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Bog Lane and the bullock graveyard of the Bischoff Road

Bullocks roared and rumbled through the bush. The screech of the bullockies and the whiplash of their silk crackers kept beast and burden on track as the rain poured, the bogs deepened and the rivers rose. This was how a farmer made a living—or a fortune—during the opening up of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mines. In the years 1873–77 men as far afield as Pipers River, Deloraine, Circular Head and New Ground (Harford/Sassafras) drove bullock or horse drays to Emu Bay to join locals carting tin ore from Bischoff to the wharf. And what a ‘road’ it was—a series of bullock-swallowing mires punctuated by stumps, rocks, holes, stiff climbs, creek fords and rickety river bridges. No one died on the road—mining at Bischoff was more dangerous—but taking leave of their loved ones each trip must have been a torment for the teamsters.

Looking across from the Stanhope (Walker and Beecraft) lease to the Mount Bischoff Co’s Bellhouse Dam and Slaughteryard Gully Face, c1883. Photo courtesy of the late John Shepherd.

The first carting season in early 1873

In the early days of Mount Bischoff, when mining was confined to rooting out tin ‘nuggets’ with a pickaxe and cradling washdirt, the claim owned by Alfred Miles (AM) Walker and Ned Beecraft of Forth was a serious rival to the Mount Bischoff Co as a tin producer. Both claims needed an outlet to their market. The decision of the Van Diemen’s Land Company (VDL Co) not to precipitate its tramway from Emu Bay left them at the mercy of road transport.  So they formed a Mount Bischoff Road Trust to fund track improvements and hired drivers to haul in their stores and haul out their ore.

Cornelius Woodward as an old man. Courtesy of Rumney Smith Research.

Stowport’s Cornelius Woodward drove the first bullock dray load of Mount Bischoff Co ore towards the coast on 4 January 1873. It was a taxing trip. Woodward broke his bullock dray pole in the dreaded Nine Mile Forest, and because he had to borrow tools on foot from the Surrey Hills Station, the round trip took thirteen days. Competition for carters was fierce between the rival companies. Walker and Beecraft scored the second load out of Bischoff, driven by a man named Mott, but afterwards often had the edge on the bigger company, securing the best teams at the start of the summer carting season.

Mount Bischoff teamster, Methodist lay preacher and local historian Richard Hilder (1856–1938), seen here on the right in the back row as a member of the Burnie branch of the Tasmanian Reform League. From the Weekly Courier, 20 June 1903, p.17.

Mooreville Road farmer Richard Hilder recalled a trip in January 1873, when road conditions were at their most primitive. The Hilders, Thomas senior and junior, plus Richard, drove a six-bullock team and for safety travelled with two other teams. Camps had to be chosen carefully in order to feed and water the bullocks. Day One, nine hours of travelling, got them to Ridgley, where ‘swarms’ of tiger cats (spotted quolls) attacked their stores; the second night was spent at the 31-Mile Creek; the third night at Browns Marsh, within striking distance of Bischoff. As travellers did in the vicinity of Middlesex Station, Hilder engaged in a little Gothic convict mythology when he described fording the Hellyer River near the ‘3 feet thick stone wall of what was once the VDL Co penitentiary or barracks, now fallen into decay and silence’.  This was Chilton, the station abandoned by the VDL Co when it withdrew from active farming operations decades earlier. The round trip took the Hilders eight days, including a non-travelling day spent in observance of the Sabbath—a big improvement on Woodward’s experience.[1]

The difficulty of loading ore at Emu Bay

However, the road was not the only problem. There were no proper loading facilities at Emu Bay, where the 40-foot-long jetty was built without provision for a crane.[2] The port’s exposure to the weather also meant that the steamer Pioneer, which traded weekly between Launceston and Circular Head, was often unable to load passengers and cargo on either leg of its regular voyage.[3] In December 1873 the Mount Bischoff Co sent empty ore bags from Launceston to Emu Bay on the Pioneer, and engaged drays to fetch the ore, but on two consecutive trips the steamer failed to land the ore bags.[4]

Probable section of dray track cut through light forest on the verge of Knole Plain. Nic Haygarth photo.

Improving the road for the 1873–74 carting season

The Mount Bischoff Co prepared for the next carting season by finding a shorter route to Mount Bischoff via Bunkers Hill, and surveying a road from Bischoff out into the open country.[5]  AM Walker engaged six teams, and the Mount Bischoff Co also had teams waiting for the chance to start work.[6] However, damage to the road caused by the uprooting of trees discouraged teamsters, some of whom found they could get better money hauling blackwood logs. The result was that by January 1874 the Mount Bischoff Co had only delivered a miniscule six tons of ore to the smelter in Sydney.

Things had to change. Mount Bischoff Co mine manager WM Crosby selected sites for a Hellyer River bridge in March 1874, while long-standing Field brothers stockmen Charlie Drury and Martin Garrett advised about crossing sites on the Wye/Wey River.[7] However, the worst part of the road was the 6.5 km between Knole Plain and the mine, including the section of it known affectionately as ‘Bog Lane’. Richard Hilder recalled that the final stage the track

‘entered a dense undergrowth of horizontal scrub through which an actual tunnel was cut with the gnarled, leafy horizontal scrub packed thickly on either side and overhead … It was so narrow that only a team in single file could pass through its 300 yards length. The bog consisted of whitish loam mixed with enormous granite boulders and tangled roots of the horizontal’.

So vile smelling was this bog in hot weather that driver and team hurried through as quickly as possible.

Hilder told the tale of an axe which disappeared in the Bog Lane mud, only to make a miraculous reappearance about ten days later after hundreds of teams had passed over it, all of them somehow escaping injury. [8]

Approximate line of the original dray track through the Mount Bischoff Co land holdings at Knole Plain into the Waratah settlement, used 1872–75. The track would have passed through the site of the now closed Waratah Primary School and was on the line of Vincent Street when it became ‘Bog Lane’, the tunnel through the horizontal scrub, nearing Mount Bischoff. The Waratah Dam did not turn the upper Waratah River into an impoundment until 1911. Base map courtesy of DPIPWE.

In July 1874 the Mount Bischoff Co entered into an agreement with Charles Adams of Pipers River to cart ore, in exchange for which the Mount Bischoff Co would built stables for Adams’ horses.[9] The agreement remained essentially hypothetical until the road was rendered passable by 40 men working through the spring ahead of the official carting season in November.[10]

James and Mary Patterson
celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary. Foot & Co photo, Burnie, from the
Tasmanian Mail, 25 March 1899, p.18.

The Mount Bischoff Co fires up its Launceston Smelter

During 1874 the Mount Bischoff Co raised the first reverbatory furnace of its Launceston Smelter, ratcheting up the pressure to get a steady supply of ore from its mine. In December 1874 it appointed an Emu Bay agent to help it do so.  The job of 60-year-old Northumbrian Captain James Patterson, was to arrange the dispatch of the company’s ore to the Launceston Smelter and the provision of stores and equipment to the miners.[11]  Since the Emu Bay wharf was so small that two parties could not work alongside each other, Patterson had to compete with Captain William Jones, the storekeeper who doubled as agent for Walker and Beecraft.[12]

Weighing tin ingots at the Mount Bischoff Co Smelter, Launceston. Photo courtesy of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.

The first furnace was charged with Mount Bischoff Co ore on 4 January 1875, the event being heralded by the Cornwall Chronicle newspaper as the crowning achievement of Tasmanian industry.[13] Three days later, the furnace was charged with Walker and Beecraft ore, pointing to the smelter’s future as a custom smelter.[14]

Mounting tension between companies

Back at Emu Bay, tensions between the companies escalated when JH Munce, agent for the steamer Pioneer, apparently gave the impression that Adams was the only carter to be loaded up with stores for Mount Bischoff. Some carters took umbrage and engaged with Walker.[15] Some stated that Walker treated them better loading and unloading their wagons and giving them a feed on arrival at Mount Bischoff, services which they alleged the Mount Bischoff Co refused to do.[16] Patterson denied this was the case.[17] One of the Mount Bischoff Co directors, ED Harrop, accused Walker of bribing teamsters with an offer of £8 10 shillings, a price which Walker had only paid while the road was bad, £6 being the normal rate each way. Harrop told Walker that if necessary the Mount Bischoff Co would increase the rate to £20 to win the carters back again.[18] Walker counter-claimed that Patterson tried to seduce teamsters contracted to him by offering them £9 per ton—another charge which Patterson denied.[19]

Charles and Elizabeth Adams of Pipers River. Photo courtesy of Michael Oakley.

