New Norfolk was the third planned settlement to be undertaken in Tasmania after Hobart and Launceston were established.  In 1803-4 when Hobart was first settled on the banks of a large river, the Derwent, it was considered important to explore this waterway and find out the potential of the surrounding areas. Lieutenant-Governor Arthur drew up plans to transfer the government from Hobart to New Norfolk. There were several reasons for this plan, but it was mainly because of the dangers associated with crossing a wide and turbulent river to join the main road north. New Norfolk

Starting in November 1807 and on through the following year, people from the Norfolk Island penal colony were persuaded to come to Van Diemen’s Land (the island was renamed Tasmania in 1856 in honour of Abel Tasman) by offers of a generous exchange of land and the chance of an enterprising future, and so brought about the settlement of New Norfolk.  The area was first known as “The Hills” because of its setting among hills, valleys and gentle streams. But the Norfolk Islanders wanted to add “New” to preserve a link with their old island home. Early settlers were supported on government rations until 1812. There were no roads and no transport as we know it and the population were entirely dependent on river transport or following dirt tracks overland using horse-drawn vehicles and bullock wagons. In 1811 Governor Macquarie came to visit Van Diemen’s Land. He named the settlement  “Elizabeth Town” (after his wife), in the District of New Norfolk. The stream, called the Thames by the locals, was renamed “Lachlan” in honour of  his son.

In 1812 Governor Macquarie ordered the Surveyor to plan and mark out the township and details of grants and leases. Hobart Town Authority was instructed to afford every encouragement and facility to industrious tradesmen and useful mechanics to reside and settle as soon as the new township had been sub-divided into regular allotments.

The settlement slowly grew and prospered. Life was not easy for anyone in those days and there are many stories of the colourful pioneers, whose names and buildings are still in use, who survived floods, fire, and the marauding of bush-rangers and indigenous local tribes.

The first arterial road in the colony - Hobart to New Norfolk - was started in 1818 by Denis McCarty, an Irish exile of dubious record. The speed with which it was built was marred by the inefficiency of the work and after inspection, Governor Sorell refused payment. Horse-drawn coach transport became a necessity as it took a whole day to travel from Hobart to New Norfolk, coaching inns became essential. Many of these buildings are still in use today.


Willow Court By 1827 it became apparent that there was a serious need for the care of the infirm and in April that year the Governor issued an Order that invalid convicts from Hobart, Launceston and all outstations should be transferred to New Norfolk and temporarily accommodated  in wooden huts until a durable building had been constructed. On June 2 the first patients were admitted, and in 1829 the first “lunatic”.  By 1831 the Invalid Hospital and Lunatic Asylum had been constructed. Part of the original building still stands today as an open quadrangled structure known as “Willow Court” and is now classified by the National Trust for its historical and architectural value.

“Willow Court” takes its name from two willows planted by Lady Franklin, the wife of the Lieutenant-Governor, which were reputed to be two cuttings from the grave of Napoleon on Saint Helena. The complex and the adjoining Royal Derwent Hospital, was the oldest mental hospital in Australia still in use, at the time of its closure in 2000-01. In early years the hospital served three purposes; as a general hospital for the district, an invalid depot for convicts and an asylum for the insane (to serve the whole colony). It remained under military administration until the official Government take-over in 1855. Eventually the hospital became virtually self-sufficient when farms on adjacent land were used to grow fruit and vegetables and produce sheep, cattle, pigs and poultry. At the end of the 20th century, changes in Government policy led to activities at the complex being wound down and eventually closed. Now in private ownership, the site presents many business development opportunities.

In 1846 the first hop plants were brought in from Maria Island and this became a flourishing industry resulting in the traditional “New Norfolk” landscape - oast houses, fields of wired poles and windbreaks of Lombardy Poplars which are a beautiful sight in autumn.
Old Hop-Pickers Hut
Old hop kiln at Rosegarland

The Valley of the Derwent is rich in soil and timber and began to develop rapidly by 1902. One of the contributing factors was the extension of the railway line. This much-needed facility brought greater prosperity to the rural communities and  in 1907 the Hydro-Electric Power & Metallurgical Company commenced operations at the Great Lake. Hobart was first illuminated by the Hobart Gas Co. on 1 January, 1913 but three years later changed over to electricity from the Great Lakes Works. In 1915 the Hydro Electric Dept was requested by the Minister for Lands and Works to report on the possibility of an electricity supply for New Norfolk.

River steamers were an essential part of New Norfolk’s development, among them the S.S. Marana, which ended its days as a fishing trawler at Victoria; the Maweena which eventually burnt;  the Emu, which sank later near the New Norfolk bridge and is still there; and the Monarch which sank at the Lime Kilns. Flooding in the lower reaches of the Derwent River has been a periodic event and New Norfolk has rebuilt the bridge, linking both sides of the town, four times. The existence of Meadowbank Dam has remedied this situation.

The historic problems of wars and pestilence took their toll here too. Men served in the Boer War which began in October 1899 and ended in May 1902 and then the First and Second World Wars. Floods and the Pneumonic Flu in 1917 decimated the population of the island as it did across the world.

Arthur Square The first church building was erected for the Norfolk Islanders by David Lambe in 1823. Today only the flagged navel, the walls and possibly part of the transept remain. The early church was originally a chapel which served as a schoolhouse. It was the first place of worship to be built outside of Hobart Town. In 1826 the school and church were separated and the present church was consecrated in 1828. It was later enlarged to accommodate 450 people and various repairs and alterations were undertaken, which included the eventual removal of the tower.

The weathervane, handmade by convict labour, came from the Royal Derwent Hospital when it was a military establishment in 1827. The two millstones in front of the building came from John Terry’s Lachlan Mills, built in 1819 and situated where the Lachlan River joins the Derwent. Terry constructed his own millrace 2,000 metres long and about 3 metres deep. In later years this stream was diverted to the Royal Derwent Hospital vegetable garden. In 1866 The Close was established. This building was enlarged by a wing on its northern aspect which was used as a Sunday School and in the 1900s became known as the Parish Hall. In 1969 St Matthew’s Close was opened in its present form as a place to display and sell local handicrafts and the profits go towards the preservation of the Church.

The Methodist Church (Uniting Church) built in 1835 is the town's second oldest chapel and the oldest Methodist Church still in use in Australia. The nearby Back River Methodist Chapel has the singular honour of being the resting place of Betty King, the first white woman to set foot in Australia.