Devonport is a city in northern Tasmania, Australia, located on the lands of the Pannilerpanner clan of the Palawa nation. It is situated at the mouth of the Mersey River. Devonport had an urban population of 23,046 at the 2016 Australian census. When counting the larger urban area, including Latrobe, the population total was 30,297 at June 2018. The area has grown at an average annual rate of 0.17% year-on-year over the preceding five years.
The first European settlement before 1850 was on a block of land at Frogmore, near present-day Latrobe. In 1850, a settler named Oldaker occupied land at present-day Devonport. Saw milling and coal mining developed with settlers arriving from England in 1854 on board the sailing ship 'Balmoral'. During the 1850s the twin settlements of Formby and Torquay were established on opposite banks at the mouth of the Mersey River. Torquay on the eastern shore was the larger community with police, post, magistrate, at least three hotels, shipyards and stores. A river ferry service connected the two communities. Between 1870 and 1880 the shipping industry grew and work was undertaken to deepen the mouth of the river. When the mouth of the river could support a shipping industry the first regular steamer services commenced, operating directly between the Mersey and Melbourne.
In 1882 the Marine Board building was built and remains one of the oldest standing buildings in Devonport.
In 1889 the Bluff lighthouse was completed. The turn of the century saw the railway make a significant difference to the Formby community. It combined a railhead and port facilities in the one place. A wharf was created on the west bank, close to the railway and warehouses. The railway brought a building boom to Formby. In 1890 a public vote united Torquay and Formby, and the settlements became the town of Devonport.
The Victoria bridge was opened in 1902 which enabled a land transport link between Devonport and East Devonport.
Devonport was proclaimed a city by Prince Charles of Wales on 21 April 1981 in a ceremony conducted on the Devonport Oval.
The cross river ferry service was discontinued in 2014 after 160 years of continuous service when the "Torquay" ferry was taken out of service. It has since resumed operating.
In December 2021, a jumping castle and two zorbs were lifted into the air by a gust of a wind at Hillcrest primary school, located in the south-west Devonport, killing five children.
Tasmanian police have released the names of the five children killed in Thursday’s tragic jumping castle accident in Devonport.
The five children who died are Addison Stewart, 11, Zane Mellor, 12, Jye Sheehan, 12, Jalailah Jayne-Maree Jones, 12, and Peter Dodt, 12.
“Our thoughts continue to be with the families, loved ones and all those affected by this tragedy,” a police spokesperson said.
Police released the details with the permission of the children’s families.
The children were grade five and six students at Hillcrest primary school in Devonport celebrating the end of the school year.
They died from injuries sustained when the bouncy castle was lifted into the air by a sudden wind gust. Several zorb balls, with children inside, also flew into the air.
Three children remain in a critical condition, while police said one child had been released and was recovering at home.
Earlier on Friday, the Tasmanian premier, Peter Gutwein, said the Devonport tragedy “is beyond comprehension” as police begin piecing together the cause of Thursday’s tragedy.
Speaking to reporters in Devonport on Friday, he said there had been a huge outpouring of grief and support in the small coastal city on Thursday night.
“The tragedy which occurred yesterday is beyond comprehension,” Gutwein said. “It is devastating, heartbreaking. It’s just simply incomprehensible.”
Witnesses told police that the children were lifted about 10 metres before falling to the ground.
Gutwein said he had been speaking to community members and offered his support to the family. “As a parent, I cannot understand how the parents of those who have lost children must be feeling,” he said.
“But as a parent, I hope that they can understand that we are all feeling for you as well. As the commissioner said yesterday, a full investigation is under way and the coroner has visited the scene. I make a commitment to all of the families affected by this tragedy that we will stand with you and we will support you.”
Hillcrest primary school was holding a “Big Day In” celebration to mark the end of the school year, with the jumping castle and a number of inflatable zorb balls.
There were close to 40 year 5 and 6 students taking part in the end-of-term activities when this incident occurred.
Several adults were also there when the inflatable equipment lifted into the air and they gave the children first aid until emergency services arrived.
“Nine children were seriously injured. Tragically five of those children have died, three boys and two girls,” police commissioner Tasmania Darren Hine said. “One was 11 years old, four were 12 years old. Three remain in a critical condition at the Royal Hobart hospital. One is now recovering from home.”
Asked if it was tethered to the ground, Hine would only say that it would form part of the investigation.
They will also be investigating how high it flew, whether all the children injured were inside the jumping castle, and where the strong wind came from.
The education department secretary, Tim Bullard, said they were supporting people on the ground.
“At Hillcrest school today, we have a team of our own professional support staff, including school psychologists, social workers and chaplains, supporting children and their familes, and the Department of Health is also assisting with access to child and adolescent mental health services,” he said.
“Together we are working together to ensure that those affected are receiving the care and assistance that they need at this time.”
The mayor of Devonport, Annette Rockliff, said the community was “in shock”.
“Certainly we are still trying to get our heads around how we could possibly be losing these children, and, as has been mentioned, we are a very connected community.
“Everybody knows somebody, and we are already seeing people wrapping their arms around each other and supporting each other and I know that that will continue, but we as council will certainly be working with counselling services and social responders.”
ABC reporter Monte Bovill, who arrived at the school just after the tragedy occurred on Thursday, said over Twitter it “was hard to put into words”.
“At the height of awfulness when I arrived, I put down my camera. A parent came up to me and hugged me. She sat with me and said ‘we’re human’,” he tweeted.
He said parents were running to the school to collect their children.
Two female police officers had been some of the first at the scene. In the afternoon Bovill photographed the pair collapsed on the ground, holding each other.
Neighbour Bob Smith’s veranda overlooks the primary school, he said he came out as the castle flew into the air. “Then I saw kids on the ground,” he told the Mercury. “There was one really strong gust of wind on what is a beautiful calm day.
“At first we thought it might have been an emergency services training exercise then the reality of what was happening kicked in.”
People gathered outside a primary school in Devonport on Thursday night for a candlelight vigil and flowers and messages of sympathy have been left near the gates.
Some residents turned off their Christmas lights as a mark of respect and businesses closed early.
“People who just have no connection to the school or any of the families have just come in crying and grieving over the loss of the children in something that was supposed to be a celebration,” Fiona Morrison, a member of the local Uniting Church, told Nine Network on Friday. “They just can’t believe what has happened.
“Last night, people turned off their Christmas lights in respect, or turned on their Christmas lights to offer the other children some hope, some light, at this time when they are grieving.”
Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, who went to school in Devonport, broke down on channel Nine talking about the tragedy. Lambie said the accident was “unthinkable” and “beyond imaginable”.
“It is just … just horrific, you know. A week before Christmastime,” she told Today.
“Imagine those kids having those Christmas presents under the tree … it is just bloody awful.”
Tasmania’s governor Barbara Baker released a statement on Friday morning saying she stood with the Devonport community and would provide whatever comfort she could.
“Our thoughts are with those affected; immediate families, classmates and their parents, the school staff, first responders and the entire Devonport community,” she said.
The coroner visited the scene on Thursday and police are investigating and gathering evidence, but Tasmania police commissioner Darren Hine said the investigation would take “quite some time”.