A Brief History of the George Town District
The Tamar River was entered, named Port Dalrymple and partially explored by Bass and Flinders in the Norfolk when they explored Bass Strait in 1798. They were followed in 1802 by Freycinet and Faure in the Naturaliste and 1804 by William Collins in the Lady Nelson. A replica of the Norfolk and other associated artefacts are on display in the Bass and Flinders Centre housed in the old George Town Picture Theatre
Fear of French settlement led to the Governor of NSW sending an expedition under Lieut. Colonel William Paterson, who after being aground just south of Lagoon Bay for several days claimed Northern Van Diemen’s Land in a ceremony at Outer Cove on 11th November 1804. He brought with him around 205 people in all, including soldiers, convicts, one free settler and a doctor. Here he set up camp and erected the first Government House in Northern Tasmania, a pre-fabricated construction.
By mid February 1805, Paterson had moved his main settlement to York Town on the Western side of the Tamar River, but left a small detachment at Outer Cove. At both places he established successful gardens to grow vegetables for the two settlements. Green Island, now Garden Island, was used for stores.
From 1806 the Launceston area developed as the main settlement, while Outer Cove and York Town declined. Outer Cove was still being used as a port and the first pilot, William House, was living and growing crops there.
In 1811 Governor Macquarie visited Port Dalrymple and ordered that George Town be made the headquarters for Northern Van Diemen’s Land. Convict builders started work late 1815 and Major Cimitiere, commandant at Port Dalrymple, moved his administration in 1819.
Macquarie’s first map of George Town showed a central square surrounded by a grid pattern of streets, typical of Macquarie’s town plans. During his 1821 visit he named the streets and Square which remain the same today.
The Reverend John Youl was appointed the first Chaplain in 1819. He toured the district for three weeks, during which he married 41 couples and baptised 64 children, some of the latter belonging to newly weds, who had been waiting for an opportunity to be legally married. After leaving George Town his residence, for the next ten years, became the Female Factory for convict women.
Governor Macquarie again visited George Town in 1821, and rode around the district, writing in glowing terms of the good farming land in Cimitiere Valley, now part of Archer’s Cimitiere Plains and Lawrence’s Moama properties. He inspected the various government buildings, erected and occupied since his first visit ten years earlier, including military barracks, commandant’s residence, lime kilns, blacksmith’s shop, stores, watch house and gaol, and a chaplain’s dwelling.
Old buildings that remain in the town include the 1833 built Tara Hall, 1836 Grove, 1839 Steam Packet Inn, 1846 British Hotel, 1855 replacement Watch House, 1850s Ben Hyron’s Cottage and Pier Hotel. The Watch House now operates as a museum housing a model village, female factory display and changing exhibitions.
In an early 1825 diary entry by John Helder Wedge, surveyor, he stated that on first coming into sight of it: (George Town) “I was somewhat pleased at its appearance as it put me in mind of a neat English Village, the first time my eyes had feasted on such a sight since I left England. Home sweet home, there is no place like home.”