History of Mount Stuart

A PDF reprint of A History of Mount Stuart by David Metcalfe can be purchased through Mount Stuart Residents Inc. Digital and/or printed and bound copies are available for $10 and $26 respectively. To order a copy, please email Eric Pinkard at treasurer@mountstuarttas.org.au

Few people living on Mount Stuart today are aware that Highland Road, the route of the first main road north from Hobart, crossed Mount Stuart.

Only one old plan showing Highland Road crossing Mount Stuart is known to have survived, titled Rough Plan of Dr Scott’s Estate Situate New Town. This is undated, but was prepared to show the extent of Dr Scott’s estate in the area.

The plan shows Highland Road starting in Elphinstone Road at about the present day junction with Strathern Street, and generally following the contours of the land, avoiding steep hills along the route. The road crossed creeks in places where boggy ground could be avoided, or where simple timber bridges could be put across.

The valley in Giblin Street was crossed close to the top of Giblin Street; Pottery Creek was crossed above Doyle Avenue; Brushy Creek and New Town Rivulet were crossed at the Lady Franklin Museum. The road then followed the north bank of the New Town Rivulet for some distance before turning north.

A study of Glenorchy history by Alison Alexander records: “Tradition has it that there was an alternative route to the Main Road crossing New Town Rivulet higher up, then probably passing along Beresford Place, in front of Summerhouse gates (Hopkins Street), and along Coleman Street. It joined the modern Main Road at O’Brien’s Bridge.” An old plan, Estate of the late Jno Dunn esq. describes present day Coleman Street as: “Old Road to Launceston”.

A notice of a proposed new bye road in a June 1835 Hobart Town Gazette mentions a road to terminate at: “The high road to Hobart Town”. Coaches at this time evidently were not yet using the main road of today. Joseph Cato, who built a house, now 111 Montagu Street, which he occupied from January 1834, recorded that when later a coach passed regularly through the settlement it could be heard but not seen, owing to the forest.

The route of Highland Road is described on a card in the Wayn catalogue of the Archives Office of Tasmania, stating that the bridge over New Town Creek was built about 1826.

Sixty years ago the existence of this route must have been common knowledge, because the Lord Mayor of the day spoke about it in a speech during a ceremony at the Lady Franklin Museum. Speaking on 6 January 1937, to an assembly of some 500 people, to mark the double event of the Council assuming ownership of the museum, and of 100 years having elapsed since the arrival of the Franklins in 1837, the Lord Mayor said:

“For a museum, the distance from the centre of population has for years been regarded as remote, but it should be remembered that in those days the main road to Launceston ran much nearer to the museum than it does today. It then deviated from upper Elizabeth Street about the Eagle Hawk Inn, over Mount Stuart into Kangaroo Valley, and followed the course of the New Town Rivulet for a certain distance.”

There is a description of the road in the 1830s written by David Burn, who wrote a number of excellent articles on his travels around Tasmania. These were first published in The Colonial Magazine 1840-41, and reproduced in 1973 as a book. He travelled Highland Road, and wrote:

“Except in especially favoured situations, the lands on the high road between the capital and O’Brien’s Bridge were suffered to remain for many years in their primitive condition of brake and dingle. Now, however, the case is widely different forests have disappeared the axe, the plough, and the spade have done their duty noble roads have been formed, goodly dwellings have arise, and smiling fields with blooming gardens glad the eye and repay the toil. In fact, this picture may be said to hold good in a greater or less degree through the whole two and twenty miles that divide New Norfolk from Hobart Town, which places are connected by the noble river (the Derwent) on whose bosom, after several failures, steam has at length commenced its beneficial influence. The road, too, is one of surpassing beauty, following the river almost entirely. It is macadamised throughout, and there are several stage coaches upon it, which, as a public means of conveyance, are in no respects inferior either in horses or other appointments to the generality of English carriages – the journey being performed in about two hours and a half. A more direct road between Hobart Town and New Norfolk, which would shorten the distance seven or eight miles, exists, but the great want of labour, and the perfect condition of the present route, has prevented its being opened – a circumstance deeply but unavailingly deplored.”

One might wonder why horse drawn traffic should attempt the hill up Elphinstone Road instead of taking the flatter route in use today. The reason was that the flatter routes in early days merely tracks through the bush were impassable to wheeled traffic for much of the time, owing to deep mud. It is not easy today to visualise the state of the roads in the first half of the 19th century. The roads were not properly built, or not built at all, and unless they were routed on hard rocky ground, horse traffic rapidly churned them to dust or mud.

In his diary the Colonial Auditor: George Boyes, said on 1 August 1830: “Raining. Roads knee deep in mud. At home all day.” The following year, on 17 September 1832, Boyes suffered a slight accident on the main road, and his diary entry reads:

“In the afternoon rode out to Austin’s. On my return the horse put his foreleg between the logs over a gully and fell forward upon his head. He was going at the time about nine miles an hour. I was thrown some distance from him – and when I got up nothing could equal my pleasure and surprise to find that the poor horse, excepting a slight cut over the right eye – was uninjured. He neither walked stiff nor lame, and carried me along as well as before the accident – that his leg was not broken was owing I think to the depth of the bottom of the gully from the logs, or else to the softness of the bottom.”

