A Walk Back Through Time – the Hobart Rivulet

Hobart has a fascinating colonial history which on many levels can be seen from the the buildings of the era, but they don’t really tell what life was like during that period. Wouldn’t it be great if you could go back through time and see Hobart and how the people lived? Well you can – sort of. No this doesn’t involve travelling back through time à la Doctor Who, but rather a short walk of just over 5.5Km (or 3.4 miles) return and a morning of your time.

Hobart Rivulet Park
Following Hobart Rivulet upstream from the city to the foot of kunanyi / Mount Wellington, this trail has a gentle uphill grade and is well suited to bikes and dogs on lead.

The starting point for our time travelling adventure is the Collins Way Car Park situated on the corner of Molle and Collins Streets. Walk through the car park to the start of the Hobart Linear Park and then follow the sign for the Hobart Rivulet Walking Track. The Hobart Rivulet was crucial to the establishment of Hobart as a city. Back in 1803 the Van Dieman’s Land colony was first established upon the banks of the Derwent’s eastern shore at what is now Risdon Cove. Its purpose was to a be a place where Nineteenth Century Britain could send its convict population and a defence against possible French colonial intentions in the region. Fresh water was a problem and after approximately twelve months the settlement was moved to its present location because of what Lieutenant-Governor David Collins described as ‘a run of clear, fresh water’ flowing down off of Mount Wellington (kunanyi, Unghbanyahletta or Poorawetter in the local aboriginal languages) into the River Derwent. The settlement, initially known as Hobart Town or Hobarton, was named after Lord Hobart, the then Colonial Secretary. From 1804 to the 1860’s the rivulet was Hobart’s primary source of drinking water, drain and sewer. Industry quickly established itself upon its bank using the force of the descending water to power the factories. In 1816 Robert Nash, was a miller who was convicted of breaking and entering (or B and E in the parlance) and had his death sentence commuted in favour of transportation for life to Norfolk Island and was then lucky enough to earn a full pardon and be moved to Hobart, established a flour mill near the Gore Street Weir. The mill had a short working life due to the high costs of maintenance and was closed in 1818 to be replaced by a windmill.

 

Hobart Rivulet
The site of one of the many sluices that were used to control the flow of the water so it could power the many factories that had set up on the banks of the Rivulet.

 

Milton House
Milton was originally the residence of George Wilson who settled in Hobart in 1831 with his family. Wilson opened Hobart’s first tobacconist and snuff shop. The house is a good example of Georgian colonial architecture.

 

After walking just over 500m you can see a rather nice specimen of colonial Georgian architecture on you right hand side. Milton House was originally built on a one acre allotment which was originally granted to George Wilson soon after his arrival in Hobart Town 1831. George Wilson was born in England in 1801 and he was, by trade, a tobacconist and snuff maker in partnership with H.B.Tonkin. Wilson was on his way to Sydney in 1831 with his wife and two daughters, but during his stopover in Hobart he was so taken with the colony that he decided to settle in Hobart. A few years later his partner arrived from England and they set up the first tobacco and snuff shop in Tasmania. Owning the colony’s first baccy shop was obviously a nice little earner for George.

 

Mount Wellington
Just before reaching Wynard Street you get the first uninterupted view of Mount Wellington.

At the 1Km point you get the first uninterrupted views of the summit of Mount Wellington if the weather is cooperating. By 1820 there were four or five tanneries operating along this stretch of the Rivulet. Leather was an essential commodity in the colony and was used not only for saddles, horse tack, belts, and shoes it also was used to replace metal in the manufacture of buckets and hinges amongst other things. Leather tanning is a water intensive process and after it was finished with it was returned to the Rivulet along with the tanning agents it had dissolved. Now there is only one tannery in existence which supplies leather to Blundstone the Tasmanian boot maker.

 

Hobart Rivulet Park
Until the 1860s Hobart Rivulet was the main source of fresh water for the new settlement and so the colony grew up along its banks.

Walk past the C3 Church complex, or if you’re in need have a drink at the Rivulet Cafe (open Monday to Fridays between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm) and on to Degraves Street. Here on your right is the Cascades Female Factory. Back in the penal colony days the male prisoners were segregated from the female ones and initially the women were held at the Macquarie Street Gaol. This was only seen as a temporary arrangement and the facility soon became over crowded. Between 1788 and 1853 around 12,000 women were shipped to Tasmania, mostly for what we would now consider petty crime and anti-social behaviour. But in 1823 it was a big problem and the Cascades Female Factory was set up as a workhouse and it remained in operation until 1856. There is not much left of the original buildings, just the matron’s cottage really, but it is worth going in and having a look. Take the tour and learn about what happened to these poor women and the depravations they lived with while there.

