Fire in the district

Here in Tasmania, our worst disaster is caused by bushfires or fires that have got out of control. When we have a wet winter and spring, then a dry summer and the lush grasses and undergrowth start dying and going brown, then we know we could be in for a terrible fire season. Much of our land is protected forest or used as farmland with crops and animals. Our forests are predominantly Eucalyptus species which catch alight quickly and the burning leaves and bark leap ahead of the main fire front especially if backed by heavy winds. This will cause lots of spot fires which then develop into larger fires.

pinterastudio / Pixabay

When I was 11 years old, I lived in Glenorchy on the western shore of Hobart and saw the effects of the 7 February 1967 bushfires on the slopes of Mt Wellington. In total, 64 people lost their lives, 900 were injured and about 7000 left homeless across the state. About 1400 homes were destroyed and a further 128 buildings included schools, halls, churches. There were 110 fire fronts burning over 652,000 acres of land within a five hour period. The local paper The Mercury put together a 50th anniversary booklet including memories from the south east of Tasmania. Just today I was shown a link to a Facebook post celebrating the 54th anniversary of the Black Tuesday bushfires. These fires also affected the municipality of Sorell. Read about some memories further down this post.

Another disastrous fire season was in January 2013 when the township of Dunalley in the southern section of the municipality was virtually burnt to the ground. There were 40 fires burning across the state and more than 49000 acres of bushland were burnt out. Dunalley had 65 buildings lost to the fire including the police station, primary school and bakery. People from the Tasman and Forestier Peninsulas had to evacuate as the fire was bearing down on them from the north.

History of bush fires in the district

Researching this topic, I found as early as 1804 (the year after Van Diemens Land was first settled) the Lieutenant Governor was warning people about burning the stubble on their land.

In 1841, one fire was thought to be started by a convict road party but when requested verbally to help fight the fire, the overseer refused as it was not a requisition in writing.

By 1844 many settlers were taking out fire insurance for their houses and property.

In March 1850, a fire in the district affected property owned by the following families: Kearney, Blyth, Glover and Zelly.

January 1854 another conflagration was mentioned in the local paper. Some of the surnames mentioned were: Morrison, Phipps, Wicks, Wright, White, Burslem, Bellett, Grimes and Blyth.

In March 1856, a fire at Carlton mentioned the extra undergrowth that caused the bushfire to burn quickly onto the local property.

 

Some people lost their lives while helping to fight fires. Mentioned in March 1886 is that of Mr B Reardon, an old resident of Forcett, who while fixing a fence, must have been overcome with smoke and heat, fainted and the fire then went over the body.

In February 1914, there must have been many fires in southern Tasmania, including around Kellevie and Carlton River. Many buildings destroyed and this was the second bushfire that season.

Council meetings such as this one in 1925, often mentioned the role council had in keeping drains, culverts and blocks of land clear in case of bushfires. Another meeting in 1930, discussed the availability of fire plugs in the town of Sorell. Councillor McDermott made an objection and a few comments from other members came straight to the point.

With the temperature reaching 98 degrees in Sorell in March 1940, some buildings on properties were again affected by bush fires.

 

By 1952, Sorell had its own fire brigade and only one day after being approved by the Rural Fires Board, it was out protecting property from a large fire in the Forcett area.

Memories about Black Tuesday around the Sorell district from members of the Sorell Historical Society

RN: people say the old man (Trakka Newitt) saved Sorell…he back burnt the racecourse before the fire front hit….well before back burning was in vogue…..he learned it from his time on Bathurst Island with an Aboriginal tribe….now that’s a story in itself…… I remember a lot about the ’67 fires……..

LR: my mum told me the circus was in town and the kids from the school were ushered down to the causeway to stand in the water with the circus animals

RN: I remember they took us out of school, we were put onto buses in Forcett street and taken down to the causeway…we got off the bus and sat on the rocks….it was like a movie scene right in front of us…..the smell of burning sheep I remember

LD: The smell is what lingers in my memory too and the mounds in the paddocks that lingered for years

  • LD: My dad was one of the Sorell residents that perished in the 67 fires . Fred Weil aged 39, he would have been 93 this month.
  • GB: Yes, Fred and Geoff Davis(father of Neil Davis) both perished together fighting the fires out Shark Point Road, Penna.
  • LD: I remember being told that dad and Geoff were found together dad facing the flames and Geoff facing away. Apparently dad went back to get Geoff after he had collapsed.
  • LL: Think you will find that Geoff Davis and Manfred Weil died fighting the fires on my father’s property at Penna which was called Preston

