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Avoca, TAS

Pretty town on the on the banks of the South Esk River.

Tasmania has an excess of attractive, 19th century small towns with attractive sandstone Georgian and Victorian buildings. Avoca on the main road east from the Midland Highway to St Helens, St Marys and Bicheno is worth visiting because of its buildings and its peaceful setting beside the South Esk River.


Avoca is a small, historic town located 80 km south east of Launceston via the Midland Highway and 168 km north of Hobart via the National and Midland Highways.


Origin of Name

There are three Avocas in Australia - one in Tasmania, one in NSW and one in Victoria. Each town has its own unique origins but it is generally accepted that the meaning of Avoca (which is almost certainly a Gaelic word corrupted when it arrives in English) is  "the meeting of the waters". It was widely known at the time because of the song, The Meeting of the Waters, by Thomas Moore which was inspired by the Vale of Avoca in County Wicklow in Ireland.


Things to See and Do

Historic Buildings
There is an A4 sheet (available at the Post Office) titled simply Avoca which provides a brief history of the town and advises the visitor that the town has eight buildings of historic significance. These include:

St Thomas' Anglican Church
St Thomas' Anglican Church, built in the Romanesque Revival style to a design attributed to James Blackburn (the architect who built the beautiful church at Port Arthur), was consecrated on 8 May 1842. The first baptism occurred on 1 October 1841. The church is on the hill at the top of Blenheim Street. Inside some of the pews still carry their original numbers and at the back of the church is a large pew which was purpose-built for a particularly large church warden.

Bona Vista
Located at 75 Storys Creek Road the beautiful stone residence, Bona Vista, was erected on land granted to Simeon Lord, a wealthy Sydney entrepreneur who had arrived in Sydney as a convict in 1791. Simeon Lord Jr. moved to Bona Vista in 1831 when he married Sarah Birch. At the time they lived in a bark hut. He began to build Bona Vista, with its basement cells and its sandstone terrace, in 1840 but didn't finish the structure until 1848. By 1848 Lord had 43 people living on his property eighteen of whom were convicts. At one time Tasmania's most famous bushranger, Martin Cash, worked as a groom on the property. The house was built around a courtyard and was surrounded by walls which were three metres high and nearly a metre thick. The reason: there was a perception of constant problems from both local Aborigines and bushrangers.  This wasn't entirely successful. In 1853 two bushrangers, Dalton and Kelly, held up the homestead and shot a local constable. They were eventually captured and hanged.

The property was used as a summer residence, with the family based at 'Vaucluse' in Macquarie Street, Hobart.  In 1862, the 11,374 acre property was put up for sale, and from 1873-1921 it was occupied by the Rigney family. Bona Vista is registered on the National Estate. It is not open to the public but can be seen from the road. See photograph.

Other buildings of interest include:

(a) Marlborough House (1845) in Blenheim Street (opposite St Thomas's) which was intended to be a hotel but it could not get a licence because it was too close to the church. It was subsequently used as a grammar school and coaching stop before becoming a private residence. It is not open to the public.

(b) Parish Hall (built around 1850) which was originally intended as a storehouse for the local hotel when, in 1937, it was purchased by Mr O'Connor and donated to the Anglican Church. It is currently used as the Post Office.

(c) Union Hotel (1842) in Falmouth Street which was operated by the Foster family for more than 60 years. It provided accommodation and had stables attached which were used by the coaching companies to change their horses.

(d) the State School, now the Avoca Museum and Information Centre, which was built 1908 at a cost of £348. It was restored in 2011.



* Prior to European settlement the area had been inhabited by members of the Tyerrernotepanner Aboriginal language group for thousands of years.

* The area was first explored and settled in the 1820s. It is known that James Gilligan, who arrived in the area around 1820 and took up 1,600 acres (647 ha), was the district's first settler.

* In 1825 John Helder Wedge surveyed the area and named it St Paul's Plains.

* By the 1830s there were convict probation stations at Avoca, Fingal, St Marys and Falmouth. This led to the settlement being named St Paul's Plains and a post office by that name being opened in 1832. During the 1830s the convict labour in the area resulted in roads and bridges being built.

* By 1834 a town was established and in 1837 its name was changed to Avoca.

* In 1843 bushrangers Riley Jeffs and John Conway raided Clifton Lodge, the home of  James Gilligan, and shot dead District Constable Willliam Ward.

* In 1844 an Irish entrepreneur named Roderic O'Connor bought up local land eventually acquiring 66,000 acres (the largest single landholding in Tasmania) upon which he built the stately home, Benham, which was destroyed by fire in 1926.

