Exploring Saltwork Remains

Tasmania’s landscape is scattered with the remains of our past which draw the curious to seek out stories. The Heritage Council is continuing its program of highlighting Tasmania’s intriguing historic stories by reviewing entries in the Tasmanian Heritage Register. The entry for the Lisdillon Saltworks on Tasmania’s stunning east coast is one of 32 replacement entries undertaken in the past year.

The saltworks were established by free settler James Radcliffe. It was one of seven established in Tasmania during the nineteenth century. At that time, salt was not just a condiment for flavouring food, but had an important role in the preservation of meat, in the processing of skins and in the manufacture of soap and earthenware. There was a reliance on imported salt and, following periods of salt shortages, local manufacturing efforts were established.

Situated within the coastal reserve at Saltworks Beach, Great Oyster Bay, the remains include portions of a salt store, boiling house and store building as well as a water race, reservoir and lead anchor points which mark the site of a windmill. The configuration of the surviving features demonstrates how water was pumped from the sea by wind power, fed into the water race which, through the force of gravity, channeled water to the boiling house as needed. The salt from the sea water was extracted through a boiling process, bagged and stored in the salt store at the end of the process.

Radcliff’s saltworks operated only from around 1836 to 1838. Several reasons have been suggested why the enterprise was short lived. One suggestion is that Radcliff’s principal motivation in establishing the saltworks was to gain more land through the Secondary Grants Board, and that he dropped the project when his application for a 1700-acre secondary grant failed. Other suggestions are that he closed the enterprise when the import duty on salt was removed, making his operation unviable; or that once the local supply of firewood needed to boil the sea water was exhausted, so too was the enterprise.

The substantial amount of infrastructure built to support the saltworks suggests either a serious intention to establish an enterprise which, ultimately, was an economic failure, or an expensive misunderstanding of how entitlements for secondary land grants were calculated.

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