Presented from Issue 109, April 2014
An excerpt from Origins of the Tasmanian Trout JEAN WALKER, Honorary Historian to the Southern Tasmanian Licensed Anglers’ Association produced an accurate and concise account of the fascinating story of the first introduction of trout to Tasmania in 1988.

Tasmania’s Inland Fisheries Service has just republished the booklet to celebrate the sesquicentenary (150 years) since the first tiny trout hatched in the Southern Hemisphere. Here are a few snippets from the booklet Origins of the Tasmanian Trout. Contact IFS on 6261 8050 to find a stockist.

TASMANIA’S early settlers were disappointed by the lack of freshwater angling. The only fish native to the inland waters were Australian grayling, small galaxias and in some rivers blackfish. None offered anglers a challenge in fighting qualities.

Bringing trout from England, 12,000 miles away, s seemed an impossible dream. That the dream, became a reality with perseverance, despite failures and setbacks, in 1864.

 The First Attempt

The first recorded suggestion of an attempt to transport ova took place in 1841. And later, in 1847, James Burnett, a young Hobart man and son of a former Colonial Secretary, became interested in the transportation of salmon and trout ova to Tasmania.

In 1852 space was obtained in the 454 ton barque Columbus, Hobart-bound with cargo and passengers the Columbus sailed direct to Tasmania. 50,000 ova of salmon and trout were placed in a large oval tub slung in the fore hatchway of the ship. Under natural conditions the ova could take up to five months to hatch, but it was realised that they would hatch much earlier due to the rise in water temperature in the tub as the ship passed through the tropics. The Columbus left England in February 1852. It was expected that the ova would begin to hatch around 15 April. However, on 1 March the hatch commenced. As the water in the tub became warmer it became cloudy and tepid and when the water cleared again in colder latitudes, nothing could be seen, not a trace of either fish or ova. The experiment failed.

In 1854 the chain of events commenced which would lead later to success. James Youl of “Symmons Plains” in Northern Tasmania was a successful pastoralist. He had at that time recently retired to live in England. His father, Rev. John Youl, had first settled in New South Wales where James was born in 1810. In 1819 the family had arrived in Tasmania. When Rev. Youl died in 1827, the 17 year old James had taken over the management of “Symmons Plains” and the family’s other pastoral properties.

Youl was a member of the Australian Association in London. This body concerned itself with furthering the interests of the Colony in areas including the acclimatisation of flora and fauna. Prominent in the Australian Association was Edward Wilson, an Englishman who spent some years in Australia, owned the Melbourne Argus and was later to found the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria. Wilson was keen to promote the successful acclimatisation of salmon and trout in Australia. The two men were to become closely associated in the project.

Youl carried out experiments at the Crystal Palace, London, and his conclusion was that a means of retarding the development of the ova was necessary. His experiments showed that hatching may take place at any time between 35 and 140 days depending on temperature. He also believed that actual freezing was probably fatal. At that time, all the experts proclaimed that transportation to the Antipodes was impossible.

The Australian Association in London raised six hundred pounds by private subscription and in 1860 under Youl’s supervision, an attempt was made. Robert Ramsbottom collected 30,000 Atlantic salmon ova and arrangements were made to ship these in the American clipper S. Curling sailing direct to Melbourne.

An icehouse holding some 15 tons of ice was built between decks. The ova were laid on gravel in swinging trays which were given a constant flow of water from the run-off of the ice. The S. Curling left Liverpool on 25 February 1860. Hopes were high and Youl and Robert Ramsbottom sailed some 30 miles in the clipper, returning with the pilot. Unhappily, the ice melted rapidly and when the ship was 59 days out, all the ova had died.

109 150 years box 

A Salmon Commission was formed in 1861 under the chairmanship of Dr Robert Officer. Another member of the original Salmon Com mission was the young Hobart barrister, Morton Allport.

The boxes in which the ova were to be packed were made of inch pine, 11¾” long, 8¾” wide and 5¼” deep, perforated with holes, top, bottom and sides to allow the water from the ice, as it melted, to flow into the boxes and percolate through the moss and ova inside.

The early Minutes of the Commission’s meetings tell how the Commissioners, after visiting the Derwent above New Norfolk, decided the Plenty as a suitable place to construct the “Salmon Ponds” and a site was selected on its banks on the property of Mr Robert Read of “Redlands”.

The Plenty was isolated, fed by cold, clear water and was connected to the sea. The Salmon Ponds were constructed in 1862 and based on the famous Stormontfield Ponds on the River Tay in Scotland.

In 1861, Youl, in preparation for the next attempt, proceeded to Scotland and Ireland, to France and to Belgium, to study fish culture. In Paris he learnt of a method of sending ova on long journeys in wet moss in earthenware jars.

