When Surveyor James Dooley was appointed to sub-divide the whole Kentish Plains into settlers’ blocks, he set up camp on Primrose Hill (off King St, Railton) in February 1859 to integrate all Wm Dawson’s earlier survey work onto his new charts. At this time Dooley selected two unnamed township sites for future development. From these he marked out a network of roads enabling him to subdivide the entire Kentish district. In time, these two unnamed town sites became Railton and Sheffield.
After the Mersey-Deloraine Tramway Co failed in 1872, both the rail and road corridor between Tarleton & Coiler’s Creek, including the proposed Railton township site, passed into the hands of Foster Estate and were not for sale. Thus, the first private land purchased was ½ mile south of the Railton railway station. This led to the little township of Redwater Creek developing to service the needs of Newbed, Sunnyside, and Stoodley. Later on, other early settlers began taking up land on both sides of the bush track all the way to Kentish Plains. It is this seven-mile (11km) section from Railton to Sheffield that now interests us.
Railton to Sheffield Road.
Over the next few months, we will follow this rough, uphill route to Kentish Plains, see how this deplorable track became today’s bitumen highway (still with its fair share of accidents), and identify the first settlers who cleared the country on either side of this road. To see where our journey is going, here is a quick overview: between 1875 & 1886, several changes were made to the original route out of Railton. Instead of travelling via Gambles and Goss Roads to Stoodley, the present route was adopted, providing a relatively flat two-mile run out to the base of the Stoodley hills. Then, for the next three miles, the road rises 700 feet in two separate steep hill-climbs. In olden times, all hills had their own names, because accidents frequently happened going down them, whilst coming up farmers often had to get off and walk, to ease the burden on their animals straining to pull heavy loads. The first of the Stoodley hills was called ‘Badger Hill’ or ‘The Badger’, being a spur off the range by the same name. Once over its top, the track descends down Barnard’s Hill into a hazardous ravine between two rocky outcrops where it crosses Dick Lowe’s bridge and immediately rounds a very sharp and dangerous bend. Once again, the road begins another long climb up passed an old water-trough and over the main Stoodley Hill (at different times called Turnbulls, Andersons, or Scrub Hill). Once on top of the hill, the road joins Kentish’s Bridle Track coming from Kimberley amidst a dense forest of large trees (called by Surveyor Calder ‘Forest of Arden’) which continues almost to the Sheffield township.
Atrocious Road Conditions for First Settlers
As this rough track was originally formed by timber workers hauling immense quantities of palings, slats, and shingles by bullock wagons down to the Ballahoo creek for shipment to the booming housing market in Melbourne, it was always in an atrocious condition. After every rain the hoofs of horses and bullock teams, pulling steel-rimmed wagon wheels, churned up the ground and cut deeper ruts into the mud. Venting their frustrations in letters to the newspaper, the early settlers wrote: ‘The present road is utterly useless in the winter and spring seasons. Mud reaches to the nave of the dray and the shoulders of the bullocks… No amount of flogging, or yelling, or coaxing the oxen prevails… Only solution is to empty the wagon, by carrying each bag of flour and sugar on your back further up the road, so that the bullocks can pull the empty wagon clear of the bog. For these reasons, the bullock teams often travelled together on their journeys to and from Railton so they could pull one another out. By 1890, when road conditions were much more reasonable, coach owner Elvin Atkinson records that he passed 89 different teams on the road in one day between Sheffield and Railton. Consequently, there were always accidents, some fatal, on this windy, steep, and dangerous stretch of road.
Farewell to Redwater Creek
As we commence this journey, we leave the Parish of Dulverton and enter the Parish of Stoodley. This began at Redwater Creek village, which continued to thrive and remained the hub of Railton until the 1890s. Even after the Post Office was moved in Sept 1894 to near the railway station, the religious and educational centre of Railton has remained where it always has been. It is interesting to note that the erection of the three churches in Railton all preceded their counterparts in Sheffield. Railton’s Wesleyan church opened in June 1879, Sheffield’s in Dec 1882; Railton’s St John’s Anglican in Oct 1888, Sheffield’s St Barnabas in June 1891, and Railton’s St James Catholic in June 1891, with Sheffield’s Church of the Holy Cross opened 31 years later in Nov 1922.
