John and Maria Grist

John and Maria Grist live in the beautiful island state of Tasmania, just to the south of Australia. They have a wide variety of interests: Tasmanian shells, Mt Wellington history, Tasmanian industrial archaeology, pinhole cameras, fractal images, and more. They both enjoy the outdoors, and have built up a sea shell collection over many years. They have always been interested in locating forgotten historical sites around the state. Their book can be purchased directly from or at book shops around Tasmania.

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Early Recycling at Shag Bay

The authors would be very happy to know if you find any inaccuracies in this report. Please use the form on the below website or call us on (03) 62349404.

Long before the words “reduce, re-use, recycle” had ever been spoken, a small company on Hobart’s eastern shore decided to make use of waste materials, provide a useable resource, and turn a small profit as well.

Of course, in the early days Hobart, like any other city, produced much in the way of organic waste, which if left to itself would cause a nuisance, as well as constituting a significant health hazard. These materials included items such as butcher’s waste, dead animals, offal, fish scraps, and of course the ubiquitous “night soil”, which was collected from houses and taken away by hardy workmen in those pre-plumbing days.

A. A. Guano Company

From at least 1885, the Anglo-Australian Guano Company produced bone dust out of butchers’ waste at their plant in Shag Bay, near Risdon, and sold it as a fertiliser. Shag Bay was better known as Bonemill Bay at that time.

The company also produced guano and sulphate of ammonia.1


The proprietor of the company was Mr. Chapman. The company’s offices were located at Salamanca Place, Hobart.

Complaints about the smell at Salamanca were heard at the Central Board of Health in 1886:

HOBART. February 18.

The weekly meeting of the Central Board of Health was held this afternoon. A letter was received from Dr. E. O. Giblin, Officer of Health, reporting upon a complaint made by Mr C. P. Sprent in reference to the A. A. Company’s guano stores, Salamanca Place. Dr. Giblin said that guano had been stored there many years without giving rise to complaint, and during the past three years bone dust had also been stored on the premises. About 18 months ago, Mr Chapman, proprietor of the stores, established a bone mill at Risdon, and used this store, firstly, as a depot to which butchers could bring bones, and secondly, for the storage of manufactured bone dust for distribution in the course of trade. Both processes were occasionally objectionable, most offensive and disgusting smells being given off. The bones often had putrid meat attached, and some delay had occasionally occurred in sending the bones to the Risdon Mill. The proprietor, however, had promised to forthwith register the premises under the Public Health Act, and to receive bones from the butchers twice a week, forwarding them also the same day to Risdon, and, moreover, use disinfectants. Dr. Giblin recommended that in addition to these precautions Mr Chapman be instructed to use tarred bags for bones and dust. The board decided to call upon the Local Board to take immediate steps under clauses 96, etc., of the act, to ensure the removal of the evils complained of.2


Tasmanian Fertiliser Company

The Tasmanian Fertiliser Company took over from the A. A. Guano Company around 1907.

In 1909 the manager of the Bonemill was George Byworth Russell.3 George was the first of several members of the Russell family associated with the site.

The Russell Brothers were manufacturers of fish manure. Their company joined forces with H. C. Buchanan and Co. (Hugh Campbell Buchanan) to form the Tasmanian Fertiliser Company.


They started off in a similar manner to their predecessor, treating items such as butchers’ refuse, but later expanded their scope by using other raw materials. They even commenced testing a treatment process for night soil. This scheme was not universally applauded at first; the rumour had got around that a treatment plant was to be established at Lindisfarne, close to residents’ houses.4

Mr. George Thomas Russell, the son of George Byworth Russell and the manager of the Risdon works in 1912, took exception to the printing of this information, and used the opportunity to explain the process the company was using, along with the fact that the plant was situated at Risdon, and not at Lindisfarne:


Mr. G. T. Russell, manager of the Tasmanian Fertiliser Company, called at “The Daily Post” office yesterday and replied to the sub-leader which appeared in that morning’s issue under the heading of “Suburban Sanitation.” His company, he said, is conducting a new method of sewage disposal and he considered that the system had been misrepresented. “I think ‘The Daily Post’ is under a wrong impression with regard to this matter,” he said. “The facts are these: My company had the first machine of the Stamp and Powell sanitary process that was made in Australia. That was three years ago. Since then we have been doing our ordinary work in the treating of butchers’ refuse, etc., and at the same time making experimental trials with night soil. I have also studied the matter from all available sources. The article says the night soil is to be sent across the river and deposited in a sanitary depot to be established at Lindisfarne. That is not correct. It is at Risdon township, two miles from Lindisfarne, surrounded by hills and blue gum scrub. Then it is not to be deposited. It is to be mechanically treated, and it will not be smelt at 100 yards from the building. Rosny people will not know it is there. As to the abattoirs, we have been taking blood and stuff from them ever since they opened. Danger to health in this scheme is completely eliminated. The nightsoil is to be treated by a vacuum process which absolutely kills all germs injurious to human life, and there is no other process—except a chemical one—that can do that is far as we know. The stuff will be treated in a vacuum drier, and all vapors will be under control and placed at least six feet under the water. The residue will be a dry innocuous powder. This system is strongly supported by Dr. Purdy, and Dr. Armstrong, of Melbourne, said it would be a boon and a blessing if the scheme was carried out.”