The steamer Beautiful Star, was chartered and Youl insisted the journey be made under canvas. An icehouse was built to contain 25 tons of ice, and some 50,000 Atlantic salmon ova were laid on trays. Youl packed a few hundred ova in a small box with living moss and placed this box in the icehouse. The voyage was ill-fated. The ship cleared London on 4 March 1862, was delayed by bad weather and then had to put back for repairs. The ice gave out and by the 74th day all the ova were dead. However, the ova in the little box hatched and survived some eight hours longer than the rest.

Youl started planning once more. The experiment had been a costly one. Besides the expenditure in England, ponds had been prepared in Tasmania at a total cost of two thousand, three hundred and nineteen pounds.

The Final Success

THE SALMON Commissioners persuaded the Tasmanian Government to authorise another shipment under Youl’s supervision. Youl experimented including tests to ascertain the vitality of salmon ova at low temperatures. He found a continuous supply of water was not necessary, and the partial absence of air was not fatal.

The best results were obtained by placing ova in a box in the ice compartment and renewing the ice as it melted - in this way the melting ice percolated through the box. Ova from this test produced 99% healthy fish after 90 days of treatment. From this, Youl was able to deduce that the retardation could be extended to 100 days and the moss would continue to grow. If the moss died, decomposition would spread and kill the ova.

Youl now knew that with one more attempt he could succeed - provided that the ice lasted. Messrs Money Wigram and Sons, shipowners of London, offered 50 tons of space in their clipper Norfolk due to sail to Melbourne 20 January 1864. Norfolk, a square-rigged, three masted wooden vessel of 953 tons was built for the emigrant trade, with accommodation for around 70 passengers and was considered one of the fastest ships.

An icehouse, to contain 25 tons of ice, was built on the lowest deck. Close to the ship were stacked the 181 small pine boxes which Youl had specially made. Robert Ramsbottom was despatched to collect the Atlantic salmon ova. Youl received a message from Ramsbottom that every salmon he caught had already shed its ova.

Youl appealed through The Times newspaper for help with obtaining unspawned salmon so that he would not lose the chance of getting “. . . this noble fish” to Australia. It was not until 18 January, two days before the ship was to sail, that the ova began to arrive at the dock. Money Wigram and Sons delayed the sailing date by a day to complete preparation and packing.

109 150 years norfolk 
The clipper ‘Norfolk’ - owned by Money Wigram
and Sons who donated space enabling the
first successful importation of live salmon
and trout ova to Tasmania
(National Maritime Museum. England)

The clipper ‘Norfolk’ - owned by Money Wigram and Sons who donated space enabling the first successful importation of live salmon and trout ova to Tasmania. (National Maritime Museum. England)

One hundred and sixty four of these boxes were placed in the bottom of the icehouse. A solid mass of ice was piled to a height of nine feet on top so that as long as any ice remained, the ova would derive benefit from it. The remainder of the boxes were placed in other parts of the icehouse.

Shortly before the Norfolk sailed, three separate gifts of trout ova were delivered to Youl. Francis Francis, naturalist and angling writer, sent two lots, some 2,000 ova and from Admiral Keppel’s waters, Frank Buckland sent about 1,000.

Youl had not intended that trout ova would be included in the shipment. He had made up his mind not to send trout ova with the salmon because he believed that as the trout grow faster; they would eat all his little salmon before they got to salt water, but when the trout eggs came to him at the dock he put them on board. The trout ova, Youl decided, would go as a gift to Edward Wilson, President of the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria in Melbourne. On the evening of 20 January all was completed and the icehouse, containing about 100,000 Atlantic salmon and 3,000 trout ova, was sealed.

On 21 January 1864 the Norfolk sailed from London. The voyage was happily uneventful. On Saturday 16 April, 85 days later, Norfolk berthed at Station Pier in Victoria. The icehouse was unlocked and Ramsbottom opened one of the small boxes containing salmon ova and it was found that the ova were in a sound and promising condition. After years of trial and failure, living salmon ova had been landed in Australia!

Eleven of the small boxes containing Atlantic salmon ova were left in Melbourne with the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria - this was to afford an additional guarantee against the failure of the undertaking.

William Ramsbottom, however, refused to leave the boxes of trout ova in Melbourne despite Youl’s instructions.

Edward Wilson had arranged for the Victorian Navy’s warship, the Victoria, to deliver the ova to Hobart. Eleven large wooden packing cases with holes bored in their bottoms had been prepared. Into each of these packing cases approximately 15 of the small pine boxes were carefully packed with broken ice on top (170 of the original 181 small pine boxes of ova remained - 11 were left with the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria).

