The opening of the Deloraine-Formby Railway Extension on Sat 30 May 1885 issued in a new era for the whole of Railton and surrounding districts. Before long, Kentish farmers were carting hundreds of tons of potatoes down to Railton, where, at times, the whole railway yard was covered with stacks of potato bags. Hence its new nickname ‘spud station’. Twice a day, a train left Launceston for Formby and returned. From Railton it took ½ an hour to Latrobe, one hour to Formby, and four hours to Launceston.

This new railway service resulted in the rise of the Railton township as we know it today. Slow at first, due to the strangle-hold of Foster’s owned land corridor on both sides of the railway station. Following John Foster’s death in 1875, Foster’s Trustees was set up in Hobart to manage his huge estate until his youngest child reached 21 years old in Sept 1889. It included the 21,080 acres of Crown land gained from the bankruptcy of original Mersey & Deloraine Tramway Co. Most of it was in the Railton/Kentish district, with the Trustees initially very reluctant to sell. However, once the Government authorised the extension of the Launceston-Deloraine railway through to Formby in Sep 1882, Foster’s Trustees were forced to sell a narrow two-chain wide (40 metres) strip down the centre of their mile-wide corridor that stretched from Latrobe to Coilers Creek. Meanwhile many new settlers had been flocking into the surrounding areas, taking up all available land to the very boundaries of Foster’s Estate.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in Railton, where the entire surveyed township was owned by the Foster Estate. Prior to 1885, the earliest settlers around Railton had no choice but to buy blocks on the south-west side of Dowbiggin St, which was the boundary of the Foster-owned rail corridor through Railton. So, as mentioned last time, the first flourishing township sprung up on the banks of Redwater Creek, half-a-mile south of the desolate Railton railway station. As more settlers arrived, the pressure gradually mounted for Foster’s Trustees to start selling to these newcomers.

1885 – Railton’s Successful Re-start 

In Nov 1885, the first Foster-owned block within the Railton township was sold to York, Schmidt & Co of Sheffield for £25. It was the prime corner block, currently occupied by the Railton Newsagent & PO. The partnership of James York & Joseph Schmidt had recently erected a large new store in Sheffield and they were obviously planning to do the same at Railton. But rival businessman William Tune beat them to it. He purchased another corner block on Foster St & Crockers Rd (later ‘Field’s Corner’) and opened his Little Wonder Store, selling groceries, drapery, crockery & ironmongery. He also began the local manufacture of both plain & spiced vinegar. Born 1824 in Toronto, Canada, Tune was drawn to the Australian Gold Rush, arriving in Ballarat in 1853. After marriage, Tune settled in Roma, Qld, but, acting on medical advice, moved to the cooler climate of Tasmania and opened his store at Railton. Four years later, he sold out to Wm Wade of Sheffield, who opened a branch store there with Arthur C Dean as manager. Opposite Tune’s store in Foster Street, Henry Cooper bought the other corner block plus several more significant town allotments for future development.

With rail passengers now regularly using Railton station, and scores of farmers thirsty after unloading their potato bags from their bullock carts, it was James East who first recognised the need for a licensed hotel next to the new railway station. His first application for a liquor license in Oct 1887 was denied because of protests from the strong local temperance movement, but following a signed petition from 80 Kentish residents, his license was granted.

A report in June 1888 stated Railton had East’s hotel, Mrs Tucker’s boarding house, two blacksmiths, one baker, one butcher, one wheelwright shop, three stores, two dressmakers, two churches, a state school, private school, and 27 houses with five more partially completed. In 1889/90 the coal mines at New Bed, Railton, and Dulverton were adding more workmen, so the building of split-timber houses along Morrison and Dowbiggin streets struggled to keep pace with the increasing population. In Sept 1894, the Post & Telegraph-office was moved from Redwater Creek to the Railton Railway Station.

