The quiet town of Penguin is located on the North West Coast of Tasmania. Though one of the smallest towns on the coast, Penguin has much to offer both visitors and tourists, and has long had the reputation of being one of the prettiest towns.
The Town of Penguin: Seaside Tranquillity
With the main street located adjacent to the beach front looking north across Bass Strait, yet at the foothills of rich North West farmlands and the Dial Ranges from which Mount Montgomery looms behind, this township exudes a sense of peacefulness and tranquility. The town of Penguin took its name from the Fairy Penguin, many of which had their rookeries on the ocean foreshore here, and was named by well-known botanist Mr. Ronald Campbell Gunn in 1861. Penguin was proclaimed a town in October 1875. Originally a small timber and (unknown to many) a mining town, overshadowed by Burnie and Devonport, the region’s dense bushland and easy access to the sea led to Penguin becoming a significant port town, with large quantities of timber shipped across Bass Strait to Victoria, where the 1850s gold rush was taking place.
James Philosopher Smith: Iron Ore, Penguin Silver Mine
James Philosopher Smith was the first to prospect the Penguin region after returning to Tasmania from the goldfields of Victoria. Smith, who later claimed fame as the discoverer of the Mt Bischoff tin deposits at Waratah, in 1861 made two notable discoveries: silver-lead (galena) on the foreshore just east of the town and rich iron ore deposits inland on Penguin Creek. The Penguin Silver Mines Co. was registered in August 1870, with Smith being the largest shareholder. A shaft was sunk and some high grade ore was found, but the Penguin Silver Mines Co. was not successful; the ore faded out at depth in both grade and quantity and water seepage was a major problem. In 1898 a Melbourne syndicate purchased the lease of the Penguin Silver Mine which had been abandoned 30 years earlier, however it’s attempts to revive the mine failed.
The Neptune Mine was about one and a half miles east of Penguin Creek on the foreshore and was first worked in 1868. A rich vein of silver-lead ore was found, but keeping this seaside mine dry was a constant problem. The Neptune Mine was abandoned in the late 1860s, then once again pumped dry in 1884, but again abandoned in the early 1890s. During the First World War (1914–1918) it was last worked by a local, Mr W. B. Revell.
Philosopher Smith’s iron ore discovery at Penguin Creek near the present Ferndene Reserve was given very little early interest. Local settlers were too busy carving a living from the virgin bush, and too much uncertainty surrounding the mining industry prevented them becoming involved. A syndicate was formed by Colonel Andrew Crawford of Castra, along with fellow retired Indian military and civil service officers who had settled on the North West Coast. For unknown reasons the syndicate abandoned the field after initial exploratory work and the lease expired in 1889. In 1895 Government geologist Alexander Montgomery (after whom Mount Montgomery was named) inspected the Penguin iron ore field and his report was favourable. In July 1897 the Sydney based Tasmanian Iron Co. began open cut mining operations. This company was formed by James Cole Ellis of Newcastle, who moved to Penguin with his wife to form an iron ore mining and export industry. By 1897 a full scale mining operation was underway. In 1898 a three and a half mile part wooden, part iron rail tramway was built from the Penguin wharf to the mine site. This horse drawn tramway crossed the Penguin Creek with 25 bridges as it snaked along the valley to the wharf. The Tasmanian Iron Co. reached its peak in production in 1905, employing 17 men, 6,480 tons of ore was mined for export, but the iron mining operation proved financially unviable and closed in 1909. James Ellis left Penguin that same year and returned to NSW. Further mining of iron ore took place in the 1960s for a few years.
Ferndene Gorge Reserve Today
Today Ferndene Gorge Reserve, located 6kms behind the town of Penguin, still holds some remains of the mining era. A beautiful 30 minute walk along a track beneath huge eucalypts and towering manferns will lead you to Thorsby’s tunnel, the old silver mine shaft and Brownings Tunnel. Ferndene Gorge Reserve was established on 2nd August 1939, and is a state reserve located in the Dial Range. Consisting of 35.16 hectares, it is managed by the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service.
Hiscutt Park: Dutch Windmill
Hiscutt Park is situated around the Penguin Creek with beautiful views back to Mount Montgomery. The park was built in 1984 under a Commonwealth Environment Programme and a weir was created to form an artificial lake. The park provides BBQ facilities, a children’s playground, public conveniences and a beautiful Dutch Windmill. The Dutch windmill was presented as a gift to the town of Penguin and community during the Australian Bicentennial celebrations in 1988 to commemorate the Dutch explorers and settlers in the region. The Dutch windmill in Hiscutt Park is a 1/3 scale ‘Wipmolen’. This type of windmill is still common in the Netherlands; they’re used mainly for drainage, pumping water to drain the low lying land. They are recognised by the rectangular mill house (head) and the pyramid shaped base. This type of windmill was first built in 1632 in the western part of the Netherlands. The Wipmolen in Hiscutt Park was built from plans of a mill at Nieuwegein, Utrecht, with the waterwheel being added in 1993. Hiscutt Park is a delightful spot for children as well as adults, and is a popular venue for many weddings.
Panoramic Entrance: Town of Penguin
Travelling into the town of Penguin from the east along the Old Coast Road provides a visual splendour. An attraction for both tourists and visitors to Penguin, the Ling Perry Gardens lie beside the main road. These gardens were built with a labour of love by two of Penguins residents, Max Perry and Gordon Ling during the 1980s and today the gardens still flourish. Max and Gordon had retired, and both having time on their hands laboured to grow an attraction that has today become a famous feature of Penguin. The gardens overlook Watcombe Beach, and are today maintained by the Central Coast Council.
- the biggest undercover market in Tasmania
- the historic Uniting Church (originally Methodist)
- the Penguin Railway Station, home to the Penguin History Group
- a miniature railway
- seaside cafes
- the famed Big Penguin and the historic Cemetery to name but a few.
So a Part 2 about the Town of Penguin will follow in the near future.
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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