Beaconsfield, Tasmania

An historic goldmining town on the West Tamar Highway, Beaconsfield services the many small communities located on the western side of the Tamar Valley.

Where Is it? Beaconsfield is 46 km north west of Launceston.

Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre

The Beaconsfield Mine and Heritage Centre is the main attraction in the town and should not be missed. Twice the size it was a decade ago, the remnants of the original Tasmania Gold Mine that was the original Grubb Shaft Museum still stand, but have been extensively added to with an impressive state-of-the-art wing.

Historic Buildings

The town has many older buildings which recall a time long gone when gold was the driving force behind the town. A park near the town centre is home to a number or early buildings, including miners' cottages and the original school building. The town's Council Chambers once served as the Mine Office; the Beaconsfield Branch of the Bank of Tasmania still stands. Used to store the gold mined in the town in the early days, it suffered the biggest bank robbery in Tasmanian history in 1884 when its vaults were cleared out by bandits.

In the evenings and on weekends, when the miners put down their tools, the Alicia Theatre was the most frequented building in town. Dame Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso are among the many great performers of yesteryear who performed here. During the First World War, the theatre was targeted by opponents of conscription, who tried to blow it up.

Holy Trinity Church in Margaret Street was built in 1907 and is distinguished by its ornate wooden gables and tower. As you get closer you'll notice that it has been covered by blonde zincalume. However, apart from this, it is an exceptional timber church and the inside is characterised by some particularly impressive rough-hewn timber and some fine woodwork.

Narawntapu National Park

Narawntapu National Park abounds in Forester kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and even Tasmanian devils on its grassy plains and heathlands. They are relatively comfortable in the presence of people and will often allow you to approach them for close observation. At dusk, you can catch sight of little penguins scampering up the beach at Point Sorell. The western part of the park is in an ideal location to be combined with a tour of the vineyards of Tasmania s premier wine-growing region, the Tamar Valley.

Notley Fern Gorge

Notley Fern Gorge (27 km south via Exeter) is a forest dominated by large, old eucalypts over a understorey of rainforest. Towards the creek, there are a variety of fern species growing in abundance. The gorge is a 3/4 hour walk from the carpark along a well constructed path following a creek, with a 1.5 km return walking track through the forest. Look out for Brady's tree, a giant hollowed-out tree that bush-ranger Matthew Brady and his band of followers sheltered in during the 1820s. Brady’s Tree is only five minutes’ walk from the car park.

The Fern Gorge trail is ideal for for beginners, it's easy to walk, not too long, with lots of interesting fungi to photograph. There are plenty of fallen logs, fairy-tale moss-covered trees and plenty of ferns, not to mention white gums and blackwoods overhead. The Gorge has a picnic area is at the car park along with clean rest rooms. Unfortunatlry, no dogs are allowed so as to not disturb the abundant wildlife.

Holwell Gorge

Holwell Gorge reserve (8 km south-east via Kellys Lookout Road) is centred around a narrow gorge and fern glade in the Dazzler Range. It features many beautiful tall trees, ferns and a 45-minute scenic walking track past three waterfalls. The walk to the first falls is relatively easy - in fact it's a leisurely 15 minute stroll to the Holwell Gorge Falls.

The sign reading "Experienced Walkers Only" is for the second part of the trek. sLocated at the base of the falls, nailed to a tree on the hiking trail, is a make shift sign giving information on accessing the two additional waterfalls. From here onwards the trees get taller, the rugged surroundings thicken, the tree ferns get denser as to go deeper into the cool rainforest. It pays to have a bit of bushwalking experience as the walk soon becomes a scramble over fallen logs and slippery banks. It will take around 40 minute to reach the base of the second falls.

The third, Upper falls are not too far away - and there is a flight of stone steps to reach the viewing area. The easiest way back to the car park is to return via the way you came. There is another way back but it involves scrambling over rocks and more fallen trees and a scamble down the side of a cliff.

