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Chapter 4

I tell of the birth throes of Launceston, examine the feud of North versus South, blame Launceston for Melbourne, praise Governor Arthur, and tell why sports champions cannot be bred in the northern city.

The discovery of Port Dalrymple, at the head of which stands Launceston, is bound up in early speculation as to whether or not Van Diemen's Land was an island. It was one hundred and fifty-six years after Tasman's discovery that the land which now bears his name was certainly known to be separate from the Australian continent. Captain Furneaux, of Cook's second voyage, after sailing from Adventure Bay to a little north of the islands eventually named after him, wrote in 1773: "It is my opinion that there is no strait between New Holland and Van Diemen's Land, but a very deep bay." Surgeon George Bass was the first to declare that Van Diemen's Land was not joined to New Holland, and it is fitting that the Straits-on the urgent recommendation of Matthew Flinders-were given his name. This Bass was an intrepid individual whose idea of a pleasure trip was to voyage into unknown seas in an eight-foot whale boat. Tired of inaction at Sydney, he borrowed the cockleshell from Governor Hunter early in 1798, battled against tempestuous seas for six hundred miles, and in the course of his exploration of the coast of Victoria (where he discovered Westernport) observed the strong current past Wilson's Promontory and declared his conviction of the existence of a strait. Six months later began the famous voyage of Flinders and Bass when they made the first circumnavigation of Tasmania in a little sloop of twenty-five tons presented to them by Governor Hunter-to the detriment of the Norfolk Island settlers. This little packet has the distinction of being the only vessel ever to be built at Norfolk Island, and was intended by the islanders to ply between their

home and the mainland. Flinders discovered Port Dalrymple (so named by Hunter after Alexander Dalrymple, Admiralty Hydrographer) and took the Norfolk up the river now called the Tamar, past Whirlpool Reach to Shoal Point.
Launceston is the fourth oldest of Australia's cities few years junior to Hobart-but it was a matter of chance as to which of these came first. Bowen founded the abortive Risdon settlement on the Derwent on 7 September 1803, but Launceston would no doubt have outstripped it and eventually become the capital had it not been for a schooner captain's report to Governor King at Sydney that the entrance to the Tamar was dangerous and the natives troublesome. King received this report just in time to prevent David Collins from going ahead with a penal settlement at Port Dalrymple. King had originally instructed Collins that if Port Phillip were unsuitable for development he was to give the northern Tasmanian harbour preference over the Derwent in the south. As it happened, David Collins preferred the Derwent and despite a favourable report on the possibilities of Port Dalrymple from William Collins whom he had sent from Port Phillip on a special survey, David Collins immediately acted on King's amended instruction.
At Risdon, on the Derwent, stands a monument commemorating the foundation of the first settlement in Tasmania. The casual visitor who knows that David Collins broke up Bowen's camp in favour of the site at Sullivan's Cove will agree with the wisdom of his choice, and maybe label Bowen as something of a fool. Similarly, the few folk who find themselves at York Town, near the Tamar mouth, will wonder at Colonel Paterson's first choice of this spot. It, like Risdon, was a mistake, but York Town marks the real birthplace of Launceston, and Colonel Paterson earned a monument too, erected at George Town on the opposite side of the Tamar.
There were, however, good reasons for the choice of site in both these cases. Bowen and Paterson were founding penal stations, not cities, and easy access by ships was essential, also enough good soil to grow food for human beings and livestock.
In the early years a son of "general post" was played. Colonel Paterson arrived at Port Dalrymple in H.M.S. Buffalo on 4 November 1804, the ship being driven ashore by a gale; and having landed his contingent temporarily at George Town, he explored the country as far as White Hills beyond the present site of the city of Launceston. He reported very favourably on the suitability of the district for settlement, saying that it was superior to any he had yet seen in Van Diemen's Land or New South Wales, yet on returning to the camp at the mouth of the Tamar he decided to stay there. There can be no doubt that the proximity to the coast decided him. Formal possession was taken of the land on 11 November, and the following day a clash occurred with the original owners in which an aborigine was killed. Before Christmas, however, the settlement was transferred to York Town, and then to the present site of Launceston in March c 8o6. It is believed that the first building was erected just about where the Brisbane Hotel now stands. The matter did not end there : a few years later George Town had again become headquarters, the Commandant, Chaplain and other officers residing there and making occasional visits to Launceston. On 2 October 1820 Commissioner J. T. Bigge wrote to Governor Macquarie urging the expediency of abandoning George Town in favour of Launceston. Macquarie did not like the idea, but two and a half years later Tasmania's Governor Sorell supported Bigge by suggesting to Sir Thomas Brisbane that Launceston be preferred, and the argument was finally decided in favour of Launceston. But Sorell baulked at Arthur's idea of moving the capital from Hobart.
This succession of changes caused a good deal of inconvenience to one J. Townson who wrote to Commissioner Bigge on 1 March 1820 to complain. Having just moved
all his chattels and livestock from the Midlands to George Town and settled there because he had banked on its being the principal town, Mr Townson was extremely wrath on learning of a proposed petition in favour of Launceston. He conceded that it was natural for the petitioners to wish to have the headquarters near their own farms as possible, but, he added, "It appears to me that the settlers on the Nepean, Hawkesbury, etc. have as much reason to petition that the headquarters now at Sydney should be removed to Richmond for their convenience." George Town must have grown quite rapidly between 1817 and 1820, for on 10 June 1817 the whole settlement had been captured by "a banditti of six bushrangers".
While these arguments were in progress concerning the site of the chief northern settlement a feud was going on between north and south which has endured to this day. Who originated this old feud, which has endured in the annual North versus South athletic contest: has on occasions prevented Tasmania's participation in interstate events because we could not agree which city was to provide the management : which has often ruled out roads and other public works and delayed state progress because we could not speak with one voice to the powers above local government? I think the crown should go to Philip Gidley King, Governor of New South Wales, for he seems to have inspired the original rivalry. It was on King's instruction that the expedition of David Collins was despatched. Collins abandoned Port Phillip, established himself on the Derwent and founded Hobart. King later sent Paterson to Port Dalrymple. When Collins claimed to control the whole island, Paterson objected and argued that King had appointed him Lieutenant-Governor of Port Dalrymple at a time when Collins was supposed to be at Port Phillip. In an attempt to settle the dispute King divided the island along the forty-second parallel of latitude, making two governments, both Collins and Paterson being subordinate to himself.