In the country, from the late 1880s onward, Foster’s Trustees began offering bush blocks across Sunnyside, Stoodley, Beulah & Paradise. Some sold, some were leased, many remained untouched virgin bush. New settlers then wanted road access across Foster’s Estate to their blocks. This gave the new Railton Road Trust, formed in Sept 1891, huge headaches. As late as 1899, Fosters still had over 60 unsold blocks in Railton and this Trust was seeking legal advice as to who owned the streets of Railton –Fosters or the Crown? Hon John Hope advised it to chart the settlers’ bush tracks across Foster’s Estate and apply to have them declared ‘government roads.’

Flowery Marsh Popular Picnic Ground

A favourite meeting place for first settlers to hold picnics, and play sport was a semi-cleared section on the riverbanks at Flowery Marsh – now the site of Railton’s sewerage ponds. During the construction of the second railway line in the mid-1880s, scores of navvies joined with locals to form the first cricket and football teams. The following is a condensed description of a football match played between Railton & Latrobe at Flowery Marsh in May, 1887 as reported in the Devon Herald: ‘The first thing you notice, emerging from the track through the scrub onto more open ground, is the large dead tree which stands right in the centre of the semi-cleared ground … The game commenced after the ball was kicked off by Colonel Wells of Railton … The knowledge of the local ground was a great help to the Railton men, who readily availed themselves of all the shortcuts and intricate pathways that make Flowery Marsh so perplexing to strangers. Munro of Latrobe asked some bystanders to direct him to the nearest goal posts. They told him to go straight ahead, which he did and kicked the ball through the posts. There was grim silence from his teammates, for he had kicked a goal for Railton. Sykes, also from Latrobe, on getting the ball out of the ruck, dodged behind the large dead tree and, sitting down, pulled a chart from his pocket to work out his whereabouts. Riley’s case is perhaps the saddest of any. He was missed towards the end of the game, and a search was at once instituted. Guns were fired, and ear-piercing cooees made to no avail, then the stentorian voice of Dick Wakeham elicited a faint response. Riley was found sitting forlornly on a log, fully believing he was lost. Unquestionably, George Bennett made the best play of the day, his effort being greeted with ringing cheers from all his opponents, for it seems he, too, ran the wrong way’.  

1889 Foster’s Family Returns to Tasmania

After having been in England for 13 years, the five grown-up children of deceased parents John & Ann Foster arrived in Hobart on 22 Aug 1889, aboard the White Star Line’s Coptic from London. All well-educated, they had travelled together in a first-class saloon. Oldest son Henry Foster (27) arrived with wife Blanche and infant son Francis Foster. Unmarried daughters were Jane Foster (26) & Frances Foster (23) and sons John Dowbiggin Foster (22) & Askin Morrison Foster about to turn 21 on 23 Sep 1889 – the date set for all of them to inherit their father’s many estates. Following meetings with Foster’s Trustees in Hobart, they decided rather than splitting up the properties, the three sons, Henry, John Dowbiggin, and Askin Morrison, would operate as Foster Bros of Campbell Town. Henry Foster would oversee the estates around Campbell Town, John Dowbiggin Foster (1867-1926) would do the same with the massive Mersey-Deloraine Railway Co estate, and Askin Morrison Foster would go to Gippsland to take charge of eight estates there.

1890 ‘Armistead’ Estate Established

Young John Dowbiggin Foster (23) decided to divide their sprawling property across eastern Kentish into two sections. Firstly, he chose 3,400 acres of good, chocolate soil south of Kimberley situated between the Mersey, Dasher, and Minnow rivers which he named Armistead, after his father’s family estate in England. This he would develop into a profitable agricultural estate. Foster hired popular Latrobe architect F W Heaps to design the buildings for his model farm. A comfortable seven-roomed villa was erected on a rise, while just beyond it workmen’s cottages, storerooms, stables, a blacksmith shop & a slaughterhouse formed three sides of a square. Foster employed C T Wilson to manage this estate. Wilson proved to be a capable operator, and within three years his team of workmen had transformed Armistead into a productive farm – fattening cattle, grazing sheep, with 174 acres under cultivation. With the remaining 15,500 acres of the original land grant, John Dowbiggin  Foster would continue what his Trustees were forced to do, survey blocks off and either sell or lease them.  But early settlers were selective, and it took many, many decades to accomplish.

