Melton Mowbray, Tasmania



From the 1820s and through the 1830s the area became a centre for wool growing, with the export trade in wool growing steadily resulting in the colony becoming quite prosperous. By 1827 a stock market was established at Melton Mowbray. John Bisdee (1796-1862), who was born at Oldmixon near Hutton, Somerset, England, arrived in Hobart Town in 1821, was a major force in the development of wool growing here, having been granted some 700 acres on the Clyde River at Bothwell which he exchanged for land at White Hills near Jericho in 1823. John and his brothers continued to acquire property and became well known for farming merino sheep. In 1832 the total exports for the colony totalled 152,967 pounds with wool accounting for 63,145 pounds and by 1835 these figures had increased more than threefold with exports totalling 540,221 pounds and wool 220,739 pounds. Successful wool producers were earning between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds each year.

Settlers were required to erect fences as a requirement to improve the land granted and fencing was regarded as an important part of efficient farm management to prevent trespass and stealing and loss of cattle through wandering. Bushrangers were also a concern raiding homesteads close to the main settlements and also those in remote localities. Eagles and other wildlife were believed to be predators and were shot by shepherds especially at lambing season. Keeping deer was the preserve of the wealthy colonists. John Bisdee imported the first fallow deer into the colony and Hutton Park was well stocked with deer by 1834 although it is was reported that some later escaped. He raised pheasants at Hutton Park also.

Melton Mowbray Hotel, which is just about all that remains of the Melton Mowbray settlement, remains a sprawling complex over 3 levels that became a centre for the sport of hunting in the colony. John Bisdee, whose property was nearby, is recorded as supplying deer for local hunting meetings. Whilst on holidays in England in the 1830s, John was introduced to Samuel Blackwell, a wealthy businessman, by John's father, both of whom were members of the exclusive Tedworth Hunt Club. They struck up a friendship, John persuaded Blackwell to accompany him on his return to this State, and they arrived in 1840. Soon after, Blackwell became licensee of the Cape of Good Hope Inn at Apsley - near the Bisdee holdings. In 1842 he took over the Royal Oak Hotel (now Oakmore homestead) at Green Ponds (now Kempton), before purchasing 110 acres at the junction of the Main Road and the Bothwell Road where he built the Melton Mowbray Hotel.

The hotel was designed by John Thomson, a former convict who made good as a superintendent of the colonial Public Works Department then to establish a successful architectural practice in Hobart. The hotel is an example of his work, and bears some stylistic resemblance to other works by Thomson such as Lauderdale Cottage (New Town).

By April 1859 it was advertised that Bothwell Coach Service was leaving from Blackwell’s hotel, Melton Mowbray - Blackwell had named his new hotel after his birthplace - the town that grew around the hotel, was to also assume that name. The official opening of the hotel was advertised in the Hobart Town Daily Mercury on the 21st May 1859, with a gala weekend of sports and hearty meals being advertised for the 2nd-3rd of June that year. Blackwell advertised a steeplechase of four miles, with a prize of 40 sovereigns, plus a sweep of 5 sovereigns and 10 sovereigns for second place. A shooting match was held, with three thoroughbred horses as various prizes. The second day featured a ‘grand stag hunt’ on the property of Mr. Bisdee.

In 1860 Blackwell acquired a pack of Beagle hounds for hunting, and established the Midlands Hunt Club. An adjunct of the Midlands Hunt Club was the Midlands Steeplechase Club and these clubs operated in various capacities up until the 1920s. Like Bisdee, he established a deer park on his property, and had a racecourse built at the rear of the hotel. A decade later, Blackwell was granted a stage coach licence for a two-wheel vehicle to run between Green Ponds and Bothwell for 12 months. Blackwell's hotel was regarded amongst the esteemed as a prominent destination for race horse and hound hunt enthusiasts and was renowned for hosting such events. Blackwell was revered for his sporting accomplishments amongst peers and was often sought for coaching.



