North East Tasmania Tourism

History of the Timber Industry in North East Tasmania

Timber Industry

Although European settlement came to the coastal plains around Bridport in the mid 1830s, and sealers had of course made use of the coast and offshore islands before then, there were few attempts to tame the densely wooded hinterland of North East Tasmania until the latter half of the 19th century.

Colonial surveyor, James Scott, and his party completed a circuit of the area between the St Patricks River and the coast in 1852, and was impressed with the fertility of what soon came to be known as “Scott’s new country”.

Hudson's Lisle Sawmill c1920The catalyst to open more of the country came with mineral discoveries – tin in the east in 1873, and gold at Lisle in the western part of the region in 1879. The consequent mines had an appetite for timber, and standing timber was also impeding agricultural expansion. So the arrival of a railway from Launceston to Scottsdale in 1889 created a link for timber-getters to market their product, and sawmills started to spring up in the Sidling range district. Hudson’s Lisle Sawmill c 1920 is shown here - Photo courtesy of Greg Dickens.

As the timber resource retreated from the proximity of the railway, the millers built tramways, bullock or horse-drawn, to connect to the main rail line.

George Peddle's Sawmill NabowlaThe mills cut timber common to their locale – generally Eucalyptus regnans and Eucalyptus delegatensis, which are still favoured species for solid wood production today. An exception was George Peddle’s mills which, starting at Nabowla and later at Legerwood, specialised in myrtle and blackwood. The latter species became particularly famous through furniture production. In fact Mr Peddle's proficient furniture-making was rewarded with a contract to supply the train station waiting room chairs for the State railways, and his rustic dining chairs remain a favourite in antique shops, if they can be found. George Peddle’s Sawmill, Lisle Road Nabowla, is shown here - Photo courtesy Jeff Edwards.

The next concentration of forestry interest after the Sideling Range was the foothills of Mount Horror, to the north-east of Scottsdale. Demand for timber for tin mines around Branxholm had already led to some harvesting at Warrentinna, when the Closer Settlement Board launched a scheme to encourage settlement at the new township of Forester in 1908, and a repeated scheme in 1911. Luckily for the settlers, who took up barely sustainable subsistence plots, these schemes coincided with the formation of the Tasmanian Timber and Tramway Company, and construction of a sawmill at Pearly Brook and a tramway to Bridport in 1912-13.

Tasmanian Timber Co loco nears Bridport c1913-14 Bridport New Jetty c1913-14A new jetty was built at Bridport to cater for the timber exports via a small fleet of trading ketches. Timber from Mt Horror helped build the burgeoning suburbs of Melbourne, and sleepers found their way as far as the railways of South Africa and China. A Tasmanian Timber Co’s Locomotive nears Bridport and the new jetty in the photos shown here - c1913-14 - Photos courtesy Jeff Jennings.

The Tasmanian Timber Company had been granted an extensive timber lease in the area, and while it lived up to it's ambition to process wood from the private blocks, it seemed to pay less attention to the forest in its leasehold, which was cancelled in 1928. What had been the biggest mill in the State was subsequently abandoned.

Mill workers at Henry Jones & Co Gellibrand Plains SawmillHowever, much of the milling and tramway equipment was acquired and moved a few miles south east, after Henry Jones & Co examined the stands of timber on the slopes of Mount Horror and applied for an exclusive permit in late 1932. Suffering through the depression, the Government quickly approved the investment. Mill workers at Henry Jones & Co’s Gellibrand Plains Sawmill are shown here - Photo courtesy of Jeff Jennings.

The new mill at Gellibrand dominated operations in the Mount Horror State Forest from 1933 till 1945, when it was also abandoned in favour of a new site at Camden.

Throughout the periods of dominance by the Tasmanian Timber Co. and Henry Jones, a number of smaller family-owned mills worked the fringes of the big Mount Horror leases. These included James Gofton, J & I Gunn, Counsel Bros and A W Loone.

In 1945, the Forester Sawmilling Company established another new mill at the former Forester township, and proceeded to log part of the big original lease which had been left largely untouched. This enterprise remained the principal forest user until 1952, when it's Exclusive Forest Permit was cancelled and the mill abandoned.   

Throughout the logging activity, the Forestry Department established pine plantations on some of the now vacant forest around Warrentinna. They became the initiator for the softwood milling industry, which helped sustain North East Tasmania up until 2011, when the second of two large mills at Scottsdale closed.

North East Tasmania is now transitioning from a heavy reliance on timber and agricultural production, to a diversification of our economy.

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Events

Annual Arts Festival

While elsewhere in Tasmania people are tucking up by the fire and going into winter hibernation, North East Tasmania comes alive to celebrate and showcase local arts and crafts annually on the June long weekend.

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Bridport CWA Market

The Bridport CWA Market is held on the first Saturday of every month, undercover in the CWA Hall. There is a large range of fresh local fruit and vegetables, home-made jam, sauces and cakes. Jewellery, plants and bric-a-brac are also available.

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