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Launceston, TAS

Handsome historic city and Tasmania's second largest centre.

Launceston is Tasmania’s second largest centre. With a population of 106,153 in 2010 (it has nearly doubled in the last twenty years) it has changed from being little more than a large country town to becoming an important centre with a thriving tertiary education population. It is an ideal starting point for any tour of Tasmania being close to Cradle Mountain, the island's beautiful north coast, the historic and charming towns of Evandale. Longford and Perth, and containing an extraordinary number of elegant nineteenth century buildings. It has been suggested that Launceston has the greatest concentration of large nineteenth century buildings of any city in Australia. Certainly it has a distinctive ambience and charm and its major attractions - Cataract Gorge and the beautiful City Park - are unique and memorable.


Launceston is located at the southern end of the Tamar Valley and lies 200 km north of Hobart via the Midland Highway.


Origin of Name

There's a certain level of ingratiating sycophancy in naming a colonial town after the Governor's birthplace. Launceston was named after Launceston in Cornwall which is where Governor Philip Gidley King was born. It had previously been named Patersonia after Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson who had decided to move south from Port Dalrymple - the first colony on Van Diemen's Land's north coast.


Things to See and Do

Launceston Heritage Walks
There is a very detailed, Launceston Heritage Walks which covers most of the attractions in the city. It includes a detailed map and description of City Park; a good map with accompanying photographs of the walks around Cataract Gorge Reserve from Richie's Mill to the Duck Reach Power Station; and information and photographs of 26 historic buildings and locations in the heart of the city.  It offers a comprehensive overview of the city's magnificent architecture with a walk which starts at the Johnstone & Wilmot Store and, after 22 blocks including City Park and Princes Square, returns to Civic Square. The walks are divided between an orange trail - Merchants Machinery - which lasts approximately 70 minutes and looks at the industrial heart of the port of Launceston; the Pink Trail - Rags to Riches - which lasts 90 minutes and focuses on the churches and commercial buildings; and the Blue Trail - Government to Gorge - which moves from the Administrative heart of the city to Cataract Gorge. Another useful map with detailed descriptions is Albert to Victoria - a walk along Cameron Street - which can be downloaded at https://launcestonhistory.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Albert-to-Victoria.pdf.

The brochure offers a comprehensive overview of the city's magnificent architecture with a walk which starts at the Johnstone & Wilmot Store and, after 22 blocks including City Park and Princes Square returns to Civic Square.
The highlights of the walk include:
2 - Paterson Barracks - built by convicts this Georgian building was originally the Commissariat Store. It became the home of the Launceston Volunteers in 1880. They were an important force when the British troops withdrew from the town n 1870. The Launceston City Council website describes the barracks as: "built by 1830, was described at the time as the very best brick building in Van Diemen's Land. It was built as a commissariat store, designed to house foods and supplies not only for the military and government officials in the young settlement, but also free settlers assisted by the government to establish in the new land. Today it is home to the sixteenth Field Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery, and Launceston's cadet units."
3 - Custom House - completed in 1888 the Customs House is a reminder of a brief period in the late 19th century when Tasmania was genuinely wealthy. The Launceston City Council website explains: "The fine Custom House, with its elegant portico and Corinthian columns, reminds us of Launceston's role in the mining boom of the 1880s. The ore from the rich tin mine at Mt Bischoff was processed in the town, plus Launceston supplied the mine fields on the west coast. Trade flourished, and the customs duties contributed to a booming Tasmanian economy." 
8 - Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery - located in the old Launceston Railway Workshops these "Superb new galleries feature Tasmanian Aboriginal shell necklaces, youth arts, the stories of migration to Tasmania and the history of the state’s railways. The former life of this unique workplace is also revealed. Star attraction is the Blacksmith Shop, an intact relic of the state’s industrial past."
9 - Albert Hall and City Park - Launceston held a Tasmanian International Exhibition in 1891-1892 and the Albert Hall, which took two years to build, was the centrepiece. Amusingly it was recognised as the 11th largest public hall in the world at the time. What were the other ten? Although its primary function has always been concerts and major public events it was used as a temporary hospital during the great influenza outbreak of 1919 and as temporary accommodation for flood victims during the 1929 floods.
Behind the Albert Hall is the City Park - five hectares of lawns, flower beds,  European deciduous trees, a kangaroo enclosure and a monkey island, and the fascinating John Hart conservatory with its hothouse blooms. The City Park dates from 1808 when it was established as a garden in front of the Government Cottage. In 1838 the Launceston Horticultural Society was formed and it held its first show at the Government Cottage. It was under Governor Franklin that the gardens were expanded. By 1883 they were taken over by the municipality. The highlights of the gardens are the Jubilee Fountain which was erected in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee and the Macaque Monkey enclosure. The monkeys came from Japan in 1980 and were exchanged for some Tasmanian wallabies.
10 - Batman Fawkner Inn - Originally known as the Cornwall Hotel and built by John Fawkner in 1824. It was here that John Batman and his friends met and planned their expeditions across Bass Strait to establish a new colony at Port Phillip Bay which would eventually become Melbourne. The hotel also played an historic role when, in 1860, the Anti-Transportation League met and passed a motion designed to end convict transportation.
14 - Macquarie House - this Georgian warehouse was built by John Sprunt for local merchant, Henry Reed, in 1830. It was saved from demolition in the 1970s. It was from here that Fawkner and Batman got their supplies before heading for Port Phillip Bay.
15 - Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery - Located at 2 Wellington Street, the museum and art gallery was established in 1891 and is currently open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm daily. Admission free. It has an extensive collection which offers an insight into the history of Launceston including its Aboriginal, industrial and convict past. It is considered one of the best regional museums in Australia with major collection in natural and physical sciences and an excellent Phenomena Factory providing hands-on education for children. Check out http://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au for details. The gallery has a particularly fine and extensive collection.
18 - The Old Umbrella Shop - Located at 60 George Street and built in the 1860s as a grocery store. It was revitalised in 1918 with Tasmanian blackwood and owned by three generations of the Shott family who sold blackwood umbrellas and blackwood souvenirs. The shop is a rare example of a Victorian shop front and interior which are basically intact. It has been home to the National Trust since 1978. It is open from 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 9.00 a.m. - noon on Saturday. tel: (03) 6331 9248. Check http://www.nationaltrust.org.au/tas/old-umbrella-shop for more details.
22 - The Synagogue was built in 1844. It is characterised by a public facade which was typical of the Egyptian revival period of architecture at the time. It is one of the oldest synagogues in Australia and was built with £500 which was borrowed by the town's substantial Jewish community.
24 - Princes Square was originally known as St John's Square. Today it is the finest and most impressive of all the city's squares. However it started life as a rubbish dump and in 1843 was being used as a military parade ground. It is notable for its fountain and handsome Georgian and Victorian buildings. During the 19th century it was a hub for the city with activities including a hot air balloon attempt; the public hanging of two bushrangers; and, in 1859, the establishment of a fountain which had been exhibited at the Paris Exhibition of 1858. The Square was opened in 1859 and renamed Princes Square after the visit of the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868.
26 - Morton House is an elegant two storey Georgian House originally known as St John's Hospital where, in 1847, a Dr Pugh carried out the first use of anaesthetic in Australia. It was named after Dr Morton who had pioneered anaesthetics in the USA.

