Home to a little over 2,200 people, Perth is one of the larger towns along the Heritage Highway. This historic town lies just over 18 km south of Launceston and about 180 km north of Hobart along National Highway 1, the Midland Highway. The town is located along the west bank of the South Esk River.
Perth, Tasmania predates its more famous Western Australian namesake by eight years. The little town was founded in 1821. One of the first settlers in the area was David Gibson, who lived at Pleasant Banks a little to the east, near where Evandale is today. Gibson came to Van Diemen’s Land as a convict on the Calcutta, the ship in which David Collins sailed to start a settlement at Port Phillip. After Gibson had moved to his new land along the South Esk, the river was sometimes called Gibson’s River. He was a successful farmer who had good relations with the local Aboriginal people.
in 1821 Governor Lachlan Macquarie stayed with Gibson and when he decided to found a township nearby, he named it after Gibson’s birthplace, Perth in Scotland. By 1834 the village had eight houses, some of which still stand in Scone Street. There were two inns as well: The Leather Bottell Inn dates from 1830 and is still on the corner of Main Road and Frederick Street while the Jolly Farmer, built in 1826, is in Norfolk Street. The village also had two flour mills and a punt across the river.
Back in the day, Perth was a bit of a wild town. Fore Street saw so many fights that it was often called Bloodshed Lane. Thomas Massey, who was Chief Constable of Launceston, had been farming in the area since 1814 but in 1826 his farm was burnt down by the notorious bushranger Mathew Brady, who was also known as Gentleman Brady for his impeccably good manners while robbing his victims. Near the old Flinty Railway Bridge, Brady was ambushed, shot and capturd by John Batman and taken to Hobart to be hanged in May 1826.
On Perth’s northern side, just to the right of the highway, there is a spot known as Gibbett Hill. Here, in 1837, the body of John McKay was hung in chains and this was one of the last recorded cases of gibbeting in the British colonies. McKay had robbed and murdered a man named Joseph Wilson and was hanged in Hobart before his body was displayed on Gibbet Hill to deter other would-be criminals. The grizzly display was taken down only after one of Wilson’s acquaintances asked the authorities to remove the rotting corpse.
The Perth of today is a much calmer place to spend some time. It still boasts a fine selection of Georgian and Victorian buildings to admire, among them the stately Victorian mansion Eskleigh and the ornate Baptist Tabernacle. At the Post Office, which dates from 1885, you can pick up a brochure with a map and information on all the National Trust-listed buildings in Perth. For something sweet, you may also want to visit the Tasmanian Honey Company for a taste of leatherwood honey.