Circular Head, commonly known as 'The Nut', was chosen as the centre of operations. Stud livestock, implements, craftsmen and indentured labourers from England along with convicts assigned locally were landed nearby in October 1826. Despite directions to the contrary, the Aboriginal occupants of the area were at times badly treated by company agents resulting in large numbers of murders and their eventual disappearance.
Highfield, located 6 km west of Stanley, was designed for Edward Curr. Construction was commenced late in May 1832. Later additions were designed during 1844-45 for the company's second agent, James Alexander Gibson. Convict barracks, barns, stables (1836-37), chapel (1838-42) and gardens are features of the estate. Highfield is still standing today and was bought by the state government in 1982.
Under Edward Curr the company explored, surveyed and developed the northwest. It was from Stanley that the foundations of centres such as Burnie (named after a company director) were laid.
The company’s sheep grazing was a failure. Distances were great, and transport slow, if Curr wanted to change standard procedure he was lucky if he got approval in eight months from the company base in London. The sheep were under torrential rain, snow and predation of Tasmanian tigers. The VDL Co. lost on an investment equivalent today to millions of dollars, & 14 years after his arrival, Curr was given his notice of dismissal in 1841. After his dismissal Edward Curr moved to Port Phillip to become a prominent citizen and parliamentarian.
By 1840 the company was selling to private buyers and Stanley was officially created and named in 1842. John Lee Archer designed the town but its development was relatively slow. The port was opened in 1827, the town wasn't surveyed til the mid-1840s and the first school opened 1841 and the Post Office in 1845but was known as Circular Head until 1882.
By 1848 the population of Stanley was recorded as 127 men, 41 women and 65 children. The town could boast 20 shops, 60 houses and cottages, a church and parsonage, a school, house of correction, police office and magistrate’s house, customs house and post office.
Maritime transport was important and remained north-west Tasmania's sole means of entry for many years. A coach road was built and the first coach service between Stanley and Burnie was established in 1880. It took 6-7 hours to make the journey. Stanley remained unconnected by rail to Launceston until 1922. The first railway was between Stanley and Trowutta (33 km. south-west), opened in 1911.
In 1936 a submarine telegraph and telephone cable from Apollo Bay to Stanley provided the first connection to Tasmania from the mainland.