Since its construction the hotel not only hosted hunt meetings, but accommodated military, landed gentry, government officials as well as transported convicts. The convicts were secured in an underground cell devoid of any facilities or light, which was the norm in colonial Van Diemen's Land.In the early 20th century a ballroom was constructed which was beacon to the districts residents and enhanced the hotel's popularity as an entertainment venue and travellers retreat.

In 1853 Blackwell entered horses in the Town Plate run at New Town. A few years later he decided to import a racehorse from England, and commissioned a Mr. Brown of Hobart Town, to select a suitable one during a visit to the Old Country. Mr. Brown bought a racehorse named Panic while the horse's owner was absent from home, and there was consternation when he found his favourite racer had been sold. However, he agreed to let the purchase stand, and received 1,000 guineas in payment. Panic enjoyed success in races, his most notable win being the Championship of 1865, and ran second in the Melbourne Cup. Then he was turned out to stud, and one of his first stock was Strop who won the Launceston Cup four times. Another of Panic's foals was Nimblefoot, a Melbourne Cup winner.

It was not unusual for travellers on the coaches from Hobart to Launceston to break their journey for two days at Melton to converse with Mr. Blackwell and admire his trophies and the handsome pictures which adorned the walls. Many members of the Government stopped at Melton Mowbray, and when Governor Weld was appointed in 1875 he made a habit of spending all his annual holidays at Melton and travelling up there for all the races. On one occasion His Excellency sent his children and their governess to the hotel for six weeks' holiday specifically so that Mr. Blackwell could teach the children to ride. During the first Royal Tour of Australia in 1878, the Duke of Edinburgh was the guest of Mr. Blackwell at Melton Mowbray.

After Blackwell's death in July 1885, hson, Samuel Blackwell jnr. continued to operate the Melton Mowbray Hotel until around 1900, when the hotel was purchased by the Bisdee family as part of the neighbouring Melton Vale estate (Bisdee family).

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Congregational chapel and schoolroom

Two of the other townsite buildings still standing these days are the All Saints church and a simple chapel that has served a variety of functions during its life. The latter was erected in 1866 for use as a Congregational chapel and schoolroom (in those days churches ran the local schools). From 1901 to 1939 it was used as a state school and in 1942 it was transferred to the Church of England. The chapel was restored in 1990 by members of the Dick family in memory of George Abercromby Dick (1909-1987), owner of nearby Mt Vernon estate from 1940 to 1967 and for 20 years a trustee of the Diocese.



All Saints' at Melton Mowbray is situated alongside the old Congregational Chapel. After its closure the chapel was used as a State school between 1901 and 1939. It was also used for Church of England services before All Saints’ was built in 1937. It was transferred to the Church of England in 1942 for use as a church hall and Sunday school. The All Saints cemetery contains headstones and graves of historical significance, including that of Samuel Blackwell, the founder of the Melton Mowbray hotel and a pioneer in the Tasmanian horse racing industry.



Cross Marsh

Early newspapers make reference to a Cross Marsh Military Station which apparently operated from c1822-1829. It is generally believed that Blackwell built his hotel near the Military Station, as Cross Marsh was initially given as the location of it in advertisements. Cross Marsh Creek is a short distance south of Melton Mowbray.

The Cross Marsh markets were a very early and significant trade and meeting place – being the central rural-commerce area of the lower Southern Midlands and Bothwell. The earliest market site was located close to Belgrove, however by 1829 had been moved near to the Royal Oak, the site which Blackwell was to occupy some 12 years later. Blackwell's Cross Marsh Saleyards were commonly advertised in the late 1850s which were located close to his Royal Oak Hotel. The late 1850s however saw advertisements referring to 'Blackwell's New Yards' suggesting he had moved them to his new hotel. Blackwell, clearly an entrepreneur, keenly capitalised these markets which were the cornerstone of the rural economy of the area. The move of the markets to the Melton Mowbray Hotel further strengthened that site as the hub of the wider community and would no doubt have drawn widespread attention to the hotel and area.



