A Brief History - by Jean Cockerill.

Jean Cockerill (nee Anderson) was my teacher in 1939 at the Area School.
About 2001 I rang her and obtained her permission to publish her book on this web site.

The first mention of the Huon area of Tasmania, or Van Diemen's Land, was made in 1777 when Captain Cook landed at Adventure Bay on Bruny Island.

Eleven years later, Lieutenant Bligh in the Bounty visited Adventure Bay and planted some apple trees - the beginning of an industry.

In 1793 Bruni D'Entrecasteaux visited the area and named Kermandie (ec), Esperance Bay and Recherche Bay after his two ships, D'Entrecasteaux Channel and Port du Cygne (place of swans).

In 1802 Commodore Baudin visited Port Cygnet and named the Fleurieu River (later Anges Rivulet). One of his party, Peron, wrote of meeting a beautiful young aboriginal girl - Oura Oura - and her family. It can be seen from this that Cygnet has a history older than the founding of Melbourne, and of the settlements of South Australia and Queensland.

Book Cover
The First settlers.
"Lieutenant John Bowen settled at East Risdon in 1803, John Batman arrived in Port Philip in June 1835, Colonel William Light landed at the site for Adelaide on 21 November 1836."
The first settler was William Nichols who sailed around the coast from Browns River (Kingston) where he had a property. He liked the area and in 1834 brought his wife and children to settle along the river valley through which a stream later named Nicholls Rivulet, flowed on toward the bay. Until recent years the remains of the old Nichols house could be seen. It was claimed that Nichols could build his own vessel, rig it and sail it anywhere in the world. In 1835 the Cowen family came and settled nearby. They were followed by the Bleeze, Poole and Pursell families. In 1843 we find the first mention of the O'Rourke, Henley and Lancaster families. In 1838 Matthew Fitzpatrick came from Ireland with his wife and sisters and settled at Petcheys Bay, where he eventually planted an orchard. In 1840 the town at Port Cygnet was divided into building blocks and in 1841 land allotments were for sale at Garden Island Creek, By 1843 there was a thriving community at Port Cygnet.
Convicts History.

In 1845 Probation Stations for convicts were established at Port Cygnet, Lymington and Nicholls Rivulet and Huon Island. The clearing of land and building of huts continued apace. There were 333 convicts stationed in the district and a hospital was being built at Lymington where the staff were based. There was a Superintendent, Visiting Magistrate, Catholic Priest, Religious Instructor, 2 School Masters, 1 Medical Officer, 10 Storekeepers, 1 Overseer, 8 Officers in Charge of Vessels, 2 Beadles, 2 Other Overseers and 2 Dispensers. Of the convicts there were blacksmiths, boat crews, brick makers, charcoal and lime burners, carpenters, coopers, carters, gangs for clearing and cultivating, erecting barracks, splitting timber, sawing, fencing timber cutting, rolling logs and hard labour! There were also servants for officers and others and storekeepers. By 1847 there were 530 convicts, 249 of whom could read, 183 write and 155 who were crippled. In 1848 the number of convicts began to decline - probably by pardon and ticket of leave.

The Apple Industry.

Around this time there was mention of an orchard at Garden Island Creek, where Ribstone Pippins, Scarlets, Crabs, Stone Pippins, Alexanders and Prince Alfreds were grown. For the most part these apples are unknown now.

In 1849 7 casks of apples were sent to New Zealand and 4 cases of dried apples to Port Phillip and 4 to San Francisco, 9 cases and 3 casks went to Geelong.

The wages at this time were of note - Butchers - 3/6 per day, Bakers - 3/0. Brickmakers - 3/6, Layers - 3/6, Coachbuilders - 6/0, Glaziers - 4/6. Gardeners - 4/6, Agricultural labourers £15-20 per annum, Domestic Servants - £12-25 and Needlewomen - £30-40.

Town of Lovett Proclaimed - Churches develop.

