Launceston Up Close 

  Guided Heritage Walking Tours


Launceston Timeline

Gentlemen waiting, at the corner of George and Paterson Streets outside The Holy Trinity Church.

A Timeline of Launceston, Van Dieman's Land

When you go exploring on a Launceston Up Close  Historic Walk, you will cut across some of these historical markers.  There were many firsts in Launnie, from the use of an anaesthetic in an operation to having an underground sewer system, or being the first town in the Southern Hemisphere to benefit from hydro-electricity!  Look down the line and see how the City of Launceston has developed.

1798    Matthew Flinders and George Bass, while circumnavigating Van Dieman's Land in HMS Norfolk, discovered the mouth of the Tamar River.  Not realising it was a river, Flinders named it Port Dalrymple in honour of a colonial officer in Sydney Town.

1803    Early in the year, Captain David Collins and crew explored the river mouth, where they discovered the mouth of what is now the Tamar River.  They rowed up as far as the future site of Launceston. He was moved by the awe and beauty of Cataract Gorge and wrote expansively, thinking there was no more a beautiful place on Earth than here'.

1804    London were a little concerned that the French, who at the time were not on talking terms, might try to get a march on settling in New Holland.  They had sent a party to settle in the Derwent River in the South East of the island in 1803,  but they worried so much they ordered Lt Col William Paterson of the New South Wales Corps to lead a party of soldiers, free settlers and convicts to establish a presence on the northern coast of Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania). 

Lt Col Paterson

Lt Col William Paterson

1837 Map of Tasmania

1804    Arriving on HMS Buffalo in November 1804, they settled on the western shore and named it Yorktown. However, the lack of water and good ground plus the strong gusty wind drove the group across to the eastern shore of Port Dalrymple.  They named it Georgetown, and here they had found good water and the soil looked more suitable for cultivation.

1805    Winter proved to be less than amenable to the settlers.  In late 1805, after the settlement was flooded and most of their cattle had died, they moved upstream to the confluence of the North and South Esk Rivers and established Patersonia.  Lt Col Paterson however shortly after in... 

1806  ... renamed it Laun-cest-on, in honour of the birthplace of Governor Gidley King. Launceston is in Cornwall, England, where the name is pronounced Launce-ton.  Here there was water, good pastures and the forests were not so dense.

1811    Governor Lachlan Macquarie visited from Sydney Town, and disapproving of the 42-mile boat trip from Georgetown to Launceston, so ordered that the HQ of the Administration be moved back to Georgetown.  It did not actually happen until 1819.

1822    Commissioner John Thomas Bigge, who did not like Gov Macquarie, overturned the Governor's edict, and the HQ was ordered back to Launceston, which finally occurred in 1824.  In 1822 there were only 11 brick, and 116 wooden structures.

1824   This was the watershed year for the colony.  Many significant buildings were commenced - The Cornwall Hotel (now the Batman Fawkner Hotel) was built in Launceston for John Pascoe Fawkner, and is now the location of the oldest brick building in the city.  And Governor George Arthur laid the foundation stone for St John's Anglican Church, opposite St John's Square. The move of the colonial headquarters for Northern Van Dieman's Land, back to Launceston stimulated the growth of the town which surged ahead from 1824.

1825    The settlement continued to grow as settlers from Norfolk Island arrived.
A Piece of Launceston History
1826   The settlers moved out into good wheat country and started to plant crops.  More settlers arrived from Britain, escaping the depression which followed the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte.

1828    Paterson Barracks was completed, though it was initially a commissariat store, providing security for soldiers and settlers food stuffs and valuable possessions.

1829   The Launceston Advertiser was published.  It was handwritten consisting of several loose sheets, until a few months later a printing press was sourced from Hobart.  After a few more issues, the paper was closed by order of the Governor in Sydney because the proprietor, John Pascoe Fawkner, did not have a license.
1830    Henry Reed, a merchant, commissioned the construction of Macquarie House which features in our Historic Walk - Tour II

1835    John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner depart Launceston, separately, in a race to establish a settlement at Port Philip Bay, which was to become the City of Melbourne.  There is some doubt as to who actually won.

1840   Many people left Van Dieman's Land for work, and to migrate to a new colony in New Zealand.  

1842    St John's Square Chapel (now known as Milton Hall) is built by Rev John West, The Launceston Examiner is established by James Aikenhead and Rev John West, and the Mechanics Institute is founded, assisted by Rev John West. 

The Holy Trinity Anglican Church was also built as St John's church could not accommodate all the town's worshippers.  Parishioners requested that no convict labour was to be used in its construction, but in 1884 its foundations were badly damaged following earth tremors. The church had to be demolished, and in 1903 a new, larger, more grand church was built.

1847    Dr William Russ Pugh carried out the first medical operation using an anaesthetic in Australia at St Johns Hospital (now Morton House) which is on the west side of St John's Square (re-named Prince's Square which is where we start  Tour I of our Historic Walk program.)

1848   There were now 763 stone or brick and 1213 wooden buildings.

1850    The Anti Transportation League is formed in Launceston with the aim of halting the transportation of convicts to the Australian colonies.  Rev John West, with the help of abolitionists in all colonies, was instrumental in the cessation of transportation to Australia in 1853.  Not long after, Rev West became editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.

1851   The first intercolonial cricket match was held in Launceston - Van Dieman's Land Vs Port Philip Bay.  We won!
Dr William Ross Pugh
1853    Transportation ceased, and Van Dieman's Land became known as Tasmania.

1864    The South Esk Bridge is opened, using a span built in Manchester, transported to Tasmania, and floated into place using pontoons.  A second span was added in 1904  which doubled the bridge's capacity, and was built by a local firm to match the original span. The bridge was renamed - 'Kings Bridge'

1867    The new Launceston Town Hall is built.  It had offices downstairs and a ballroom upstairs, and 4 magnificent columns holding the roof up.  In 1933, the Town Hall was extensively renovated due to the growth of Launceston and the lack of space in the town hall building.  The newly completed town hall now boasted 9, equally magnificent columns.

1895    The Duck Reach Hydro Power Station, on the South Esk River, up stream from Cataract Gorge is switched on, providing the first hydro-electricity in the Southern Hemisphere.

1911    A suburban tram system begins services in Launceston, following favourable reports from Melbourne.  It runs until 1952 when it was replaced by diesel and electric trolley buses.  The Tram Shed on Wellington Street is now the home of Launceston's Metro bus service.

1929    Launceston is hit with a once in 100 year  flood with Invermay and other areas going underwater.  4,000 residents of Invermay had to be evacuated and housed as The North Esk broke its banks, also flooding Newstead.  The South Esk flowing through Cataract Gorge roared, washing away the power station and rowing club.  Over the years, more flood events resulted in the building of the levee banks alongside the North Esk you can see today.  The view is lost for riverside residents, but they have already saved the town a number of times since they were built.  The most recent flood in June 2016 would have caused an approximate 250 million dollars damage, had not the levees been in place.

Josephs Corner early 1900s, Launceston
When you hear about some of these events on your Historic Walk, you'll be able to visualise as your guide colours these black and white piks.