Adams carted 100 tons of ore for the Mount Bischoff Co at £6 per ton, the directors conceding him a higher rate than originally negotiated in compensation for the tramway to the open country not having been completed, forcing Adams to load at the Waratah Falls.[20] He also carted stores up to Bischoff at £4, making his maximum potential income a staggering £1000, enough to set up a farmer for life. However, Adams found his five-horse team could move only half a ton per trip—and one trip was said to have taken him a fortnight![21] Had that been his average rate, the entire job would have taken him nearly eight years, which certainly alters the perspective on his potential fortune. The Wey and Hellyer Rivers were now bridged, but the Bischoff Road was so bad that sometimes all but the heads and backs of the horses disappeared, as if they were swimming in mud. Chinese whispers may have exaggerated reports a little, including one account related to Philosopher Smith that

‘a party going along the road had seen a hat and he took hold of it and found a man underneath with a dray and team of bullocks. I dare say by the time you receive this report in town the man will have been able to put a note in the crown of his hat just as he was sinking to say that he was there’.

Discharged cargoes and broken drays littered the roadside. In February 1875 30 teams were on the road, but Adams was far from happy with the slow progress of promised stable building at the Hampshire Hills, the Wandle River and Knole Plain. Fear for his horses’ safety in deplorable road conditions with new drivers and inadequate shelter forced him to consider withdrawal from a contract he felt the Mount Bischoff Co had already dishonoured. It was no help to Adams when in March 1875 Walker suggested that the two companies build cattle yards on VDL Co land at Browns Marsh, a proposition Norton Smith agreed to at a nominal rent.[22]

Road conditions got so bad that Patterson started paying up to £10 10s per ton, horrifying the directors. [23] Even a presiding rate of £7 failed to mollify them.[24] During the off season, Walker and Beecraft sold their Mount Bischoff claim to the Victorian-based Stanhope Tin Mining Company, and William King, Thomas Farrell, WH Atkinson and either George or William Rutherford all offered to cart for the Mount Bischoff Co for £6 per ton.[25] In the meantime, the Road Trust authorised Thomas Duncanson to spend £670 making the road useable by drays, including corduroying the Nine Mile Forest, making culverts, metalling the approaches to the Hellyer River and improving the road at the 13-Mile.[26] It was claimed that the corduroy on the long western approach to the Hellyer was being destroyed by carters who overloaded with ore in order to shut out competitors.[27]

Retribution against the King brothers

In December 1875 the King brothers were engaged at the new rate of £6, and this despite the bad road conditions. Travelling up to Mount Bischoff, two of the Kings’ bullocks ‘knocked up’ as they entered the Nine Mile Forest. The brothers shifted most of their cargo to one dray, and left the other with the two tired bullocks at the Hampshire Hills, hiding the dray with brushwood. When they returned, they found that the spokes of the dray wheels had been chopped out and the pole removed and burned, this being interpreted as punishment for ‘collaboration’ with the Mount Bischoff Co.[28]

A newspaper correspondent stated that King had six teams operating at the time, employing others to cart for him at a rate as low as £3 or £3 10 shillings per ton, while he pocketed the difference.[29] Another claimed that King engaged only two other teams at £5 per ton late in the season, gaining only a trifle from the deal.[30] Whatever the truth, many others got work at Mount Bischoff, there being 90 teams on the road during fine weather, some travelling 100 miles for the work—and most getting only £4 per ton. Some of them were turned away as the Mount Bischoff Co enforced a rule that each ore carter had to bring supplies up to Mount Bischoff. When there were no supplies to haul up, a telegram was sent to the effect that the company would now employ all carters, upon which 200 tons of tin were transported to Emu Bay in a fortnight. 

The Stanhope Smelter (top of the hill at right) operated at Waratah from 1876 for only two or three years. Its woodshed and another shed remain in this cropped c1883 image, but its furnace is not visible. Note also the giant tree stump and fallen log beside the smelter. Part of the smelter tramway can be seen between the Waratah Hotel (centre of photo) and the shop on the right. The Bischoff Hotel is the building with three attic windows at extreme right. Note the houses up Smith Street at left, even what appear to be tenement house beyond the Ritchie Street corner at the top of the hill. The original 1882 Post and Telegraph Office can be seen below the smelter. The dressing sheds in the foreground belong to the Don Co (formerly Cummings & Henry, left) and the Stanhope Co (formerly Walker & Beecraft, right). Photo courtesy of the late John Shepherd (TAHO).

The Stanhope Smelter leaves ore carting to the Mount Bischoff Co

Unlike the Mount Bischoff Co, the Stanhope Co heeded German engineer Georg Ulrich’s advice to smelt at Bischoff, using wood (or at least charcoal) as fuel, engineers Nicol Turner and Scott building the first blast furnace at the corner of Ritchie and Smith Streets—right beside the early dray track to Bischoff. The outside walls of the furnace and part of the chimney were built of basalt hewn on site, while the arches of the fireplaces and the smelting hearth were constructed of firebricks packed in from Emu Bay.[31] The first firing was in January 1876, and within two months AM Walker claimed it such a success that soon it would be able to smelt 24 tons of ore per week—more than all the Bischoff mines produced together.[32]

Surveys of the Stanhope Smelter site at Waratah. Note the tramway reserve by which the smelter was connected by tramway to Mount Bischoff. Part of the cutting for the tramway can still be seen behind the Bischoff Hotel. Courtesy of Mineral Resources Tasmania.
Waratah tramways and railways. From 1875, when the Mount Bischoff Co’s Tramway from the Waratah Falls reached Rouses Camp (extreme right), this became the terminus for the teamsters hauling tin ore to Emu Bay. This tramway was abandoned in 1881 when the VDL Co extended iron rails into Waratah, much of the tramway reservation being reused as the line of the Mount Bischoff Co water tunnel. Base map courtesy of DPIPWE.

While the Stanhope Co still needed stores and equipment delivered to Bischoff, it effectively dropped out of the ore carting business at this point, leaving the Mount Bischoff Co to feed its own smelter in Launceston. In February 1876, 66 teams were working for the Mount Bischoff Co, there having been 80 dray trips in the space of two weeks.[33] However, AM Walker, now a Waratah shopkeeper rather than a mine owner, continued his attacks on the Mount Bischoff Co, alleging that its timber falling caused an obstruction on the road.[34] He amplified this complaint in the middle of the year after his brother Henry Walker was killed by being thrown off the Mount Bischoff Co Tramway while it crossed a gully. Walker blamed the company for his brother’s death since, he believed, it blocked the road deliberately with a fallen tree so as to monopolise the traffic between Rouses Camp and Bischoff..[35]

The final carting season 1876–77

As the VDL Co’s Emu Bay and Mount Bischoff Tramway progressed, the teamsters knew their days were numbered, this being the last full season of dray carting. Relations between teamsters and the Mount Bischoff Co remained frosty, with Edwin Addison of New Ground presenting a raft of complaints against Patterson as the season opened.[36] In January 1877 the company announced it would pay £6 per ton down and £5 per ton up to Waratah, with teams being loaded at Rouses Camp in the order in which they arrived.[37]

The 1877 Rouses Camp snowball fight

However, things didn’t always go to plan. In April 1877 50 drivers and teams were stranded at Rouses Camp for days due to a shortage of ore bags. The beasts of burden were set loose to graze on Browns Marsh and the Racecourse (on the  VDL Co’s Surrey Hills block) while their drivers socialised in Waratah. One day the drivers awoke to find six inches of snow on the ground around them, and with time to kill, the strong rivalry between bullock drivers and horse drivers actuated a fight—the weapons consisting of nature’s new bounty, the snow. Tom King led the bullockies, Jack Floyd the horsemen, with Fred Frampton acting as referee. The battle raged for two hours, divided into 20-minute sorties. Snowballs pounded flesh, men reeled from stinging attacks, retaliating in kind until late in the day when

‘with a “Hurrah, boys”, Captain Floyd ran up and down his lines of men, who, gallantly responding to his call, rallied and drove the bullock men inch by inch from the field and scattered them in the final decisive defeat’.[38]

All participants then dried off in front of a roaring fire, their surplus energy exhausted. New ore bags arrived from Emu Bay after midnight that night, enabling them to complete one of the last major deliveries of Mount Bischoff ore via the Bischoff Road to Burnie.

