Our Mountainside Pioneers (4)

The last couple of kilometres before arriving at present-day Gowrie Park, you pass on the left a continuation of the Mt Roland Protected bush, while on the right are the lush Dasher River flats currently owned by George & Selma Kelly. The present tranquillity of this remote region hides the fact that on this historic site young William Henry erected one of the first and most modern dairies on the whole island. After Henry, the property continued its unique history by being successively purchased by some of the wealthiest pastoralists in Tasmania.

1880-1902 William Henry’s Gowrie Farm

The eldest son of the Hon John Henry, William Henry was born in Castlemaine, Vic, in 1863. He came with his parents to Tasmania when he was 9 years old. After his education at Launceston Church Grammar School, William was dispatched to NSW to gain experience for an agricultural career. While away, as part of the River Don Company’s major investment in the Dasher River flats, his father John Henry purchased the last and largest block, 320 acres of lush river flats, for his son William. His father called them Gowrie, after the Carse (lowlands) of Gowrie in Scotland. After William Henry returned from the mainland, he moved to Gowrie early in 1885, employing James Barker as his offsider. Barker had proved himself in charge of several men constructing the Don Tramway up to Lower Barrington. Both aged 22, William & Jim became close friends. They built log fences, cleared 100 acres of river flats, and sowed them down with English grass.

His Model Dairy

Fired up with a vision of what he had seen on the mainland, young William Henry set about constructing his own model dairy. It was later claimed to be ‘the most perfect and compact dairy in the Colony’. This large dairy and cheese-making plant was capable of processing milk from up to 100 cows. The task of building some of this large project was awarded to William Treloar. William had trained as a stonemason in Cornwall, England, before marrying Grace Cock from Wales in 1877. The Treloars sailed for Adelaide, then crossed the Bass Strait to the Forth township, where they lived along Wilmot Road on the site of the state school. Carrying a week’s supply on his back, initially Treloar walked from Forth up through Barrington and West Kentish to Gowrie, returning on Saturday afternoons. But soon found it easier to move his young family to Sheffield. Upon completion of this large task, William & Grace Treloar bought 94 acres on the Minnow river flats beyond Paradise, where the rest of their 10 children were born.

The cluster of new buildings at Gowrie resembled a small village. The 8-room homestead was built upon a slight rise, with the floor some three to four feet above the ground because of flooding. There was also a cottage for Henry’s employees, large milking shed and dairy, horse-stables, calf-house, barn, piggery, and blacksmith’s shop. Impressed, people claimed young William Henry was certainly a ‘chip off the old block’

From the 10-bale milking shed, the milk was conveyed in large 20-gallon cans on wooden wheelbarrows along the wooden platform directly into the 5-roomed dairy. Here the cans of milk were hoisted up from the wheelbarrow by pulleys, then poured into a narrow trough that led to either the butter-making room or the cheese-making room, as required. In the butter-making room was the latest cylindrical steam-driven De Laval cream separator, while in the scullery sink everything used in the dairy was well washed, scalded, and steamed.

The cheese-making room contained a steam-driven Ramsay’s Patent Cheese Vat in which the milk coagulated, and the curd was cut into small cubes by patented American The desired temperature was derived from a steam pipe connected to the boiler. The curd was then strained to allow the whey to run off. Then salted, bandaged, and put into strong screw presses for six hours, before being moved to the cheese-curing room where the cheese would cure over the next 3 months. The 14ft high walls in the cheese-curing room were made of lath and plaster and fitted from floor to ceiling with pine shelves. Care was taken to turn the cheeses every day.

The engine-room had a 4-horsepower steam engine that drove all the dairy equipment. Adjoining it was the saw bench-room, where a small steam-driven circular saw cut all the wood required for both the steam engine and household purposes. The water supply from a mountain creek about 3/4 of a mile away was conveyed down galvanised iron pipes to the homestead kitchen and washroom, the dairy, and horse stables. All the floors of the dairy were made of cement with small gutters running through the centre to allow the wastewater to drain off. The skimmed milk from the dairy was carried by pipes to the piggeries.

