Australia’s third oldest settlement, after Sydney and Hobart, wasn’t another of the large ‘mainland’ cities, like one would expect. It was George Town on Tasmania’s north coast and it was first settled quite by accident. Today George Town is a popular seaside destination not only because of its scenic location but also because it has such fascinating origins.
The original inhabitants of the Tamar Valley were the Leterremairrener and Pangerninghe. In 1798 the first Europeans visited when George Bass and Matthew Flinders sailed up the mouth of the Tamar during their voyage around Tasmania. You can find out more about this voyage and George Town’s maritime history at the Bass and Flinders Centre.
However, it was Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson who, in 1804, started the first European settlement here. Paterson had been sent on an expedition to explore possibilities for settlement in Northern Tasmania when his ship ran aground at Lagoon Bay, right at the mouth of the Tamar on its eastern bank. He set up camp at Outer Cove, claimed Northern Tasmania for Britain and even put up Northern Tasmania’s first Government House. Three months later he moved the main settlement across the river to York Town but still established vegetable gardens at the original camp, which later became George Town. Today you’ll find a memorial to Paterson along Esplanade North, the street that runs along the waterfront northwards of York Cove.
George Town officially became a town in 1811, under orders of Governor Lachlan Macquarie, and was named after King George III. Macquarie drew up a town plan and in 1821 named the main streets. Throughout the 1830s George Town was the most important port along the colony’s northern coast and there was also a Female Factory, housed in the former residence of the town’s first chaplain, the Reverend John Youl. Several buildings from this time still stand, among them the elegant ‘The Grove’, Tara Hall, the Steam Packet Inn, the British Hotel and the Pier Hotel. George Town’s Visitor Information Centre can set you up with a copy of a heritage trail map to explore the town’s historic buildings. The old watch house, which dates from 1843, now houses the George Town Watch House Museum.
Of course not everything in George Town is about history. It makes for a great base from which to explore the Tamar Valley and the coastline. There are tranquil beaches, good fishing spots and nature reserves along the coast and you’ll definitely want to take a walk or cycle to the Low Head Coastal Reserve with its colony of little penguins. Here you’ll also find the oldest pilot buildings in Australia at the Low Head Pilot Station, which was built by convicts in 1805.
George Town offers a range of accommodation options, including stays in some of the town’s historic buildings.