Tunbridge was originally a coaching stop on the Hobart to Launceston road, now known as the Midlands Highway. It was named after one of its three original coaching inns, the Tunbridge Wells, which in turn was named after Tunbridge Wells in Kent, England. At the 2006 census, Tunbridge had a population of 192.
The area grew rapidly in the 1810s as convicts worked on the road from the north to the south of the island. In its coaching heyday it had three coaching inns, the Tunbridge Wells Inn, the Victoria Inn and the York Inn. Each inn was associated with a different coaching company. The Tunbridge Wells serviced J. E. Cox Coaches, the Victoria Inn serviced Samuel Page Coaches and the York Inn serviced Alfred Burbury Coaches. Tunbridge Post Office opened on 17 March 1856.
Originally known as Tunbridge Wells (after the famous English spa town), Tunbridge is located 92 km from Launceston and 107 km from Hobart. It has been by-passed by the main Midland Highway and consequently has a quiet charm well removed from the urgency of the highway. The town came into existence in 1809 and quickly developed into an important coaching stop between Hobart and Launceston. The area grew rapidly in the 1810s as convicts worked on the road from the north to the south of the island. In recent times the town has been by-passed which has meant that it has been able to maintain much of its historic charm.
Tunbridge Manor, located in the centre of town, dominates the townscape. Built in the 1840, as a staging post for the early transport days, where the premises offered accommodation, meals, beverages and stabling for horses. Up until the late 1960's when the highway by-passed the town, it was a magnet for the hungry traveller.
For the latter years it has been a private residence. Overall the property is still in good condition. Built over 3 stories, the building has up to 8/10 bedrooms, various bathrooms, large living space, attic rooms, and cellars. Outside there are stables, garages, various sheds, all located on 10 acres bordering the Blackman River.
St Oswald's Anglican Church
Tunbridge once had three places of worship: a Methodist, Anglican and Presbyterian church, of which the latter no longer exists. The original St Oswald's Anglican Church at Tunbridg was a timber building. The present church is a brick structure that reflects the shape of the older building. A portion of the original timber wall can be seen on the eastern end of the building. The church was erected by Mr. W. Hepworth, and was built to hold a congregation of about 150. The church was renovated in 1990 and dedicated on 24 June by Bishop Philip Newell. The cemetery at Tunbridge is listed as an Anglican cemetery. There was a Wesleyan chapel and a Presbyterian church in the township but it is possible that other denominations may have been interred at the Anglican site, though there are gravestones around the old Wesleyan chapel.
One headstone of interest is that of Private William Charles Hall who served in the 15th Australian Infantry Battalion in the Great War. The headstone indicates that William Hall was Jewish. It is unusual that a Jewish grave would be located in an Anglican cemetery in the Tasmanian Midlands. Research reveals that William Hall returned to Australia on the 8th January 1919 and he is also listed as wounded in action. He passed away on 6th October 1921, possibly as a consequence of war wounds or perhaps from tuberculosis.
Tunbridge Wesleyan chapel
According to the Mercury, Monday 15 June 1936, "The Wesleyan chapel is the oldest church in the town. The first Wesleyan service in Tunbridge vas conducted in 1862, and in 1865 a church building committee was formed, the building being erected in the following year. It was constructed of bricks, hand-made, by a Mr. Bonner. It often called the "blind church," owing to there being no windows on the northern side. The explanation advanced for this curious omission is that the worshippers were thereby prevented from having their devotions disturbed, or envious thoughts aroused by the sight of revellers issuing from the hostelry which was nearby on the "blind" side! The pulpit and paneling of the interior are of cedar, taken from the old Campbell Town chapel, built in 1847." The building is now in a very sad state of disrepair. There are about 20 headstones around the church with earliest burial being recorded as 1867.
Built in 1848, the Tunbridge Convict Bridge at the northern end of the town was constructed by convicts. It spans the Blackman's River, the traditional boundary between the northern and southern regions of Tasmania. It is particularly important as it is a rare example of a sandstone bridge with timber decking. Two herdsmen were speared by Aboriginals and were buried in the vicinity of the old bridge hence the name Blackman River.
The bridge was used as a secret meeting place for a fascinating group of political exiles known as the 'Young Irelanders'. To avoid being seen, they arranged with the local inn to deliver food where they gathered under the bridge. The Young Irelanders roamed far and wide across Tasmania, where Irish sympathisers gave them food and shelter as well as hiding them from the authorities.