The company seems to have done quite well in its first few years, and even shipped its product to other states.5

The Clarence councillors visited the site and a good description of the plant was penned in the papers in August 1912:

The party now forsook the land for the water, the motor launch Blanche Abel taking them for a run up towards the northern extremity of the municipality. Running past the string of houses which stretch round the shore to Limekiln Bay, or Geilston Bay, and across the mouth of that bay, the Blanche Abel put into the long, narrow, deep, and step-sided inlet of Shag Bay, beyond which rise the frowning rocks of Bedlam Walls. On the northern side of the bay the Hobart Marine Board have already commenced their assault on Bedlam Walls for the purpose of obtaining the stone for their reclamation works. Their plan of working is simplicity itself. Two wooden structures project out the few feet from the rock, which is necessary to get deep water, and on each of those is a line of rails and a truck The stone is quarried straight out of the steep hillside, run a few feet on the truck, and dumped into the punts, one of which was lying near by full of stone.

The goal of the trip was however at the head of Shag Bay where on the water’s edge, shut in by steep, barren, and rocky hills, stand Mr. Russell’s manure works. The party was shown by Mr. Russell, sen., and Mr. Russell, jun., over the works, which are an object lesson in the utilisation of waste products. At one end is treated the sanitary refuse from New Town, Queenborough, and Glenorchy. The receptacles when landed from the boat are conveyed on an endless chain carrier to a platform where the contents are tipped into a machine shaped like a huge boiler, and continually revolving, in which they are steam-dried. They are contained between the outer cover and an inside steam-jacket, and kept revolving and steaming about 12 hours. Certainly there is nothing offensive about the resultant product, which is put through a disintegrator before being bagged. About 530 tons are dealt with in a year in this way, and the manure finds a ready sale at about £2 10s. per ton. Mr. Russell said it seemed to him a pity that the refuse of Hobart, to the value of some £7,000 or £8,000 per year should all be allowed to run into the Derwent, and that some scheme could not be devised to make use of it.

At the other end is another steaming machine, similar to the one mentioned above, in which a big variety of other articles, bones, the blood and other offal of the abattoirs, fish and fish-bones, garbage of one kind and another, dead dogs and all manner of rubbish, is turned into manure. Mr. Russell said these machines were the first of their kind to be used in the Commonwealth, and gave excellent results. Not only manure is produced from them, but tallow of a rich, yellowish tinge. While all the other products of the works find a ready market in Tasmania the tallow goes further afield, being exported through Melbourne to Odessa, in Russia. What the Russians do with it can only be conjectured, but from their well-known proclivities in the way of tallow, it may be suspected that they eat it. It is a far cry from Shag Bay to Odessa, but thither the tallow goes.

Piled upon the little wharf in front of the building is a most miscellaneous collection of articles waiting to be turned into manure, piles and piles of bones and bullocks’ heads, heaps of odoriferous fish and the backbones of barracouta, and other things into which the non-professional visitor feels no desire to pry. Old tins and the like seem to come in quantity from somewhere.

Altogether these works are very compact and complete, and they are set in a nice retired spot, well away from everybody, except (just at present) the Marine Board men at Bedlam Walls, who are said to hold their noses when the wind blows from the head of the bay. If the man who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before is a benefactor, so perhaps are those who turn in an innocuous and valuable material what would otherwise be a nuisance and a danger. It is alchemy of a more successful, if more prosaic, kind than that of the old alchemists.6

The Weekly Courier, September 12, 1912, published a series of pictures headed How to Turn Waste Matter to Profit. Tasmanian Fertiliser Company’s Plant at Shag Bay, near Hobart.

