When James Hope (53) bought the corner block on Main St, Sheffield and West Nook Rd from his younger brother Henry (Harry) Hope (40) in 1895, it was a stroke of genius. James could now build on this prime site at the intersection of Sheffield, Barrington, West Kentish and Nook Rd, his huge new three-storey flour mill becoming the dominant landmark in the Kentish district for almost 80 years. The second eldest son of Scottish immigrants David & Janet Hope, young James (23) remained in Deloraine when the rest of his pioneering family moved to Kentish in 1866. After learning the flour milling trade, in 1871 James (29) married Susannah Harding (22) in Deloraine and two years later began managing Samuel Shorey’s flour mill where 9 of their 10 children were born. In 1889 James built a water-powered flour mill on the Don River opposite the cemetery one mile out of Sheffield and brought his family to Kentish. Within a few years, his growing business had exceeded this small mill’s capacity and he had to look for new opportunities. This is the fascinating history of the four generations of the Hope family who built and operated this big new mill.

James (1844-1922) & Susannah Hope

Commencing in mid1895, James’ brother-in-law, local builder Wm Jeffrey, began building the massive mill measuring 55ft wide by 60ft long. He completed it in April 1896. James Hope, helped by his two sons William (21) & George (18), imported the latest machinery from America. At first the 20-horsepower engine was steam driven from a boiler that took 6ft-long logs. Later an oil furnace was purchased from Melbourne. Located on the ground floor, it drove the main shafting, pulleys and belting for the machines upstairs. On the second floor was a pair of Cornelius rolling machines (the first of their kind in Tasmania), one corrugated roller, a wheat scourer and a separator. The third floor held two round flour dressing machines, two oat and barley cylinders, two bran and pollard dusters, wheat screens, etc. Originally, bags of wheat were winched up to the third floor; but later they were emptied into a large hopper on the ground floor that fed the wheat into open metal cups on a vertical conveyor belt taking them to the top floor. On the way down, the wheat was ground between the steam-powered Cornelius rollers to produce the flour, which was sieved four times through special mill silk. Whilst the mill was being erected, Wm Jeffrey also built a substantial family home next door at 5 West Nook Rd for James & Susannah Hope and their 10 children, most of them then teenagers.

Ten years later, the new mill had also become too small. Every bit of space on the ground floor was packed to the ceiling with bags of flour. Over the summer of 1905-1906 James Hope enlarged the back of the mill to increase the total floor space by 50%. Other improvements included a bag lifting machine, installation of acetylene lighting, and fire and burglar alarms fitted in the mill to ring in his private house. However, not everything ran to plan. In Oct 1905 Mrs Amelia Morse of Paradise called at Hope’s Mill for a bag of rolled oats. With many buggies looking the same, her purchase was placed in the wrong buggy which she didn’t realise until she got home.

Early in the new century both of James’ sons married: in 1902, William Hope to Margaret Braid of West Kentish and in 1905, George Hope to Evelyn East, one of two dressmakers from Sydney who worked for Thomas Clarke’s Clothing Store (later Slaters of Sheffield).  Along with building the new storage, James built a house next to his homestead, at 7 Nook Rd for William Hope. For George, James built one of the most up-to-date bakeries in the north of the state, employing H Symes as baker and George as manager. It opened in August 1907, but its location was not ideal for townsfolk to regularly walk down the Mill Hill to get their bread. So in 1909 James Hope (62) built a new baker’s retail shop and residence in the town at 45 Main St. He & Susannah moved there whilst George & Evelyn Hope took over James’ original house at 5 West Nook Road.

In 1912 the Hopes were forced to stop milling local flour as imported Victorian flour became more popular. This caused George Hope to move his family to Launceston where he became head miller at Monds & Affleck. James and remaining son William modified their machinery so they could concentrate on cleaning other grains and crush them into bran and pollard. To do this, in 1913 another huge 60ft x 30ft grain store was erected where workers processed up to 2,500 bags a week. In the early hours of 15 August 1915, a fire destroyed their new bakehouse at the rear of Hope’s Mill with its modern baking machinery. With no bread to sell, James sold the retail shop in town and returned to his old homestead at 5 Nook Rd. By this time he was 73 years old, yet James chose to buy his first T model Ford car. All their lives, James, Susannah and family were active members of the Sheffield Presbyterian Church where James served as church elder. Susannah Hope (70) died 24 June 1919 and James Hope (78) died suddenly at home on 24 June 1922. Both were buried in Sheffield Cemetery.

William Hope (1875-1938) & (1) Margaret (2) Annie Hope

In a popular social event on 21 May 1902, William Hope (27) married Margaret Braid (29) in the home of her parents Wm & Ann Braid of Braeside, West Kentish. Fifteen months later, Margaret gave birth to their son Robert J (Bob) Hope, but seventeen days later, Margaret tragically died of blood poisoning on 27 Aug 1903. As a result, baby Bob was raised by his grandparents James & Susannah Hope at 5 West Nook Rd. On 6 Nov 1905 William then married Annie Smith, daughter of Henry and 2nd wife Mary Smith at Springfield, just along the road at 71 West Nook Rd. Afterwards, William and Annie moved into the new house his father had built for them at 7 West Nook Rd, where their three children Ellen, Allan & Leslie were born.