Richard Hilder’s final Bischoff dray trip was in the following month, hauling ‘fancy goods’ (clocks, watches, jewellery and drapery) up to Waratah for storekeepers the Messner brothers. The old difficulties still obtained. Hilder’s hopes of returning to Burnie with Bischoff ore were dashed when at the 29-Mile he broke an axle, forcing him to abandon his dray and transfer his load to those of his companions.[39] By late May 1877 the tramway had reached Hampshire, effectively halving the teamsters’ business, and by February 1878 not a bullock whip was to be heard cracking on the Bischoff Road.[40] By then the Mount Bischoff Co, surmounting all its problems, had kicked off the shareholder bonanza that eventually doled out more than £2.5 million in dividends.

Some notable Bischoff teamsters, with help from Richard Hilder 

Charles Adams

In 1869 Launceston-born Adams (1834–1910) found gold nuggets on his Pipers River farm, after which time he invested in the Back Creek Alluvial Gold Mining Co and prospected for tin in the Georges Bay area (St Helens).[41] Adams visited Mount Bischoff in 1874, presumably as a prospector and/or potential investor, only three months before he made his offer to cart 100 tons of Mount Bischoff Co ore at £6 per ton.[42] 

Thomas Addison aka ‘Grandfather Addison’

The ‘grand old man’. He could handle a bullock team ‘to perfection, and with a sonorous, commanding voice he guided his fine team through treacherous mud or over rocky road or the shocking broken corduroy. He had no strong apprehension of ever being stuck fast. We all loved Grandfather Addison’.[43]

Joseph Alexander

A number of members of the Alexander family carted Mount Bischoff ore. Joseph Alexander (c1841–1917), the son of Matthias Alexander, was born at Illawarra near Longford, but became a Table Cape farmer and later a publican and storekeeper in various centres along the north-west coast. [44]

 S Andrews

He was the only teamster to drive a four-wheeled vehicle, with 10 or 12 Devon bullocks. His two pole bullocks drowned in a bog at the 27-Mile in the autumn of 1876 and had to be left there. Sam Dudfield attempted to go through the same bog in February 1877, and had to be rescued, revealing the wooden yoke, iron bow and putrid bullock remains still there in the bog.[45]

William ‘Hermit’ Applestall

Very tall and angular, supposedly seven feet tall but stooped, independent and morose, he drove a bullock team for William Henry Oldaker, bringing a young lad and dog for company. Applestall would camp with his team of ‘well-matched brindle bullocks’ away from everyone else, hence the nickname ‘Hermit’. He never overloaded his team, never hurried, never kept other teams waiting.[46]

William Atkinson

‘Roaring Billy’, farmer on the New Country Road south of Burnie who was noted for his good bullock team and skillful handling of same. Also hauled split timber and logs out of the forests along Mooreville Road and at Stowport.[47]

 Jamie Blair

One of the ‘Scotch twins’ (with Jamie Dennison), who had the biggest and smallest draught horses on the Bischoff road. He had a ‘splaw-footed, raking, eagle-eyed animal that repeatedly stumbled and fell but was the pet of his master’ and would call out to the  other ‘Scotch twin’:  ‘Jamie, ma mon come smart, an’ help ma to git ma pet oop agin’.[48]

John Cassidy

The man presumably celebrated by the name Cassidys Marsh, an appetising spot on the old dray track somewhere between Knole Plain and Waratah. Probably John Martin/Macassin Cassidy (1853–1929) of Bengeo near Deloraine—more likely to be him than his father, the Irish ex-convict or immigrant John Cassidy (c1812–96).[49]

 Billy Cunningham

Black River ventriloquist who amused bullock drivers with his impressions of farm animals in the dead of night, also a dab hand with a bullock whip.[50]

 James Denison (Jamie Dennison)

One of the ‘Scotch twins’ (with Jamie Blair) who always drove together. Very fond of his horse Roly-Poly, the ‘miniature, nimble-footed chestnut gelding which no hardship of the Bischoff road could knock out’.[51]

Sam Dudfield

Samuel Dudfield (1855–1935) was born at Longford to two ex-convicts, James Dudfield, who described himself as a gardener, and Ann/Anne Orrell (aka Arwell/Orwell).[52] He farmed at St Marys Plain, Cam River (Tewkesbury), in the inner north-west. Richard Hilder described how he attempted to go through the 27-Mile bog that had drowned Andrews’ two bullocks in the autumn of 1876. It was now nearly a year later in February 1877, and Dudfield’s team had to be rescued, revealing Andrews’ wooden yoke, iron bow and putrid bullock remains still there in the bog.[53] Dudfield was reported to have shot a thylacine at St Marys Plain in 1895, which he intended to submit it for the government bounty.[54]

Thomas Farrell

Presumably Burnie hotelier and well-known prospector Thomas Farrell (c1857–1926).[55] Mount Farrell near Tullah is named after him, recalling his discovery of the White Hawk Mine, one of the early mines on the Mount Farrell field.[56] He discovered and for a time managed the King Island Scheelite Mine.[57]

 Jack Floyd

Leader of the horsemen in their snowball fight against the bullock drivers at Rouses Camp in April 1877.[58]

Fred Frampton

From Ulverstone, he was referee in the Rouses Camp snowball fight in April 1877.[59]

M Gillam aka ‘Greasehorn’ Gillam

Disliked by some for the barrage of questions he asked about the origins and doings of the VDL Co while camped at their early settlements. He carried cart grease in a long Hereford bullock horn, hence the nickname ‘Greasehorn’.[60]

Harry Hills

Later a Mount Bischoff Co employee who also operated a dairy farm on Lot 6201, an old Mount Bischoff Co block at Knole Plain approximately 1880–84.[61] Hills was probably the first to stock Knole Plain with any success, John Bailey Williams having failed as a wool-grower there in the 1860s.[62] Hills had two large, fenced paddocks laid down with ‘artificial’ grass, and was supplying milk to Waratah.[63] His successor there was George Martin, who in 1891 advertised for sale the 100-acre Knole Plain dairy farm with a four-room cottage, detached kitchen, cowshed and stable.[64]

 William House & ‘Red’ Stephen Margetts

A pair of bullock drivers ‘which no course speech or manners could in any way defile’. They were ‘courteous and kind in word and action, good and reliable drivers who could face without flinching the real danger of the road, bridge or river, considerate to their cattle, and good company to their companion drivers. Examples for all to follow on the Bischoff road 50 years ago’.[65]

Ike Hutchison

A horse driver from Penguin who was ‘far too old a man for the rough and tumble of a teamster on the Bischoff road’. ‘He spoke of them [his two horses] and caressed them like a real lover.’ At camp, with the billy boiled, he would wash and comb his horses’ manes, ‘at the same time speaking to them with soothing words and affectionately caressing them’. One night his horses escaped from camp, and so anxious was he to find them that he did not even stop to put on his boots, following with bare feet and rejoicing when they were found.[66]

Tom King

Leader of the bullockies in their snowball fight against the horse drivers at Rouses Camp in April 1877.[67]

William King

Launceston-born William King (c1823–1905) attended the Californian gold rushes and became a publican before settling down to farm at Table Cape and Boat Harbour during his last 40 years. Despite the incident where his wheel spokes were destroyed in 1875, Mount Bischoff ore carting apparently helped turn around his fortunes.[68]