* In 1846 a bridge was built over the St Paul's River.

* The township was formally proclaimed in 1866.

* the railway arrived in 1886. It was built to carry coal from Fingal and tin from Aberfoyle.

* In the 1960s the town achieved a level of infamy when the local football club organised 'The Avoca Shoot' - an opportunity to shoot wallabies which were seen as a pest in the area. It was eventually stopped in the 1970s.

* There was a period when the area was known for its tin and coal mining but today Avoca is a service town for the surrounding farming community.


Visitor Information

The Avoca Museum and Information Centre is located in the Old School but is only open Friday 1.00 pm - 3.00 pm; Saturday and Sunday 11.00 am - 3.00 pm. The closest information centre which is open most of the time is the Heritage Highway Museum and Visitor Information Centre, 103 High Street, Campbell Town, tel: (03) 6381 1353.


Useful Websites

There is a detailed history at https://stors.tas.gov.au/1231192$stream. The PDF Avoca: A Brief History can be downloaded at http://avocatasmania.com/assets/avoca-a-brief-history.pdf

Got something to add?

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18 suggestions
  • Dear Editor,
    I am currently writing the history of the Grey/Gray family in Avoca. I am very interested to learn that the Tyerrenotepanner people lived in the area. Would you mind sending me the references for this please.
    Thankyou for a great site
    Kind regards

    Ian Broinowski
  • Ian, I once had a copy of a book titled A Pioneer Family. It was all about the settlement of the Grey families. I managed to get a copy through the reference section of the State Library even later, but the last time I tried a few years ago, I was unsuccessful. I found it an interesting book being an Avoca resident for many years. Perhaps you might have some luck.

    Pat Rubenach
    • Hi Pat, I have now finished my book which includes Kate Hamilton’s book you were trying to locate.
      I hope this helps Ian
      Ballycurragh to Tasmania 1649 –1868 The Grey Family and Innes Clan A Family Narrative This is a narrative about three Gray families and their new lives in their chosen home of Van Diemen’s Land in the late 1820s. However, their family journey originated centuries before in Ireland during the tumultuous English Civil War when their ancestor Lt Colonel John Grey stepped ashore at Ringsend, Dublin as part of Cromwell’s Army on the 15th August 1649. Ballycurragh to Tasmania 1649 – 1868 The Grey Family and Innes Clan explores these events and consequences for one family and its descendants. 1Roscomroe Medieval Church – Richard Chuck 2017
      The first to arrive in VDL were Major William and Ellenor Gray (Kingsley) and his brother Lt James and Mary Gray (Legge) followed shortly afterward by their cousin Humphrey Grey, his wife Anne (Mahony) and their children. They were shipwrecked at St Jago and escaped with only the cloths they were wearing although Humphrey did manage to go ashore with his money belt and 1000 gold sovereigns still safe and sound. The story embraces just about all of our human emotions, through the quest for a better life, not only for themselves but for their children and future generations. In essence, like most emigrants, this was their primary motivation although compelling events such as war, economic and social challenges beyond the individual were also at play. The family stepped straight into the Black War with the aborigines whose land and lives were lost to the British. Jim Everett is a direct descendent from Manalargenna, a clan leader from the leetermairremener people whose part land was taken and given to the Grays. Jim’s poignant poem and family history are also in the book. There are two volumes: the first written by Kate Dougharty in the early 1950s and the second more recently by her great nephew Dr Ian Broinowski. The former sees the world through the eyes of the fours Grey girls who arrived in 1829. Their preparation for such an adventure to a remote colony 12000 miles from Ireland was to be sent to finishing school in Paris to learn music, dancing and French. Necessary attributes for catching a suitable husband. We are given a unique insight into their ethos, loves and losses while living on their property, Eastbourne, near Avoca. It is both entrancing and revealing. On their way out Margaret is proposed to by the Governor of Rio de Jenerio but realises in time that her future residence would provide all the comforts of a harem. Catherine is forced to cut off the finger of her groom and falls in love with William Talbot who gives her aCladdagh ring passed down from Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth meets young Frederick Maitland Innes who eventually becomes Premier of the Tasmania and whose family line is also followed. The second part provides background to the social and economic theatre on which their lives are staged. It explores the causes and effects of the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland and their lives at Roscomroe during the 200 years before moving to Tasmania. Paddy Murray and Paddy Heaney local historians from the area provide us with an insight into the history of Roscomroe never before published. Each family’s reason for making such a crucial decision is examined and how their disposition and personal circumstances leads them on to a world beyond their imagination. 3 Catherine’s Ring2 Manalargenna by ules Dumont d’Urville circa 1840
      The Greys were no different from thousands of other families who chose to travel to Australia and by exploring their lives, experiences and destinies we can learn just a little more about life in early colonial Tasmania. Editor and writer: Dr Ian Broinowski Roscomroe contributors Paddy Murray and Paddy Hearney. Illustrator: Richard Chuck Contributions by Jim Everett-puralia meenamatta BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE FROM Lulu.com

