Campbell Town, Tasmania

Once one of the early coaching stops between Launceston and Hobart, Campbell Town is nestled on the banks of the Elizabeth River on the main road between Hobart and Launceston. The town has an impressive collection of colonial buildings from the Georgian era.

Where is it?: 66 km south of Launceston; 132 km north of Hobart on the Midland Highway.

The town is a feast of delights for visitors, particularly lovers of history. There are no fewer than thirty-five buildings in the Campbell Town district which have been listed on the National Estate. This gives some indication of the great historic importance and interest which exists in the area. The best way to enjoy Campbell Town is to wander and appreciate its charm and antiquity.

For people travelling from Hobart, the bridge is a good starting point. If you alight here and walk up into the town you can experience the antiquity and marvel at the buildings.

The Red Bridge

One of Campbell Town's famous attractions is the convict-built Red Bridge, the oldest bridge on the National Highway. The bridge and causeway, were built as a part of the original main road, it was to be a part of Bell's line of Road, but this road never got past Oatlands. Construction was commenced in 1836 and completed in 1838. It consists of drystone abutments and timber top, although the top has been replaced, the stone abutments are original, making this a rare example of early Australian stone work.

In its construction, convicts made 1,250,000 bricks and then built the bridge on dry land. When completed they were then told to divert the river beneath its arches. This was accomplished by digging the new river course a kilometre on both sides of the arches. Built for horse and cart it is today the oldest bridge in Australia still in use on a major highway, such was the workmanship of our forefather convicts.

Kean's Brewery

As its name suggests, this building began its life in the early 1800's as the Campbell Town Brewery. It is a fine example of a Georgian brewery, built about 1840 by Hugh Kean, publican and builder. It is in excellent condition having been restored in 1980/81 with National Estate Grant funds. Set beside The Red Bridge on its southern side, this building has served as a boxing gym, a school, as a military drill hall during the First World War, a masonic lodge in the 1920's, a girl guides hall, and also as an antiques shop for many years until recently, following major building renovations, as a successful cafe and providore. There are old original cobbled floor stables at the lower level. 137-141 High Street, Campbell Town.

The Foxhunters Return

Campbell Town is home to The Foxhunters Return, a colonial Georgian coaching inn, which retains all its original outbuildings and continues to function as an inn for travellers along the highway. Built by convicts around 1833, with the main building constructed under the direction of stonemason Hugh Keane, Foxhunters Return is described by the National Trust as "the finest and most substantial hotel building of the late colonial period in Australia."

During the construction of the Red Bridge, convicts were reputed to be housed overnight in the extensive cellars beneath Foxhunters Return, which is situated on the banks of the Elizabeth River and adjacent to the Red Bridge. These cellars, featuring sandstone and convict-made red brick arches and freestone walls, are now home to The Book Cellar, and so open to the public daily. They are directly under the Midlands Highway. Rumour has it that the cellars are linked to the cellars of other public houses around town via a number of tunnels. These have yet to be found.

Campbell Town Inn

A two storey brick and stucco Georgian hotel built in 1840 by Hugh Kean for Gavin Hogg. Campbell Town Inn is an excellent example of early Tasmanian architecture, the infamous bushranger, Martin Cash worked for a time on its construction. The main facade has five bays with projecting central arched entry with cornice. The central window stucco is in imitation of rusticated ashlar. Location: 100 High Street, corner Queen Street, Campbell Town.

The Grange

The Grange (1840) stands at the centre of the town like an English manor house. In fact it was, for many years, the home of Dr William Valentine who, in 1874, reputedly held the first telephone conversation in Australia when he spoke to a friend in Launceston. The equipment, modelled on designs by Alexander Graham Bell, is now housed in the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston. Today this superb building, designed by James Blackburn, is leased by the Adult Education Board who use it for weekend seminars.

St Andrew's Uniting Church

St Andrew's Uniting Church was built in 1847 as a Presbyterian Church and is of note for its tower and needle spire, and interior with unaltered fittings. An early Victorian Gothic Revival sandstone church (c. 1857) with iron gabled roof and square tower with castellated parapet, clock mouldings and needle spire. It contains an organ and desk that belonged to Bishop Nixon, first Anglican Bishop of Tasmania. It is considered one of the best churches built in Australia of the period. Reverend Adam Turnbull’s church was the last to survive the amalgamations of what was to become the Uniting Church in the 1970's. Indeed all three of Campbell Town’s churches that were part of this merger have now closed.

A much told story about an event prior to its opening goes as follows: "The builders forgot to untie a rope and left it dangling from the top of the spire when their work was finished and the scaffolding taken away. Not wishing to have the unseemly thing in evidence on the day of dedication, a rifleman of repute was asked to come along and shoot it down. After several tries with various missiles, among which it is said, even marbles were used, the offending rope at last came tumbling to the ground."


St Luke's Anglican Church

Beyond The Grange, on the corner of William Street and the High Street, is St Luke's Anglican Church and beyond it on the corner of Bridge and Pedder streets is the church's rectory, a fine example of a colonial Georgian residence with five bay windows. The brick church had its foundation stone laid in 1835 and was completed in 1839.

