Table Cape: Explorers and Aborigines
by Carol Haberle
Named by Mathew Flinders in 1798 when he and George Bass were exploring in the “Norfolk” to confirm that Tasmania was in fact an island, the Table Cape area was first settled and developed by the Van Diemen’s Land Company in the 1820s. The tommeginer were the aboriginal people of Table Cape, a tribe fiercely proud of their area. Their name for Table Cape was Toin-Be-Noke, and it was here two servants of the Van Diemen’s Land Company were speared, this being the last recorded action of The Black War in 1842.
Today, a rich fertile farming region where crops of vegetables, poppies and pyrethrum are grown, sheep, cattle and deer are raised and also home to the Roberts-Thomson Tulip Farm, where displays in Spring of tulips, iris and liliums provide a spectacular display during the Wynyard Tulip Festival each October.
From Lava to Rich Fertile Soil
Table Cape is an extinct volcano that was pushed up through the earth’s crust around 13 million years ago, once a lava lake, molten basalt filled the crater of a volcano and solidified forming a large 160 metre flat-topped plateau. Flows from the eruptions of the Table Cape volcano spread out to form a basalt plain to the west and south. Following these eruptions over millions of years the basalt has slowly been weathering and eroding away. Today almost all of the volcanic ash deposits which originally surrounded the volcano have gone. Over the ensuing years, periods of weathering and high rainfalls have resulted in the formation of the rich, deep red fertile soils for which much of the North West Coast of Tasmania is famous for.
Murdering Gully Road
A little mystery and intrigue can also be found on Table Cape. As one drives the beautiful rural roads one may see a small road sign, ‘Murdering Gully Road’ …and yes, this road was named as such for being the location of a murder scene which occurred back in 1858. According to a newspaper report (Hobart Town Daily Mercury)
“A fearful tragedy has been enacted at Table Cape. A small settler named Samuel Oakes was found murdered on the 6th instant, in the bush, a short distance from his home. Suspicion was excited by his not returning the previous evening to his farm, and his wife proceeded to Mr. Shekelton’s, where it was known he had gone on business to enquire for him; on the road she found his hat. An immediate search having been instituted, the body was found about thirty yards from the road in a most fearful state.”
Intriguingly, this murder has never been solved.
Table Cape Lighthouse
The Table Cape Lighthouse, set on a sheer cliff edge surrounded by scenic farmlands, was built after several shipwrecks in the region gave need for a lighthouse to be built . Three metres of topsoil was removed before solid rock for the foundations could be found. Construction began and the 25 metre high lighthouse was completed and in service in 1888. The tower, built of brick then painted white is set into the side of the cape, in front of a circular stone retaining wall. A steel gangway leads from the top of the retaining wall into the tower. Below is a separate level accessed from the ground, while inside the tower is a steel circular staircase leading up to the lantern room. Homes were built of stone for the lighthouse keepers and their families and a school was erected. There was quite a growing community on Table Cape. The lighthouse was manned for 32 years before being automated.
A Tragic Event
Even the lighthouse at Table Cape was surrounded by tragedy. Robert Jackson was the first Head Lightkeeper at Table Cape. Seventeen days after the opening of the lighthouse, his son, Bertie died at the age of 14 months. The cause is not known, but a sad entry in the lighthouse log book is as follows:
“Wind south. A strong breeze and misty weather. Employed in the lighthouse and cleaning up about station. At 5.10 p.m. Bertie Jackson, son of the head lightkeeper, departed this life aged one year and two months.”
Bertie was buried in a grave marked by a fuchsia bush near the lighthouse where his family could tend to his grave. The fuchsia bush is long gone, but today a small white picket fence surrounds Bertie’s resting place.
In September 2010, Table Cape Lighthouse became the first Commonwealth-owned, operational lighthouse in Tasmania to be used for guided tours. Visitors can climb up the original steel staircase, to the lantern room, while stopping at the windows to view the beautiful panorama of the north west coast. From the balcony, Table Cape Lighthouse gives 180 degree, magical views from Low Head in the east, to Stanley in the west… whilst looking down will have you seeing the ocean crashing onto the rugged, rocky foreshore 180 metres below.
A drive around Table Cape will have you stopping at two lookouts; one to the east will provide views along the spectacular North West coastline and inland to the Central Plateau mountains, while the lookout on the western end gives coastline views to Sister’s Beach, Boat Harbour and as far as The Nut at Stanley.
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography. You can follow Carol on Facebook at Haberle Photo Cards. Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian. If you’d like Carol to visit you, please contact Think Tasmania.
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