As you take time to explore Launceston, the strong links to our Colonial heritage become evident. Georgian buildings line bluestone-kerned roads punctuated with Victorian gardens, and a human-scaled network of streets and alleyways thread the fabric of our City.
However, Launceston’s rich history reaches back much farther – for 40,000 years the Palawa people (Tasmanian Aboriginal people) lived in harmony with the land throughout Tasmania, the tribal groups who lived in the Tamar area known as the Leterremairrener, Panninher and Tyerrernotepanner peoples.
European explorers Bass and Flinders first arrived in 1798, after setting out to test the theory that the great continent (we call it the mainland) and Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) were separated by a small strait. Landing in the lower reaches of the Tamar at a place they named Port Dalrymple, Bass and Flinders laid the groundwork for settlement of the area by Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson in 1804. Paterson and his party originally set up camp where George Town now stands, a few weeks later moving across the river to York Town, before finally moving to Launceston’s present-day site in 1806. For short while the fledgling township was called Patersonia, before Paterson himself changed it to Launceston – in honour of Governor Philip Gidley King, who was born in the ancient seaside settlement Cornwall, UK of the same name.
Launceston has a rich and vibrant heritage, and, ever the early-adopters, we can lay claim to many Australian ‘firsts’. The first anaesthetic in the Southern Hemisphere was used here, Launceston was the first Australian city to have underground sewers and to be lit by hydro-electricity.
Launceston has one of the most intact early cityscapes in the country, its early Colonial and Victorian buildings – some dating back to 1824 – give the city a wonderful historic character. It is Australia’s third-oldest city, with a fascinating history traced in its beautiful old buildings and streetscapes. These buildings are kept alive to this day – bustling with social and commerce activity – repurposed as fashion boutiques and bars, banks and high-tech offices.
Completed by 1830, Paterson Barracks, “the very best brick building in Van Diemen’s Land”, was designed to house foods and supplies for the new settlement. Still in use today, it is home to the sixteenth Field Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery, and Launceston’s Army cadets. The neo-classical Custom House, with a refined portico and soaring Corinthian columns,harks back to the mining boom of the 1880s. The ore from the rich tin mine at Mt Bischoff was processed here, with Launceston also supplying the mine fields on the west coast. Trade flourished, and the customs duties contributed to a booming Tasmanian economy. The public buildings in St John Street reflect the growth of self-government in Tasmania. Completed in 1861, the Town Hall housed the post office and within that the telegraph office. In 1872 the first message direct from England was received, taking 24 hours to transmit – hard to comprehend in these days of 24 hour news cycles and constant connection!