William bought one of the first motor lorries in the district, a T model Ford truck with only three gears and a travelling speed of 15 mph. He began regular deliveries of flour to all country stores as everyone did home baking. Over time, he developed a fleet of six lorries carrying produce and stock to market in the days before farmers owned their own motor vehicles. Some of Hope’s lorries had seats that could be fitted on their trays to carry sports teams to their various matches and picnickers to scenic places like the Bluff or Forth Falls. Another progressive idea William Hope had was to become the local agent for the Shell Company, distributing petrol, kerosene and oil to country stores and farmers all around the Kentish district. As these flammable fuels were sold in drums and tins, they had to be stored in a specially constructed fireproof building, well away from the mill. This explains the mysterious windowless concrete bunker-like building situated in the present mural park at the beginning of Main St, Sheffield. In August 1931 William and staff feared the worst when they watched a light plane make a brief inspection of his back paddock, then land behind the flour mill, but all was well. The pilot with a photographer as passenger were making the most of a lovely clear day and only wanted more fuel. William Hope was appointed a JP in Oct 1923 and was patron of the Sheffield Rifle Club and secretary of the Oddfellows Lodge for over 30 years. Like his father, he was a Presbyterian church elder and a self-taught musician who enjoyed gathering his family around their organ to sing in four-part harmony. In Jan 1931 William Hope purchased the now vacant block at 31 Main St, half-way up Mill Hill, which formerly contained his uncle Wm Jeffrey’s large, comfortable home, and Frank & Doris Smith’s boarding house until destroyed by fire two months earlier. There he built a house for his son Allan. When William began to lose his eyesight in 1933, he and Annie moved to 43 Main St, opposite the Sheffield Hotel, where Dr Wm Firth began his medical practice. William died sitting in the barber’s chair at Sheffield on 30 April 1938 aged 62. Three years later Annie Hope (63) died in June 1941. Both are buried in Sheffield Cemetery. The business was left to his two sons R J (Bob) Hope and Allan Hope, but during the lean years of World War 2, Allan and his family moved to Devonport where Allan died 18 Jan 1955 aged 46.

Robert (Bob) J Hope (1904-1972) & Alice Hope

As mentioned above, after his mother died, Robert was raised by his grandparents James and Susannah Hope at 5 West Nook Rd, where at age 14 he began working at the Mill. In 1929 Robert courted Alice Cross, a Sheffield schoolteacher from Burnie staying in Frank Smith’s boarding house. After marriage, Bob and Alice Hope moved into 7 West Nook Rd where they raised two children John & Barbara. Bob Hope continued the grain processing but expanded his fleet of lorries to become general carriers, distributing Shell oil products, carting farmers’ produce to the wharves and hauling pine logs from the Stoodley pine plantation. On 10 April 1944 one of Hope’s lorries was being driven down Mill Hill by Kevin von Stieglitz when local farmer George Bye hustled a flock of sheep through an open gate out onto Main St. Unable to stop the lorry in time, Kevin ran into the flock, regrettably killing 10 sheep. As the ‘trucking side’ of the business grew, in 1948 it became necessary to build a workshop with a heavy-duty hoist to service these trucks. In May 1946 R J (Bob) Hope was made a JP. Like most Hopes, he was a good golfer and for many years the top shooter of the Sheffield Rifle Club. Robert James Hope (68) died 8 April 1972 and Alice Maud Hope (84) died 4 September 1987. Both are buried in Mersey Lawn Cemetery, Spreyton.

John Hope (1932 –  ) & Judy Hope

John began attending the Sheffield school, when it became the ‘first Area School’ in Tasmania. When man-power was short during WWII, as soon as John got home from school, his father would leave him in charge of the mill, whilst he went off delivering in his truck. Upon leaving school, John was still too young to drive so he began servicing his father’s trucks. At 19 John went off on a working holiday to NZ but later returned to help develop the mechanical repair side of their trucking business. Gradually John expanded into servicing all kinds of farmers’ vehicles, his first client being Ray Duff with his 1947 yellow Ford V8 truck. During the 1950s, the popularity of Holden cars was such that John once serviced 34 consecutive Holden cars without seeing any other model. John soon showed his prowess in rifle shooting and golf. Commencing in 1958 he remained secretary of the Sheffield Rifle Club for 60 years. Twice he was a member of the state rifle team and four times coach. He was also a founding member of the present Sheffield Golf Club, serving as president several times.

In May 1963 John Hope married Barrington belle Judy Smith at Barrington. Judy attended the Devonport High School where she became head prefect. She began playing hockey when she was 14 and represented the state aged 17; this included playing games against NZ & USA. Judy became a physical education teacher, first in Hobart then at Devonport High School where she successfully coached various hockey clubs. When she married John, she gave up teaching to help with the business bookwork. In 1963 they built their house at 25 Main St where they raised their two children Stephen & Suzen.

In 1967 John and Judy Hope opened a modern Shell service station on the opposite corner to the old flourmill, which had gradually become unsafe and in 1974 was demolished.

In 1975 Judy coached several Sheffield hockey teams and went 10 years without a loss. Six of her proteges were in the state team, two subsequently awarded Australia’s Best & Fairest. Judy was also an active member of the Sheffield Golf Club, where in March 1986 she holed in one. John became a founding member of the Kentish Association of Tourism in September 1985 whilst Judy remained a regular model for Slaters Fashion Parades that raised money for various charities. In 1991 Hope’s Service Station was the first business in Sheffield to become computerised. In 1995 they sold their Shell service-station to Norvac P/L who made it a Mobil station. Since retiring, John and Judy travelled a lot, but still live in their Main St house where last April John celebrated his 90th birthday.

Mill Corner Redevelopment

As part of the Sheffield Township Enhancement Project, Hope’s Mill Corner has recently been given a makeover. The council in cooperation with the Kentish Garden Club and the Mural Committee has enhanced this area to provide a pleasant new entrance to our Town of Murals.

Next time: Kentish on Fire (1) Panic in Paradise – 5 Feb 1898