By 1853 many new settlers were attracted to Port Cygnet, the Probation Stations were gone, streets were named, and in 1862 The town of Lovett was proclaimed. The name of Port Cygnet was retained for the bay. There is confusion as to whether the town was named for the Surveyor General or for one of the early settlers.

The first Catholic Priest appointed in the Huon was the Revd. Father John Murphy, who administered Franklin and Cygnet. The Parish of Cygnet was created in 1863 when Father James Holehan took charge. The first church of St. James was erected in 1867, but Father Murphy had conduced the first Catholic service in 1855 in the then partly completed public school.

The Archdeacon of Hobart Town conducted a Church of England service at Lovett in 1845. St. Marks Church was erected in 1876. Up to this time the parish had been administered in conjunction with Franklin. The Revd. Vaughan became the first resident minister in 1906. The Methodist Church began in 1890 when the Revd. Woodfull, father of the famous cricketer, was appointed.

Schools Opened.

In Van Dieman's Land in 1854 an Inspector of Schools was Mr. Thomas Arnold, a son of Dr. Arnold, founder of the famous Rugby school in England. In 1850 there was a school at Lymington - average attendance was 30. Mr Lindsay became head of a public school at Port Cygnet in 1850. He was also the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. His salary was £154/8/- per annum and he taught English, Spelling, Reading, Grammar, Dictation, Geography, History, Arithmetic (including Algebra and Geometry), Natural Philosophy and some French and Latin. There is a record of a Mr. A. McLean conducting a Church of England day school in 1855.

"The Port Cygnet (Lovett) State School is situated in the centre of the town, and stands on an area of five acres. The school house itself consists of two rooms, the large class-room being 54 feet by 20 feet, and the smaller one 20 feet by 15 feet, with accommodation for 150 pupils. The building was erected in 1886, and though the number of scholars on the roll now is only seventy eight, with an average attendance of sixty, the rapidly growing population will, it is thought, soon tax the accommodation to its utmost limit. - From The Cyclopedia of Tasmania published 1900"

A new school was erected in 1886 (now the Play Centre). There were schools at most of the small townships of Lymington, Wattle Grove, Glaziers Bay, Cradoc, Nicholls Rivulet, Gardners Bay, Deep Day and Garden Island Creek. Attendance at school was sometimes low. Once when asked by an Inspector why a certain family, who lived nearby, missed so much school, the teacher replied, "The mother complains of the state of the road in winter". "But I observe that it is no better in the summer", said the inspector. "The father says there are too many snakes about", said the teacher.

The brick State school was erected in 1925 and in 1937 became the first Area school in Southern Tasmania. Mr. Benjamin was head Teacher.

In 1938 Jean Cockerill (nee Anderson) (the author of this book.) was a teacher in Grade 1 when the author of this web page was one of her students.

Children were brought in by bus from all the small schools and enrollment increased to 370 pupils. Subjects ranged from the basic subjects to sewing, cooking, woodwork, blacksmithing, tinsmithing, care of fowls, growing of vegetables aid fruit, apple i.e. picking and pruning etc.

Children cooked three course meals which were served to the bus children - cost: 6d. The senior boys under, instruction from Mr. Eyre, the Trades teacher, built a residence on Golden Valley Road. Of late years the school has reverted to a Primary school - classes from Kindergarten to Grade 6. The senior classes attend Huonville High School.

Together with the state system, the Catholic school flourished. There was a small private school run by a Mrs. Phillips in 1878. The Sisters of St. Joseph came here in 1896 and taught at St. Marys as it was known. There were 70 children on the roll. This later came St. James Parish School and was maintained by the sisters until 1962 when the Archbishop of Hobart, Revd. Dr. Simmons, announced the formation of Lourdes Hill School. The Christian Brothers came to teach agriculture and dairying etc. These studies were eventually phased out and in 1976 St. James and Lourdes Hill merged to become St. James College. Classes now range from Prep to Year 11 and children attend from throughout the Huon.

