(Old Wilmot Rd & Roland)

In the late 1860s, three pioneer settlers on the Kentish Plains decided to explore the uninhabited hills that lay between them and the Forth River. They found these hills heavily timbered with excellent soil. Impressed, they told their neighbours, “We have found the Promised Land.” The name stuck and remains in limited use to this day. These original explorers were James Boutcher (from Somerset, Eng.), Angus McNab (Argleshire, Scotland), and William Excell (Welsh blacksmith who came to work the Tarleton coal mines).

In the 1870s James Boutcher purchased 310 acres of land which extended along the top of these hills as far south as the present township of Roland. There he built a basic slab house for his wife Margaret (12 chn) to become the first settlers in this new ‘Promised Land’. Soon afterwards, Boutcher sold a section of his large acreage to Angus & Mary (Duff) McNab (8 chn). Wm & Eliza Excell (10 chn) were the first settlers down what later became the original road to Wilmot. With their adult children, they acquired several properties, eldest son Wm Jnr & Talitha (Carey) Excell settling at the end of what is now Byards Road.

About this same time, Kentish’s back country began to be subjected to intense prospecting following Philosopher Smith’s discovery of tin at Mt Bischoff. Promising sites were located around Mt Claude and along the western side of the Forth valley. In 1879, Northern Inspector for Roads George Simmons, together with Kentishbury Road Trust members John Hope and John Duff, inspected these new Mt Claude claims. For their return journey, these three men decided to bush-bash their way back down through Staverton and the Promised Land to Kentishbury. As there were no tracks, they felt sure they must have been the first white men to make this journey, which was probably not true. Simmons awarded Surveyor James Dooley and Stephen Kelcey Jnr the contract to cut a bridle track over this 24-mile route from the Promised Land through Staverton over Mt Claude to Gads Hill, which they completed by April 1881. Two years later in 1883, the pressure was on to open a direct route across the Forth River to its mineral-rich western side. From the Promised Land, Simmons and party tracked down through the rugged, heavily timbered country to the bottom of Forth River valley to examine the only suitable place to cross the Forth River for many miles in both directions. Let’s follow these developments.

Down the Old Wilmot Road

The Excell families were joined by John & Agnes Harris (12 chn). Both families were connected to the original Kentish Gospel Hall near Sheffield, so they commenced having cottage meetings together. Later Harris took over one of Excell‘s properties to build Corona Vale. In 1903 John & Linda Wilson (12 chn) bought another of Wm Excell‘s farms. Later, Mrs Martha Kirkcaldy, with her 8 remaining children, came from Foster’s estate, Kimberley, to settled down the old Wilmot road, having previously lost two small children to drowning, and her husband to the 1919 Spanish flu pandemic. Other early property owners down this road were Angus McNab, Wm Mason, and Chas Billing from whom Billing Road gets its name.

After George Simmon’s visit in 1883, he contracted the construction of this much-needed bridge across the Forth River to Patrick Oates, and the formation of a connecting road between West Kentish & Wilmot to Edwin Morse & Thomas Jubb. It was 2½ miles (4km) down to the Forth River and 3 miles (4.8km) up to Wilmot. This vital new link was finally opened in September 1890, providing access to a whole new world west of the Forth River. The new bridge became known as Lutterell’s Bridge after Robert & Annie Lutterell, who settled there in 1888 to farm the fertile river flats. Some early Kentish settlers who purchased extra land here were Wm Braid (200 acres), James Braid (50 acres), and James Morse (45 & 55 acres). William & Margaret Sherriff (5 chn) lived at Lutterell’s Bridge until 1912 when they purchased their Thorn Hill property at 261 Carey’s road.

The famous Forth Falls, a series of seven spectacular waterfalls set amidst massive tree ferns, so close to the lush green river flats, quickly became a favourite picnic place and fishing spot for these early pioneers of Kentish. But the Forth River was always recognised as a treacherous river that rises rapidly after rain or snow in the back country, and over the years resulted in several drowning tragedies. As the township of Wilmot developed, some Sheffield businesses opened branch stores there while young Kentish farmers, particularly from Upper Barrington, sought new properties across the valley. This new access road not only connected Kentish to Wilmot, but also the Moina mines, Middlesex Plains, Cradle Mt, and Mt Bischoff; indeed for several years it was the main track to the West Coast.

On the basis of this vital connecting bridge, the Municipality of Kentish was created in 1908, embracing a large number of rateable properties on both sides of the Forth River. However, this all changed in 1968/69 when the newly created Lake Barrington began to fill. Lutterell‘s bridge was flooded and this crucial connection between Sheffield and Wilmot was severed forever. They renamed the old, original Wilmot road going down to the bridge as Lutterell’s road, while the Hydro’s recently-built road, down to their new Kentish Park Camping Grounds, became an extension of the West Kentish Road which now ends down at their Boat Ramp. Close by, the Lake Barrington Vineyard (one of the oldest and most picturesque vineyards in Tasmania) was successively established by Dr Roger & Maree Taylor in 1984. But 10 years later Roger Taylor died two weeks before his wife Maree gave birth to their daughter Alexandra. Today this award-winning vineyard is tendered by the Von Peterson Klerck family.

The Promised Land 

In the early 1880s, Edwin Morse & Thomas Jubb were also contracted to widen the first section of Dooley’s bridle track up through the Promised Land towards Staverton for cart and wagon use. By 1889 new homes began springing up along this road, where a year or two ago it was dense scrub and forest. This prompted one old-timer to say, “Listening to the stroke of the axe and the lowing of the cattle in the Promised Land, makes it sound quite home-like, reminding me of how it was 25 years ago in the older districts of Kentish and Barrington.”

