Tunnel, sewer or drain?

THERE has long been speculation about secret tunnels under New Norfolk. The uncovering of some kind of archaeology this week may bring us closer to a definitive answer. There should be no fear of retribution for possible damage. The truth should be the real prize.

Just some of the longstanding stories include:

  • A tunnel between Willow Court and the Derwent River (so convicts and the mentally ill could be moved in private)
  • A tunnel between Willow Court and the Bush Inn (because soldiers could not be seen drunk in public)
  • A tunnel between the Star and Garter Hotel and the Bush Inn
  • A brick drain or sewer between Willow Court and the river

Of all the various stories, only the drain/sewer has been proven to exist. It has been exposed on several occasions, including during the installation of the infamous Burnett St planter boxes three years, and as recently as three weeks ago during the current roadworks in the same street.

In all likelihood, it is the sewer that was exposed again this week. A report in today’s issue of the Mercury says the archaeology was inspected by the Derwent Valley Council’s general manager before being recovered. Regardless, it is time for the tunnel story to be fully investigated.

Here’s what is known about the sewer that drained from Willow Court to the river:

  • In early 1915, council and government representatives inspected the “great sewer from the Hospital for the Insane” and agreed to extend the outfall into deeper water. MUNICIPAL COUNCILS. (1915, February 11). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 2. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10403172.
  •  In 1916 the State Government objected to the New Norfolk Council allowing residents to connect to the “sewer or drain” running from the hospital through the town to the river. NEW NORFOLK MATTERS. (1916, January 15). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 8. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1036080 
  • In 1920 a partial collapse of the sewer “almost engulfed a horse”. The sewer was described as being between 80-100 years old. NEW NORFOLK’S CENTURY OLD SEWER. (1920, May 22). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 6. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11474349

  • In 1923 the the New Norfolk Council banned further private connections being made to what was then called the “asylum sewer”. The Mercury newspaper reported that the council was concerned about polluting the river and also feared the State Government would want the council to contribute to the cost of maintenance. MENTAL HOSPITAL SEWER. (1923, September 14). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 3. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article23692334
  • In 1929 it was reported that where the sewer passed under High St it was merely a tunnel cut through the rock. This section had recently been shored-up with pieces of timber. NEW NORFOLK COUNCIL. (1929, September 12). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 7. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article24287378
  • Later in 1929 the Mercury reported: “The sewerage drain of the New Norfolk Mental Hospital has caused more than ordinary concern to the authorities during the past few years, and it has been necessary to spend a considerable sum of money on its upkeep. The drain, which runs from the Mental Hospital along Burnett Street to the River Derwent, a distance of a quarter of a mile, is really a large bricked-in tunnel about 15ft in diameter, with a gradual slope from the hospital to the river. It is probable that the tunnel was built over 100 years ago by convict labour when the hospital was set aside for Invalid prisoners, and not mental defectives. With the general increase of traffic through the streets of thc town the old drain has shown distinct signs of decay, and for the past few years it has been necessary for a close watch to be kept on it. Some, two months ago a considerable sum of money was expended in repairing the drain, and on Thursday work was again begun. It is understood that the idea is to thoroughly reinforce the overhead portion of the drain where it crosses under the intersection of Burnett Street and High Street (thc main intersection of the town) with concrete, and so prevent the possibility of heavy traffic, particularly steam rollers and the like, from causing extensive damage to it.” NOTES OF THE DAY. (1929, November 2). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 10. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article29140062

  •  In 1933 the New Norfolk State School applied to be connected to the mental hospital sewer rather than have septic tanks installed at the school. NEW NORFOLK SCHOOL. (1933, December 6). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 5. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article24870379
  • In 1936 the New Norfolk Swimming Pool was moved to a site above the bridge because its original location was too close to drains discharging into the river, including the hospital sewer. DERWENT VALLEY. (1936, January 9). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas), p. 5. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article30071843
  • In 1948 there were complaints when the sewer was left open at several places in Burnett St while it was being repaired. An investigation the year before had found the sewer was blocked in several places, the Mercury reported. Complaints At New Norfolk About Open Sewer. (1948, February 24). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 5. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26450020
  • Later in 1948 it was reported that the hospital had been connected to the town sewer and “the century-old drain leading from the hospital to the River Derwent through the main section of the town will be required no longer.”   A.N.M. MAY SUBSIDISE SEWERAGE SCHEME. (1948, May 10). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas.), p. 7. Retrieved November 12, 2011, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26459145

This list is a work in progress and will be added to. What do you know about the tunnels? Do you have any photographs (old or recent). The New Norfolk News will treat all correspondence in confidence if preferred. Comment below or email newnorfolknews@gmail.com

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