William Talbot was born at
Malahide Castle in County Fingal, near Dublin, Ireland in 1784.
Although the castle had been the Talbot family home since the 12th
Century, at the age of 36, William decided to leave and embark on
a journey half way around the world.
He arrived in Van Diemens Land in November 1820, but in no time
headed for Sydney where he proved his assets of just over six thousand
pounds to Governor Lachlan Macquarie. As a result the Governor issued
William with a Location Order for the maximum land grant of 2,000
acres. As well he was assigned six convicts as personal servants.
Accompanied by his convict servants, William soon boarded the 90
ton brigantine Prince Leopold and headed back to Van Diemens
Land where he presented his Location Order to Lieutenant-Governor
By 1821, however, most of the good land around Hobart Town and Launceston
had been taken up, forcing settlers to move further afield. It was
about this time that George Meredith, who was from Welsh aristocratic
stock with good assets, had returned from Swan Port - the area we
now know as Swansea - and made a claim on what he reported as good
flat land suitable for grazing and cropping. As a result, Lieutenant-Governor
Sorell issued William with his Occupation Order at Swan Port on
the 6th July 1821.
In no time, with his servants, a couple of hired hands and a thousand
ewes accompanied by twenty pure bred merino rams, William took up
residence on his land grant, It was a mile inland from Great Oyster
Bay and just north of the Meredith River.
For the next few months it was all go for William and his crew.
They cleared a couple of acres of land, ploughed and planted it
with crops, as well as build a study hut. The hut would have been
about four rooms with two stone chimneys. The walls would have been
timber framed and packed thick with turf and mud. The roof would
have been made of thatched rushes and sags, but it would have been
more than adequate to shelter William until a more substantial home
could be built.
But alas, just as everything was going to plan, George Meredith
turned up and found William encroaching on what, he believed, was
his land grant. Apparently, despite some 60,000 acres of available
land in the Swan Port area, Lieutenant-Governor Sorell had given
both men the same grant.
A bitter dispute followed with neither man willing to give an inch.
Letters and deputations went to Lieutenant-Governor Sorell. More
letters were sent to the Home Secretary in London, as well as Governor
Thomas Brisbane, who was now the Governor of New South Wales. But
month after month, year after year, the depute lingered on.
It was Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, after taking over Van
Diemens land in 1824, who finally ended the conflict. In August
1824, after examining the evidence and calling the two men together,
ruled in favour of George Meredith, but only if he paid William
Talbot one thousand pound for the improvements he had made to the
land. In compensation, the lieutenant-Governor offered William another
grant of his choice, with an additional one thousand acres and extra
Both men accepted the offer and William, now with an extra thousand
pounds in his pocket, plus a Location Order of three thousand acres,
headed off in search of another more suitable place to settle.
It was a couple of years later, after meeting up with John Helder
Wedge, who had surveyed the area along the South Esk and Break O’
Day Rivers in 1825, before William came across a spot at the junction
of the two rivers and made his claim.
William was rapt; he had found a perfect place to establish his
new “Malahide”. It was a place superior in almost every way to the
old “Malahide” he had been forced to leave at Swan Port. The land
was much more fertile and there was an abundance of clean, fresh
water. But best of all, there was no George Meredith.
Soon after William took over his new grant in 1827 tColonial Government
built a Convict Station to house the convicts that would be used
to build roads and other infrastructure in this newly settled area.
The Station was on the banks of the South Esk River just a mile
or so from the spot William had chosen to build his home.
In no time, as more settlers moved into the area, a village began
to spring up around the Convict Station and as William had taken
it on himself to call the area around his grant Fingal, after the
Irish County from which he had come, the new township adapted that
name. William would have been pleased, too, that the valley itself
became known as The Fingal Valley, with its eastern end named Break
O’ Day Plains and the western end St Pauls Plains.
