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Holder Brothers Store
at Fingal, established in 1859

 


Fingal State School is one of the
oldest school buildings still in use
in Tasmania. It was built from
local freestone in 1884




Fingal Post Office

 

St Peters Anglican Church, Fingal
Built in 1867

 

St Joesephs Catholic Church, Fingal
Built in 1881

 



St Andrews Prebyterian Church,
Fingal

 

 

 

FINGAL

William Talbot was born at Malahide Castle in County Fingal, near Dublin, Ireland in 1784. Although the castle had been the Talbot family home since the 12th Century, at the age of 36, William decided to leave and embark on a journey half way around the world.
He arrived in Van Diemens Land in November 1820, but in no time headed for Sydney where he proved his assets of just over six thousand pounds to Governor Lachlan Macquarie. As a result the Governor issued William with a Location Order for the maximum land grant of 2,000 acres. As well he was assigned six convicts as personal servants.
Accompanied by his convict servants, William soon boarded the 90 ton brigantine Prince Leopold and headed back to Van Diemens Land where he presented his Location Order to Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell.
By 1821, however, most of the good land around Hobart Town and Launceston had been taken up, forcing settlers to move further afield. It was about this time that George Meredith, who was from Welsh aristocratic stock with good assets, had returned from Swan Port - the area we now know as Swansea - and made a claim on what he reported as good flat land suitable for grazing and cropping. As a result, Lieutenant-Governor Sorell issued William with his Occupation Order at Swan Port on the 6th July 1821.
In no time, with his servants, a couple of hired hands and a thousand ewes accompanied by twenty pure bred merino rams, William took up residence on his land grant, It was a mile inland from Great Oyster Bay and just north of the Meredith River.
For the next few months it was all go for William and his crew. They cleared a couple of acres of land, ploughed and planted it with crops, as well as build a study hut. The hut would have been about four rooms with two stone chimneys. The walls would have been timber framed and packed thick with turf and mud. The roof would have been made of thatched rushes and sags, but it would have been more than adequate to shelter William until a more substantial home could be built.
But alas, just as everything was going to plan, George Meredith turned up and found William encroaching on what, he believed, was his land grant. Apparently, despite some 60,000 acres of available land in the Swan Port area, Lieutenant-Governor Sorell had given both men the same grant.
A bitter dispute followed with neither man willing to give an inch. Letters and deputations went to Lieutenant-Governor Sorell. More letters were sent to the Home Secretary in London, as well as Governor Thomas Brisbane, who was now the Governor of New South Wales. But month after month, year after year, the depute lingered on.
It was Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, after taking over Van Diemens land in 1824, who finally ended the conflict. In August 1824, after examining the evidence and calling the two men together, ruled in favour of George Meredith, but only if he paid William Talbot one thousand pound for the improvements he had made to the land. In compensation, the lieutenant-Governor offered William another grant of his choice, with an additional one thousand acres and extra convict labour.
Both men accepted the offer and William, now with an extra thousand pounds in his pocket, plus a Location Order of three thousand acres, headed off in search of another more suitable place to settle.
It was a couple of years later, after meeting up with John Helder Wedge, who had surveyed the area along the South Esk and Break O’ Day Rivers in 1825, before William came across a spot at the junction of the two rivers and made his claim.
William was rapt; he had found a perfect place to establish his new “Malahide”. It was a place superior in almost every way to the old “Malahide” he had been forced to leave at Swan Port. The land was much more fertile and there was an abundance of clean, fresh water. But best of all, there was no George Meredith.
Soon after William took over his new grant in 1827 tColonial Government built a Convict Station to house the convicts that would be used to build roads and other infrastructure in this newly settled area. The Station was on the banks of the South Esk River just a mile or so from the spot William had chosen to build his home.
In no time, as more settlers moved into the area, a village began to spring up around the Convict Station and as William had taken it on himself to call the area around his grant Fingal, after the Irish County from which he had come, the new township adapted that name. William would have been pleased, too, that the valley itself became known as The Fingal Valley, with its eastern end named Break O’ Day Plains and the western end St Pauls Plains.
