Stanley is an historic town on a peninsula extending into Bass Strait in the north-west of Tasmania. The peninsula is about 8 km. long, with a prominent volcanic plug known as the Nut. Stanley is west of, and immediately behind the Nut, otherwise known as Circular Head.

In 1825 Van Dieman’s Land Company (London) was granted land for sheep breeding and wool. The grant included the remote area around Stanley. Settlers began arriving in 1826. The company sold land to private buyers by 1840 and in 1842 it instigated the design of a town by John Lee Archer. It was named Stanley after the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The company built as its headquarters “Highfield” in 1835, now on the Register of the National Estate. It was occupied by Edward Curr until 1842, when he moved to Port Phillip to become a prominent citizen and parliamentarian.

Stanley remained unconnected by rail to Launceston until 1922. The first railway was between Stanley and Trowutta (33 km. south-west), opened in 1911. A coach road was built only as late as the 1880s. Consequently, maritime transport was important and Stanley remained north-west Tasmania’s sole port of entry for many years. In 1875 Stanley was described in The Australian Handbook as –


In 1878 Joseph Lyons, Australian Prime Minister 1932-39, was born in Stanley. The house where he was born is on the Register of the National Estate.

By the end of the century Stanley had a timber industry, dairying and agriculture. It was the administrative centre of the Circular Head municipality until 1920 when the role passed to Smithton, 14 km. south-west. The Stanley hinterland had a mixed agricultural economy, including grazing, cereals, vegetables and orchards. In 1904 the Handbook’s description was –


In 1939 the Commonwealth Government acquired the Nut for postal and telegraphic services. The site was handed over to the Tasmania Government for a State Reserve in 1980. The Nut is a site for migratory birds – shearwaters and orange bellied parrots – and for kestrels, falcons and fairy penguins.

Stanley’s two main industries are fishing and tourism. It has sixteen places of accommodation and eleven restaurants and cafes. There are numerous historic buildings, a folk museum and restored buildings on the Highfield site. Professional fishermen supply one-and-a-half million kilos of fish, lobster, abalone, etc., a year through the processor Stanleyfish Pty. Ltd.

The census populations of Stanley have been 613 (1911) 289 (1954) and 576 (1991).

Further Reading:

  • Buckby, Pauline, Around Circular Head, Denbar Publishers, 1984.
  • Close, Margaret, Historic Stanley, 1975.
  • A Travellers Guide to the Far North West of Tasmania, Circular Head Council, c.1995. , Circular Head Council, c.1995.

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