Around the junction of Stoodley Rd with the Railton-Sheffield Rd there are a lot of poplar trees, now the only visible signs of the small settlement that once existed there called Lowe’s Bridge. From among its pioneers, who enjoyed plentiful supplies of giant freshwater lobsters in surrounding creeks, here are the stories of four families:

Henry & Emma Cooper Family

About 1884 the first family to settle in Nook Henry & Emma Cooper (12chn) moved to Lowe’s Bridge, where they continued to purchase more properties. Married in Feb 1858 in Warwick, England, the newly-weds came to Tasmania around 1859. Their eldest child Henry Cooper Jnr was born at Evandale; their next four children near Dulverton, where they moved as early farmers. In 1869 Henry Cooper opened a track across the Badgers to the northern end of Nook where he had purchased a 200a bush property. On this property their sixth child, James William Cooper b1870, became the first child born in Nook, followed by their final six children. During his 15 years in Nook, Henry purchased nine more bush blocks, which he leased to tenants to turn into saleable farms. A liberal supporter of Nook Union Church, Cooper with others, ensured it opened free of debt in Feb 1879.

At Lowe’s Bridge, Cooper continued to speculate, buying another 10 properties between Dulverton and the Dasher Bridge at Claude Rd. At their new residence Home Farm, where Emma Cooper ran a small store, the Lowe’s Bridge Post Office was opened on 1 Dec 1886. Apart from developing farms, Henry Cooper was also interested in mining after coal was discovered on one of his Newbed properties. He had a great belief that a payable gold reef existed at the Minnow River and kept men prospecting there for some time. He also took a gold mining lease in some gullies that ran down the eastward side of the Badger Ranges. When Henry Law & Co commenced digging their infamous coal mine off the Railton Esplanade in Nov 1889, it was Henry Cooper, on behalf of Railton residents, who wished them well and hoped they would be amply rewarded.

In mid-life Henry Cooper began suffering from chronic joint pain and doctors prescribed ‘laudanum’ (an early legal form of opium) to which he became addicted. He ended up taking spoonfuls several times during the day and night. Together with a growing dependence upon alcohol, they eventually contributed to his early death. When he didn’t return home on 21 Oct 1891, Emma initiated a search for him. Two days later, he was discovered dead beside a creek aged 53. Post-mortem revealed death was due to ‘damaged liver, brain, and lungs’.

Of Cooper’s sons, most married local girls and became pioneering Beulah settlers before moving down the coast. In 1886 John Cooper (24) m Elizabeth Williams (19), in 1893 Stephen Cooper (25) m Martha Dodd (19), and in 1895 James Cooper (25) m Selina Shepheard. James built the new Beulah Hall that opened in Nov 1900. In 1895 Noble Cooper m Margaret Shepheard (18) who died aged 23 of inflammation of the lungs. Returning from Beulah, Noble bought a farm at Lowe’s Creek and in 1903 m Maria Tune, the only daughter of Mr. W.D. Tune of Railton.

Sam & Martha Oliver Family

Son of George Oliver from London, who was transported for life for stealing a £5 note, Samuel Frederick Oliver was b1845 at Avoca. In Oct 1869 he m Martha Clifford (22) at Cullenswood near St Marys and eventually had seven sons & two daughters. At the invitation of entrepreneur Wm Lade (St Marys), in 1877, Sam & Martha Oliver moved from Fingal district to become Lade’s tenant farmers for his two properties on top of the Stoodley Hill along the road to Sheffield. Here, Oliver continued to develop one of the first dairy farms in Kentish. Four years later, their small family moved to Redwater Creek, where Oliver took over Sam & Wm Winter’s (now in their 70s) sawmill and flour mill, until both mills were destroyed by fire in March 1887. For a short time prior to the opening of the new railway, Oliver also operated the horse-drawn trolley that ran between Latrobe and Railton. Sadly, in July 1882 Sam & Martha’s three-year-old son drowned when he fell into the swollen Redwater Creek. In 1883 Oliver was called on to build a schoolroom with a fireplace for local children, as the Wesleyan church was too cold in wintertime. He also purchased several properties and built houses on them. In 1888 the Sheffield mail coach collided with Sam’s horse and trap, breaking one of his trap’s wheels, which meant Sam and his companions had to continue on foot.

