History’s Hard Work

The Taroona Shot Tower

In 1943, Joseph left Tasmania and went back to Kelso where he married Elizabeth Paxton; he returned to Tasmania a year later. Moir began his work years by building homes and churches around Hobart, while obtaining land in and around the town. He established a reputation for having built the St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Pontville and he was appointed to several civic positions including clerk of public works for the colony in 1834 and Commissioner under Hobart’s 1846 paving and lighting bill.

In 1849, Joseph started feeling a bit more adventurous; he journeyed to Britain in pursuit of new business ventures and returned to Tasmania with textile manufacturing machines and ironmongery goods. With the new equipment he was able to establish himself as a successful ironmonger in Hobart, at the Economy House on Murray Street.

Joseph advertised that he had relinquished the trade that he had been practising, which was construction, in favour of ironmongery. His equipment was better than any that was around in Tasmania at the time, and he would offer his services for a low price, so that he could secure his place in the market. His campaign and reputation were so strong that he was able to work at the Economy House as an ironmonger until his death in 1884. His son Joseph II took over and then sold the business.

In 1862 however, Joseph Moir had packed up his family and moved to “Queensborough Glens”, a house located about 15 kilometres south of Hobart on a plot of 39 acres that he had purchased in 1855. Situated on the channel highway, it is the State’s most historic building.

With the help of only two masons, Joseph constructed a shot tower at this site in just eight months. During the erection of the tower, he acted as chief engineer, architect, carpenter and overseer. Joseph chose the spot for the Shot Tower very carefully; a road frontage allowed for easy transport of the shot as well as the raw materials, and a nearby creek provided a readily available water source, pumped into the tower by a windmill. Another considerable factor was the available lot of timber to fuel the furnaces and cauldrons.

One concern was that of the toxic fumes that would come from the tower, which is why the tower was situated far from any residential areas – the fumes could blow into the atmosphere safely without harming the lungs of people living in the area. The design was such that the fumes would be carried out to sea or over forest land.

By using dressed curved sandstone blocks that were quarried at an abandoned convict probation station nearby, the tower was built to a height of 48 metres tall and 10 metres in diameter. The walls of the tower were under a half a centimetre thick at the top and 1 metre thick at the bottom, and inside was a timber spiral staircase that lead to an external gallery at the top. The staircase was used as scaffolding during the construction of the Tower and then in 1871, Moir was able to open the tower to visitors who wanted to see the area from a height; back then, it was quite a spectacle. With a climb to the top of the 259 steps you could find yourself looking over the whole of Derwent County. At the time, the tower was the tallest building in Australia.

The spectacular 360 degree view includes the Lower Derwent estuary and Blackmans Bay; beware, though, that for anyone who may suffer from vertigo the climb to the top, although it’s well worth it, may leave you reaching for a friend.

A shot tower is used to create lead shot, or rifle ammunition which can be used for sport. Back then this shot was manufactured by dripping molten lead through a colander at the very top of the tower. As the lead fell and cooled it would form into spherical droplets which would solidify after splashing into a trough of water placed at the bottom of the tower. After falling into the trough the shot was rolled down a series of inclined panes of glass to remove oddly shaped pellets.

After all of the irregular pellets were removed, the lead shot was then polished in a revolving cask using graphite which also turned it black. The lead shot was then passed through ten different sieves which would sort it by size. All pellets were packaged in hand-sewn linen bags that were shipped for sale. When business was good, Joseph Moir would create over 100 tonnes of lead shot per year.

A stone building above the cliffs overlooking the River Derwent stored gunpowder for the ironmongery, as well as arsenic and antimony. Another building, located to the south-west of the magazine, contained the furnace that was meant for the preparation of the lead with the arsenic and antimony.

The shot manufacturing business provided great income while it was protected by a tariff of seven pounds per tonne. After this tariff was cancelled by the Federation of Australia, Moir could not keep up with other manufacturers who could sell for cheaper. This was due to the high cost of materials and transportation between Hobart and Taroona. Lead shot was produced in the shot tower until production ceased in 1905. Today, the tower remains the only round and tallest shot tower in the southern hemisphere.

In 1956, the great tower was acquired by the Crown and gazetted in as an historical site; today it carries a National Trust ‘A’ classification. The main floor of the shot tower building of the tower is now a museum that contains many old photographs and historical shot making paraphernalia. The displays include the original lead furnaces, cauldrons, ladles, and colanders. Also included are examples of graded shot and their original packaging. There are also examples of firearms from the period, cartridges and early reloading gear.

The museum also includes a gift shop that is full of Tasmanian souvenirs as well as gifts and items specific to the shot tower. Downstairs is a cozy tea room where people can enjoy a nice quiet cup of tea or a cold beverage in the delightful historic atmosphere – with a Scottish flavour of course. After all, refreshments will definitely be needed after climbing the spiral staircase.

Above the door, there is a plaque that commemorates the building and the man who built it; it reads, “This shot tower was built by the proprietor, Joseph Moir, in the year 1870. In its erection he acted as Engineer, Architect, Carpenter and Overseer. Eith merely the assistance of two masons it was completed in 8 months, when the secrets of shot-making had to be discovered. After many persevering efforts the first shot was dropped 8th September, 1870.”

Until that point the secret methods of making shot were heavily guarded within Britain, so Joseph had to figure out his own method of creating shot. There was so much hard work that went into making such a simple thing, and that is before considering the fact that Joseph Moir climbed those 259 stairs every day to complete the tasks that had to be done in order to create shot. Firewood would have to be carried up there to heat the lead when the pile was low, as well as the heavy lead that would be melted.

Today we are largely spoiled by automated systems that can make things that are more perfect than anything that we could ever make with our hands. Yet do these automated processes bring the same level of satisfaction to their makers? To be sure, Joseph Moir was a very hard worker indeed; the proof persists today in the form of a tower that was built with his bare hands and his drive to do something different.

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

January 17, 2019, 6:03 AM AEDT