The first inhabitants of the area of Launceston were largely nomadic Aboriginal Tasmanians, also known as the Palawa people. For 40,000 years they lived in harmony with the land utilising the rich resources of the region.
European explorers Bass and Flinders first arrived in 1798 being sent to explore the possibility that there was a strait between the Australian mainland and Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). They landed in Port Dalrymple (the mouth of the Tamar River), 40 kilometres north-west of present-day Launceston, and spent 16 days exploring the river.
Their exploration laid the groundwork for the first significant colonial settlement of the area by Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson in 1804. Originally his men set up a camp at the current site of George Town, before moving across the river to York Town a few weeks later, and finally in 1806 to its to its definitive position where Launceston now stands. Originally called Patersonia, it was later changed to Launceston in honour of Governor Philip Gidley King, born in the English seaside township of Launceston, Cornwall.
However, growth was halted in the 1840s as an economic depression hit Australia, and an excess in the labour market in Tasmania resulted in mass unemployment. Unemployment did not ease until the discovery of gold in Victoria during the 1850s with Launceston providing supplies and an exodus of the male population as a labour force.
It was not until the mining boom of the 1880s, however, that Tasmania was lifted out of economic depression. Launceston play a major role processing the ore from the rich tin mine at Mt Bischoff and also supply the mine fields on the west coast. Migration increased, trade flourished and the custom duties contributed to a booming Tasmanian economy supporting the birth of other industries – Waverley, Woollen Mills and Salisbury Foundry for example.
During this time Launceston grew from a small town into an urban centre. In 1889 it was declared a city, the second in Tasmania after state capital Hobart and the third in Australia (Sydney being the first).
Launceston City Attractions
As the size of the city has increased, so too have the number of visitors wishing to soak up Launceston’s rich past. As one of Australia’s oldest cities Launceston has one of the best-preserved early cityscapes in the country. Century old parks and elegant Colonial and Victorian architecture – some dating as back as 1824 – dot the city giving it its wonderful historic charm.
On Shield Street many of the buildings date back to the 1830’s, including the second penitentiary, while St John Street is home to a number of mid-19th century public buildings reflecting the growth of self-government in Tasmania. Many of the historic town’s buildings still function today repurposed as fashion boutiques, bars, banks and high tech-offices.
Locals place a high value on culture in Launceston, thriving as a vibrant hub of art galleries, museums and design studios alongside excellent food, wine and coffee scenes bustling with energy.
The city and its surrounds also offer stunning scenic beauty for the nature lover. Cataract Gorge, a touch of epic wilderness, sits at a great location right in the heart of town just a few minutes’ walking distance from the city centre. Meanwhile verdant hills and sweeping valleys surround the city beckoning to be explored on a day trip. Following the Tamar River especially, the gateway to the Tamar Valley north from Launceston, will take you through Tasmania’s wine-growing region, past forested hills and farmland, lavender fields, vineyards, orchards and pretty riverside towns, and historic villages.
Tour of Launceston
You can visit Launceston as part of our 16 day wildlife tour of Tasmania as well as our 22 day tour of Tasmania’s colonial history. Both tours are led by a local tour operator chosen for their local knowledge. Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational small group tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations designed for mature and senior travellers. Tours consist of small groups of between 6 and 12 people and are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals. For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.
Articles about Tasmania and Australia published by Odyssey Traveller:
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Tasmania: