Competitive woodchopping has always been popular in Tasmania. One of the State’s greatest axemen was Walter Henry Chellis (1871-1946), from Deloraine. He was a tough customer, demonstrated by an incident that occurred when he was leading the field during an 1893 competition;

Chellis had the misfortune to strike his axe sideways on the block, which caused it to rebound and fly in the air, almost striking a committeeman standing some distance off. Both of Chellis’s hands were badly cut, but after they were tied up he gamely went on and finished his block to secure one of the ₤5 prizes.. (Camperdown Chronicle, December 7 1893)

Chellis is standing on the far right in the following photo;

TOUGH TASMANIAN WOODCHOPPERS

A man who emerged as Chellis’s main adversary was Thomas Pettit (1876-1951), from the farming district of Sprent, just outside Ulverstone. He is the man in the middle of the above photo.

Pettit competing in sawing, at which he was also very successful;

In 1899 the Australian Axemen’s Association awarded the title of ‘World’s Champion’ to Chellis. It was a highly contentious decision. As a correspondent in Launceston’s Weekly Courier noted, what right did an Australian Association have to confer such a title?

The rivalry between Chellis and Pettit continued. In 1902 Tom Pettit beat Chellis in the ‘World’s Championship Chop’ held at Burnie, severing his block in 4 minutes 20 seconds. However, in 1899 Chellis had achieved a faster time of 4 minutes 8 seconds, and he challenged his adversary to a private match. It was much delayed as Pettit was competing in New Zealand at the time.

CHELLIS V PETTIT IN THE WOODCHOPPING PUB TEST

The men finally met in a yard at the rear of the newly opened Furner’s Hotel in Reiby Street Ulverstone on December 2 1903, for a stake of ₤50 a side.

Location for the challenge behind Furner’s Hotel

A stringybark gum (very hard wood) was selected in the bush, and blocks prepared at the Ulverstone sawmill. An enthusiastic audience of about 300 locals were told to cease smoking as they waited for the battle to begin. Maybe the officials thought a flying chip might catch fire. 😎

At the word ‘go’ both men struck the wood, plying their axe with force and consummate skill. Pettit’s work as usual was beautifully even, every blow being placed where wanted….the excitement became intense, Pettit beginning to force the pace, while Chellis appeared to be losing force, and in response to a burst of cheering looked back at his opponent; it was the look of despair, as he was unmistakably a beaten man. Twice he stopped for a moment, then went on, until a roar went up proclaiming that Pettit had felled his block, when Chellis collapsed and fell on his block, completely done. He did not finish. (Advocate, December 3 1903.)

As someone born and bred in Ulverstone, can I say….BRAVO TOM! Mind you, my mother’s family came from Deloraine, so my sympathy to poor Walter Chellis.

The history of Furner’s Hotel, an Ulverstone landmark.

More on the history of woodchopping in Tasmania,

3 Comments
  1. Pauline
    This brought back memories of our local show back in the 1950s, where wood-chopping was always a feature. And a further coincidence, is I have a friend who grew up in the same town whose name is Mrs Pettit

    Your earlier blogs about the woodheap stirred me to write about woodfires and woodheaps on the farm where I grew up. Wood stoves, hot water in the dairy, and heating branding irons for the cattle. No pretty birds that I remember.

    Barbara

    • Pauline

      I’m thinking I should campaign for wood chopping to be included in the Brisbane Olympics. 😍

  2. CONGRATULATIONS! Your blog has been included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
    https://thatmomentintime-crissouli.blogspot.com/2021/08/friday-fossicking-13-aug-2021.html
    Thank you,
    Chris

    There were woodchoppers in my family also…

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