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Bicheno is a town on the East Coast of Tasmania, Australia, 185km north-east of Hobart on the Tasman Highway. It is part of the municipality of Glamorgan/Spring Bay. The town is primarily a fishing port and a beach resort.
Bicheno is famous for its mild climate. There are no winter frosts. The average annual rainfall is only 700mm. The hours of sunlight are amongst the highest in the settled world. The maximum temperature fluctuates between 12 degrees celsius in Winter and 31 in the Summer. The area is surrounded by 30,000 hectares of nature reserves. It has always been described as an artists' and photographers' paradise, with it's long white sandy beaches, clear blue water and rusted red granite rocks.
Bicheno was named after “James Ebenezer Bicheno” who was born in 1786, the son of a Baptist minister, at Newberry, County Berkshire, England. Although he was appointed to the position of Colonial Secretary for Van Diemant's Land in 1842 it wasn't until 1843 he was sent out by the Home Government to take up that position. Bicheno was a cultured man, Fellow of the Royal Society, of the Linnaean Society, and of the Geological Society of England. He was a genial, portly figure, fond of good living and good company, with a taste for music and the arts; he was widely popular. He died on 25th February, 1851 at his house in Davey Street. He left his fine library of 2,500 volumes, many of them of great value, to the Colony, on condition that a sum of 300 pounds was raised by public subscription to purchase the whole collection. This was done and the Tasmanian Public Library was thus established in his house. His portrait by Thomas Bock is in the Tasmanian Museum.
The first historical reference to the place that was to become Bicheno was made by James Kelly during his circumnavigation of Van Diemen's Land. He landed here (when it was known as Waubs Harbour) to dry his provisions. From 1803 Waubs Harbour was used as a whaling port.
The area was much frequented by aboriginals, particularly at Moulting Lagoon where swan eggs could be collected, and along the East Coast where remains of middens can be seen, although much has been covered by sand since the middens were deposited. The Aborigines disappeared after Robinson’s efforts in 1830 and 1831.
The first permanent settlement in the area was at “Apsley” (now “Apslawn”) in 1826 by William Lyne and his family. Before this, sealers frequented the area. The American whaler, 'Delano', was in Oyster Bay in 1803. At different times during the 1830's/ 1840's up to four whaling stations operated with the area at various times being known as “The Fisheries” and “Waubs Harbour” By this time, ships were calling for the purpose of bringing in goods for the farmers and whalers and exporting their produce. The whaling was limited to the winter months when the whales came further north. Mrs Charles Meredith of Swansea visited the area in 1843 and wrote of the mess left behind by the whalers, contrasting it with the clear bright crags, snow white beach and the pure brilliant character of the surrounding scenery.
The name “Waubs” is an abbreviation of “Waubedebar” a female Aborigine whose grave is located behind the Lions Park, near the Silver Sands Hotel. The headstone reads “Here lies Waubedebar a female aborigine of Van Diemen’s land, died June 1832, aged 40 years.” It seems that she was stolen from her tribe as a teenager to become a sealer’s woman, and that she died in a boat off the coast whilst travelling towards the Furneaux group of islands. Her body was brought ashore and buried. John Allen, an early settler, in his note book, dated 24th June 1840, mentions “Waubs Harbour”. Sufficient was thought of Waubedar's memory, because of her bravery in rescuing two sealers in a storm, for the local settlers in 1855 to contribute funds to erect a headstone.
The whalers used a prominent hill as a lookout for the whales. Known as Whalers Lookout, this has now become an established viewing area for locals and tourists alike, with a well- defined walking path and two lookouts, one to the south and one to the north. These lookouts give panoramoc views of the area.
Whaling had virtually died by the 1850's, with coal mining in the district being responsible for the growth of Bicheno. It consisted of two inns, a wine & spirit merchant, general store and jail. Wharfs, mooring facilities and a large coal chute were erected at the Gulch. Remains of the coal industry are evident in the district. The jail still stands as colonial accommodation with the "Mary Harvey Kitchen" commenorating the infamous wife of the Constable. A local heroine, she died in Bicheno 19/02/1911. Their farm, 2km south of Bicheno, has always been referred to as Harvey's Farm Point.
Bicheno was proclaimed a township in 1866.
Coal was discovered in the bed of the Denison River about 1843 by two ticket-of-leave men. In 1848 a report by Joseph Milligan to the Colonial Secretary spoke of the various seams of coal to be found at the Douglas and Denison rivers. The Douglas River Coal Company opened up seams between 1850 and 1860. In the early 1850’s a deal was struck with the Government for them to build a tramway from the mines at the Denison to Waubs Bay, a distance of some 6 miles. In August 1854 the Company was informed that the Government was unable to see its way clear to complete the tramway and the Government gang was withdrawn. The Company decided to complete the work itself and did so by December of the same year. The Government gang had been nearly three years on the job and is said to have completed less than one mile of easy clearing and levelling per year. At Waubs Harbour the Company had built a wharf; mooring facilities for colliers; and a shute by means of which coal was tipped directly from the trucks into the ships' holds. The two side stone walls of the building at the site of the shute, over which the tram tracks ran, are still standing [visit The Gulch to view them]
The mines however closed in 1858 which meant at the turn of the century Bicheno comprised only a handful of residents. It was not until 1940's with a transport link to Launceston, that the town began to grow. The cray fishing fleet began. The abalone industry followed in the 1960's.
In recent times the town has become a popular tourist destination, with a range of accommodation, craft shops, art gallery and visitor centre. A popular attraction is the Little Penguin Colony on Diamond Island.
In September 2003 a memorial to the Merchant Navy was unveiled in Bicheno. Five months later, in February 2004, the town presented a Freedom of Entry Charter to the Australian Merchant Navy, the first time any locality in the world has granted "freedom of the city" to the Merchant Navy. Local primary school children have been appointed custodians of this memorial, built near Wauba Debar's grave.
Article Contribution from: Bill Clarke [local resident & volunteer} Thank you Bill