Mountainside Settlers of Kentish (3)

Following the discovery of mineral deposits at Mt Claude in 1879, it was not only unemployed miners and struggling farmers who flocked to the site, but some of the biggest names on the North West Coast. Two of them were the founding partners of the River Don Trading Co. – John Henry & James York, who began mining the western end of Mt Roland and farming the rich, fertile flats of the upper Dasher Rive

Scottish-born John Henry (46) had earlier come from Melbourne, taken over a shipping and sawmill company at Don, then with James York (35) recently formed the River Don Trading Co. They were ambitious and enterprising men, who commenced buying thousands of acres of Crown land to establish their agricultural, export timber business and mining interests. In 1879 their Company completed a tramway from Don up to Lower Barrington where they opened a local branch store of their River Don Trading Co. The following year the NW Coast was agog with the news of mineral discoveries around Mt Roland and Mt Claude. They quickly visited the area and in May 1880 began negotiations to purchase from the Crown six blocks comprising all the lush upper Dasher River flats. After being surveyed, they were paid for on 13 Nov 1881 and dubbed ‘the Don Company’

The northern boundary of these blocks ran along the last kilometre of Careys Rd before it joined Lockwood Rd. Working their way up the Dasher river, James York bought the first three blocks (96, 57, & 57 acres). Then John Henry purchased the next two (90 & 44 acres) for himself, and the final one, a large 320-acre block for his eldest son William Henry (17). Later, York acquired one more block, but young William Henry purchased five additional blocks. So between York and the two Henrys, they owned the entire Dasher River flats from Claude Road seven kms up-river to present day Gowrie Park.

While these Don Company blocks straddled the Dasher River, they didn’t always extend wide enough to reach the rough bush track that eventually became our present bitumen road to Gowrie Park. So other early settlers were left to select these remaining bits of Crown land beside this emerging road. The largest of these blocks was 50 acres, purchased by John & Cordelia Steers (14 chn) in 1894. It joined James York’s first block on its northern side, Lockwood Rd on its eastern side, and Claude Rd on its southern side. John & Cordelia came from Sassafras, where, as a young man, Steers had become a well-known stone-breaker and road-maker. He held several records, such as laying 45 yards of road with 2½ inch stones in 10 days. At Claude Road John Steers’ big barn was a frequent meeting place for social gatherings. Later, sons Dave & Bill Steers occupied this property, with most of their siblings settling around the Claude Rd/Gowrie district. Today Steer’s original 50 acres has been subdivided; its southern section developed now as Deacon’s Close, off Claude Rd.

The Vale farm, 864 Claude Rd

The extra 54-acre block that James York bought along Claude Road gave him access into his three Dasher River blocks. Originally, he called them Roland Vale, and his plan was to lease them or engage a manager. York erected a house for his family visits, but eventually this burnt down, leaving only his cherry trees. In 1886, James York partnered with Joseph Schmidt to build the large York Schmidt Store that still stands in Sheffield today. When Schmidt died suddenly, this business became part of the River Don Trading Co chain of stores. After co-founder John Henry died in 1912, James York moved to head-office in Devonport, where he became recognised as ‘the grand old man’ of the Don Company.

During the 1890s James York leased his river blocks to John Arnott and Thos Hortle of West Kentish. After them, he made Wm (Bill) Trethewie manager, who did a lot of clearing work with a team of ten red Devon bullocks. Next, when Edwin (Bob) & Elizabeth Perkins (2 chn) lived at Roland Vale, he built a racetrack and trained racehorses. Their only son Wm (Bill) Perkins BA Dip Ed rose to be Army Captain in WW2 and afterwards, as Senior Lecturer at Hobart University, pioneered the use of educational films and television for Tasmanian schools. Bill’s daughter Judy Jackson MHA entered the Tasmanian parliament in 1986, where 3 years later, as Minister of Parks, Wildlife, & Heritage in the new Labor-Green Coalition Government, she added a further 600,000ha of Tasmanian wilderness to the World Heritage Listings in Paris. Later occupants were Geo (Jimmy) & Mary (Steers) McCoy (4 dau), followed by their daughter Kittie with husband Ted Hall.