In 1891 Sam Oliver with oldest son Arthur Oliver (21) opened new sawmill at Lowe’s Bridge. It went well until the Great Depression hit and their hardwood and blackwood sales ceased. In Sep 1893 they sold out to Stephen Cooper. After this, Sam & Martha opened a small butter and cheese factory as Martha had previously won prizes for her dairy products,

sending their cheese as far as Hobart. In the 1890s, Sam Oliver, who years earlier had been on the local school board and local board of health, became chairman of the newly formed Railton Road Trust. It was Oliver who found himself cajoling the government over its failure to replace Dick Lowe’s bridge. Towards the end of 1897 Oliver resigned and purchased the prestigious 320a Roland Park property at Upper Beulah. Sam (77) died there Jul 1922 and Martha (76) died 6 Dec 1923. Their chn: Arthur b1870, Albert b1872, Lewis b1874, Theo b1877, Elvin b1879, George b1881, Lilah b1884 (Mrs Fred Eade), Lydia b1886 (Mrs Arthur Hodgkinson), & Fred b1888.

Downes (James) & Annie Barnard

In the mid-1890s, prominent Launceston wine merchant Downes Martin Barnard (1842-1918) with his son Downes James Barnard (1870-1934) bought two properties with cottages at Lowe’s Bridge, on opposite sides of the Sheffield Road; hence, the hill rising up  from Lowe’s Bridge towards Railton was called Barnard’s hill. Educated at Launceston Grammar School, James spent his first working years in the insurance industry but wanted to try farming. After Emma Cooper, the postmistress, was widowed, the Lowe’s Bridge PO was transferred to the home of Downes James & Annie Barnard (7 chn) from July 1897 until it was closed in 1903. When it reopened in 1905 in another location, it was renamed the Stoodley PO. James Barnard was also appointed a JP, often being called upon for court work. In April 1900, a striking example of canine instinct occurred when James Barnard purchased a Scotch Collie dog in Launceston and had it sent by train to Railton. Collecting the animal from the dog box on the train, Barnard placed it on a chain and began his return to Lowe’s Bridge. Part-way home, the dog slipped its leash and disappeared. The next morning the dog was seen at the railway station prior to the morning train to Launceston. A few days later, Barnard received a telegram to say the dog had turned up back at the previous owner’s home. Evidently, it had followed the train tracks back to Launceston.

In 1908, when the new Kentish council chose its first Council Clerk, Downes Barnard narrowly missed out to Alan D Soutar. Barnard sold out in May 1919 to Noble Cooper and joined the staff of the Examiner Newspaper. After a lengthy stint there, he spent four years in an administrative position in Siam (Thailand). Returning to Tasmania, he was employed by the Taxation Dept, but died suddenly in June 1934 aged 63, trying to push his car out of a bog. His only two sons had both died well before him.

James & Agnes Dodd Family

The Dodds took up land on the Badgers side of Dick Lowe’s Bridge about 1877, where the last of their three sons & 10 daughters were born. From Flintshire, Wales, young James was sentenced in Mar 1849 to 10 years transportation for stealing some cheese, ham, and bacon. Arriving in Hobart on 19 Feb 1853. he was immediately assigned to work for cattle king Charles Field, of Whitefoord Hills. On 26 April 1858, James (29) married Scottish lass Agnes Liddell (21) at Torquay (East Devonport). Their first 12 years were spent around Sassafras, followed by seven years farming the 100 acres on the corner of Main St and Kermode St, Sheffield that Duncan Monroe had purchased from John Powlett, proprietor of the Sheffield Hotel. At Lowe’s Bridge, James bought his own farm and became a road contractor, occasionally partnering with Walter Butler.

In 1890, when the Railton Road Trust hived off from the Kentishbury Road Trust, James Dodd topped the pole and continued to do so for several years. He also joined the local Board of Agriculture. James Dodd Snr (74) died in 1903, Agnes Dodd (84) in 1921. Their married children: Mary b1860 (Mrs Sam Pointon 8 chn), James Jnr b1862 m Fanny Riley 14 chn, Agnes b1863 (Mrs Wm Bannon 5 chn), Hannah b1863 (Mrs Geo Edwards 17 chn), Emma b1867 (Mrs Wm Harris 6 chn), Ellen b1870 (Mrs Tom Riley 4 chn), Hugh b1870 m Rose Singleton (5 chn), Jessica b1872 (Mrs Geo Kerrison 3 chn), Martha b1874 (Mrs Stephen Cooper 11 chn), Jane b1877 (Mrs Wm Porteus 11chn), and Sarah b1878 (Mrs Alf Thornton 10 chn).