LR: My mum was in Hobart and on the bus on the way back, they were stopped at Mount Rumney and told that Sorell and Midway Point was gone. I was 2 months old, my sister was one and learnt to walk that day

KC: I remember the 67 fires like it was yesterday. From being down at Park Beach swimming and getting home at lunch time. After going to the causeway because it was so hot, my friend and I noticed ash falling from the sky, we decided to go to our homes. When I got to the Blue Bell Inn (which was our home, my father was Allan Newitt) I went up stairs to the kitchen and Dad had been eating lunch. You can see Reynolds Hill from the window and dad had seen the fire coming from that direction. So he and Len Tapp who was staying with us went down and lit the race course because the fire would have jumped Arthur St and the whole of Sorell would have gone. I went up to the primary school and found Dad, he could hardly see out of his eyes for the smoke. The fire had come up behind the primary school. Dad asked me to drive him and the local police man back near where the sale yards used to be. We went down Pelham St to the Arthur Highway. I was scared because I didn’t have a licence but when I said this to the policeman he just said that I had done a good job girlie. Then Dad wanted to go to Penna and when we got there, there was all these poor sheep all charred and burnt. There were some local lads hanging about so Dad got them to help him to put the sheep down. The only thing that Dad found was an old railway spike to use to put them down with. It was an awful sight but Dad did the only thing he could to put them out of their misery. That’s what I remember about the 67 fires.

Readers: What has been your memory of bushfires or a disaster in your area of the world?

The Joseph brothers

After publishing the post about soldiers from Sorell in WWI, I had a comment from Martin Lovell about his great uncles Morris Joseph and Paul Joseph. Apparently three brothers went to war and only one, his grandfather Erle Joseph, returned. Martin added some photos and more information on the Facebook post and has given me permission to use them to write a post on this blog.

On 14 July 1880 William Morris JOSEPH aged 26 married Emma Amelia McGUINNESS(sp) aged 22. The witnesses to the marriage were Garrett C Joseph and Alfred McGuinness. They were married at the Carlton Congregational Church which first opened in 1841.

 

Between 1881 and 1896 the couple had 6 children – 5 boys and 1 girl; all births registered at Sorell. In most cases their father, a farmer at Carlton, was the informant.

  • 1881 Morris Frank De Witt Joseph – usually known as Frank
  • 1884 Claude Hermann Graynado Morris Joseph
  • 1886 Morris Pitt Gladstone Joseph – usually known as Pitt
  • 1888 Paul Hamilton Joseph
  • 1891 Earle James Hugh Joseph
  • 1896 Emma Morris Pearl Joseph

The property named Morrisdale which fronted onto Carlton River is shown on the map. I am unsure if the family lived on the property but according to the silver wedding anniversary notice for William and Emma’s marriage, William was living at Prospect Farm in Carlton, his father James had been living at Bushy Park, Carlton and his father in law had been living at Bay View House in Carlton.

By 1908, we know the property is now known as Morrisdale as Paul Joseph, who was studying to be a minister, took over the vacant pulpit for an evening service at the Congregational Church.

Paul was often mentioned in the local papers between 1908 and 1918.   In 1910, he was appointed assistant pastor of the Port Adelaide Congregational Church for a twelve month period. He then became one of the first students to enter the newly established Congregational Training College in Adelaide where he was stationed at Semaphore and had charge of the Mission Church there. But in 1916, Paul bought the property Montefiore in Adelaide. He was planning to build a temple on North Terrace from a fortune supposedly being left to him. But alas this did not happen. Read this newspaper article about the full story.

Looking at another of the brothers who went to war, we focus on Morris Pitt Gladstone Joseph known as Pitt. He seemed to enjoy the water as in 1904 he enlisted with the navy when the HMS Challenger arrived in Hobart. We know this is the correct Pitt Joseph as it is later mentioned in his service records that he had been in the navy.

Pitt must have left before his five year term was up as in 1908 he was being challenged to a boxing match by I.T.A. Stacey from Nubeena. The match was to take place in Hobart and the best of 15 rounds. Winner to take ten pounds.

Paul and Pitt both died in World War I.