Lovely Banks

One of the locations selected to accommodate gangs of convict labourers involved in building the road was the Lovely Banks Probation Station at Spring Hill. Work commenced to construct the road up Spring Hill in 1840, the Lovely Banks Bridge and a stone culvert further east were constructed as part of the road. Convicts housed at the nearby Probation Station built the bridge, with other convicts breaking rock in a quarry located just east of Lovely Banks. The rock was then carted up hill in hand carts and the convicts were required to make twelve journeys in a twelve hour day. The Lovely Banks bridge carries Tedworth Drive (the old main road) across a tributary of Serpentine Valley Creek.


Lovely Banks probation station

Lovely Banks is a picturesque farm with a rich history, located near Spring Hill. The origins of its name date back to the 1800s, when a Governor and his wife passed through the area and commented on the 'lovely banks' close to where the original farmhouse stands today. The historical estate has been family-run for five generations and is now managed by Tim and Andrew McShane and their families.


Lovely Banks, sketched in 1867 by Rosalie Ann Thorne (1850-1927), daughter of Elizabeth Ann Bisdee (1821-1910).

Lovely Banks was established as a Bisdee family property. Farmer and public servant John Bisdee (1796-1862) sailed with his first wife Ann to Van Diemen's Land in the Westmoreland, arriving at Hobart Town in May 1821. He was granted 700 acres (283 ha) (Thorpe) on the Clyde at Bothwell, which he exchanged for better land at White Hills (Hutton Park) near Melton Mowbray. Within a year John was appointed governor of the Hobart Town gaol, chief constable for the district of Murray, and keeper of the Hobart pound. In Campbell Street, Hobart, he ran a nursery garden where he propagated and sold many kinds of fruit trees. By 1847 John held 10,000 acres of pasture in the Jericho/Melton Mowbray area..

In 1839 John's brother, farmer and politician Edward Bisdee (1802-1870), bought Lovely Banks and went to live there with family other members, including his brothers Edward and Isaac Bisdee MLC (1813-1868), achieving success with his high grade merino lambs wool. In 1839 and 1840 Edward topped the London market with his highest grade merino lambs' wool. Throughout the 1820s the Hobart Town Gazette encouraged settlers to cultivate hops and to brew beer for local consumption and for market to Sydney and a number of settlers became interested in this form of agriculture and home brewing. By 1829 Edward had established a substantial hop garden at White Hills and was successful in making "good malt liquor". At this time there some five commercial breweries in Van Diemen's Land.


London Inn and the convict-built Hobart to Launceston road at Spring Hill

Spring Hill

Spring Hill is a tiered hill formation located 16km southwest of Oatlands, situated on the west side of the Midlands Highway. In 1821 Governor Sorrell (1817-1824) established crews spaced intermittently along the extent of the planned road between Hobart and Port Dalrymple (Launceston). Works on the road progressed under Major Thomas Bell, the Acting Engineer and Inspector of Works for the colonial government. Where Governor Sorrell used road gangs simply as a means of developing infrastructure across the colony, Governor Arthur incorporated road gang work into his rigid system of reward and punishment as a means of enforcing convict discipline. Under Governor Arthur, work on road gangs was assigned as punishment for refractory convicts.


London Inn

Tedworth Hall, originally known as the London Inn, was built in 1832 by John Vincent. It was built for use as an Inn and was the second Inn built and run by Vincent, the first being the Castle Inn at Bothwell. From 1832 until about 1849, JE Cox delivered mail from Hobart to Launceston in two and half days. The stagecoach rested at the London Inn, arriving at night before departing at five the following morning. In 1837, the London Inn was described in the "Hobart Town Courier" as being " ... the first and most convenient night stage from Launceston to Hobart Town, dividing the distance of 120 miles into three regular stages of 40 miles each. The coaches and mill carts stop and change horses, while a mail bag is regularly made up for the accommodation of the settlers in the neighbourhood. Having laid in on extensive and well selected stock of wines, spirits, bottled ale, porter and other commodities required for a first rate inn, with good beds and stabling, for the accommodation of travellers, after a fair trial is given, trusts he will receive a share of public patronage". Horses were stabled in the "well secured paddocks and lock up yards".

