Early European Settlement

Early European Settlement of the Tamar Valley

Launceston: History

Heritage Buildings

North East ​​​​​​​Tasmania has some of Australia's oldest and best preserved heritage places and precincts. From convict probation stations, rustic workers cottages and grand stately homes, through to industrial and archaeological sites.

Cape Bicheno to Port Sorell

The origins of the names of the coastal features of North East Tasmania.

Early European Settlement in the Tamar Valley

The history of the European settlement of Launceston and the Tamar Valley dates back to 1798 when Bass and Flinders were sent to explore the possibility that there existed a strait between the great continent and Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). They came ashore near where the Tamar River enters Bass Strait and named their landing place Port Dalrymple.

In early 1804, while David Collins was still in Port Phillip Bay wondering where to move his starving colony, he sent his namesake, William Collins, on a voyage of exploration to the Tamar estuary with a view to establishing a British settlement in Tasmania's north. By the time William Collins returned with good reports of the Tamar for settlement, David Collins was already preparing to transfer the Sullivan Bay (Port Phillip) settlers to the Derwent.

Lt. Col. William Paterson

A short while later, Governor King received a despatch from Lord Hobart (Secretary of State for the Colonies) which recommended the establishment at Port Dalrymple on the Tamar. Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson was nominated as Lieutenant-Governor of the new colony. After a first attempt was forced back by adverse winds, the party of 181 soldiers and convicts in four ships arrived at Outer Cove (George Town) on 4th November 1804. Paterson ran HMS Buffalo aground at York Cove and, apparently nonplussed by his misfortune, duly ran up the flag, fired three volleys in the air, and played the national anthem. A memorial to the event stands on Esplanade North at Windmill Point - continue west down Macquarie Street from the Main Road.

York Town, 1804

Although he penetrated as far as the fertile site of Launceston in his initial exploration of the Tamar Valley soon after arrival, Paterson made the decision to set up his headquarters at the head of West Arm and founded York Town, while still maintaining small establishments at Outer Cove, Low Head and Green Island. In deciding on York Town, one can only imagine that Paterson was guided purely by the strategic necessity, as was Collins at Sorrento, of being near Bass Strait, and that he gave little thought to the problem of soil fertility and cultivation. The hard clay soil proved unsuitable for grazing though water was in plentious supply. In March 1806, Paterson was willing to admit that York Town was a most unsuitable site and accordingly, he moved his headquarters to the present site of Launceston. By 1811 York Town was virtually deserted. Governor Macquarie described the settlement as a "miserable barren spot".

While many of the building materials were removed from York Town and recycled, there is a rich deposit left at the site because of the limited development in the area. Three primary sites have been excavated: Riley's cottage, a building at the Soldier's camp, and Government House.

Alexander Riley was the storekeeper. He lived with his wife and children at the settlement from 1805 to 1808. This site revealed the most personal artefacts, including buttons and Chinese exported porcelain. The architectural deposits also reveal a greater use of brick and painted wall plaster. In contrast, the site excavated in the Soldier's Camp revealed the post holes and brick chimney remains of a wattle and daub building - one of the most common and inexpensive building techniques used during the early days of settlement. Government House, the residence of Lieut Col William Paterson and his wife Elizabeth, was the most significant structure at the settlement. Although local lore has it that a cellar existed at Government House, no evidence of such a structure has been found. Thin glass fragments, clay pipes, buttons and other artefacts indicate a lifestyle in keeping with Lt Col Patterson's status and the importance of Government House.

Launceston, 1806

Launceston was originally called Patersonia after Lieut Colonel Paterson, the founder and first commandant, but after a short time he changed it to Launceston in honour of Governor King whose birthplace was the Cornish township of Launceston. Thus commenced a long association of the new Launceston with the ancient English township.

The small settlement at Outer Cove at the mouth of the Tamar River was renamed George Town (named after King George III) in 1811 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. In 1812 Macquarie determined that George Town would be better than Launceston as the main centre in Tasmania's north and in 1816 the town was laid out. Few of Launceston's residents wanted to move to George Town, and those who did, did so reluctantly. The first occupants were a military station, a female factory and a few settlers.

Macquarie returned to Britain in 1821 and by the time of his arrival there, many of George Town's residents who had moved there from Launceston at Macquarie's insistance had already moved back to Launceston and re-established themselves there. The Bigge report of 1825 reversed Macquarie's decision to make George Town the administrative centre instead of Launceston.

In the 1830s George Town was an embarkation point for settlers moving to the Port Phillip district (e.g. Dutton, Henty and Batman).Although Macquarie's orders to move headquarters to George Town were never fully implemented, t The town continued as an administrative post and today has the distinction of being the oldest town in Australia.

Launceston gradually grew from the first ramshackle shelters that were built along a dirt track where Cameron Street is today. Roughly built dwellings, many were made of clay with walls reinforced by small branches and twigs to form a wicker-work plaster. By 1827, Launceston's population had climbed to 2,000 and the town had become an export centre, mainly for the colony's northern pastoral industry. Tin was discovered at Mount Bischoff in 1871 in north-western Tasmania, starting a minerals boom. Gold mining commenced approximately 50 kilometres away in Beaconsfield in 1877. The town's prosperity peaked in the 1870s when gold, silver and coal were discovered in Northern Tasmania and many of Launceston's large and grand buildings were erected during this period.