Remembering the Past Australia

A Trip to Launceston in 1869

As published in the Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 4 October 1869.

“For my part,” says Sir William A’Beckett late Chief Justice of Victoria, in his brief narrative of a continental tour, “whenever I take up a book of travels, I feel myself to a certain extent defrauded if I find the author going into a long disquisition about the history of the places he happens to visit. * * I want to know what he has seen, heard, and felt, not what other people have written.” These are exactly my sentiments, and I mean to abide by them in giving a brief narrative of a visit to Launceston. As it happened that I first saw the place from the top of the coach which brought me from Hobart Town, I must begin with a word or two about the road between the two cities. It is far too long for one day’s journey, so I broke the length by stopping a night at Melton Moubray, thereby saving some fatigue, and also enjoying a fuller view of the interior of the island than could be obtained by travelling many miles in the dark.

This great road, one hundred and twenty miles long, all made by convict labour, is a perfect specimen of macadamisation; and the ride along it on the top of the stage during such fine days as prevail throughout the year in the “tight little island” is highly enjoyable. It recalls not only old coaching days in England, but old scenes and old feelings better than anything else I know of at the antipodes. Being the main artery of the island, running as it does between the eastern and western mountain ranges, or tiers as they are called, it constitutes the locale of a considerable population. A few are dispersed on farms wherever the valley widens out between the ranges; but most are clustered together in towns or villages built at intervals conveniently distant for changing horses. Of the towns, some present a decayed appearance, but others are as comfortable looking as many a town in the agricultural counties of England. The little town of Perth especially took my fancy.

As we skirted a piece of sward, which might be called the village green, where were a troop of cackling geese, and a flock of sheep followed by a venerable shepherd and collie dog, I looked back on the handsome bridge by which we had crossed the South Esk, then along the line of English-like homes constituting the town, then upon the encircling fields of golden grain, and, beyond the fields, upon well-wooded uplands, reaching far off to the base of grand Ben Lomond, whose rosy tinted walls were sharply defined against the darkening sky, and I fain would have lingered to gaze on so fair a scene. On through ever thickening signs of cultivation, past cottages in neatly-enclosed gardens, past lines of suburban dwellings; then the driver plied his whip, the guard blew his horn, and suddenly turning a corner we rattled with quickened pace along one of the main streets of Launceston, and dashed into Page’s court yard. It was the gleamin’ when we had done with our summer-day’s journey, and as little was to be seen, we were content to get to our hotel and rest.

My first object on the following morning was to ascend some of the neighbouring heights and get a bird’s eye view of the town. Accordingly I proceeded up the ascent on which the town is partially situated, and on gaining the top of the hill was, in a perceptive and intellectual sense, monarch of all I surveyed. I saw two rivers, the North Esk on the right hand, and the South Esk on the left, mingling their waters and forming at the foot of the hill the Tamar, which flows from the point of junction right onward to the sea. Imagine a triangular space, with the top of the hill on which I stood for its basis and the confluence of the two rivers for an apex, and you have the site of Launceston, about half of it lying on the mud flat formed by the fluvial deposit, and the other half straggling upwards by streets and terraces intermingled with gardens and trees.

Launceston from Above the Bridge over the South Esk 1869 (Colour)

Launceston, from above the bridge over the South Esk.

The surrounding scenery is pleasing. In the distance behind, we see a range of blue mountains, and before as, on either side of the Tamar, extend wooded undulations with patches of cultivation. The grandeur and beauty of Hobart Town are wanting; but there is a comfortable snugness about the hill-encircled town, with the river winding onward to the sea, which is not without a pleasing charm. Our first excursion was to that side of the town where, through a deep gorge, the South Esk pours its volume of waters into the Tamar. Climbing an exceeding steep, bar hill, we found a path leading to an iron bridge, which is thrown across the river’s entrance. From the higher ground behind this bridge is taken the view represented in our engraving.

In the foreground you see the conjunction of the two rivers forming the Tamar. In the middle distance are visible public buildings and the churches of various denominations. Looking up the river from this bridge, we see lofty walls of rock rising up on either side, canopied by shrubs and bold projecting crags, while far beneath flows the river, smooth on the surface, but deep, dark and dangerous enough, unless you know its “tricks and manners.” Further up, the river flows over a broken, rocky bed, and forms a foaming, tumbling rapid called the “Cataract.” It does not surprise us to be informed that the neighbourhood of the Cataract is a favourite resort for picnics and pleasure parties.

Our next excursion was to Cora Linn, about seven miles distant from the town. The Linn is along, deep gorge, like Hathornden near Edinburgh. The journey to it was charming. Every where, not only along the road, but enclosing every field were hedges of sweet briar and hawthorn, and their delicious scent, mingled with that of the new mown hay, filled the air. The North Esk was continually in-view in the hollow between two slopes, both trimly cultivated, and with wood enough to give picturesqueness to the scattered villas and farmhouses gleaming white in the rays of the morning sun. Our cabman was a good natured, jolly fellow, who not only kept us in fun all the way with his stories, but pointed out every object of interest, and sometimes went out of the way a bit just to show us a peep more than ordinarily beautiful. Long life to him, and next time I go to Launceston, may I have the luck to find his cab.

I am not going into details of a statistical kind. If you want to know the number and names of the streets, the hotels and banks, the date of the city’s foundation, its exports and imports, and extent of population, I refer you to the local guide book, if there is one. But one thing I must say before leaving the place, and that is, that I found there a striking exemplification of the hospitality for which the Tasmanians have long been famed. A gentleman, simply because he saw that our party were visitors in the town, showed us all that was worth seeing, took us in his boat up the South Esk to the Cataract, and next day accompanied us out to Cora Linn, thus giving up two whole days in order that he might do a kindness to strangers, not one of whom he had ever seen or heard of before.

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