King Island Tasmania - Early Settlers
Elizabeth Bowling, and three of her sons were the first people to take up land on King Island for farming and settlement in 1889.
Surveyors declared some 90,000 acres of land to be of agricultural value, and, although hindered by the lack of a good harbour, King Island is opened, by decree of the Crown, for selection in 1888
The family traded wallaby skins as they cleared land and began to ship in cattle.
A lot of the original Bowling land was sold off after World War I.
ITS EARLY HISTORY.
PROGRESS OF SETTLEMENT AND
(From Our King Island Correspondent.)
The story of King Island, once very little known to the Tasmanian public, in its more recent phases is one of promising enterprise, of perseverance against apparently insuperable difficulties, which, well illustrates the colonising genius of the British race.
We say in its more recent phases, since it is only comparatively recently that King Island has been even thought of for settlement, and it is only within the last twenty years that settlement has become a fact.
For the greater part of the last century the island to the outside world seemed to be a kind of Australian Sable Island, the last resting place of many a good ship, the home, too, of a few hardy hunters.
Yet prior to 1888, the year in which the island was thrown open to selection various attempts were made to utilise it for pastoral purposes.
Several firms at one time or another leased the island as a whole from the Tasmanian Government, and expended a good deal of money landing large numbers of stock, both cattle and sheep.
All attempts failed. Disease and poisonous weeds killed off the stock with great rapidity till at last it must have appeared impossible to do any good with the land.
The last lease granted expired in the late eighties, and in 1888, as the last leasee refused to continue the old arrangement, the Tasmanian Government sent the then Conservator of Forests to the island to report on its suitability for settlement. This officer must have
reported more or less favourably, since
'in 1888 the island was thrown open for
,selection. Although the island had
been known for many years before 1888,
'that year saw the beginning of its
transformation from a scrubby pre-
serve into a flourishing pastoral coun-
try, a valuable asset of Tasmania.
Doubtless the Government advertis
ed the fact that the island was avail-
able, but still it was hardly rushed.
The first land taken up belonged to
members of the Bowling family, who
visited the island very soon after it
was thrown open for selection. One
of these gentlemen has very kindly
given me some vivid reminiscences of
their first trip to their future home.
He arrived at Currie Harbour by the
lighthouse boat, then the only certain
means of communication, and in com-
pany with a brother, travelled over the
whole of the west of the island from
Lake Wickham, in the north, to Sur
prise Bay, in the south. .
It somewhat damped the ardour of
the would-be settlers, to find the island
roadless, covered with scrub, and in
fested with game. There was hardly
any grass from one end of the island
to the other other, none, in fact, except
on the lighthouse reserves and at Yel-
low Rock, in the north, and Surprise
Bay, in the south, the two places where
the old leasers had their headquarters.
The few inhabitants of, the island,
lighthouse men, and hunters, were, as
they had every right to be, very pessi-
mistic as regards the future for any-
thing except hunting.
Nothing daunted, however, by gloomy
prophesies of inevitable failure, the
Messrs. Bowling took up land in several
places on the island, and these blocks
are still held by members of their
For the first few years of this very
embryo settlement there was not much
to do except to hunt. All the early
settlers of King Island had more than
their share of that. Everything they
did. was paid for from the proceeds of
their hunting. It was not much of a
life. Men did not mind its hardness
and roughness, but they felt its isola-
tion. As the years went by, and the
settlers began to get their selections
under, and a few head of cattle on
them, they found that the disease which
had proved so fatal amongst the cattle
of the old-time leasers was a very seri-
ous menace to them. Tlhe cattle pas-
tured on the sandhills of the west coast
never seemed to thrive for long, but
to contract some mysterious disease of
the digestive organs, which too often
proved fatal. Sheep also suffered se-
verely from "coastiness," as the disease
is called, but horses were particularly
The trouble threatened to put an
end to all settlement till in the early
nineties, Messrs. F. R, Bowling and F.
Stephenson, then in partnership at
Yellow Rock, discovered certain of
their cattle did not contract coasti-
ness as quickly as others, and soon
came to the conclusion the disease had
something to do with the land. They
also found cattle suffering from coasti-
ness moved from the coast inland gen-
erally recovered, a discovery which it
is not too much to say has made a
great difference to King Island.
The settlers in early days were much
troubled by tareness in cattle.
Beasts eating the seed of the wild
tare seemed to go mad and die. Re-
peated fires have now all but exter
minated the taro, and tareness is now
a thing of the past. Coastiness, how-
ever, is still the difficulty with stock
on the island.
Up to 1892 the population of the
island remained very small. In that
year the members of a co-operative
timber company arrived from England,
via Tasmania, with the idea of working
the timber of the east coast. This
concern, however, never really got to
work, as lack of funds prevented the
erection of the necessary plant. When
it disbanded several members of the
company remained on the island, took
up land, and gave the population a
In 1892 the island got its real start.
Messrs. F, Stephenson and F. Bowling,
who by this time had been years at
Yellow Rock, brought over a consider-
able number of cattle, which did well,
and the effort first attracted the atten-
tion of Tasmanians to the possibilities
of King Island. A year or two later
Messrs Stephenson and Bowling dis-
solved partnership, the former entering
into partnership with Mr. T. Gunn,
of Launceston, and commencing the
building up of the now famous Yamba-
coona estate. It would be difficult to
estimate the debt King Island owes to
the firm of Stephenson and Gunn. It
is certain their faith in the island and
their enterprise, not least in building
the Yambacoona, and placing her on
the trade between Currie and. Launces-
ton, have done much to bring the island
to the front.
