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save the Blue Tier

history of settlement

the early settlers - kathleen burns

The Municipality of Portland in the north-east of Tasmania was known originally as Gould's New Country. It was named by Charles Gould, who was a Government Surveyor, in 1830. Mr. Gould had walked up the east coast to Georges Bay; he then turned from the coastline and walked for two days through the bush until he came to a long mountain range. As it had not been named, he named it the Blue Tier. He explored a trianguler area of land with its apex on the Blue Tier and base reaching from Ansons Bay to Georges Bay. He named this piece of land Gould's New Country.

In 1868 some twenty men with their wives and in some cases children, made their way with pack horses to the foot of the Blue Tier looking for land on which to settle and farm. Their first settlement at the foot of the Blue Tier was called simply Gould's Country. This group of early pioneers consisted of seventeen English and Scotsmen and three Germans. They found the bush very unwelcome to them but they persevered. Their first priority was shelter and this consisted of a bark hut with outside fireplace. Some settlers had only sheets of canvas thrown over poles. These hardy people over the first two years at least, were in anything but a rosy position. They relied on kangaroos, wallabies and possum for food and they had the benefit of their skins for rugs and leather.

The small timber around them was stacked for burning in their fires, the large timber was ringbarked. Clear spaces were hoed over and the appropriate seed was sown. Where they burnt the bush they planted the potato peelings to provide food. Man and beast awaited the harvest from their efforts. But the animals of the surrounding bush were expectant of the harvest too, and made life very heartbreaking. One and two year old children died from their exposure to this life and their little graves can be found today in the churchyard at Gould's Country.

These English and Scotsmen had left their homelands because of varying personal reasons. One was a member of an aristocratic family in Surrey. He married a French refugee so they emigrated to Tasmania to escape the wrath of his family. Gold fever had lured some of them to Victoria. Few had found gold. Those that did were able to buy their land in Gould's Country but most had no money and they became squatters on the land.

A Londoner was amongst the first settlers. Shortly after arriving in Gould's Country, his wife had a little girl and they named her Gouldina. When times became hard for this family he left his wife and children on their little plot and went to the Victorian Goldfields to earn some money. Eighteen months later he returned in high spirits with one hundred pounds in his pocket. He was shattered to find his wife owed exactly that amount to creditors who had helped her in his absence. It wa not unusual for wives to be left during those first hard years. In 1870 the rail link between Hobart and Launceston was in progress and some of the men went to Campbell Town from Gould's Country to earn enough money to keep their families alive.

The three German families all settled into the Pyengana area. Usually in their case it was religious persecution which had driven them to other shores. Their area was heavily timbered when they arrived and so they set to with a bullock, wearing an upside down horse collar, chained to a horse and dray to clear the land. This was an unique way of clearing land and it is parochial to this area.

The pioneers were all very devout people and their Church was the first building erected after settlement. Today it still stands in the bush at Gould's Country along with other buildings which comprise the town today. This town has a place in our history books today because it has become the last completely wooden town left in Tasmania.

In 1874 when the grey gold, as these settlers had called the tin, was discovered on the Blue Tier life changed. Miners who came in to mine the tin settled in other areas of the Blue Tier in towns called Lottah and Poimena and the early farmers then grew the food to sell to the miners.

Their lives and relationships are another story.

The early settlers on the Blue Tier struggled to grow enough food to keep themselves alive. They drifted in from 1868 to farm the land and they did not realise that the ore lying thickly on the surface of the Tier was in fact the metal tin. In 1874 the significance of the metal started a tin rush in this area. Some miners came overland from the Mathinna goldfields but most sailed into Georges Bay (St. Helens) and then set out for the Tier which was a full two days walk away. Because of the distance involved and the need to spend overnight in the bush, a tent was set up halfway between Georges Bay and the Tier. This was a little farming settlement named Goshen. This tent was later converted into an Inn by putting split palings around it and a shingle roof on top. It had turned into the first pub in the area and was known as the Oxford Arms Inn and its remains are still on the side of the road at Goshen today. From Goshen the miners crossed a marshy area and then continued up to Gould's Country. Here they freshened up and ate well at Johnston's Boarding House. From Gould's Country it was a hike of seven miles right to the brow of the Tier where the little town of Poimena stood. Another mining town called Weldborough stood on the other side of the Blue Tier at a distance of twelve miles from Lottah.

Mines sprang up all over the Blue Tier over the following twenty years and the ruby tin was considered the best quality tin in theworld. Dams were built to hold the water needed to drive the water-wheels. Each mine had its own water-wheel to drive its stampers, which crushed the granite containing the tin ore. Water-wheels differed in size from 20 feet but the biggest in the southern hemispere in 1880 was at the Anchor Mine at Lottah. It was sixtysix feet in diameter and was constructed on the steep hillside with very basic tools.

The first miners were paid only 12 shillings a week but after a while they went on strike for 8 shillings a day. To dodge this demand the employers brought in Chinese miners who worked very cheaply. However this move did not succeed and our miners got their 8 shillings a day to be the first in Tasmania. Their work was very hard. They had to dig the granite out of the mountainside with picks and shovels. It was then napped down to size with hammers for going through the stampers. The Chinese mentioned earlier all settled in the Weldborough area and they were good citizens and community members. Their Joss House from Weldborough is a fine exhibit in the Launceston Museum today. The bags of tin transported to Georges Bay on tin carts each held a hundredweight and these heavy loads negotiated the wooden roads and marshy areas for twenty miles to get to the Port. The ships which came to collect the tin brought in the supplies for the shops on the Blue Tier and the tin carts took these supplies back with them on their return trips.

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