Port Sorell is a small coastal town featuring sheltered beaches, good fishing, orange lichen-covered rocks and foreshore reserves for camping and picnics. Nearby Narawntapu National Park is a place of great serenity and a haven for wildlife, which abounds on its grassy plains and in its marshes and heathlands. Shops and services are located at neighbouring Hawley Beach. The locality of Shearwater is another predominantly residential area near the estuary.
Port Sorell sits on the waterway of the same name in the north of Tasmania. Port Sorell has around 2,000 residents and growing, but its numbers swell in the warmer months due to its popularity as a summertime destination. It is a tranquil vacation spot with incredibly soft, white, sandy beaches and natural beauty.
Port Sorell is 254 km north of Hobart, 79 km north west of Launceston, 20 km east of Devonport, on the Rubicon River estuary.
Tourist Information: Ulverstone Visitor Information Centre
Club Drive, Shearwater. Ph (03) 6428 7920
Much of the activities around Port Sorell revolve around water, partularly the Rubicon Estuary. Diving, boating, fishing from the beach or floating pontoon, water skiing and sea kayaking are all popular activities here. The town's boat ramp is the busiest on the north-west coast. The beach, with its orange lichen-covered granite rocks, is both beautiful to look at and ideal for swimming.
The town draws nature lovers with plenty of foreshore and beach walks, and large sand dunes. A brochure detailing these self guided walks is available from the Latrobe and Port Sorell Visitor Information Centre.
Rubicon Beach Walk: This walk follows on from the Panatana southern shore walk and ends at Squeaking Point through the Port Sorell Conservation Area, a shoreline Reserve. Return 2 kms.
Estuary Eastern Shoreline Walk: Follow the signs on the Frankford Highway to Narawntapu National Park to access the Franklin River starting point. From 1? kilometres south of The Tongue at the western entrance to south east arm, Franklin River and Sugar Creek to The Tongue and around to Lades Road near The Point there is over four kilometres of shoreline reserve to explore. You will need vehicle access as your starting point is 16-18 kilometres from Port Sorell.
Port Sorell Walking Tracks
Penguin and Rabbit Islands
At low tide it is possible to walk to Penguin Island and Rabbit Island the latter a hideout for bushrangers in the mid-1800s. Penguin Island is part of the Narawntapu National Park. An estimated 100 pairs of little penguins breed on Penguin Island.The islands are part of the North Coast Group.
The Port Sorell to Penguin Island swim is an Ocean Swim run by Port Sorell SLSC at Freers Beach in Port Sorell every March. The event is a part of the Tasmanian Ocean Swim Series and has swim distances of 2km.
Narawntapu National Park
Just across the Rubicon River, Narawntapu is a must-see for any visitor to Tasmania wanting to see wildlife in its natural habitat. It’s the most likely place in Tasmania you will see wombats, possums, bettongs, pademelons, kangaroos, wallabies, quolls, Tasmanian Devils and birds in their natural environment. Dawn and dusk are the best times to observe marsupials such as the wombat around the visitor centre area, which is known as Springlawn.
The park’s diverse flora ranges from coastal heathlands and grasslands to wetlands and dry sclerophyll woodlands. This in turn attracts many bird species – as many as 116 species have been recorded – including honeyeaters, green rosellas, black cockatoos, raptors, robins, wrens and fantails. Along the beaches, tidal flats and around the lagoon, a wide variety of waterbirds, waders and coastal birds can be observed. A bird hide in the melaleuca at the lagoon offers an ideal spot for birdwatching and photography: binoculars are recommended.
The Park includes a historic farm, a complex of inlets, small islands, headlands, wetlands with a wonderful array of birdlife, dunes and lagoons.
Narawntapu National Park website
The Port Sorell beaches have a relatively low hazard rating, with usually low to calm waves and shallow bars and sand flats. The best swimming is at mid to high tide. However care must be taken of the rocks on Hawley and Taroona, and in particular if walking or wading out over the sand flats and reefs at low tide. People have been caught on the reefs and high shoals by the rising tide, in addition there are strong tidal currents across the flats at high tide and in the channel at all tides.
Freers Beach, Shearwater
Freers Beach curves from the southern rocks of Taroona Point for 1.7 km to the south, then southeast to the 500 metres entrance of the more constricted inner entrance to the port. A road parallels the back of the beach, with several seawalls and groynes crossing the beach, including one at the southern end. It is usually calm, with a narrow, in places eroding, high tide beach. The Port Sorell Surf Life Saving Club, was founded in 1986 and is located at the northern end of Freers Beach.
