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Oatlands, TAS

Town with the greatest display of Georgian houses in Australia

Oatlands is proud of its historic past. It reputedly has the largest collection of sandstone Georgian houses of any town in the country. There are 138 sandstone buildings in the town of which 87 are located on the main street. Interestingly the lack of trees and the simple Georgian houses produces a rather severe streetscape. However the remarkable Callington Mill, a working Lincolnshire wind-driven flour mill, and the richness of the local architecture, make Oatlands a perfect destination for people wanting to explore an historic village while avoiding the tourist crowds of Richmond.

Location

Oatlands is located on the Midlands Highway 84 km north of Hobart and 116 km south of Launceston.

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Origin of Name

Governor Lachlan Macquarie recognised the present site as "a most eligible situation for a town" and named it "Oatlands" on 3 June, 1821. The name is said to refer to a rich grain-growing area in Macquarie's native Scotland but this is almost certainly  incorrect. Oatlands was the name of the seat of the Duke of York in Surrey. The name was applied as a compliment to the Duke of York, the second son of George II. As Macquarie had named the district the York Plains it was a natural extension to name the town Oatlands.

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Things to See and Do

Exploring the Historic Buildings
There is an excellent free brochure titled Welcome to Oatlands: Everything you'll need to know to enjoy your visit which includes a well-illustrated guide to many of the most interesting buildings in the town. Oatlands is recognised as having the largest collection of pre-1837 buildings in Australia with a total of 87 stone buildings in the High Street and a total of 138 within the town boundaries.

1. The Callington Mill Walk or Miller's Way
Callington Mill
The town's major attraction is the remarkable Callington Mill on Old Mill Lane which not only dominates the townscape but is the only working Lincolnshire-style windmill in the Southern Hemisphere. In fact it works so well that the website - http://www.callingtonmill.com.au - offers a range of flours from plain flour to natural buckwheat flour which can be purchased. The mill was built in 1836 by John Vincent who, at the time, was 57 years old. Vincent, with his wife and seven children, had arrived in Hobart Town in 1823 on the Elizabeth with £869. He was an entrepreneur and successful publican who established the Norwood Inn in Bothwell and the Bothwell Castle Inn at York Plains. Vincent quickly lost enthusiasm for the mill. He tried to sell it in 1839. The advertisement for the property offers a detailed description: "The Callington Mill, in the township of Oatlands, considered one of the first rate windmills in the country, and surpassed by none in its situation for business. Fitted up with two pair of good stones, (French burrs) dressing and smut machines ; together with a very respectable dwelling house, attached to which is a counting house and small store, washhouse and servants' bedroom. On the premises is a good granary, stable, chaise and cart houses, with piggeries and fowl house, and about two acres of garden ground in cultivation. Also, to be let with the above, are six Cottages, all occupied, and paying good rents. Application to be made to Mr. John Vincent, the proprietor."

Failing to attract a buyer, in 1840 Vincent handed it over to his son John Jubilee Vincent. At the time the mill was producing 20-30 bushels of flour an hour. In 1850 the mill was sold to Thomas Jillett who built a steam mill which led to production rising to 5-7 tons of flour a day. By 1862 the property comprised a two storey flour mill driven by steam and wind, a two roomed cottage for the miller with a large store, a three stall stable, a house, a baker's shop "and two cottages fronting the main street with stable and coach house adjoining, a large and well arranged dwelling house of twelve well-proportioned rooms, four stall stable with hay loft, cow shed, piggeries and yard". The mill continued to operate until 1892. In 1909 a storm blew the sails away and in 1912 it was gutted by fire. It was restored by the National Trust with funds made available as part of a Bicentennial Gift to the Nation. For more information check out http://www.callingtonmill.com.au. It is possible to go on a 45 minute tour of the mill which leaves the Visitor Centre on the hour between 10.00 am - 3.00 pm.

A bonus at Callington Mill is Callington Park Machiner, a collection of historic agricultural machinery which was originally housed at the Oatlands Agricultural Museum but was moved to Callington Park (behind the mill) in 2001. There is a brochure which describes the machinery and provides information about such arcane agricultural equipment as a hand pressed hay baler, an old rabbit poison cart and a horse drawn chaff cutter.