The advent of the Yambacoona really
signalled the end of the first stage of
the settlement of King Island. When
she began to run in 1899 game had be
come scarce, hunting had slackened off,
and most of the settlers were just able
to make a very bare living off their
holdings. Population had been in-
creasing, but only slowly, and the ad-
vent of a steamer trading regularly
was found to mean a better chance all
round to succeed.
The next great advance on the island
was the beginning of a dairying indus-
try. As settlement progressed and
the west coast got better grassed, men
began to wonder how to utilise it to
the full. In grass country such as
King Island dairying was very mainly
thought of, and 1902 saw the es-
tablishment of the well-equipped dairy
factory at Porky, a few miles north
of Currie. ,
Dairying has not progressed as fast,
as might have been expected on King
Island. Difficulties in regard to labour
have had a good deal to do with
it, but still it is holding its own, and
will increase. Times have not always
been good on the island. It has had
its lean years as well as its fat ones.
In 1901 prices were low. demand poor
and suppliers found it hard to
meet the payments due on their
land, which., had all been granted
as first-class land at £1 per
acre. An agitation was started
to induce the Government to have the
land reclassed more in accordance with
its real -value. This agitation was a
success, thanks very largely to the en-
ergy of Mr. F. Stephenson, who took
the matter up warmly. This reclassi-
fication, by reducing the charge on
land, did a great deal to steady settlement.
Up to the last year or two
settlement has been mainly con-
fined to the west coast, there
being but little land taken up
in the centre or on the east coast of
the island. Recently, however, it has
attracted a good deal of attention in
Victoria, and nearly all the avail-
able land has been secured by
Victorian settlers. Whether the
east coast and centre of the
island will develop as well as the
west coast has done remains to be
seen. If it does so much the better
for the island.
Figures can prove anything, we are
told : they certainly can prove the
astonishing progress of King Island.
Consider these: -
Acres under grass ." ... _. ". ... 200
Cattle._.'.. .~ ... _.20
Horses .-. ~. _. ... 6
Sheep.", _ - - 1
Acres under grass ... ". _. 1,400
Acres occupiea - _ ... - ... 25,225
Horses ... ~. "- ~ _...-. ~. 141
Cows ... ._"__._... 70
Acres under grass .-. " - ... 31,489
Acres occupiea _ '_ _ _ _. 100,846
Horses T."._. ... ... _ 385
Cows ......_... 964
Sheep "._... 409
Acres tinder grass ... " ._ ... 86,000
Acres occupied ... _. ._ .- «. 160,000
Cattle. ,. 9,600
Ratable value King Island.-1888,
-; 1899, £1,562; 1904, £5,735;
1909, £7,908. '
Exports and Imports per s.s. Yambacoona
cargo, 1954 store cattle, 1,653 sheep.
Exporte-32 tons sundries, 1 horse, 842
fat cattle, 413 fat sheep. Yaluo,
1908-1909.-Imports-1,038 tons gen-
eral cargo, 1,741 store cattle, 35 horses,
885 sheep. Exports^-128 tons sundries,
34 horses, 2,1558 cattle, 2,003
boxes butter, 1.628 fat sheep. Value.
Passengers to and from King Island.
1899-1900.-Arrivals, 128; depar-
1904.-Arrivals, 258; departures, 254.
1908-9.-Arrivals, 1,170: . departures,
Those figures speak for, themselves,
and seem to require very little explan-
ation. King Island is not ,a place
that can be judged by 'people who, are
unacquainted with its many peculiari-
ties, which, indeed, place it
in a class apart, and which should
have ensured it special and
sympathetic treatment from Tas-
manian Governments, instead of stupid
neglect. One thing is quite certain.
In spite of the very real prosperity of
the island, it will never be a centre
for that closer settlement which is so
popular just now, or not, at any rate,
till some cure for coastiness in cattle
other than changing their pasture has
been discovered. The west coast sand-
hills form the most valuable part of
the island, but to utilise them the
owners must have a nearly equivalent
area of sound country, hence small hold-
ings, so far as coast country is concern-
ed, are not very likely to prove remunerative.
That fact, too, that the only grasses
grown on these hills are annuals-the
famous melilot and spear grasses must
also militate against,, tlie^r closer set-
King Island has other disadvantages
which keep it back, some, of course,
due to her isolated position. The
island has no really good harbour.
Currie, the present harbour, is very
exposed, though doubtless the work
Government is to undertake there will
greatly improve it.
An east coast harbour, if sun-
dry engineering difficulties can be over-
come, should benefit the island.
Telegraphic communication is an evi-
dent need, and islanders believe if
installed it would benefit shipping en-
téring and leaving Bass Strait greatly,
and also might conceivably be of vital
importance to the Commonwealth in
the time of war.
It is a little hard to forecast the
future of the island. Probably it will
always be much what it is today, a
busy, prosperous, little pastoral com-
munity, but if the east coast harbour
ever eventuates, it may become a sana-
torium and pleasure resort for tired
Australians. The island has nothing
very beautiful to recommend it, but
for all that it is so unique, so utterly
unlike anything one expects, that it
has a certain attraction all its own.
It is an ideal place to live the simple,
not too strenuous, life, and we can, re-
commend no better cure for that tired
feeling than a trip to King Island.