Hawley Beach is near Port Sorell and the locality of Shearwater. Hawley Beach is known for its clean sand, lichen covered rocks, minute red sand crabs, hooded plovers and reasonable fishing. It borders the Rubicon Estuary, which has been identified by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area because of its importance for waders, especially pied oyster catchers.
Hawley Esplanade runs along the length of the beach, which extends for just under 2 kilometres. Along the way are numerous parking bays, some with toilets, alongside access points to little pockets of beach, some with rocks, some without.
The waters of the Rubicon Estuary form the eastern boundary of the small rural community of Squeaking Point. Located immediately south of Port Sorell, its name dates from the early days of settlement. It was given to the area because of the noise made by some pigs that escaped from a ship. The official name was changed from “Moriarty” to Squeaking Point in 1948.
Like many coastal communities on the north coast, Squeaking Point is a quiet, peaceful place with not too many houses, all of which are dotted around through bushland. The point itself has a boat ramp, quite essential in a place like this where the lifestyle revolves around boating and fishing on the calm waters of Rubicon Estuary. The point has parking for vehicles and trailers, toilets and a few picnic tables.
Northdown Beach is a relatively straight north-northwest-facing 6.3 km long sandy beach, fully exposed to the westerly waves and one of the higher energy beaches on the mid-north coast. Wave height increases to the east where under high wave conditions more dissipative surf with two to three shore-parallel bars prevails.
Moorland Beach, Wesley Vale
Moorland Beach extends east-northeast for 2.1 km between Pardoe and the low Moorland Point. There is a slight protrusion in the beach caused by wave refraction and attenuation to the lee of Wright and Egg islands, located 1-1.5 km offshore. The beach has a near continuous 150 m wide low tide bar, with low tide rips forming during higher waves, while closer to Moorland Point intertidal rocks and reefs are located in the intertidal zone.
Pardoe Beach, Wesley Vale
Pardoe Beach commences against the end of the cobble beaches that surround Pardoe Downs, with a car park marking the boundary. It trends to the east-northeast for 3 km to the cobble, reef-tipped Pardoe Point. It receives the full force of the westerly wind waves, which average over 1 metre and maintain rips in the low tide surf during periods of higher waves. The beach is backed by a 150 m wide series of hummocky foredune ridges, with a waste treatment plant in the east and the western end of Devonport Airport to the west, and farmland extending inland.
Early history of Port Sorell
The Sydney Gazette of March 10, 1805, states that the schooner “Integrity” had been sent from Sydney to examine a port situated to the Westward of the Tamar or Port Dalrymple, as it was called then. Dr. Jacob Mountgarrett and Ensign Hugh Piper had named this port the Supply River, but it was generally referred to by the colonists as the First Western River and was, of course, Port Sorell. This name was bestowed by the Van Diemen's Land Company's agricultural adviser, Alexander Goldie, and surveyor, Joseph Fossey, when exploring Tasmania's Bass Strait coast in 1826. The Second Western River is today called the Mersey (at Devonport) and the Third Western River is now the Forth (no pun intended!).
Dr. Mountgarrett and Ensign Piper were probably the first white men to explore the Bass Strait coast. Piper’s River and Piper’s Brook record the Ensign’s name, but Mountgarrett’s name seems to have been lost as far as our geography is concerned for a lagoon that was given his name by Col. William Paterson, Lieut-Governor of NSW and later, commandant of the settlement at Port Dalyrmple (Launceston), 7.12.1804, but is now called Turner’s Marsh. Dr Mountgarrett had recently arrived in Van Diemen's Land to take up a post as surgeon at Port Dalyrmple. When Lieut-Gov David Collins told him his services were not required, rather than returning to Sydney, he became a settler and was the first to harvest wheat in the colony.
The next recorded British explorer was Lieut. James Hobbs, R.N. (1792-1880), who had arrived in Van Diemen's Land aboard the Ocean as a boy aged eleven with his widowed mother Jane, his four sisters Judith, Rebecca, Anne Jane and Charity. Hobbs was sent by Lieut-Gov Sorell with two boats and twelve men in 1824 to examine the bays and rivers of the north coast. Hobbs left Hobart Town on 5 February 1824 with two well equipped open boats manned by twelve carefully chosen convicts. They met exceptionally bad weather, suffered serious food shortages and both boats were severely damaged. The larger one was replaced by the commandant at Macquarie Harbour, the other was repaired, and Hobbs completed the circumnavigation of Van Diemen's Land on 10 July. This was undoubtedly the most noteworthy event of his career.