Along with these pictures was an article lauding the Hobart venture and questioning why Launceston could not do something similar:


In the illustrated section will be found a number of interesting views of the Tasmanian Fertiliser Company’s plant at Shag Bay, near Hobart. The plant is employed in the utilisation of the waste animal products of the city and suburbs. The company about five years ago took over the business of the late A. A. Guano Co., and conducted it for a year; they then joined hands with Messrs. Russell Bros., fish manure manufacturers, and decided to install an up-to-date plant for the treatment of the waste above mentioned. After twelve months’ careful study and several trips to the mainland, the authorities of the company decided to erect a Stamp and Powell patent combined cooker, tallow-extractor, and vacuum drier, securing the first machine made in the Commonwealth. The plant was used in the treatment of fish-scrap, condemned fish, sharks, butchers’ refuse, fallen animals, blood, offal, etc., with complete success.

About 18 months ago the manager was commissioned to enquire into the use and treatment of sanitary matter. The outcome was that on New Years’ Day the company entered into a contract with Messrs. Stamp and Powell for the supply of a large machine for the purpose named. The machine, which is Victorian made from end to end, arrived in due course, and was erected. Contracts were entered into with the councils of New Town, Glenorchy, and Hobart (including Sandy Bay), for the removal of and treatment of their sanitary services. The plant is one that treats the waste material in a manner that is at once hygienic and safe, turning it into a commercial product that which under other conditions would be a constant danger to present and future generations. The method of treatment does away with noxious fumes, and leaves the residue in a state that can be sown through an ordinary manure drill, and without any smell–so much so that a bagful weighing one hundredweight was left in the waiting shed of one of our steamers for nearly a week without anyone suspecting its presence.

This manure is meeting with a keen demand from local and interstate gardeners and farmers. The fertiliser is completely free from all danger of infectious germs, all such being killed, even though the material might come from the Infectious Diseases Hospital. The result is obtained without the aid of chemical disinfectants. The empty pans are thoroughly cleansed and tarred every time they enter the factory, so that all danger of infection from that source is eliminated. This method of treating the waste products is meeting with the entire approval of the various board of health officials in Tasmania and sister states. Some of the advantages of this system of disposing of sanitary matter are as follows:–

  1. The treatment of such matter close to the source of supply, thus often saving long cartage.
  2. The saving of all difficulty of finding disposal sites and the consequent deterioration of properties in the neighbourhood.
  3. The elimination of all danger from disease germs.
  4. Turning to commercial use and profit that which at present is a constant danger to human life. Dr. Poore, an eminent London authority, says: “England uses her manure to destroy her fisheries, poison her molluscs, block her ports, foul her foreshores, and imports fertilisers from foreign lands to make good the loss.” The same words apply to Tasmania and other parts of Australia with equal force.
  5. The freedom of contamination of the water supplies.

There are many other advantages that recur to one’s mind, but space forbids my enumerating them. All information with reference to these machines and the process may be obtained from the manager, on the works; or the Tasmanian Fertiliser Co., Hobart.7

1914: Pipe failure

In January 1914, 5480 ft. of one-inch galvanised piping was laid across the Derwent, with a view to bringing water from Glenorchy to the Shag Bay factory to assist in the process. For the previous 30 years, water had been drawn from a well 150ft. above the high water mark.

When the scheme was completed, the caretaker at the Glenorchy waterworks stated that the meter registered 150 gallons of water in a few minutes on his side of the river; however, no water was coming out at the eastern side. The valves were inspected, and a suction pump was tried, but the problem persisted. The failure of the supply was later found to be due to leakage, and not to water pressure or to the entry of salt water into the pipes. A legal dispute arose between John Paterson, the engineer contracted to install the pipes (who owned the Risdon Road bonemill on the opposite side of the Derwent8), and the Tasmanian Fertiliser Company. Paterson held that the contract was simply for laying the pipes, whereas the Company held that the contract was for the reliable supply of water. The judge decided in favour of Paterson.9

1915: Explosion

On the 28th of January 1915 at around 4.30 p.m., tragedy struck the fertiliser factory in the form of a devastating explosion. George Byworth Russell, and his son William, who was a bargeman for the company, were both killed.


A boiler explosion with fatal results to two men, occurred yesterday afternoon at the Tasmanian Fertiliser Company’s bonemill at Risdon, the victims being George B. Russell, aged 70 years, and his son, William F. Russell, aged 35 years. Frederick W, Jordan, engineer, was slightly injured. A very large amount of damage was done by the explosion, and it was followed by an outbreak of fire, which destroyed the building, which was of wood.

Above: Workers at the Bedlam Walls Quarry, Shag Bay, cutting stone for upgrade of Hobart wharf. Tasmanian Mail, September 11, 1913, page 23.

