The military history of Mount Stuart covers two periods separated by more than one hundred years.
The first period was in the early 1800s, at a time when gangs of roving bush rangers were a threat to the suburbs of Hobart Town. In 1824, for instance, William Shoobridge was shot and injured by a bush ranger, during daylight hours, while working on his property near the present Derwent Bowls Club in Newdegate Street.
In an attempt to maintain law and order, the military constructed guard houses on the outskirts of Hobart Town on all the main roads. One of these was constructed on the hillside now known as Mount Stuart. This guard house still exists today, as no. 45 Elphinstone Road. Extensions have been added at the rear, to make a comfortable home, but the front is still largely original. It is a well built stone and brick two roomed establishment, with small lock up cells under the main rooms, which were said to have been used to lock up prisoners, but which today are scarcely large enough for a lawnmower and garden tools. The front door is in the centre, between the two rooms, and a spacious verandah is across the front, from which a guard would have had a good view as far as the Domain. Frank Loughlin, recalling his early memories many years ago in the Mount Stuart Newsletter, said that there was a small timber dwelling nearby in which the sentries lived. This, he records, “was demolished a few years ago”.
There are photographs of the Mount Stuart hillside taken from the vicinity of The Friends’ School at and just before the turn of the century, showing the guard house as the only building to be seen on the hillside. Why did the military choose this location in Elphinstone Road? What sort of happenings took place? Alas, there do not seem to be any records of this guard house. The surviving records of the era are now in England. Regimental records do not contain day-to-day activities (only lists of men, payroll etc). The details of the construction of the building would have been in Colonial Office records – lost in a German air raid during the second world war.
The guard house, however, was certainly built on the main road north from Hobart, which during this period crossed Mount Stuart, passing the Lady Franklin museum in Lenah Valley. Lady Franklin also had a ‘Mountain Garden’ a short distance past the museum site, and during the Franklin governorship between 1837 and 1842, both Sir John and Lady Franklin were regular users of the road across Mount Stuart. Sir John built a small house alongside the road, in what is now Giblin Street. Unfortunately this house was eventually lost in the 1967 bush fires
It seems highly likely that the activities of Sir John and Lady Franklin would have been a major reason for the establishment of the guard house This being the case, the guard house must have been established not later than 1837.
The second period of military activity was during the second world war, when the army occupied the house in Muir Court ‘Eskdalemuir’. There were two activities.
The first was the maintenance of radio communication with army headquarters in Melbourne, (There still remains a radio mast in an adjoining garden which today is used as a base radio station by a local taxi firm.) This was probably seen as a wise precaution against failure of the telephone lines. At the time, there was one telephone cable across Bass Strait carrying only a few lines. Early in the war years, a radio link was set up with a base on ‘The Nut’ near Stanley. The Mount Stuart base, however, provided a direct link between Hobart and Melbourne.
The other activity at ‘Eskdalemuir’ was the breeding and training of homing pigeons for war service. The pigeons were sent north and performed valuable service in the Torres Strait Islands and in outlying areas of northern Australia. As part of their training they were sent in special boxes to Fort Direction, to be released for a flight home to Hobart. One Mount Stuart resident recalls that he was in the army, stationed at Fort Direction (near South Arm), and personally used to release them for their flight home.
The present owners of ‘Eskdalemuir’ still get the occasional visitor from the mainland knocking on their door, wishing to revisit a wartime posting in Tasmania!