In 1952 Guy Rowell, engineer at Goliath Cement Works, purchased York’s blocks for £4,000. Guy had lost his first wife and was left with two small children. When he married 2nd wife Jewel, they moved to Roland Vale and built a new house. Guy changed the name of his property to The Vale after another farm on the way to Claude Road also chose the name Roland Vale. When Guy died in 1976, his only son John Rowell took over the property. John had been into bulldozing, mechanical harvesting, and aviation on the mainland. So back at The Vale, John altered the Dasher River to construct his own private airstrip along its northern side.

The de Bomford family owned The Vale for nearly a decade before selling it in 2017 to the present owners Simon & Anna Hackett from South Australia, with Philip de Bomford remaining on as manager. Simon & Anna added an adjacent block to bring their iconic farm up to 185 acres. It now produces the finest fat lambs, with ‘Vale Lamb’ on the menu at some coastal hotels and restaurants. A fervent flying fan, Simon removed the hump out of their 1.2km grass runway and replaced two small hangars with one substantially larger hangar to hold his turbo-prop Pilatus PC12 aircraft and electric self-launching glider. The Hacketts have installed a large renewable energy system, undertaken substantial landscaping, and are currently exploring various eco-tourism options. In December they hosted the Devonport Aero Club’s annual outing at The Vale. About 30 light aircraft were present, most of whose pilots and trainees were already regular visitors.

In 1994, John Rowell sold a section of The Vale to Dr Ian & Ginny Hoyle, who built their own house Eagle’s Rock with a new entrance, now 916 Claude Rd. Dr Hoyle liked to fly light planes while Ginny loved to ride horses. The Hoyles sold to Len & Margaret Dixon who in 2014 sold to the present owners, Lloyd & Lucy Meakin. Directly opposite, on the mountain side of Claude Road, in the middle of a long stretch of Mt Roland conservation bush, is a 50-acre farm block. It was originally taken up by Granville (Dick) & Florrie (Febey) McCoy. They lived there in a house brought from Cethana when the mine closed.

Patawalonga Rd (Jacksons Rd) ran between two of the blocks originally purchased by John Henry. Initially he erected a cottage, which he kindly left open so that travellers to and from Mount Claude could shelter overnight. But Henry had very little interest in his blocks as he was developing his chain of department stores and beginning his public life, which led to a long parliamentary career in both our State’s lower and upper houses, including a period as Treasurer. James York eventually took over his blocks

It was originally called Jacksons Rd because the first settlers William Jnr & Christina (Cables) Jackson (5 chn) took up 148 acres across the Dasher River and up on the hill. To get to school their children crossed the Dasher River on a log, but in wintertime by horseback. In 1904 William Jnr (49) died of a stroke, leaving Christina with the 5 children. Later, her grown son George & Florrie (Bell) Jackson purchased 115 acres close by, but also owned 37 acres along Claude Rd adjoining John Henry’s block. Jack Strong and his pipe-smoking wife also had a house over the Dasher, while John & Mary Ann Pinner had 25 acres on the southern corner of the entrance to Jackson’s Rd, later occupied by Edwin McCoy & Tommy McCoy. About 1980, Dr Hugh & Eleanor Carpenter bought 12 acres up Jacksons Rd, and when the Kentish Council was formalising the names of its many country roads, it was Eleanor Carpenter who suggested the aboriginal word ‘Patawalonga’. Between the early 2000s and 2018, a suicide prevention organisation Parakaleo operated a refuge centre in this road.

Rysavy Rd (Halls Rd). Rysavy was a migrant worker who lived on Halls Rd during the construction of the Mersey/Forth project in the 1960s. Originally this road led up to the Silver Ridge mine, where in July 1881 the directors of the River Don Co believed they discovered a lode under Mount Roland. Immediately John Henry, James York, George Moon, and David Jeffrey, all Don Co directors, took out 80-acre leases. They formed the Mount Roland Co and employed several miners under Mr Bray as their mining manager. Using gelignite, every time they blasted the rock, loud reports rumbled around the pristine valley. By November they had a tunnel 55ft long, and six months later were in 140ft. They sent 10 tons of metal for testing, some in Melbourne, some to England. But the ore’s assay shewed only 91oz of silver to the ton. Like most mines in these mountains, it wasn’t financially viable, so the venture ended.

