Sorell 2021

Commemorating 200 years

June 2021 marked Sorell township’s 200th anniversary.

For hundreds of generations across many thousands of years, the Sorell district was the territory of the Mumirimina people of the Oyster Bay Nation. When surveyor James Meehan passed through the district in 1803, so began the British invasion and occupation of Mumirimina land, “fundamentally and devastatingly altering the way of life they’d known”.

In 1805 surveyor George Prideaux Harris surveyed the area that was known as Gloucester when the first farms were established in 1806. Governor Lachlan Macquarie confirmed the first land grants in 1812 and in 1815 Robert Nash built a windmill on his land grant at Sorell and infamous bushrangers attacked local farmsteads. Violent conflicts across the ‘settled districts’ of Van Diemen’s Land escalated through the 1820s.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie portrait [National Museum of Australia]
As the community grew the pioneer spirit of the new settlers created opportunity and a better life for their families. In 1816 the colonial government purchased land for the Pitt Water township which was established in 1819, home to nine residents and surrounded by 60 farms. For five years from 1817 the 40th Regiment was stationed at the town. By the time the town was named Sorell in 1821 the settlers and convicts numbered 130; the first school was built, with 57 students under the charge of headmaster Charles Hippesley Cox; a gaol was built and the first public houses were licensed.

Two hundred years on, the Tasmanian Aboriginal community continues as the traditional and original owners and custodians of the land and waterways.

Sorell township is a regional centre with a population of around 3000, including many families with connections to early settlers and convicts.

The 2021 milestone offered the opportunity to reflect on and commemorate the past as well as look to the future of the growing Sorell community.

Governor Macquarie’s journal

In 1821 Van Diemen’s Land was still part of NSW and Scottish soldier and administrator, Lachlan Macquarie (1761-1824) was the fifth governor of the colony of NSW (1810 to 1821).

Macquarie toured the colony before his return to England. He visited Van Diemen’s Land, naming several towns during his journey: Perth (30th May), Campbell Town (31st May), Ross (2nd June), Oatlands (3rd June), Brighton (5th June). Then on an excursion from Hobart on 20th June Macquarie named Sorell in honor of Colonel William Sorell, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (1817 – 1824).

From April to July 1821 Macquarie kept a detailed journal of his travels:

“Wednesday 20. June 1821 At ½ past 9. a.m. set out on a Tour of Inspection to the Districts of Pitt Water and Coal River accompanied by Lt. Govr. Sorell, Lt. Robinson, Dr. Redfern, Mr. Evans & Lt. Macquarie.

Governor William Sorell [TAO-PH30:1:111/SHS]

We ferried from Hobart Town to Kangaroo Bay (disce. 2 miles) where we found our Horses ready waiting for us – and set out from thence at 10,O’Clock; arrived at the Bluff on Pitt Water at ½ past 12 at Noon, disce. 10 miles, and ferried from thence to Pitt Water District, disce. 4 mile –, where we landed at ½ past 1. P.M. near Mr. Wade’s Farm. —We met several of the most respectable Settlers waiting there for us, along with Mr. Gordon the Magistrate of the District.

From the Landing Place we proceeded to the Ground intended for the site of the Township, which I named “Sorell” in honor of the Lt. Governor.

It is a beautiful commanding Piece of Ground, centrical for the District – and well watered by a running stream; – a Jail has been already built here – and I have now marked out the site of a School House and temporary Place of Worship. There is Water Carriage to this Town, which is highly advantageous.

From Sorell we proceeded to the Farm of Mr. Reardon disce. 2 miles, and took up our Quarters at his House, it being a very good one. —

Our Servants and Baggage had arrived there the day before, and we sent our Horses round from the Bluff to the narrow Ferry of Pitt Water at Mr. Gordon’s. —

Thursday 21. June We set out from Reardon’s after Breakfast this morning at ½ past 10, to visit the several Farms of this beautiful rich District, returning Home by “Orielton Park” (the Farm of Mr. Edward Lord) and the Town of Sorell. — We did not get back to Reardon’s till past 5 O’Clock; but I was very highly gratified with my day’s Excursion. —

