Tarana Timber Mill 1930s

In the early 20th century the main timber mill at Taranna, on Tasmania’s Tasman Peninsular, was owned by  Messrs. Jones and Hay Pty. Ltd.   Like most businesses, it was going  through hard times during the Great Depression.  The workforce had been  severely reduced, and the remaining men were responsible for the day to day running of the mill and maintenance of equipment.  The men were paid  piecework, receiving a bonus if they exceeded their  fortnightly quota of milled timber.

A feature of the operation was a tramway.  Horses would haul the  trolleys up into the bush, where  fallen trees would be loaded.

Horses in actionon a logging tramway

Horses in action on a logging tramway

The descent to the mill  was by gravity, with men riding on the logs.

Logging tramway, Tasmania

A dangerous occupation. (Wikimedia Commons)

On July 23 1929 there was terrible accident.  A log measuring 68ft and with a girth of 11ft was being transported on the tramway when the front  trolley derailed. The log rolled off crushing and killing two men, Cyril Wellard and Leonard Booth. Both were married, with children.

It was discovered that where  iron rails butted against a section of wooden railing, heavy rain had caused subsidence, leaving a fatal gap of some 15 inches.

Coronial inquests  were held, concluding on August 10.  It was noted that allowing the gap in the rails to remain was  a lack of judgment, but that the deaths were accidental.  The small community at Taranna  was devastated by the loss of life.  A memorial service was held at the Congregational Church, and a fund set up to support the bereaved families. Cyril Wellard’s wife (who had a 14 year old daughter) asked that her share be given to Leonard Booth’s widow, the mother of five young children.

Church at Taranna on the Tasman Peninsula

A place to mourn and seek comfort.


On the night the inquests concluded, fire broke out at the mill.  It was first  noticed at  2.00am.  Several employees rushed to the site, but the intensity of the flames was such that they were unable to save the huge building.  Fortunately, eight horses housed in nearby stables were released, and valuable  timber stacks were saved.  Nevertheless, damage was estimated at six thousand pounds.

Until the mill could be rebuilt, the 20 men who had remained  on Jones and Hay Pty. Ltd’s  reduced workforce would be unemployed. For one man in particular, Clarence ‘John’ Freeman, this was a disaster.

On January 15, 1924 Freeman had experienced the trauma of fire himself.  His home and its contents at Taranna  were destroyed.  At the time, Freeman had a wife and four young children. He was regarded as hardworking and respectable and was generously supported by his friends and neighbours.

By the time of the mill fire his family had grown to seven, and his young wife Grace was again expecting  This time it was a very difficult pregnancy, and doctor’s bills were adding up.  Soon, John Freeman would be in need of more help than anyone could  possibly have imagined.


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