Exploring Old Hobart

It was a beautiful sunny day today with a temperature of 25C – perfect for walking around some of Hobart’s historic areas.

Close to the CBD is the tiny suburb of Battery Point. I don’t think that any other Australian city has an historic area to equal Battery Point. It is a very elegant ‘suburb’ which has managed to retain its original buildings. These are an extraordinary concentration of beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings – both Georgian and Victorian.

Battery Point gets its name from the battery of guns which were mounted on the headland in 1818. They were called the Mulgrave Battery and were part of the coastal defences of Hobart Town. By the 1820’s the area had been occupied by free settlers who were farming the headland. By the mid-1830s houses were beginning to appear here. These cottages and houses included elegant Georgian sandstone residences.  I walked around the streets and I think that every second house was worth a photograph.

The most impressive, and famous. building in Battery Point is St George’s Church which was built between 1836-38 and the tower, a James Blackburn design, was added in 1847. James Blackburn arrived in Hobart as a convict and later became a celebrated colonial architect and engineer.

Nearby Arthur Circus is a ring of old cottages surrounding an old village green at the heart of Battery Point. The cottages surrounding the village green of Arthur Circus were constructed for the officers of the original Hobart garrison. They are small dwellings, probably originally consisting of just two main rooms when they were built in the 1840s. They are in stark contrast to the extravagant homes of their Battery Point neighbors. It was one of the earliest sub-divisions in Australia, the land having been established by then Governor George Arthur in dubious circumstances in 1829.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie chose the site of the Anglesea Barracks in 1811 and they were built in 1814. Troops (maninly infantry and artillery) were occupying some of the buildings by 1818. Today they are recognised as the oldest military establishment still in use in Australia. A process of architectural evolution means that today, over 200 years after their inception, they combine “a mix of Colonial Georgian, Regency, Federation and later buildings.  The centrepiece is the Australian Army Museum which is operated by volunteers and recalls the evolving role of the army at the barracks.

I wanted to visit the museum but I thought that I was stonkered when I arrived. On my last visit to Hobart, the barracks were open to walk around but since Covid, they have been secured with a large fence and big gates. However, I managed to find a phone number to call someone at the museum. It actually connected me to the Army’s central switchboard in Canberra but I was quickly routed through to the OIC of the museum. He came down to the gate to escort me around.

I explained to this officer that I knew someone important, so he kindly showed me into the main building and there on the wall near tnhe Commondant’s office were photos of all the previous commandants of the barracks. Among them was my good friend, John Snare. He was the OC of my platoon as a Captain in Vietnam and later (among many other postings) rose to become a Colonel. One part of his career was as Commandant of Anglesea Barracks.

The museum is in an old building that was once a military prison. Not a prison for convicts but for miscreant soldiers. It was run by Sergeants and Warrat Officers. I bet that they were real mongrels! At one time, it became a prison for young girls as there was nowhere else to jail young female offenders except for the adult prison and that wasn’t deemed suitable for children. Actually, I don’t think that this one was either.

In each of the old cells there is a display of a different part of Tasmania’s military history. This one showed one of the colonial era soldiers suffering in his cell, just as it would have been at that time.

We are going to miss the market at Salamanca as we won’t be in Hobart on a Saturday. However, it was a good place to find lunch. There is a picturesque row of three and four-storey sandstone warehouses facing the street and they area a classic example of Australian colonial architecture. Dating back to the whaling days of the 1830s, Salamanca Place was then the waterfront – goods were winched from the upper levels of the warehouses directly onto ships. By the mid-20th century many of the warehouses had fallen into ruin, before restorations began in the 1970s. These days, Salamanca hosts many restaurants, cafes, bars and shops, and, of course, Saturday’s Salamanca Market.

Our day continued with a long stroll around Consitution Dock. We found many different vessels – fishing boats, pilot boats, tugs and  a navy vessel (Diamantina) – either an old patrol boat or minesweeper, perhaps? I need my friend Tony Bell to tell me what it is. 

Hobart has always been the stepping off point for Australia’s exploration of Antarctica. We found an interesting group of statues that represented some elements of this endeavour. The photographer in the statue group is the famous Frank Hurley. He was the photographer on one of Shackleton’s voyages as well as with Douglas Mawson. He also served in the miltary and photographed action in both WW1 and WW2.

A replica of Mawson’s Antarctic hut is situated near the waterfront.

My final stop was at St David’s Park near Tasmania’s Supreme Court. It has an avenue of memorial walls that are made up from many of the original headstones from the park’s previous life as the Hobart colony’s first cemetery. They contains the names and details of many “First Fleeters” and many of the early settlers of Hobart Town.

St David’s was Hobart’s main cemetery and many of its most prominent citizens were buried there. As the town expanded, the land surrounding the burial ground was gradually developed and by the 1850s people were voicing concerns about the health risks associated with burying corpses in such a thickly populated neighbourhood. The Government passed the Cemeteries Act in 1865 and the opening of the Cornelian Bay cemetery in 1872 allowed St Davids and all the other burial grounds within the city to be closed.

4 thoughts on “Exploring Old Hobart

  1. Great photo of Col John Snare. So many tales of Hobart to be had. I think it was warmer in Hobart than Melbourne. As always, Travel safely.

  2. Nice work gaining your entry into the Museum Bruce. What a beautiful blue in the skies. Beautiful photography catpturing interesting preserved architecture.

  3. Hobart is a beautiful city with a rich history. Battery Point is a unique place with historical buildings and many fine eateries. Thanks Bruce for rekindling many treasured memories for us.

  4. I see that you discovered my long lost secret Bruce, even though it was under lock and key! The Rogues Gallery has a representation (photo or portrait) of each Army head of Anglesea Barracks since 1804. My two years in Tassy were special and I have enjoyed ‘traveling’ with you through that beautiful island. Happy travels! John Snare

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