For talk to the Longford National Servicemen’s Association – 4 July 2017

The huge and awe-inspiring iron pillars of the Longford rail bridge impressed tourists for 100 years. Photo c1875

Launceston and Western Railway

The railway which travelled between Launceston and Deloraine, a distance of 45 miles, was opened on Friday, 10 February 1871. Initially, it had a gauge of 5 feet, 3 inches but was later reduced to the narrow gauge of 3 feet, 6 inches. To cater for the different sized rolling stock a third rail was added and continued to be used for around 20 years. At construction, the railway was described as the greatest undertaking in the Colony to that time.

At Longford, when the great iron bridge was being put into place across the South Esk River, there was considerable interest and excitement among the local population, who in great numbers regularly visited the site to watch progress. The bridge had been built in England and brought to the South Esk River in sections, it was 400 feet in length and cost £28,000.

A particular interest was the building of a supporting centre pier in the middle of the river. This was achieved by shoring up the pier area by timber casing and pumping out the water to allow construction to proceed. The pump used was steam driven with a capacity of 300 gallons of water per minute.

There was further excitement at Longford when the owner of “Mountford”, Sandy Clarke, on becoming concerned about his farm being cut in two by the line, armed his workers with forks and staves and ordered them to take up defensive positions along the boundary fence so as to prevent rail construction workers entering his property. Negotiations ensued with the contractors agreeing to build a bridge, which we know as the viaduct, enabling passage between both sections of the farm. The cost of the brick viaduct was around £180.

Initially the plan for the line was to reach Cressy but to save cost the line was changed to the shorter route via Little Hampton. There was a further change at Bishopsbourne when suitable bridge foundations could not be found at the Liffey River, resulting with the line being moved a kilometre north towards Carrick.

Electric Telegraph and Telephone

The electric telegraph, which communicated by Morse code, commenced in Tasmania  in 1857 with the opening of a line between Hobart and Launceston. Longford was connected to this line soon after, the newspaper reporting on 1 September 1860, that Longford had approved the sum of £220 for a branch electric telegraph to the town.

When the Launceston and Western Railway was being planned it was initially proposed to install an electric telegraph, however the three commissioners who had oversight of the project, declined the system due to cost, this being estimated at £2,000 and instead approved a semaphore system of signals. Tenders for the construction of 12 semaphore signals was subsequently advertised with a closing date of 10 May 1870.

However the semaphore system was destined not to proceed, possibly on the realization that communications could not be sent at night or in foggy weather, or due to general haze. Also with two people required to operate each semaphore, a large work force of signallers would be needed along the line. Consequently the Commissioners changed their minds and gave their approval to the first proposed electric telegraph system. Tenders for the supply and erection of 900 telephone poles appeared in The Examiner newspaper on Saturday, 25 February 1871, two weeks after opening the line and came into operation six months later.

The telephone commenced in Tasmania in 1880 with the opening of a line from Hobart City to Mount Nelson.

Three years later, in 1883, exchanges were opened by the Government at Hobart and Launceston, but the two centres were not connected until 1903, 20 years later.

Electric Lighting

This commenced at Longford in 1911 with power being generated by a charcoal suction engine coupled to a dynamo, together with a large battery room. The batteries carried the load after the engine shut down about 10pm. The engine was started daily around 5pm. At a later time power was generated by a turbine installed in the Newry water race until the mill was destroyed by fire in 1917. The town was then connected to the State Hydro Electric grid.

Water Supply

Initially house supply was obtained from roof collection, wells, and water carts. Periodically disease broke out due to the water becoming contaminated resulting in pandemics, causing the death of many, particularly the young.

Robert Gould, a stonemason who worked with his father, had engineering interests and decided to investigate the installation of a reticulated system bringing clean river water to Longford township homes. On becoming elected to the Longford Council in 1888 he soon submitted his proposal but received much opposition causing delays. However with perseverance the scheme was eventually approved and water began flowing on 9 January 1894. All his work was done without fee or reward but with gratitude Longford residents, circulated a petition requesting the reservoir be named “The Robert Gould Reservoir” in his honour, to which the Council assented. He was also presented with a purse of sovereigns. 

 When the benefits of reticulated water and his engineering skills became widely known, his services were engaged at nearby Cressy, Perth, Evandale and Bracknell and by 18 other towns throughout Tasmania, to install similar water systems.

His personal life had much grief and sadness, with his first three wives dying within 14 years of each other, plus several children also dying. His fourth wife outlived him by 19 years.

He was very active within the community, besides being a councillor, served on the Road Trust, was a fellow of the Royal Society of Tasmania, a magistrate for 20 years, a skilled debater, a Rechabite, a member of Lake Lodge Masonic order, a Wesleyan local preacher and Longford historian.

Longford Show (The Northern Agricultural Society)

The first show took place on Wednesday 4 November 1857, now 160 years ago. It was held in the yards of the Blenheim Hotel with around 2,000 people attending. On display were horses, cattle, sheep, implements and other machinery.

