Avoca Post Office
Here you can find a good display as well as information on the history
of Avoca and the Fingal Valley
St Thomas Anglican Church
Consecrated in 1842
The old Avoca School House was the
site for the first Catholic school in the
It was established in the 1840s
The barn and stone walls at "Bona Vista"
The township of Avoca is situated at the junction
of the South Esk and St Pauls Rivers. Over the years the economy has been
made up of farming, coal and tin mining, with an odd saw mill or two thrown
in. Now, however, it is a quiet, sleepy, little town with only farming
and a small sawmill remaining as major industries.
Early records show that James Gilligan was the first settler to the area
in around 1820. He took up residence on his 1600 acre land grant a few
miles east of the present township. Gilligan built a fine home overlooking
the South Esk River and named his property “Clifton Lodge”.
It was here in 1843, whilst District Constable William Ward was a dinner
guest of the Gilligan’s, bushrangers Riley Jeffs and John Conway raided
the homestead. In the scuffle that followed Constable Ward was shot dead
by one of the “misguided” men, and it is said the policeman’s ghost still
lingers amongst the old ruins today.
In 1825 Colonial Government Surveyor John Helder Wedge surveyed the area
and called it St Pauls Plains. But it wasn’t until the early 1830s, when
a Police Barracks was built, that a township developed and took on the
Irish name of Avoca.
Today the town still has a number of historic buildings including the
local Union Hotel built in 1842, the former Rectory built in 1845 and
the Parish Hall built around 1850.
The most significant of the old buildings in the township, however, is
St Thomas Anglican Church, which is set on a hill on the northern side
of the main road and overlooks both the St Pauls and South Esk Rivers.
Its Romanesque Revival style is a design attributed to James Blackburn,
the architect who built the stunning old church at Port Arthur. St Thomas
was consecrated on the 8th May 1842.
Just a stone throw from town, on the Rossarden Road, is the old homestead
of “Bona Vista”. This fine example of Georgian architecture was built
in stages by Simon Lord Jr. Lord took up residence on the property after
his marriage to Sarah Birch in 1831 and after living in a hut for some
time, commenced building his home around 1840, but it appears to have
not been completed until 1848, at which time 43 residents lived on the
property, 18 of whom were convicts.
The homestead seems to be designed with an emphasis on security, as early
settlers in this region were under constant threat of attacks from bushrangers
and natives. An elaborate system of walled yards near the house offered
some safety to valuable stock, which could be herded there when an attack
was feared. The house itself is surrounded by by a stone wall some nine
feet high and two feet thick.
As well as a place for social gatherings Bona Vista was also the scene
of several tragic events. There was a bushranger attack in 1853, which
saw a Constable shot dead. In 1862 the “Examiner” reported the murder
of the child of a German couple, and in 1898 a young man is said to have
been murdered on the homestead woodheap. His body was carried upwards
of half a mile and dumped in the South Esk River. The victims name was
“Beckitt” and the murderer was “Small”
Another significant settler to the area in the 1820s was a wealthy Irishman
by the name of Roderick O'Connor. He arrived in Van Diemens land in 1824
and was soon appointed Lieutenant Arthur's Land Commissioner. He established
two substantial properties: "Connorville" near Cressy and "Benham"
at Avoca. "Benham" went on to become one of the largest privately
owned properties in Tasmania.
In the 1960s and early 1970s Avoca gained national fame for what was headlined
across the country as the “The Avoca Shoot”. This referred to the Avoca
Wallaby Shoot, an annual event organized by the Avoca Football Club to
raise funds for the club and at the same time cull the wallabies which
were in plague proportion on properties in the Avoca area.
Hundreds of shooters would converge on Avoca each year where they would
pay an entry fee to the footy club, head into the hills and if we believed
the headlines in many Mainland papers “Mass slaughter would take place”.
The local newspaper, Valley Voice, reported in May 1970: “If nothing else,
this shoot has, each year, brought quite a deal of fame, or more to the
point notoriety, to this otherwise sleepy Fingal Valley town and especially
to the Avoca football Club who runs it.”