2. The Military Precinct at Oatlands
In 1826 skilled tradesmen from the Royal Staff Corps were sent to Oatlands to build a military precinct comprising the Oatlands Gaol, Commissariat Store, a guard house, Court House and the Commandant's Quarters. There is a detailed brochure - Military Precinct - A town built to become the interior capital of Van Diemen's Land - which lists the sites of eleven places which formed the nucleus of the military station. Sadly many of the buildings have been demolished. Their stories are still of great interest and the remaining buildings and ruins are of great importance in the convict and military history of Tasmania. Of the buildings left the following are worth inspecting:
The Commissariat Store
Built in 1827 this is the oldest building in the Military Precinct. Where most of the other buildings were constructed from logs this was built out of stone because the stores, which were housed in the building, had to be protected from theft.
The Old Gaol
There is a brochure - Oatlands Gaol - available at the Visitor Centre which provides a very detailed history of the gaol. Work began on the gaol in 1827 and the first gaol was built out of logs which were hauled by bullock teams to the site. History tells us that it had a terrible reputation with the first gaoler being removed because he was sexually harassing the sentries.  The second gaoler being dismissed for “taking convict women into the bush”. The third gaoler being sacked for corruption and greed. And Joseph Masters, the last gaoler at the log gaol, being  fired because his wife was having wild, drunken parties with some of the inmates.

In 1834 work started on a new gaol which was designed by the architect, John Lee Archer. It took two years to complete, required 2,000 loads of stones and up to 68 convicts, and took two years to complete. It was a harsh place where 18 men were hanged between 1844-1860. Until 1856, when the hangings were moved inside the gaol, they were a popular public spectacle with crowds gathering to witness the punishment.

The gaol was closed in 1863 and handed over to the Municipal Council. In the 1930s most of it was dismantled. Only the gaol arch (which was moved but then moved back to its original site), some of the reduced walls and the gaoler's residence remain. Today the gaoler's residence contains an interpretative display on the history of the site with some excellent photographs taken before the demolition occurred. For information about opening times tel: (03) 6254 1212 or ask at the Visitor Centre.
Court House
The Oatlands Court House, located on the corner of Campbell Street and The Esplanade, is the oldest building in Oatlands. It was built by two convicts in 1829 and was a single-room structure. It was originally constructed as a combined Chapel and Police Office. In 1829 the local Police Magistrate, Thomas Anstey, wrote "I think the size of the building is 32 ft by 20 ft, it is constructed of solid masonry and shingled - and I believe it will be the cheapest work of this kind ever performed by Government: it having been erected and covered in by two men wearing their irons the whole time; and who would otherwise have been employed during those three or four months in breaking stones on the road." In 1835 front rooms, designed by the Colonial Architect John Lee Archer, were added. It became a fine example of a Georgian public building with an ornate wagon-headed ceiling and 12 pane windows. There is a very detailed account of the history of the building at http://www.southernmidlands.tas.gov.au/assets/southernmidlands_oatlands_court_house_interps_plan_volume_2.pdf. As the Supreme Court it presided over many convictions which led to punishments including floggings and even saw judges handing down the death penalty. It was purchased by the National Trust in 1977 and since 2005 has been owned by the Southern Midlands Council.

