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Derby, TAS

Important historic tin mining town.

Derby is a charming town which wanders beside the banks of the Ringarooma River. It is a classified historic town which has managed to capitalise on its importance as the once-richest and most profitable tin mine in the world. Today the central attraction is the genuinely interesting Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre and Cafe which, at certain times of the day, can be packed with passengers from the many tourist buses which stop at Derby on their way across the state. Next door is the equally interesting Derby Schoolhouse Museum. It is one of the best places in north-eastern Tasmania to learn about the tin mining boom, the Chinese involvement in Tasmanian mining and a brief moment when Tasmania, as a result of the mining boom, was truly wealthy.

Location

Derby is located on the Ringarooma River 288 km north of Hobart and 94 km north-east of Launceston.

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Origin of Name

When the Krushka brothers started mining tin in the district they called their operation 'Brothers Mine' and the settlement that grew up around the mine became known as 'Brothers Home'. The name persisted until, in 1887, it was decided to change the name to Derby. No one is sure why the town was named Derby although it has been argued that it was named after Edward Smith-Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who had been British Prime Minister from 1866-1868.

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Things to See and Do

Derby Schoolhouse Museum
Located at 53-57 Main Street the Derby Tin Mine Centre incorporates, in the old school house, the Derby Schoolhouse Museum. Open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm daily, tel: (03) 6354 1062 for details, its importance has been reduced in recent years by the very handsome Dragon Interpretation Centre which is located next door. Historically the Tin Mine Centre featured a carefully recreated mining shanty town with a main street, a huge sluice and extensive displays of mining equipment. The main street includes a Miner's cottage, General Store, Butcher's Shop, Blacksmith's Shed, Mine office and the old Derby gaol. Sadly much of this was removed when the Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre was established.

The Schoolhouse Museum, located in the old Derby School, allows visitors to experience a small rural school from yesteryear. It also has extensive displays of mining and everyday goods including scales, cross-cut saws, old butter churns, displays of rocks found in the local area, old telephones and documents relating to the Briseis Mine and the 1929 Dam Disaster.

The Briseis Dam Disaster
The use of high pressure water to remove the overburden material was essential to the mining operations at Derby. So the Briseis Tin and General Mining Company built a dam on the Cascade River three kilometres upstream from the town. The high pressure water was used to remove the material which lay on top of the tin-bearing drift face.

The dam was substantial. It was 23 metres high in the centre and 145 metres long and was built by a combination of rock fill and concrete facing. It was estimated to hold 3,375,000 litres when full.

In early April, 1929 the north-eastern highlands near Derby experienced some of the heaviest rains ever recorded during European settlement. In a 48 hour period from 9.00 am on 4 April 475 mm was recorded at Derby and near the headwaters of the Ringaroom River another 125 mm was recorded. The dam filled and such was the force of the water over the dam's spillway that it reputedly looked "like a Niagara". The runoff was so great that water was tumbling over the entire dam wall. By 4.00 pm on 4 April the dam broke and a wall of water some 20-30 metres high rushed down the valley, broke through a hill close to the town and, carrying trees and vegetation in its wake, roared through the valley below the town. In total 14 people lost their lives, all the bridges from Derby to the sea were destroyed and the local mine was so comprehensively flooded it did not open for nearly a decade.

The stories of the devastation and tragedy included an entire family, the Whitings, being swept away and drowned when their house was carried away by the dam waters; twelve draught horses and their three team-drivers all being drowned; and Senior Constable William Taylor saving eight men across the raging torren in a small two-man rowing boat eight times. He could only save one man at a time.

The dam, renamed the Cascade Dam, was rebuilt in the 1930s. The mine reopened in 1937 and its tin was vital during World War II. Today the dam is the source of water for Derby and is used for the Winnaleah Irrigation Scheme. It can be accessed from Krushka Street which runs off the Tasman Highway at the eastern end of the town.

Tin Dragon Interpretation Centre and Cafe
Located next door to the Derby Schoolhouse Museum this new initiative is the centrepiece of the Tin Dragon Trail which runs from Launceston through Branxholm, Derby, Moorina, Pyengana to St Helens and tells the history of the Chinese involvement in the tin mining industry in north-east Tasmania.

