York Plains (Named in honour of the Duke of York, second son of George II)
York Plains, like many towns in Tasmania, was named by Governor Lachlan Macquarie on his tour of Van Diemen’s Land in 1811. It had previously been known as Scantling’s Plains, after the bushranger Richard Scantling, a confederate of the notorious Richard Lemon. Scantling met a gruesome end at the hands of Lemon, who shot Scantling and hung his corpse by the heels from a tree.
York Plains was very close to the main road between Hobart and Launceston. However, by 1836, convict road gangs had completed the alternative route (what we now call the ‘old Midlands Highway’) and York Plains was effectively bypassed.
The first settler to establish a home in the York Plains district was Joseph Wright, who was granted 50 acres. Wright built a stone and rubble dwelling which for a time served as an inn; Wright’s inn also served as a de facto military post, with a corporal and several soldiers stationed there to discourage the booming trade in stolen goods, especially livestock. After the soldiers were transferred to Jericho, Wright’s inn became notorious as a den of sheep and cattle thieves.
The district of York Plains is closely associated with the family of James Lord, a fustian (cloth) maker from Bolton who came to Van Diemen’s Land as a convict on the Calcutta in 1804. By 1815, James Lord had accumulated a large fortune through farming, trading, and ‘sly grog selling’. With his new found wealth, James petitioned to have his son David and family emigrate to the colony. David Lord, through land grants and purchases, acquired a property portfolio of 10,283 acres, including grazing rights at York Plains. In 1832, Lord built the Hill House homestead, by which point he owned the greater part of York Plains, including the properties York House, Hanroyd and Sorell Springs. With his vast land and trading interests, Lord never actually resided in the district; but his sons, John and James, inherited these properties when their father died in 1847. John Lord, of York House and Hanroyd, was renowned for his fine Merino stud and Devon cattle, which regularly won prizes at agricultural shows. Both brothers were keen sportsmen, with James a stalwart of the Midlands Hunt Club and John a renowned breeder of racehorses.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the population of the York Plains district had grown considerably. In March 1892, the first Post Office was established, and served the community for the next 76 years. The state school followed soon after, opening its doors to the area’s children in 1898. As with most of the small towns in the midlands, York Plains’ population diminished in the twentieth century, as new farm machinery led to less and less jobs for agricultural labourers. The York Plains School closed in 1936, with the children now attending the Oatlands State School and the Post Office closed in 1968. However, the future of York Plains is looking brighter now, with the imminent completion of the Midlands Irrigation Scheme, which promises to open up many new opportunities for the farmers of York Plains.