Hobart to Huonville

From Walch's "Tasmanian Guide Book," of 1871:-

"The excellent road to Victoria (now Huonville), on the Huon River, planned by the Hon. Mr. Charles Meredith, late Colonial Treasurer, and mainly constructed during his tenure of office, enables parties to drive through magnificent scenery close to the 'Bower' (Fern Tree Bower), as it is sometimes called. Leaving their carriages at the Fern Tree Inn, they then pursue a path for a short distance, which leads to the 'Bower,' and thence to the wild, beautiful scenes beyond, where the bright, rapid streamlet comes gurgling nder the fringing ferns, that droop from its rocky margin, or, leaping out into light, flings its silvery threads in a glittering cascade over walls of perpendicular black rocks, o'er-arched by the great green feathers of the fern trees, which lean lovingly over, and are met by others springing from the opposite bank. The infinite and most exquisite varieties of small ferns, mosses, and lichens, which abound on every rock, stump, and log, interest the naturalist as keenly as their collective beauty and delicate tones of colour delight the artist. Many as are the scenes which visitors from other colonies eulogise and enjoy here, there are few persons who will not place their first acquaintance with this ferny ravine as one of the most memorable among their calendar's white days.

To this fertile and interesting district a most pleasant excursion can now be made with perfect ease, public conveyances being established on the excellent new road to Victoria, which passes through scenery of rare beauty and grandeur, nearly the whole distance. To travellers who have visited the 'Bower,' the first few miles of the way will be familiar. Beyond that point the forest vistas seem to gain in height and magnificence. Giant eucalypti on either hand life their spreading crowns high in the air, whilst their stems, of enormous girth, and straight as arrows, form natural colonnades beside the road, which has here been happily constructed with less invasion of the adjacent natural beauty than any other we remember to have seen. Even in driving past, our hands can from the carriage nearly. If not quite, touch the shrubs and fern trees, that so charmingly fringe and adorn the steep ascents, which rise on one side, or spring up-from the abrupt declivities, that slope steeply away on the other.

Here and there we find a 'clearing' not beautiful certainly, as yet, in its pitiless extermination of all natural beauty, and the sadly insufficient compensation supplied by artificial means but in some of these there are pleasant, hopeful-looking corners, where a few fruit trees are making robust growth in the deep, rich virgin soil, or where a heavy crop of grain or roots rewards tillage of the roughest description with liberal interest, and gives cheering promise for the future. Nowaday the dwelling of the pioneer householder, to whom such a little plot of land belongs, is primitive enough. A few slabs for walls, roofed with sheets of bark, which are kept in their places by logs or stones, and a chimney, whose top consists of an old cask, and even the lower part often made of palings, with a dabbing of mud inside, is a rather prevalent style of rustic architecture. A cow or two sometimes graze near, and there is sure to be one pig, if not a family, grubbing about after the preliminary picking over of the new earth. Rosy, sturdy, bare-headed, and bare-footed children push away their sun-bleached hair, and stare as we pass by; the father rests on his spade; the mother looks up from her wash-tub, stroking the suds from her brown arms, or wiping her brow with her apron, ready with a civil answer or a kindly greeting, if addressed.

But if our progress be made In summer, after a short experience of the shadeless road, which skirts these little farms, right pleasant Is It to dip again under the mighty colonnade of lofty trees, and enjoy the exquisite coolness and indescribable beauty of the uncleared forest. Looking down from the road, the eye luxuriates In a wide expanse of loveliest verdure. Countless fern trees form an undulating mass of graceful, feathery crowns, with hero and there an unusually lofty stem rising above the rest, lifting its dome of foliage as if in pride of pre-eminent beauty, whilst spires of shining sassafras shoot up in exquisite groups, and the towering eucalypti overtop the whole. In the spring the clematis often enfolds old trees as with a bridal robe of snowy flowers, the comesperma clusters and tangles over the brake ferns, looking at a distance as though a mantle of azure silk had been dropped upon them; pyramidal daisy trees gleam forth in a constellation of stars, the yellow goodenia, the ever lovely tea-tree, epacridae of every tint from white to crimson, plmeleas, correas and countless other flowering shrubs fringes the path by turns, whilst ferns, mosses, and lichens of wondrous beauty lurk In every dim, green dell to delight the explorer.

