New Norfolk Road had its start 200 years ago

The Derwent Valley Branch of the National Trust erected this
monument at the 150th anniversary of the start of work on the
 road between Hobart and New Norfolk.

YOU’VE probably seen this monument alongside the Lyell Highway hundreds if not thousands of times but do you know what it’s all about? Those who have stopped to read the plaque know that it commemorates the start of work to build Tasmania’s first arterial road – connecting Hobart and New Norfolk.

This important and enduring development in the early history of New Norfolk had its start 200 years ago.

“On Wednesday last Mr Dennis M’Carty commenced the undertaking, under an agreement with Government, of opening a Road from Hobart Town (by New-town and Austin’s Farm) to New Norfolk,” reported the Hobart Town Gazette in its issue of May 30, 1818.

“As this road embraces the communication with the populous village of New-town, and forms the first 15 miles (to the ferry) part of the principle road to Port Dalrymple, it cannot fail to be of benefit and advantage to the Settlement.”

McCarty was one of the first European settlers at New Norfolk in 1807-08 and in April 1808 he was made a constable for the district while still serving time as a convict. He built the first house in New Norfolk and operated a boat between the two sides of the river, roughly in the area of Ferry St.

McCarty received his pardon in 1810 and was soon producing wheat and potatoes for Hobart and Sydney. In 1811 Governor Lachlan Macquarie was a guest in his house. By 1814 he had been convicted of smuggling and was in Sydney awaiting sentence when his home at New Norfolk was raided by bushrangers and property worth nearly 550 Pounds (more than $80,000 today) was stolen.

Hobart Town Gazette, May 30, 1818.

Partly by way of compensation for this loss, McCarty was awarded a contract to build a road 24 feet wide (7.3m) from Hobart Town to Austins Ferry and 16 feet (4.8m) wide from there to New Norfolk.
In return he sought a grant of 2000 acres (809ha) of land, 15 men on government rations for a year, a cart and eight bullocks, a tent for the men to sleep in, tools suited to the work to be done, and 500 gallons (2300 litres) of rum.

On June 26, 1819, McCarty reported having completed the road but the standard of the work soon came into question and was still in dispute when he drowned in the River Derwent at Hobart. Despite a survey committee’s complaints about the standard of several bridges, stumps in the road and poor drainage, the route laid out by Denis McCarty remains largely the same 200 years later, give or take a few corners that have been straightened and some hills cut through.

The significance of the roadworks that started on May 27, 1818, is recalled on the monument which was erected on the 150th anniversary in 1968, commemorating the start of the first formed road in Tasmania. Whether you know it as the New Norfolk Road, Hobart Rd, or the Lyell Hwy, there’s no doubting its place in history.


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