Wading Through a Quagmire:
The Jerusalem Road Trust

by Alex Green

Originally published in CHRVS Journal 2, pp. 53-7

Hennie M Spong was the teacher at Rhyndaston State School in 1893. On 2 June that year, Mrs Spong wrote to the Jerusalem Road Trust, the local government body responsible for the bye and branch-roads around Jerusalem, including Rhyndaston. The condition of the road (or lack of a formed road) was of concern to Hennie. Her description is particularly vivid, and worth quoting:

I beg to bring before your notice the urgent necessity that exists for improving the means of access to the above school. The only approach – marked on the map of the Township as a ‘street’ – it certainly cannot be called ‘Straight’ – is reached by wading through a quagmire from the main road – and continues through a labyrinth of logs, stumps, briars and bracken concealing treacherous holes, still it is barred just opposite the school-gate by a muddy creek, which though insignificant in summer, in winter becomes a swollen torrent and which teacher and scholars are compelled to cross, not without hazard, on slippery logs (1).

AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907, 2 June 1893, Spong to Chairman.

Mrs Spong appears to be quite upset with the condition of the road, and the apparent inaction of the Jerusalem Road Trust, and justifiably so. The Road Trust had lately used her schoolhouse as a polling booth in the election of Road Trust candidates, and should have paid the Board of Education 5s. rent. The account was, however, not paid. Hennie Spong instead had paid the 5s. out of her own pocket, and was having difficulty with seeking reimbursement from the board members of the Trust (2).

The Jerusalem Road Trust was formed in 1878 due to requests from some ratepayers of the Richmond and Oatlands Road Districts for the adjustment of existing boundaries and creation of a new district in 1877. The ratepayers believed that they were not being well served by the Richmond and Oatlands Road Districts (3). Accordingly, a new division named the Jerusalem Road District was proclaimed in 1879.

Hennie Spong was not the only person having difficulties with the Jerusalem Road Trust, nor the first. As early as August 1878, complaints addressed to the embryonic Road Trust were being published in the press. In a letter to the Tasmanian Mail, Thomas Horan, schoolmaster at Spring Hill Bottom, raised concern about the bridges on Spring Hill Bottom Road. The state of the roads seem to have promoted a flowering of literary talent around Jerusalem:

Permit me to call the attention of the Jerusalem Road Trust to the state of the road between Jerusalem and Spring Hill Bottom. The present heavy rains that have fallen throughout the district have rendered the road almost impassable for either man or beast. As for bridges they were structures of the past, existing in but name. Therefore persons can scarcely go to Jerusalem, when occasion requires them to do so, through the want of a substantial bridge. In inclement weather people may be seen wandering up and down, looking for a felled tree which may reach from bank to bank; like those doomed and restless spirits on the Stygian shore awaiting the barque of Charon… (4)

Tasmanian Mail, 31 August 1878, p. 10

Indeed, a petition dated the same day as Hennie’s letter, but from residents of Arthur Street in Jerusalem included a ‘request that it may be put into some sort of order… Present state it is worse than a Ploughed Field … up to our ankles in mud and the deep ruts made by carts it is impossible to keep from falling into them’ (5). The petitions and letters, however, seem to have had little effect on the Jerusalem Road Trust. People began to suspect something was amiss. Alfred Nichols wrote to Alexander Robertson, then Chairman of the Road Trust, earlier in May 1893:

I find it is something like 15 years past since Maconochie St was formed, nothing has been done since beyond clearing out one side drain and leaving soil to remain on the street.

I have asked so many times, petitions were sent in years back and promises were made, verbally, last year that it would be metalled as soon as money was available.

P.S. Hitherto I have not had any communication in writing as to results of previous letters sent you, please have explained – would not trouble you, but suspect insubordination (6)

AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907, 5 May 1893, Nichols to Chairman.

The problem was not, however, insubordination. Part of the problem lay with another of the Jerusalem Road Trust’s correspondents, the Commercial Bank in Hobart. The Commercial Bank frequently wrote to Alexander Robertson concerning the overdrawn account (7), the dishonouring of cheques, and the unsatisfactory situation of the account being out of order for over 12 months (8). The fundamental problem for the Jerusalem Road Trust was that it lacked the money to carry out road repairs, or even pay 5s. for renting Hennie’s schoolhouse. In 1892, the Jerusalem Road Trust raised £70/7/6, which was paid in 1893. There was no government contribution to the Trust in 1892. The funds were raised by rating land owners and land occupiers in the Jerusalem Road District at 1s. per Pound of the assessed value (9). There was, however, a shortfall in the amount collected compared to the amount collectable. A large amount of rates remained outstanding from prior to, and including, 1893 (10), totalling some £32/2/0. Given the fact that the Jerusalem Road Trust account with the Commercial Bank was overdrawn by as much as £56 during 1893, these funds would have greatly assisted. When some debts, such as that to business partners Messrs Hughes and Whelan of £46/15/0 could not be paid due to the cheque being dishonoured (11), the financial shambles in which the Jerusalem Road Trust found itself becomes evident. The Commercial Bank said that ‘we shall be glad if you will kindly let us know when the rates will be collected, as we think the account should then be placed in credit’ (12). The rates, however, were still not being banked as late as 1899, the Audit Department in 1899 writing ‘It is again pointed out that all monies collected should be banked, and the practice of making payments from rates collected should be discontinued’ (13). Even when rates were collected, some of the cheques received in payment were dishonoured (14).