John Martin

A bullock driver from Greens Creek (Harford). Hilder described his unusual way of yoking up his team of miniature bullocks and his cavalier attitude to braking them.[69]

 Richard Mitchell

Presumably illiterate Cornish tin dresser Richard Mitchell (1852–1909), who left England in 1875, working briefly in New South Wales before arriving in Tasmania late that year. A man of that name carted tin for the Mount Bischoff Co from November 1875 until at least March 1876.[70] He later managed the East Bischoff Mine (1879–81) and the Waratah Alluvial (1881–85) at Mount Bischoff, but was better known for floating the Anchor Tin Mine Ltd in London in 1895, the deal being made controversial by the addition of the name of the premier, Sir Edward Braddon, to the company’s prospectus. Mitchell died in a London hotel room while trying to float a company to work the All Nations Mine near Moina.[71]

 Harry Moles

A driver for Walker and Beecraft, he wore a white, long-sleeved moleskin waistcoat. ‘His voice had a pleasant drawl, and his speech was a rich corruption of good English. It was real fun to listen to Harry give a description or ask a question’.[72]

Charlie Radford

The VDL Co’s ‘reliable man’, who also spent years hauling celery pine and blackwood logs out of the forests at Mooreville Road and Stowport Road, and hauled logs to sawmills during construction of the VDL Co Tramway. He drove a team of fine bullocks. ‘For kindness, patience and goodwill no man could exceed Charlie … a real Christian gentleman.’[73]

Thomas Summers

A teamster who drove a team of five horses for his uncle, Thomas Summers of Mooreville Road. He had a mother and several children on the dray in February 1877 when he overturned the dray at the Wey River, but with no damage to the occupants.[74]

Ulo Wells

Bullock driver for FW Ford on the VDL Co tramway construction and probably also on ore carting.[75]

 Cornelius Woodward

Woodward (1853–1943) carted the first load of ore from Mount Bischoff on 4 January 1873, completing the trip in thirteen days after breaking a bullock dray pole.[76]

[1] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Bischoff in 1873’, Advocate, 10 November 1923, pp.10–11.

[2] ‘A visit to the Mount Bischoff tin mines’, Cornwall Chronicle, 27 August 1873, p.2.

[3] ‘A trip to the tin mines’, Cornwall Chronicle, 2 December 1874 p.3.

[4] William Ritchie to James Smith, 12 December 1873, no.362, NS234/3/1/2 (TAHO).

[5] James Norton Smith to James Smith, 27 November 1873; WM Crosby to James Smith, 3 December 1873, NS234/3/1/2 (TAHO). The work was carried out by James Smith and Charles Sprent respectively.

[6] William Ritchie to James Smith, 17 December 1873, no.365, NS234/3/1/2 (TAHO).

[7] William Ritchie to James Smith, 9 March 1874, no.65, NS234/3/1/3 (TAHO).

[8] Richard Hilder, ‘Lost and found’, Advocate, 27 June 1931, p.9.

[9] William Ritchie to James Smith, 6 July 1874, no.195, NS234/3/1/3 (TAHO).

[10] AM Walker to James Smith, 21 October 1874, no.321, NS234/3/1/3 (TAHO).

[11] ‘A pair of veteran colonists’, Tasmanian Mail, 25 March 1899, p.18.

[12] James Patterson to James Smith, 23 February 1875, no.89, NS234/3/1/4 (TAHO).

[13] ‘Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Company: the first smelting’, Cornwall Chronicle, 6 January 1875, p.2.

[14] EL Martin, ‘Discovery and early development, 1871–1875’, in DI Groves, EL Martin H Murchie and HK Wellington, A century of tin mining at Mount Bischoff, 1871–1971, Geological Survey Bulletin, no.54, Department of Mines, Hobart, 1972, p.33.

[15] WM Crosby to James Smith, 13 January 1875, NS234/3/1/4 (TAHO).

[16] FW Ford to James Smith, 14 January 1875, no.23, NS234/3/1/4 (TAHO).

[17] James Patterson to James Smith, 16 January 1875, no.29, NS234/3/1/4 (TAHO).

[18] AM Walker to James Smith, 14 January 1875, no.22, NS234/3/1/4 (TAHO).

[19] James Patterson to James Smith, 23 January 1875, NS234/3/1/4 (TAHO).

[20] ‘Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Company’, Tasmanian, 16 January 1875, p.4.

[21] ‘Personal’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 17 August 1910, p.3.

[22] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 8 and 15 March 1875, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[23] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 25 February 1875, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[24] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 1 March 1875, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[25] ‘Our tin mines’, Cornwall Chronicle, 3 September 1875, p.3; Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 9 August 1875, 1 November 1875, 15 November 1875, 22 November 1875, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[26] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 6 September 1875, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[27] ‘Concerning Mount Bischoff’, Launceston Examiner, 27 April 1876, p.2.

[28] ‘A dastardly act’, Tasmanian, 15 January 1876, p.12.

[29] ‘Concerning Mount Bischoff’, Launceston Examiner, 27 April 1876, p.2.

[30] ‘A Shareholder’, ‘Carting to and from Mount Bischoff’, Launceston Examiner, 23 May 1876, p.4.

[31] ‘Mount Bischoff’, Cornwall Chronicle, 13 December 1875, p.2; ‘Mining’, Launceston Examiner, 5 October 1875, p.4.

[32] AM Walker, ‘Tin smelting at Mount Bischoff’, Tasmanian, 25 March 1876, p.7.

[33] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 21 February 1876, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[34] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 24 February 1876, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[35] William Ritchie to James Smith, 24 July 1876, no.213, NS234/3/1/5 (TAHO).

[36] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 7 December 1876, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[37] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 14 December 1876, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[38] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’, Advocate, 16 October 1926, p.12.

[39] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff’: Chapter 4’, Advocate, 6 November 1926, p.26.

[40] ‘Emu Bay’, Tasmanian, 26 May 1877, p.5.

[41] Born to John and Susannah Adams on 4 October 1834, birth record no.6247/1835, registered at Launceston, RGD32/1/2 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=charles&qu=adams&qf=NI_INDEX%09Record+type%09Births%09Births, accessed 17 October 2020;  ‘Deaths’, Examiner, 15 August 1910, p.1; ‘Pipers River diggings’, Cornwall Chronicle, 11 September 1869, p.5; ‘Official notices’, Launceston Examiner, 17 February 1870, p.3; Charles Adams, ‘Discovery of tin on east coast’, Examiner, 9 May 1905, p.3.

[42] SB Emmett, ‘A trip to the tin mines at Mount Bischoff’, Launceston Examiner, 4 May 1874, p.2.

[43] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[44] ’70 years on the coast’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 18 January 1917, p.2.

[45] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff’, Advocate, 18 September 1926, p.14.

[46] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[47] Richard Hilder, ‘The real pioneers of Emu Bay: Chapter 5’, Advocate, 5 January 1935, p.9.

[48] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[49] No birth record was found for John Cassidy junior. He died 9 January 1929, supposedly aged 73 (‘Family notices’, Advocate, 10 January 1929, p.2). John Cassidy senior’s death record gives his place of birth as County Meath, Ireland. He died 16 July 1896, his age given as 84, death record no.99/1896, registered at Deloraine, RGD35/1/65 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=john&qu=cassidy&qf=NI_INDEX%09Record+type%09Deaths%09Deaths, accessed 10 October 2020.

[50] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Bischoff in 1873’.

[51] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[52] Born 14 January 1855, birth record no.965/1855, registered at Longford, RGD33/1/33 (TAHO),

; died 17 January 1935, will no.20614, dated 20 March 1935, AD960/1/59, p.381 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/all/search/results?qu=samuel&qu=dudfield#, accessed 27 June 2019. For James Dudfield and Anne Orrell as convicts, see their application for permission to marry, 31 March 1847, CON52/1/2, p.315 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/all/search/results?qu=james&qu=dudfield, accessed 27 June 2019.