Anglican services began about Feb 1886 in Mrs Tucker’s store, and later in the schoolroom by Rev Hogg of Latrobe. St John’s church was built on land given by Sam & Wm Winter, who also supplied the timber. Six months after it opened, on Sunday 14 April 1889 Railton residents heard the tolling of its church bell for the first time. Local preachers included John Silvester Nottage, Sam Winter, and Wm Winter. For several years in the 1890s one parishioner would take his dog into church to sit beside him, which didn’t suit all the congregation. In 1953 the foundation stone of a new concrete brick church was laid on the same site as the previous church, largely due to the efforts of Ron and Ken Atkins. The church was built mostly by voluntary labour for a cost of £2,500. It was dedicated in July 1956 and consecrated in July 1962.Although offered for sale in April 2021, local parishioners have since chosen to keep St John’s operating as a church.
So many Catholic families settled in the Railton districts in the late 1880s that R Montgomery & Co, Don, won the contract to build St James Church for £314/7/6. The foundation stone was laid on 23 April 1890. In 1894 there was a failed attempt to commence St Aloysius Catholic school & convent in Railton. On 22 May 1910 the Archbishop of Hobart opened a six-roomed rectory, described as ‘one of the finest on the coast’, allowing Father O’Carroll to become the first resident priest for the Railton and Sheffield districts. In 2012 both the old church and rectory were sold to different buyers, the old church resold again in June 2021.
Railton’s First School
After building a Wesleyan chapel in 1879, early settlers were to build a public school for which the Government would supply a teacher. But it was such a disastrously bad season that building the school was postponed. So when Railton’s first teacher Benson Mather arrived from Hobart at the start of 1880, there was no school building. They were forced to commence school classes in the new Wesleyan chapel. This brought criticism because many children had to walk two or three miles, often arriving with wet feet and clothes, and then had to sit for five hours in a cold church without a fireplace. After three years, and still no school erected, the Government decided to close Railton at the end of 1882 and transferred its teacher to Bracknell. This caused an outcry from local settlers, who quickly engaged sawmiller Sam Oliver to erect a schoolroom with all haste. Six months later, in June 1883, Railton children were moved into this schoolroom with well-educated local settler John Silvester Nottage as temporary teacher.
Finally, in 1884 the Government agreed to build two new schools: one at Railton, the other at Sheffield. Joshua J Winter gained the contract for Railton, J G Pierce of Formby for Sheffield. Pierce also had to build a teacher’s residence at Railton. Both Railton and Sheffield schools were completed about Sept/Oct 1885, after which pupils were gradually transferred out of very inadequate facilities into these brand-new buildings, ready for the 1886 school year.
Demise of Winter families
No other family came close to contributing what Sam & William Winter and sons did in establishing the beginning of Railton. Arriving in 1868, they had the plate-laying contract for the first railway line to Coilers Creek. They erected the first sawmill in 1868, flour-mill in 1876, and generously gave land and supplied the timber for the first two churches. They became the largest local landowners, farming several properties, imported a modern steam engine, contracted for road works locally and along the coast, ran the first general store & PO, and engaged in civic and church affairs. Sam (79) single d1885, while William (83) d1893. William had three sons: Arthur (32) single d1874, Walter (45) died tragically in Waratah in 1888, leaving wife Maria & six young children in Railton, and youngest son Joshua J Winter, who dabbled in farming, sawmilling, building, and storekeeping. He erected the wooden tramway at the Mt Claude mines in 1882 and the Railton School in 1885. Joshua John Winter also liked the rhythmic rhyme to his name, for with wife Rebecca their nine children were named: Ruth Rebecca (1875), Deborah Daisy (1876), Julius John (1877), Leah Lydia (1879), Josephus Julian (1881), Cyrus Claude (1883), stillborn (1885), Darius David (1888) & Levi Lot (1890).
