26 July 2019– 2 February 2020
Explore stories of courage and commitment, strength and resilience, and unknown gems on the eastern side of the Mersey River.
In late 2019, the temporary exhibition space held a local history-focussed exhibition on the little told story of Torquay (East Devonport prior to 1890). These days, West Devonport gets all the glory, but the start of Devonport was on the eastern side of the river. Early families to the settlement included the Cockers, Deans, Boswells, Winspears, and Drakes amongst others. Features such as Police Point, now dredged from the river, were explored with stories of the very popular swimming baths, ferries, and hotels highlighted. Early churches and their fates were paired with Kathleen Cocker’s beautiful paintings and drawings of the buildings. Shipbuilders and local personalities from different streets and homes were discussed. The Holyman empire of ships and planes featured in the large glass cabinet.
A selection of stories are below.
“Sea Bathing at its Finest”
The building of public swimming baths for all to enjoy was proposed by Mr. George Tucker in 1888. The Torquay Baths Company first built the baths inside the inlet on Police Point, capitalising on the ‘spa resort’ reputation of Torquay. Subscriptions paid for the construction of the baths and changing sheds built by shipbuilder Edward Higgs. The money collected was controlled by Roger Winspear, who was treasurer for the Torquay Baths Company.
The baths were tidal, meaning that at low tide, there was no swimming and at high tide, there was around 3 metres of water. A harness device was used to keep learners safe (pictured) and there were regular swimming carnivals held throughout the year. Around 150 people attended one carnival in January 1890 with rowdy barrackers making the afternoon quite exciting. The baths were in regular use for only a short time – by 1894, attendance was dropping off and over time their popularity waned. The first stage of the removal of Police Point included the demolition of the Torquay Baths in the 1920s.
Star of the Sea
Rolling on the River
The Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church was built in 1865 in Wright Street by Mr. Wood. Father Noone was the first priest that presided over services from 12 October 1870. Church attendance dropped over time and after the building of a convent and school in West Devonport in 1893, the idea of moving the church to that side of the Mersey River was floated. The decision was made in 1898 and the operation commenced:
“Christopher Harrison, a well-known local carrier, undertook the job of transferring it by cart and a team of horses across the river via the vehicular ferry. It was a difficult job, but Chris insisted that he could do it. Going down Thomas St., some telephone wires stopped him and he is said to have upset a telephone owner by cutting them without first asking permission, although he had them re-connected later. At the ferry, although the tide was high, he experienced considerable difficulty in getting his load down over the large loose stones, but eventually got it on to the punt without mishap. At the other side of the river, however, he really did find it hard to get up the steep incline, and had to hitch more horses on to pull the awkward load to the railway line.”
The Advocate, 17 July 1956.
The first police officer stationed at Torquay arrived in 1855 due to an increase in unruly behaviour throughout the district from miners drinking excessively. There was a boom in trade through the port and hotels were being built. The height of the gold rush saw escaping convicts attempting passage across the Strait. It was a busy time in Torquay – particularly for smugglers. All along the coast, small vessels were bringing in goods in secret to bypass customs. Police constables took over the potato sheds on the Point as their headquarters, before proper police housing, a courthouse, gaol, and storeroom were eventually built on the land.
Police Point no longer exists. In 1903, a visiting steamer captain suggested that taking out the point would widen the Mersey River and make the port more accessible. Deliberations continued until 1926 when the first part of the Point was dredged out of the river. In 1969, dredging happened again, taking the river bank back to Wheeler Street. Police Point was no more.