchased by John T Wilson (son of local farmer Joseph Wilson), who, in the mid-1880s, demolished the original wooden inn and erected a new two-storey brick hotel.

Union Chapel 1866 & Day School 1867

In 15 April 1866, Rev Jesse Pullen (71) of Deloraine, the first minister to visit Kentish, purchased 1 acre of land in Main St, Sheffield (now the original Chinese Restaurant & RSL carpark) for the purpose of erecting a Union Chapel to serve all denominations and double as a day school through the week. The concept had wide appeal and commenced almost immediately. As the building progressed, Rev Pullen handed the deeds over to the following trustees: Edmond Lord, James Powlett, James Husband, William Morris, & William Smith. Each Sunday it became a popular meeting place for a combined church and Sunday school, the latter being run by Thomas Pullen and John McFarlane.

The day school commenced in January 1867 with Thomas Pullen (32), youngest son of Rev Pullen, appointed headmaster on a salary of £50 per annuum. Until his house was erected next to the school, Thomas Pullen walked each day into Sheffield from his recently purchased Vermont farm on the corner of Nowhere Else and Upper Barrington roads. The half-day school was not free. Its cost was 6d a child per month, and parents with several children found this hard to meet. A Kentish Board of Advice appointed to oversee all school matters consisted of John Duff, John Hope, Edmund Lord, John McFarland, Robert Manley, and Alex Turnbull.

When John Powlett sold his Sheffield Inn at the end of 1871, the Kentishbury Post Office was transferred to Thomas Pullen’s new house next to his school. A little over a year later, in January 1873 when Pullen was transferred to the Sassafras school, John & Isabella Coleman came from Barrington to take over the Post Office. At the end of 1877, Isabella reported 8,774 letters had passed through her Post Office, while her husband John, in the midst of some very hot weather in February 1878, killed no less than 17 snakes in one week around the water well, used both by their house and the school.

Because of a state-wide shortage of teachers, there was difficulty in obtaining a replacement for Thomas Pullen. Eventually John’s brother Charles, & Ellen Coleman (also from Barrington), though not trained teachers, took over until the arrival in mid-1878 of young Thomas Alexander from the Bothwell school. About this time the school changed from half days to full days. As the attendance climbed towards 80, the Education Department was forced to buy a reservation block for a bigger school on the corner of Main & Henry St. With the formation of the Mersey circuit of Wesleyan churches, the Union Chapel at Sheffield joined with the West Kentish & Barrington Wesleyan churches to be part of that circuit. In 1879 Rev J Cowperthwaite arrived in Sheffield to become the first resident minister in Kentish.

Town’s first industry – Brickmaking

At the eastern end of Sheffield, John Powlett’s parents James and Margaret Powlett were the first settlers to erect their home. After their timber shanty burnt down, they made their next home of bricks from the significant clay deposits discovered on their property. This led to a demand for chimney bricks to replace the settlers’ hazardous split-shingle chimneys. Powlett began employing several workmen and commenced the first brickmaking business in the Kentish district. Around 1880, Powlett sold out to James Butt who continued to make bricks marked SBW (Sheffield Brick Works) for about 30 years. The old brick factory is now the site of a duck pond, opposite Kermode St corner.

A serious incident occurred at these ‘brickfields’ in the evening of 11 May 1867, between the families of two Powlett employees. The Cookes invited the Jacksons over for drinks. Despite both families having very young children, Bill Jackson became intoxicated, turned abusive, then violent. Mrs Sarah Cooke had to call James Powlett to come and remove him from their house. When Powlett arrived, Jackson grabbed a butcher’s knife and thrust it forcefully into Thomas Cooke’s right buttock. Then he turned to attack Powlett. Fortunately, Powlett was able to run outside with Jackson in pursuit. When Powlett couldn’t be caught, Jackson lay down on the grass to sleep it off. During this time the butcher’s knife was retrieved. Cooke was severely wounded, so next morning Powlett sent to Torquay (East D’port) 28 miles away, requesting a doctor and a police constable. The two arrived the following day and found Cooke lying on his belly in great pain, blood oozing from a wound that went down to his bone. Jackson was arrested and escorted back to Torquay to be charged.

First Police Station 1868

This incident led to complaints about the lack of a policeman in the Kentish district, which now had population of 400. Six months later a watch-house (police house, lock up and horse stable) costing £191 was erected on the corner of Main and Formby St, where Brian & Pauline Baker now live at 146 Main St. The police paddock doubled as the public pound, because of so many straying animals. The first three policemen were John Purcell, John Charles Mitchell, and Henry Howe.

Sheffield Cemetery 1875

There was probably a score of deaths in Kentish prior to the selection of a cemetery site. Most of them small children buried beneath a tree on their blocks. It was not until 13 July 1875 that ‘a reservation for the internment of the dead’ was chosen along High St (later part of King George V Park). The trustees appointed to manage it were: Alexander Turnbull, Reuben Austin, Wm. Jackson, James Dooley, John Morris, James Butt, and John Hope.