Suddenly, at a turn In the winding terrace-road, a grand cascade bursts on the view, pouring down a gorge of black craggy rocks In one Impetuous foaming torrent, which passes beneath the road, and plunges into the depths of a ravine beyond. The ebon-hued rocks, the volume of gleaming water, flinging off here and there sprays and threads of burnished silver as It rushes and roars down the almost precipitous chasm, and the grand sombre forest scene around, ought to tempt some worthy pencil to portray their glories.

Since the new road has rendered this fertile region accessible by land, numerous embryo settlements have either begun, or greatly advanced. A road, also planned by the lion. Mr. C. Meredith, Into the Sandfly Basin, remains as yet unfinished, but when completed, will afford access to a tract of forest abounding with timber, even superior to that so extensively worked In other parts of this district.

The Huon Road brings us to the young village of Victoria, on the north bank of that noble river, where travellers can find tolerable accommodation, or if desirous of even greater retirement than the village inn affords, can take up their quarters in the clean, homely little house at Ironstone Creek, a short distance lower down the river, and so placed on a high bank as to command extensive and beautiful views of the broad, majestic stream in two directions. 1

Howard Haywood In his "Visitors' and Colonists' Guide," of 1885, gave an interesting description of the journey through the Huon. Concerning the trip from Hobart to Huonville, he wrote: -

By coach this Is by far the grandest trip of the South, and looked upon by tall who come over to Tasmania, from the mainland, as the treat of the season. Gippsland, in Victoria, has many attractions, and reminds one of the grandeur of Maoriland, the lovely Mounts Lofty and Summit, of Adelaide. South Australia, overlooking the beautiful city of churches, is indeed captivating;. In the extreme; Mount Victoria, In New South Wales, with Its zig-zag railway and mighty chasms, and sparkling cascades, which AU one with awe, do not eclipse the magnificent surroundings of the Huon. A start is made from the British Hotel, that is, If we take the coach at 9 a.m.: the mails are called for at the Post Office, and, with a crack of the whip, away we start up Macquarie Street into Davey Street, and through to the Huon Road. The journey for several miles is all up hill, and Mt. Wellington is kept In view for a considerable time. The country passed through Is very wooded, and many settlers are now taking up the land, mostly for fruit growing. These hard workers send a quantity of firewood into the city; also obtain their living by splitting palings, shingles, etc. Many nice private houses are being built within a short distance of the city, and the spot I think bids fair to become a pleasant retreat in the summer for city business men. As the distance becomes greater from Hobart, so the scenery seems to be more beautiful, and the air refreshing. The road has been cut through a dense bush, and forms quite an avenue, which is made more lovely by the number of ferns that crow so luxuriantly on each side of the road. 2

"Animus Gratus. This stone is erected! by a few friends as a tribute to indomitable courage and perseverance, as displayed by Thomas Walton and Joseph Wilson, in pioneering this line of road from Hobart Town to the Huon. A.D., 1855. Erected March, 1878."

So runs the Inscription on a freestone memorial tablet, placed at the junction of the Hobart-Huon and Ranelagh Roads, near the Huonville Congregational Church, in gratitude to the principals who performed a feat perhaps unsurpassed in the whole annals of Tasmanian colonisation, when the stern and forbidding nature of the country, through which the Hobart-to Huon main road was forced, ls taken into consideration. How well they did their truly great task can be gauged by the fact that the route marked out by them ls traversed by the present road, with little, if any, deviation. The Walton and Wilson family names are still worthily represented in the Huon. Mr. George Charles Wilson, of Grove, who was born on September 10, 1850, ls a son of the late Mr. Joseph Wilson, mentioned above.

From Howard Haywood's "Visitors' and Colonists' Guide", of 1885:-

Fern Tree Inn, Huon Road. This inn is beautifully situated, commanding a good view of Mount Wellington, and is within easy reach of Fern Tree Bower and Silver Falls. There ls also good accommodation for visitors. Every attention paid, and charges moderate. Strawberries, raspberries, and other fruits to be had during the season. Visitors can leave town by morning coach, and return by the afternoon coach. Fare. 4s 6d. return, leaving Hobart Post Office 9 a.m. and Fern Tree 2.30 p.m., giving four hours at the Bower. Harriet Hall, proprietress.