      Ian Broinowski
  • I was a resident of Avoca from 1946 to 1973 and attended St. Thomas’s for a number of years. I was one of the musicians. I was confirmed in St. Thomas’s by Bishop Cranswick. It is a beautiful building like St. Peter’s at Fingal, has many memorials to the ancestors of many families. I believe it is also closed owing to the decline in parishioners.

    Pat Rubenach
  • I have many newspapers on the Avoca kangaroo shoot, Ken Collins, Boyne Island shore at many properties including Benham in 1963 and few years later..

  • Really useful information my 3x great grandfather James Wareham who was assigned to Mr Lord in 1840 at the end of his 14 year sentence (he was a blacksmith by trade). It’s great to see and read about where he lived and worked.

    Kendal m hunt me wareham
  • Like Ken Collins I also have older newspaper cuttings of early Avoca, depicting many events over the years. I was a resident of Avoca at the time Ken was there. I knew his wife quite well as we worked together. My regards to you both.

    Pat Rubenach OAM
    • I will donate the 50year old clippings of the roo shoot to the avoca museum when I am visiting in may of this year ken collins

  • Hi I have just completed a two volume book on the Grey/Gray familes in Avoca called Ballcurrah to Tasmania 1649 to 18..
    Now available on lulu.com please contact me if you want more information.

    Ian Broinowski
  • There is a house in town, lived in by my husband’s great, great, grandfather who came to Tasmania as a 14 year old, originally sentenced to death, then to a life sentence in VDL. He became a stonecutter and was appointed to Simeon Lord and took his family there and eventually was pardoned and came to the mainland. The house that he lived in should be also a noteworthy residence in town and his wife is buried in the Avoca cemetery – Hannah Hemmings. The house is featured on the Avoca Trail.

    Judy Steele
    • Hi Judy
      Thomas Densley is also my 3x g grandfather I am looking to find his daughters Priscilla and her husband David Mctavie. I have been to the cottage you have mentioned and it is lovely. Would be happy to exchange info on our ancestors please contact me

      Jen Singline
  • Hello, My ggg grandfather the convict Thomas Densley 1802 -1854 lived at Avoca for a few years from 1838 with his wife Hannah Hemmings Carter b 1803. (And 4 of their 6 children). He was a stonemason working for Simeon Lord on the ‘Bona Vista Estate’, building the defensive wall around the property. I look forward to communicating with anyone who can add more information about the family. I look forward to visiting the area sometime soon. I have contacted Jenny Singline, receiving some nice photos and hope to hear from Judy Steele whose husband is related. Peter Horton

    peter horton
  • Hi, My ggg grandfather Thomas Densley and his wife Hannah Hemmings Carter lived in Avoca from 1838. Their 4 youngest children lived with them. Thomas was a convict stonemason and built the defence wall around the Bona Vista estate owned by Simeon Lord. I have heard from Jenny Singline and would also like to get in touch with Judy Steele to learn more about the family history.

    peter horton
  • Looking for information on Mary Ann J Champ nee Harvey. She was married to ex convict David Champ who was also previously married to Dorcas Rosanna Smith of Avoca. The newspaper death notice says late of Glenair Avoca. Does anybody have any information on Mary Ann?

    Geraldine Goodwin
  • Don’t forget to add The Cow Shed Cafe Avoca for all your Goodies, Home blended Real Fruit Ice cream, home-made pastries hot and cold drinks … everything delicious ?
    And we are opening again soon even bigger better than before thecowshedavoca.com

    Terry Jacobson
  • My Grandfather Thomas Bailey was born in the Avoca/Rossarden area and managed the tin mine . My father Ray was born in Rossarden and raised in the Old Rectory at Avoca. Does anyone have any historical information about the Bailey family ? I know my Grandfather had 10 brothers and sisters and Eileen Bailey was married to Lewis McGee VC.

    Alice Fischer
  • Hi my gg grandfather was a convict and worked in Avoca and settled there when he finished his sentence. His name is John Dimmocks. He married Elizabeth McLean and they are both buried in the cemetery along with one of their sons. Elizabeth’s sister Isabella Burrows is also interred there. We are planning a visit there next year. If anyone has information about them it would be great. I live in New Zealand, thanks Jill Jackman .

    Jill Jackman