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The History of Zeehan, West Coast Tasmania

Zeehan was one of the first places in Tasmania ever seen by Europeans. As early as 1642 Abel Tasman sighted the mountain peak which was subsequently named Mount Zeehan after the brig in which he was sailing. It was Bass and Flinders, travelling around the Tasmanian coast in 1802, who named both Mount Zeehan and Mount Heemskirk after the two boats used by Tasman in his epic voyage.

The wild and rugged area remained unexplored until the discovery of tin at Mt Bischoff in 1871. In the years that followed prospectors rushed the area and a certain mining craziness set in. In 1879 tin was discovered at Mount Heemskirk north of the present site of Zeehan. It led to a boom which saw more than 50 companies staking claims over some 6400 hectares of what would prove to be hopeless and useless country. There were even leases sold on the beaches along the coast. By the 1880's there were only a dozen mines working in the Heemskirk area.

In late 1882 four miners moved further south and in December a man named Frank Long discovered silver-lead near the present day site of Zeehan, Tasmania. It led to the largest mining boom on Tasmania's west coast with Zeehan being dubbed the 'Silver City of the West' and, within a decade, Zeehan growing to become the third largest town in Tasmania. This is hardly surprising given Long's first samples had yielded 70 ounces of silver per ton.

Over the next decade Zeehan boomed. At its height in 1891 there were 159 companies with mining leases in the area. Trial Harbour was the port and there was a muddy and difficult road from the Trial Harbour Hotel to Zeehan.

By the 1890's the town had developed an air of sophistication. There was a Zeehan Stock Exchange which boasted 60 members. Each year, from 1890-1910, the mines earned an average of £200,000. The main street was full of elegant buildings including banks, theatres and hotels.

By 1910 the ore bodies which had sustained Zeehan began to give out and the town slowly declined. By the 1950's it had a population of only 650 and the last silver mine in Zeehan closed down in 1960. It looked as though it was about to become a ghost town. However, the town continues to exist and prosper today.

Today you can still visit the fine old buildings that reflect the town's history and the Pioneers Museum to discover fascinating stories of the past. The Gaiety Theatre, built in 1899, then Australia’s largest theatre, was restored and re-opened in 2006. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, entertainers from around the world, including Enrico Caruso, Dame Nellie Melba and the infamous Lola Montez, performed here for packed audiences of wealthy miners.

Whatever your reason for visiting, our friendly management and staff will make sure your trip to will be a memorable one.