Linnane’s Hut – Cradle Valley

In January 1908, Major Ron (RE) Smith, son of James “Philosopher” Smith, searched for an old hunter’s camp on the flank of Mount Kate. He wrote that

Apparently the camp had been a hut, or a combination of hut and tent. The slabs of the skin drying chimney, which were of pine, were still mostly standing. There were remains of bunks, and split timber was lying about. We heard after returning to Wilmot that it had been built by a hunter named Linnane. It was close to the edge of the King William Pine forest.1

Linnane’s camp 1908 (RE Smith courtesy N Haygarth)
Linnane’s Camp 2024, Ian stands at the remains of the hut. Note that the same pine trees are in both the 1908 and 2024 photos (P Brown 2024)









Nic Haygarth has been interested in Cradle Mountain area for decades. He started our search by passing Smith’s notes on to those indefatigable hut-hunters, Ian Hayes and Peter Brown. They made a preliminary reconnaissance in January 2023 and, unknown to them, passed within calling distance. Some time later Nic Haygarth provided a photo which simplified the search. A year later, the former pair, together with Nic and myself, located the hut from Smith’s description. All that remained were a couple of upright slabs resting against a tree, possibly a bedlog, a moss-covered mound of boards and a very simple hearth. Time and nature does not stand still for anyone, let alone those seeking to understand the past.

Tim examines one of the slabs resting in a tree (P Brown 2024)

Who was Linnane?

Who was he and why was he in Cradle Valley? In 1900, John Linnane’s photo appeared in the well-known English monthly magazine, “The Strand.” The occasion was the 9th Australasian Axemen’s Association Championship at Ulverstone in November 1899. Standing over 6 feet tall and weighing about 13 stone, Linnane was well-equipped by Nature to compete in such events. In the teams event, devised to demonstrate the capabilities of English and American axes and saws, Linnane was a member of the triumphant Brades team.2

Illustration from the Strand Magazine -1900 (Linnanne’s name misspelt3)

John Linnane’s life was eventful to say the least. His father, Patrick Linnane (circa 1821-1881), a farm labourer from Galway, was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment in 1849 for stealing a sheep. He arrived per the ship Lord Auckland in January 1853, received his ticket-of-leave and a conditional pardon in 1855.4  Eight years later, John’s future mother, Jemima Sophia Davis (1843-1916), a general servant from Middlesex, arrived per the Antipodes.5 John Linnane, the couple’s fourth child and second son, was born at Flowerdale on 17 November 1873.6

Between late July 1872 and John’s birth, the family moved to Sisters Creek and purchased a small farm. After the birth of their last child, Patrick and Jemima married. However, financial difficulties ensued and between December 1879 and August 1880 Patrick unsuccessfully negotiated a £200 loan from Reverend I H Palfreyman,7 by turns a Primitive Methodist, Independent Methodist and Free Methodist minister, and also a “farmer and cattle dealer.”8 The relationship soured and Linnane’s accusation that Palfreyman had illegally obtained two steers was dismissed in the Wynyard Court in May 1881. Linnane’s position worsened as he was charged with “wilful and corrupt perjury” over the case, and committed for trial in the Launceston Supreme Court. In August, Linnane was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months hard labour.9 On leaving the Court, Linnane, who had concealed a revolver during the case, shot himself “in a moment of temporary insanity.”10

Family life was disrupted for in the space of 4 months, John had lost a father and gained another when his mother married Samuel Johnson. The family expanded to 9 with the addition of 3 half-siblings over the next 8 years. The impact on 8-year-old John is unknown as is the next period of his life. John’s education was either limited or totally absent as he marked rather than signed his wedding certificate.  Most probably John left home to earn his living in the mid-1880s and the £2 10s for winning the “Second-class Chopping Match” for under 18 youths at Deloraine in 1889 was a welcome addition to finances.11 By 1893 the 19-year-old Linnane had moved eastwards to the newly settled Wilmot area.12  His motives are unknown although possibly cheaper land was the attraction. He would have encountered pioneering conditions: there were no roads, only bush tracks and scrubbing and clearing the “heavy timber country, with very dense undergrowth” demanded a stout heart, persistence and vigour. 13 Skilled axemanship would also have been an invaluable asset. Possibly work in nearby mines such as the Shepherd and Murphy at Moina, and labouring for other pioneer farmers provided an income.

In the late 19th century, politician and reporter H A ”Chopper” Nicholls, engrossed by competitive woodchopping, formalised the young spectator sport’s rules which were accepted throughout Australasia.14 Linnane’s competition chopping career was at its peak between 1897-1910 when he participated as a competent rather than champion axeman in most major events in northern Tasmania from Scottsdale in the north-east to Wynyard in the north-west, Zeehan on the West Coast, and even on the mainland. Perhaps the highlight was the team’s event alluded to earlier.

In between establishing a farm and woodchopping, Linnane snared in Cradle Valley. Exactly when and why is unknown but there are several clues. In the 1890s men such as Lynch and Higgins were logging Pencil Pines so Linnane might have seen this as a surer way to fund the development of his farm. Whether he visited and worked in the area prior to snaring or simply heard reports from the pioneers is unknown. Perhaps he also recognised the area’s potential hunting and snaring value. Perhaps the mountains were a place where Linnane felt at home. His camp, discovered by Smith, was in disrepair in 1908 indicating that the snaring phase was not long-lived.

