Monday, July 06, 2015

Urban Explorer - Discovering Rokeby



The Watchhouse at Rokeby dates from 1850. The Historic Trail starts here



Rokeby is one of those little places on the way to South Arm. I had no idea that it had a history. Apart from the fact that the Police Academy is sited here, I had hardly heard of it at all. I always assumed that it was  one of those Johnny -come -lately suburbs, just another product of the post war baby boom with too many identical boxes and too little character, that you drove through as quickly as possible. That was, until I saw the sign indicating a Historic Walk  and decided to take a closer look. 
Easier said than done. For a start, there was absolutely nowhere to pull over, especially with so much fast moving traffic behind me. Secondly, after driving around in circles and one -way streets for a while, looking  for somewhere to park, it was very difficult to tell where the trail actually started.  Lastly, the trail is very fragmented and while looking for the markers, I found it somewhat confusing that there was both a  Historic Drive and a Historic Walk.



St. Matthew's Church  dates from 1843
Rokeby has apparently existed almost as long as Hobart itself.  Two years after Lieutenant Collins began Hobart Town at Sullivan's Cove in 1804, the young colony was starving, so "respectable settlers" and those recently evacuated from Norfolk Island, were encouraged to take up land at Clarence Plains as the area was known. With the help of convict labour the land was cleared, several large homes were built, and the area quickly became the colonial "Hay - loft." 



One of the first grantees was the colourful Reverend Bobby Knopwood, the colony's first chaplain -  ' a man of strict integrity and active benevolence ' his tombstone tells us, who was also known as "the sporting parson."  After falling out with Governor Arthur, who disapproved of such goings on, and losing his beloved Cottage Green at Battery Point, an embittered Knopwood, convinced he had been defrauded of his property, ended his days here and was buried in the local cemetery in 1926. It is thought that "the squalid hut" referred to in his long lament on a plaque in Montpelier Retreat, may have been on the site near the old school where Miss Dodd's Cottage stood.  


 St. Matthews  was the last resting place of  Reverend  Knopwood, the colony's first preacher










By 1830 there was a thriving community of large land holders, small farmers, carpenters, stonemasons, soldiers and convicts. There were many inns and a mill flourished where the Police Academy now stands. In 1866, Rokeby was declared a town. Cricket was popular as was horse racing and there was dancing in the local hall. Its pioneers such as George Stockell who built the mill, and John Chapman who built Clarendon Vale - possibly the oldest occupied homestead in Australia, and even  Reverend Knopwood, are commemorated in the street names, along with that of one of the more famous pubs. Perhaps more shocking than finding out that Rokeby is old by Australian standards, is finding out how much of it has come and gone.

Stone Walls are all that remain of "The Nutshell"


Rokeby suffered greatly in the 1967 Black Tuesday bush fires which destroyed  many fine old buildings including the Congregational Church, the community hall, Rokeby House, "The Pines" and "Bayview," along with many other shacks and homes. Nevertheless, if you take your life in your hands and cross the highway, you can still see the tiny 1860's school house and the"new" school which dates from around 1880. A short way down Droughty Point Road there are the poignant ruins of  " The Nutshell" once owned by a granddaughter of pioneer George Stokell, who kept it as a studio for visiting friends. The substantial church St. Matthews, still stands but for much of the rest you will have to use your imagination. Markers tell you that here was one of the many hostelries, there in what is now a circular parkland, was the riding school and so on. For the most part only beautiful old trees hint that there was once much more.

Survivor - The old School from the 1860's



The "new" School from the 1880's - now a Community Youth Centre

Among the more positive outcomes of the bushfires was that the town got a reticulated water supply instead of having to rely on tanks and the vagaries of the weather - one of the reasons the fires proved so devastating. It also got  its own volunteer fire brigade. Rokeby House has also been restored, but I couldn't find it on this occasion. 
Well that's another little mystery solved for me. There are many more since I am always intrigued by how towns evolve. What made people decide to settle here - water? A good harbour? A rich deposit of some resource - clay, stone or timber and coal or minerals in the case of the mining towns. In this case, it was good soils and grazing land. Availability of work remains a big factor.
And why do some towns thrive while others fade away - or in the case of Richmond, remain static for almost a century, making it the best preserved Georgian village in the country? 
Connectivity matters - witness the previous post on the Bridge, so do modes of transport - first ships, then horses, and the appropriately spaced coaching inns. Next came the railways and then the cars. Some places were bypassed as the need to spell the horses and passengers diminished and far greater distances could be travelled in a single day. Others flourished because of the new advances in earthworks. Communities south of Hobart boomed once the Southern Outlet provided speedy access over the constricting mountains. 
Although Tasmania has more visible history than most of Australia, I can't  help thinking that however substantial our towns and buildings look, the words fragility and transience spring to mind. The stroke of a pen in a distant surveyor's office deciding whether a road or a railway should go this way or that, fire and drought, a rich seam petering out, or a new development  such as  the end of the convict era, the mechanisation of farms, even the UK joining the Common Market and ending Tasmania's status as the Apple Isle,  may slowly or suddenly bring change. See it before it disappears. It's all only a snapshot of a moment in time.

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