Some of the names of the children who attended the State school at Port Cygnet in 1872 are of interest - people of the same names are still around in the district. An entry from an old school register reads James Dance, Violetta Dance - father labourer - Church of England - 6d a day. Others named were Garth, Clover, Harvey, Henley, Holland, McNamara, Scanlon, Smith.

Increasing Importance of Port Cygnet.

In 1853 the Hobart Town Advertiser reported of the increasing importance of Port Cygnet. The first District Constable appointed was Edward Chancellor. In 1854, an order was made saying that only free men could be employed in the Police Force. Convicts on Ticket of Leave had been enlisted previously.

In 1856 land holders and householders met to elect Trustees for the "superintending, providing for and effectuating the construction, repair and maintenance of the roads in the district". The first Road Trust was formed and consisted of Charles Lovett, Joseph Thomas, Francis Coad, Henry Read, Daniel O'Rourke, T. Walter, and Charles Smith. The district was assessed at 6d. an acre for cultivated land, 1d. an acre for pastoral land and 1/- on actual value for rental. Taxes collected were £104/17/7 - Dog money: £101/-/- Total £114/17/7.

An 1854 report.

In 1854 Captain Butler Stoney of the 99th Regiment published his "Residence in Tasmania". Part of this work says "Soon you sight the Huon Island at the mouth of the river. There is a safe passage on both sides of this island, though farther up the river are some rocks called the Oil Butts. By keeping Huon Island in line with Woody Island, you steer clear of all danger. Garden Island appears from these rocks. The shores on both sides of the Huon River are precipitous for a considerable way up, having very high land in the background, covered with large timber. About 5 miles distant, you turn into a deep bay leading to Port Cygnet and pass the first clearing or township of Lymington, situated on the shore of an inner bay, having some four or five houses and some small patches of cultivation, the principal trade being from sawyers and timber getters in the interior. Three miles from it, on the outer bay, is the larger township of Port Cygnet, where there are some 30 or 40 houses. It is evident that this place will be a thriving town in a very few years".

One of the early stores was owned by Charles Bleeze in 1862. Bread was sold for 3 1/2, flour 2d, fresh meat 3 1/2d. vegetables 1d., soap 5d. (expensive) oil 4/0, candles 7d., wicks and cotton 6d.

Boat building commences.

In 1841 William Nichols' daughter married Richard Wilson. Their son, John, was born the following year and became the founder of the boat building firm of John Wilson and Sons. He built vessels in various parts of the bay and for some years located his yards at Martins Point. The gradual silting up of the bay made it necessary to shift his yards to Robleys Point on the opposite side of the bay. Some members of the family still build boats today. The first ship John Wilson worked on was the Huon Belle in 1863, but many fine vessels have left the yards and are to be found in many parts of the world. Some vessels are the Good Intent, One and All, Huon Chief, Lenna Roonganah, Lialeta, Leeta May, Evaleeta and Utiekah.

Quite a few of the settlers had boats - sailing ketches were used first for transport and these then gave way to steam.

Captain Gourlay brought a paddle steamer, the "Culloden" from England in 1853. In 1854 a load of miners arrived in "Culloden" when gold was discovered on Mt. Mary. Captain Gourlay also had the S.S. Cobra, 46 tons, and obtained a packet licence. This enabled liquor to be served on board. In 1871 it was reported that ketches etc. had lifted 15,120 tons of produce (£43,000) and timber (£12,500), and by 1875, 37 vessels were handling £77,000 of freight per annum. Thomas Nichols, son of William, traded between Hobart and Lovett in "Lady Palmerstone" There were no lights or beacons then and often direction was found by gun shots. In later years still, Reginald Thomas Nichols (3rd generation) traded on the river and gave personalised service to all.

