Our Mountainside Pioneers (1)

When VDL Co surveyor Henry Hellyer made his first exploratory trip up the Dasher River in 1826 to locate its source, he had with him a visiting VDL Co board-member from England, Matthias Attwood – Member of Parliament for Cornwall. As their small party reached the Dasher River flats beneath Mt Roland, the explorers became so impressed with this scenic location, that Hellyer named it Attwood Park in honour of their visitor. Unfortunately, nearly 35 years later, when the pioneering settlers arrived at the same river crossing, they were unaware of this prior naming and called the emerging settlement ‘The Dasher.’ Interestingly, nearby these same explorers had an unexpected close encounter with some aborigines, walking their well-worn track from the West, along the front of Mt Roland, up over the top end of Paradise, to their famous ochre mines on Mt Gog. We have no idea what happened, other than Hellyer named the small creek flowing down between Paradise & Claude Road into the Dasher river, as ‘Spear Thrown Creek’. Our modern maps have since had it sanitised to Stave Creek.

The original Dasher settlement

The first settlers in the vicinity of the Dasher River crossing were the adult children of Wm  & Pamela Whiley, the pioneer settlers to Paradise in 1877. Their married children purchased all the land between their parents’ Paradise block and the Dasher River crossing. They included Thomas & Emily Whiley (12 chn), Manning & Mary Whiley (5 chn), well-known carpenter Henry & Ann (Whiley) Bonney, and Bartholomew Jnr & Mary Ann (Whiley) Thomas. Two of Bartholomew Thomas’s brothers, prospector & miner Lionel A Thomas and Wm Thomas, also purchased blocks at the Dasher River crossing. These three Thomas brothers were sons of Bartholomew Thomas of Appledore Estate, Formby (Devonport). Some Whiley descendants remained at the Dasher for over 100 years.

After crossing the Dasher River from Sheffield, the first property owner was Henry Cooper of Nook. In 1888, three years before Cooper died, he sold his Dasher property to William (Snr) & Jane Lockett from Adelaide, whose three sons Arthur, George, & William (Jnr) Lockett had arrived in Tasmania a few years earlier. In 1887 oldest son Arthur Lockett gained a sizeable contract for improving the rough track to the Mt Claude mines for £121/18/2, while Henry J Bonney was paid £124/4/6 to build a bridge across the Dasher River. However, the floods of July 1894 washed it away and it had to be rebuilt.

Lockett’s Sawmill, PO, & Shop

As soon as parents William Snr & Jane Lockett arrived with youngest son Herbert & daughter Elizabeth, they set about establishing the Dasher Sawmill. Firstly, on the small corner of their property that was on the eastern side of the road, Wm Lockett Senior built a substantial family house with a cool cellar below ground. Then, across the road on the western side where most of their property was, they built a big sawmill (by standards of the day) and continued clearing for a farm. The elder sons had purchased several blocks high up on the mountain for timber cutters to get good logs. Tom Whiley became one of their bullock drivers, hauling their logs down the mountainside. To prevent destruction of the road, the Kentish Road Trust forced the Locketts to load their logs onto a jinker for the last part of their journey to the sawmill. As the sons married, they built their houses on the same side as the sawmill. In 1895 William Lockett Jnr married Bert Murfet’s sister Ada and Elizabeth Lockett married Chas Lord.

In 1892 Sheffield shopkeeper T.J. Clerke began delivering supplies and mail out to the many mining camps in the back country. His first stop was the Dasher settlement, so the Locketts opened a small store in their house where mail could be collected. The Lockett family were also foundational members of the Sheffield Baptist church, contributing with their own quartet. William Senior died on 20 May 1904, aged 66, and left the sawmill to his eldest son, Arthur Lockett. Arthur did not want it, so in 1905 he sold out to his brothers before moving to Melbourne. From 1 Jan 1906 Herb Lockett’s house became the shop/PO until 1910 when he, too, left for Melbourne. When the Claude Road Football Club was formed, they cleared part of George Lockett’s farm for their sports ground. It was used for many years as a community and Sunday school picnic place, and occasionally for Kentish-wide sports carnivals. Alf Febey and Albert (Jim) Perkins bought properties here and Jim moved Mrs Jack Roger’s Guest House from Cethana on-site where he & wife Ena (Ralph) raised their four children. Later the farm sold to Ray Padman, then Doug & Dorrie Padman, now Dale & Leonie Padman.

