Latrobe is an historic farming centre on the Mersey River that was once an inland port serviced by ferries from Devonport. The town is just off the highway on the way to Launceston after leaving Devonport.
Where Is it?: 11km south of Devonport just off the main highway to Launceston.
Live the history of Latrobe's pioneering early settlement though the comprehensive display of photographs and artifacts at the Courthouse Museum at 113-117 Gilbert St, Latrobe. Bells Parade was the first Port on the North West Coast, at Bells Parade, for shipping produce.
Mersey General Hospital
Since 1889 Latrobe has been a major centre for hospital care on the North-West coast and for nearly half a century had the only hospital capable of providing care for the seriously ill, undertaking major surgery and providing nurse training. The Devon Cottage Hospital, which grew into today's Mersey General Hospital, remains the Central North Coast's main hospital.
Australian Axeman's Hall of Fame
Since early colonial days, timbergetting and timber cutting has been a major industry in Australia, and Latrove has played an important role in its development in Tasmania. In the early 1840s, Latrobe became a major northern port, exporting timber and then produce to the mainland during the Victorian gold rush.
The United Australian Axemen's Association was formed in Whittaker's Coffee Palace in Latrobe in June 1891 to plan the world's first axmen's carnival, which took place in the town later that year. Woodchopping events have since become part of the national culture and many Tasmanians have excelled in them. Latrobe's Australian Axeman's Hall of Fames salutes both the pioneers of the industry and those who have triumphed in the competitive woodchopping.
Bells Parade is an easy walk starting from the centre of town and finishing at the park and Axeman’s hall of fame. It a beautiful park area alongside the Mersey. Along the track you will see birds in the air, ducks on the water, perhaps a small pademelo (like a wallaby) or perhaps even a platypus. The park has picnic tables, bbqs and play area for the kids, so pack a picnic and enjoy the exercise.
Henley On The Mersey
The Henley On The Mersey is a carnival held annually on Australia Day, 26th January, at Bells Parade. This event is co-ordinated by the Henley-on-Mersey Management Committee, a joint effort of the Rotary Club of Latrobe, Lions Club of Latrobe and Latrobe Council. For over 85 years this carnival has been a major social and sporting event to raise funds, all of which are spent in the Latrobe region. One of Tasmania's leading sports carnivals, The Henley On The Mersey attracts thousands of people.
One of the highlights of the day are the Ferret Races, which creates much excitement, not only amongst the audience, but also amongst the ferret owners. The ferretingtraditions of the region are remembered when ferrets were used to hunt rabbits. The ferret would be placed down a rabbit burrow after all exits from the burrow had been netted, the ferret would then seek out the rabbits within the warren and as the rabbits tried to escape they would be caught in the nets.
Legend has it that many of the farming properties in the Latrobe district were originally purchased with thanks to the efforts of the ferrets and also the incomes from the sale of the rabbit pelts. At Henley On The Mersey, the ferrets are placed in one end of a long pipe that lies along, over and around hay bales. The first ferret to fully emerge from the pipe at the other end is the winner.
Warrawee Reserve Landcare Platypus Tours allow viewing the unique platypus in the wild. As with most observations of animals in their natural environment, viewing cannot be guaranteed. The Land-Care experts use their skills to ensure that visitors have a high change of spotting a platypus, 99% guaranteed. Tours should be prebooked a day or two before arriving at the reserve.
59 George Street, Labrobe. Ph (03) 6426 1774.
The Platypus Interpretation Centre unlocks secrets about this unique egg laying mammals, the Monotremes (Platypus/Echidna). Part of the Australian Axeman's Hall of Fame, it recreates a static display in the form of a forest glade, consisting of six ponds with a flowing water feature, inclusive of comprehensive dioramas, sculptures, mural boards and screens. Taxidermies of Tasmanian species and live native fish/water bug are on display.
A 30 minute nature walk traverses the well defined bush tracks and open spaces of Pig Island. The wetlands run alongside the Mersey River, and under the banks of tree lined Bells Parade. Lucky walkers may spot Platypus on this track early morning or dusk. Location: Bells Parade River Rd, Latrobe.
