For early pioneers, the longest and steepest hill between Railton and Sheffield was the 1-mile-long Stoodley Hill. Commencing at Lowe’s bridge, it rises steeply out of a notorious river gully and curves around a sharp rocky cliff face to climb up the long, windy slope through the bush to make a final and very steep ascent over its summit, where it joins Kentish’s track coming from Kimberley, three miles east of Sheffield.
From the first day, this original section of steep track came in for a lot of criticism. Several pioneers put it like this: ‘It is no credit to the surveyor, whoever he may have been, who first laid it out; for a worse route would have been hard to find, the grade on some of the hills (there are many of them) being about 1 in 7.’ ‘This hill is the terror of all who use the road, and no wonder, for there are gradients of 1 in 6 and 1 in 9 on it.’ ‘This track rambles up and down hillsides in the most erratic manner, sorely trying to vehicles, bullocks, and horses.’ and ‘The road is utterly impracticable, being literally a succession of bogs.’
Over the decades, this Stoodley Hill has had various names depending on who farmed on top of it. In the 1880s & 1890s it was known as both Turnbull’s Hill and Andersons Hill; Alexander Turnbull owned the farm on the east side, while Albert Anderson leased the west-side from Wm Lade. In the early 1900s it was Smith’s Hill, at other times it has been called Scrub Hill or Water-trough Hill.
As you might expect, Stoodley Hill was the scene of many accidents. On 10 April 1888, whilst the Sheffield-Railton coach was travelling down one of the sharpest descents, its brakes failed, forcing the horses into a gallop. Rounding a sharp corner, the speeding coach collided with a three-horse team coming up from Railton. A shaft on the coach broke and its sharp end penetrated the flank of the leading horse. The unfortunate animal was so badly injured that it was subsequently put out of its misery. But later it was given credit for slowing the coach and saving several ladies on board from serious injuries.
Eight days later (18 April 1888), the driver of the afternoon coach had another narrow escape. Passengers included Police Commissioner Maxwell and three well-known legal luminaries from Latrobe – Messrs. Hall, Inglis, and Sykes – returning from Sheffield’s monthly Court of Requests. They had all been representing different parties in a court debate that had lasted three hours. Now they were travelling home together in the coach. Coming down a very steep decline, again the brakes failed to work, forcing the horses to take fright and bolt. After negotiating several bends at a recklessly high speed, the driver eventually regained control of the horses and slowed the carriage. But his terrified passengers refused to ride any further and chose to walk the rest of the way to Railton. Ironically, exactly a month later, following the May 1888 meeting of Sheffield’s Court of Requests, the same legal gentlemen were returning home to Latrobe in the same coach. Also with them this time was James Dooley MHA, who was defending a charge against one of his tenant farmers. Coming down Andersons Hill, one of the horses stumbled upon a rolling stone, and, in doing so, dislodged the brakes. With the coach again picking up speed at a particular place that was very precipitous, an accident seemed imminent. But the same horse that stumbled now tripped and fell, jerking the coach to a grinding halt. Needless to say, the legal men and their local MHA quickly jumped out and no doubt were devoutly thankful for their deliverance. All hands were required to push the coach back uphill to release the injured horse. The coach was too damaged to continue, so these trouble-plagued lawyers were forced to hitch a ride with a passing chaise cart to Railton, arriving just in time to catch the last train to Latrobe.
Afterwards, the coach owner was publicly criticized for not using a breeching strap. “This hill is the most difficult one in the colony, and on no other coach road has a driver greater need for a breeching strap.” A breaching strap is a strong leather strap that passes around the hindquarters of a horse while attached to both shafts of the coach. It enables horses to hold back with their hindquarters a brakeless carriage or wagon from speeding.
Following these and other accidents, the Inspector of Roads George Simmons surveyed a long deviation around the side of the hill with broader bends. This enabled vehicles to travel with much greater safety, as the steepest gradient was now 1 in 15. Civil-engineer Thomas Townshend of Formby was awarded this contract and completed the task over 1889/90. From Birmingham, England, Townshend’s first job in Tasmania was working for A H Swift on the Mersey-Deloraine tramway, until Swift became bankrupt. He next worked on the Don tramway to Lower Barrington before becoming engineer to the Mersey Marine Board. Over the years, Townshend was responsible for much of the harbour’s wharf development. When the Railton Road Trust separated from the Kentishbury Road Trust in September 1890, their agreed dividing line on this road was at the junction of Stoodley Rd. So, Kentishbury Trust got the notorious Stoodley Hill, while Railton Trust got the dangerous sharp corner and troublesome Dick Lowe’s Bridge.
The first mention of a water-trough existing on the Stoodley Hill refers to a fatal accident that occurred there on Sat 3 Dec 1881. That morning, John Whyte left Latrobe to return to his new mining job at Mt Claude. He was accompanied by William Taylor, a young lad looking for his first job. They had ridden in railway trucks as far as Railton and were now walking to Mt Claude. Young Taylor had a gun with him, and the careless way he handled it showed John Whyte how inexperienced he was and caused him to repeatedly warn Taylor to be careful. Reaching the water-trough, Whyte was taking a drink while William Taylor stood leaning with both his hands and his upper chest over the end of the upturned gun. Suddenly, it exploded. Taylor fell to the ground, bleeding profusely from both hands and chest. Whyte pulled him onto the grass and went for help. Nearby farmer John Weston heard a gun go off with a tremendous report, as if it had been over charged, then saw Whyte running towards him. When they returned to the water-trough, the boy was dead. Weston stayed with the body, while Whyte, with another nearby farmer, Albert Anderson, went for the Sheffield police. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death, but the foreman, on behalf of the jury, brought before Coroner Douglas ‘the great and growing evil of boys being allowed to have guns, and hoped he would bring it before our Parliamentarians with a view of mitigating this evil’.