[53] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff’.

[54] ‘News in brief’, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 10 September 1895, p.2.

[55] ‘Mr Thomas Farrell’, Advocate, 4 June 1926, p.2.

[56] See William Innes, ‘Mining pioneers: Mt Farrell silver-lead deposits: story of discovery’, Advocate, 15 June 1926, p.7.

[57] ‘King Island: scheelite’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 9 August 1918, p.4.

[58] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[59] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[60] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[61] Richard Hilder, ‘Mount Bischoff Road experiences: Chapter 4’.

[62] John Bailey Williams to Charles H Smith, Du Croz & Co, 25 January 1865; and to VDL Co agent Charles Nichols, 11 April 1865, VDL22/1/3 (TAHO).

[63] ‘For sale’, Tasmanian, 17 March 1883, p.305.

[64] ‘For sale’, Daily Telegraph, 14 March 1891, p.6.

[65] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[66] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[67] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[68] ‘Coastal news’, Examiner, 16 June 1905, p.6; ‘The story of a pioneer’, Examiner, 21 June 1905, p.6.

[69] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff’.

[70] Minutes of meeting of directors of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co, 15 November 1875 and 6 March 1876, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[71] For Mitchell generally see Nic Haygarth, ‘Shearing the Waratah: “Cornish” tin recovery on the Arthur River system, Tasmania, 1878–1903’, Journal of Australasian Mining History, vol.15, October 2017, pp.81–98, https://www.mininghistory.asn.au/wp-content/uploads/9.HaygarthWaratah-Final-vol.1517.compressed.pdf, accessed 10 October 2020.

[72] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[73] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[74] Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Mount Bischoff: Chapter 3’.

[75] Richard Hilder, ‘Late Mr Ulo Wells, Advocate, 16 April 1926, p.2.

[76] See Richard Hilder, ‘By road to Bischoff in 1873’.

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The roadrunner: William Byrne, mining fields mailman. Part One: The Mount Bischoff mail.

William Byrne (c1828–1911) was tall, muscular, clean shaven and long-haired, and he spun a yarn like Fenimore Cooper.[1] If he lacked the zip of the Warner Brothers bird and the insight of that other roadrunner, Forrest Gump, he made up for it in persistence. It was said that had all his West Coast mail trips been strung together end to end—on a floating bridge, presumably—he could have rounded England and returned.

William Byrne, from the Weekly Courier,
15 June 1911, p.22.

Byrne’s reputed ex-soldier father John Byrne might have preferred an Irish homecoming.[2] In 1842 the Byrne family, including teenaged William and four siblings, were ensconced in a timber house at Horse Shoe Farm, Coal River, in the southern Midlands, but the lure of a fertile Van Diemen’s Land Company tenancy was apparently enough to pack them off to Cooee Creek in the north-west.[3] Success on the Victorian goldfields won William his own property at Mooreville Road, where he was said to have been one of the pioneers of the potato trade to Sydney.[4]  In chartering a schooner for direct trade with Sydney, Byrne displayed the sort of initiative that would win him long-distance mail contracts. Labouring on the farm must have given him his endurance. 

This 1876 Charles Sprent survey of Waratah lots shows the original dray route (left) to Mount Bischoff
known as Bog Lane. Survey 76458, courtesy of DPIPWE.

The Mount Bischoff mail

The first ‘road’ to Waratah took a wide sweep from Browns Marsh on the Surrey Hills block across Knole Plain, before approaching the town from the south-west through a muddy tunnel in the horizontal scrub known at Bog Lane. This was the track rutted out by ore carters employed by the Mount Bischoff tin mines. Early mail delivery depended on the good will of travellers between Emu Bay and the Mount. The government demanded a quid pro quo before investing in Bischoff. Chairman of directors of the Mount Bischoff Co William Ritchie reported in December 1873 that

‘the Government now virtually repudiate their promise of a pound a week towards the expense of a weekly mail. They also decline to give anything towards the road—but say that when twenty leases shall have been granted and the rent paid they will take our application into consideration’.[5]

The Mount Bischoff Co took the matter into their own hands, contracting William Byrne as its mailman at £90 per year.[6] Presumably he rode a horse where possible, leading it the rest of the way. Mine manager WM Crosby became the first Mount Bischoff postmaster, pocketing £60 per year on top of his manager’s salary.[7] Byrne did things his way, his method of carrying loose letters horrifying the Emu Bay postmistress.[8] (However, as it turned out, that was nothing compared to his treatment of newspapers.) Byrne was contracted to arrive at Waratah each Tuesday at 2pm, seven hours before the outgoing mail closed. However, he usually appeared at dusk, putting locals into a flurry answering their mail in the short time remaining.[9]

As the volume of mail increased, the Mount Bischoff Co petitioned the government, which finally agreed to take over responsibility for the entire mail service at the expiration of Byrne’s contract.[10] In the meantime, Byrne was accused of delivering mail to the wrong people because he was illiterate—but he wasn’t illiterate, and other Byrne clients vouched for his services.[11] When, inevitably, he lost his mail contract to the VDL Co’s tramway service, his clients farewelled him with a signed testimonial expressing their gratitude.[12]

A crop from Charles Sprent’s 1879 chart shows the original dray ‘road’ to Mount
Bischoff via Knole Plain, the line of the VDL Co’s horse-drawn tramway and the
later line of road into Waratah, deviating from the other near the Hellyer River.
From AF395/1/41 (TAHO).

Carrying the mail on the Emu Bay and Mount Bischoff Tramway

The VDL Co’s horse-drawn tramway was completed to its original terminus of Rouses Camp, 4 km from Waratah, in 1878. The company began to provide a tri-weekly service, contracted to arrive in Waratah at 5pm. You might expect a commercial transport operator to trounce a lone horseman for efficiency, but VDL Co manager James Norton Smith knew that rogue elements governed his service.

A VDL Co tram operating in the forest at the 29-Mile mark. It demonstrates the basic technology of a horse-drawn, timber-railed tramway. Courtesy of the Burnie Regional Museum.

Firstly, if the mail was late reaching Burnie, it was late starting for Bischoff. Then there were the employees. Through the building of the tramway, and now in its operation, the temperance wagon was frequently overturned. Daniel Shine, timekeeper at Rouses Camp, was a valuable informant on local affairs, but also a regular drunkard.[13] On two occasions Norton Smith sacked him, only to reinstate the repentant man.[14] Driver Higgs posed such a threat to the public that he was relegated to support duties.[15] Hampshire Hills stableman and storekeeper ‘Dusty’ Miller got ‘on the spree’.[16] Even tramway inspector Hugh Lynch was known to get ‘on the burst’.[17]  Henry Crispin was ‘hopelessly drunk and asleep behind a log’ near Michael Bevan’s Hampshire Hotel in March 1877 when an accident happened on the line that he could have averted.[18] With so many imbibers along the way it probably wasn’t a surprise when a case of whisky consigned to Bevan disappeared in transit in 1878.[19] The publican later went to fisticuffs with tram driver William Lennard.[20]

Thirdly, there were the horses. The tramway was an equine graveyard. Many injured animals must have been shot. In 1879 Shine gave a requiem for four of the six animals meant to be in harness, telling Norton Smith:

‘”‘Black Wallace” was bled to death yesterday. “White Prince” is given over [useless]. “Punch” is expected to go the way of all flesh tomorrow, and “Wallace” … is crippled and not expected to do any more work, so that I expect it will be some time before we shall have full loading on our trucks’.[21]

Norton Smith’s accountant RA Murray recalled a horse named Boxer returning to Emu Bay

‘with his shoulders literally cut to pieces. They actually look as if a dog or some animal had eaten a piece out of them, and he is either strained in the forequarters or something internally wrong, as it is with the greatest difficulty he can walk at all’.[22]

Those with treatable conditions required careful attention. In 1882 an employee at Hampshire sent a long list of medicines required to fix the horses under his charge—including licorice powder, antimonial powder, camphor powder and tartarized antimony.[23]

Equine unpredictability also led to thrills and spills. In December 1879 the grey horse Turpin shied at the 39-mile mark, throwing Launceston brewer John Glennwright under the mail truck.[24] The passenger spat blood, sustaining injuries that his solicitor valued at £500.[25] There were other accidents with a human cause.  On another occasion the brake broke near Rouse’s gate, fracturing one horse’s ribs, killing two sheep and breaking the legs of three others.[26] In January 1882 the mail coach was derailed in a collision with a trolley left on the track near Waratah, throwing passengers out of their carriage.[27]

Opening of the Emu Bay and Mount Bischoff Tramway at Rouses Camp, 1 February 1878. PH30/1/1865 (Libraries Tasmania).