This historic home was built in 1850 for Thomas Johnson and his wife Dolly Dalrymple, two of the most prominent people in that era in Tasmania and the subject of historic events still taught in Tasmanian schools today. Johnson was a pioneer and settler who began life in Van Diemen's Land as a convict. After his emancipation, Johnson built the first bridge over the Mersey River, farmed the property Frogmore for many years and owned a number of establishments at Latrobe, Sherwood and Ballahoo, as well as blocks of land in the township of Tarleton where he built Sherwood Hall. Johnson later opened and operated the Alfred Colliery, which shipped its coal from Ballaho Creek.
Dolly Dalrymple Mountgarret Briggs (1808-1864) was the first recorded child of an Aboriginal and white person union. Her father was a sailor and sealer in Bass Strait. Her mother was a Tasmanian Aboriginal, named Bong, who belonged to the Dalrymple tribe, hence the name. This tribe lived near Port Dalrymple at the entrance of the River Tamar leading to Launceston.
Sherwood Hall was relocated to its present site in 1993 from its original site on Railton Road because it was threatened with collapse by long term erosion from the nearby Mersey River. Today it is furnished as would have been when Thomas Johnson and Dolly Dalrymple lived there. Sherwood Hall is open from 10am until 2pm each Tuesday and Thursday, and from 1pm until 4pm each Saturday and Sunday. Entry is with a gold coin donation. Location: 1 Bells Parade, Latrobe. Ph (03) 6426 2888.
About Dolly Dalrymple
The Cherry Shed
The Cherry Shed Tasmania is a Cafe and Gift Shop conveniently situated on the Bass Highway in Latrobe. Promoting locally grown cherries, The Cherry Shed includes a tastings counter and a gift shop. The Cafe offering an exciting café menu with a hint of 'cherry', and the Gift Shop stocking many interesting cherry related products, and a great range of local Tasmanian products and Souvenevirs.
243 Gilbert Street, Labrobe, cnr Bass Highway. Ph (03) 6426 6411
The Cherry Shed website
On a poroperty that has been in the Bennett family since the late 19th century, a few kilometres from Elizabeth Town on Bass Highway, you'll find Ashgrove Tasmanian Farm - a true cheese lover's delight! With fresh-bottled milk, decadent farm ice-cream, creamy butter and of course, an array of fine cheeses, Ashgrove's busy farm shop has a constant stream of locals and tourists popping in to not only sample the local produce, but also to watch it all being made.
The factory behind the shop is where milk and cream are bottled, while 200 metres up the hill, there's a dairy where part of the herd of predominantly Friesian and Jersey cows are milked. Ashgrove actually has three farms, each with its own dairy, and all are within sight of the farm shop. The furthest the milk has to travel for bottling or transforming into cream, butter, creme fraiche or cheese is about five kilometres.
The land around Ashgrove is some of Australia's most fertile and, with a temperate climate and plenty of water, it is perfect for dairying. The cows graze outside year round and from late spring until autumn, the paddocks supply all their food, apart from the small amount of grain they eat twice a day to keep them amused while they are on the rotary milking machine.
Anvers Confectionery was commenced as a cottage industry November 1989, by Igor Van Gerwen, who came to this country from Belgium. In 1991 Igor was approached by a Japanese businessman who ordered a one of order of 3000Kg of truffles. As Igor did not have the facility to produce such a big order, the Japanese Gentleman paid the order in advance so that a proper factory could be build and staff trained. These rest, as they say, is history.
House of Anvers is now a flourishing small business, with a product range including everything from hand made chocolate truffles, chocolate oranges, fudge to moulded pralines. At Anvers' traditional European style coffee shop, the specialty of the house is of course chocolates, hot chocolate in many flavours, chocolate desserts and more chocolate! Belgian breakfasts and light Tasmanian fare luncheon are served, together with a range of teas and espresso coffees for the morning and afternoon break. Location: 9025 Bass Highway, Latrobe.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the Latrobe Tourist and Improvement Association established what it called "a delightful picnic resort at Bott Gorge, somewhere close to where coal had been found and mined. The offical opening of the picnic grounds was recorded in the TAHO Weekly Courier in 1919 but since then there is no record of what happened to it, or why it no longer exists today.
