Sunday, 30 April 2017

Old Shag Bay Fertilizer Factory Site

A while ago, I went for a wander around the trail at Shag Bay and saw the remains of some industrial business that had taken place in the area. I was able to find out that it had been a type of bonemill/fertilizer business that had suffered an industrial accident in the early part of the 20th century. Unfortunately I hadn’t had the chance to search for detailed information but recently I came across this great article by John & Maria Grist in a recent online copy of Tasmanian Geographic. Hope you will enjoy this article about a part of Hobart history that isn’t very well known.

“Recycling at Shag Bay” by John & Maria Grist

Long before the words “reduce, re-use, recycle” had ever been spoken, a small company on Hobart’s eastern shore decided to make use of waste materials, provide a useable resource, and turn a small profit as well.

Of course, in the early days Hobart, like any other city, produced much in the way of organic waste, which if left to itself would cause a nuisance, as well as constituting a significant health hazard. These materials included items such as butcher’s waste, dead animals, offal, fish scraps, and of course the ubiquitous “night soil”, which was collected from houses and taken away by hardy workmen in those pre-plumbing days. From at least 1885, the Anglo-Australian Guano Company produced bone dust out of butchers’ waste at their plant in Shag Bay, near Risdon, and sold it as a fertiliser. Shag Bay was better known as Bonemill Bay at that time. The company also produced guano and sulphate of ammonia. The proprietor of the company was Mr. Chapman. The company’s offices were located at Salamanca Place, Hobart.

The Tasmanian Fertiliser Company took over from the A. A. Guano Company around 1907. In 1909 the manager of the Bonemill was George Byworth Russell. George was the first of several members of the Russell family associated with the site. The Russell Brothers were manufacturers of fish manure. Their company joined forces with H. C. Buchanan and Co. (Hugh Campbell Buchanan) to form the Tasmanian Fertiliser Company. They started off in a similar manner to their predecessor, treating items such as butchers’ refuse, but later expanded their scope by using other raw materials. They even commenced testing a treatment process for night soil. This scheme was not universally applauded at first, the rumour had got around that a treatment plant was to be established at Lindisfarne, close to residents’ houses.

Mr. George Thomas Russell, the son of George Byworth Russell and the manager of the Risdon works in 1912, took exception to the printing of this information, and used the opportunity to explain the process the company was using, along with the fact that the plant was situated at Risdon, and not at Lindisfarne. The company seems to have done quite well in its first few years, and even shipped its product to other states. In January 1914, 5480 ft. of one-inch galvanised piping was laid across the Derwent, with a view to bringing water from Glenorchy to the Shag Bay factory to assist in the process. For the previous 30 years, water had been drawn from a well 150ft. above the high water mark.

When the scheme was completed, the caretaker at the Glenorchy waterworks stated that the meter registered 150 gallons of water in a few minutes on his side of the river; however, no water was coming out at the eastern side. The valves were inspected, and a suction pump was tried, but the problem persisted. The failure of the supply was later found to be due to leakage, and not to water pressure or to the entry of salt water into the pipes.

A legal dispute arose between John Paterson, the engineer contracted to install the pipes (who owned the Risdon Road bonemill on the opposite side of the Derwent), and the Tasmanian Fertiliser Company. Paterson held that the contract was simply for laying the pipes, whereas the Company held that the contract was for the reliable supply of water. The judge decided in favour of Paterson.

On the 28th of January 1915 at around 4.30 p.m., tragedy struck the fertiliser factory in the form of a devastating explosion. George Byworth Russell, and his son William, who was a bargeman for the company, were both killed. The noise caused consternation in Lindisfarne and the opposite side of the Derwent. The weatherboard building which was lost had been nearly 200 ft. in length. One side of the building had been blown 20 ft. away onto a nearby hill. The fire, as well as consuming what was left of the building and contents, also claimed the nearby wharves. Frederick Jordan was lucky to escape with his life, as he was within six feet of the boiler at the time it exploded. The inquiry started on Tuesday 9 Feb and the inquest concluded on 13 Feb 1915, with the verdict: “No one guilty of negligence.” The coroner, Mr. W. O. Wise, was satisfied that the company’s regimen of regular cleaning had been adequate.

In 1918, Mr. George T. Russell, son of George B. and brother of William F. Russell, who both lost their lives in the explosion, formed a new company named Co-operative Fertilisers Ltd. He applied to set up his glue and manure manufacturing works at Porter Bay, just north of Shag Bay.
The company was set up to assist fruit growers at Wattle Grove. Shares were offered in June 1918. The city council was on-side as the scheme would again assist in disposal of waste products.

Unfortunately, the plant at Porter Bay fared only a little better than its predecessor in Shag Bay. On 20 April 1919 a fire totally destroyed the works. Mr. Russell was the manager and lived very close to the works at Porter Bay. The fire started in the middle of the night and he was woken by the noise and flames. He was unable to save the factory, and only with difficulty was he able to save his own house.
The company unsurprisingly went into liquidation shortly afterwards in 1922.

This, however, was not the end for Mr. Russell. He became managing director of Shark Fisheries Ltd., which planned in 1928 to set up factories throughout Australia, commencing in N.S.W. The N.S.W. plant was in fact built, and he supplied Tasmanian fruit growers with 200 tons per annum in 1929.

However, there is no further evidence of any fertiliser works being set up in the Risdon area. The remains of the boiler and some pieces of the wharf and building footings are still in place.

Main Text, Information & Historic Photos -
Article by John & Maria Grist, published in Tasmanian Geographic Issue 46


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