Tedworth Hall was operated as an Inn until it was purchased by the Bisdee family who then operated it as an agricultural enterprise (see Lovely Banks below). The complex is an intact collection of colonial Georgian buildings, including a Colonial Inn and farm out-buildings, that demonstrate the colonial settlement and resulting agricultural exploitation of Tasmania. Location: 24 Tedworth Drive, Lower Spring Hill, 8km north-east of Melton Mowbray, Tas..


Spring Hill Watch House

The Spring Hill Watch House, circa 1844, is a good example of a Watch House, and similar buildings designed in the convict transportation era, to lock up felons in cells or wards immediately after arrest and before being transferred to gaol. It was used as a temporary lock up for felons and bushrangers waiting to be taken to Hobart, and reportedly for convicts working in road gangs, as well as for soldiers' quarters. The names and initials of convicts are carved into an interior wall, including the names of their hometowns in Ireland, the period of incarceration and the words "in chains". Constructed of sandstone, the Spring Hill Watch House is historically significant for its association with the Tasmanian Colonial Architect, James Blackburn and his experiments with Italianate public building design, incorporating ideas from Loudon's "Encyclopedia of Architecture".

From 1821 until the 1830s, the main road between Hobart and Launceston was progressively constructed and upgraded using gangs of convict labour. On 29 December 1838, the Chief Police Magistrate wrote to the Colonial Secretary with suggestions that a road party build a temporary timber watchhouse at Spring Hill, a small and isolated settlement between Bothwell and Oatlands. Some years later, the stone building known today as the Spring Hill Watch House was erected on the site to the designs of the colonial architect, James Blackburn, although there is contradictory evidence about the actual date. In 1842 the census noted that a stone Spring Hill Watch House was complete and owned by the Crown. However, one of James Blackburn's plans is dated September1844, suggesting that perhaps the first stage of the building was constructed in 1842 and that a second stage was completed shortly afterwards, in accordance with Blackburn's plans. Location: RA 5 Tedworth Drive, Spring Hill, 3.5km south-south-west of Jericho.

It seems likely that the presence of a constable at the Spring Hill Watch House was, in addition to the lock up function, to provide a police presence to protect travellers staying at the neighbouring London Inn, and to deter the robbers and bushrangers who sometimes attacked the mail run, including the Tasmanian bushranger Martin Cash, who robbed "Her Majesty's mail" at Spring Hill in 1843. It has also been suggested that many of the Watch House's occupants were offenders from the chain gang based at Jericho. There are many other accounts of robbery at the London Inn and Spring Hill in the 1830s and 1840s and the road earned for itself a reputation for robbery.

Sometime between the 1880s and 1907, Ina Bisdee, daughter of John and Ellen Bisdee of Hutton Park moved into the Spring Hill Watch House to live. John Bisdee died in 1891 and his widow Ellen moved to Tedworth Hall, formerly the London Inn. Ina returned from New Zealand and lived there also. Finding it difficult to live there with her sisters, Ina moved to the Watch House referred to as the Police Guard House and used it as a cottage, naming it Sunny Haven. It is reported that Ina put muslin curtains in the windows, planted roses and geraniums around the building's walls and created a garden in a quarry at the back of the house. Ina lived at Sunny Haven on her own and sometimes took an overflow of guests from Tedworth Hall.


Sandhill, Jericho

In 1843 Edward was made a justice of the peace, and about this time acquired the well-known property of Sandhill near Jericho. Soon after retiring from the Legislative Council, he returned to England where he became the owner of Hutton Court, and lived there as squire. He left his brother Isaac in charge of Lovely Banks and his youngest brother, Alfred Henry, bought Sandhill. John's son was Lt-Col. John Hutton Bisdee, VC, OBE, an Australian Second Boer War recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Location: Lovely Banks, 3997 Midland Highway, Spring Hill, Tas; Sandhill, 140 Lower Marshes Rd, Jericho.



