Exploring Saltwork Remains

Developed by free settler James Radcliff, the saltworks at Lisdillon demonstrates the enterprise and entrepreneurship of free settlers to Van Diemen’s Land. The saltworks are one of seven established in Tasmania during the nineteenth century, but it is the remains of the saltworks at Lisdillon which demonstrate most clearly the process by which salt was obtained by boiling seawater.

In the nineteenth century, in the days before refrigeration, salt was not just a condiment for flavouring food, but had an important role in the preservation of meat. It was also used widely in the processing of skins and in the manufacture of soap and earthenware.

Van Diemen’s Land was reliant on imported salt, and as a result experienced period salt shortages. This stimulated local manufacturing efforts.

All that remains of the saltworks at Lisdillon are the ruins of the 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 buildings and 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 extracted from the boiling process was bagged and stored in the salt store at the end of the process.

Available records suggest that Radcliff’s saltworks operated only from 1836 to 1838. Several reasons have been suggested for why the enterprise was short lived. It is possible 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. Another suggestion is that Radcliff opened the works when there was an import duty on salt, and that he closed it down when the removal of the tariff made his operation unviable. It is also possible that the saltworks became unviable after the local supply of firewood needed in the boiling of sea water was exhausted. There is also no evidence of Radcliff selling or trying to market his salt. It is possible that he produced salt only for his own use and that of his neighbours, doing so while cheap assigned convict labour kept the costs down. The substantial nature of the saltworks infrastructure suggest either a serious intention to establish a manufactory which failed economically, or an expensive misunderstanding of how entitlements for secondary land grants were calculated.

It’s a fascinating story, and this short article doesn’t touch on Radcliff’s petition to Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin for more land. If you would like a copy of the full story, email enquiries@heritage.tas.gov.au

Back Home