Upon his return, Hobbs reported, "I did not examine the interior of Port Sorell as I merely stopped to ascertain if the report of there being no sand bar in the harbour was correct. If there is any good land there it cannot be more than six miles in extent for between the Second Western River and Port Sorell there is a rocky mountain with bleak and barren aspect". The mountain Hobbs had seen was apparently Mount Roland. Hobbs referred to the locality as Port Sorell, and not by its original name, Burgess (see below), or 'North Down', the name coined by the VDL Company's chief agent, Edward Curr.
Although the records begin in 1845, land allocation occurred as early as 1826 when the VDL Company took up all the country between Port Sorell and the Mersey River, with Curr naming it North Down. Part of this holding, which is still known by that name, was relinquished by the Company in 1826 when the company settled on Circular Head (Stanley) as the site for its permanent headquarters. The North Down property was taken up by Captain Bartholomew Boyle Thomas (1785?-1831), then passed to his brother, Jocelyn Henry Connor Thomas (1780-1862), Colonial Treasurer from 1824 to 1832.
It was through Edward Curr’s direction that the first timber was cut for building purposes at Green’s Creek, where sixty years ago the' old saw pits were still to be seen not far from Harford, to the south of present day port Sorell.
The area had been known as Panatana by local Aborigines. Burgess was the official seat of Government for the district now refered to as the Central Coast, with Charles Meredith appointed Assistant Police Magistrate in 1842. The district was named after the Chief Magistrate of Van Dieman's Land, Francis Burgess (1793-1864), an English barrister, the first police commissioner for Birmingham, England, and subsequently chief police magistrate of Van Diemen's Land (from 1856 known as Tasmania). He served as a Member of the Van Diemen's Land Legislative Council.
Tasmania was initially divided into two counties on 24 September 1804; Buckingham in the south, and Cornwall in the north. Cornwall was governed by William Paterson, with Buckingham governed by David Collins. The township at York Town (near Beaconsfield) in the north became the capital of the County of Cornwall, and the remote village of Hobart in the south became the administrative centre of Cumberland. In 1836 a redistribution into 18 counties was proclaimed, and this arrangement can still be seen in many council and electoral boundaries today. At this time the name Burgess became redundant.
Port Sorell grew out of a fishing community that also serviced British and American sealers who had been plying their trade in Bass Strait from as early as 1798. The settlement was named Port Sorell in 1822, in honour of the Governor, William Sorell. Amongst a regularly changing constabulary of predominantly convict origin was Isaac Stephens who, after relinquishing the position of District Constable, built the first cottages and a jetty. The first Port Sorell Post Office opened on 1 February 1845 and closed in 1863. The current office opened on 3 July 1944.
The population of the Port Sorell area, which until 1844 was part of the Police District of Westbury, was in that year 1,768, of whom only 378 were females. The town had 162 permanent houses. By 1861 the district population had almost doubled to 1,979 males and 1,380 females and by 1870 was described as the "most populous country district in Tasmania".
The main settlement was populated self-styled "Gentlemen" farmers. Much of the rest of the population was transient and consisted of convicts or Ticket-of-Leave men and women who made up the working population of their estates: shepherds, shoemakers, black-smiths, labourers, carpenters, sawyers; men and families who stayed for a while, then soon moved on or became tenants of their former masters.
The town could have and would have been a lot larger than it is now, had it not been for bushfires, and the discovery of coal in the Latrobe area. Being closer to the forests that were being harvested and their timber shipped across Bass Strait to Melbourne, Latrobe soon developed as a major river port and Port Sorell became somewhat of a backwater. In time, Devonport grew into its present role as the major port for Tasmania's Central North Coast.
In 1904 the “Travelling Correspondent” for the Hobart Mercury was dismissive of what he saw at the settlement: “A lonely, desolate place is about the most accurate way to describe Port Sorell. There are about four dwellings in the locality, and one cannot wonder what tempted the inhabitants to settle there the first day as the surrounding country is of very poor quality…” Today Port Sorell and neighbouring Shearwater have become a pleasant holiday and commuter town.
Related documents and references online
The Sankey Family of Northdown, Tasmania >
Reserching in the Port Sorell district >
Merchants of Devonport Pt 2 >
A Short History of Latrobe, Port Sorell and Sassafras >
Biography of Lieut. James Hobbs, R.N. (1792-1880) >