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The First Overland Journey

EARLY TASMANIA - THE FIRST OVERLAND JOURNEY 1807. (By "Historicus.")

Tasmania had been occupied nearly four years before the first overland journey was attempted between Hobart and Launceston, or more strictly speaking, between Launceston and Hobart. During this period, the settlements at these two places had made very considerable progress. Both places had been hampered by the want of suitable labour, by the difficulties of communication with other parts of the world, and by what must be recognised as a want of sympathy or attention on the part of the Imperial Government of those days.

The dominant note of what remains to us of the records of Collins and Paterson (the Lieut. Governors respectively of Hobart Town and Port Dalrymple), is a persistent pleading for further supplies of labour. This notwithstanding, however, both settlements had accomplished a great deal with the limited means at the disposal of those in authority. At Port Dalrymple, the original settlement as is well known was at the present site of George Town. After some short period here, Colonel Paterson decided to move his headquarters to Western Arm, and establish himself at a new settlement to which he gave the name of York Town. Later on, owing largely to the grievances of some Norfolk Island settlers, to whom Paterson had given grants close to York Town, the insufficiency of that locality was established, and "fresh fields and pastures green" were sought by the Lieut.-Governor. Paterson had no difficulty in selecting the third site, and his prescience in this matter, his third, last, and luckiest attempt at founding a staple settlement, is borne eloquent testimony to by the widely recognised surrounding beauties of Launceston. For it was was a point about midway between the lower end of Charles street and the Cataract bridge that Paterson's first boats landed to permanently establish Launceston.

During these periods of evolution, parties had penetrated to considerable distances from the settlements in the north and south. The military officers of Paterson's establishment, Captain Anthony Fenn Kemp, and Lieutenants Piper and Anderson, had effected considerable discoveries on either side of the Tamar, and other parties had followed the courses of both the North and South Esks, discovering, those fertile plains and valleys, which, described by their discoverers as being "park-like and extremely rich," reminded them of the English counties whence they came, and laid the foundations for those rich settlements in the vicinity of Longford.

At this time considerable jealousies existed as between the Lieut. Governors north and south, and this condition probably accounts for the fact that so many years elapsed before an attempt was made to bridge the gap between the two settlements. It was on February 3, 1807, that Thomas Laycock, a lieutenant of the New South Wales corps, left Launceston to pioneer the overland route to Hobart. If Laycock kept a journal of his journey, there is no evidence of the document being extant. There is, however, a statement by Laycock setting the details of his famous journey, but from internal evidence it is certain that this statement was written subsequent to the date of the trip.

On leaving Launceston, Lieut. Laycock had with him a party of four men, and he carried sufficient provisions to supply each man of the party for three weeks. Setting out in a southerly direction he travelled "for about 12 miles" through a country which he describes as being "moderately woody with fine herbage." He crossed the South Esk and slept on the banks of the Lake River, very nearly, if not exactly, on the site of the present town of Longford. On the next day, he followed the windings of the river for several miles, and finding that it took a course too much to the east, he left the river and arrived at the foot of what he describes as "a large body of mountains." This is Mount Kington, and he reports that he passed through a "gentle rising country well wooded and apparently, good land." The third day he ascended the mountains and performed a fatiguing journey along very steep and rocky sides. He complains that the mountains were largely composed of "large loose stones with fine timber, but no herbage."

On February 6 he passed down the valley between Miller's Bluff and the Great Western Ranges. Of this part of his journey he reports that "the best proof of the difficulty of our passage is that it took me more than five hours to go three miles." Persevering, however, he again reached the Lake River, where he camped, and on the following day discovered Woods' Lake. He describes this as being a large sheet of water nearly circular in form, and guessed it to be about 12 miles in circumference. Next day he reached Clyde River, and camped on the site of the present town of Bothwell. Following down the river and cutting across country for a distance of nearly 25 miles, he reached the River Derwent on February 9, at a point about three miles above New Norfolk, or, as he describes it "to the westward of where the saltwater flows." He reports that in his journey this day, he traversed fine grazing land. He camped on the Derwent that night, and on the following day journeyed towards the east in order to avoid the hills which he said came down on to the river, and travelling southwards again, camped near Bridgewater. On this day he reports having observed a number of very fine pine trees. He states that he did not measure them, but judged them to be "from five to six feet in diameter, and upwards of 100ft. high." One imagines that the worthy lieutenant's eye for measurement was not as good a quality as the perseverance which enabled him to accomplish so successful a journey.

On the following day he continued down the river, and reached Herdsman's Cove, which as everybody knows is the point at which the River Jordan enters the Derwent. Here he met Mr. Samuel Bate, the Judge Advocate of Hobart Town, who lent the explorer a boat in which he reached Hobart. That Mr. Laycock was glad to reach his destination after so adventurous a journey may be gathered from his eulogy of the welcome he received at Hobart. "Nothing." he writes, "could exceed the kind attention I personally received from Lieut. Governor Collins, and from the officers at the Derwent during my stay of four days at that settlement, nor was there anything for myself or party that was not most liberally supplied for our journey back." He was worth the hospitality thus bestowed on him, for inside of nine days he had accomplished a journey through unknown land, through many obstacles in the heat of a warm summer, and over a distance which a later and more direct road covers in 121 miles.

On February 16, Laycock left Hobart Town, returning by water to Herdsman's Cove, and thence more or less retraced his steps. He kept more to the east of his southward route, and was very much impeded by the weather and bush fires. In this connection he writes,- "The weather was so hot. and the country on fire, that on the third day I could not proceed at all." The gallant lieutenant struck the Lake River and carried north with him some very fine limestone from a chasm through which the river ran. On February 21, he again slept on the site of Longford, where he he camped on the 3rd instant, and reached Launceston at 10 o'clock on the morning of the 22nd instant.

The journey was a notable achievement, carried out in the quiet workman like manner usual with the pioneers of a century ago. It was the means of opening up country in central Tasmania, which shortly afterwards became famous for producing the best fleeces in the world. On his return to New South Wales Lieut. Laycock was granted a block of 520 acres of land at Cabramatta in New South Wales. This gift was conveyed by Lieut.-Governor Foveaux, and, the date it bears is November 21, 1808. 1

  • 1. EARLY TASMANIA - Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954) 21 May 1921: p5 (DAILY)
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