At about 4.30 p.m. a number of men were employed at the Marine Board’s quarry on the northern side, of Shag Bay, Risdon, when suddenly, a tremendous explosion was heard from the opposite side of the bay, and on looking towards the bonemill they saw dense clouds of steam and pieces of debris flying through the air, followed by flames from the end of the building. Led by Foreman John Colledge, they hurried off to the scene of the accident in their launch, and on arrival were met by a man named Jordan, who informed them that the boiler had burst, and that two men were lying underneath the timber that had been blown down. Colledge, assisted by the quarry-men, got the two men from under the debris and found that they were George Russell, the works manager, and his son William, who was dead when found. The old man was badly cut about and had his head crushed. When discovered there were two casks of tallow lying upon his body. Colledge lost no time in getting Mr. Russell and his son’s body on board the launch and conveyed them to Hobart. He informed Sergeant Ward of the water police who took them of the General Hospital. Here the older man was attended by Dr. Goddard, but died shortly after admission.

On receiving the information at 5.30 p.m. Sergeant Ward hired a motor-launch and went to the scene of the accident. Arriving there at 7 o’clock, he found the whole of the mill and wharves on fire, and burning fiercely. None of the mill hands were about, but he questioned the crew of the ketch Good Intent, which was discharging manure about 30 yards from where the boiler burst. A deck hand named George Walker said that when he and his mates heard the explosion they ran down into the cabin to escape the falling debris, of which there was a considerable quantity. They afterwards went to the mill, and met Alfred Jordan, the enginedriver, running out, with his head all cut and scalded. The quarrymen then came over and they brought out the injured driver. They found Mr. George Russell lying about 6ft. away from the burst boiler, underneath two kegs of tallow and on returning after placing him in the launch they found the dead body of the son.

Sergeant Ward could not get near the boiler owing to the fire, which by now had got a big hold and was blazing fiercely, blue and green flames arising from the bags of bone-dust, of which there was something like 900 tons in the building. The boiler was split in half, and one end had been blown out and the dome had been blown off.

The mill, which belongs to the Tasmanian Fertiliser Company, was a large two-storey wood and iron structure, built on a steep hillside near the water’s edge. It was on the southern shore of Shag Bay, near the head of the inlet, and contained a large quantity of machinery, the boiler which burst being situated at one end. At the time of the accident there, were about 15 hands working at the mill, but when the explosion actually occurred all except the two Russells and Jordan were busy unloading a barge at the wharf, and so escaped injury.

The fire subsequently raged for several hours, subsiding only when the whole building was razed to the ground, and everything, including the bone-dust, burned.

The deceased were both married men with families. Mr. George Russell, the father, leaves a wife and six children–four sons and two daughters–most of whom are grown up. His son, Mr. William Russell, leaves a wife, and one child about three months old.

The building is known to be insured with the South British Insurance Company, but the amount has not been ascertained. The boiler which exploded was a second-hand one, and was put in about twelve months ago. The damage is very extensive, and must run into thousands of pounds.10

The noise caused consternation in Lindisfarne and the opposite side of the Derwent. The weatherboard building which was lost had been nearly 200 ft. in length. One side of the building had been blown 20 ft. away onto a nearby hill. The fire, as well as consuming what was left of the building and contents, also claimed the nearby wharves. Frederick Jordan was lucky to escape with his life, as he was within six feet of the boiler at the time it exploded.11

Mr. Russell, senior, was the founder of the fertiliser works about 35 years back. Only 18 months ago he floated the business into a company. The boiler, the explosion of which is believed to have caused the disaster, was installed a year ago.12

The inquiry started on Tuesday 9 Feb13. Frederick Jordan reported to the inquiry on 10 Feb:

William Russell was employed unloading the barge, but a few minutes before the explosion witness saw him talking to his father in the boiler house. Witness had been on the side of the boiler shortly before to see if things were alright, and when he came down he saw George Russell closing the furnace door. As he stepped away a flash of flame came from the furnace door, and he thought the hind leg, which was underneath the boiler, had gone. George Russell was standing close to the tallow shed, and William Russell was standing near. Witness turned to run away, and afterwards he remembered no more. When he came to he found himself among the debris. The boiler was housed in a wooden shed. … The boiler was about 6ft. in diameter, and 10ft. long. … He knew that the salt water was getting in, but every precaution was taken to keep it out.14

The inquest concluded on 13 Feb 1915, with the verdict: “No one guilty of negligence.”15 The coroner, Mr. W. O. Wise, was satisfied that the company’s regimen of regular cleaning had been adequate.

in the present instance two theories had been adduced. One was Mr. Jordan’s that some explosive had got into the firebox, but he (the Coroner) could not agree with that, because the firebox had not been blown out. Mr. Reynolds’s theory was that the explosion was caused through accumulation of sediment upon the floor of the boiler, thus causing it to become overheated, and that was the theory that he (the Coroner) inclined to.