At the sixth show, held on Wednesday 5 November 1862 in front of 2,000 visitors, there was great excitement with the appearance of a steam traction engine for the first time. Stationary engines that were moved by horses or bullocks were well known, but an engine that was self propelled stirred the imaginations.  A reporter of the day wrote volumes about it saying, 

“A toothed wheel is attached to the main shaft of the engine, another to one of the axles by an ingenious contrivance, an endless chain can be made to pass over these wheels, causing the machine to move over the ground either backward or forward and by raising the shafts it can be guided in any direction. The machine came onto the ground with steam up (without horses) and after doing its trial work, it did two or three laps of the yard with its water feeder in tow, and then proceeded home, amidst the cheers of the numerous spectators. The rate it moved was about five miles per hour, and as it disappeared in the distance, with smoke issuing from its funnel, and as the driver sat behind, it did not require a very severe effort of imagination to fancy it a sort of pioneer railway engine started on a reconnoitring expedition. ”

Longford Hotel – built by Newman Williatt

Newman Williatt is often referred to as the father of Longford and probably built the first major building in the town, on the corner of Marlborough and William Street, a hotel and residence. Erection commenced it in the late 1820s with its licence being granted in  September 1830 under the name of the Longford Hotel, even though the town was known as Latour. The town did not officially become known as Longford until 1833.

Newman’s connection with Longford, when known as Norfolk Plains, began in September 1825 when he and John James were jointly granted a licence for a hotel/brewery known by the sign of The Wheatsheaf. The address for John James was given as Norfolk Plains whereas Newman was stated as Launceston. There, Newman was the Postmaster until resigning in 1829.

Newman died at Longford in 1832 the result of injuries sustained from being beaten up by two men at Magpie Hill, just outside of Launceston.

Over the years Williatt’s Longford Hotel has changed hands on a number of occasions and had a variety of uses, a general store, public library, a penny savings bank, doctor’s surgery, Temperance Hotel, a convalescent home known as Jessen Lodge and more recently an art and antique centre.

Christ Church and Cemetery, Longford

A feature of Longford is Christ Church which is centrally located and surrounded by near 10 acres in a park like setting.

The church is large and spacious with walls of Hadspen sandstone blocks. Christ Church was opened for Divine worship in 1843 and was intended to be the cathedral of Northern Tasmania. Two previous churches had been located on the block, firstly a small wooden structure, followed by a sandstone building commenced in 1829 and opened in 1831. It was known as St. Augustines. However because of poor workmanship cracks soon opened up in the building making it unsafe. After Christ Church was opened St. Augustines was pulled down with its materials being incorporated into the new Sunday School building.

Christ Church, Longford

A feature of Christ Church is the large and magnificent west window, designed by Mr. William Archer of “Cheshunt”, Deloraine and donated by local merchant, Charles Reid. The window was manufactured by “Wailes” of Newcastle, England and cost £630.

Another feature of the Church is the clock donated by King George 1V in 1829. The bell was also received in the same year but whether coming with the clock is unknown. Similar clocks were sent at the same time to St. John’s Church, Launceston and Port Arthur. The Longford clock gift may have been influenced by King George’s association with Dr. Richard Allen, who had been his personal physician when he was Prince Regent. Dr. Allen was the father of Richarda Allen, who married Thomas Reibey of Entally, with the Reibey’s being strong supporters of the Longford Anglican churches. The clock was constructed by Thwaites and Reed of Clerkenwell, London in 1828 and the bell founded the same year at the bell foundry of “Pears”, London.

At Christ Church, till recent years, the clock was wound three times a week, this attended by a member of the congregation who reached the clock by climbing three vertical ladders inside the tower. He also attended to any necessary adjustments. John Owen, and later his son, also John, watchmakers at Longford were caretakers of the clock for many years

The bell is connected to the clock but can be operated separately from the church porch. The clock strikes on the hour and half hour throughout the day and night, and has been highly valued by residents.

Not only did the bell chime the hour and call people to worship but before the coming of the telephone and radio was used to alert people of town happenings, including deaths, approaching funerals and fires. When a death occurred the following procedure (as recorded by George Hudson in his book, Old Longford) took place.

“When a death occurred the relatives would contact the Sexton and arrange with him to toll the bell and break the news to any enquirers, which in many cases were quite a number; for such service the Sexton was paid half a crown for the half hour. The service was not restricted to the adherents of Christ Church, but was used by other denominations. The method of tolling for a man was three consecutive strokes then a pause, a single stroke, then three, followed by a single; for a women the same procedure except that two strokes were given instead of three, for a child single strokes.”

The Launceston Examiner on Saturday, 28 February 1874 noted

“the church clock had and extraordinary fit of striking; it began about 25 minutes to six, and kept at it nearly a quarter of an hour. Many of the inhabitants turned out in alarm, thinking a fire was raging in the neighbourhood, others thought it was to announce the arrival of the Executioner and his staff, but it did not happen to be either. It appears Mr. Allen, who was leaving by the train, wound it up rather hurriedly, when some of the works must have got a little deranged, hence this extraordinary occurrence.”

The church grounds are park like appearance and include numerous English and exotic trees. The area was landscaped by Dr. James Appleyard who obtained the trees from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Hobart, he not only supplying them without cost but paying a gardener to care for them. Work on laying out and beautifying the area commenced in 1870.

