Hobart to Lake St Clair in 1850; mostly by foot.

Another of the stories published in Hilary Webster’s compilation: The Tasmanian Traveller A Nineteenth Century Companion For Modern Traveller, recorded the Journey of F.J. Cockburn who on foot travelled ‘From Hobart to Lake St Clair and Return’ in 1850.

The Tasmanian Traveller

Cockburn seems to have been the butt of nonsense advice when he asked around for the best time of year to walk from Hobart to the remote inland Lake St Clair, which is located roughly in the centre of Tasmania. He tells ‘I received replies which induced me to start on May-day.’  By that time of year, temperatures are plummeting and the further you progress away from the coast of Tasmania the more the rain settles in.

He took a steamer to New Norfolk and then it rained for 4 days.  On one of these early walking days he found an essential bridge had been washed away with the deluge. His crossing was memorable. ‘The river remained impassable until 7th, when by letting a long ladder down from the remnant of the bridge onto the ruins of one of the piers, I was able to cross, like a monkey, before an admiring audience’.

Miles later he ‘stopped at a little eating house, in a damp situation surrounded with wet fields …” What was wrong with F.J. Cockburn’s powers of perception?  All the weather signs indicated that proceeding further at that time of the year was a bad idea.  Then came more reasons for abandoning the walk; ‘the last six or seven miles of my day’s journey was along a regular wild bush road, affording admirable opportunities for murder and robbery.’

Despite these factors, F.J. Cockburn persisted with his journey. After losing his way at one point he came across a hut with two shepherds who fed him mutton chops, damper and tea. “My bed was formed on the floor near the fire, of sheepskins, and I was very thankful that it was too cold for fleas.”

When he reached Lake St Clair, his appreciation of the lake was stymied. ‘The sides of the lake being covered with dense forest, almost impenetrable, it cannot be seen to advantage without a boat, and boat there was none.’

Cockburn summed up his experience of Lake St Clair as ‘certainly a gem in its own way. It is as fine as any Scotch lake of its size, excepting in the beauty of the foliage on the banks. It was a wild and striking scene.’

F.J. Cockburn carried a satchel weighing ‘about twelve pounds: one shooting coat, waistcoat and trousers; one pair of shoes; three shirts; three flannel waistcoats; three pairs of socks; three handkerchiefs; one pair of braces; one neck-tie; one travelling dressing case – and when I started, half a pound of “nailrod” tobacco.’  I can’t help wondering how small this man was – these days the clothes on this list would weigh much more for the average sized walker.

He concluded ‘on the whole I was pleased with my trip; the roads were bad, the country wet and the air cold, but on the other hand, the grass was more vividly green than at any other time, the air was clear and crisp, there were no fleas, and walking was pleasant in the cold.’

Long-term followers of this blog know that I found the start of my last walk (in April) from Bridgewater/Granton to New Norfolk way too cold. This led me to the decision to put on hold any further walking towards Lake St Clair until Springtime when the temperature starts to climb towards summer.  I am in awe of walkers around the world who like being cold and wet and find pleasure in achieving walking goals in such environments.  Perhaps I am too soft!

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