In 1836, the funeral of William Shoobridge was delayed owing to the carriage carrying his coffin to the burial ground (in Mellifont Street) becoming stuck in the mud en route. By 1840 the situation was evidently no better, as illustrated by the following poem from that year, published in Joan Goodrick’s ‘Life in old van Diemen’s Land’:

“The state of the roads! Why the roads are so bad,
‘Tis enough to make the pedestrians mad!
Wherever you step, you stick fast to the mire,
Quite up to the ankles, or perhaps even higher
The state of the roads! The state of the roads!
‘Tis a state that would suit frogs tadpoles and toads!
But beings whose tastes differ somewhat from these
Such plunging in mud pools, I’m sure cannot please
The state of the roads! See the creatures in breeches
Can scarcely escape from these deep, dirty ditches!
Then woe to the lady who wears a long dress,
Silks, satins, and mud appear all in one mess!
The state of the roads! Why when your way picking
With care – in the mud you leave your shoes sticking!
While shoeless, and bootless, and dirty to boot
Through quagmires of mud you must now make your own route.
Ye powers who preside o’er this beautiful place
Make haste to remove from our town this disgrace
No more let our men, or our women, like toads,
Crawl scramble and hop – through the state of the roads!”

In January 1837 Sir John Franklin arrived in Hobart to commence his term as Lieutenant-Governor, with his wife, Lady Jane Franklin. Sir John, and more particularly, Lady Jane, had a strong influence on Highland Road.

Lady Jane Franklin almost immediately became friendly with Dr Scott and his wife Lucy, and remained friendly with Lucy Scott after the death of Lucy’s husband later in 1837.

Lady Jane was a keen gardener and botanist, and established what she termed a Mountain Garden on Highland Road, somewhere beyond the cottage on ten acres which she eventually bought as the site for Ancanthe, the Lady Franklin Museum.

Eleanor Franklin, (Sir John’s daughter by a first marriage, a teenage girl at the time), writing to Sir James Ross in April 1841, refers to: the road to Mama’s garden passing a wooden cottage with some pillars in front chosen as the site for Ancanthe.

The old plan showing Highland Road not only clearly indicates the position of Ancanthe but also, a little beyond it at an area adjacent to the road, a ‘Garden’ is marked: This is an area about 250 feet by 130 feet, on land owned by her friend, Dr Scott. It seems likely that this was her Mountain Garden, although there is no direct evidence to prove it.

Lady Franklin was clearly a regular and frequent user of Highland Road, and is recorded in the Colonial Times of 9 May 1843 as being criticised for arranging to have 100 convicts employed to improve the road as far as Ancanthe. Sir John was also a user, having built a cottage close to the road in what is now Giblin Street. This cottage was lost in the 1967 bush fires

The frequent excursions of the Governor and his wife must have posed serious security concerns for the military.

Problems with bushrangers continued during this period of history. Bushrangers raided the cottage adjacent to Ancanthe in 1845. It would have been essential to provide Lady Jane with an armed escort at all times. Unfortunately for the military, Lady Jane seems to have been the sort of person who would not necessarily plan ahead, nor would be likely always to wait for an escort. The consequences of the possibility of the Governor’s wife falling into the hands of bushrangers must have been a cause of serious alarm.

There exists on Mount Stuart an old military outpost, now 45 Elphinstone Road, the origins of which are shrouded in mystery. It seems likely that this was established in the late 1830s, partly at least to provide Lady Jane with an escort every time she appeared. It might also have been a base for the convicts employed on the improvements to Highland Road.

Today, the only visible signs of the route of Highland Road are in the valley above the Lenah Valley RSL Club, where the old road formation still exists as a track through the reserve.

Mount Stuart Road and Elphinstone Road (which had previously been called Eagle Hawk Lane) were named around late 1836.

Oral history on Mount Stuart claims that they are named after a ship, the Mountstuart Elphinstone, (or perhaps after the person: the Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone, from whom the ship was named). No conclusive references have been found to explain the reasons for naming the streets after either the ship or the person. Unfortunately, to add confusion to the story, research has uncovered another ship, with the name Elphinstone, and another famous person in the Elphinstone family.

The ship, Mountstuart Elphinstone, belonged to respectable London owners, and was used as a troopship and convict transport. It was built in Bombay in 1826, and presumably was launched by the then Governor of Bombay, the Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone. The other ship with the name Elphinstone was launched in Bristol in 1825.

The Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779-1859), fourth son of the eleventh Lord Elphinstone, entered the Bengal civil service in 1795. In 1803 he served with distinction on Wellesley’s staff, and rose to become Governor of Bombay from 1819 to 1827.

On his return to England in 1829, he declined the position of Governor General of India, spending his time writing, including his History of India, published in 1841. The Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone does not appear to have had any connection with Hobart or Australia. Wellesley later became Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1814, and was British Prime Minister in 1828.