In spite of these problems, the Jerusalem Road Trust did carry out road maintenance. Occasionally, its failure to undertake repair work was brought to the attention of the Government. In July, the Minister of Lands and Works, William Hartwell, wrote to the Trust:

‘I have the honour to inform you that my attention has again been drawn to the state of the Road known as Spring Hill Bottom Road, which is reported to be in a bad condition.’

Mr Alfred Nichols represents that he is seriously inconvenienced by the base state of the road and cannot do necessary cartage (15).

It is now known if the Trust acted upon this letter. Nichols had written to the Trust earlier in the year about the road to Spring Hill Bottom, which ‘during the traffic upon it last year became dangerous, and almost impassable, so that unless something is done at once, traffic will again be much impeded … this Winter having (as I estimate) to cart three hundred tons [of] Potatoes … ‘ (16)

Wear and tear on roads was not the only problem. The Jerusalem Road Trust had to also attend to disputes between neighbours, such as that in June 1893 between James Bourke and Michael O’Mura, both of Rhyndaston. Bourke’s access road passed through O’Mura’s property, and the latter had erected a ‘slip-rail’ fence across the road and ‘ploughed the said road … causing me [Bourke] and the travelling public great trouble and inconvenience’ (17). Again, it is unclear what the Road Trust’s response was to this complaint.

When the Jerusalem Road Trust did respond to problems, maintenance was carried out by local contractors, who tendered for work advertised by the Road Trust (18). Some work which was carried out at short notice was given to the contractor currently working for the Road Trust. Occasionally, when emergency maintenance had to be carried out, local residents carried it out themselves (19).

The problems facing the Jerusalem Road Trust in 1893 are indicative of the general problems it encountered from 1878 until 1907. A critical shortage of funds, administrative inefficiency and an extensive network of poor roads all combined to condemn the Road Trust to failure. The year 1893 was a wet year, and saw many of the existing problems exacerbated. Country roads, it appears, have a history of poor maintenance, which will probably remain the case.

  1. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907, 2 June 1893, Spong to Chairman.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Tasmanian Mail, 27 October 1877, p. 13.
  4. Tasmanian Mail, 31 August 1878, p. 10.
  5. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907, 2 June 1893, Petition signed by Patrick Kelly, Albert Volkmer, S Baynton & Joseph Crockett.
  6. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907, 5 May 1893, Nichols to Chairman.
  7. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907, 29 December 1893, 4 December 1893 & 14 September 1893. Commercial Bank to Chairman.
  8. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907, 29 December 1893. Commercial Bank to Chairman.
  9. Journals and Printed Papers of the Parliament of Tasmania 1893. Vol XXIX, Papers Nos 68 to 110, Paper No 97, p.3.
  10. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907, Abstract of Road Rates Collected, Disputed & Outstanding. 1893. Outstanding & Disputed Road Rates
    1883; Rev J O’Regan; £0/10/0
    1883; Mrs?; £0/10/0
    1884; Rev J O’Regan; £0/10/0
    1884; Isaac Iles; £0/13/0
    1887; Mrs Goodman; £0/4/0
    1887; A Miles; £0/5/0
    1887; Richmond Road District; £1/15/0
    1887; Oatlands & Green Ponds; £0/7/6
    1890; A Nichols; £0/10/0
    1890; Mrs Nive; £0/7/0
    1890; J Evans, Green Ponds; £0/10/0
    1890; G Ibbott; £0/2/0
    1892; Mrs Managhan; £0/3/0
    1892; A Nichols; £0/10/0
    1892; G Harding, Oatlands; £0/2/0
    1892; I Wilson; £0/10/0
    1892; M Briggs; £0/2/6
    1892; A Robertson; £7/0/0
    1892; H Plunkett; £1/11/0
  11. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. 29 December 1893. Commercial Bank to Chairman.
  12. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. 14 September 1893. Commercial Bank to Chairman.
  13. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. 28 March 1899. Audit Dept to J J O Stuart, Secretary.
  14. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. 25 August 1893 & 28 December 1893, Commercial Bank to Chairman. Cheques from A J Fox (£1/0/0) and Stanfield (£8/0/0) respectively.
  15. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. 14 July 1893. Hartwell to Chairman.
  16. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. Letter 3 March 1893. Nichols to Chairman.
  17. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. Letter 2 June 1893. Bourke to Chairman.
  18. Contractors who successfully tendered for work in the 1890s included Messrs Silas Harwood, John Simpson and David Halliday. See AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. Tenders 13 January 1900, for example. Lowest tender was invariably accepted.
  19. AOT LA 29/1 Jerusalem Road Trust 1878-1907. Letter 17 February 1896. Plunkett to Chairman. Henry Plunkett of Rhyndaston billed the Road Trust 4s. for cutting up and removing ‘one large tree off road leading from Rhyndaston to Mackey’s’.