Fingal was the first township in the Fingal Valley and as it is
positioned in the heart of the valley, it soon became the centre
When Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur began Government decentralization
in Van Diemens Land back in the 1830s, he started by setting up
police districts under the control of magistrates. At that time
the Fingal Valley came under the jurisdiction of Campbell Town.
In 1837 a sub-district was created and an Assistant Police Commissioner
stationed at Avoca. The administration was moved to Fingal in 1842
and housed in the Probation Station.
The next move by the Government was the creation of Road Trusts
in the 1840s which led to the Rural Municipalities Act authorizing
the formation of municipal councils in 1858. To form a local council
each district had to come up with a petition signed by at least
50 land owners, whose qualifications were based on the value of
the property they owned.
Although a few districts moved rather quickly to form their council,
there was quite a bit of opposition to the concept in the Fingal
Valley. The first petition taken up in 1861 was rejected and it
took another year of lobbying by the pro council group before a
second petition was able to convince the Government that the people
of the Fingal Valley were ready for their own council.
Nineteen municipalities were formed in Tasmaia between 1860 and
1866, one of which was the Rural Municipality of Fingal, with its
boundaries based on the old police district of Fingal, which reached
from west of Avoca through to Georges Bay (St Helens) on the coast.
All councils subsequently elected took on the responsibilities of
police services, water supplies, public roads, registration of dogs,
impounding stray animals and licensing of butchers etc.
The Probation Station at Fingal was the initial home of the new
council until Launceston architect, Henry Conway, was employed in
1878 to draw up plans for a Town Hall at Fingal. But it wasn’t until
October 1882 that the foundation stone was laid by the then Warden,
J. H. Grueber.
The new Town Hall was said to be a fine building and served the
municipality well until it was destroyed by fire in the early part
of the Twentieth Century. This unfortunately led to all records
being lost, and with newspapers covering very little on Local Government
matters in those days, not a lot is known about Fingal's early council
affairs. One major development that did make the papers, however,
was the drawing up of new boundaries in1877, which saw the Fingal
Municipality end at Scamander River, resulting in the loss of the
Municipality of Georges Bay (St Helens).
The Fingal Council was extremely irate about the change and the
Warden wrote to the Colonial Secretary informing him that the Council’s
legal advice stated the boundary change was illegal. He said under
no circumstances would his Council give up the Grant Deed of the
municipal land at Georges Bay. But the Colonial Secretary had the
ruling hand, the new boundaries were enforced and no compensation
was paid to the Fingal Council for their loss of what was later
to become Portland Municipality.
A new Council Chambers was built at Fingal immediately following
the fire in the early 1900s. The building still stands proudly today,
but not as Council offices. A new state of the art structure was
built opposite the old Tasmanian Hotel in Talbot Street only a few
short years before the 1993 merger of the Fingal and Portland Councils
to form the current Break O’ Day Council, the headquarters of which
was soon established at St Helens.
Like all the towns in the Fingal Valley the population has fallen
back somewhat in recent years. This is mainly due to tin and wolfram
mines closing at Rossarden and Stories Creek, less people employed
on the surrounding farms and two sawmills closing down. The bulk
of the people are now employed in either the coal industry, or forestry
The town is surviving well, however, and whilst many new homes have
been built, there are still a number of charming, old, freestone
buildings left to remind us of a time long gone that was vastly
different from what we know today.
The old school for instance, which was the first public school to
open in the Fingal Valley in 1884, is a classic example of Nineteenth
Century, freestone architecture. Then we have St Peters Anglican
Church (1867), St Josephs Catholic Church (1880) and the original
Presbyterian Church (1881). All churches have some of the finest
examples of window lead lighting in Tasmania.
Other old buildings of interest are: Fingal Hotel (1844), Holder
Brothers Store established in 1859, the Railway Station (1886) and
the Tasmanian Hotel, which was built from the stones taken from
the old Probation Station. This building is now restored and used
as a Neighbourhood House, Information Centre and community activities.
Probation Station Convict Cells
Built in 1842
Now restored and on display on the western entrance to the town
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