By the time Paul joined in August 1916, he was married with one child. His wife Dorothy Leigh Joseph lived in Welland in South Australia but at some time during the war, she moved to Morrisdale property at Carlton. Paul spent time training in Australia before embarking on the Seang Bee  on 10 February 1917. Paul served time in the field in France as originally part of the 9th Reinforcements of the 48th Battalion. He was declared missing in action on 5 May 1918 but on 20 July 1918 was formally reported as killed in action. In 1922, Dorothy was sent a notice that her husband’s body had been interred at the Adelaide British Cemetery at Villers Bretonneux in France. Dorothy received the memorial plaque and scroll as well as Paul’s Victory Medal and British War Medal.

Pitt joined in April 1916 and was part of the 18th Reinforcements of the 12th Battalion. He mentions his trade as a miner and that he had been in the navy previously. He was first sent to Egypt and spent time in the 4th Auxiliary Hospital with measles. On release sent to the Australian training camp at Tel El Kebir. By late 1916 they headed to England and then in the field in France.  Pitt was killed in action on 6 October 1917 in Belgium, probably at the Battle of Broodseinde. In his will, he made his brother Claude the executor and bequeathed all his property and moneys to his sister Emma Pearl Joseph. Pitt’s father, William, received the Memorial Plaque and Scroll as well as the Victory Medal.

The third brother who went to war was Erle but luckily, he survived and returned home. He was also with the 12th Battalion but joined in January 1915. Whilst at Gallipoli he received a gun shot wound to his right leg, leading to a stay in hospital. In April 1916, he had bronchitis, another stay in hospital. In August 1916 while in action in France he received a gun shot would to the thigh. Then finally in May 1918 he was again wounded to his left knee and right thigh. He was sent back to England for treatment on his gun shot wound to his left leg including a fractured femur. In late November 1918, Erle returned to Australia on the Suevic, the only one of three sons to do so. Erle was awarded the Victory Medal, the 1914-1918 Star and the British War Medal. In 1966, when living in Lindisfarne, Erle also applied for the Gallipoli Medal. I am unsure if he received this or not.

In 1919, Erle applied for land as part of the returned soldiers settlement and was granted 823 acres at Wykeholme, Carlton.

In 1921, William Morris Joseph wrote to the appropriate department about the issuing of a war gratuity. In his letter he explained his daughter was bequeathed everything under Pitt’s will but he and his wife have been looking after their grandchildren on their property for four years as well as a wife of another son who died in the war (Paul) for two years. They didn’t charge her board or food, and Paul’s wife used her money to clothe her children. Eventually William received just over 86 pound as a war gratuity.

Erle and his two older brothers, Frank and Claude,  were often mentioned in advertising in the newspapers especially warning people about hunting on their properties.

In January 1945, Emma Amelia Joseph died at her son-in-laws residence at Middleton, aged 86. Two months later Erle’s uncle James, who lived at Rosetta, died in a boating accident at Carlton River sandbar. A year later in 1946, Erle’s father also died at Middleton aged 92. In 1954 Erle lost another member of his family, his brother Frank, by accident on the farm.

Erle Joseph married Hazel Cadger and had six children. One daughter being Martin Lovell’s mother June Joseph who married Harold Lovell. Harold worked the farm with Erle for a number of years. Information from Martin:

We lived in Erle Street, Carlton. Erle & Hazel lived on the Marshdale property in the early days and raised their family there. They also bought a house in Lindisfarne on the Esplanade later in life. My dad Harold & Erle worked the Marshdale property for quite sometime. As a child I was living the dream.

The family were very well known in Carlton and had streets named after them : Josephs Road and Erle Street.

In 1973, the property Marshdale was sold at auction.

 

In 1990 at age 99, Erle went back to Gallipoli with a group of veterans, war widows and junior legatees as guests of the Australian Government. Erle is in the front row, second from the right.

 

Erle celebrated his 100th birthday in style with messages from the Queen and Bob Hawke the Prime Minister at the time sent Barry Jones down to visit with Erle. Both Bob and Barry were personal friends of Erle.

Erle’s wife Hazel was cremated in May 1990 and Erle joined her in July 1991.

Many thanks to Martin Lovell, grandson of Erle for many of the images and information for this post. Newspaper cuttings were snipped from Trove digitized newspapers and  the resettlement paper was from Libraries Tasmania. Information about war happenings were found in the service records for each man, found at the National Archives of Australia.

Readers: Did you know any of the Joseph family? What memories do you have of them?