The name of the gorge recalls Henry Bott, an early settler in the area. There are a number of Henry Botts who lived in the Latrobe area, so it is impossible to say with any degree of accuracy which one the gorge's name recalls. As Bott's Gorge was recorded in 1851 as the site of the coal seam find in the gorge, the most likely "Henry Bott" was one who came to Van Diemen's Land as a convict on the Runnymede, arriving in Hobart Town on 28th March 1840. Henry was aged 14 when indicted for stealing a pair of boot, value 8s., the goods of Charles Edward Kendall. Previous convictions were 3 months for stealing iron pots and 6 weeks for stealing meat.
Brief History of Latrobe
The original inhabitants of the Latrobe area were members of the North tribe who spoke Tommeginne. They tended to spend winters along the coast and would then move inland when the weather turned warmer. The first European settler here was Edward Curr, a manager with the Van Diemen’s Land Company, who moved to the area in 1826. His property was a little to the northeast at what is now Northdown. Curr moved to Circular Head, today known as Stanley, in 1827 and in 1828 Captain B.B. Thomas, a superintendent with the Van Diemen’s Land Company, took over the land at Northdown.
At the first point where it was convenient to cross the Mersey River, a settlement soon grew and in 1846 this was named Latrobe, after Charles Joseph La Trobe, who was then acting as lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen’s Land. The oldest house in Latrobe is Sherwood Hall, which was completed in 1850. In 1855 Robert Bell and Henry Bentinck built a wharf and a store near Sherwood Hall and this part of town became known as Bell’s Parade.
In May 1856 the first of the town's newly surveyed 164 town lots went on sale by auction in Launceston. Few were sold, but a year later sales of one acre lots alomg the inlet near Gilbert Street were brisk, and the new settlement began to take shape. In 1859, George Atkinson built Latrobe's first hotel - the Royal Charter Inn. Atkinson and his family were pioneers in the area and major landowners, earning George and his son George Jnr. the reputation of being the town's 'father' and 'grandfather'.
Latrobe centenary celebrations
Although it was settled much later than the twin settlements at the mouth of the Mersey - Torquay and Formby (now present day Devonport) - Latrobe, on the upper reaches of the Mersey River, would become the most important settlement on the Central north coast and was considered the capital of the region. At the turn of the 1990s, it had a population of more than 1500, the largest of any community in Tasmania's north coast region, and a rural district of 50,000 acres under cultivation and improved pastures. Its dwellings were connected to a gas supply, it had its own newspaper and hosted numerous major community and sporting events.
Woodchopping championships. Tasmania Mail 1925
In 1881 the north's first football match was played there; penny-farthing cycling and pedestrian races were held in the mid-1880s; in 1891, Latrobe hosted the first international cricket match between the touring England Eleven and a combined North-West Cricket team in 1888. Homing pidgeon racing had its birth in Latrobe during the late 1880s. The first woodchopping championship in the world was held in Latrobe in 1891. This took place at Bell’s Parade where you’ll now find the Australian Axeman’s Hall of Fame and Timberworks. Today, Bell’s Parade is the site of Henley-on-Mersey, an Australia Day celebration that includes a woodchopping competition, sheaf tossing, egg throwing and ferret races.
Until the mid 1990s, Latrobe was Tasmania’s third largest settlement and a bustling port, but it began to fall into decline by the end of the century as Devonport grew in importance. You’ll still find several historic buildings dating from Latrobe’s heyday, including St Lukes Church and Vermont from the 1860s, the Lucas Hotel from 1870, Hamilton House from 1872 and Frogmore from 1880. The Court House was built in 1883 and now houses the Court House Museum.
Latrobe floods of 1893
Related documents and references online
History of Latrobe >
Tasmanian Family History Society Inc. Mersey Branch >
A Short History of Latrobe, Port Sorell and Sassafras >