Sunday History Photo / Tas

Submitted: Sunday, Jul 03, 2011 at 02:47
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The River Don Trading Company was formed in 1880, when Mr and Mrs John Henry and two associates took over the sawmill, shipping and trading business commenced by Messrs Cummings and Raymond at the River Don, in 1853. John Henry had been part owner of the business since 1872, first as Cummings, Henry and Co, and then John Henry and Co.
The Company was the largest business establishment on the north-west coast, comprising a sawmill, shipping fleet, furniture and upholstery factories, cooperage, butchery, bakery, store and vast acreages of land. After one of the fires which periodically engulfed the premises, this time in 1880, John Henry dropped the less profitable arms and concentrated on his trading stores. The River Don Company became a household name after Henry moved his headquarters to Devonport in 1887, and established branches at Sheffield, Ulverstone, Burnie, Wynyard and Zeehan. The original store at the River Don was leased to William Wells, who moved to Latrobe in 1893 to established William L Wells and Sons. Succeeding generations of Henrys managed the Company. All branch stores ran their course and eventually closed, leaving behind impressive buildings, and the Devonport premises were sold to Woolworths in 1961.

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In about 1854 a mill and wharf were built on the west bank of the River Don about 2 km upstream from the Don Heads. To get the timber out of the bush a tramway was built up the valley and from 1862 the line also served a small coal mine, situated about 3 km above the mill.
This tramway was replaced in 1873 when the Don River Company started to build a new line of 4'6” (approx. 1137 mm) from the wharf, just inside the Don Heads, along the west bank of the river and up the valley. By May 1879 the tramway was completed to Barrington a distance of 21 km from Don Heads.
As timber was removed pioneer farmers settled in the region and in 1873 a portable steam engine worked the railway. However, in 1884 the line was worked entirely by horses although 11 of the 21 kilometres were then laid with iron rails. Timber supplies diminished and in the late 1880's the tramway was abandoned.
In 1904, a royal commission considered the Don Valley as a route for a branch to the Sheffield district but decided in favour of a shorter line from Railton to Roland. The Don would probably never have seen another railway if Broken Hill Proprietary had not decided to work the large limestone deposits about 10 kilometres up the valley.

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As the company planned to take a very large quantity of Limestone to supply its Newcastle steelworks with flux a railway was necessary to bring it down to Devonport and the government agreed to build a branch to the quarry site near the village of Melrose.
Settler’s Further up the valley successfully asked for the line to be extended to Paloona, a more convenient point for landing produce. The public works department began work in 1915.The new line kept to the east bank of the Don the
whole way Melrose unlike the old tramway, which crossed and re-crossed the river several times. Beyond Melrose, however the old formation was followed to Paloona.The line was opened on 27-5-1916. Traffic from the quarries developed far beyond original expectations and reached a peak of 161,135 tons in 1926 - 1927, requiring the running of three or four trains from Devonport to Melrose and back each week day.Passenger and general goods traffic however were very light.
Between August 1922 and September 1923 the P.W.D. extended the line to Barrington but this section was uneconomic and was closed on 17-8-1928.Regular services on the Melrose Paloona section appear to have ceased about this time and the section was officially closed on 16-7-1935.
Limestone traffic declined during the depression and increased to a peak of 279,161 tons in 1937-1938.Thereafter, it gradually declined and in 1947 B.H.P gave up taking stone from the quarries altogether. The line remained open for local traffic in agricultural lime but by 1957 there were only three trips per week.
From 1955 the branch became even more uneconomic and complete closure took place in 1963. A year later the track was lifted between Melrose and Don Township crossing before the rebuilding of the Bass Highway. The remaining 3.5 km.of line back to Don Junction was left in place but became increasingly overgrown and derelict.

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Reply By: kidsandall - Sunday, Jul 03, 2011 at 06:59

Sunday, Jul 03, 2011 at 06:59
Wow, great write up Doug. Very interesting as usual. An amazing place Tassie is.

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Follow Up By: Member - Oliver C (ACT) - Sunday, Jul 03, 2011 at 09:14

Sunday, Jul 03, 2011 at 09:14
Great story doug,

A wealth of knowledge and some passionate controllers still run the train and maintain the engines in the museum.

Definitely worth a look when you next arrive early for the boat back to the mainland!
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Follow Up By: Life Member - esarby (NSW) - Sunday, Jul 03, 2011 at 12:14

Sunday, Jul 03, 2011 at 12:14
A great bit of history Doug. on my first visit to Tasmania I did the trip down the Don River. It was pulled by a Steam Loco but on my trip in 2009 it had been replaced by the tramcar train. Big shame though I suspect running costs and the volunteers were to blame. They had a large sign looking for volunteers. Most of the steam locos were in the workshop. it is a shame that the youth of today have not had the experience of steam locos. Keep up the good work. Steve.B.....

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