Collection R2 - Risby Brothers Collection

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Risby Brothers Collection


  • 1823-1910 (Creation)

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22 files

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Thomas Risby arrived in Van Diemen’s Land from Norfolk Island in 1808. He was a master boat builder, specialising in whale boats and his sons joined him in the business. In 1844 one of the sons, Joseph Edward Risby, went into the timber business and established an office and sawmill at the corner of Elizabeth and Davey Streets close to Franklin Wharf. The mill was known as ‘The Franklin Wharf Steam Saw and Bark Mills’. In 1878 this mill was burnt down, but was rebuilt and enlarged.
Some of the timber was brought from the Tasman Peninsula, also from Maydena and, later Ellendale. A fleet of timber carrying ketches was built up. There were also three steam ships, ‘Yolla’, ‘Koonyan’ and ‘Moonah’, which were sometimes used for passenger pleasure trips. The Risby vessels flew a house flag of a blue square on a white background. Occasionally timber was purchased from overseas.
In 1920 Franklin Wharf mill was again burnt down and this time not rebuilt. A second mill in Collins Street had been leased from Henry Clark & Co. and was later purchased, although the office remained in Elizabeth Street. The Elizabeth Street and Franklin Wharf site was not finally sold until 1936. Another fire occurred in 1954 which destroyed the boiler room and fuel store at Collins Street.
When J.E. Risby retired in 1885 his three sons, Arthur, Sydney and Walter continued the business as Risby Brothers. They were later succeeded by Harry E. Risby and his two sons, Charles Arthur and Jack. Charles Arthur Risby entered the business in 1932 (with a break for military service in the 1939-45 war) and became managing director in 1955.
A history of the company was prepared by David Brownlow, as part of his studies for the degree of B.A. Honours, ‘Risby Bros. Pty Ltd., The rise to prominence in the Tasmanian Timber industry, unpublished BA. Thesis, University of Tasmania, 1969.

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Administrative history

The Risby Timber Company until its demise in the mid-1990s was one of Australia's oldest family-run firms. Boat builders Thomas and Joseph Risby established a sawmill in Hobart in the mid-1840s. Thomas left, but Joseph had the business on a sound footing when his three sons took control in 1885, trading as Risby Brothers. By 1900 Risbys had ten vessels and their enterprises extended from the south-east to the west, with a depot and mill at Strahan (1897), followed by numerous bush mills in the Derwent Valley. They sold timber and timber-related products, and moved to different sites in Hobart as business expanded, particularly during the do-it-yourself boom of the 1970s. After the main Westerway mill burnt down in 1957, Risbys developed a state-of-the-art sawmill at Austins Ferry. Among numerous timber-based ventures, the company became embroiled in the conservation-forestry confrontation at Farmhouse Creek in 1986. The company closed in 1994. From:

Name of creator


Biographical history

Hobart timber merchant, Joseph Risby (1826–1889) founded Risby Brothers Timber Merchants in 1844 and the company passed through the family until it closed in the early 1990s. It was one of Tasmania’s longest running family-owned businesses.
Born 21 Aug 1826 in 'York Plains' Clarence Tasmania. Son of Thomas Risby and Diana (Morrisby) Risby. Brother of Thomas Risby, William Henry Risby, Mary Ann Risby, Eliza Risby, Henry Edmund Risby and Lavinia Rosa Risby. Husband of Isabella Wilson — married 8 Sep 1853 in Hobart. Father of Henry Edward Risby, Thomas William Young Risby, Arthur Edmund Risby, Walter Sydney Risby, Florence Augusta Wilson Risby, Oscar Percival Risby, Charles Wallace Risby, Amy Josephine Risby and Louis John Wilson Risby. Died 30 Oct 1889 at Napoleon St Hobart. He was a Hobart Town alderman 1862-1867, & 1869-1874

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Deposited on loan by Risby Bros. Pty Ltd., 1970

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Scope and content

Collection consists of personal diaries and photographs relating to Risby Brothers, sawmillers and timber merchants

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Conditions governing access

May be consulted. Permission from owners necessary for copying or publication.

Conditions governing reproduction

This material is made available for personal research and study purposes under the University of Tasmania Standard Copyright Licence. For any further use permission should be obtained from the copyright owners. For assistance please contact

When reusing this material, please cite the reference number and provide the following acknowledgement:
“Courtesy of the UTAS Library Special & Rare Collections”

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Publication note

Risby Bros. Pty. Limited : the rise to prominence in the Tasmanian timber industry / by David Brownlow. Thesis (B.A.(Hons.)--University of Tasmania, 1969.

Publication note

Against the odds : Risbys - Tasmanian timber pioneers 1826-1995 / Alex Graeme-Evans. - Morris Miller-Book CS 2009 .R57 1995

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Dates of creation revision deletion

CE August 2018




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