Edward Curr, the chief agent of the Van Diemenâ??s Land Company named the Mersey river on 7 July, 1826, but early explorers and settlers tended to bypass it because the river was blocked by a sandbar, and the banks were heavily timbered.
The discovery of coal upstream in the Latrobe area in 1851,the same year as the Victorian gold rush, changed everything.The extra shipping attracted by the activity also enabled an easier escape route for the convicts wishing to escape to Victoria. On the Western side of the river, the small townships of Formby and Wenvoe, were still only very lightly populated. But at the River Don township, two miles to the west, a thriving community was established around a sawmill, also involving tramways, shipbuilding, trading and farming.
Roads were almost non-existent and it took decades for elected road trusts to remedy the matter. Several shipbuilding yards commenced work on the banks of the Mersey river. The arrival of the railway at Formby in 1885, demanded more development there, as produce began to arrive by road for export. The lighthouse was built in 1889.
But all changed in 1890. After years of heated debate, amalgamation of the small townships on both sides of the river, finally took place to form the new town of Devonport. The sandbar was removed, larger ships frequented the port, land cleared of timber had become important farms, and a building boom provided banks, Government buildings, residences and hotels.
Today, 1999, Devonport is a city of about 25,000 people. Its port is still its lifeblood, as it is fed by farming and manufacturing. It has its own busy airport, and is the arrival point for the Bass Strait passenger and vehicle ferry service between Melbourne and Tasmania.