View of the Casino from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania
Puzzling over Sandy Bay’s earlier coastline I browsed books and clicked my way through archival images and concluded that for thousands of years Wrest Point had more delicate proportions. Before the Mouheenener were forced off their land in 1804 it would have been used as a landmark, a camping spot, a pantry and a kitchen, with Lamberts Rivulet on its northern side creating a diversity of plant and marine life – that is, if that rivulet hasn’t been diverted. I checked the stormwater map. Drains and rivulets join up but I was reasonably confident it was entering the river in much the same spot it always had.
People were possibly born on this point of land and they certainly died here, hung for misdemeanours on Gibbet Point, as it was known in the early days of settlement, because it was far enough away from Sullivan’s Cove not to cause offence but still a visible reminder of the ultimate punishment.
These days bitumen and the casino weigh down those old sorrows and more besides, because apparently the Sandy Bay Station was in this general vicinity, the home from 1838 of a cohort of homesick Canadian political prisoners, rebels in an uprising, the Battle of Prescott. Their voyage out from Quebec on the Buffalo took a hellish four months (sickness, injury, fear and hunger) and when they arrived, swaying and staggering on their sea legs, they were, that very day, forced off to build Sandy Bay Road. The station was rough – a circle of basic huts – and their provisions were meagre. But they managed to write diaries and when the Governor, Sir John Franklin, who later died searching for the North West Passage, came visiting, one of them wrote this:
He made a very edifying speech to us, in which he was pleased to say that we were very bad men, very bad, indeed; and intimated that we all deserved to be hung. He said we had been sent there for one of the most aggravating crimes, putting much emphasis on the word ‘aggravating’, and, at the same time, as if unwilling to look us in the face, rolled his eyes up to heaven, like a dying calf, if I may be allowed to use a a comparison suggested by my former business…’ (Captain Daniel Heustis, a butcher prior to exile).
Thomas Chaffey, who owned the point, tried to help them escape. He’d come out to the colony aged 45, having narrowly missed being hung for robbery and having served time on Norfolk Island. His land extended from the point up the slopes of Mount Nelson but he and his wife Maria (a Lady Juliana convict with a sentence for shoplifting) built a modest stringybark cottage on what then became known as Chaffey’s Point. The couple and their seven children had a front row view of executions for several years and after that a foul smelling try works may have been established on the point (Goc,1997). Thomas’s son, William, built the Traveller’s Rest hotel on Chaffey’s Point. Later, a hotel, the Wrest Point Riviera, was built there and in 1973 the Wrest Point casino took its place.
The Boardwalk at the Casino traps the sun and is built over the water. For a brief period one summer I liked to walk the local beaches then go there for a coffee, the papers and a view of the yachts. This was before we actually bought a boat and I could elevate that experience to coffee on board wherever on the river I chose to have it. (Today it was mid river, the water quiet, the breeze minimal and five dolphin in a tight pod swimming slowly by.)
The point has been the site of much happiness and sadness and these emotions are still very much entwined in terms of the current business of tourism and gambling. As for the land itself, it’s been beefed up, extended, and when you sail by you can see pipes entering the river beneath the casino as well. Although the cormorants and seagulls hang about on the rocks close by, the contamination from the hotel and the marina has to be detrimental. It’s no place for swimming and no place to feast on the stoic molluscs that survive there but apart from all that, it’s an iconic local landmark.
Archival Images (Tasmanian Archives and Heritage)
Further reading: Goc, N. 1997. Sandy Bay: a social history. Gentrx Publishing, Hobart.