Local knowledge acquired in snaring, together with friendship with Bob Quaile (his future wife had worked for him) and George Williams, also a piner in the Cradle area, were probable reasons why Linnane was involved in the first search party for Bert Hanson in July 1908.15 After being caught in a snow-storm, snarers, Hanson and Thomas Jones, became lost before Hanson died from hypothermia. After an unsuccessful search in late July, his body was found two months later, although Linnane was not involved in the later search.16

In February 1911 John married 23-year-old Amelia Blanche Stevens at Upper Castra and over the next 18 years, 12 children, 7 boys and 5 girls, were born. Life was a struggle. Frequently the elements conspired against back-blocks farmers, and Linnane was not spared. But for kind neighbours, the 1906 fires which severely damaged the Shepherd and Murphy mine would also have destroyed the Linnane homestead. Heavy rainfall washed away his barn and crops in 1915. Then 9 years later the house and furniture were completely destroyed by fire.17 Other hazards included farm accidents, one resulting in John breaking a lower leg bone.18

When the outbreak of World War One disrupted the European market, local snarers had their skins confiscated by the Sheffield police. Linnane was one of the men involved but his contribution was 15 wallaby skins. Were the skins a byproduct of clearing his Wilmot land or was Linnane still snaring for a living and if so, whereabouts? Perhaps a possibility is that he was snaring on the Middlesex with fellow Hanson searcher George Francis.19

Family problems further exacerbated the situation. There were court cases involving family. One son accidentally drowning in the Derwent River not long after imprisonment. His sister, Miriam, a housekeeper to John Hoare, was shot in the head when the politician was murdered by his son-in-law.20

At the 1948 “Back to Wilmot” celebrations, Linnane was oldest surviving pioneer. In less than a year, on 24 January 1949 Linnane died in the Latrobe Hospital. His will indicated that over 50 years of toil, Linnane had acquired about 360 acres.21

Linnanes Road, Wilmot (List Map)
Except from County Chart showing Linnane’s land (List Map)








RE Smith’s description of the period before he arrived at Cradle Valley as

’The Dark Ages’ … [because] they [ie hunters] are well known to be the most silent of people about where they go and what they do. But evidence of their past existence is not uncommon in the most unlikely places.

is an apt description of not only John Linnane’s existence but also of his time hunting in Cradle Valley.22 Linnane’s motives for hunting in the area, the duration of this phase, the number and nature of huts and whether he hunted alone or with others remain mysteries. That Linnane’s legacy is now recognised, albeit in a minor way, is due to Smith’s notes and more importantly, his photograph, Nic Haygarth’s archival research and Ian Hayes’ and Peter Brown’s fieldwork.

Copyright Tim Jetson 2024

1 Bertha Adams, Account of a trip to Cradle Mountain with RE Smith and Bob and Ted Adams in January 1908. Held by Peter Smith, Legana.
2 H. A. Nicholls, “A New-World Sport”, The Strand Magazine, v19 no. 114, June 1900 for photo and 687-688 for details of the event & North-West Post 30 November 1899 p3
3 The Strand Magazine obviously made a mistake in its caption with local papers, eg Mercury 4 December 1899 p 3 & Zeehan & Dundas Herald 4 December 1899 p 2 indicating that it was Linnane
4 CON 33-1-112 Image 149, Tasmanian Archives
5 Mercury 24 September 1861 p 1
6 RGD33/1/51 no 335. There was no middle name “Augustus’ on the official record.
7 Tasmanian 14 May 1881 p 456 & 25 June 1881 p 594 & AB693-1-1 1880
8 Telegraph 7 September 1881, p 3
9 Launceston Examiner 26 August 1881 p 3 & SC195-1-61-8392
10 Launceston Examiner 26 August 1881 p 2 & Telegraph 27 August 1881 p 2
11 The Colonist 5 January 1889 p 8
12 Advocate 12 April 1948 p 2
13 Advocate 12 April 1948 p 2
14 S Bennett, “Hubert Allan Nichols (1864-1940)
15 Bob Quaile became involved in tourism in the Cradle Mountain area.
16 Mercury 19 July 19055 p5, North Western Advocate 1 August 1905 & Examiner 5 September 1905 p 4
17 Daily Telegraph 5 February 1906 p2, North West Advocate 22 February 1915 p 3 & Examiner 25 January 1924 p 4
18 North West Post 12 November 1909 p 2 & Advocate 6 December 1927 p 4
19 1 August 1914 “Daily Record of Crime occurrences Sheffield 1901-1916″ POL386/1/1986 (TAHO), Nic Haygarth, The Francises of Middlesex Plains 3: George Francis and the Middlesex hunters”
20 Mercury 26 June 1934 p 7
21 Advocate 25 January 1949 p 8 & AD960-1-78 Will No 32696
22 Examiner 26 March 1937 p 2