Hutton Park

John Bisdee and his family settled and built Hutton Park, near Melton Mowbray in the 1820s. They arrived as gentry and were given the land and doubtless convicts enough to build them the stone house that survives. Bisdee talked four brothers into migrating and between them they owned a large hunk of the district by 1840. Bisdees, classed among the 'better element' of the colony, did his best to transplant English county life into the Van Diemen's Land midlands. Once they had cleared out the bothersome Aborigines and enough forest, they introduced deer and rode to hounds - the outings of the Hutton Park Beagles made regular appearances in the papers. Apart from a group of sheltering trees around the homestead the landscape is bare for some distance these days.

The main homestead is a Georgian sandstone double storey house built circa 1827 with 16 paned sash windows to a symmetrical facade and sheet metal roof tiles on a medium-pitch hipped roof. There is a paneled front door with a window over it. On the ground floor there is a large central hallway with three rooms opening from left to right. The hallway incorporates a safe. Upstairs there are four attic style bedrooms. The right hand side of the front of the house has been altered with a modern glassed in extension. Some two hundred metres from the homestead is the old sandstone barn and adjoining shearing shed circa 1827. Demonstrating the sporting interests of the landed gentry in the early colonial period is a sandstone wall that once enclosed fallow deer stock for hunting meetings.

It is understood that John Bisdee had a small English style cottage built (above) here first which was sunken into the ground and later a large barn and adjoining shearing shed for the sheep farm. John's brother Edward Bisdee managed Hutton Park after arriving in Van Diemen's Land in 1827. Stone walls in the area such as the one at Hutton Park were rare before the 1830s. John Bisdee planted English oak and elm trees at Hutton Park in an attempt to recreate an English landscape in the new colony.

John's wife, Anne Bisdee, died in 1848 leaving two sons and four daughters. In 1853, John married Henrietta Charlotte Miller. They had three daughters and one son who sadly died as an infant. John Bisdee eventually returned to England with his family, as did his brother Edward. John Bisdee died on 18 November 1862 at Moorland Cottage, near Hutton in England. His son John inherited Hutton Park, which remained with the Bisdee family until 1984. Location: Hutton Park, 638 Muddy Plans Road , 7.5km north of Melton Mowbray.



Apsley

Apsley is a farming district on the banks of the Jordan River near Melton Mowbray. Apsley was once the railhead for the Apsley Line that branched off the Hobart-Launceston Main Line. Its population today is around 35. The A5 route (Highland Lakes Road) enters from the south-east and runs through the village to exit in the west.

There were two churches at Apsley; St Bartholomew’s Anglican church and a Presbyterian church which opened in 1914. Presbyterian worship at Apsley dates back to the turn of the 20th century when the congregation used the waiting room at the Apsley railway station for services. Around this time the average congregation numbered 48 and a Sunday school was run by four teachers.



The only other significant building in the village is Strathbarton, an historic homestead on Lower Marshes Road, that is registered by the National Trust of Australia (Tasmania). Strathbarton appears to have been built by a Scotsman, Philip Russell (1796-1844), sometime around 1822. Russell arrived in Hobart in 1822 on the Castle Forbes with Captain Patrick Wood, formerly of the East India Co., to manage Wood's prospective farming concerns. He thus helped to establish the Dennistoun estate near Bothwell, but relinquished immediate control when his elder brother, William, arrived in 1839 and became Wood's tenant. Philip then concentrated upon his own property, Strathbarton, near Apsley. Nuerous other migrants from Scotland who became the pioneers of Bothwell also sailed to Van Diemen's Land on the Castle Forbes with Russell and Capt. Wood. However, like many Tasmanian immigrants of that time, Russell left the desolate, windswept midlands of Tasmania for Batesford, near Geelong, in 1839, where he died five years later.

At the time of the Great War the Apsley district had a population of 160. Seventeen men went to the front and four never returned. A memorial hall was built in 1922 in their honour. Apsley's most recent claim to fame is that it was on the road to Apsley that a truck hauling a blade for a wind farm turbine lost its load on a tight bend on the Lower Marshes Road in 2020.