Incredible Wheelbarrow Marathon

In 1935, a wager between a hotel proprietor and a garage mechanic in Beechworth, Vic, over wheelbarrowing a man for several miles commenced a craze for wheelbarrow marathons that spread Australia-wide. Locally, in Kentish the challenge was taken up by Sheffield resident Thomas Howe (in his 40s) to wheelbarrow James Dodd Jnr (47) from Sheffield to Railton and back. With an altitude difference of 700 feet between the two towns, it was estimated the challenge would take about 7-8 hours. However, after training under veteran cyclist Ernie Lockwood, Tom Howe, father of six children, demonstrated remarkable speed and endurance, accomplishing this 15-mile feat in 4 hrs, 53 mins, 35 secs. Upon crossing the finishing line and eating a good meal, followed by a hot bath, Howe appeared quite fresh, after his remarkable feat.

The event took place on Sat 27 July 1935, with both pusher and sitter taking their positions at the starting point in front of Abbott’s Hotel (cnr Main & High St) just before 8am. James Dodd fitted neatly into the barrow, comfortably seated on an air cushion. Despite the early hour, and a hard frost on the ground, about 150 people had gathered to see the journey begin. Precisely at 8am, George Conroy, president of the Homing Club, started them on their journey with Percy Betts as timekeeper. Howe strode off at a brisk pace, maintaining 3½ mph to Butt’s corner (Kermode St), a little over a mile from the start. A half-mile rise of about 1-in-20 slowed the pusher, but, on the level again, he put on the pace and reached Tyler’s corner (3 miles) in 45 minutes. Commencing the downhill section, his followers were forced to jog to keep up with him as he passed the water-trough at 8:55am and Dick Lowe’s Bridge at 9:07am. From here only his trainer Ernie Lockwood and officials continued following him.

A short 1-in-18 rise up Badger Hill slowed his pace, but Howe made the most of the down grade, passing the Catholic Church at 9:31am and reaching the halfway turning point at Bennett’s Hotel, Railton, at 9:40am. This 7½ mile distance was completed in 1 hour 31 minutes without any stops. Several hundred people were there to welcome the travellers while Mrs. Bennett very generously provided contestants and officials light refreshments in her hotel. Half an hour off was allowed at Railton, but Tom Howe gave himself and James Dodd another 20 minutes, which was added to his travelling time.

The return trip was commenced at 10:36am at a brisk walk. The Catholic Church was passed at 10:55am, the foot of the Badger Hill at 11:05am. Then Howe faced one of the two hardest sections of the journey: a half-mile length of road rising with a 1-in-16 grade. The second stop of the journey was made at 11:08am, and from that time till the finish eight more stops were made, a total of 10 in all. An inveterate smoker, Howe had purposely left this tobacco behind. Although tempted by some to take a smoke, it was George Hamilton’s offer of oranges that proved particularly welcome to the pusher. Dick Lowe’s Bridge was reached at 11:33am and water-trough hill was successfully tackled, the top being reached at 12:22pm. Howe was still going strong as he passed Tyler’s corner at 12:27pm, Ridley farm at 12:50pm, and Butt’s corner at 1pm to cross the finish line at Abbott’s Hotel at 1:24:35pm.

An amusing incident, providing a lot of laughter, preceded their actual finish. A few hundred yards from the end, another pusher and sitter in a wheelbarrow entered the race ahead of Howe and Dodd and arrived first. They were two fancily dressed youths, posing as a hard-pressed admirer pushing along his very fashionable young lady as she held up her parasol. When the real barrow crossed the line, spontaneous cheers erupted for the contestants. President of the Sheffield Football Club Wilf Waldron heartily congratulated both Thomas Howe and James Dodd on their outstanding performance and endurance. More cheers followed, then the singing of For They Are Jolly Good Fellows. At the invitation of Albert (Dick) Abbott, licensee of Wilson’s Sheffield Hotel, the pusher, sitter, and officials sat down to a celebratory dinner in the hotel.

Next time: Stoodley Hill & Historic Water Trough