Co-operative Fertilisers Ltd., Porter Bay

 In 1918, Mr. George T. Russell, son of George B. and brother of William F. Russell, who both lost their lives in the explosion, formed a new company named Co-operative Fertilisers Ltd. He applied to set up his glue and manure manufacturing works at Porter Bay, just north of Shag Bay.

The company was set up to assist fruit growers at Wattle Grove. Shares were offered in June 1918. The city council was on-side as the scheme would again assist in disposal of waste products.16


Unfortunately, the plant at Porter Bay fared only a little better than its predecessor in Shag Bay. On 20 April 1919 a fire totally destroyed the works.

FERTILISER WORKS DESTROYED HOBART. Sunday. The fertiliser works, situated at Risdon, belonging to the Co-operative Fertilisers Company, Limited, were totally destroyed by fire at an early hour this morning. The foreman, who resides near the works, was awakened shortly after 1 o’clock and immediately discovered the works in flames. He was powerless to do anything, and only managed, after a struggle, to save his own house. The works contained a quantity of tallow ready for shipment, also fish and other manures. The damage is estimated at from £2000 to £2800. The building, machinery, and stock were insured. The company was composed principally of fruit and hop growers.17

Mr. Russell was the manager and lived very close to the works at Porter Bay. The fire started in the middle of the night and he was woken by the noise and flames. He was unable to save the factory, and only with difficulty was he able to save his own house.18

The company unsurprisingly went into liquidation shortly afterwards in 1922.19 This, however, was not the end for Mr. Russell. He became managing director of Shark Fisheries Ltd., which planned in 1928 to set up factories throughout Australia, commencing in N.S.W.20 The N.S.W. plant was in fact built, and he supplied Tasmanian fruit growers with 200 tons per annum in 1929.21

However, there is no further evidence of any fertiliser works being set up in the Risdon area.


1 1886 advertisement






7 Weekly Courier, 12 September 1912, page 35.






13 See the 9 Feb report in The Tasmanian Mail, 11 Jeb 1915, page 22.









An Early Ultramarathon: The 1903 Go-As-You-Please Mountain Race

– by Maria Grist

The author would be very happy to know if you find any inaccuracies in this report. Please use the form on the below website or call me on (03) 62349404.

(The book, The Romance of Mount Wellington, is written by John and Maria Grist and is available from their website at


The Race

Walking contests were a huge craze during the years around the tragic events which are the subject of this story. This craze was called “pedestrianism”. Some early walking races consisted of “heel-and-toe” walks. These walking styles later on evolved into “go-as-you-please” races, in which it was permissible to walk, run, or jog. The go-as-you-please was the forerunner of races which today would fall into the ultra-marathon group.

On the 29th August 1903, there were reports on eight different walking contests in The Mercury [1]. This was not an unusual number. Among these reports was an announcement of a “go-as-you-please” race to the Pinnacle of Mount Wellington and back.

The race was organised by Watchorn Bros., the local agents for Watson’s Whiskey. It was to be started at 2pm on Saturday, the 19th of September. The first prize was a double-barrel breach-loading gun (Hollis make) in a solid leather case. There were also cash prizes for second, third, and fourth places. The promoters of the race included Hon. Herbert Nicholls, Messrs. L. Rodway, E. Maxwell, L. A. Wilkinson, Allan Gibson, and E. G. Hart.[2]

Advertisement, 9 September, 1903. The Mercury.

The race attracted considerable interest in the community:

The walking craze is running as strong as ever. At least five to six walking contests come off every week, and there is little prospect of them diminishing for some time to come. Great interest is centred in the go-as-you-please to Mount Wellington and back, which comes off next Saturday. Over fifty entries have been received, and so far no recognised track has been barred. [3]

The rules of the competition were finalised as follows:

WATSON’S WHISKY TROPHY: The go as-you-please to the pinnacle of Mount Wellington and back takes place on Saturday, the 19th inst., starting from the office of the local agents, Messrs Watchorn Bros, at 2 p.m. sharp. Competitors are reminded that they must present themselves at the office not later than 1.30 p.m. for the purpose of receiving badges and numbers and necessary instructions. The defined course will be from Messrs. Watchorn Bros’ office, along Davey street, keep to main road to the Fern Tree, then up the track by St. Raphael’s Church to Springs, then along the new track to the Organ Pipes, then on to the Pinnacle, and return by the same route to the office. Any short cuts absolutely excluded[4].

