A well-regarded historian has raised concerns that Churchill's Hut, believed to be the place where the last wild Tasmanian tiger was captured, isn't the real deal, casting doubt over its listing in the Tasmanian Heritage Register.
The hut that's listed on the THR, located near the mountain Tim Shea in the Florentine Valley, is believed to have been destroyed in the bushfires that ravaged the South West Wilderness area in January this year.
Reports first emerged of its alleged destruction on January 30, with the Parks and Wildlife Service estimated to have spent more than $20,000 of taxpayers' money on protecting the site after it became aware it was under threat, according to Right to Information documents obtained by The Examiner.
Tourism Tasmania provided a grant to conserve the hut in 2007, when it was officially listed on the THR.
Oversight of Churchill's Hut, a single-room hut with a bush-pole frame, was transferred from Forestry Tasmania to PWS in 2013, when the Florentine River Regional Reserve was created. It's situated 10 metres south of the Adamsfield Track - near an old osmiridium mining outpost - and 100 metres west of Churchill Creek.
But now the hut's place on the THR has been thrown into question, with documents revealing the serious concerns of a respected heritage assessment officer at Heritage Tasmania about the legitimacy of the 'Churchill's Hut' that appears on the register.
Nic Haygarth, an author and historian based in Northern Tasmania, who has written a book on the history of osmiridium mining at Adamsfield, sent an email to Heritage Tasmania registration manager Annita Waghorn at 10:32am on January 15 - when fires in the Florentine Valley were precariously close to the hut.
Dr Haygarth says the real Churchill's Hut was built around 1925 on the northern side of the Adamsfield Track by tiger trapper and osmiridium miner Elias Churchill, who was based at Tyenna in the Derwent Valley area.
Churchill caught the last confirmed thylacine at the hut in 1933.
I think his hut fell down or burnedNic Haygarth, of Heritage Tasmania, on Elias Churchill's hut
Dr Haygarth's email was prompted by a request from the ABC to publish one of the photographs he took of Churchill's Hut - or, in Dr Haygarth's own words, the "so-called" Churchill's hut. The photos had appeared in one of his books on Tasmanian history.
In the email to Ms Waghorn, Dr Haygarth outlines why the Churchill's Hut listed on the THR "isn't the hut of Elias Churchill the tiger catcher".
"It looks nothing like Churchill's Hut as it appeared in its only surviving historic photo in 1925," he wrote, referring to a photo published in The Mercury in October of that year.
"It is in the wrong place (on wrong branch of Churchills [sic] Creek, on wrong side of track, about 1 km away)."
Churchill moved to Hobart in 1934 after being granted a licence to operate a hotel there.
"There is no evidence of Churchill ever returning to Tyenna or the Florentine Valley after 1934," Dr Haygarth wrote to Ms Waghorn. "I think his hut fell down or burned at about this time."
"There are no references to it after 1925."
Dr Haygarth also said in the email that he had read detailed accounts written by people travelling along the Adamsfield Track from the 1930s until the 1950s. None of them, he said, mentioned Churchill's Hut.
He told Ms Waghorn that the "so-called" Churchill's Hut did not appear in a 1946 aerial photo of the area in which it was supposed to have been situated. However, he said a 1957 photo of the area showed a cleared area and "a possible building".
"The earliest reference I found to it was on [a] 1958 ... map," Dr Haygarth said. "The place where 'hut' is marked on that map appears to correspond to the position of the clearing and possible building in the 1957 aerial photo."
Dr Haygarth's email was prompted by correspondence he'd had with Heritage Tasmania senior executive officer Ester Guerzoni on the previous day (January 14).
In an email sent to a communications officer at the Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment Department at 3:47pm that day, also addressed to Dr Haygarth, Ms Guerzoni raised the ABC's interest in obtaining one of Dr Haygarth's photos of the hut.
"Nic has included images of 'Churchill's Hut' and his research on the hut in one of his many published books on the history of Tasmania," Ms Guerzoni wrote. "[The ABC] was contacting Nic in his capacity as author and well-known and regarded Tasmanian historian."
"Nic responded that the image is not of the hut that everyone thinks is 'Churchill's Hut' and noted he could provide no further comment (given he is now working with HT). He did not make any reference to the entry for 'Churchill's Hut' in the Tasmanian Heritage Register being incorrect although anyone reading his research that is in the public domain and comparing it with the entry in the Heritage Register could do the comparison themselves."
A Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment Department spokesperson told The Examiner on Thursday that the Tasmanian Heritage Council had registered Churchill's Hut to the THR back in the 2000s "based on the information available at that time".
"The Heritage Council is aware of the views expressed by Dr Nic Haygarth," the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson noted that the original THR entry for Churchill's Hut specified that the site had "a contested history".
In a DPIPWE guide to assessing historic heritage significance, published in 2011, Churchill's Hut is cited as a textbook example of a site that meets the criterion of demonstrating rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Tasmanian heritage, in accordance with the Historic Cultural Heritage Act.