Dick Leach drives the ‘rabbit hutch with wheels’

These were the variables governing delivery of the ‘Royal Mail’. However, the well-known tram driver Dick Leach (1844?–85) certainly delivered through hail, rain and snow. Born into a Bog Irish family, he grew up alongside the Gaffneys at Arms of the Creek, part of the ‘Paddys Scrub’ Irish enclave near Deloraine, his younger brother James Leach being the well-known drover and West Coast meat supplier.[28]

Leach generally wasn’t responsible for the very uncomfortable customer experience of riding the Emu Bay and Mount Bischoff Tram. One customer suggested that the passenger carriage of the ‘rabbit hutch with wheels’ might be better suited as a public toilet, while another preferred to walk back to Emu Bay than suffer a second dose of the ‘wretched vehicle … a cross between a small cattle truck and a sardine tin …’[29] It does seem to have been true, though, that Dick liked a tipple, once being given notice to apologise ‘and keep order’ after boozily abusing a customer.[30]  Fortunately for him, there was no breathalyser on the tramway.

Like Byrne, Leach was branded with illiteracy. It was alleged that he carried letters up and down the line for days without delivering them ‘because he couldn’t read himself and he was too independent to ask anyone else to look at them’. If anyone complained about this behavior, the complainant stated,

‘he would grumble and say he need not carry any letters along the line at all, he only done it to oblige people, he only had to carry them from one post office to the other …’[31]

In this case it was probably true: Leach couldn’t sign his own name on his marriage certificate.[32]

Waratah in 1881, showing the Mount Bischoff Co’s bridge over the Waratah River and the Stanhope Smelter on the hill at left.
Waratah c1880, showing the Mount Bischoff Co’s tramway bridge as the only crossing of the Waratah River. The deviation of Smith Street around the Mount Bischoff Co’s machinery site is sketched in, as is the VDL Co’s proposed station and railway formation. The reserve for the post office is represented by the blank block on Smith Street, conveniently located next to the Stanhope Smelter.
Cropped from AF721/1/755 (TAHO).

In November 1881 the tramway was finally extended—with iron rails—into Waratah.[33] Since the attendant VDL Co mail service gave Bischoffites a turnaround of only two hours, they conducted much of their postal and telegraphic business by candle or lamplight in the early evening—and not in a purpose-built post office, but at the house of Charles Hall, 2IC at the Mount Bischoff Mine. At first there was no public bridge across the Waratah River. Many customers had to negotiate the narrow Mount Bischoff Company tramway bridge in the dark to reach Hall’s house in Smith Street, opposite St James’ Church.[34] The ad hoc post office was transferred to Stutterd’s house in June 1881, but evening business continued to be troublesome, customers having to provide their own lighting in order to send and collect mail or telegrams.[35] Miss Dixon was postmistress and mudlark, fulfilling the unenviable task of delivering telegrams in all weathers and all depths of mud.[36]

The first Waratah Post and Telegraph Office, 1882. Courtesy of the Waratah Museum.

The government built Waratah a post and telegraph office just as the VDL Co was unveiling its steam railway. The redundant Dick Leach moved to another mail service.  He was killed when his horses shied while he was driving the coastal mail coach out of Forth in 1885, aged only 41.[37] It was reported that most of the coach passengers had abandoned the service because they believed Leach was drunk.[38] No mail reached Waratah that day as a result of his accident.[39]

[1] ‘Shaughraun’, ‘Notes off and on’, Tasmanian, 17 May 1884, p.28. American novelist James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851) wrote romantic tales of frontier life such as The last of the Mohicans (1826) and The prairie (1827).

[2] See Richard Hilder, ‘Pioneers of Emu Bay: John Byrne of Uplands’, Advocate, 10 March 1926, p.11; Richard Hilder, ‘The real pioneers of Emu Bay and the town of Burnie’, Advocate, 10 April 1935, p.10. The story of John Byrne coming to Van Diemen’s Land as a soldier sounds rather like a convict smokescreen, except that the 1842 census record contains the claim that John Byrne and his wife arrived in the colony free. There are no Tasmanian birth records for William Byrne and his brother John, who could well have been born in New South Wales or even Ireland. Yet William Byrne claimed to have been born in Hobart.

[3] See Census of Van Diemen’s Land, 1842, CEN1/1/39–113 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fNAME_INDEXES$002f0$002fNAME_INDEXES:473341/one?qu=john&qu=byrne&qf=NI_INDEX%09Record+type%09Census%09Census, accessed 2 October 2020. ‘Foreshore rights’, Daily Telegraph, 5 November 1901, p.4. John Byrne died at Emu Bay on 25 May 1854, aged 56, death record no.57/1854, registered at Horton (Stanley), RGD35/1/23 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=john&qu=byrne&qf=NI_INDEX%09Record+type%09Deaths%09Deaths#, accessed 28 September 2020. He left a wife, Margaret Harris, and eight children. Margaret Byrne, née Harris, died at Emu Bay in 1885, aged 85 (‘Deaths’, Launceston Examiner, 30 September 1885, p.1).

[4] ‘Passing of a pioneer’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 7 June 1911, p.2; Richard Hilder, ‘The real pioneers of Emu Bay’, Advocate, 9 February 1935, p.9. Twenty-five-year-old William Byrne married 20-year-old Ann McKee on 1 February 1855 by Roman Catholic rites, marriage record no.1106/1855, registered at Oatlands, RGD37/1/14 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=william&qu=byrne, accessed 23 September 2020. Both were ‘free’ and signed their own names. Their son John Byrne was born on 1 July 1858, birth record no.400/1858, registered at Emu Bay, RGD33/1/36 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=NI_NAME%3D%22Mckee,%20Ann%22, accessed 23 September 2020.

Their son Alfred Byrne was born on 1 July 1858, birth record no.400/1858, registered at Emu Bay, RGD33/1/36 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=NI_NAME%3D%22Mckee,%20Ann%22, accessed 23 September 2020. The father was a farmer at New Country, Emu Bay.

[5] William Ritchie to James Smith, 17 December 1873, NS234/3/1/2 (TAHO).

[6] Minutes of the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co directors’ meetings for 1875 and 1876 reveal that he received £7 10 shillings per month, or £90 per year. William Byrne’s brother John Byrne (‘senior’) and son John Byrne (‘junior’) were also on the Mount Bischoff Co payroll as ore carters in the years before the Emu Bay and Mount Bischoff Tramway was completed. See NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[7] Minutes of Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co directors’ meetings, 21 June 1875, NS911/1/1 (TAHO). Crosby was paid by the government; Byrne, the mailman, was paid by the Mount Bischoff Co.

[8] ‘Mount Bischoff’, Cornwall Chronicle, 19 September 1874, p.3; Minutes of Mount Bischoff Co, 6 September 1875, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[9] ‘Mount Bischoff’, Launceston Examiner, 20 June 1876, p.3.

[10] Minutes of Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Co directors’ meetings, 7 June 1875, 20 March and 20 April 1876, NS911/1/1 (TAHO).

[11] ‘Watchman’, ‘A grievance’, Tribune, 7 December 1878, p.2; John Lay, E Johnstone, W Nelms and E Dunstan to James Norton Smith, 16 December 1878, VDL22/1/6 (TAHO).

[12] ‘Bischoff’, Mercury, 14 May 1878, p.2; Advert, Cornwall Chronicle, 20 February 1879, p.13.