In reality every building listed on the Launceston Heritage Walks is worth investigating. The historical enjoyment of Launceston is to take your time, mooch around the city centre, linger at each building, and try to imagine what this remarkable city was like in its heyday during the 1880s and 1890s.


Other Attractions in the Area

Beyond the City Centre
Cataract Gorge
One of the city's highlights is the beautiful park at Cataract Gorge which includes a chairlift across the basin; excellent nature walks through the surrounding bush; a charming walk from the city centre on the Zig Zag Track; and walks through the Cliff Grounds to the Alexandra Suspension Bridge. The area was developed in 1899 with the first suspension bridge being built in 1904. Cataract Gorge, particularly the area near the Band Rotunda and the Swimming Pool, is a popular location for family picnics. There is a 90 minute walk from the Alexandra Suspension Bridge to the Duck Reach Power Station which was the first municipal power supply in Australia. There is an excellent map which includes clear directions from the CBD and the walks around the First and Second Basin. It can be downloaded at http://svc146.bookeasy.com/images/launceston/HeritageWalksPrintableBro.pdf.

Franklin House
Franklin House, located at 413 Hobart Road, Youngtown, is one Launceston's major historic attractions. This grand Georgian house was built by convicts in 1838 for a Launceston brewer, Britton Jones. By 1842 it had changed hands and, for the next 40 years, it was the W.K. Hawkes School for Boys. The National Trust in Tasmania was specifically created in 1960 to operate and manage the property. They assumed ownership in 1961. The house has been tastefully furnished with significant historic pieces including an 18th century mahogany clock, an organ, Tasmanian cedar piano, French musical box and a range of interesting portraits . The extensive use of cedar for doors, windows and skirting boards has recreated a typical affluent Georgian home. It is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm Monday to Saturday and noon to 4.00 pm on Sunday. tel: (03) 6344 6233. Check www.nationaltrust.org.au/tas/FranklinHouse for details.



* Prior to European settlement the area had been inhabited by members of the Tyerrernotepanner Aboriginal language group for an estimated 40,000 years.

* In 1798 Bass and Flinders, during the voyage in which they discovered that Tasmania was an island separated from the mainland by Bass Strait, sailed into and explored the Tamar River valley. They explored the river for 16 days and named it Port Dalrymple after Alexander Dalrymple, the British Admiralty's hydrographer.

* The first European to settle in the Tamar Valley was Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson in 1804 who ran the HMS Buffalo aground at York Cove. He camped at the present site of George Town. The early settlement was moved across the river to York Town a few weeks later.

* In 1805 an expedition reached the present site of Launceston. They were so impressed that a blockhouse was built and by March, 1806 Paterson had decided to relocate to the area.

* By 1824 Launceston was the official headquarters of the island’s northern military command. This was against the wishes of Governor Macquarie who had favoured George Town.

* In 1826 Launceston was officially surveyed.

* By 1827 the town's population had reached 2,000. It had become an important port and was shipping wool and wheat produced in the surrounding districts.

* By the 1830s, although it was still a military town, it was being used as a port of call by whalers and sealers.

* In 1852 it was proclaimed a municipality.

* In 1881 a stock exchange was opened in Launceston mainly to trade stocks in the tin mines at Mount Bischoff and gold mines at Beaconsfield.

* In 1889 Launceston was declared a city.

* In 1911 electric trams were introduced.

* Today Launceston is known as Tasmania's Garden City because of the large numbers of parks and gardens.


Visitor Information

Launceston Travel and Information Centre, 68-72 Cameron Street, Launceston, tel: 1800 651 827, open weekdays 9.00 am - 5.00 pm, weekends 9.00 am - 1.00 pm.


Useful Websites

The city's official tourism website - http://www.visitlauncestontamar.com.au/ - has useful information about attractions, eating and accommodation.

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