Friday 22. June 1821 Intending to return Home by the District of the Coal River, we got up early this morning, and at 8,O’Clock set out from Reardon’s for the Coal River by the Short Road. — On the way we were met by Mr. Gunning and a number of respectable Settlers well mounted, who accompanied us to Mr. Gunning’s Farm, where an excellent Breakfast awaited us, and of which we all partook very heartily. — After viewing Mr. Gunning’s beautiful Farm, new Garden, and other Improvements, we pursued our Journey Homewards, passing through the Farms of Messrs. Gavin, Staines, Troy, Carney, Col. Davey, Lt. Govr. Sorell &c. &c. – and arrived at Kangaroo-Bay (the Ferrying Place) at ¼ past 4. P.M.; Crossed immediately and landed at Hobart Town at ¼ before 5 O’Clock, having travelled at least 30 miles this day. — I had the happiness of finding Mrs. Macquarie and Lachlan in good Health. —”

Commemorate & connect

The 200th anniversary is a milestone for Sorell township and an opportunity to consider the township’s identity and achievements, to educate, to heal and to build community connections and confidence.

Sorell Council, Sorell Historical Society and other local organisations are collaborating on a program of activities that bring our community together to reflect on the past and look to the future.

  • Sorell Council signature events through 2021 are taking on the 200th theme: Australia Day Awards, ANZAC Day, Volunteer Week, Sorell Regional Art Prize.
  • In June 2020 an ABC News feature on the Sorell township included reflections on the town’s history and the 200 year milestone.
  • Sorell History Society is collating images for a 1821-2021 commemorative photo book and published Pitt Water Chronicles Vol3 in June 2021.
  • Sorell School celebrate their 200th anniversary in 2021, proudly the oldest continually operating public school in Australia. The school has “provided education and care on the same site for children and families of the Sorell community since the school opened in 1821.” The school motto is ‘Respecting the past, creating the future’… Initially a primary school only, the school community has grown to nearly 900 learners from Kindergarten to Grade 11-12 and a Trade Training Centre as well as the school farm and Pioneer Village.
  • Sorell Memorial Hall featured in the Ten Days on the Island 2021 festival program: Sorell was one of ten communities around the state chosen to host If These Halls Could Talk as a celebration of the role community halls in our society. In March 2021 “a celebration of dance, life and art with the extraordinary women of Mature Artists Dance Experience” took audiences back to the halcyon days of dance with ‘Belvedere Ballroom’. Island magazine featured ‘Blackbird’ by Magdalena Lane in Island 161, a story inspired by the Sorell branch of the Country Women’s Association, by women’s stories and by the role of the community hall in the continued sharing of traditional knowledge.
  • The Ten Days on the Island 2021 festival program also featured the Tasmanian Theatre Company production of ‘One Crowded Hour’at the Peacock Theatre. The one hour, one person play starring Ian Stenlake was inspired by Tim Bowden’s bestselling biography. Documentary footage and live performance paint a portrait of the enduring legacy of Tasmania’s frontline cameraman Neil Davis in a dramatic unfolding of his life story. “After a childhood in the peaceful town of Sorell, Davis embarked on a journey to the world’s most dangerous regions of unrest. From the battlefields of South East Asia he captured horrific images of warfare and for more than 20 years his footage was broadcast into homes around the world.”
  • Sorell Council’s community grants program offers support for local organisations contributing to the commemorations. Initiatives funded to date include Pembroke Masonic Lodge open days with a range of activities on 20 and 21 June 2021 at their clubrooms in Parsonage Place; a retrospective exhibition by the Sorell branch of the Country Womens Association in the CWA Room at the Sorell Memorial Hall from 1 – 8 August 2021 and a Bushrangers Breakfast hosted by Moya Sharpe and the Sorell Lions Club at Sorell Memorial Hall on Sunday 29th August.
  • Sorell Council has sourced the funds and expertise to restore Sorell’s heritage-listed Railway Carriage Shed (1892-1926) in conjunction with the 200th commemoration.

[sources: Pitt Water Chronicles Vol 1; Reconciliation Tasmania;  SHS collection; NMA online; Ten Days on the Island; Island magazine]