A cousin Harry & Martha Winter (8 chn) arrived from England via Adelaide in 1884, took over the sawmilling business and became very active in civic and Anglican church affairs. But the Great Depression sent most of them broke. William Winter preached his last sermon on 18 Sept 1892 and died a few months later. Joshua J Winter’s family moved to Penguin and then Deloraine. Harry Winter’s family to Needles, then Launceston. So, by the turn of the century, most of the Winters had left Railton.
Climbing Badger Hill
Joshua J Winter owned most of the land between Redwater Creek and up the side of Badger Hill. This section of the original road was very winding and steep, the scene of many accidents. One such incident occurred in May 1888 when Wilson’s coach was descending this hill towards Railton. When the coach driver John Ranahan began to apply the brake, it failed. Gathering momentum, the speeding coach hit logs, causing it to capsize and ended up a complete wreck. Several passengers were severely injured. Young Salvation Army officer Chas Tipper suffered head injuries and remained unconscious for two days. His wife Mary Tipper and three young children were also hurt, one picked up unconscious. The driver dislocated his shoulder when he landed on the road. In Feb 1909 a fatal accident occurred on top of Badger Hill when Lewis Johnson’s two sons Charles (17) and Clifford (22) were returning to Sheffield in a wagon with a team of bullocks. A fierce bush fire was raging and the smoke and heat so frightened the bullocks that they began to bolt down Barnards Hill toward Dick Lowe’s bridge. Young Charles the driver was tossed over the side, where the nave of a wagon-wheel severely crushed him against the bank. With internal injuries, he died that evening. Following behind Johnson’s wagon was Albert & Ellen Burgess in a cart. When they stopped to help, burning embers ignited Ellen’s long cotton dress.
Adjoining Winter’s property, Doug & Hannah Hope from Campbell Town bought two blocks of land, one on each side of the Sheffield Rd in 1909. On the eastern side, they cleared the bush into a 36-acre farm with orchard, while across the road, at the junction with Goss Rd, Doug built a blacksmith shop, where he soon had to employ an additional workman.
James Cable’s Sawmill
Various claims that James & Mary Cables operated a sawmill south of Railton in the mid- 1850s prior to coming to Kentish in 1860 do not stack up. Historical evidence shows this sawmill wasn’t built until 20 years later, in the mid-1870s. Leaving Scotland in 1854, young Cables spent time on the Victorian gold fields before coming to Launceston where he found work in a flourmill and married Mary Prosser on 6 Nov 1857. Early in 1860, James Jeffrey employed James Cables to clear his 210-acre block on the banks of the Don River, Kentish Plains, where on 7 Sept 1860 the first of Cables’ seven children was born. By 1865 James Cables had purchased half of Jeffrey’s block, which he paid off over the years. He also tried to build a flourmill driven by a water wheel. It didn’t prove very successful.
A decade later, small-time entrepreneur Joseph Lobley of Latrobe teamed up with James Cables to commence sawmilling south of Railton. They purchased 110 acres of splendid timber on the eastern side of the Sheffield Road, almost to Lowe’s Bridge. There they erected a steam-driven sawmill that drove both vertical and circular saws, as well as several workers cottages, and began operations on 20 May 1875. They were hesitant to invest more money until they knew whether the Tramway Company would get completed right to Deloraine. The following year there was an outbreak of severe dysentery at the sawmill, resulting in two deaths. Then, tragically, in January 1878 a bushfire destroyed the entire sawmill. The Lobley/Cables partnership was dissolved by dividing their 110-acre property in half. James Cables went back to his Kentish farm and, together with James Jeffrey, opened a steam driven flourmill further down the Don Creek which continued operating until 1884.
Next time: Solving the Mystery of Dick Lowe’s Bridge