One animal liberation deputation that approached Tasmanian Senator Reg
Wright using words like: cruelty, inhumanity, sadistic and indiscriminate
in relation to the shoot, lobbied him to organize a party to shoot the
Avoca Football team. These people, however, were completely out of line
and lacking in facts because the Tasmanian Animal and Birds Protection
Board along with the R.S.P.C.A. condoned the shoot as a necessary culling
program. Both of whom saw the shoot as being well organized and a far
better alternative than other culling methods such as 1080 poison where
all animals and birds are threatened and the carcasses left to rot; whereas
in selective shooting only plague animals are targeted and the meat was
either taken by the shooters or given to charity. But at the end of the
day, animal lovers won their case; the shoot was stopped and Avoca Football
Club folded soon after.
The couple of hundred people who still remain in the Avoca area display
a community spirit as strong as the walls of Bona Vista. It is a spirit
that has carried the community through the good as well as the bad and
will ensure the survival of the town for generation after generation into
In the April of 1926 the Examiner Newspaper ran an article
relating to a fire at Avoca, part of which read: “............Rats
are believed to have caused a spectacular fire, which totally destroyed
“Benham” the beautiful Avoca home of
Mr A. F. A. O’ Connor. The damage is conservatively estimated at
It was reported that flames leapt 150 feet in the air and were visible
for the radius of many miles. While an heroic band of county people were
endeavouring to save valuable furniture, painting and family belongings
from the blazing building, 2,000 cartridges in the gun room exploded............”
The structure rebuilt and established as a homestead when Mr A. F. B.
(Barney) O’ Connor was married and moved there in 1936.
Ironically, this was the second time the “Benham” homestead
was damaged by fire. The first time was in 1889 when the original home
built by Captain James Grey was completely burnt to the ground.
The “Benham” story goes back to 1827 when the land which now
makes up the estate was granted in lots of 2,000 acres or so to a number
of people, including Captain Grey, John Burnett, Mathew Foster, Major
Abbott, William Roberson, and Edward Butler.
In 1844, however, Roderick O’ Connor purchased the grants and went
about establishing “Benham”, which eventually grew in size
to around 66,000 acres and at one time was the largest privately owned
single landholding in Tasmania.
Roderick O’ Connor was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1784. Accompanied
by two sons, William and Arthur, he came to Van Diemens Land on board
his own ship the Ardent in 1824. He was the son of a rich Irish land owner
and one often wonders why he would have left the comfort and stability
of his wealth to come to such a foreign untamed land. But, then, his wealth
soon increased in the new land. On his arrival he became very good friends
with Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur who gave him his first land grant
of 1,000 acres on the Lake River. He was also made Commissioner of lands
and then inspector of roads and bridges where he had control of hundreds
of convicts, many of whom he was able to have work on his own estates.
As land Commissioner, he came to the St Pauls Plains in 1827 and had a
hand in choosing the site and naming the town of Avoca.
O’Connor left the public service when Arthur’s governorship
came to an end in 1836, but he remained very much in the public eye by
being extremely vocal on many issues. Apparently, he was a quarrelsome
man and had many debates with Government officials, neighbours and colleges
to the extent he was labelled the “red hot Irishman”.
But it seems Roderick’s main mission was to accumulate land and
at the time of his death he owned eleven properties, totalling some 65,000
acres (26,305 ha) and another 10,000 acres (4,047 ha) of leasehold. His
two main properties were “Connorville” near Cressy and “Benham”.
He died at “Benham” in July 1860 and was buried in the Avoca
Roman Catholic Cemetery.
After Roderick’s death, son Arthur inherited his estate because
the other son, William, had died five years earlier.
At one time “Benham” was one of the world’s top fine
wool growers and one of the largest producers of wool with over 30,000
sheep producing up to 800 bales of super fine wool per year.
“Benham” has always had a major influence on the Avoca community
and although staffing levels have been reduced considerably in recent
years, at times during the hay days of high wool prices in the 1900s,
over fifty people were employed, including five or six fulltime fencers.
Around the homestead with cottages, men’s quarters and numerous
outbuildings, the area takes on the appearance of a small village in its
The property has also played a significant role in the development of
sporting and social facilities, in particular football and the once famous
Descendants of Roderick O’ Connor have maintained ownership of “Benham”,
with current owner Frank taking over from his father Barney, who died
in December 1971.
Thanks to the book “St Pauls Plains
Avoca 1834 – 1984” written by David Masters
for information on this story.