The other Elphinstone was George Keith Elphinstone (1746-1823). He was son of the tenth Lord Elphinstone, and was Mountstuart’s uncle. He entered the navy in 1761, saw service in most parts of the world, and fought in the American and French wars. As commander of the Channel fleet (1812-1815), he arranged Napoleon the First’s transfer to St Helena. He was made Baron Keith in 1797 and a Viscount in 1814.

The ship Elphinstone visited Hobart in 1836, and possibly inadvertently played a key role in significant events which might have led to the naming of Elphinstone Road. Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur had become extremely unpopular with the free settlers. One of the reasons for his unpopularity was his unwillingness to meet the wishes of the free settlers for a more democratic administration. There had for some time been a movement among the free settlers for such changes, with public meetings and the formation of a Grand Political Association to promote agitation for the Governor’s recall to London.

The Elphinstone arrived in Hobart on 24 May 1836, bringing instructions from the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Glenelg, for George Arthur’s recall to London. This news resulted in immediate celebrations. Two diarists of the time: the first Anglican chaplain (Rev. Robert Knopwood) and the Colonial Auditor (George Boyes), recorded the events.  Knopwood wrote:

“The ship Elphinstone, prison ship brought the intelligence of His Excellency Lt Govnr. George Arthur being recalled home (sic) by Our Gracious Majesty, God bless him.”

Boyes, in his diary, wrote a slightly more restrained entry:

“25 May 1836 – News of Arthur’s recall – (mail only opened that morning). It was all over town in half an hour – the news seemed to diffuse general joy.”

Knopwood, on 22 June 1836, recorded:

“This day a great dinner at the Macquarie Hotel (sic) on account of Col George Arthur, the Lt Governor being recalled home, the first dinner of the kind ever held in the colony for the Govnr. being ordered home.”

Celebrations reached a climax when the Governor departed as a passenger on the Elphinstone. No doubt at this stage people began to float ideas for the creation of some sort of permanent memorial to mark this happy day.  Boyes, in his diary entry for 29 Oct 1836, recorded:

“At [3.30pm] went to the Levee at Govt. House – I took leave of Gov. Arthur ‘Good bye Mr Boyes’ said His Excellency in a tremulous kind tone and wringing my hand continued: ‘How are Mrs Boyes and your children? God bless you all.’ Immediately afterwards he walked from the drawing room where he had taken leave of us leaning upon Mr. Pedder’s arm and weeping bitterly then up to the turning by the Court House and down Murray Street to the new wharf followed by all the public officers Civil and Military and by several hundreds of the townspeople and embarked in the midst of cheers and under a salute from the ships in the harbour. Mrs. A. and the family went off at 2 in the afternoon and Col. Arthur at about 4. The Elphinstone sailed early in the morning.”

The Reverend Knopwood uncharitably recorded that Governor Arthur was so disliked by the inhabitants and settlers that he was obliged to have the soldiers two-deep to guard him to the boat.  At about this stage (late in 1836), perhaps some of the celebrating citizens decided to commemorate the day by renaming Eagle Hawk Lane as Elphinstone Road.

Mount Stuart Road was named at about the same time. How this happened is a matter for conjecture. Perhaps the name of the Governor of Bombay, the Hon. Mountstuart Elphinstone, was well known at the time. Although the people who did the naming are unknown, it seems certain, however, that John Swan must have been one of those involved. At the time he had established his family home at Beaulieu, (today 8 Rupert Avenue) and owned much of the land traversed by Elphinstone Road and Mt. Stuart Road. Today, immediately south of Elphinstone Road (running up from the North Hobart Post office) is Swan Street, named after John Swan.

By the 1890s, the name Mount Stuart must have become associated with a wide area, because in 1891, the Town of Mount Stuart was gazetted. This covered the whole of what is now Knocklofty, and extended almost (but not quite) to Augusta Road. At this time, the boundary of Hobart Town was along Knocklofty Terrace and down the upper part of Arthur Street.

At the lower part of Arthur Street, the boundary of Hobart extended a short distance further along Elizabeth Street, taking in Swan Street and Audley Street.

The Town of Mount Stuart ceased to exist in 1908, when it became incorporated into the expanded City of Hobart. During the fifty year period from 1908, the boundaries of Mount Stuart shifted considerably from those gazetted in 1891. Today, Mount Stuart is recognised by local residents as the whole of the ridge running off Knocklofty as far as Elizabeth Street, bounded by Providence Gully on the south side and Augusta Road on the north.

These boundaries reflect the area from which the Mount Stuart Primary School draws its pupils, and the area which actively supported and financially contributed towards the construction by the local community of the Mount Stuart Memorial Hall after the end of the Second World War.

The southern area of the 1891 Mount Stuart Town has been lost to the new suburb of West Hobart – perhaps being welded into a community through the influence of the Landsdowne Crescent Primary School, and to the west the suburb of Lenah Valley has come into existence. These boundaries were largely recognised in a recent Tasmanian Government review of all suburb boundaries.

Some slight variations arose from a policy of trying to keep residences in each street wholly within a suburb, so that, for example, the boundary between Mount Stuart and New Town is drawn to include all Augusta Road residences within New Town, (instead of drawing the boundary along the middle of Augusta Road).