The origin of this water-trough is revealed two years later by a traveller who wrote in Dec 1883: Ascending Turnbull’s Hill, we came upon an instance of thoughtfulness by an old pioneer in the form of a log watering trough placed on the roadside, where a drink is most acceptable for man and beast. This thoughtful act is due, I believe, to Mr Harry Dawson, one of the earliest pioneers of Kentishbury, who some years ago moved to New Zealand.
Born 1835, John Henry (Harry) Dawson was the oldest son of Launceston Town Surveyor Wm & Ann Dawson (10 chn) and had been educated there prior to the family moving in 1853 to the Mersey Coal Mines. About 1855 Harry Dawson m Ann Thompson of Torquay, and in May 1859 they were amongst the first pioneers to select land on the Kentish Plains. Harry purchased 100 acres along the Old Paradise Road, joined later by brothers James and Ebenezer Dawson. On 30 Jan 1869, Harry led an excursion party of early settlers up Mt Roland to explore its top and camp overnight to witness the sunrise before returning the next day. Harry Dawson served on the Kentish Road Trust between 1869-1872, becoming chairman 1870/1871. He was also Chairman of the Kentish School Board 1870-1873. About 1874, Harry & Ann Dawson and family sold out and followed his parents and younger siblings to Invercargill, NZ, where he continued to farm. So, when did Harry Dawson set up this log water-trough on Turnbull’s Hill? If it were during the year he served as chairman of the Road Trust in 1870/1871, that would be just over 150 years ago.
Some 20 years later, after Townshend’s deviation road was completed in Sept 1890,
Dawson’s original water-trough was no longer on the side of this new road. So the Kentishbury Road Trust had Sheffield builder Gideon Robson replace it with a larger wooden structure for £7/10/-. It was not unusual during these times for steam traction engines to replenish their water supply as they passed this trough, and even for their gangs of sweaty workmen to wash or jump right in to cool off. By the turn of the century, the road traffic had increased so much that even this larger trough couldn’t cope with the demand. Often several bullock teams waiting for their turn in the bend of the hill would completely block the road. In 1906, the water-trough was found half-filled with mud and needed cleaning out.
In March 1911, Kentish councillor Tom Butler called for the erection of a new concrete water-trough. The tender of Fred Betts of Railton was accepted at £8/4/ for the erection of a strong 18ft concrete water trough. It was designed so the new trough overflowed into the old one, making (for a limited time) two available drinking troughs. The need for the trough diminished as motor transport gradually replaced bullock and horse teams and herds of cattle and flocks of sheep began to be transported by trucks. Interestingly, in recent times, with much faster motor traffic, these broad bends around this hill have had to be reduced and straightened again to avoid major collisions. Over time, this historic water-trough from our pioneering past became neglected, overgrown, and forgotten until 2021, when, once again our intrepid team of local enthusiasts at Kentish Walks unearthed this 111-year-old concrete icon on what could now be called Water-trough Hill.
Stoodley Railway Line 1913-14
After decades of local arguments over various routes, in March 1908 Railway Commissioners from Hobart spent a full week inspecting the whole area and interviewing nearly 60 local businessmen, mine managers, and farmers. They ruled out going via Barrington and ending at Wilmot. Instead, they recommended a direct route from Railton to Roland via Sheffield but suggested putting in a deviation to avoid the railway crossing on the Stoodley Hill just below the water trough. This suggestion was not taken up.
By 1913 the acquisition of private land was complete, and 2000 tons of plant and equipment had arrived. Many of the 300 navvies employed for the construction camped on the farms of David Steers, Noble Cooper & Downes Barnard at Stoodley. Barnard’s 7-roomed house had to be moved 50 yards, as it had been built right on the planned railway route. In Nov 1913 Alf Green (47) was sitting in his tent at Stoodley, waiting for a windstorm to abate, when he heard a nearby tree cracking. He rushed outside just as a large tree smashed him into the ground, killing him instantly. The Stoodley railway siding was strategically placed to become the main outlet for produce grown at Beulah, Shadyside, and Bridle Track Rd. It consisted of a platform, shelter, and loading ramp. Later, a linesman house was added.
A week or so before the railway line was officially opened on 6 Nov 1914, a rather sensational incident occurred at the very rail crossing they sought to eliminate. A Stoodley resident was returning home from Sheffield on his bicycle. Coming down the steep hill past the water-trough, his bicycle chain came off and he had no way of braking or stopping. Careering down the rough metal road at great speed towards this new railway crossing, the frightened rider was horrified to hear the shrill whistle of an approaching train. Panicking, the terrified rider just managed to steer his bicycle off the road down into a huge heap of blackberries as the train crossed the road in front of him. The Railton-Roland railway line closed on 5 Nov 1957, only 43 years after it opened.
Failed Soldier Settlement Scheme
Strangely, Stoodley’s undulating valley that divides Sunnyside’s productive plateau with another highly fertile plateau just east of Sheffield, proved to be inferior second-class land. This was not recognised by the original selectors, who unwittingly worked their hearts and souls out to clear and cultivate their Stoodley selections. While some pioneers did reasonably well, others were forced to give up. In the 1880s, many local farmers made better money working the various mines in the backcountry until the Great Depression closed them. Gradually, much of Stoodley became overgrown with blackberries and plagues of rabbits. During 1918 John Leo and James Richards sent two tons of rabbit carcases by rail to the new Cool Storage Co in Launceston. Ironically, at the end of WW1, this land was acquired by the Government Closer Settlement Board for returned soldiers, but again proved to be quite unsuitable and unprofitable until it was re-developed as the Stoodley Forestry Plantation.
Next time: Stoodley’s Forestry Plantation Story