On Saturday the 19th of February, 39 of the 70 competitors who had entered the race lined up at the starting location. They included S. Allen, G. Cope, Chas. Beard, R. J. Betts, H. Brown, E. Butler, J. Cartlidge, A. S. D’Emden, G. Cockshutt, G. Cope, T. R. Crooks, W. Dodge, P. J. Drew, C. Hall, H. S. Hallam, L. Hewitt, H. H. Johnston, C. Large, T. Laughlin, H. Luckman, B. Marshall, W. McDonald, T. E. (or F. E.) Parkes, G. Radford, J. M. Richards, C. Roberston, W. Sansom, Audley Stuart, F. Tinker, E. Whittle, and J. Wilson.[5]

George Harvey Radford was 19 years old, and (Joseph) Mark Richards was 31. George was single and lived with his mother, and Mark had a wife and a young child.

The weather in the early morning was anything but promising, for there was rain in plenty, and on the mountain evidently much sleet and hail, and the whole of the mountain was at times enveloped in clouds of the same. It was thought by the promoters of the affair that it would probably be necessary to postpone it on account of this, but the weather cleared up about 10 o’clock, and the sun came out brightly, though a great many clouds still hung about, especially in the vicinity of the big hill behind Hobart. As, however, many of the competitors came from the country, and wished the start to be made, and as one of the conditions had originally been that the race would take place, wet or dry, it was decided to go on with it.[6]

The 39 who faced the starter were dressed in only clothes such as singlets, light knickers and sandshoes. A large crowd was present to cheer the participants, and numerous people in vehicles and on bicycles followed the runners up the start of the course. The race favourite was H. H. Johnson.[7]

(first) The competitors lined up at the start of the race. Tasmanian Mail, Sep 26. (second) Detail of above photo. George Harvey Radford is competitor No. 20. It is not known if Mark Richards is in the photo. (third)The Mountain photographed on the day of the race. Tasmanian Mail, Sep. 26.

There were race officials stationed at the Pinnacle in order to check the competitors as they passed that point. They were Messrs. F. Tapping, C. C. Crisp, and W. Gill. The three were later joined at the Pinnacle by the photographer Mr. J. W. Beattie.

23 of the participants successfully reached the Pinnacle check point. The first was Chas. Beard, who achieved a time of 1 hr. 36 minutes. Mark Richards and George Radford were both among those who reached the Pinnacle.

In due course the first competitors arrived back in Hobart, to great excitement from the crowd. Beard and McDonald came down Davey St. first, but G. Cockshutt came up from behind and passed them, finishing first with a time of 2 hr. 44 min. 51 sec. He received a huge ovation from the crowd. Nobody at this stage had the slightest idea of the tragedy that was unfolding on the slopes of the Mountain.[8]

The Tragedy

(Joseph) Mark Richards was the fourth in line to reach the Pinnacle[9]. When he arrived there, he was already in a bad state. The weather on the Pinnacle was intensely foul, and the judges were huddled at the Pinnacle, with their clothes frozen solid. Richards at this point complained of feeling faint. Mr. Tapping, one of the judges, lent him a bluey (see advertisement below). Arthur D’Emden, another competitor, noticed Richards’ plight, encouraged him to keep going, and stayed with him, in spite of his own difficulties with the conditions, endeavouring to assist.


(first) Judges’ attire. “Bluey” advertisement from 1936.(second) Betts leading at left, McDonald at right. The Weekly Courier, October 3. Photograph most likely taken by Beattie.

The photographer Beattie said in his statement to the inquiry later on that he had never been so cold before. When he met Richards and D’Emden on the track, Richards asked him, “Have you anything to eat, mate?” Beattie replied, “No, old chap. I really haven’t.” Then he (Beattie) continued taking photographs of the race, both of the competitors and of the judges at the pinnacle. D’Emden and Richards continued on their way down from the Pinnacle.

D’Emden stated that Richards was walking on his own at first, but then Richards again said he was about to faint. They walked a little further, but Richards then did actually faint. D’Emden rubbed his chest, arms, and legs until he came round, and then he attempted to lift Richards onto his back in order to carry him down, but was unable to manage. Richards continued in and out of consciousness and eventually lost consciousness completely. D’Emden managed to slide him a little further down the track, and then he saw two boys coming up the track. He asked one to assist, and sent the second down to the Springs to ask for help from Constable Gadd, who was stationed there. The boy held Richards by the legs and Arthur held him from behind and the two lifted him onto the track and continued to try to get him downhill. They were going well until the boy slipped, and they slid below the track, and at this point they were unable to lift Richards back onto the track again. D’Emden continued to try to lift Richards while the second boy went for help.

D’Emden himself started to stiffen up and was soon no longer able to move. He shouted and shouted, and finally the judges at the Pinnacle heard him and started down the hill to investigate. D’Emden had been sitting in his thin running gear, unable to move, for about half an hour when they arrived.[10]

The Weekly Courier, 3 October. The judges at the Pinnacle. Photo: J. W. Beattie. Inset: photo of George Harvey Radford. Photo: Harcourt, McGuffie Co.