The surrounding cemetery holds many earlier residents of the town and surrounding regions and dates from the 1820s. There were many convicts buried in the grounds but they have no headstones, these not permitted by law until after 1850. 

Early Flying Around Longford

Much excitement was felt at Longford when Lieutenant Long made flights over the area in 1919. His was the first.

Long had previously flown planes for the Royal Air Force in England during World War 1 and on returning to Tasmania brought several aircraft with him.

Here he was flying a Boulton and Paul biplane and shortly after, on 16 December 1919,  made the first flight across Bass Strait, leaving Stanley at 6.35am. and landing at Fisherman’s Bend, Melbourne at 10.45am.

The plane had an open two seater cockpit, a wing span of 28ft. 6ins., length 24ft. 6ins. and was powered by a V type, eight cylinder air cooled engine, developing 1 800 revolutions per minute and 106 horse power.

Several years later when Long was flying in the Cressy area he was forced to make an emergency landing in Harry Greig’s paddock of barley following damage to a wing. Parts had to be ordered to fix the problem and were several weeks in coming. Pending their arrival the wings were taken off the plane and it was wheeled down the road to Harry Greig’s barn and stored there. During its time there, numerous people made their way to the place to inspect the flying machine. 

Some Notable People and Events

Dr. Jacob Hackett Mountgarrett R.N. (c1765-1828).  He was the first doctor at Longford but had become acquainted with the Colony having accompanied Bowen when Hobart was first settled in 1803 and the next year travelled with Paterson to Port Dalrymple in northern Tasmania. In 1813 he received a grant of 600 acres on the South Esk River, which is now part of Brickendon, Longford. He is reputed to have harvested the first crop of wheat in the Colony. Patients were sometimes roughly handled, one report saying he removed a convict’s teeth using a blacksmith’s tongs. On another occasion he had a blacksmith flogged for sending in a bill. At one time he was sent to Sydney for trial on a cattle thieving charge, but was acquitted. It is said he shot a native girl at Cressy who had run from him but at the same time he and his wife fostered Dolly Dalrymple. He died a pauper and is buried with his wife in the Launceston Cypress Street cemetery.

Thomas Perkins (1823-1917)

Thomas was Superintendent of Police at Longford and had oversight of nine surrounding police stations between 1857 and 1871. Remarkably he had achieved the position from that of a convict arriving in the Colony in 1844, convicted at the age of 21 for stealing five silver waiste coat watches. His occupation at trial was given as a pistol finisher.

Thomas was also a town surveyor at Longford, later a licensee of the Longford Blenheim Hotel and in 1896 was made a Justice of the Peace at Evandale. He and his wife are buried at St. Andrew’s Church of England cemetery, Evandale.

Mrs. John Mortlock

She became notable on the birth of a fourth set of twins. Reported in the Launceston Examiner on 1 June 1844.


A number of outbreaks occurred at Longford and surrounds in the past-

  • Scarlet Fever. The first cases were reported in 1843 with major outbreaks in 1852-1854 and again in 1875-1877. At Longford from 16/10/1853 till 31/12/1853, fifteen deaths of children between the ages of 2 and 9 occurred.
  • Measles. Outbreaks occurred in 1854 (the first) and again in 1861, 1875 and 1903
  • Influenza. Numerous cases were reported in 1847, 1852-53, 1860, 1891 and 1895. In 1919, what become known as the Spanish flu killed many people.
  • Poliomyelitis. This was first officially reported in Tasmania in 1909 with 41 cases, 1929-30 (127), 1937-38 (1006), 1946 (98), 1952-53 (202) and 1961 (48). As a result of mass immunisation this disease has now been eradicated.

Dr. Charles Noak and Goitres

On becoming a doctor at Longford  in the 1940s Dr Noak became concerned about the high rate of goitres in the area, and knowing this to be due to a lack of iodine in the soil, he approached the Longford Council proposing the introduction of a small amount of iodine into the population. Acting on his recommendation iodine tablets were provided to school children, with a tablet being issued once a week. This action proved to be most successful and goitres are now rarely seen.

More Police Items

At Longford the police had a conveyance known as “the green cart” so called as it was painted green. Its purpose was to take rebellious persons and incapable drunks to the cells. It was a bit like a coffin on wheels, just two wheels, a body which was over 6ft. in length by about two feet in width and 18 inches deep and had two hinged flapped lids, which when padlocked made the prisoner quite secure inside for the trip to the lock up.

At Longford P.C. Albert Wright once found himself locked up instead of the two youths (E.S.&A. Bank staff) that he had arrested for misbehaving in the town. He took them to the cells and on reaching for the gaol keys and releasing his grip on their arms, opened the door. The youths took opportunity and shoved P.C. Wright into the cell, locked the door and went home. The police inspector found him next morning and by that evening there were two very chastened youths to reflect on their actions.

Ironically one of those culprits later became manager at the Longford branch.

Talk written and presented by Ivan Badcock at the Longford National Servicemen’s Association on the 4th July 2017.

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