The story of St Luke’s is dominated by a history of rebuilding and repair which go right back to the early years of its establishment. In 1833 the first services of the Church of England in Campbell Town were held in the old Police Court. In 1835 colonial architect John Lee Archer drew up plans for a church and construction commenced soon after. By the close of 1835 Governor George Arthur had laid the foundation stone and rapid progress was made with the building. The first builder had laid down part of the base with no foundations, so a new builder was called in to complete the project. Before it could be consecrated, however, rectifications to the job had to be undertaken, which delayed its opening until 1839.

Just opposite St Lukes church you'll see a monument to Harold Gatty, a native son of Campbell Town. In 1931, he and American Wiley Post were the first people to fly around the world. In 1929, Gatty had flown as navigator with Roscoe Turner in a record 19-hour non-stop flight from Los Angeles to New York. He went on to serve, as an Australian citizen, in the US Army Air Corps.


St Michael's Catholic Church

St Michael’s at Campbell Town opened in 1856 but it had taken 10 years for this to come to fruition. Tasmania's first Catholics were mostly convicts and many of those who arrived as free settlers before the 1880s were economic refugees from Ireland. Catholics benefited little from the Church Act (1837), which gave Tasmania its legacy of Georgian and early Victorian churches, rectories and parish halls.

The arrival in 1844 of the first Bishop of Hobart, Robert Willson, brought effective leadership to the Church. Yet it was not until the 1860s, when a number of Catholics began to prosper through farming, small-business and in the professions, that the Church began to make a substantial contribution to the colony's built environment. Willson developed a good relationship with Governor Denision which eventually resulted in suitable land grants that enabled the building of a Catholic church in Campbell Town.


Brickhill Memorial Church

The Brickhill Memorial Church in Campbell Town’s High Street replaced the old Wesleyan Chapel in King Street. It opened in 1880 and became known as the Brickhill Church in acknowledgement of its patron Joseph Brickhill, a prominent businessman and Methodist in Campbell Town. Brickhill’s bequest was significant and it is indicative of his deep faith as well as the fortune he had amassed from his business in Campbell Town. His estate helped establish new churches in Launceston (Paterson Street), Westbury and New Town. Location: 109 High Street, Campbell Town, Tas.


Campbell Town State School

Campbell Town has a number of Art Deco buildings, erected during the inter-war years when Campbell Town enjoyed a growth spurt. Campbell Town State School was built between September 1937 and June 1938. It was designed by S W T Blythe of the Public Works Department assisted by J H Walter. A tower at the corner is its dominant feature. The tall glass brick panel in the tower will offers a pleasing contrast to the marked horizontality of the class and cloak rooms.


In the 1950s, Marjorie Blackwell (1919-2013) was Tasmania's queen of the household scene. Her dream home, 'Climar', was built by her and her first husband Cliff Blackwell in 1955. The name 'Climar' is made up from the first three letters of their christian names - It features a fence with the notes from 'The Melody of Love' and a gate with a piano accordion design motif.

In a country not known for producing domestic divas, Marjorie Blackwell/Bligh was Tasmania’s answer to Martha Stewart, helpful-hints Heloise, and Betty Crocker, all rolled into one. She was born Marjorie Pearsall, in 1917, in the Tasmanian midlands township of Ross. She published her signature household manuals under all three of her married names: Marjorie Blackwell, Marjorie Cooper and Marjorie Bligh. A pioneer recycler who was famous for never wasting a thing, Marjorie was for several decades renowned for her spirited campaign against useful resources being poured into landfill.

The front cover of 'Housewife Superstar', a book about Marjorie Blackwell and her household tips

Marjorie's career began when she entered food and craft contests at the Ross town show, and won in seventy-eight categories. The next year she won in seventy-two but was denied the trophy by jealous rivals. She then began issuing tips in a newspaper column and published her first book, At Home with Marjorie Blackwell, in 1965. Her advice has included using beetroot instead of rouge and covering grey hairs with a brewed mix of tea and sage leaves.

Often referred to as 'Australia's Mrs Beeton' or 'Tasmania's Mrs Beeton', she has long been suspected of having been the inspiration for Barry Humphries' campy “Dame Edna Everage” character. Despite denying his character was inspired totally by her, Humphreys does say: 'I don't think Edna has ever admired anybody as much as she admires Marjorie Bligh.' In Marjorie Blackwell's self-styled career as a housewife superstar, she self-published six books on cooking, home economics, craft, history and gardening. They made her a household name in Tasmania and even found their way on to the shelves in Buckingham Palace and the White House.

Marjorie was, in reality, nothing more than your average 1950s housewife, looking for love and a good bargain. Raised in a working-class environment, Marjorie set her sights on achieving higher levels of domestic taste, efficiency, and tranquility in order to create the perfect home. Far from being a classic beauty, she nonetheless managed to ply her domestic skills during the course of three often tumultuous marriages. Perhaps it was her ability to make cheap cuts of meat taste like chateaubriand or her penchant for knitting cast-off nylons into garbage-can covers. Whatever the source of her feminine mystique, Marjorie cannily catapulted her homespun homilies into a thriving cottage industry.