 

Cascades Female Factory
The entrance to the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site in South Hobart. The factory was essentially a workhouse where female convicts were held, educated, put to work and finally placed in indentured labour for the term of their prison sentence.

 

Cascades Female Factory
Just inside the main gate of the Yard 1. The guide is explaining what happened when the women first walked through the gates. This is where the women would be processed. The words on the wall are descriptions of the prisoners taken from their prison records.

 

Cascades Female Factory
The matrons quarters at the Cascades Female Factory. Originally built in 1850 the it was a simple four room cottage. Three of the rooms were assigned to the matron – the parlour, bedroom, and kitchen – the fourth was used messengers. It is the only surviving building from the convict era on the site.
Cascades Female Factory
The parlour of the matron’s cottage in the Cascades Female Factory.

On leaving the Female Factory keep walking up Degraves Street until you get to Cascade Gardens and the Cascades Brewery. The brewery was opened in 1832 as an adjunct to the Macintosh and Degraves Sawmills. The early history of the venture would probably make the basis of a good TV drama. Hugh Macintosh was a retired East India Company officer who migrated to Australia in 1824 with his brother-in-law Peter Degraves. Degraves was a bit of a rotter and scoundrel being a thief and an undischarged bankrupt. The law catches up with Degraves and from 1826 to 1832 he ends up in debtors prison. Macintosh does the right thing by him and dissolves the partnership and pays out the debts and then moves to New Norfolk to farm. Degraves on his release takes over running the brewery. All fairly amicable and straight forward at this stage. Unfortunately Hugh Macintosh dies in 1834 and his share in the business passes to his son William who was in Madras, India. The dastardly Degraves offers to buy William’s inheritance off of him and run the booming business himself. Degraves reneges on the deal and poor William dies a pauper in 1840. Degraves rewrote the history of the firm saying that he was the sole founder of the company and that remained that until 2011 when historian Greg Jefferys discovered the truth. The brewery is now owned by Fosters and produces a range of beers, homebrew, apple cider and non-alcoholic beverages including apple juice, blackcurrant syrup and carbonated beverages. The brewery has a visitor’s centre and runs two tours: the brewery tour which takes you round the brewery and have a tasting; the heritage tour takes you round the gardens and museum and it is more family orientated.

 

Cascade Gardens
Cascade Gardens. Autumn is probably one of the best times to do the walk as the tree leaves start turning a wonderful golden colour.

 

Cascade Brewery
Australia’s oldest brewery situated near the Rivulet, the stream that was the reason Hobart was built.

 

Cascade Brewery
Cascade Brewery

 

Coal Mines Historic Site

Coal Mines Historic Site
The entrance to the Coal Mines Historic Site on the Tasman Peninsula.

For the majority of tourists coming to the Tasman Peninsula the only reason visit is the Port Arthur Historic Site with its colonial convict history. Some will venture to Taranna for the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park, and a few others will head out to bush walk in the national park. Very few tourists head out past Salt River to the Coal Mines Historic Site on the North West of the Peninsula on Norfolk Bay.

Driving out through the little hamlet of Salt River I was struck by the beauty and serenity of the place. Even now in the Twenty First Century this is an isolated spot, it seems light years away from Hobart. How it must have appeared to the first settlers and convicts in early Nineteenth Century one can only surmise that it must have seemed like the very ends of the world and that home and family in England were something they would never see again. As I walked down the path into the site one could be lulled into thinking it was some kind of Antipodean Garden of Eden. There were Bennett’s wallabies grazing on the grass, small birds flew amongst the low-lying bushes, and a possum wandered lazily up to within a meter of me to check me out before shambling off to a nearby tree seemingly without a care in the world. This quickly evaporated as I started exploring the ruins.

 

Coal Mines Historic Site
The Coal Mines Historic site does not receive as many visitors as the Port Arthur site. Consequently the animals that live around the site almost appear to be surprised when the see visitors. This Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) took a good look at me before casually walking off along the ground seemingly without a care in the world. Tasman Peninsular, Tasmania.

