In August 1826, when explorers Henry Hellyer and Clement Lorymer trekked south from Frogmore, they followed the Mersey River upstream to Native Plains, where, directly south of them, lay a long, low, heavily timbered tier. Seeing it basking in the bright sunlight, they named it ‘Sunridge’. By the time Surveyor James Calder climbed it, over 30 years later, on 23 April 1858, timber cutters had already been through it. He said: I ascended the steep slope of Sunridge,…the view from there is extensive, particularly toward the north, where the whole shore that lies between Emu Bay and the Tamar Heads is presented to one’s view.  This hill-top settlement, which preceded Railton by nearly 20 years, was first called Sunnyside in 1872. Thomas Hainsworth commented, ‘the pleasing name of Sunnyside is as descriptive as it is pretty, for the land rises to kiss the early summer sun while most humans are still slumbering in their beds’.

In 1870 the eastern half of Sunnyside and Stoodley districts was surveyed off to become part of the colossal Government grant of 21,680 acres made to the Mersey & Deloraine Tramway Company. Within a couple of years, it had been taken over by Foster’s Estate and for the next 20 years most of it remained in a state of virgin bush. Only the western half of Sunnyside’s elevated plateau was sold to early settlers. So, let’s look at these pioneers who first cleared its rich, dark chocolate soil to produce some phenomenal crops that initially had Sunnyside being called ‘the breadbasket of the Railton region’.

Sunnyside Road runs in an easternly direction from opposite the present-day Railton school, where the boundary line runs between the Parish of Dulverton and the Parish of Stoodley. After half a dozen houses, Gambles Rd leads off to the right. Originally, the first halves of Gambles Rd and Goss Rd formed the first cart track to Kentish Plains until the present route was adopted.

Gambles Rd (Shipp’s Rd) – Henry & Lelitia Shipp bought 50 acres well up this road about 1871. Both had been convicts who married at Evandale in 1844. They had one son and six daughters. Five of their children became prominent pioneers of Sunnyside. They included Mary Ann m George Webb in1860, Caroline m Thomas Shepheard in1870, Eliza m Wm Jones in1875, Henry Jnr m Agnes Sloane in1878, and Susan m James Richards in1881. Several of their daughters were given the middle name Lelitia. The Shipps retired to Latrobe, where in June 1885, Henry Shipp after hurrying to catch the new train service to Railton, stepped on and promptly died of a heart attack. Son Henry Jnr took over the farm, but eventually moved to Ulverstone. The road was named after Andrew & Gwen Gamble who farmed there in the 1950s.

Goss Rd was named after descendants of pioneering twin brothers Robert & Thomas Goss who came from Longford. George & Mary Ann Webb (10 chn) purchased 100 acres along this original road to Kentish Plains about the same time as Mary’s parents Henry & Lelitia Shipp bought their adjacent property. An ex-convict, George Chummy Webb was one of Field Bros’ well-known stock-riders who spent summers back at Middlesex and winters at Kimberley Ford operating Field’s barge to transport their cattle and early travellers across the fast flowing or flooded Mersey River. Chummy was also a prospecting friend of Henry Weeks. Mary Ann became blind at age 27 because of some disease. Two years later, her small child was playing near an outside fire when her clothes caught alight. Though her mother heard her cries, she could not find a way through the fence to reach the child. George (66) d June 1888 and Mary Ann (84) d Aug 1927. All the Webb daughters married Dawkins.

In the early days, the road junctions of Sunnyside, Richards & Harwicke Rds formed the centre of the Sunnyside community. First settlers here were Wm & Ellen Scanlon (12 chn), Wm & Catherine Riley, and Joseph & Mary Richards. Joseph was a blacksmith who moved from Longford in 1870, hence Richards Rd. Their son James & wife Susan (Shipp) Richards (9 chn) succeeded his parents about 1900 and built their new home, Navarra. The last descendant to leave this original property 140 years later was Roelof & Helen (Richards) de Boer.

