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Whaling parties, tin and coal miners and pastoralists are amongst those who have lived and worked on the Freycinet Peninsula since the early years of European settlement. Old mine shafts, abandoned farmers' huts and the remains of whalers' camps today form part of the rich cultural heritage of the park.

The majestic beauty of Freycinet's granite mountains and white, sandy beaches have also long been admired by naturalists, artists and writers. the area was reserved as a national park in 1916, making it (along with Mt Field) the oldest national park in Tasmania. Don't miss the opportunity to stop in at Freycinet National Park. Photograph: The 1910 Freycinet Easter camp-out of the Tasmanian Field Naturalists (Archives Office of Tasmania)

Further information for visitors can obtained at the new Visitor and Interpretation Centre at Freycinet National Park.

Early Exploration

On navigating the east coast of Tasmania in 1642, Abel Tasman named Schouten Island after a member of the Council of the Dutch East India Company. The adjacent peninsula was initially thought to consist of a chain of islands, but this myth was dispelled during the visit of Nicholas Baudin, the French explorer, in 1802-03:

High granitic mountains whose summits are almost completely barren, form the whole eastern coast of this part of Van Diemen's Land. They rise sheer from the base. The country which adjoins them is extremely low and cannot be seen unless viewed from only a little distance at sea. It is to this strange formation that we must doubtless attribute the errors of the navigators who had preceded us into these waters and who had mistaken these high mountains for as many separate islands.

The brothers Freycinet were senior officers on Baudin's expedition, although it is unclear which one the peninsula was named after.

The vessels 'Le Geographe' and 'Le Naturaliste', from Baudin's expedition
The vessels 'Le Geographe' and 'Le Naturaliste', from Baudin's expedition (Reproduced in Bonnemains et. al. 'Baudin in Australian Waters')

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Sealers and Whalers

There is no employment more hazardous; more laborious; more disgusting than whaling. (Leigh, 1840)

Sealing parties had visited the offshore rocks and islands of Great Oyster Bay since the early 1800s. The American, Captain Richard Hazard of the Thalia, was reported as whaling in the area in 1824. Several features of the peninsula were named after him.

With the expansion of European settlement along Tasmania's east coast in the 1820s, the whaling potential of the area was soon realised by colonists. Shore parties were established in sheltered bays during the winter months. At this time the right whale (Balaena australis) was passing Tasmania's coastline on its annual migratory trek north from Antarctica. Fatal clashes between the whalers and local Aborigines were occasionally reported in the newspapers.

George Meredith, one of the first settlers at Swansea, established a whale 'fishery' at Parsons Cove in 1824. It became known as 'The Fisheries'. The sparkling waters and white sands of Wineglass Bay and Schouten Island soon became polluted with blood and putrid whale blubber as stations were established in those localities.

After a long and often dangerous chase in small whale-boats, the huge beasts would be 'struck' with a hand-thrown harpoon. This attached a line to the whale which, when weary from the struggle, was killed with an instrument called a lance. The carcass was then laboriously towed back to the shore for processing. Oil was extracted by boiling down the blubber in large iron trypots. It was then cooled and barrelled ready for shipping.


"The Rounding", by W. Duke. Whaling was a dangerous occupation. The small whale-boats were easily up-turned or smashed during the struggle to capture the whale. (W.L. Crowther Library, State Library of Tasmania)

The whale oil was principally exported to Britain where it was used for lighting and as an industrial lubricant. The whale-bone or 'baleen' became the mainstay of the fashion industry, being used to make skirt hoops and corsets.

By the 1840s shore-based whaling was in decline. Whale stocks had been severely reduced due to years of ruthless exploitation. Pelagic (deep-sea) whaling, with the sperm whale as the main quarry, then dominated the industry until the 1880s.

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Pastoral and Mining Leases

Farming
Mr Fergusson and his sheep dogs, Schouten Island c. 1920sSheep and cattle grazing was being carried out on parts of the Freycinet Peninsula as early as the 1850s. In 1859 Francis Cotton reported that a comfortable stone hut and several cultivated paddocks were being occupied by Mr Leggs. The farm at Cooks Beach was later occupied by the Bryan, Gill and Cook families.The old hut, stone fish traps and a boat slip can still be seen there today.

Photograph: Mr Fergusson and his sheep dogs, Schouten Island c. 1920s. Photo courtesy Glamorgan History Room, Swansea.

Farming leases were also taken out on Schouten Island until the 1960s. Huts at Moreys Beach, an old sheep dip and abandoned farming machinery are testament to the island's pastoral history.

The stripping of wattle bark for use in the leather industry and lime-burning were other activities carried out by early settlers on the peninsula. Coles Bay is said to be named after Silas Cole, an early settler who burned shells from the large Aboriginal middens on Richardsons Beach to make lime.