History of Beaconsfield

The area around Beaconsfield was first explored by Europeans in 1804 when William Paterson led an expedition to Port Dalrymple and established a settlement at York Town. Settlement of Beaconsfield itself, then known as Brandy Creek did not occur until the 1850s. Limestone mining led to the discovery of gold in 1869. Gold mining began in 1877 and the area's population boomed. Brandy Creek Post Office opened on 1 December 1877 and was renamed Beaconsfield in 1879.

The town was named Beaconsfield in 1879 in honour of Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time. In 1881, the Beaconsfield newspaper was called the Beaconsfield Tickler. In 1953, Beaconsfield was the first town in Australia to fluoridate the water supply.

Gold was first discovered in Beaconsfield in 1847. When the gold rush hit Victoria and New South Wales in 1851 and the Tasmanian Government offered a reward for the discovery of a payable goldfield. In 1877 the cap of a payable gold reef was discovered on the eastern slope of Cabbage Tree Hill by brothers William and David Dally. This became known as the fabulous Tasmanian Reef. In October 1877 the Dally brothers sold their claim on the Tasmania Reef to William D Grubb & William Hart for 15,000 pounds, and 1/10 share in any company formed.

At the peak of the gold rush 700 men were employed in the gold mine and 26 tonne of gold was recovered.

An early settler at the time, Mr Campbell wrote that, "the blacks were here in those days…. On each side was nothing but thick tea tree scrub and snakes…. When the rush for gold was discovered there was only two shops, drapery and grocery but soon the little township swarmed with people. More shops, hotels, dance halls and hall were built for plays to come to the town which they did in plenty. There came circuses and the children got excited and followed to see the horses and elephants going through the town to get somewhere to camp and build their tents. Those entertainments came very often because there was plenty of money about

The town began its early life as ‘Brandy Creek’ because of the colour of the water in the creek where the gold was originally discovered. "The growing civic consciousness found voice in the demand for a new name for the town and in March 1879 Brandy Creek was renamed Beaconsfield, after Lord Beaconsfield, (Benjamin Disraeli)", (Town With a History by Coultman Smith, 2006) the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time "in a ceremony conducted Governor Weld after he rejected a suggestion that it should be named after him".

In 1903 an English company bought the Tasmanian Gold Mining and Quartz Crushing company and formed the Tasmanian Gold Mining Company Ltd. As water had become such a huge problem at Beaconsfield, a substantial injection of capital was required to purchase and operate suitable dewatering equipment. The Company extracted gold from two shafts adjacent to each other, Grubb and Hart Shafts. In 1904 engine houses were built at these shafts and a central boiler house. These buildings now house the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre.

Underground mining began in 1879 with the sinking and development of three main shafts to access the reef: the Hart Shaft, the Main Shaft and the Grubb Shaft. Beaconsfield became the richest gold town in Tasmania. In 1881 there were 53 companies working the field. These were all absorbed by the owners of the Tasmania mine.

The gold mine closed in 1914 due to regular flooding of the shafts but re-opened in 1999 with mixed success. To 1914, the mine was worked to a depth of 450 metres and produced 800,000 ounces of gold. In 1982, the Grubb Shaft Gold & Heritage Museum was established,(now called the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre url with displays relating to the former gold mining era operating since 1984.

During the 1970s exploration drilling confirmed that the reef continued at least another 200 metres below the old workings. By 1991 the old Hart Shaft collar had been re-established and water pumped out to 160 metres deep. The project was suspended until 1992 when the mine's owners changed. Deep drilling resumed in 1993 to review the resource estimates and, from 1994, the Beaconsfield Mine Joint Venture has carried out drilling of the depth extension of the Tasmania Reef. A permanent stage pumping station 181 m below ground had been lowering the water in the shaft since August 1995. The permanent winder and head frame were completed in January 1996 and the shaft finished in late 1996. An ore treatment plant was built during the 1999/2000 financial year. In the financial year 2004/05, 240 685 tonnes of ore was produced from which 3890 kilograms of gold was extracted.