3. Street Tour of Oatlands
The brochure - Welcome to Oatlands: Everything you'll need to know to enjoy your visit - lists a total of 51 buildings of interest in the town of which 42 are in High Street (the main street) of town. The smart thing is to get the brochure (it is free) and simply walk down the main street admiring this remarkable collection of Georgian houses and hotels most of which have been made from sandstone quarried near Lake Dulverton. Each building has its own significance and it is hard to choose places of particular interest. However, make sure you don't miss:
Oatlands Wood Cottage - Corner of High Street and Stanley Street, where the front "garden" has been cut out of the local sandstone. It is a reminder that the whole village sits on large deposits of easily accessible building material.
Holyrood House - Located at 40 High Street it was built in 1840 by John Whitefoord, the Oatlands police magistrate. By 1852 it was a grammar school and in 1860 it was purchased by Dr Wells who later sold it to Dr Morehead. It became known as "the doctor's house". Set in two acres of gardens, full of deciduous trees and shrubs, it is one of the town's most impressive buildings. In recent times it has been both a restaurant and a private home.
Commandant's House - Located at 67 High Street and built in 1832 this was the residence of the Military Commandant when the town was a military outpost. It has had Federation-era additions.
Commissariat Store and Guard House - Located at 79 High Street and erected in 1827 this is the oldest building in the Military Precinct. Where most of the other buildings were constructed from logs, this was built out of stone because the stores, which were housed in the building, needed to be protected from theft.
Elm Cottage - Located at 82 High Street and dating from 1837 when it was built by Joseph McEwan this was where Irish political prisoner, Kevin O'Doherty, stayed in 1848. Later it was a girl's school and a bank.
Oatlands Lodge - Located at 92 High Street this handsome building was completed in the 1830s as a private residence. It became a girl's school and a shop and has now returned to a private residence.
Lake Frederick Inn - Located at 99-103 High Street and built by George Atkinson in 1834 this handsome building was originally known as Lake Frederick Inn. It changed to Dulverton Inn in 1836 and eventually became known as the White Horse Inn in 1853.

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Other Attractions in the Area

Guided Tours of Oatlands
There are a number of guided tours of the town which can be booked at the Callington Mill Visitor Centre, tel: (03) 6254 1212 and include a guided tour of Callington Mill and the surrounding buildings; a tour of the Oatlands Military Precinct called the Executioner's Walk; a tour of the High Street titled the Oatlands Town Tour; and a visit to the Court House titled the Oatlands Supreme Court House Tour. It is also possible to inspect these sites without a guide.

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History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area was occupied by members of the Paredarerme Aboriginal language group.

* Around 1806 it was known that the bushranger, Richard Lemon, was living in the area.

* The district was first explored by Europeans when Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his party passed through in 1811.

* On 3 June, 1821 Governor Macquare recorded in his journal: "... halted at the Great Lagoon about six miles from Wright's in Westmoreland Plains and fixed on the site of a township on the banks of said lagoon, naming it Oatlands. This is the most eligible situation for a town being well-watered and in the midst of a rich fertile country."

* Macquarie decided that a road should be built from George Town (at the time it was known as Port Dalrymple) to Hobart. A number of military posts were established along the road and Oatlands was chosen as one of the sites.

* A military detachment, H.M. 3rd Regiment of Foot (Buffs), was stationed in the town in 1825. The following year it became a Police District.

* In 1827 Governor Arthur decided to clear trees and establish Oatlands as a village. Around this time there were 35 skilled tradesmen in the village.

* By 1829 free settlers, said to be "very respectable", were moving into the town.

* In 1832 the town was surveyed by Surveyor Sharland who, believing that Oatlands would become one of Tasmania's major centres, marked out more than 80 km of streets. In the next decade the town grew rapidly.

* The Oatlands Gaol, the largest regional gaol in Van Diemen's Land, was completed in 1836.

* Callington Mill was built in 1837. It is still working today.

* The Municipality of Oatlands was proclaimed in 1861.

* In 1993 Oatlands Council was absorbed into the Southern Midlands Council.

* From 1994-2009 during an extended period of drought Lake Dulverton dried up.

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Visitor Information

Oatlands Heritage Highway Visitor Centre, Mill Lane, tel: (03) 6254 1212. Sadly it closed in October, 2017. Information and brochures are now available at the local news agency.

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Useful Websites

The local council website has some useful information. Check out http://www.southernmidlands.tas.gov.au/towns-villages-areas-oatlands.

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Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

2 suggestions
  • St Peters Anglican Church is one of the older sandstone buildings in the town, built in 1836. This, in the English style, has the graveyard around the church with many interesting and historic graves.

    Rev John Taylor
  • Visitors centre closed permanently in October 2017. Needs to be updated where to get more information about things in area

    Alice Kingham