History of Launceston
Launceston has a rich and vibrant history. For the past 40,000 years the Palawa people (Tasmanian Aboriginal people) lived in harmony with the land and used its abundant resources throughout Tasmania. The Palawa tribal groups who lived in the Tamar area were known as the Leterremairrener, Panninher and Tyerrernotepanner peoples. They utilised the rich resources found in the region and performed ceremonial dances and song at culturally important places such as the Cataract Gorge.
Following settlement by Lieutenant Colonel Paterson in 1806, it was called Patersonia for a short time. Paterson, the founder and first commandant, changed it to Launceston in honour of Governor Philip Gidley King whose birthplace was the Cornish township of Launceston. This was the beginning of a long association between the new Launceston and the ancient English township.
The discovery 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. They named their landing place Port Dalrymple.
Settlement of the area began in 1804 when Lt. Col. William Paterson and his party set up camp where George Town now stands and formally took possession of Port Dalrymple. A few weeks later, the settlement was moved across the river to York Town, and a year later they finally settled in Launceston.
Launceston is noted as having one of the most intact early cityscapes in Australia. Its early Colonial and Victorian buildings give the city a wonderful historic character. The city has buildings which date back to 1824.
Paterson Barracks, built by 1830, was described at the time as the very best brick building in Van Diemen's Land. It was built as a commissariat store, designed to house foods and supplies not only for the military and government officials in the young settlement, but also free settlers assisted by the government to establish in the new land. Today it is home to the sixteenth Field Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery, and Launceston's cadet units.
The convict superintendent's house on the corner of George and William Streets still stands as a reminder to the days when it guarded over the penitentiary on this site. Once prisoners were domiciled here of a night and taken out in work gangs during the day. Portions of this site can be traced back to before 1826 when a bonded store was built on site.
The public buildings in St John Street reflect the growth of self-government in Tasmania. Completed in 1861, they have been more than mere offices for politicians. The ornamental portico was the entrance to the post office and contained within what was the telegraph office. In 1872 the first message direct from England was received taking 24 hours to transmit.
The fine Custom House, with its elegant portico and Corinthian columns, reminds us of Launceston's role in the mining boom of the 1880s. The ore from the rich tin mine at Mt Bischoff was processed in the town, plus Launceston supplied the mine fields on the west coast. Trade flourished, and the customs duties contributed to a booming Tasmanian economy.