[13] See, for example, Daniel Shine on the Browns Plain rush in his letters to James Norton Smith, 15 and 20 January 1879, VDL22/1/7 (TAHO).

[14] James Norton Smith to RA Murray, 26 December 1877; Daniel Shine to James Norton Smith, 22 January 1878?, VDL22/1/5 (TAHO).

[15] Hugh Lynch to James Norton Smith, 23 April 1877; RA Murray to James Norton Smith, 26 December 1877, VDL22/1/5 (TAHO).

[16] RA Murray to James Norton Smith, 14 May 1879, VDL22/1/5 (TAHO).

[17] RA Murray to James Norton Smith, 14 May 1879.

[18] RA Murray to James Norton Smith, 20 March 1877, VDL22/1/5 (TAHO).

[19] Michael Bevan to James Norton Smith, 18 February 1878, VDL22/1/4 (TAHO).

[20] Michael Bevan to James Norton Smith, 17 February and 23 June 1880, VDL22/1/8 (TAHO).

[21] Daniel Shine to James Norton Smith, 1 October 1879, VDL22/1/7 (TAHO).

[22] RA Murray to James Norton Smith, 8 May 1877, VDL22/1/5 (TAHO).

[23] Robert Harris to James Norton Smith, 12 September 1882, VDL22/1/10 (TAHO).

[24] RA Murray to James Norton Smith, 11 December 1879, VDL22/1/7 (TAHO).

[25] Josiah Powell to James Norton Smith, 25 June 1880, VDL22/1/8 (TAHO).

[26] RA Murray to JC Climie, 16 October 1877, VDL22/1/5 (TAHO).

[27] ‘Observer’, ‘The late accident at Waratah’, Launceston Examiner, 6 January 1882, p.3; ‘Fortnightly summary of news for home readers’, Mercury, 2 January 1882, p.1.

[28] See 1848 census record for John Leach and family, CEN1/1/104 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=NI_NAME%3D%22Leach,%20John%22, accessed 25 September 2020. Richard Leach appears to have been the cause of the marriage of 30-year-old John Leach and 21-year-old Anne Mullins, both ex-convicts, at Launceston in 1844. No birth certificate has been found for him, but he was said to be 41-year-old at his death.

For James Leach see Nic Haygarth, ‘Frontiersmen five: the Gaffney brothers, building, supplying and hosting Tasmania’s west coast mining fields’, Journal of Australasian Mining History, vol.17, October 2019, pp.59–71.

[29] ‘A Late Victim’, ‘Railway to Mount Bischoff’, Launceston Examiner, 9 September 1879, p.3; ‘Sicnarf Gink’ (Francis King), ‘Mount Bischoff Tramway’, Launceston Examiner, 11 September 1879, p.3.

[30] TD Patterson to RA Murray, 14 July 1882; James Norton Smith note on letter dated 15 July 1882, VDL22/1/10 (TAHO).

[31] John Deacon to James Norton Smith, 26 October 1882, VDL22/1/10 (TAHO).

[32] Twenty-seven-year-old Richard Leach married 32-year-old Elizabeth Lawson by Australasian Wesleyan rites on 25 December 1871 at the house of George Lawson, Chudleigh, marriage record no.79/1871, registered at Deloraine, RGD37/1/30 (TAHO), https://librariestas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/search/results?qu=richard&qu=leach, accessed 26 September 2020.

[33] ‘Waratah’, Mercury, 23 November 1881, p.1.

[34] ‘Bischoff’, Tasmanian Mail, 19 July 1879, 1879, p.15; ‘Mount Bischoff’, Tasmanian Mail, 9 October 1880, p.4.

[35] ‘Mount Bischoff’, Mercury, 23 July 1881, p.2; ‘The Owl’, ‘Records of a fortnight in Waratah’, Launceston Examiner, 30 August 1883, p.4.

[36] ‘Silverpen’ (Henry Glennie), ‘From Launceston to Waratah, Mount Bischoff’, Launceston Examiner, 17 September 1883, p.3.

[37] ‘Hamilton-on-Forth: fatal accident at the Forth’, Daily Telegraph, 8 June 1885, p.3.

[38] ‘Late coach accident’, Launceston Examiner, 9 June 1885, p.3.

[39] Accident to the NW mail coach’, Launceston Examiner, 8 June 1885, p.3.

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In the footsteps of Philosopher: the West Bischoff Tin Mine on Tinstone Creek, Waratah

The man with the possum-skin bag on his back studied the rocks as he sloshed his way down the river with Bravo, his collie-spaniel cross. James ‘Philosopher’ Smith sought the motherlode of the Arthur River gold. Ahead of him, the low summer stream rippled as it received a tributary from the east. Smith’s partly speculative Henry Hellyer map suggested that this was the Waratah River. In its dark mouth he searched for wash—sand and detritus carried down by the current—and promising rock formations. At a sandbar he swirled something black in his dish which in the half-light resembled tin. He had seen tin oxide almost two decades earlier at the Victorian gold rushes, but the tiny quantity in his dish now caused him no excitement. He returned to the Arthur to resume his search for gold.

Base map courtesy of LISTmap (DPIPWE).

It was only two days later, when the sun’s rays poked through the myrtle forest, that the opportunity arose to examine the sample under the lens. What struck Smith about it was that many particles were angular. The sample was little waterworn, which meant he had found it close to the matrix.

Smith rushed back to the ‘Waratah’, which was actually today’s Tinstone Creek. For a further two days he panned and picked at the course of the stream, but it wasn’t until he ventured above its Ritchie Creek confluence that his pick opened the bed of porphyry he sought.  The adrenalin must have pumped as he climbed the stream. Within a few minutes he obtained a quarter of a kilogram of tin ore. He picked crystals out of crevices in the creek bed, and at the source of one of its tributaries, where Mount Bischoff Co tailings were later piled, Smith washed more than a kilogram of tin to the dish. He had found the motherlode.[1]

The site, at the junction of the Arthur River and Tinstone Creek, where Philosopher Smith washed the first Mount Bischoff tin. Today the startlingly yellow waters of Tinstone Creek tell the tale of Bischoff’s mining legacy. Nic Haygarth photos.

A ‘mountain of tin’, Mount Bischoff, stood above him. Over 74 years the Mount Bischoff Tin Mining Company would produce 56,000 tonnes of tin metal and pay dividends of more than £2.5 million on paid-up capital of only £29,600, one of the great success stories of Australian mining.

As usual, the company with the first choice of ground and best access to capital dominated the mining field. That wasn’t the West Bischoff Tin Mining Company which, ironically, worked in the valley where Smith made his discovery. Take a walk in Philosopher’s footsteps and you can see the scars of its struggle.

Sacrificial human showing the scale of a West Bischoff Tramway cutting, Tinstone Creek. Nic Haygarth photo.
Ritchie Creek bustling through spindly regrowth. Here Philosopher got side-tracked for a day. Nic Haygarth photo.
Bogey wheels from the horse-drawn tramway. Nic Haygarth photo.

The West Bischoff’s early mill site is not far from Philosopher’s discovery point near the junction of Tinstone Creek and the Arthur. That’s about as close as the company got to success. Here Cornish tin dressers WH Welsey and William White worked with a 15-head stamper battery driven by a 28-foot-diameter waterwheel. The plant was served by races from Ritchie Creek and the Arthur River, an inadequate water supply which probably reduced the company’s viability.[2]  Beginning with a paid-up capital of £20,000, between 1878 and 1892 the West Bischoff Co made 26 calls on shares—and paid no dividends whatsoever.[3]

West Bischoff mill and water wheel. Stephen Hooker photo, NS1192-1-1 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office).
Friends of the water wheel, from the Colin Dennison Collection, University of Tasmania Archive, photo cleaned by Jeff Crowe.
Machinery drive shaft still in place. Nic Haygarth photo.
Some remaining timber fluming on a water
race. Nic Haygarth photo.
Collapsed boiler chimney in the old water wheel pit at the West Bischoff Mill. Nic Haygarth photo.