Hardwicke Rd (previously Nottages Rd, Weeks Rd)

In 1862 John & Ann Nottage with sons John Silvester (29) and James (26) purchased bush blocks at the beginning of this road, becoming the original settlers of Sunnyside. John Silvester Nottage (31) married Margaret Kennedy (24) in Westbury in Sept 1864, and the following year, in Oct 1865, their daughter Gertrude became the first child born in Sunnyside. The first deaths were Ann Nottage (63) in 1866 and her husband John (75) in 1877. With no churches or cemeteries, both were buried on their farm. With John Silvester Nottage’s excellent English education, he became Railton’s first real leader. In 1879 he was involved with the erection of the first Wesleyan church and day school at Redwater Creek, followed by 17 years serving on the Railton Road Trust. But Nottage’s most notable legacy was that he became Tasmania’s greatest, newspaper novelist. Starting in 1874, he contributed numerous novels to the Examiner Weekender & Daily Telegraph for a period of 27 years. Some novels ran for nearly 30 weekly episodes. Now he is recognised nationally amongst the most prolific newspaper novelists in Australia.

Further along this road, Henry Weeks of Native Rock Road purchased three properties, later taken over by sons Henry Jnr, Thomas, and Edward. Separate articles featuring both the Nottage and Weeks families have appeared previously. This road continues in an easterly direction across Sunnyside, then turns sharply left to descend the hill through Weeks’ 188-acre property and the adjoining 200-acre property of Samson Crocker to join the Railton-Kimberley Rd, then known as Crockers Road. Crocker had been part of his father’s coach building business in Launceston until they went broke. Samson & Ellen Crocker came to Sunnyside in the early 1870s, and with Nottage & Weeks played an active part in establishing the first school at Redwater Creek. In mid-1884 Crocker moved to Latrobe and joined George Wakeham coach & carriage business. The following year, Henry Weeks Jnr married Emily Crocker and began farming his father’s 188-acre farm. The road got its present name from Henry & Vera Hardwicke & descendants who lived near the end of this road.

Up Sunnyside’s Notorious Hill

From Hardwicke’s corner, Sunnyside Road originally climbed a long & very steep hill. Locals claimed: ‘there is not another like it on the NW Coast’. One traveller even died attempting to walk up it. Trying to take a loaded wagon down this hill was extremely dangerous. If the brake slipped, or anything gave way, the driver would lose control of his horses and was destined for disaster. It was the scene of several serious accidents, including that of Mrs George Burke and Mrs John Brown.

About halfway up this notorious hill, Irish couple Murtagh Snr & May (Shanahan) Sheean were the first to take up 55 acres. Their three grown sons: Edward, Murtagh Jnr & Joseph, as Sheean Brothers, purchased several additional properties. After their father died in 1897, Murtagh Jnr & Nellie (Jubb) Sheean (8 chn) took over the original property. Murtagh Jnr was appointed to the first Railton Road Trust, becoming chairman in 1905.

In 1910, after Wm & Lily Broxam (10 chn) moved from Avenue Plains to Sunnyside, the infamous hill was renamed Broxam’s Hill. After years of complaining and a petition claiming the hill was as steep ‘as the roof of a house’, road contractor Charles Plumbley of Stoodley won the contract for cutting down the grade of steepness from 1 in 2 to 1 in 7. The Broxams eventually moved to Flowerdale.

Near the top of the hill, Martin Snr & Mary Ann Spillan (sometimes spelt Splane, Spellane, or Spillane) purchased 52 acres on the west side. From Tipperary, Ireland, Martin Spillan had been one of the army officers in charge of convicts aboard the Lady Kennaway, arriving in Hobart with his wife and young son Martin Jnr in June 1851. Two more children were born in Tasmania: Joseph Spillan and Margaret (Mrs Mark Richards). Sadly, Martin Spillan Jnr had a young daughter burn to death after her clothes caught on fire. After Mary Ann Spillan (80) died in Apr 1887, Martin Snr left the farm to live in Devonport. Opposite the Spillans, David & Emily Jeffrey from New Ground took up 48 acres, but eventually moved to Seaview farm at the Don.

Corner at the Top of the hill

On the western side of this sharp corner, young couple James & Elizabeth Gove from Launceston took up 88 acres about 1870. Despite his crops looking well in 1872, James Gove had been despondent for some time over having to postpone a repayment on his loan. In Dec, James journeyed to Latrobe with neighbour Wm Jones, where, apparently, Gove purchased some arsenic. Upon returning home, he took some with water and went to bed. By 10pm, he was dead.

