Railton’s Industrial Pioneer

Think of Railton and you think of the massive industrial complex Cement Australia which dominates the northern approach to the town. Before that, it was Blenkhorn’s five-storey crushing plant and limeworks that stood as the grand sentinel, guarding its northern gateway. And the original settler who pioneered these colossal industries was ex-convict Amos Langmaid when, in 1860, he purchased a 50-acre block in the centre of this rich limestone country to become the first resident of Railton.

Born 19 Oct 1809 in the small village of Branscombe, East Devon, England, Amos Langmead was one of eight children born to John & Sarah Langmeade. At age 10 he became an apprentice shoemaker, but eight years later Amos was convicted of ‘housebreaking’ on 21 March 1827 and sentenced to ‘transportation for life’. After being held in a ship’s hulk for a year, on 25 March 1828 Amos was put aboard the convict carrier Bengal Merchant which had called into Plymouth enroute from London to VDL. He arrived with 162 other convicts in Hobart on 10 Aug 1828.

Amos’ convict records state he was age 20, 5’6 high, had a fresh freckled complexion, brown hair, hazel eyes, with a small scar near the corner of his left eye. On the inside of his left arm was tattooed Adam & Eve and on the other arm Mermaid & Heart. They also show he received lashes and several periods in the chain gang for repeated insolence before his conduct gradually improved.

Becomes Launceston Boot-Maker

About eight years after arriving, as a passholder Amos was given the chance to marry and start as a boot & shoemaker in George St, Launceston. On 7 June 1836, convict Amos ‘Langmaid’ (24) married free girl Harriet Hill (24), dressmaker, in St John church, Launceston. In May 1838 he moved from his first shop into larger premises in Paterson St, recently occupied as a school, where he was encouraged to employ several young convict shoemakers. One was 11-year-old Jack Francis who later became Field Bros’ leading stockman back on Middlesex Plains. By 24 May 1839, Amos gained a conditional pardon, and on 31 May 1843, a full free pardon. He was now making good money and donated £2 towards building Trinity Church in Launceston. He also purchased two houses in Bathurst St which he rented out. During this period, Amos & Harriett had two daughters, both dying as infants.

Not all Amos’ convict employees were trustworthy. Two passholders were sentenced to a month hard labour each for falsely claiming they were ‘accomplished shoemakers’, when in fact ‘the shoes they made were unfit to look at.’ One convict was charged for stealing 10lbs of bacon from Langmaid’s house, while another was charged with attempting to rape Amos’ wife. One evening in June 1844, while walking in Brisbane St, Langmaid and a friend were brutally assaulted when two men attempted to rob them. When Amos produced a handgun, he was badly bashed in the violent struggle to gain control of it.

But Amos also had marital problems. On 1 Dec 1845, he published in the newspaper, for the first time, this notice: I hereby caution all persons giving any credit to my wife, as I will not be answerable for the same after this date. Amos Langmaid. Six months later, Dr de Dassel took Amos to court for the non-payment of his wife’s medical bill of £15/15/-. The Launceston doctor stated: ‘I have attended Mrs. Langmaid since 1838, for nearly eight years and charge 4s per visit’. This court hearing occurred while Harriet was six months pregnant with their only child to survive – Mary Harriet Langmaid b3 Aug 1846, destined to become a famous Australian actress.

On 15 October 1846, Amos began exporting boxes of boots to Victoria, which gave him the idea of moving to Melbourne, and in July 1847 advertised his intention of leaving Launceston. Whatever occurred in Melbourne we do not know, but three months later Langmaid had reopened his boot business in Launceston, saying ‘the climate in Melbourne did not suit his constitution’. 

But only a month later, on 16 Nov 1847, Amos seriously assaulted his wife Harriett in his boot shop, resulting in her going to the police. At the court hearing the following day, it was claimed Harriett went into the shop to ask Amos for 5/- shillings, which he refused to give her ‘because she had robbed him on previous occasions.’ Harriett became abusive and refused to leave the shop, even though repeatedly ordered to do so. Amos finally took to her with a wet leather strap, beating her across her arm until it was ‘black from the shoulder to the elbow’. The magistrate ordered Langmaid to keep the peace for six months, where upon Langmaid asked: ‘Your worship, does she intend on returning home?’ With great contempt, Mrs. Langmaid replied: ‘No! indeed, I shall never live with you again. Let me have my clothes, that is all I want from you.’