Henry made Jim Barker manager of Gowrie farm, including the dairy and cheese factory.

Jim had previously bought a 50-acre block of his own, back next to Lockett sawmill at the Dasher River crossing. When Jim & Maria (Rockliff) Barker married in 1887, they began living there. In 1890 Barker gave a corner of his land to build the first Methodist church at Claude Road, where he and Maria (5 chn) became original members.

Meanwhile, William Henry purchased several additional blocks surrounding Gowrie, bringing his total acreage to over 500 acres. This was because he intended to build his dairy up to its capacity of 100 cows, requiring 10 people to milk by hand. However, not everything went as planned. In March 1887 Henry had the misfortune to have his farm eaten by caterpillars, so that he was only milking 56 cows. Bush fires were a constant threat during the summer, as was flooding in the wintertime.

Employees at Gowrie came from pioneer families on nearby properties. Several McCoys worked there, including Sam’s wife Julia who worked in the cheese factory. As did George (Gunna) Febey, who, with sight in only one eye, got his cheese-making certificate. Other employees included George Collins, Jimmy Jackson, and Edward Morgan. On 16 August 1890, George Collins was ploughing with two horses at Gowrie, when, without warning, a large tree fell across the horses, killing them both instantaneously but miraculously sparing Collins and the plough.

But the prosperous times of the 1880s were coming to an end. A downturn in world mineral prices closed the mines and produced a severe economic depression. On 4 Aug 1891 Bank of Van Diemen’s Land was one of the first banks in Australia to go bust. Land speculators and pastoral investors like William Henry were in big trouble, unable to pay their overdrafts. In June 1891 he was forced to advertise state-wide for the sale or lease of his 520 acre Gowrie farm, with its dairy and cheese plant. No sale ensued. So, on 17 Sept 1891, he had to hold a massive clearance sale of everything on the Gowrie property: 3 bulls, 90 cows, 27 calves, 6 cattle, 1 bay mare, 1 hack horse, 3 work horses, 33 pigs, 31 slips, 1 ton of cheese, 85 sides of bacon, 40 hams, 1 bullock dray, 1 waggonette, farming implements, blacksmith’s tools, and a large quantity of household furniture.

Somehow William Henry survived the 1890s Depression and started again with new manager Richard Harris and employees John Cox & C Dobson. They began restocking with Angus, Hereford, and Durham cattle. When the Kentish Butter Factory opened at 12 Main St Sheffield in 1893, Gowrie farm began supplying 100 gallons of milk every day. But Henry had long since moved back to Don to live and was continually trying to sell his ‘Gowrie’ dream farm. On 30 August 1895 William Henry (31) married Constance Roberts (18), daughter of the Rev Claude Roberts, founder of Latrobe’s Devon Cottage Hospital, at their Woodrising private chapel, Spreyton. The Henrys honeymooned in Vic & NSW, returned to Sea View, Don, and subsequently had 7 sons & 1 daughter.

1898 – Leased to Ed Thomas of North Down, Wesley Vale

The worst bushfire ever to ravage the whole of Kentish occurred in February 1898, but miraculously spared Henry’s property. The wall of fire, advancing from the West, amazingly divided around Gowrie farm and swept the country clean on each side. In December 1898, Wm Henry leased most of his Gowrie blocks for 5 years to Edward R Thomas (1854 – 1929) who succeeded his more famous father Sam Thomas developing the historic North Down property at Wesley Vale. Thomas retained Richard Harris as manager, but on 31 Jan 1902, this time Gowrie homestead was not so lucky. The wooden structure completely burnt to the ground, leaving only the concrete steps up to the front door and chimney bricks.

1902 – Sold to R C Field, Westbury & Duncan Loane, Devonport

Wm Henry sold most of his Gowrie properties to Richard C Field MHA, Westfield, Westbury, who allowed Thomas’ lease to expire before taking possession. When the two remaining blocks were sold to Duncan Loane of Devonport, Wm Henry was finally free of Gowrie. Five years earlier, he had purchased a large Gunns Plains property which he named Werona and, over the decades, successfully developed it. Wm Henry died in 1923, aged 59. With the main Gowrie homestead burnt down, R C Field remodelled the dairy into the main homestead, hence its nickname ‘the cement house.’ Some employees at this time were Thomas Smith & Geo Stewart.