In 1887, according to Middleton and Matting's "Tasmanian Directory and Gazetteer," Mrs Hall still had charge of the Fern Tree Inn. From the same source we learn that David Dunkley, Henry Dobson, Mrs. Margaret Herne, William Harrison, James Nowland, and Thomas Smith were also residing in or near what ls now well known as the Fern Tree district.

Walch's "Tasmanian Guide Book" of 1871 has the following Interesting particulars regarding the Fern Tree valleys:

Of these the name was, and even still is, legion, although the Increase of the town, and the yearly extending cultivation of its invirons, have obliterated many and many an exquisite gem of loveliness; and for bowers deep in verdure, tangled round with briar, shrub, and climber, and over-arched by sun excluding canopies of giant fern trees,
have only left a dry waste of dust and ashes, around the charred stumps of the poor departed-ferns. Another cause of Infinite mischief and destruction to these beautiful spots ls the exceedingly tasteless and senseless custom of cutting down the long fronds, or even whole fern trees, to be conveyed into town, and set up, or nailed up in sad, stiff, faded wretchedness, with the notion that such Goth-llke barbarity achieves what is called the 'decoration' of churches, ballrooms, flower shows, butchers' shops, and others. Few things in the world can be more beautiful than one of those stately, graceful plants in its native home, upspringing from the rivulet, that dances round its feet, and wreathed about with climbing and parasite ferns, and mosses of form and texture infinitely variable; the noble crown of giant leathery fronds, o'er-bendlng In palm-like grandeur, every curve and leaflet instinct with lines of beauty and tints of colour, which baffle art's cunningest skill to Imitate. To gaze upon it, and Imprint in on one's memory is an era in our use of eyesight, but to hack and cut it down, to abase and crush its glorious symmetry, bruise and break its delicate transparent pinnules, carry it away through drying sun and wind, and dust, and set it up, withering, fading, limp, and melancholy in the corner of a room or staircase as an ornament, is simply an act of cruelty and vandallsm. And how Intensely selfish it is !. For the short-lived gratification of a depraved taste, the person who thus robs of their beauty these exquisite nooks of the mountain forest deprives all his fellows of their rightful legitimate pleasure therein. We could point to numberless spots which, within our memory, have been shrines of perfect loveliness, where the fern trees lifted up their crowned heads above a wealth of lower growth, overshadowed in turn by loftiest forest giants: but scores of bazaars and ballrooms have been decorated since, and the glories of those sylvan bowers. after a few hours' sojourn amidst gas and tawdry gew-gaw 'ornament' have been swept to the dust heap, gone for ever: whilst, had a better taste prevailed, and charity to others held back the greedy hands from their work of wanton spoliation, thousands might now enjoy their loveliness, with the reverential ecstasy which a contemplation of God's divinely beautiful works awakens in all save, the lowest of our kind.

Dead and dying vegetation ls essentially sad and depressing, both in sentiment and effect, and it ls to us absolutely enigmatical how the Idea has continued to obtain that its presence in scenes of festivity can be other than repulsive. Its odour, too, is highly unpleasant, if not unwholesome. If adornments of cut flowers are desired in a room they should be so arranged as to I be preserved comparatively fresh by the Immersion of the stems in vases of water. Plants growing In pots may also be made very effective, arranged on stands, and occupying corners or other spaces In rooms or corridors, either with or without the addition of sculpture, which, amidst beautiful foliage, has so singularly refined and charming an effect. Flags, banners, and trophies of weapons are all suitable decorations for 'festive halls,' and exercise ingenuity in their graceful disposal. But let no one claiming to possess true taste, imagine that he can make good that claim by crucifying miserable fern leaves to wall or corner, spoiling the glen, bringing fusty, unpleasant odours to annoy the guests, and taking great trouble to do an unkind and a barbarous deed. 3

  • 1. KNOW TASMANIA - The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) 20 September 1929: p 3
  • 2. KNOW TASMANIA - The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) 21 September 1929: p 6
  • 3. KNOW TASMANIA - The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954) 2 October 1929: p 2