1849 Off to the Californian Gold Rush

The year following the discovery of gold in California in 1848 saw 300,000 people flock to San Francisco from all over the world. In Launceston the 520-ton David Malcolm was one boat chartered to carry Tasmanians there. When it sailed on 5 Sept 1849, steerage passengers included ‘Amos Langmaid and his wife’ with three-year-old Mary Harriett Langmaid. Initially, the Langmaids found lodgings at a boarding house, but the squalled conditions in this ‘unruly shanty town’ became absolutely appalling. Just under two years later, in July 1851, Amos Langmaid returned to Launceston alone, anxious to check on the two houses he owned in Bathurst St. His wife Harriett and daughter remained in California, where Mary Harriett Langmaid received her early education at the Convent of San Jose in San Francisco.

Amos re-opened his shoemaking business and formed a relationship with Hannah Hall from Hobart. He became restless, and, within a matter of months, Amos & Hannah moved to Melbourne. Amos must have assumed he would never see his wife again, for on 24 July 1852, Amos Langmaid (43) bigamously married young Hannah Hall (21) at St Peter’s Church, Melbourne. They were still in Melbourne when their first child, Arthur William Langmaid, was born 24 April 1853 in Collingwood, Vic. A year later, Amos & Hannah Langmaid arrived at Mersey River, where a coal mining boom had recently commenced. At an auction of 40 blocks in Tarleton on 15 July 1854, Amos purchased two allotments for £29 each and erected a cottage on one of them. Amos established his shoemaking business in Tarleton, where the following children were born: Alfred Tarleton Langmaid b31 Mar 1855, Clara Langmaid b5 Sep 1856, Amos Langmaid Jnr  b13 Jun 1857, Sarah Langmaid b5 Sep 1859, Annie Amelia Langmaid b 21 Nov 1862, and Louisa Langmaid b 4 May 1865.

Amos’ Daughter – Famous Australian Actress

Meanwhile, about 1856 Amos’ first wife Harriet (Hill) Langmaid, with her now 10-year-old, talented daughter Mary Langmaid, returned to live in Melbourne and even visited Tasmania. Despite awkward moments, everyone seemed to accept the new marital arrangements. What is truly intriguing is the sensational rise of young Mary Harriet Langmaid to become one of Australia’s favourite stage actresses.

Mary made her debut onto the Australian stage in Melbourne aged 15, taking minor parts. It was said ‘the financial insecurity in Mary’s home made it necessary for her to support herself from her teens’. She soon took the stage name Hattie Shepparde and began appearing in various Shakespearian plays as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing in Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Soon she was playing lead roles partnered with famous American actor Joseph Jefferson. Between 1865 and 1870, Mary Langmaid (now Hattie Shepparde) toured New Zealand with a group of Australian actors that appeared in ‘all towns that had a theatre.’ On her return to Australia in 1870, she soon acquired celebrity status in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, and Hobart’s Theatre Royal. Mary Langmaid (27) married English opera singer Henry Hallam on 8 November 1873 at St Jude’s church, Melbourne. Because of her husband’s heavy performance schedule, Mary went to her ill mother’s house in Melbourne for the birth of her first child. Tragically, on 22 September 1874, following this childbirth, Mary died of peritonitis, aged 28. Her funeral caused a sensation when 12 of her fellow actresses acted as pallbearers. Her mother, Harriett Langmaid (Amos’ first wife), died less than a month later and was buried in the same grave. The newborn daughter survived five months, dying in March 1875, and was also buried with her actress mother and grandmother.