Beattie was with the judges at the Pinnacle, and was the one who heard D’Emden’s call. They found Richards nearly unconscious and D’Emden shivering and exhausted. Beattie conferred with the judges, and it was decided that Tapping and Beattie would stay with Richards, while Gill and Crisp accompanied D’Emden to the Springs to ask Gadd for assistance, and to obtain a stretcher.

In the mean time, Tapping and Beattie continued to try to move Richards down the track. Beattie was fairly convinced by this time that Richards would not survive. Mr. Tapping also tried to lift Richards onto his back to carry him down, but fell down immediately. The two men administered whiskey to Richards in small doses, and rubbed his chest and his heart with the liquid. Then Constable Gadd finally arrived with an improvised stretcher, and with some assistance the men were at last able to convey Richards to the Springs. He was moaning terribly at this stage. They estimated however that he died about 200 yards above Gadd’s cottage at the Springs.[11] Gadd phoned for a doctor, and Dr. Clarke came up from the city, and pronounced him to be deceased.[12]

Meanwhile, other competitors were also having their own difficulty with the conditions:

Audley Stuart, who was at one time considered one of Tasmania’s best all round athletes, was one of these. He asserts that he was compelled to travel over a portion of the route on his hand and knees through feet of snow, and that his hands and face were benumbed with cold. He had some raisins in his pocket for the purpose of moistening his mouth en route, but he was unable to use his hands to get them.

A man from the country, named Allen, was another competitor. He carried a handkerchief in his hand to wipe the perspiration from his face, but as he neared the Pinnacle so intense was the cold that his handkerchief was frozen, as also were his long black beard and moustache. Similar experiences were had by many others[13].

Radford reached the Pinnacle safely and came back via the Springs. He “staggered” in to the Springs, and stopped for half an hour, scraping the snow off his clothes. He was said to be “quite cheerful” at the time. He then started back down the Finger Post track. It seems he may have been mistaken the way; he was the only contestant who took this route back.[14]

After the race was finished, reports came through that Radford had not returned, and fears were held for his safety. Search parties were organised, and Superintendent Pedder led the police search. The race promoters also formed a search party, consisting of the Hon. Herbert Nicholls, Messrs. L. Rodway, E. Maxwell, L. A. Wilkinson, Allan Gibson, and E. G. Hart. Constable Hursey and Messrs. Brown, Giblin and Reid also assisted in the search. It started to get dark. The search parties continued with lanterns, and the whole of the race route was checked, but alas to no avail. The search was temporarily halted pending daybreak.[15]

One of the exhausted contestants, Henry Albert Brown, had been carried (along with some other ailing contestants) to Fern Tree, but recovered after resting for some time. When he heard that Radford was missing, he insisted on going out to look for him with one of the search parties. Others sought to dissuade him, but he was insistent.

It was Brown who finally discovered the body of Radford, early on the following morning. The body was found on the Finger Post track. It seems that Radford was resting on, or possibly attempting to step over, a fallen tree, when he fell backwards, his feet tangled in its branches, and he was discovered lying in the snow on his back. He was no longer on the official route; this was most likely a contributing factor in his not being found the previous night.[16]

Photograph taken on the day of the race. Competitors’ footsteps are visible on the track. Tasmanian Mail, 26 Sep. Photograph most likely by Beattie.

The aftermath

An coronial inquiry was held into the two deaths commencing on 21st September. On the 28th a verdict of death from natural causes (heart failure) was brought in.

(first) Inquest title page. (second) Inquest findings. (third)  Death notices, 26 September 1903.

A fund was immediately set up by Watchorn Bros. for the widow of Mark Richards. They contributed a sum themselves, as did the Mayor. Several events such as other walking contests[17] and a variety show[18] added to the fund.

During the past few weeks the sound of the stone worker’s mallet and chisel has resounded through the stillness of the bush, and the one responsible willing worker was Mr. G. B. Mason, of Lansdowne-crescent, who is a lover of the bush and his fellow bushmen. There he has worked for days on several pieces of basalt rock, one of which surmounts a pile of rock, and fastened to it is a marble tablet kindly given by Messrs. Williams Bros., with the words, neatly cut and filled, “This cenotaph is erected near the spot where Joseph Mark Richards died whilst competing in the go-as-you-please race to the Pinnacle. September 13(sic), 1903. Erected by G. B. Mason, of the Falls Hut.”[19]

The original monument to Richards was destroyed by vandals in 1952. It was replaced by members of the Hobart Walking Club, including Peter Allnutt and Denis Cook, on Saturday 19 September 1953, which was the 50th anniversary of the tragic event.[20]

(first) The original Richards monument. By George Mason. Photo: AOT NS483/1/85. (second) Current Richards Monument. Photo by John Grist. (third): Radfords monument today. Photo by John Grist.



