Lieutenant John Bowen sent out several exploration parties from the settlement at Risdon, one of which journeyed across the hills to discover a rich valley of coal and the river which was subsequently named the Coal River.
Early in 1805 a large expanse of water (Pittwater) was located and here they envisaged a fine harbour and a city on its banks. However, it was found that the water was too shallow for the passage of boats.
By 1808 several settlers were working small farms in the district and by 1815, large quantities of wheat were being grown and a flour mill had been built. The following year a site for a township was purchased and this was established by 1819, by which time approximately sixty farms were operating and the district had become firmly established as the ‘Granary of Australia’. In June, 1821, Governor Macquarie visited the district and named the new township of Sorell in honour of Colonel William Sorell, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land.
A well known resident of the time was Mr. James Gordon, the first Magistrate , who received a grant of 600 acres in the Pittwater area which he named ‘Forcett’. From 1815 he farmed his property as well as engaging in trade with Sydney, New Zealand and Macquarie Island.
In 1823 the population of Sorell numbered, 133, of whom 96 were convicts and their families. Descendents of many of these families still live in the district.
During those early years Sorell residents relied on primitive ferries for the crossing of Pittwater, or had to journey by way of Richmond to Hobart. In 1854 Sir William Denison began negotiations which finally resulted in the construction of a causeway which then took eight years to complete, the first vehicles making the crossing in 1872. The causeway was reconstructed in recent years and little of the original work is still in evidence.
During this period business and some community services were established. However, it was after the first Municipal Council was proclaimed in 1862, that further progress came. The electric telegraph service was introduced in 1876, the Bellerive-Sorell railway line was built in 1892, a water supply connected in 1916 and electricity came to the town in 1930.