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Home > Travelogues > 2006 Travelogues Index > Tasmania - The historic Midlands and Port Arthur penal colony
Short version only - full version with pictures yet to come
We reach Tasmania and follow a plan to see a good cross section of the island in our short seven week visit, starting in the North.  We then explored the West, the South, the East, travelled through the historic Midlands and finally toured through the Central Highlands.  See where we camped.
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Hisotric towns and convict built bridges on the Midlands Highway and a visit to Port Arthur former convict penal settlement
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Convict Heritage and the Midlands

 

The Midlands highway runs through mainly agricultural land linking Hobart and Launceston. This is a low rainfall flat area between the hills of the east coast and the central highlands.  Bridges and towns date back to the convict era.  We passed a number of old farm mansions in this area.

 

Our visit to the former penal colony at Port Arthur to the south east of Hobart has also been included in this travelogue of the convict heritage for continuity. 

 

Heading south along the Midlands highway, we diverged to visit Clarendon House, a former farming family mansion built in 1836 and now open for tourists.  The adjoining work rooms (laundry, bake house, butter making and sewing etc rooms) were so low than we had to duck to enter these rooms. 

 

Amongst the large and numerous out buildings, was the quaint octagonal gardener’s cottage placed in the corner of the gardens. 

 

In the dry midlands, an undulating strip between mountains, seeding had commenced on one farm. 

 

At the tiny and neat town of Conara, once a junction point on the railway, the picnic shed was painted with colourful murals depicting flora and fauna of the area.  There is a pleasant rest area away from the highway and a signed bush walk nearby. 

 

Bridges built by convict labour are still being used by modern transport, without having undergone any structural improvement. 

 

The Red Bridge at Campbell Town was constructed being between 1836 and 1838.  Designed for horse drawn traffic, it is now on the busy highway traversing Tasmania, taking 1.2 million vehicles annually including all heavy road transport.  It has never needed any structural repair.  The bridge was built on dry land and the river was then diverted. 

 

At Campbell Town, a “red brick road” has been created on the footpaths with each brick telling briefly the story of a convict, which makes very interesting reading.   Small misdemeanours such as stealing a handkerchief, or poaching a pheasant could result in a sentence of at least seven years.  Some of these convicts were children.  Some ex convicts became successful farmers, businessmen and even policemen.  One former convict, transported for horse theft, started a successful coaching company. 

 

Also convict built in 1836 is the Ross Bridge, famous for its carvings. It is the third oldest bridge in Australia and possibly the most beautiful of its kind left in the world.  It too is still in full use today, although the main highway bypasses Ross it no longer has all the highway heavy haulage crossing it.  

 

Ross museum is principally dedicated to the wool industry, and traces the history of the Saxon sheep to the present day merino studs.  A boot shaped bath depicts a bygone era. 

 

Tunbridge, a tiny rural community also now bypassed by the highway boasts the oldest remaining wooden span bridge in Australia, built by convict labour in 1848.

At Oatlands, history is maintained throughout the town.  At the annual fair, horses and bullock teams demonstrated early farming methods.  The old mill dominates the historic town.  While climbing to the top of the interior, recorded sounds of the mill grinding and turning are played. 

 

At Kempton, formerly the first coaching stop out of Hobart in 1817, the Inns in the quiet tiny town are now stately residences.  Whilst walking down to our friend’s house on Sunday morning a horse drawn cart came by. This lovely tiny town has also been bypassed by the highway, and now all shops have closed.  Update: There is now a general store operating.

 

The Tasman Peninsula is near Hobart and includes the infamous Port Arthur former convict settlement.  The Arch, one of the coastal features on the way to Port Arthur

 

Other walkers were startled when I showed them that they had almost walked on this “Tasmanian Tiger” on the path without even noticing. 

 

Taking a drive to the southern end of the Tasman Peninsula, we looked across to the jagged basalt of Point Raol in the distance.  This can only be reached by a long and difficult walk trail. 

  

The full tour of the Port Arthur complex includes a boat ride to Isle of the Dead and Point Puer where the young boy convicts were incarcerated.

 

North of Hobart and not on the main highway, the convict built Richmond Bridge was in 1823, is the oldest bridge in Australia and still takes all the main road traffic on that thoroughfare, with a weight limit of 25 tonne. 

 

Update 2017: The Richmond Bridge wll undergo a geotechnical investigation, as part of an ongoing plant to assess maintenance needs and ensure the preservation of this bridge.

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