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