Schouten Island Coal

The sealer Joseph Stacey discovered coal after being washed ashore on Schouten Island in 1809. The deposits were not commercially exploited though until the 1840s when the Garland brothers began mining operations. They constructed a tramway and jetty, but the venture proved unprofitable.

The Government then re-acquired the island and leased it to private concerns. The Australasian Smelting Company, formed in 1848, continued the work started by the Garlands. Edward Crockett was appointed as mine manager and over 60 convicts were hired as labourers. In 1850 it was reported that 120-130 tons of coal were being raised a week from shafts sunk near the shore. Soon after, the mine was sub-let to Crockett who carried on operations for several years.

Shouten Island Coal Mine Jetty, Crocketts Bay
Shouten Island Coal Mine Jetty, Crocketts Bay (Stoney, A Residence in Tasmania, 1857)

Bernacchi and partners tried unsuccessfully to revive mining operations in the 1880s. The old tramway was extended at this time. Today, a cutting which runs westwards from Crocketts Bay marks the line it once took.

Coal mining has, over the years, also been carried out north of Freycinet at the Denison and Douglas Rivers, Llandaff and Mt Paul. In 1923 construction began on a railway to carry coal from Seymour to a proposed new jetty and loading facilities at Coles Bay. Although never completed, the bed of the line became the basis of the Coles Bay Road.

Tin Mining

Tin was first discovered on the Freycinet Peninsula in the 1870s. A number of parties worked the alluvial (surface) deposits during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with limited success. Work was centred on Saltwater Creek (north of Coles Bay) and Middleton Creek (near Bluestone Bay). It is thought that Chinese tin miners were amongst those who worked on the peninsula and Schouten Island during the 1880s.

In 1906 tin leases were also taken out in the area between Sleepy Bay and Richardsons Beach, but the operations were short-lived.

Granite Quarry

A red granite quarry has operated intermittently at Parsons Cove since 1934. The stone has been used in buildings and monuments. Some of the stone can be seen in the walls of the Commonwealth Bank Head Office, Hobart.

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Coles Bay Holiday Resort

Coles Bay and the Freycinet Peninsula have been a popular holiday spot for over 100 years. In 1895 a tourist brochure for the Swansea district referred to Coles Bay as:

The favourite picnic ground of the residents of Swansea, who for many years have enjoyed its numerous advantages with never-tiring delight. Boating, bushwalking, fishing and artistic pursuits were listed as some of the attractions of the area. Early visitors to Coles Bay came by boat or steamer from Swansea.

Harry Parsons retired to Coles Bay in the 1920s and promoted the tourist potential of the area. He established shacks at 'The Fisheries' which were the forerunners of today's holiday homes in the area.

The Chateau holiday units (now Freycinet Lodge) were established in 1934 by Ron Richardson, who leased the site from the Government. The complex was re-built after a fire in the 1950s. In recent years further development work has been undertaken by the new owners.

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Field Naturalists' Easter Camp 1910

The scenic grandeur of Freycinet has long been admired. East coast resident Louisa Meredith was enchanted by her trip to Wineglass Bay in 1853:

On either side of the ravine rose the towering summits of the mountain, bare masses of granite heaped up on high like giant altars, or rising abruptly from belts of shrubs and trees, like ancient fortress walls and turrets. But the downward and onward view was like enchantment! Far below my giddy perch...lay, calmly slumbering in the bright sunshine, that blue and beautiful nook of the Pacific named Wineglass Bay.

Field Naturalists camp, 1910 The Tasmanian Field Naturalists Club, formed in 1904, took an early interest in the flora and fauna of the Freycinet Peninsula. In 1910 their 6th annual Easter camp-out was held at Coles Bay. Ninety seven campers (a record number for the Easter camp-out) left Hobart on the vessel Koonookarra. All the first afternoon and evening were spent in putting up camp at 'The Fisheries'.

There were 11 tents in the ladies' quarters and about 23 in the mens', so that the place had quite the appearance of a little town. (Elliott, 1910)

Photograph: Field Naturalists camp, 1910 (Archives Office of Tasmania)

The next day the more scientific members of the party took part in an ocean dredging experiment which uncovered 60 species of shell hitherto unknown in Tasmania. Others preferred to participate in fishing and bushwalking expeditions. In the evenings large camp socials were held around a huge fire on the beach.

Concerns about the overhunting of native birds and animals had led the Government to proclaim all the Crown Land on the peninsula and Schouten Island as a game reserve in 1906. The Field Naturalists were strong advocates of protecting the area further through the creation of a national park.

Freycinet National Park was declared in August 1916. Schouten Island, which had been administered as a scenic reserve from 1916'1941, and then again from 1967, was added to the park in 1977. In 1992 a coastal area including the Friendly Beaches was also included within the park's boundaries.

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Reference:
Parks and Wildlife Service Publication: Freycinet National Park: The European History of Tasmania's First National Park