1860 Founder of Railton’s Limestone Industry

Amos Langmaid continued to live at Tarleton with 2nd wife Hannah and his growing family. Discovering large limestone deposits north of Railton, Amos was the first to realise its potential value. As a boy, he had watched limestone being mined from the hills surrounding his village and burnt in limekilns with coal from Wales. This lime was used for bleaching, tanning leather, making plaster, and, when mixed with potash, an early form of cement. Amos sold his two Launceston houses and, between 1859-1861, bought three adjoining blocks (25 acres, 60ac & 120ac) in the heart of this limestone country, now the site of Cement Australia’s big quarry. He also bought a 50ac block on the eastern side of the present Railton-Latrobe Rd, 100m north of its junction with Cement Works Rd. This block he purchased in the name of his eight-year-old son Arthur Wm Langmaid, the 25 & 60-acre blocks in the name of five-year-old son Alfred Tarleton Langmaid. While retaining his boot-making business at Tarleton, he built a limekiln (coal-fired oven to dry the limestone) on his son Arthur’s block and taught him to be a lime burner. At first, the limestone was broken by a hammer, until a crusher was added. He also opened a split-timber inn, called by some Half-way House, for travellers coming and going between Tarleton and the Kentish Plains.

When the construction of The Mersey & Deloraine Tramway Co began in 1865, scores of navvies were employed, so Amos licensed his premises and named it the Railway Inn. For nearly a year, he did a brisk trade and his inn was advertised as the local venue for the election campaign of Hon John Davies in October 1866. But before that could happen, things suddenly turned sour. On 17 August 1866 Amos Langmaid was found guilty of stealing implements from the locked shed of the bankrupt railway contractor A H Swift at Railton station and got three months in Launceston jail. But worse still, Amos was also found guilty of slaughtering Field’s cattle in the bush behind his hotel and was given five years imprisonment at Port Arthur.

The effects on his family and business at Railton were dire. Amos’ 2nd wife Hannah was 35, their 3 oldest sons were Arthur 13, Alfred 11 & Amos Jnr 10. Arthur struggled to keep the limeworks going, Alfred and Amos Jnr tried to work the farm. One of Amos’ lime burning employees Elijah Hedditch Jnr (25) took over the Railway Inn. Then, tragedy struck again. At home on 2 June 1869 little Louise Langmaid (4) was burnt to death when her clothes caught alight in front of the fire. Later the Railway Inn was sold to John Ramsdale, who renamed it Kentishbury Hotel, Kentishbury Road, but then was refused a liquor license on the grounds that ‘the public house was in such a dilapidated state and short of furniture’.

After five years, Amos (62) was released from prison in 1871 and returned to Hannah and his now largely teenage family. The Langmaids burnt limestone for over 20 years. In June 1879, oldest son Arthur Langmaid (25) married Elizabeth Jeffreys (23) in his own house at the limeworks, where the first of their 16 children was born. In 1881 Arthur became the third member of Henry Weeks’ prospecting team, discovering the first silver-lead at Mt Claude, causing a mining rush. Arthur was awarded 800 shares in the Mt Claude Silver-Lead Mining Co. He leased the limeworks to brothers Henry & James Roughley and went mining. When that fizzled, he teamed up with Fred Cleaver to open Cleaver & Langmaid’s sawmill to cut timber for the new railway line. In June 1885, the Langmaids sold the limeworks to James Blenkhorn, who began to market lime as ‘the new manure for farmers.’ Arthur & Elizabeth moved to Waratah and eventually Wivenhoe. On 20 Aug 1881 Alfred Langmaid (26) married Elizabeth Castles (24) at Newbed, and eventually had 12 children. They farmed at Dunorlan, before moving to Launceston. Amos Langmaid Jnr, unmarried, died 2 May 1889, aged 31, from inflammation of the bowels. 

In the later 1880s Amos & Hannah Langmaid moved to a house in Railton and opened a boot-making business. He became a respected citizen, elected to the Railton Road Trust and local branch of the Board of Agriculture. Amos Langmaid died at Railton on 15 Aug 1894 of heart disease, aged 84 years. Some mysteries surround his passing. The informant for his death certificate was his 2nd son Alfred Tarleton Langmaid who gives his father’s age as ‘101 years & 8 days’. Incorrect, as he was 84. There is no record of where Amos was buried, neither at Railton nor anywhere else. What does exist is a memorial plaque set in a limestone boulder beside the original quarry along the Railton-Latrobe Rd, about 100m north of the junction of Cement Works Road. This stone commemorates Amos Langmaid as Railton’s pioneering founder of the longest-lasting limeworks in Australia.

Next: Henry & Priscilla Weeks