This continued until 1812, when Hobart became the seat of government for the whole island. The political division was thus removed, but it will take more than an Act of Parliament to sponge away the imaginary line that constitutes in the minds of the people of Tasmania the division of the island into North and South.
Ironically, while it was an expedition from Port Phillip that founded Hobart, it was from rival Launceston that John Batman sailed back to that same Port Phillip and started the settlement which is now the city of Melbourne. In 1835 John Batman sailed from Launceston and landed on the banks of the Yarra where he bought 600,000 acres for a few blankets, knives, looking glasses, scissors and other implements beloved by savages. The eight chiefs presumably exhibited their title deeds before signing the transfer, but my knowledge does not go as far as that. Batman mentions that they duly signed, but he omits to say at what school they learned to write. The negotiations included an annual tribute, but unfortunately for the syndicate of fifteen purchasers the transaction was afterwards declared void, private individuals not being allowed to purchase from aboriginal races.

As weeds grow up before the more useful plants, so did the first public house in Launceston establish itself before the first church. In the lists of buildings recommended by Macquarie to Sorell in 1821 no churches appear (though a glebe house for the Chaplain at Hobart is included); but he is careful to suggest inns being opened in four country districts. Liquor was a medium of exchange, and when deferred pay was made in the liquid coin, Launceston was not the only town to be "painted red" on these pay-days.
The Reverend John Youl was the first resident Chaplain, in 1819. George Town was his headquarters, and the clergyman visited Launceston at stated periods. The building used was dubbed in correspondence "the chapel", in Cameron Street. On week-days it was the Police Office, and in front of it were the public stocks. This obviously had the advantage that the pastor could, if hell-fire appeared to the wicked as too shadowy and distant a punishment, at least point to the more immediate and practical degradation to be expected from lapses of behaviour and morals. Whether Mr Youl used the lesson is not recorded, but the unsuitability of the inside of the house was frequently the subject of his correspondence with headquarters. ' In those early days, when clocks were rare, a bell was a necessary adjunct, and the absence of such an item was got over by the resourceful parson hanging a barrel to a post and banging it with a mallet. Another method of ensuring a congregation was by parading the streets in clerical garb.
Lord Bathurst suggested the building of a church, and in April 1826 Governor Arthur reported that it was nearly ready for consecration-a mere twenty years after the founding of Launceston. Reading Arthur's voluminous and many-sided correspondence, one wonders how he found time to sleep. A typewriter would have been worth a king's ransom, but even steel pens were not yet invented and every word had to be written with a quill. Arthur's letters must have spelt death to quite a flock of geese. There are reams on penal subjects of course; annual reports; half-yearly reports; letters concerning his libellers, the control of the press, insubordinate officials, critical colonists, land grants, finance, site of the capital, agriculture, exploration, religion, punishments, health, law, education-was there any subject that did not come under the ken of this busy administrator? I fancy I can see Arthur examining with his observant eye the interior of this half-finished church, his clerk trailing at his heels with note-book in hand and a couple in reserve. The letter containing reference to the church is quite 3,000 words-a little newspaper. If Bathurst had many such correspondents, and doubtless he did, he must have banished rest from his life altogether. Bathurst had to approve even the details of equipment, and received from