The large packing cases were put aboard and covered with the remainder of the ice from the Norfolk -some 12 tons of the 25 tons loaded in London still remained. The cold water from the melting ice would keep the moss saturated in the small pine boxes. Finally, bags of sawdust and blankets were piled on top and stuffed pads wedged between the packing cases.

On Monday 18 April, Victoria left for Hobart and at 3pm on Wednesday 20 April she arrived in the Derwent.

Ramsbottom had brought with him from Melbourne some 50 Atlantic salmon ova; these he had placed in saucers with moss and ice. Only one or two had died during the crossing and this “wonder” was examined with great interest by the visitors to the ship.

The small river-steamer Emu was waiting with the barge “which she was to tow 20 miles up the Derwent River to New Norfolk”. Eleven packing cases were placed on the barge with the remaining ice and straw on top.

It was 1.00am on Thursday 21 April the Emu reached the Steam Wharf at New Norfolk. At daylight the barge was taken in tow by two row- boats. The destination was “The Falls”, a further three miles up river. Forty to fifty men waited to carry the cases of ova to the Salmon Ponds and carts were ready to transport the remaining ice. Five of the packing cases were landed. Bearers were split up into teams of eight men to each packing case, four men to carry the cases and four men to walk with them as relays. The carts were loaded with the ice and straw and dispatched to the Ponds.

The ova had travelled over 12,000 miles by sailing ship, crossed Bass Strait, endured two tows up the Derwent.

Around midday they arrived at the Ponds. It was 91 days since the ova had been placed on board the Norfolk in England.

Later that day the bearers brought up another five packing cases and, on the next day, the remainder

Ramsbottom had hurried ahead of the bearers to prepare the gravel beds. He found they needed a thorough cleansing and it was late afternoon when satisfied the nursery was ready to receive his precious charges.

The time had now come for the small pine boxes to be opened! Ramsbottom carefully removed the screws from the first box and lifted the lid. To the horrified dismay of the little crowd gathered under the tent, it was seen that most of the ova were dead. In the second and third box conditions looked more hopeful and by the time a dozen boxes had been unpacked, it was clear that a large proportion of the ova would be saved. Where the moss was green and living, the ova were living and healthy but where the moss was dead there was a heavy mortality.

Ramsbottom and Morton Allport removed the top layer of moss, then lifted out the lower layer of moss with the ova and gently turned it upside down into the cool water running over the gravel beds. The ova soon separated from the moss and distributed themselves amongst the gravel. By the following evening the last of the small pine boxes had been unpacked. Ramsbottom estimated that about 30,000 living and healthy ova were safely deposited. Of these only about 300 were trout.

On 4 May 1864, the first young trout emerged, and on the following day the first Atlantic salmon. By 8 June 300 healthy trout and several thousand salmon commenced their new lives in a new hemisphere.

In the following April, Ramsbottom counted the small family of brown trout in the circular pond. He was hopeful that there might be 150 of those reared from the Norfolk shipment. To his great delight many fish which had been hiding amongst the pebbles and in crevices suddenly appeared and his final count was near 300. He carefully lowered the water in the pond and let 40 small fish make their joyous escape into the Plenty. The remainder he retained as brood stock, and the trout, which had only been included in the Norfolk shipment as an afterthought, grew, prospered and multiplied. Unfortunately the attempt to introduce Atlantic salmon was a failure, but by 1872 the distribution of trout ova and fry from the Salmon Ponds was well advanced. Ova had been sent to New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand. In Tasmania the fry were transported in cans by coach, horse and cart and, in remote and inaccessible areas, carried in back- packs.

Great Lake was stocked in 1870 by Chief Constable James Wilson. It is believed that he was accompanied by Constable Ryan and that they rode 25 miles over a bridle-track with billycans containing some 130 young trout strapped to their saddle-bags.

The Ponds soon became a tourist attraction for visitors from the mainland as well as local people. All were curious to see the young fish from the “Old Country” - the latest immigrants to the Island.

In June 1866, the Norfolk brown trout shed their first spawn and the Salmon Commissioners reported that some thousands of ova had been laid down in hatching boxes. Beaver rats threatened the small fish and ova and Ramsbottom had to patrol the grounds at night with gun and terrier dogs. In August the first brown trout ova were sent to the Acclimatisation Society of Victoria in Melbourne.

The Atlantic salmon project was a failure despite further shipments of ova sent from England. The ova could be hatched here and the young fish reared successfully, but once released they failed to return from the sea as adults.

The Salmon Ponds is the oldest continuing trout hatchery in the Southern Hemisphere. Here the work continues of Youl, Allport, Ramsbottom, Officer and all the unnamed volunteers who assisted in stocking the trout in the rivers and lakes of Tasmania.

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