Where the Jordan River changes its course to flow southwards and eventually into the Derwent River, lies Pontville. This tiny town, home to a little over 2,000 people, is about 28 km north of Hobart along the Midland Highway, also known as National Highway 1.
Pontville is just north of Brighton and the two towns are so close together that in the early days, people often used the two names interchangeably. Even though Brighton was founded first, Pontville soon became the more important of the two towns.
The Moomairremener roamed the area before European settlement. Then, just after Hobart was founded in 1804, the Royal Marines explored this part of Tasmania. In the first few years of the settlement at Sullivans Cove, crops failed and supply ships didn’t arrive when they were supposed to, so the new settlers suffered severe food shortages. To alleviate the problem, expeditions were sent out to hunt kangaroos and emus. Local lore has it that one of the soldiers, Private Hugh Germain, carried a copy of the Bible and a copy of the Arabian Nights with him and used these books as inspiration for the rather exotic names he gave places in the area where Pontville is today. This explains why the river is named the Jordan and why a settlement 7 km to the northwest received the improbable name of Bagdad.
William Kimberley moved to the area in 1818 and in about 1819, he built two conjoined cottages that became known as The Sheiling, which you can find in Rifle Range Road. In the same year, a homestead for the lawyer Gamaliel Butler was built in Shene Road and today the Shene Historic Homestead hosts popular tours or the property.
Three years later Governor Lachlan Macquarie founded the garrison town of Brighton just south of Kimberley’s land. A row of cottages followed in 1824 to accommodate soldiers and today is known as Lythgo’s Row or The Barracks. A bridge was built across the Jordan in 1830 and in 1831 and James Burnip built Epsom House, which still stands to the left of the highway just before you reach the bridge.
However, Pontville only really came into existence in 1837, when Kimberley subdivided his land into 154 allotments and gave the fledgling village its name. The next year Pontville got a police station and a year later a watch house. It was also in about 1838 that William Maule built the Crown Inn, which you’ll find just to the north of the bridge.
The bridge over the Jordan River dates mainly from 1945 but it still contains parts of a bridge built in 1842. This bridge did wonders for Pontville’s development into an important stop between Hobart and Launceston. In fact, when the Brighton District was gazetted in 1863, Pontville became the district headquarters.
Pontville still has several other buildings dating from the mid 1800s. They were built with local sandstone and the town soon supplied sandstone to other parts of Tasmania. One of the most fascinating buildings in town is St Mark’s Anglican Church, which was built of the white ashlar stone found in the area and dates from 1839 to 1841. Its unique neo-Norman design was the work of James Blackburn, an architect, civil engineer and surveyor who was transported to Tasmania for forgery. He soon became one of the most important architects in the colony and was pardoned in 1841.
A small park between Glebe Street and the highway, across from the Crown Inn, has a map showing the location of all Pontville’s historic buildings.