With our name for boats and ships must go mention of the Regattas. The first Regatta was held on January 1st, 1863, off Gourlays Point. The flagship was H.M.S. Orpheus - 21 guns - and there were 700 visitors from Hobart Town. Cygnet (Lovett) was the first to hold a race for all classes of boats. What a spectacle it must have been. Regattas were held regularly until after World War 2 and have been revived now by the Port Cygnet Sailing Club.

Communication with Hobart.

At first the only communication, except by water was by bush road to Kingston and then by coach to Hobart Town. The rough track had been made by William Nichols earlier. By now in 1862, roads were being built in the district. The materials varied from metal to 4 inch slabs which were used to create Slab Road over the swampy terrain. (I believe this process or similar was used along the water front between Huonville and Franklin)

In 1924 buses operated between Cygnet and Hobart - Webster, Rometch, Cradock Bros. and Innes and Co. in 1935 William's service began and then Grant's Channel Services. Buses left at 8.00a.m. and l.00p.m., returning at 3.00p.m and 5.30 p.m.

Commerce & industry.

The Post Office in Van Dieman's Land, in 1853, issued 1d. brick red and 1d. blue Van Dieman's Land stamps. These are among the most valuable in the world today. By 1872 a money order Post Office was operating and by 1878, the building of a court house was underway. Coal was discovered at Gardners Bay and Mr. Fitzpatrick and Mr. Richard Hill (his father-in-law) had much to do with the development of the mine. In 1882 a Post Office Savings Bank was introduced. Women could bank but had to have the permission of their husbands to draw money out! Military pensioners settled in the district around 1887, many in Slab Road, and by then there was a Post Office, Money Order Office, Electric Telegraph and a Savings Bank.

Mr. Garth operated the Perseverance sawmill. There were two jam manufacturers - Pride and the Cane Brothers. There were three hotels - Huon, Harvest Home and Port Cygnet. Gardening (orcharding?) and timber were the chief pursuits of the 1500 inhabitants. There was a Fruit Board appointed giving an indication of the growing importance of this industry. Steamer As many as 32 vessels a month passed through the area. There were jetties at Crooked Tree, Deep Bay, Coal Jetty, Herlihys Bay, Petcheys Bay, Wattle Grove, Lymington, Glaziers Bay, and Randalls Bay - these apart from Port Cygnet. All produce had to be carted by dray to these points. By 1890, steam began to take over. What an experience to go to Hobart Town! Rise at dawn - drive to the jetty in a dray or trap - board and be off at 8.OO a.m. - shop in Hobart where corned meat was available by the bag, back to boat for return - can you imagine the children? What an exhausting day!

In 1895, Mr. Devereaux, owner of the Huon hotel built a hall on the site where the Health Centre is now. This filled a gap in the social life of the town and gatherings there were a plenty. In 1898 the top recreation ground was made.

By this time fruit exports were increasing and shipments to London had already begun. Interstate supplies were increasing also. The fruit season saw most of the towns population working in or about the orchards, while the millers provided the case materials.

The Council took office in 1908.

Mr. Fitzpatrick imported the first motor car at the turn of the century and later became the first Warden when the Council took office in 1908. Mr. Davies became treasurer and Mr. Bingham, Council Clerk. Councilors were Messrs. Mills, Harvey, Eli Baldwin, Markham, Harris, McDowell, Wm. Baldwin, Robertson, Bradley, and Devereaux. Thus began the era of Local Government in this area.

Due, probably to confusion caused by the names of "Port Cygnet" and the town of "Lovett", it was decided in 1915 to change the name "Lovett" to "Cygnet". Cygnet became the first district to buy bulk power from the Hydro in 1924. The Court house was completed in 1912 and the Town Hall in 1913. In 1927 a deep water pier at Lymington was suggested - this came about in 1936. In 1932 a second storey was added to the Court house and the buildings of the Town hall and Court house became one.