his Colonial Governor meticulous recommendations as to font, "basons", tables, communion plate, scarlet coverings, "two linen napkins, two kneeling stools, two plain chairs". The number of surplices is detailed, the sizes of the Bibles and prayer-books, size of pews; a bell is suggested, a washing stand, looking-glass and a multiplicity of oddments-including an organist l Aghast at the probable value of the furnishings, Arthur winds up with a very practical solicitation for a "church keeper who should sleep in the church".

After the floods of April 1929, there was a suggestion to prevent further inundations of Invermay by cutting a canal from the North Esk to the Tamar. This had been suggested just over a century earlier by sixty-seven residents in a memorial to Sir Thomas Brisbane, though it was not floods they were thinking of. They probably visualized future Hunter schemes and harassed Marine Boards, worried ship captains and sinking dredges; for they mentioned a bar of sand or mud at the confluence of the rivers "which prevents vessels of greater burden than 150 tons coming within 400 yards of the Government wharf". In addition to forming a sort of anticipatory Marine Board, the signatories were also an embryo City Council and Public Works Department, for they advocated a North Esk bridge (recommended by Macquarie several years before) and a cataract aqueduct, the latter to save paying sixpence per load to Thomas Cookson, J.P., for water from somewhere near Hobler's.
The deservedly famous Cataract Gorge, which is formed by the South Esk River just before its junction with the Tamar was discovered by William Collins in the course of his surveying expedition from Port Phillip. In his favourable report, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, he said of Cataract Gorge : "The beauty of the scene is probably not surpassed in the world. The great water-fall, or cataract, is most likely one of the greatest sources of this beautiful river, every pan of which abounds with swans, duck and other kinds of wildfowl." For many years we paid a penny at a turnstile to view this magnificent scene, but instead of raising the fee to a level commensurate with the reward, the benevolent municipality has abolished the toll altogether.

Modern Launceston is a solid little city with some forty thousand people in it. They and their forbears have combined with nature to produce one of the most charming cities in the Commonwealth. Nearly all Tasmania's settlements are fortunate in possessing an eminence from which the visitor can see the whole picturesque scene, and Launceston is surrounded on three sides by hills, and behind them at some distance are lofty mountains, snow-clad in winter and always good to look at. If I lived in Launceston I'd choose Trevallyn for my suburb for the dwellings dig themselves into the hillside and get the first blink of sun as it peeps into their windows over the rims of the eastern mountain ranges.
It is a real Australian city in that pleasure grounds abound. If you know any game-two-up not excepted I'm told-you can play it in Launceston. If there are no champions among the bowlers, golfers or cricketers it is because they find themselves interrupted in their games to admire the view. I have myself tried to play bowls at the East Launceston green, but the exquisiteness of the surroundings gave a very disconcerting bias and I abandoned the attempt. There are more public parks strewn around than I shall ever visit, some of them in the heart of the city, others fringing the river banks, and yet others in the hill suburbs with an outlook over sweet countryside.
But Launceston, like all well-ordered cities, works as well as plays. There are factories making rayon cloth, woollens, racquets, machinery, furniture, jam, paints, leather goods and innumerable other oddments, large and small. If the Launceston Fifty Thousand League has not to change its name in a very few years-well, wanderers are fortunate if they know of a better spot in which to settle.

Chapter Five

 

 

 

Tasmania by Road and Track - by E T Emmett was originally published by Melbourne University Press.
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