A 2.5km-long wooden, horse-drawn tramway and haulage connecting the plant to the mine in the western flank of Mount Bischoff included a 30-metre-long bridge over Ritchie Creek. [4] Thanks to Winston Nickols’ dogged research, track cutting and marking, much of the old tramline can now be retraced along the edge of the highly degraded Tinstone Creek. The impressive tramway cuttings and the horrible, spindly regrowth resulting from clearing the old forest give some idea of the original company’s enterprise. The yellow glop in the creek is fed by acid mine drainage (that is, low level sulphuric acid) escaping from the West Bischoff/Bischoff Extended adits.

By March 1892 the West Bischoff Co had driven its no.3 tunnel more than 400 metres, but the cost of all the infrastructure left it unable to afford a calciner which could have purified its ore by roasting out the arsenic.[5]  The company was wound up, being replaced by another inadequately funded company, the New West Bischoff. The infrastructure on the property was by now so run down that it was cheaper to crush at the adjoining Stanhope Tin Mining Company battery than use its own, so the company employed Stanhope Co manager Richard Bailey to run the two mines concurrently.[6] While the New West Bischoff facilitated this change by building another tramway, in January 1893 its own plant was destroyed by bushfire.[7]

Stamper rods and part of the camshaft of the battery, West Bischoff/New West Bischoff Mill.
(Right) Charred remains of the blacksmith’s shop. Nic Haygarth photos.

The signs of this fire remain today at the multi-levelled site of the old mill, where the stamper rods, blacksmith’s shop, boiler stack and water wheel pit are still evident. The New West Bischoff lurched towards defeat. No Australian buyer wanted its unroasted arsenical tin ore, forcing it to ship it to England for treatment and sale.[8] The bank foreclosed on the company, finally selling the property to Wynyard investor Robert Quiggin in 1895.[9] After seventeen years of work at this site, the first dividend remained elusive.

The route from Waratah down Tinstone Creek to the Arthur River and over the Magnet Range was cut as a track in 1879, and when the mining settlement of Magnet was established in the 1890s it became an 8km pedestrian conduit between Waratah and its satellite mining town. Come night or day people padded between the centres, attending dances, courting darlings, cutting firewood and even moving stock. Today you rarely glimpse the ‘glorious’ walk of yesteryear, that ‘never-ending avenue of most beautiful greenery which arches overhead so closely at times as to form a veritable living tunnel’.[10]

No record survives of anyone hitching a ride up the hill on the West Bischoff tram, but those passing the old burnt-out mill site in 1901 would have dodged horse teams, haulage contractors and carpenters. A third company, the Mount Bischoff West Tin Mining Company, registered in Victoria, was building a new mill. It had paid-up capital of only £16,000, but a higher tin price in its favour.[11] Another crushing device, a Krupp ball mill, replaced the original battery and two concentrating tables were installed to separate the ore. The machinery was driven by a water-driven 98-horsepower turbine.[12] Drop in to see the concentrating tables and the amalgamating pan that possibly replaced the ball mill. The latter must have proven too hard to salvage when in 1903 the plant was abandoned and the property left in limbo again.

Pesky photo-bombing photographer with the amalgamating pan.
Phoenix Weir concentrating tables. Thanks to Winston Nickols for his technical research.
Nic Haygarth photos.

So far we have tarried in the bottom end of the Tinstone Creek valley. Now we cross Ritchie Creek, up which Philosopher camped after getting side-tracked trying to trace the tin. Above this confluence he rediscovered the black waterworn particles of the cassiterite or tin oxide that later made the Mount Bischoff Co famous.  By the late 1890s this company had bought out most of its early rivals, but it saw no advantage in buying the West Bischoff property. Instead, in 1905 company number four, the West Bischoff Extended Tin Mining Company (later simply the Bischoff Extended), took over the leases and erected a new mill much higher up Tinstone Creek below its mine. When the scrub was lower than present you could still see the brick chimney and roaster shafts of its 1910 calciner, the first on the Bischoff field.[13]

The first, steam-driven Bischoff Extended plant on Tinstone Creek, showing the tramway connecting it to the workings above it on the western side of Mount Bischoff. Photo courtesy of the Waratah Museum.
Bischoff Extended Mill, 1911. Photo probably by JH Robinson from the Weekly Courier, 25 May 1911, p.24.

From here on Mount Bischoff was a two-horse tin field. The better capitalised Mount Bischoff Co threw its weight around, alleging that the Bischoff Extended had encroached onto its lease. The expensive High Court law suit which resulted hampered the struggling company’s progress.[14] So did reduced production when World War One closed the European metal market.[15] The first dividend, 39 years in the making, was declared in 1917, but although several more followed up until 1920, the company soon returned to making calls on shares. Further technical advances, including electrification of the plant in 1925, were made in the face of rising costs and falling metal prices.[16] Mostly sporadic operation continued until the mine was abandoned in 1931.[17] A six-bullock team hauled a large boiler up the hill to Waratah, but much of the plant remains on site rusting ever deeper in the regrowth.[18] Welcome to the Tarkine industrial wilderness.

Life at the Bischoff Extended in 2004. Tiger snake sunning himself on burnt remains of the feed floor at the top of the mill.
Calciner chimney.
Three lichen-encrusted roasting shafts crowned with gear wheels, Bischoff Extended Calciner. Nic Haygarth photos.

Your walk in Philosopher’s footsteps has now reached the base of the hill below Mount Bischoff. It’s a hard slog to the top, but imagine how much worse it was for the man on a daily ration of 100g of bread and a pint of tea.[19] That dish full of ‘black gold’ he won at the head of Tinstone Creek was the only tonic Smith needed. He had no food but he had a fortune. For the Mount Bischoff Co’s smaller rivals, destined to collect ‘the crumbs from the rich man’s table’, there was no pay-lode and no payday, just bread-and-butter toil for the working man and a poisonous legacy for the upper Arthur River.

[1] James Smith notes, ‘Exploring’, NS234/1/14/3 (Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, afterwards TAHO).

[2] HK Wellington; in DI Groves, EL Martin, H Murchie and HK Wellington, A century of tin mining at Mount Bischoff, 1871–1971, Geological Survey Bulletin, no.54, Department of Mines, Hobart, 1972, pp.61 and 64.

[3] Journal of the West Bischoff Tin Mining Company, NS1012/1/51 (TAHO).

[4] James FitzHenry, ‘Mount Bischoff’, Tasmanian Mail, 9 July 1881, p.21.

[5] Pretyman to FA Blackman, 23 March 1892, NS1012/1/45 (TAHO).

[6] Pretyman to Robert Mill, 25 August 1892, NS1012/1/45 (TAHO).

[7] For the tramway, see Pretyman to Richard Bailey, 7 December 1892, 14 December 1892 and 18 January 1893. For the fire, see Pretyman to Richard Bailey, 17 January 1893, NS1012/1/45 (TAHO).

[8] Pretyman to Richard Bailey, 29 September 1892; Pretyman to Claperton, 24 January 1894; NS1012/1/45 (TAHO).

[9] Pretyman to Richard Bailey, 9 August 1895, NS1012/1/45 (TAHO).

[10] ‘WGT’, ‘Further rambles with the Scouts’, Advocate, 26 January 1924, p.12.

[11] ‘Mount Bischoff West’, Examiner, 14 March 1901, p.2.

[12] ‘West Bischoff tin mine’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 26 September 1901, p.3.

[13] ‘Mount Bischoff Extended’, Advocate, 6 September 1907, p.2.

[14] ‘Bischoff Extended’, North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 30 May 1913, p.1.

[15] ‘Mount Bischoff Extended’, Daily Post, 18 May 1915, p.8.

[16] HK Wellington, A century of tin mining, p.58.

[17] HK Wellington, A century of tin mining, p.61.

[18] ‘Waratah: 8-ton boiler raised from Bischoff Extended’, Advocate, 24 March 1933, p.8.

[19] James Smith notes, ‘Exploring’, NS234/1/14/3 (TAHO).