Before the Town Hall and Devereaux's hall were built, the hotels were the meeting places for social and business gatherings. There were quite a few hotels in Lovett and surrounding districts. Some were the Bird in hand, Castle Inn (Lymington), Traveller's Rest (Petcheys Bay), Culloden Inn, New Inn (Glaziers Bay), and the Port Cygnet Hotel which later became the Commercial.

The War Memorial.

There is a Cenotaph in the main street of Cygnet. This is inscribed with the names of those who fell during the wars. Among the honours awarded are three Victoria Cross, two Military Medals, and One Distinguised Conduct Medal. The Anzac service is conducted here each year. After the 2nd World War, the new recreation ground was constructed as a memorial. Beside the Cenotaph is a plaque commemorating the founding of Cygnet by William Nichols. On the recreation ground is a smaller monument in memory of the French connection with our settlement.


Dr. Bernard Thomas was Health Officer in the early days. He was followed by Dr. Laffer. Then Dr. Wade took over in 1910 and served the district for over a quarter of a century. Matron Adams, who worked with Dr. Wade for many years, had a hospital in Louisa Street - and the building is still in use as a private home. The Bush Nursing Service, of course, was a very valuable service in the district. These nurses worked very hard and many a life in the district has been saved by their prompt, clever and commonsense methods. One of the very early hospitals is still standing just off Golden Valley Road. Gradually services improved and with the development of the health Centre things proceeded apace. The Health Centre - now an annexe of the Royal Hobart hospital - serves as a base for community style nursing and offers other services very valuable indeed iii the life of our people.

Fruit Production.

Mention must be made of the volume of fruit produced in the area. In 1935, Cygnet produced 644,800 bushels of apples, 27,170 bushels of pears, 5,470 lbs of gooseberries, 31,890 lbs of blackcurrants, 100,750 lbs of raspberries, 160,880 lbs of strawberries. The apple drying and canning factories together with the jam made from the fruit from the area all helped to feed the soldiers during the wars. Fruit, small fruit and timber have been the mainstay of the district.

The 1st Apple Festival was held in 1952. An idea of the composite character of the festival may be seen by the sub-committees appointed - Planning, Building and Labour, Entertainment, Festival Queen, Exhibitors and Competitors, Arena Events, Apple Packing, Case Making and Wiring, Case Milling, Axemen and Sawyers, Gate Supervisors and Control, Women's Exhibitors. Sir Ronald Cross, Governor of Tasmania in 1956, wrote "In brief, we find mirrored at the Festival the life of the orchardist: his tools and his cultivation: his foes and his weapons: his harmony with helpful nature: his fruit and his triumph". Among publicity news were the visits of Betty Cuthbert, and Chips Rafferty and the largest apple pie in the Southern Hemisphere.

Cygnet was 150 years old in 1984 this was marked by the twinning of Entrecasteaux in France with Cygnet and a visit of the French Frigate "Jacques de Cartier" to help celebrate. As the result of a competition to commemorate the event Shane Wolfe visited France and a young Frenchman returned the visit.

Our People.

One of our notable first people was Fanny Cochrane-Smith. Fanny was born on Flinders Island in 1831-2. Her mother was a full-blood aborigine and her father white. She married William Smith in 1854. He was a timber worker. They had six sons and five daughters. Fanny was received at Government house by Governor Weld and his wife and sang aboriginal songs which were recorded in 1903. She was a member of a 40 voice choir which sang around the district and in Hobart. Some of her descendants are still in the district. She died in 1905.

I have missed much in this brief history - stories could be written on the growth of the town, its community and sporting bodies and shops and trade - there is no end. Cygnet, along with the rest of the Huon, has known almost every adversity, from bushfires, diseases (diptheria, whooping cough, tuberculosis, influenza etc.) and depressions, but like most places, has won through.

There are many big names and services noted and many I have missed, but it could not have been successful without the courage and tenacity of the hundreds of people who lived and are living in the community. The little people, one might call them, are so very important in the scheme of things. Let us hope that our beautiful little town and environs will continue to prosper.