Built in 1825, the Tunbridge Wells Inn is a fine example of a single-storey Old Colonial Georgian inn and farmhouse with its long medium-pitched broken-back roof, half-hipped gables, enclosed eaves, flagged veranda and extensive use of local rough-hewn and rubble stone. The Inn boasts four large bedrooms, two large living areas, two kitchens a dining area, two bathrooms, a large converted loft, sun room and central corridor. The building’s design allows for one large residence or two separate residences both with separate bedrooms, a living area, kitchen and bathroom. The building has five fire places, three in bedrooms, and one in both the main living area and kitchen. There are four doors accessing the house from the front veranda and two from the rear.
The Inn was strategically erected by Thomas and Ann Flemming, along the original Main Road from Launceston to Hobart. Thomas (1801-1870), from Watlington, Oxfordshire, England, was one of 200 convicts transported on the Sir William Bensley, departed England October 5, 1816, arriving in Port Jackson, now Sydney. On March 10, 1817, 15 yea-old Thomas was transferred to the Elizabeth Henrietta arriving in Hobart Tasmania on March 27, 1817. He got his ticket of leave February 1824 and received his free ticket December 18, 1825 upon completion of his 7-year sentence for armed robbery. The establishment operated as an Inn until the 1840’s and as a farmhouse after this time. Within the centre of the building, adjoining the main living room, remains of a temporary holding cell for either prisoner’s en route or valuable goods can be seen. Cobble stone remnants of the former Main Road between Hobart and Launceston can be found along the front of the main building today.
Bowerman's General Store
Bowerman's General Store, a two storey Georgian building with a five bay facade and slim columns. The building features two timber shopfronts, four mullioned sections with round tops and panelling below each side of double entry door. The single storey timber verandah was added later. This building has been restored and mostly likely a private residence these days.
Other buildings of importance include the Colonial Homestead was built in 1820, the The Victoria Inn (outside is a sandstone roller used to roll the roads by the convicts), the Coaching Stables (1843), The Blind Chapel (now the Masonic Hall and reputedly 'blind' - no windows - on one side so the parishioners didn't have to look at the local pub.
One of Tasmania's Finest Sandstone Georgian Homes, Ballochmyle homestead, stables and cottage were built in the 1830s for James Maclanachan. This historically significant home features many of the finest aspects of an exceptional Georgian residence of this era. Superior sandstone construction, beautifully crafted Cedar joinery throughout and a magnificent Tuscan portico flanked on each side with gracefully curved sandstone steps. There are numerous outbuildings, including a significant original checkerboard convict built brick barn complex (estimate at over 250,000 convict bricks), a delightful two story sandstone manager's cottage, original shearer's quarters and other outbuildings. The Estate is situated on approx. 125 acres near the Blackman River, with its own private lake. Location: 160 Ballochmyle Road, 2km north-east of Tunbridge.
Mona Vale homestead and outbuildings
This grand three storey stone villa has often been referred to as the Calendar House due to its 365 windows, 7 entrances, 52 rooms, 12 chimneys. It has a single storey verandah to north and east sides with concave rolled roof and twin columns. The entrance portico has a balustraded terrace over very fine stone and stonework, strings, quoins, a bracketed cornce over level two windows and bracketed eave. A splendid glasshouse is adjacent to house, along with fine stone outbuidings, cottages and a chapel set in extensive gardens.
Mona Vale was designed by William Archer (architect and owner of Cheshunt) for his brother-in-law, Robert Quayle Kermode, and was completed in 1868, just in time to host a visit by Queen Victoria's son, the Duke of Edinburgh, on the very first royal visit to Australia. This was a significant moment for Mona Vale, and indeed for Tasmania, as it was hoped that the royal visit would lend a mark of respectability to the island and assist in burying its maligned convict past.
So in addition to ensuring the palatial homestead, extensive gardens, conservatories and exquisite chapel were fit for a queen's son, Mr Kermode went to the trouble of commissioning a royal bed, a four-poster with the arms of Edinburgh adorning its cedar footboard. People still sleep in this bed in the Duke of Edinburgh's room, one of ten bedrooms on Mona Vale's second floor. The Duke planted an oak tree in the gardens while he was a guest at Mona Vale, and it continues to thrive.
The impressive visitors' book continued well into the next century. In the 1920s, owners Eustace and Alexina Cameron entertained the future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Mona Vale. Even earlier than that in 1912, the legendary Lord Kitchener paid a visit to inspect the empire's troops, as the light horse regiment was based at Mona Vale for many years (the Cameron family have a long military history). Location: Mona Vale Road, off Midland highway, 7km south of Ross. The property has no public access.