In 1915 George & Amelia Lockett (5 chn) moved to Roland to set up his sawmill to service the many buildings required at the railway line terminus. This left only Wm Lockett Jnr’s family at the Dasher River. Late in the night of 17 Sep 1919 the Dasher sawmill was destroyed by fire, putting several men out of work. The following year Wm Lockett sold off his two properties and moved into Sheffield. Lockett’s old original homestead was bought by Alf & Eva Whiley; the other property by John (Jack) Hall. Alf’s father Tom Whiley was killed in December 1924 when his horse panicked, causing Tom to fall under the wheels of his loaded wagon. Later Alf’s brother Ern & Freda (Febey) Whiley had the same homestead, followed by Jack Dawson. After the War, from 1946-1949, Dawson bought Hillstead property off Jack Hall, later selling it to Lloyd Pierce. Ron Murfet purchased Lockett’s historic homestead in 1956 but dismantled it when the Lands Dept purchased it to realign the road for the new Dasher bridge. Today there is practically no sign of the cluster of houses once known as The Dasher settlement.  For almost 100 years there existed a bridle/walking track through these properties that connected Claude Road with the top end of Paradise. Early settlers travelled this short route for visiting relatives, attending church, dances, and sports events. Because it crossed private land, it was eventually closed.

Hillstead Thoroughbred Stud  In 1975 Bert & Collen Walker began breeding racehorses on their 203-acre Hillstead property. Henry Steers and Harold Riley built their first stable with a shingle roof. Later Henry built a big 60ft x 35ft log barn to house young horses. Some of Bert Walker’s stud stallions were Pacifica, Centenarian, Sir Palamar, Lord Help us and Spirit Lover. Over the 1988-89 season, Bert’s horses produced the highest winnings of any breeder in Tasmania. During those years, as you approached the Dasher bridge, it was an impressive sight to see up to 170 frisky horses running on the lush green pastures of Hillstead Stud.

McCoys Road (original track up Mt Roland)

This road was originally formed by tree fellers and timber splitters working in the early 1880s. It had various names: Pointons Rd, Elliotts Rd, Mountain Rd, finally McCoys Rd after Rex & Irene McCoy built their house just up from the road junction. It also became the original route for climbing Mt Roland, because it led up into the steep central gully known as Perkin’s Gorge. This proved to be the easiest way of ascending and descending the front face of the mountain. Most early settlers along Claude Road became seasoned hunters, using their dogs and guns to catch kangaroo, wallaby, & possum on the open plains of the mountain top. Their thicker animal skins were valued more by skin merchants and these proceeds provided an important part of their income.

The two pioneer houses at the top of MCoys Rd were built on a spur of good ground in the early 1890s for Tom Elliott and John Perkins, who married Rundle sisters from Eugenia. A visitor recalls having lunch with Tom and Clara Elliott (7 chn) when the kitchen table began to shake violently. Down below, an old sow, lousy with fleas, was scratching against the floor stumps. Calmly, Tom took a steaming kettle off the stove and poured the hot water through one of many gaps between the floor planks. There was an instant response. The big pig let out a squeal and fled, nearly demolishing the house in the process. Some of the Elliott boys were known to play football without boots. John & Florence Perkins (11 chn) had the other house on 100 acres. John was a hunter who knew the mountain like the back of his hand. In February 1906 he guided Gustav & Kate Weindorfer up to the top and regularly delivered supplies during their 5-week honeymoon on Mt Roland. After John, his younger brother Ben & wife Gladys Perkins (3 chn) took the top farm on McCoys road. Further down Joe & Millie (Sharman) Febey built their house on 50 acres. Later, Ern & Freda Whiley lived there with a young family but had to be evacuated when a bush fire threatened them.