Across the road on the opposite corner Matthew & Catherine Maloney (11 chn) were among the first to arrive in Sunnyside, buying two properties. Born in Killarney, Ireland, they had married in Westbury in Aug 1858. Their first five children were born within five years. Sadly, Matthew lost Catherine (47) to tuberculosis in 1875 and his oldest son John (17) to scarlet fever the next year. His sons Matthew, Michael, James & William all purchased additional properties around Sunnyside & Shadyside.

Along the Sunnyside Straight

William Snr & Elizabeth Jones (5 chn) selected their 50-acre bush property (now 391 Sunnyside Rd) in 1871. Born in Denmark in 1827, William arrived in VDL as a sailor aboard an English trading ship in 1852. He joined the police force and spent 20 years stationed in various parts of northern Tasmania. In Aug 1856 he married his first wife Elizabeth Boyd in Evandale and had one son Henry b1858 & four daughters. Sadly, three years after settling in Sunnyside, Elizabeth Jones (38) died of peritonitis in Nov 1874. William Jones (48) had employed a house servant named Eliza Shipp (27), and 10 months after his wife’s death, they married on 23 Sept 1875 in the home of her parents, Henry & Lelitia Shipp at Sunnyside. William’s second family with Eliza consisted of two sons William & John & six daughters. Jones was involved with building the first Wesleyan church & schoolroom at Redwater Creek and was on the first local board of education. Wm (80) died on 4 Sept 1907, Eliza (76) on 14 June 1926.

William’s eldest son Henry Jones (16) commenced working at Winter’s sawmill at Redwater Creek in 1874. He frequently walked miles through the bush where Railton township now stands, searching for their bullocks. When Winter’s horse trolley began carrying provisions and passengers over the old railway line between Railton & Latrobe, Henry was one of the drivers. In Dec 1878 Henry Jones married Martha Wells and resided for a time in the old, unlicensed Kentishbury Inn at Langmaid’s lime quarry. Later, Jones became an overseer in charge of cutting a clear route for Redwater Creek to run through Railton township. Henry took up butchering, which his son Henry Jnr continued. Henry Jones Snr served on the Railton Road Trust and the new Kentish Council for 26 years. In Oct 1935 he died during a meeting held in the Railton Hotel. His two sons from his second marriage, William and John, continued to farm at Sunnyside. The old farmhouse still stands today.

Across the road, John & Mary Jane Brown (6 chn) took over the farm that John’s father Thomas Brown had acquired from George Ingram of Sassafras. Thomas came from England to VDL about 1847 and died suddenly at Sunnyside aged 66 in April 1885. His death certificate shows he used ‘Thomas Brown’ as an alias; his real name was Jeremiah Ryan. In 1915 John & Mary Brown had three children in the Mersey Hospital with diphtheria, while John himself was in Dr Rattan’s hospital, Sheffield, recovering from appendicitis. John bought the first car in Sunnyside – a 1923 canvas-topped Studebaker. He couldn’t have been too confident driving it, for the following year, on 27 Sept 1924, John Brown (60) was killed while riding his horse into Railton. Coming along Leake St, his horse took fright and bolted. It dashed him against a tree, severely injuring him before throwing him off onto a stump. He died later that day in the Devon Hospital. His brother Daniel Brown became the Warden of Circular Head.

Up until about 1890, Sunnyside Road ended at Jones’ and Brown’s properties, as both their eastern boundaries butted up against the land then owned by Foster’s Estate. There was a striking contrast between Jones’ and Brown’s farms, both with handsome homes, convenient outbuildings, and almost stump-less cultivated paddocks, and Foster’s Estate, which had remained virgin forest. Today, both these prime properties are part of Mark & Roslyn Lambert’s Mersey Vale Dairies.

It was these first settlers in Sunnyside, plus a similar number on the Newbed plateau opposite, that led to the development of the little township of Redwater Creek in the gully between the two districts. First, Winter’s sawmill and flourmill, then the first church built in 1879, followed by the school, a store/Post Office, blacksmith, bakery and Mrs Tucker’s Temperance Hotel that provided accommodation and hot meals for the travelling public at any hour of the day or night.

Next time: East Sunnyside, Shadyside & Stoodley