Flour mill and Sawmill 1876

In 1875 John Greenhill brought the first steam engine and threshing machine to Kentish, and in 1876 began construction on a sawmill and flour mill within the township of Sheffield. It was on the banks of the Dodder Creek between Torquay and Elizabeth St, on property still owned by his great grandson Frank Atkins. At the time a local resident wrote: Up until a few months ago, you could hear nothing but the notes of the mountain magpie and the screech of the cockatoo. Now you hear the whistle of the steam engine and the scream of the circular saw. It had been agonisingly slow for Sheffield to reach its first 60 residents.

Mining Boom Kick-starts Sheffield’s Growth

Sensational developments followed Philosopher Smith’s discovery of tin at Mt Bishoff and the Dally brothers’ discovery of gold at Beaconsfield. It caused a new rush of prospectors scouring Kentish’s mountainous hinterland. On 7 Dec 1877, J G (Jack) Johnson of Sherwood reported alluvial gold specks in the Minnow River near Lower Beulah. This euphoric news had the predictable response. About hundred and fifty ‘hopefuls’ rushed to the Minnow River. On Boxing Day, 1877, Charles Coleman of Sheffield visited the site 8 miles southeast of Sheffield and sent a glowing report to the Examiner entitled The Sheffield Gold Fields. This was all the ailing township needed. Within months, new houses were being built, shops erected, and most vacant blocks of land in Sheffield sold.

Sheffield’s first shop was built near the Sheffield Inn, on the present site of Mountain Momma, by Robert Manley of West Kentish in association with Benjamin Oppenheim’s store at Latrobe. Made of wooden shingles, it was completed at the end of December 1877. Before the shop was filled with stock, Manley announced that all locals could ‘dance the old year out and the new year in.’ These hard-working settlers thoroughly enjoyed themselves until the early hours of the morning. The next day, in a near-by paddock, these same settlers held their first New Year’s Day sports event. A week later, in January1878, Manley opened his store for business with John Tucker from South Australia as manager.

At the opposite end of town, J G (Jack) Johnson, in partnership with Mr Gerrand’s store at Latrobe, opened a second general store in Sheffield on 1 Dec 1878. Flush with money from his father’s estate, Johnson erected it on the corner block on Main & Torquay Sts, opposite a block purchased by Bollard. Here, Isabella Johnson sold groceries, drapery, boots, and ironmongery, while husband J G Johnson employed several young fellows to help him look for gold specks. .

In mid-1878 Charles and William Coleman purchased all the property on the northern side of Main St between the Kentish Museum and Spring St, and built their houses there. The Colemans also leased out a coopers shop to Chas Smith. Across Main St, John Robertson erected a house and blacksmith shop, next door John Davis opened his butcher’s shop. Close by, Robert Herron started a boot-making business and Miss Isabella Herron a bookshop. Further down Main St,  opposite the honey factory, John & Amelia Best and family came from Westbury and built a new house and general store, plus a saddlers shop leased to Thomas Brown. In 19 May 1880 John Best’s second daughter Hannah (30) married Thomas Alexander (27), the new young headmaster in town. Some years later the two other daughters Ella & Marion Best married Sheffield prominent businessmen T J Clerke and Martyr Clerke.

Town & Street Developments 1879/1880

Up until 1879 Kentish Road (Main St) through Sheffield was still unformed. Mud tracks weaved between tree stumps and huge potholes. Once while driving a team of bullocks through the town, Albert Charleston over-turned his dray, throwing his bags of flour into the mud. Thomas & James Jubb were the first to gain a contract to metal Main Street from High St to Spring St. The street was later completed by Chas Coleman. As town blocks began selling, in 17 Feb 1879  eleven acres along Main St were made a Reserve for public purposes. This was east of Formby St, where the police watch house already existed. Another ten acres along Spring St. were reserved for recreational purposes (now the Sports Oval).

While the Minnow gold boom was short lived, it was quickly followed by further mineral discoveries at the base of Mt Roland, Mt Claude, and Round Hill. In 1880 Sheffield had become a bustling pioneer frontier town, with all buildings constructed of split timber palings and shingles. Apart from the shop keepers already mentioned, Sheffield’s earliest residents included the families of Angus & Flora Campbell, Walter & Maria Butler, Peter & Susan Ford (wheelwright), Andrew & Elizabeth (Powlett) Hope, William & Mary Greenhill, Frank &  Janet Greenhill, Robert King, Stephen Kelcy Jnr,  & Wm Jeffrey (builder).

As prospectors continued to locate sensational mineral finds right across our hinterland at Lorinna, Middlesex, Moina, and Mt Bell, many mining companies were formed. New

businessmen arriving in Sheffield became so overconfident about the town’s future posterity that they began constructing multi-storey brick premises such as hotels, banks and large shops, some of which still stand today. But the glories of Sheffield’s golden decade in the 1880s and subsequent collapse of the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land on 4 August 1891 is yet another story.

 Next time: Upper Barrington Beginnings