Further up Rysavy Rd, the two eldest sons of stockman William McCoy became the first of the McCoy clan to move to Claude Road. John & Emily (Saltmarsh) McCoy (10 chn) and Albert (Sam) & Julia (Harris) McCoy (4 chn) purchased two blocks under the mountain. Although the McCoy men had been hunting wallaby skins on top of Mt Roland for years, it was the offer of work with the Don Company mine that first drew two of them to settle up Rysavy Road. When the mine fizzled out, they were fortunate to find work with young William Henry, who was aggressively developing his large Gowrie farm along the Dasher river flats. In time, both McCoy properties were taken over by their eldest sons – Jock McCoy & Ben McCoy. After Jock & Alma (Martin) McCoy (7 chn) were burnt out, they moved to Kings Road. Present owner of these McCoy properties is Steven Brown, who left his job as manager of the Devonport Recreation Centre to grow saffron. Steve, with Bevis Dutton, pioneered rock climbing up the sheer cliffs of Rysavy Ridge on Mt Roland, and abseiling back down.

Silver Ridge Retreat

In the 1920/30s, Jack & Mabel Hall (2 dau) lived at Silver Ridge during the time he owned Hillstead farm at the Dasher bridge. Granville & Florence McCoy, and son-in-law Laurie Boutcher, farmed Silver Ridge for a while. Afterwards, Roy Febey, followed by Bill & Marie McCulloch. In 1988 Peter & Julie Smith purchased this 150-acre property and built their motel, complete with a heated swimming pool. Peter & Julie previously owned the Tasmanian Air Ambulance Service and first spotted this idyllic location from the air. In 1999 the present owners, John & Jeanette Sinclair from South Africa, acquired the property and currently operate their Silver Ridge Retreat, offering a variety of accommodation including farm-life experiences, bushwalks, quad-bike tours, visits to the old mine, etc. It is planned that the south-western corner of Silver Ridge Retreat will become the base station for the proposed cable cars to the top of Mt Roland.

Kookaburra Rock Rd (Martins Road).  Ben & Grace (Cock) Martin (3+ chn) owned 2 blocks over the Dasher River. Ben was a local builder who once covered a large 31ft x 20ft barn with 2,325 singles 2’6” long in 10 hours. Their daughter Alma married Jock McCoy. Hubbard lived there, as did Graham Riley’s parents. Up this road was a massive rock that looked like a kookaburra. When Don & Margaret Funslow were living there, they suggested the road be called Kookaburra Rock Road. The current forestry plantation owned by Dr Alan Leeb of WA has grown up and hidden this rock from view.

Febeys Rd, so named because George & Daisy (Sharman) Febey (9 chn) were the only pioneers settlers along this road. After crossing Wm Henry’s Gowrie farm and proceeding up the hill, George Febey owned a further 150-acres on the left and John Cook owned 90-acres on the right. Peter Bell lived on Febey’s hillside property for a while, followed by his son William (Billy) Bell. John Cook’s block was taken over by Jack Dawson’s parents in 1935. Back at the entrance of Febeys road, George & Daisy’s original homestead on the left side was taken over by their eldest bachelor son George (Gunner) Febey, who had lost one eye in an accident. Gunner was known to shorten his long, bushy whiskers by setting them alight. When close enough to his chin, he snuffed out the fire with his hands. Opposite, on the right side of Febeys Road, lived George’s second son Ted Febey who married George Kelly’s widowed mother. When George & Selma Kelly came from Smithton in 1963, they purchased Ted Febey’s property and named it Gowrie Glen. For nearly 50 years George Kelly has had an active involvement in almost all Claude Road affairs and today owns William Henry’s historic Gowrie farm, which is next month’s story.