ON THE DEATH OF MARK RICHARDS. WHO SUCCUMBED AT THE GO-AS-YOU- PLEASE ON MOUNT WELLINGTON. – Published The North West Post (Formby, Tas), Saturday 17 October 1903, signed “Tracker”.[21]

I am sitting in the gloaming
Of the mystic twilight hour,
And my thoughts are sadly roaming
As the evening shadows lower,
To a far-off mountain pathway
With the snow flakes falling fast,
And a weary wanderer plodding
O’er that dreary mountain pass.
Dewy drops of perspiration
Clinging to his blanching brow.
Thrice he wavers, thrice he falters,
Now he sinks upon the snow.
Urged along by proud ambition,
See, he rises, struggles on.
He must reach the mountain summit
Ere he win that much-prized gun.
But, alas, poor Mark is fated
Ne’er to reach that mountain rill.
Ere another glorious sunrise
He is lying cold and still.
“Farewell, mother wife, and baby,”
Comes a murmur soft and low.
Then a heart is stilled for ever
On that mountain wreathed with snow.
As I gaze the scene is changing.
On the dashing Derwent shore
Stands a happy wife and mother
Waiting by a cottage door;
Waiting there for husband—father.
Oh, why does be tarry long?
Loving hearts he knows are waiting
There to bid him welcome home.
Hark, I hear his footsteps coming—
Hush my baby, father’s here.
What’s that message? Draw the curtain.
Vulgar ears should never hear.
One more head is bowed in sorrow,
One more heart is crushed with woe,
One more widow, one more orphan,
God above has willed it so.
Once again the vision changes
To a far-off rustic scene,
Where the tall trees fling their shadows
O’er the grass of shimmering green,
And an aged mother, weeping
By a far-off cottage door,
For the message sad has reached her,
She will greet her boy no more.
“Mark, oh, Mark,” she wails in anguish,
“Soon thy sands of life are run,
And thy bright career is ended
Ere thy life was well begun.
Three fond hearts will ne’er forget thee
Till we greet thee one by one–
Mother, wife, and little baby,
Father, husband, son.



Huts of Mount Wellington

Around the 1880s, a “craze” for building recreational huts on Mount Wellington first started. The Mountain had always been a dominating backdrop to the city and it greatly influenced people’s thoughts and imaginations. Hobart had a strong sense of identity and independence in the days before necessity compelled Tasmania to join the Federation. As the city had become very well established by this time, people’s thoughts naturally turned to leisure, and what better area to use for recreation than the mountain on their back doorstep?

Wellington Hut - image sourced via The Romance of Mount Wellington by John and Maria Grist.jpg

Wellington Hut – image sourced via historical photo collection of John and Maria Grist

Accordingly, small groups of friends, coworkers, or members of syndicates walked up the Mountain in the weekends carrying all kinds of tools and equipment, and vied with each other to find the most attractive, secluded sites, and to build the most elaborate structures they could, in which to spend their leisure hours.

Typically, a mountain hut would consist of a levelled site by a small stream, a chimney built of local stone, and a wooden structure embellished by extraordinarily elaborate intertwined dogwood branchwork. Many of the hut syndicates prided themselves on their fine cuisine and their love of culture and gentle company. Interiors were furnished with all of the comforts of home; one of the huts reputedly even contained a piano!

Clematis Hut - image sourced via The Romance of Mount Wellington by John and Maria Grist

Clematis Hut – image sourced via historical photo collection of John and Maria Grist

Very little is left of most hut sites today; an experienced eye and the instincts of a sleuth are needed to discover the remains – a rock platform here, a pile of mossy rocks there – which mark the only evidence of this most interesting and romantic pastime. Since these structures were almost always built of timber, they were nearly all destroyed by the fires which ravaged the Mountain in 1912.

However, the sites are still picturesque. Sometimes a visitor might have the excitement of discovering a well preserved chimney or other unusual remains. In October 2012, we were delighted to rediscover the remains of Clematis Hut, which had been lost for around a hundred years. The chimney remains and levelled recreation area in the front are nestled by the side of a secluded stream and surrounded by huge man ferns. Even the original foot track into the site, visible in many contemporary postcards, still exists today as a reminder of the pre-war Tasmanian people who spent their free time in creativity, hard work,innovation, imagination, and hospitality.

Falls Hut - image sourced via The Romance of Mount Wellington by John and Maria Grist.jpg

Falls Hut – image sourced via historical photo collection of John and Maria Grist