Fingal was the first township in the Fingal Valley and as it is positioned in the heart of the valley, it soon became the centre of administration.
When Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur began Government decentralization in Van Diemens Land back in the 1830s, he started by setting up police districts under the control of magistrates. At that time the Fingal Valley came under the jurisdiction of Campbell Town. In 1837 a sub-district was created and an Assistant Police Commissioner stationed at Avoca. The administration was moved to Fingal in 1842 and housed in the Probation Station.
The next move by the Government was the creation of Road Trusts in the 1840s which led to the Rural Municipalities Act authorizing the formation of municipal councils in 1858. To form a local council each district had to come up with a petition signed by at least 50 land owners, whose qualifications were based on the value of the property they owned.
Although a few districts moved rather quickly to form their council, there was quite a bit of opposition to the concept in the Fingal Valley. The first petition taken up in 1861 was rejected and it took another year of lobbying by the pro council group before a second petition was able to convince the Government that the people of the Fingal Valley were ready for their own council.
Nineteen municipalities were formed in Tasmaia between 1860 and 1866, one of which was the Rural Municipality of Fingal, with its boundaries based on the old police district of Fingal, which reached from west of Avoca through to Georges Bay (St Helens) on the coast.
All councils subsequently elected took on the responsibilities of police services, water supplies, public roads, registration of dogs, impounding stray animals and licensing of butchers etc.
The Probation Station at Fingal was the initial home of the new council until Launceston architect, Henry Conway, was employed in 1878 to draw up plans for a Town Hall at Fingal. But it wasn’t until October 1882 that the foundation stone was laid by the then Warden, J. H. Grueber.
The new Town Hall was said to be a fine building and served the municipality well until it was destroyed by fire in the early part of the Twentieth Century. This unfortunately led to all records being lost, and with newspapers covering very little on Local Government matters in those days, not a lot is known about Fingal's early council affairs. One major development that did make the papers, however, was the drawing up of new boundaries in1877, which saw the Fingal Municipality end at Scamander River, resulting in the loss of the Municipality of Georges Bay (St Helens).
The Fingal Council was extremely irate about the change and the Warden wrote to the Colonial Secretary informing him that the Council’s legal advice stated the boundary change was illegal. He said under no circumstances would his Council give up the Grant Deed of the municipal land at Georges Bay. But the Colonial Secretary had the ruling hand, the new boundaries were enforced and no compensation was paid to the Fingal Council for their loss of what was later to become Portland Municipality.
A new Council Chambers was built at Fingal immediately following the fire in the early 1900s. The building still stands proudly today, but not as Council offices. A new state of the art structure was built opposite the old Tasmanian Hotel in Talbot Street only a few short years before the 1993 merger of the Fingal and Portland Councils to form the current Break O’ Day Council, the headquarters of which was soon established at St Helens.
Like all the towns in the Fingal Valley the population has fallen back somewhat in recent years. This is mainly due to tin and wolfram mines closing at Rossarden and Stories Creek, less people employed on the surrounding farms and two sawmills closing down. The bulk of the people are now employed in either the coal industry, or forestry operations.
The town is surviving well, however, and whilst many new homes have been built, there are still a number of charming, old, freestone buildings left to remind us of a time long gone that was vastly different from what we know today.
The old school for instance, which was the first public school to open in the Fingal Valley in 1884, is a classic example of Nineteenth Century, freestone architecture. Then we have St Peters Anglican Church (1867), St Josephs Catholic Church (1880) and the original Presbyterian Church (1881). All churches have some of the finest examples of window lead lighting in Tasmania.
Other old buildings of interest are: Fingal Hotel (1844), Holder Brothers Store established in 1859, the Railway Station (1886) and the Tasmanian Hotel, which was built from the stones taken from the old Probation Station. This building is now restored and used as a Neighbourhood House, Information Centre and community activities.

Jim Haas

 

 

Probation Station Convict Cells
Built in 1842
Now restored and on display on the western entrance to the town

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