Why Back River? The best explanation is that it is situated at the back of the Derwent River, amongst rolling hills, in the shadow of Mt Dromedary and fertile river flats. Nowadays the area is known as Magna.
Early settlers built their homes along the flats to the foothills and were ensured of plentiful water from the streams flowing from the Mountain. This water supply allowed the settlement to prosper.
A stroll around the cemetery behind the Methodist Church, built of brick in 1831, reveals the names of many pioneering families.
of the Bradshaw, Cockerill and Young families, all part of the story of the Jilletts.
Many marriages between members of these families occurred.
Extract from “The Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter” Saturday 20th February 1819 as written.
Police Office, 9th January, 1819“Whereas two men at present unknown did about nine o’clock on the night of Wednesday the 3rd day of this present month, burgariously break and enter the dwelling house of Matthew Wood, a settler at the Back River in the District of New Norfolk; and did then and there kill and murder the said M. Wood and afterwards rob the house of the goods mentioned underneath, with which they made off:
And whereas the said two robbers and murderers are at present at large, there are so require all constables and other so use their utmost exertions to discover, apprehend and lodge in life custody the said two felons.
A list of the goods carried off by the murders:
4 white calico shirts, 4 check co???; a piece of grey woolen cloth trousers (the cloth made in Sydney) a white double breasted waistcoat, 5 calico women’s caps, 1 woman;s cotton gown with red spots, 1 petticoat of the same, 2 brown linen sheets that were issued from the King’s stores, a pair of cotton sheets, a new tin baking dish about 1 foot across and 5 or 6 inches deep, 1 Durchmade gun with braff bands around the flock and barrel, ½ lb gunpowder in a bottle, about 20 lb of moist sugar 2 ½ lb of tea, a promissory note of hand drawn by Thomas Murphy for 5 pounds, payable in June next, a store receipt for 25 pounds signed by Mr Commiffary Broughten, 2 new calico shifts, a back of fine white thread and a quantity of red and brown thread.”
By order of A.W.H. Humphrey, Esq. W. English Clerk.
So life was very hard in Back River. Matthew Wood came from Norfolk Island on the Estraminas with his wife Catherine Sponsford. They were married in 1812.
She may have been the former wife of Zackariah Sponsford, who was a Third Fleet Convict, as research shows he had married a Catherine Lewis, but he arrived back from Norfolk Island without his wife.
Settlers who were brought to Van Diemen’s Land from Norfolk Island played a major part in the expansion of the New Norfolk district. The isolation of Norfolk Island, the difficulty of getting stores ashore, and the inability of the settlement to support itself became insuperable problems, and a complete
evacuation of the island was ordered in 1806. And so, in November 1807, the Lady Nelson arrived,
carrying the first 34 of the Norfolk Islanders to settle in the district.
By October the following year 544 people had arrived, to the great consternation of Luit. Governor Collins, as the colony was in the grip of a famine. To add to Collin’s problems all kinds of promises of assistance had been made to the Islanders, which Collins simply could not keep.
Many settlers, and even the soldiers, were reduced to clothing themselves in skins, and if it had not been for the vast numbers of kangaroo, duck and swan, they might well have starved.New Norfolk Historical Centre.. New Norfolk
A Short History of New Norfolk
Reproduced from a booklet Compliments of the Derwent Valley Visitor Information Centre, Circle Street New Norfolk
Some facts and features are:
It has had three names - The Hills, New Norfolk, Elizabeth Town (after Governor Macquarie’s wife)
Governor Macquarie requested that it be re-named Elizabeth Town and be made the capital of Van Dieman’s Land. The Colonial Secretary in London denied his requests.
When Norfolk Island was closed many of the Norfolk Islanders were resettled at The Hills and they subsequently asked that the settlement be named New Norfolk as a reminder of their previous home.
There was a settlement prior to the arrival of the Norfolk Islanders in 1805 - 1806.
The road from Hobart to New Norfolk was the first constructed in the colony. It has been realigned in some sections. Between Granton and New Norfolk there is a rock cairn as a memorial to the road contractor, Denis Mc Carty.
McCarty insisted that part of the contract payment be in barrels of rum. There was a dispute over the quality of the work and McCarty died in a drowning accident before it was settled.
Willow Court, a former barracks is the oldest building in an asylum institution in Australia, (closed 2000, and is being developed into tourist facilities and businesses)
Note Harry Jillett was a inmate, and died in 1942
The Bush Inn is claimed to be the oldest continually licensed hotel in Australia. Dame Nellie Melba stayed there when on her farewell tour, she entertained the guests by singing “Scenes that are Brightest”. The guests sat on the staircase leading to her private suite.
The Close next to the church is also an historic building built in 1866. Crafts, many made by local residents, and souvenirs are available, at reasonable prices, at the Close, operated by volunteers, proceeds are used for upkeep and restoration of the church.
There are many historic and heritage buildings within the town and throughout the Derwent Valley.
The hop industry was established firstly at New Norfolk and then at Bushy Park. An oast house (hop kiln) built at Bushy Park by one member of the Shoebridge family has biblical texts set in the external walls.
(Thomas Shone also had oast houses at his property Stanton)At Salmon Ponds a few kilometres from New Norfolk was the first trout fish hatchery in the southern hemisphere. In a beautiful setting visitors can view the fish in ponds, read the history of the hatchery, visit the museum, have a picnic in the grounds or dine in the restaurant.
No other country town in Tasmania can offer so many historical features and beauty as New Norfolk.
Two substantial homes built in the district were Stanton, a brick residence, and home of the Shone family for 130 years, and Denmark Hill, a brick and freestone buildings. These two building still remain as historic landmarks of the pioneering times.
“Stanton” was built on land granted by Governor Macquarie to Thomas Shone shortly after he arrived in the colony in 1816. It is constructed in red brick in a Georgian design, with a stone staircase of circular design, found only in two or three other homes in Tasmania. The bricks were made by convicts on the site, using local clay. A hand-press was used to form the bricks. The two story house haw a vast cellar whose barred windows peep little above ground level. At the back of the property was an old hop-kiln, built of stone with brick corners and window openings.
By 1843 Thomas had more than 300 acres under cultivation, and his sheep and herds of cattle grazed the river flats.
The first school was established in 1849, under difficult conditions, and in 1863 the Board of Education announced that the school would be closed due to insufficient attendance. In 1884 Thomas Shone wrote to the Board of Education requesting a public school in the area. He offered ¾ acre of land if the Board would erect a school. The school and a master’s residence were erected and Miss Ada Wills was appointed teacher. There were 20 boys and 11 girls enrolled. Miss Wills was paid 31 pounds 3 shillings and 4 pence for the 160 ½ days of school remaining in that year.
By the 1870’s hop growing was introduced, and by 1874 thee were over 50 acres under cultivation. The Shone’s had seven acres, E.A. Bradshaw had 3.5 acres, Mr. E. Cockerill had 5 acres and Mrs. C. Cockerill had 2.5 acres.
Hop growing was very hard work, involving the use of young saplings and rushes to tie the vines. Everyone helped with this task. A sickle was used to harvest the hops.
Disaster struck the industry when in 1916 there was a huge flood which swept into the valley, destroying the livelihood of the farmers. Then in 1919 the area was struck with the pneumonic flu, known then as “the plague”. So many people perished and tales of unselfish heroic acts amongst neighbours allowed many stricken families to survive. Back River today is a scene of pleasant pasture, surrounded by fruit orchards.