 

The whole reason why convicts were brought here was to punish them. It wasn’t enough that they’d been sent to the Hell hole of Port Arthur and put to spirit crushing hard labour in horrendous conditions. No a new more terrible fate had to be used for those prisoners who bucked the regime. Coal was found here, if you walk along the beach you can see it just lying on the surface, smooth, black and shiny among the other pebbles lying in the sand. That meant that the seams would have been just below the surface which meant that you didn’t need complicated pit heads with lifts and pumping stations. All you needed were men with picks and shovels and a few people to supervise them. It must have seemed the perfect plan – put your trouble makers out to an even more remote spot, make them labour in incredibly harsh conditions with a horrific punishment system for those who wouldn’t toe the line, and then have them mine something that was needed badly in colony so that the scheme would pay for itself. Very ingenious. So in 1833 the coal mines were opened up. The interpretive panels tell of some of the heart wending stories of those who were sent there and the deprivations that they suffered. as I read more and more about the site the beauty of the location receded into the background and was replaced by story of man’s incredible cruelty to his fellow-man. Even in colonial times government was not capable of running an economic enterprise and making money, so in 1848 the mine was privatized, but the logistics of running such a business in such a remote location were so difficult that it was never economically viable and in just another ten years, 1858, the mine working were shut down. Some of the infrastructure was dismantled the rest was left to decay in the harsh conditions with the wooden buildings and fittings being destroyed by bush fires. The building which were constructed from stone fared better than those that were made from convict brick, which because it was not fired at high enough temperatures was soft and crumbly.

 

Coal Mines Historic Site
As you walk along the path the first buildings you see are the remains of the ‘the settlement’ or ‘square’. This was where the stores, the chapel, the prisoners accommodation and the punishment cells were located.

 

Coal Mines Historic Site
The reason that the site was established was coal. On the beach you can see lumps of coal just lying on the surface. The seams were not very deep.

 

Port Arthur, just down the road receives most of the tourist attention – and in many cases quite rightly so as the scale of the place, it’s location, and many of the buildings are still intact making it a tourist experience par excellence. But for me it is the Coal Mines Site that typifies the brutality of the convict era. It’s sole purpose was to strike fear into an existing convict population and to punish and brutalize them even more. Most of the colonial penal systems victims were people whose only crime was to try to alleviate the crushing poverty they were born into with criminal acts that were incredibly petty by nature – stealing food, stealing small items to exchange for food, vagrancy, non-payment of debt etc. Now nearly two hundred years later their history, their lives, their suffering has been made into a tourist industry to entertain people. What is even more puzzling is that in today’s Australia it is now considered very desirable to be able to show that you are descended from convict stock. Perhaps this should be something to ponder as we visit Tasmania’s convict heritage sites.

 

Coal Mines Historic Site
The Settlement at the Coal Mines Historic Site overlooks Little Norfolk Bay on the Tasman Peninsula.

 

Visitors to the site should take care to stay on the paths as some old shafts are still open and others have caved in leaving sink holes that unwary could fall into.

It’s All New

I had been in Western Australia for 26 years, and to be honest although I hadn’t seen everything in WA things were starting to feel a little stale. Now I’m in Tasmania and everything is brand new. A change in the environment has suddenly got the creative juices flowing.

Yesterday I went unto Woodvine Reserve. It is a farm that has been held by one family since colonial times and has now been gifted to the Crown as a reserve. To me it is interesting to see how nature is reclaiming the land and gradually traces of human settlement are disappearing. The farm building are largely intact as they show the changes that occurred for the owners over the life of the farm. But the fields, the boundary fences, the farm tracks are all being over grown.

 

Woodvine Reserve
The comforting warning sign on the entrance to the reserve.

 

Woodvine Reserve
Woodvine Farm was gifted to the Crown on the condition that it was to be made a reserve in order to protect the animals that lived there. Prior to proclamation, the property had belonged to his family since it was first settled in 1861.

 

Woodvine Reserve
The back garden of the third house to be built on the farm.

 

Woodvine Reserve
Daffodils growing in what used to be the front garden of the second dwelling to be built at Woodvine.

 

Woodvine Reserve
The first building on the farm was this slab timber structure which provided the first home. When a new dwelling was built it was converted into a sheering shed.

 

Woodvine Reserve
Peat soils support wetlands, button grass moorland and fern fields. Woodvine Reserve.

 

Woodvine Reserve
Waxlip orchid (Glossodia major) found in Woodvine Reserve. Tasmania, Australia.

 

Small Duck Orchid
Small Duck Orchid or Paracaleana minor. Also called Caleana minor in some reference books. Woodvine Reserve, Tasmania.