Apart from its excellent cafe, the Centre has interpretative displays, videos and the story of the 1929 flood. Particularly impressive is the panorama which stretches for 15 metres across an entire wall and tells the story of the Brindeis Dam Disaster as well as tin mining and the role of the Chinese in the area. Check out http://www.trailofthetindragon.com.au/derby for more details.

National Bank of Tasmania
Just across the road from the Derby Schoolhouse Museum is the small and charming National Bank of Tasmania which, when it was operating as a bank, was probably the smallest bank in Tasmania and one of the smallest in Australia. It is a simple timber building with a particularly attractive facade which has been repainted and renamed Bankhouse Manor. Today it sells cottage crafts.

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Other Attractions in the Area

The Blue Lake
East of Derby on the Gladstone Road between Pioneer and Gladstone is a remnant of the tin mining era - a Blue Lake created not by nature but by the waters which were used for sluicing the tin ore. The result is a lake which has turned blue.

Moorina Cemetery and the Trail of the Tin Dragon
Located 11 km west of Derby on the Tasman Highway, and now part of the Trail of the Tin Dragon, Moorina (originally known as 'Krushkas Bridge' and renamed Moorina, after Truganini's sister) was once an important tin mining centre. Today the main interest lies in the cemetery where a solitary Chinese headstone recalls the hundreds of Chinese who worked in the tin mines. There is a memorial erected to the Chinese miners and a restored burning tower. There is also an interpretation marker which describes the importance of Moorina as a transport hub and explains why the Chinese grave faces west.

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History

* Prior to European settlement the area around Branxholm was inhabited by the local Pyemmairrener Aboriginal people who had lived there for thousands of years.

* In 1855 James Scott surveyed the area but there was little interest in settlement until the discovery of tin in the 1870s.

* In 1874 George Renison Bell discovered tin and miners flocked to the valley.

* In 1876 the 'Brothers Mine', which was named after the Krushka brothers, was opened. The mine remained productive until it was finally closed in 1948.

* Prior to the construction of the Briseis Dam a watercourse (one of the longest ever constructed in Australia) was dug to bring reliable water to the mine site.

* In 1887 the town, which had been called Brothers Home, was officially renamed Derby.

* By the 1890s the district had a population of around 3000 and the mine, which had been renamed Briseis after the 1876 Melbourne Cup winner, was producing up to 120 tons (122 tonnes) of tin every month. Derby was known at the time as the richest tin mine in Tasmania, and possibly in Australia. Some claim it was the richest in the world.

* In 1899 the Briseis mine was sold to an English company. It continued to be productive for the next thirty years.

* On 4 April 1929 , after heavy rains (it had rained non-stop for five days and then dumped 5 inches (127 mm) in two hours), the Briseis Dam burst releasing nearly 3500 cubic metres of water which flooded the town killing 14 people including one family of five whose house was washed away. This is still recognised as the worst flood in Tasmanian history.

* The Briseis mine workings were flooded and mining stopped until 1934. In 1936 the dam wall was rebuilt and renamed Cascade Dam.

* In 2003 the area was explored by archaeologists who found, among a myriad of remnants from the tin mining era, a 19th century soy sauce bottle. The oldest soy sauce bottle in Australia??

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Visitor Information

Derby Tin Mine Centre, Main Street, tel: (03) 6354 1062

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Useful Websites

The official website of Tourism Tasmania has a useful entry on Derby. Check out http://www.discovertasmania.com/launceston_tamar_and_north/towns_and_places/derby

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

4 suggestions
  • What about the mountain bike riding?

    John
  • We moved here for the peace & quiet but that has been taken away by the progress of the mountain bike track. Most of the locals are selling up and moving on. The once peaceful town is slowly but surely disappearing. NOT HAPPY

    B Booth
    • Mountain biking in Derby has improved Tasmania’s economy so much. Local businesses have profited from the Mountain Bike trails and it is a fantastic tourist attraction. People need money to live, and these services are supporting them and their families.

      If you can’t handle tourists in Derby, you should try living somewhere else. My suggestion is Antarctica, as I hear it’s very peaceful there.

      Lily

      Lily