In 1973 this old road was graced by an interesting additional building. Peter Myer relocated the old Melrose Methodist church, built in 1908, and creatively turned it into a charming, two-storey dwelling, now 144 McCoys Rd. Two years later, in 1975, Bruce French purchased 50 acres at the top of the road and, with the help of church youth groups, built The Hut one of the highest-positioned buildings on the mountain. In 2001 it was burnt to the ground while a honeymoon couple were staying there and had to be rebuilt.

Up McCoys Rd, three roads branch off to the left. all of them formed by early woodcutters. The first went into Whiley’s block where John (Jack) Hall later lived between 1909-1936, followed by Dan O’Neill who died tragically aged 28, leaving a family of boys. Up Foleys road Bern Febey was first to build a hut and split timber. On 16 January 1998, one week before his planned marriage, Jason Rouse had a serious dozer accident up this road that kept him hospitalised for 3 months. Currawong Rd led to a block once owned by Cyril George who married a daughter of John Perkins. In 1982 Grant & Jan Atkins bought a block from Laurie Duff and turned Stan Febey’s deserted homestead into a comfortable mountain cabin. Grant subdivided and sold out in 1998.

Church, First School, and Cemetery

Two properties just west of Lockett’s sawmill were James & Maria Barker’s 50-acre block and Joseph & Ellen Cox’s 119 acres. It was in Cox’s home in February 1890, where church services had commenced, that they decided to build a local Wesleyan church. James Barker, manager of Gowrie estate for Wm Henry, offered a corner of his block. So in August 1890, Gideon Robson, helped by local men, erected a 26ft x 16ft building on the mountain side of the road. A month later, 7 Sept 1890, the new Wesleyan Church at The Dasher was opened. Surrounded by bush, it was affectionately called the church in the greenwood. The following year, 1891, the first pioneer Francis Perkins (51) died, followed 3 years later by his wife Sarah (Dyer) Perkins (55). Both were buried beside the new church. In June 1893 the first wedding in this church was John Perkins & Florence Rundle’s.

In 1896, a half-time school was commenced in the church in conjunction with a similar half- time school in Paradise. The teacher at both schools was Miss Jane M Luttrell. At Claude Road she commenced with 25 children, many of whom walked to school bare-footed. When she retired in 1904, with 55 pupils being jammed into this tiny church, the Government finally agreed to erect a proper state school. In 13 Nov 1896, a 3½ acre corner section of James Barker’s block, containing the church and cemetery, was transferred to these seven Wesley trustees: John Hope, Joseph Cox, James Barker, Samuel York, Chas Lord, Henry Bonney, and David Billing. Dasher Tea Meetings became immensely popular. Everyone dressed in their finery, all walking to the church. It was said ‘big families poured out of side roads like rabbits coming out of burrows’. Notable SS Superintendents were Mrs Emily Whiley (12 years), James Reed (10 years), and Rheuben Bramich (over 20 years).

After 70 years, the locals demolished the original split-timber church in January 1961 and erected its replacement. The Rouse family supplied the sawn timber and the McCoy family and others built the new church. After the Hydro workers left the area in the mid-1970s, the church was closed and eventually sold to Peter Gardam of Beulah for a farm shed. In Feb 1996, a local committee led by George Kelly was formed to request the Methodist-owned cemetery be open to bury all Claude Road residents. The Methodist headquarters in Launceston asked a $1000 payment to transfer the cemetery property back into local hands. The money was quickly raised and on 26 August 1996, exactly 100 years since the land was first purchased, the deeds where transferred to a new Claude Road Cemetery Trust, consisting of George Kelly, Don Rouse, Eileen Braid, Dorrie Padman, Ethel Steers, Alwyn Riley, and Philip Rouse. In Oct 1999, the Government provided a $1200 grant to build a Memorial Wall dedicated to local servicemen and servicewomen who had served in wars. In recent times the Trust have begun a lawn cemetery. Today this picturesque cemetery setting beneath rugged Mt Roland has become a popular final resting place, not only for Claude Road residents, but for citizens throughout the Kentish Municipality and beyond.