In 2006 the participants in the unincorporated Beaconsfield Mine Joint Venture (BMJV), which operated the Beaconsfield Mine, were the Allstate group (Asx:ALX - delisted) with a 51.51% interest and the Beaconsfield Gold group (Asx:BCD - delisted) with a 48.49% interest. Allstate managed the BMJV, with the mine manager, and all personnel reporting to him, employed by Allstate.

On Tuesday 25 April 2006, a small earthquake caused a rock fall in the Beaconsfield gold mine. Fourteen miners escaped safely, one miner, Larry Knight, was killed, and the remaining two, Todd Russell and Brant Webb, were trapped in a shaft approximately one kilometre underground. The two trapped miners were found alive five days later on Sunday 30 April. Rescue operations continued for nearly two weeks until the two miners were freed on Tuesday 9 May.

In September 2007, the Foo Fighters released a tribute ("Ballad of the Beaconsfield Miners") to the miners on their album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace. The Beaconsfield gold mining operations finally ended with the closure of the mine in June 2012.

Ilfracombe Iron Company

The Ilfracombe Iron Company (I.I.C.) was an iron mining and smelting company that operated in Northern Tasmania in 1873 and 1874. The company's operations included a blast furnace, ore mine, village, and jetty. The I.I.C.rebuilt a disused timber-haulage tramway, terminating at Ilfracombe—now the southern part of modern-day Beauty Point—which it extended at both ends to reach its iron ore mine and its jetty.

Iron ore from the company's mine was smelted at a foundry in Melbourne in 1873. The company constructed a blast furnace alongside a tributary of Middle Arm Creek. It originally intended to power the blast machinery from a large water wheel. Despite several design iterations, the blast machinery was severely under-sized. Before this situation could be rectified, by raising more capital, the Oriental Bank foreclosed. The assets were sold cheaply; possibly, the new owner intended to restart operations. However, a large fall in the price of iron seems to have ended that possibility.

The company's operayions site includes a sandstone and metal blast furnace base with fragments of furnace casing, remains of furnace operations such as a bosh skull, and assorted piping. The furnace site is on private property, in a paddock. A small dam about 50 metres away is likely to have been connected with the furnace to drive a water wheel that provided the blast to the furnace. The water wheel well is visible, as is the manager's house site. Location: Flower Gully Rd, Beaconsfield.

Tasmanian Charcoal Iron Company Mine

The Tasmanian Charcoal Iron Company Mine was part of an ambitious though short-lived mining and smelting venture which was part of several contemporaneous attempts to establish an iron industry in Tasmania. Forest now hides what almost one hundred years ago had been the beginnings of a thriving iron industry in the Ironstone Hills behind Beaconsfield. Deposits of brown and red hematite and magnetic iron oxide had long been known to exist in the area. Records show that a few tons of iron ore were taken away from the area by Lieut. Gov. Paterson's Lady Nelson in 1805.

In rapid succession, between September 1872 and January 1874, four separate companies were formed to smelt Tasmanian iron ore. The first and best known of these was the Tasmanian Charcoal Iron Company, floated in Melbourne in 1872 to start preliminary work at Mt Vulcan. The Tasmanian Charcoal Iron Company erected a jetty at Redbill Point and built an eight kilom long wooden tramway along Andersons Creek, laid out two towns (Port Lempriere and Leonardsburgh) and built a gas furnace at Leonardsburgh. It was found that the chrome content of the iron was too high and tests in the U.K. in 1876 cast doubts on the ore. The company held on until the end of 1877, when operations were suspended.

The site today takes the form of an open cut mine in soft red soils interspersed with a large and small ironstone boulders. Ironstone quarry faces up to 3 metres deep survive, and on some faces it is possible to see original pick marks. A shaft about 3 metres deep remains in the base of one of the quarries. Parts of the tramway with iron slag ballast, which took ore to Redbill Point (West Arm), are still visible.