Beaconsfield is about 40 km northwest of Launceston, along the A7 or West Tamar Highway and near the mouth of the Tamar River. It’s a small town, home to about 1,200 people, and its history is closely linked to the quest for the most precious yellow metal, gold.
The original inhabitants of the area that would become Beaconsfield were the Leterremairrener and the Pangerninghe people. In 1804, however, Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson started settlements at first George Town and then York Town just to the north. Soon the first settlers moved in and called their new settlement Brandy Creek because of the colour of the water in a creek here. They quarried limestone, which was then shipped to George Town to be used as building material.
In the mid-19th century, gold was discovered but it didn’t grip the imagination because gold fever was raging in Victoria at the time. However, in 1877 William Dally discovered a large quartz reef on Cabbage Tree Hill. This was what became known as the Tasmanian reef. Later that year the Tasmanian Gold Mining and Quartz Crushing Company was formed and those with dreams of fortune started pouring into the area.
In 1879 the town changed its name to Beaconsfield, in honour of the 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, Benjamin Disraeli. He was Prime Minister of Britain at the time. This was also the year in which three shafts were sunk into the reef and underground mining started. Beaconsfield soon became Tasmania’s most productive gold mine and by the end of the 19th century, there were 53 mining companies operating in the area. Visitors can still find several buildings from this prosperous era, among them the building of the Bank of Tasmania. In 1884 this bank became the scene of one of the biggest bank robberies in the history of the state. The robbers got away with £2,100 in notes as well as £500 in coin and bullion but a bungled investigation and trial meant that the men who were arrested for the crime ended up walking free.
A major problem for the mining companies was the amount of water that would seep into the shafts, causing flooding. In 1903 a new company, the Tasmania Gold Mining Company Ltd, was formed and it set to work building the Grubb Shaft Engine House, which was a boiler-driven pumping station. However, the water problems proved too much and in 1914 the mine closed down.
In 1999, however, the mine reopened. Seven years later a minor earthquake caused a rock fall which tragically killed one miner and trapped two others. The plight of Grant Webb and Todd Russell made headlines around the world. They were found alive five days after the collapse of the mine but rescuing them proved very difficult. They could be sent creature comforts such as magazines, a camera, deodorant, toothbrushes and toothpaste and iPods but it was only after two weeks that rescue workers managed to get them out. In 2012 the mine was closed down again.
Russell and Webb are two of the local personalities immortalised in the Beaconsfield Memorial. Adjacent to this memorial is the Bruen Waterwheel. Other points of interest in the town include the timber built Holy Trinity Church, which dates from 1907. The Beaconsfield Walk of Gold is a heritage walk that will take you past these and other historic sites.
The major attraction in Beaconsfield today is the Beaconsfield Mine & Heritage Centre. It’s located in the old Grubb Shaft Engine House and has fascinating displays about the town’s mining history.
Beaconsfield has a variety of accommodation options, making this charming little town a great base from which to explore the Tamar Valley.