Covering an entire city block in Davey Street at Constitution Dock is an impressive collection of heritage buildings. They include the Commissariat Store which was built between 1808 and 1810 and is one of the oldest buildings in Hobart. The Private Secretary’s Cottage dates from 1815 while the Custom House was built in 1902. These buildings have been revamped to form the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which is the best place to get an introduction to the history of the state and of the Hobart area.
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, or ‘TMAG’ as the institution is more commonly called, is Australia’s second oldest museum. It traces its origins back to 1843, when Lieutenant-Governor John Eardley-Wilmot founded the Botanical and Horticultural Society of Van Diemen’s Land. In 1855 it became the Royal Society of Tasmania and was the first Royal Society outside of Britain. Among the Society’s activities was the collection of natural history specimens and art, which it housed in its own museum. In 1885 the Society gave most of these collections to the Tasmanian government and they formed the basis of the TMAG collection.
TMAG has different exhibition galleries dedicated to specific themes. For instance, the Earth and Life gallery tells the story of Tassie’s natural history, including its geology, evolution, plant and animal life. You’ll find exhibits on the more famous native animals such as the Tasmanian devil and the platypus but will also learn about wildlife you’ve probably never heard of. Did you know, for instance, that the most dangerous in Tasmania is the jackjumper ant? You can see a living colony of these critters at TMAG.
Other permanent exhibitions tell the stories of Tassie’s Aboriginal peoples, how the state changed from Van Diemen’s Land into Tasmania, arts and crafts, money and the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Temporary exhibitions can cover anything from cricket to the discovery of new species in Tasmania. TMAG also hosts special events such as art workshops.
The museum has an on-site café for when you need to rest your feet and at the end of your visit, it’s a good idea to browse the museum shop for that special souvenir. TMAG is open from 10:00 to 16:00 every day except Mondays, Good Friday and Christmas Day. General admission is free.