Once divorced and twice widowed, Marjorie was, according to Barry Humphries, "no slouch in the matrimonial department." One of her prized possessions was a book by Mr Humphries, titled Handling Edna, which he had autographed, saying "For the incomparable Marjorie, with love and admiration, Barry Humphries and Dame Edna". Her first husband, Cliff Blackwell, was loving but turned brutal. Her second marriage, to preacher and schoolteacher Adrian, was punctuated by endless love notes, breakfasts in bed, and territorial fights with his adult daughters. She snagged her third husband, Eric Bligh ― a bus driver ― with promises of fruitcake and flirtatious glances in his rearview mirror. Marjorie designed two homes and a museum devoted to her creations, worked for half a century as a journalist and columnist, and raised two sons, all while building a devoted following.

Blackburn Park Sculpture

Campbell Town's home-grown chainsaw sculptor, Eddie Freeman, created a series of macrocarpa pine memorials to the town s rich heritage. The sculptures capture some of the essence of the natural and human history of Campbell Town in these finely detail carvings in the trunks and limbs of the 80 year old trees. The sculptures are in Blackburn Park beside The Red Bridge.

Campbell Town Convict Brick Trail is dedicated to the nearly 200,000 convicts who were transported to Australia for almost 100 years from 1788 onwards. Over 70,000 came to Tasmania. Today it is estimated that 80% or 4 out of every 5 Tasmanian have a little convict blood in their veins. The trail begins here at the red bridge, this famous bridge was built entirely with convict labour.

20 Pedder Street, Campbell Town

Said to be built by an Alexander Johnson; a timber merchant, farmer and been the first banker of Van Diemens Island. This circa 1835 two-bedroom home is a classic example of the Georgian architecture which is featured throughout the midlands. This home has received a number of major renovations, but maintains original character.

History of Campbell Town

The traditional custodians of the Campbell Town area were the Tyerrernotepanner (chera-noti-pahner) Clan of the North Midlands Nation. The Tyerrernotepanner were a nomadic people who traversed country from the Central Plateau to the Eastern Tiers but were recorded as inhabiting 'resorts' around present day Campbell Town, lagoons near present-day Cleveland and Conara and the southern banks of the South Esk River. The colonial name for this clan was the Stony Creek Tribe, named after a small southern tributary of the South Esk at Llewellyn.

The Tyerrernotepanner were severely depleted as a clan during the first decades of the 1800s, as colonial settlers claimed land up the South Esk and across the fertile plains of the Midlands. The Tyerrernotepanner were formidable opponents of settler colonisation and aggression during the Black War and were recorded as attacking settlers from the Lake River to The South Esk and Tamar River Valleys during the final phase of Aboriginal resistance in the 1820s and 1830s. The last members of the Tyerrernotepanner were 'conciliated' by George Augustus Robinson and, under orders from Governor Arthur, were exiled from their country to die in the squalor of Wybalenna or Oyster Cove.

The area of modern Campbell Town would have been known to colonials in Launceston (then Port Dalrymple), as the name of the river passing through was already known as Relief Creek. Lachlan Macquarie renamed it after his wife Elizabeth when passing through in 1811. The site of modern Campbell Town was named by Macquarie in 1821 on his second tour of Van Diemen's Land and, continuing his habit of renaming Tasmanian landforms after his family and friends, is named for his wife's maiden name. The first settler at the site of modern Campbell town was Thomas Kenton, a constable, who erected a cottage here at some time around 1821 and by 1823 a causeway was erected over the river and an inn opened in 1824.

Campbell Town was established as a town in 1826 and was originally one of the four garrison towns linking Hobart and Launceston. Campbell Town had 2 3 soldiers permanently stationed  with the main headquarters at Ross. As the threat from the aboriginal clans decreased the soldiers were replaced by convict police, who established stations in the town and in the surrounding tiers and rivers; primarily as a means of controlling or capturing escaped convicts.

The establishment and growth of Campbell Town as a police district headquarters and commercial centre paralleled the change in Van Diemen's Land agricultural economy from a peasant farming base to a more capital intensive land grant system. By 1836, a decade after its establishment, the Campbell Town district had already established its major landholders, free settlers who had displaced both indigenous people and any smaller colonial landholders, and had established cropping and pastoral holdings with a sheep population of 180,000. By the mid 1830s Campbell Town was a garrison town with a court house, gaol, Police magistrates' house, two hotels, two inns and emancipated men running stores and mechanics' shops.

The growth of agriculture, housing and infrastructure was facilitated by the labour of assigned men and household labour was facilitated by both male and female convict labourers. The obverse to this 'free' convict labour was the enormous paramilitary and penal infrastructure required to maintain the convict system. Gentleman farmers and retired military officers were appointed by governor Arthur as magistrates to prosecute the law on this frontier.

Today, it acts as the only major rest area on the Midland Highway, with toilets, a park, a large car park and a range of food outlets. Campbell Town is also the retail centre for much of the southern part of the Municipality Midlands area.