Uniquely Tasmanian stories
I am obsessed with the Tasmanian high country and west coast, its beauty, its people and its cultural landscapes. How have we portrayed it, how have we used it, how should we conserve it? I love the stories of highland people, but also the peaks, tannin-stained red rivers, ancient rainforests and glacial valleys that have intertwined their lives.
On the Ossie: Tasmanian osmiridium and the fountain pen industry
Millions of words flowed from the serpentine hills of western Tasmania. The Waratah and Adamsfield districts produced ‘point metal’ osmiridium, used to tip the gold nibs of fountain pens. For a time in the early 1900s Tasmania had a world monopoly on point metal ‘ossie’—an alloy much more valuable than gold. Sent to New York and London to drive Waterman, Swan, Sheaffer, Parker, Onoto and Conway Stewart pens, Tasmanian osmiridium became a signatory to startling world events. It also bolstered family budgets at home. To be ‘on the ossie’ was to have the chance to escape poverty and drudgery. Like gold strikes across the globe, Tasmania’s rare earth quickened diggers’ pulses—and, astonishingly, inspired a challenge to Hollywood dominance of Australian cinemas.
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Sarah Bell, née Danby (1803–85), was born in London, England. After migrating to New South Wales, she married George Bell at Bullhill, near Liverpool, New South Wales, in 1834. The couple had three children—Sarah Jane (1836), Walter Stephen (1837) and Ann Danby (1839)—before relocating in Launceston, Van Diemen’s Land, in 1839 in order to operate a school. Ann Danby Bell died in Launceston in January 1840, but the couple had their youngest child, George Renison Bell, at Bothwell later that year. Sarah’s husband, George Bell, died in Hobart Town in 1852. In January 1855 her elder son, seventeen-year-old Walter, was sent to live at Port Arthur in hope of improving his health. Sarah visited him there in April of that year.
11th of 4 mo. I have been ill for a week, chiefly occasioned by my going to Port Arthur to see my dear Walter; whom I found considerable improved certainly, but still not equal to the accounts I have received from time to time. The night previous to my departure it blew a strong gale until about 4 AM, when it lulled. At dawn the sky was resplendent in gorgeous beauty, such a sky as the sun advanced to the horizon I never remembered to have beheld; the splendid tints of blue, yellow, green, & red, with all their shades, as they cast their reflection upon our noble Mount Wellington; caused me to exclaim, ‘Who can doubt there is a God!’ but it soon passed away, & one large cloud encircled the whole heavens, by which the sun became obscured. About 6 AM I partook of a cup of chocolate, & at ½ past 6 I started for the Steamer Mimosa, accompanied by George. Shortly after 7 he left me, & the steamer set sail; All went on tolerably smooth, until we got outside the heads; when the sea appeared much disturbed by the gale the previous night. About 9 AM I began to be sick, I was soon joined by some ladies whom I had left on deck, & so we continued, until we came into smoother water. We landed in boats, but Walter did not come on board to meet me, as I expected. However it was not long before he made his appearance, & we were rejoiced to see each other once more. As a great number of the passengers went to James Boyd’s, W thought it best to take me to Dr Brownells, they received me very kindly, after dinner, W rowed the young ladies to the Mimosa, during which time I sat talking with Mrs Brownell, she spoke very much against her daughters [sic] behaviour to her; but it is generally understood that the fault is mostly on her own side. When W returned, he took me to T Brown[e]’s the [Deputy] Superintendent, in whose family he boards, he says they are kind people, & make him very comfortable. I then took my leave of the Brownells, & went on board accompanied by Walter. He certainly appears improved & has quite lost his cough, but still the alteration in his appearance, did not equal what I was led to expect. When all the passengers were assembled, I had to take farewell of poor Walter, & on his retiring to rest that night, he afterwards informed me, that he almost cried himself to sleep.
It was about 5 PM when we set sail, & the sea more rough than in the morning; the rocking of the vessel, the washing over of the waves, & the coldness of the evening made some of females, feel cold, & sick, so that we were forced to go below & stretch ourselves in the berths in the ladies cabin, from which we were unable to rise, ‘till the vessel entered the Harbour, being sick all the way. A large number of the so called gentlemen kept drinking brandy & water &c & were merry [?], & loose, in their conversation. However it came to an end at last, & they began to go up on deck. It was about ½ past ten PM when we arrived at our journeys end. I sat waiting expecting to see my little George, when a young lady informed me that Mr Hedbergh [sic] was waiting on deck for me, I of course hastened up, he told me that poor George had been waiting about until ten oclock when he called on them, saying he did not know what to do, as he could see nothing of the steamer, & his sister was at home all alone, & that he requested him to go home, saying that he would keep a look out & escort me home, which I considered as a very great kindness, & for which I hope I shall feel grateful.
The night was beautifully moonlight & I thought as I looked around me, how much I should have enjoyed it, had the sea been calm, & I not sick. But still God had been gracious to me, in bringing me safely thus far, & gratitude & thanksgiving took the place of sorrow & regret, for what was now past. As we crossed Bathurst St the town clock struck 11. I do not remember ever being out so late in Van D Land. I ascended the hills homeward very wearily, leaning on Hedbergs [sic] strong arm, but at last accomplished the difficulty. It was a ¼ past 11 when I reached my home, I found George running about in the moonlight, keeping a look out for me, & poor SJ tired of waiting was preparing to go to bed. Thanking my friend for his kindness I took leave of him at the door, & then went in. SJ & George had almost given me up for the night, so they were very glad to see me all safe at home again. I took some ginger tea to relieve my stomach but in vain; extreme nausea continued all night & the next day; when severe headache [sic].