1893 Building the Baptist Tabernacle. James Boutcher and Angus McNab were the driving force in extending the Baptist work to the Promised Land. In December 1890, they invited Pastor Harry Wood to hold preaching services in Angus McNab‘s barn. Two years later, Angus donated a prime site on his farm where a church was built by Ben Martin, assisted voluntarily by Henry Boutcher (32) and Archie McNab (37). It opened on 24 May 1893 with Job Nibbs becoming Sunday school superintendent. This Baptist Tabernacle was erected on the main corner where the new road leading to Staverton branches off from the recently opened road to Wilmot. For the next century, this significant intersection was always called the Tab Corner. Seventy-five years later, the original wooden church was replaced by a modern brick structure, opened on 6 July 1968. A centenary service was held on 11 Nov 1990, but the church’s demise came on 27 May 2011 when it was sold for a private home.

As we hinted earlier, James Boutcher built his original home adjacent to the future township of Roland. There being no road, Boutcher had to construct one to his selection through virgin forest, which he gradually transformed into fertile paddocks. He was also an active member of the Kentish Road Trust and a loyal supporter of the local Baptist Church.

Their neighbours James & Lucy Byard (10 chn) came from Chudleigh in 1891 to build their Overdale homestead. The Byards’ properties included much of the future township of Roland. Tragically, just 3 years after their arrival, James Byard Snr (48) was killed by a falling tree while clearing his block in the presence of his two eldest sons James Jnr (17) and Harry (15). Mrs Lucy Byard (46) was left with 10 children, the youngest only 3. Further down Holmes Rd were the Stewart and Strawberry families, who were joined in 1914 by Thomas & Minnie Hall (8 chn) who came from Deloraine. Other early residents in this district included the Jopson & Poulton families.

Rise & Decline of Roland Township.

In August 1912, the Government announced that the long-planned Railton-Wilmot railway line, currently under construction, would now not continue to Wilmot, but would be terminated when it reached the Staverton Rd. The Minister added “to continue the railway line down three miles into the Forth Gorge and back up the other side would be an extravagant waste of public money.” The opening of the railway line from Railton to its new terminus beside the Staverton Rd occurred on 6 Nov 1914, and soon led to the forming of a new township. The Government purchased 100 acres to erect the railway station, station master’s house, engine shed, big good shed, and several workmen’s cottages.

To construct these buildings, George Lockett (who had a sawmill and small shop at the Dasher River bridge, Claude Road) opened a similar sawmill and shop at this new Terminus. Instead of continuing to cart ore from the Round Hill mine to Railton, Les Day won the contract for delivering it to the Staverton Rd Terminus, so he erected a cottage, a stable for 12 horses, and a hay shed right opposite the station. Further up the hill, his brother Harry Day built new saleyards where he sold cattle from the high country. On sale days he assembled buyers from around the State and as soon as the cattle were sold, they were loaded onto a special cattle train which left the Terminus that same evening.

So much was happening in the Staverton Rd Terminus that in 1915, locals formed the Staverton Terminus Progress Association. It helped Wilmot farmers get their promised short-cut road (now Cromwells Rd) direct to the new Terminus. A Post Office was opened at the Railway Station where mail was distributed for a ¼ hour after the arrival of the evening train. But the Railway Department refused to install a telephone exchange at their Station. So sawmiller George Lockett stepped in and had both the Post Office and telephone exchange put in his small shop with his 20-year-old daughter Lucy Lockett in charge. The first telephone call came through on 21 Dec 1916.

1917 Gospel Hall & new General Store. Several local families connected to the original Gospel Hall near Sheffield enthusiastically endorsed the idea of building a Gospel Hall at the Terminus. Mrs Lucy Byard donated a block right in the centre of the township. J T King Kentish councillor, and leading blacksmith of Sheffield, assisted by several local young men built the church which was opened 11 April 1917. One hundred years later they celebrated its centenary and continues to be used as a church today. Meanwhile, John G Jackson sold his farm down Carey’s Rd to Herb Byard and came up to the Terminus and opened a large country store attached to the front of his seven-room house. His wife Julia (nee Cables) was his main helper and his daughter Zilla Jackson became the new postmistress. In 1945 Jackson sold out to Bingham of Ulverstone, followed by George Braid, Harry Crosswell, Reg Howell, John Skipper, & Ken Terry, before the shop burnt down in the 1980s.

The Terminus gets a new Name. The Deputy Post-Master General wrote to residents suggesting their new township be called Dasher. But locals considered this confusing as Dasher had always been associated with Claude Road. At a meeting of the Staverton Terminus Progress Association held in the railway station‘s waiting room on 21 July 1917, several other names were suggested before the young post mistress Lucy Lockett (later Mrs Cliff Pease) suggested Roland. On a motion moved by Adye Smith, seconded by Edward Weeks, they agreed to recommend the name Roland. But the postal authorities rejected this name as Roland was already the name of a civil parish located between Paradise and Beulah. They counter-suggested Van Dyke. The matter was discussed again by the Staverton Terminus Progress Association. This time the local people pointed out that since they were living in the middle of the Roland Ward, which the new Kentish Council had created in 1908, their township should be called Roland.  Within six months the matter was settled; the Postal Department relented, and the Staverton Terminus became Roland.

The Round Hill mine closed in 1927, greatly reducing the railways exports. At this time several houses at Cethana were removed to Roland, one being the home where David & Pat Kirkcaldy live today with their Roland Art Gallery. The Roland School was opened on 20 May 1925 but closed in 1938 when the building was removed to the Sheffield Area School and all local children were conveyed each day by the railmotor to Sheffield. After only being opened 43 years, the railway line closed in 1957. Changing methods of travel caused railway usage to decline until most of the local services, once available in this picturesque township, had disappeared. But the Roland district‘s superb views of Mt Roland have always assured it remains a popular place to live.