1907 – Sold to A J White, Spreyton

Richard Field sold all his Gowrie properties to A J White of Spreyton, except for an additional 113 acres purchased by Duncan Loane. A J White was a Victorian orchardist who came to the Mersey valley pioneering the apple growing industry. The first year he planted out 25 acres of apple trees, then, for whatever reason, purchased the Gowrie farm.  However, 18 months later, White was gone. He sold up everything at Spreyton and Gowrie, including 700 sheep, and returned to Victoria.

1908 – Sold to the Chas Headlam family, Campbell Town

Chas J Headlam (59) of Beverley estate, Campbell Town, was continuing the practises of his late namesake father Charles Headlam (1816-1898), who became the largest landowner in Tasmania, owning pastoral properties totalling some 80,000 acres (32,375 ha). Headlam leased his 449 acre Gowrie purchase to Roderic & Harriett (French) Munro who remained at Gowrie for over a decade. Munro cleaned up the property, covered it with post & rail fences, and recommenced dairying and cheesemaking in a much smaller way. In April 1910, Charles sold Gowrie to his son Keith Headlam (25), who spent time there until his marriage in 1915, when he and new wife Irene took over the big Headlam-owned Burlington estate at Cressy. In 1918 Keith Headlam sold Gowrie to younger brother Sydney & Mabel Headlam, who, when Roderic Munro retired, leased Gowrie to his son-in-law Peter and Ivy (Munro) Bell. About 1923/24 this second cheese factory burnt down, followed later by the destruction of the old cement house. During the 1930s Depression and War years, Gowrie was completely neglected and became overgrown. When George Kelly purchased it, he needed to clear it again. Today there are practically no signs of its rather significant history.

Tea Tree Road & 1st Gowrie School

This road so called because the surrounding bush was all tea trees. Sam & Mary (Dodd) Pointon (8 chn) had 50 acres up this road in the early days. Sam was once taken to the Devon Cottage Hospital for observation. But everything was so bewilderingly strange, he declared ‘the place wasn’t fit to keep a dog in’, so he snuck out and walked home. When his son Samuel Pointon Jnr married Amelia Steers in 1913, he gave them this farm and Sam Senior went to live on land he owned over the back of Mt Claude. Fred Mason & his son Paul have had a good farm back in here for decades. Jack Dawson was born up this road in 1917 to struggling parents who survived by trapping rabbits and picking blackberries for Jones’ IXL jam factory, Hobart. Close by, John & Sarah (Pointon) Steers (11 chn) had 2 blocks under the mountain with their own entrance called Steers Road. This road now leads into the large gravel reserves leased to Treloars Transport and to the forestry plantation.

About 150 metres up Tea Tree Road on the right-hand side, the 1st Gowrie school was opened in 1922. It comprised mainly Steers, Stevens, McCoy, and Dawson children. The first teacher was Miss Mahoney, followed in 1924 by Mrs Gladys (Rockliff) Jessop, whose husband Arthur T Jessop was appointed to Claude Road school. Each day he brought wife Gladys to Gowrie school in the sidecar of his motorbike, then returned to Claude Road. Gowrie children had never seen a sidecar before, which perhaps explains why that year Gowrie was the only school in the State to achieve 100% attendance. However, in July 1925 Mrs Jessop was replaced somewhat under a cloud by Miss Edith Wyatt. Major alterations occurred in August 1926 by J W Sellars that cost £119/10/-. After school on 4 June 1931, the current teacher Miss Wellington checked everything and locked up. At dusk the school was found to be on fire, completely destroying it. Rumour had it, disgruntled pupils burnt the school down because they didn’t like their teacher. A temporary school was commenced in the homestead of Gowrie farm until a replacement school was built a kilometre away in present day Gowrie Park.

Next:  Gowrie Park