The progressive influence of young John Dowbiggin Foster was not confined to Armistead estate. At a meeting in East’s Hotel, Railton, on 22 Nov 1890 he was the driving force behind establishing the Railton Jockey Club and developing local horse racing. Upon being elected its first president, Foster made a handsome donation of £5/5/- to the Club and assured them their Flowery Marsh racecourse on Foster’s Estate would be fenced off for their regular use.

On 23 Mar 1892, John Dowbiggin Foster (24) married Elizabeth Leake (22), eldest daughter of the late Charles Leake of Rosedale, Campbell Town. Leake, who had died four years earlier, had his name given to Lake Leake after he constructed a dam across Kearney’s Bog to create Campbell Town’s water supply. The newlyweds only resided at Armistead for three years before moving in 1895 to the impressive Italian-styled villa Rosedale on Lake Leake Road, initially to help Elizabeth’s mother. It was there that John & Elizabeth raised their four children, and John became a leading Merino sheep breeder and prominent show exhibiter. Beside Rosedale, John Dowbiggin Foster acquired Windfall then Fairfield estates at Epping, where he died on 26 August 1926, aged 65. The year before his death he built St Andrew’s Church at Epping Forest for the local Anglican community. He named it after St Andrew’s College, Bradfield, England, where Foster had commenced his schooling. At his death, John Dowbiggin Foster’s wealth in Tasmania was valued at £97,274, and in Victoria a further £84,493.

Armistead Estate continued to be productive under a succession of capable managers. The most notable being Hon Ernest F Blyth (1872–1933), several times Warden of Kentish and 12 years in State Parliament. Blyth’s successor at Armistead was Arch Holloway who married Blyth’s daughter, Betty. Their son Barry, b1934 at Armistead, went as a youth to Papua New Guinea to become a patrol officer. In 1972, Barry was elected as the first Speaker of their House of Parliament and helped lead Papua New Guinea peacefully to full independence from Australia in 1975. When he died in 2013, Sir Barry Holloway CBE chose to be buried with his parents at Kimberley.

Henry Foster takes over Armistead Estate.

After John Dowbiggin’s death, the oversight of Armistead was taken up by his older brother Henry Foster (1862-1944) of Fosterville and Merton Vale estates, Campbell Town. Henry & Blanche had two sons, Francis Henry Foster (1888-1979) & John Askin Foster (1890-1918), & two daughters. Sadly, during WW1 Captain John Askin Foster was killed in France. Henry’s only surviving son, Francis Henry Foster, began assisting his father in managing the various Foster estates until Henry died in 1944 after which Francis inherited them all. Back in 1929, Francis Foster married Patricia Wood in Hobart where they raised two sons, Henry and William Foster, & four daughters. Following a visit to outback Queensland, Francis began purchasing land and company shares there. In 1937 he acquired a significant shareholding in the North Australian Pastoral Co Pty Ltd, which ran an estimated 120,000 cattle on some 45,000 square kms in the NT & Qld. An astute operator, Francis served as a Tasmanian MHA (1937–1941) and on several national boards before dying in 1979 at his home in Hobart, aged 91.

Six years later, in July 1985, Francis’s two sons, Henry and William Foster, the new heirs of the family fortune, made national headlines when, despite spirited competition from such notables as Kerry Packer and former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, these two Foster brothers increased their equity in the North Australian Pastoral Company to 51% to gain control. By 1990, the net worth of these Foster families was estimated to be over $40 million.

2003 Armistead sold – end of an Era

After 130 years, the Foster family finally sold their Armistead estate in April 2003. It had been running about 3,000 cattle and 20,000 sheep. Maybe its returns had not kept pace with the Fosters’ investment policies. In 2005, ABC News described Henry Foster as the wealthiest man in Tasmania. Armistead was sold to Gunn Ltd, who covered the Mersey and Dasher River valleys with miles of eucalyptus and pine plantations, but in Sep 2012, entered into voluntary administration. Though Foster’s massive estate has finally gone, as long as Railton has streets named Foster, Morrison, Dowbiggin, and Leake, perpetual reminders will remain of how this one family so greatly impacted early Railton and, indeed, the entire surrounding district for more than a century.

Next: Amos Langmaid 1809-1894