On the Convict Trail

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March 28th 2014
Published: March 28th 2014
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Next stage of our Tasmanian Tour was retracing interesting things and places associated with the convicts of the 1830s through the interior of the island.

We headed from Sheffield across country to join the Launceston Hobart highway, with our first stop the Elizabeth River Red Bridge at Campbell Town.

There are 1 million red bricks in this structure, opened in 1837. Each of these bricks was made by the convicts and assembled into the bridge still in use today with traffic many times heavier than the bullock carts with logs of the 1830's. We cannot begin to imagine the contribution to Tasmania that the convicts have made under arduous and depraved circumstances of a cruel justice system.

In the main street of Campbell Town there is a strip of red bricks embedded into the foot path with the name and basic details of these convicts. This memorial really tugs at the heart, but there is the twist that many of these men were regarded as violent. Was the violence a reaction to their hopeless circumstances, or just their character. While at Port Arthur I tried on the legging chains of the chain gang workers. They are heavy and
Red Brick BridgeRed Brick BridgeRed Brick Bridge

Campbell Town
clumsy, difficult to walk in and certainly would make work difficult as well. Some of these projects were undertaken by selected convicts who were working free of the chains, and this may well have been one of them.

Adjacent to the Red Bridge is some artwork worthy of recognition. It is similar to the tree stump art we have found in other locations. One piece is very significant, the building of the bridge with the military officer and convict worker depicted against the bridge profile. Other items are depicted are animals and insects of the area.

There are other remnants of the convict era here. Private buildings were built using sand stone quarried form local quarries. It looks like the hotel by the bridge may be one, and there is another building on the south side that also appears to include stables from that same era.

The little town of Ross is just off the highway south of Campbell Town. Take a short stop here and see another early settlement. The Anglican Church here dates back to 1838, so is one of the older buildings in the region. There is a stone house diagonally opposite the Anglican Church, a different style of construction from the sandstone blocks more commonly used in the region.

The bridge at Ross is very different to the Red Brick Bridge of Campbell Town. Stone Mason Daniel Herbert built this bridge, and in particular the artwork that enhances the arches of the bridge. This fine effort won him his freedom despite some of the images appearing uncomfortable to people of the day.

It is worthwhile looking at four street signs; 'Damnation', 'Temptation', 'Salvation' and 'Recreation'. You will just have to go there to find out why these names were given!

Next stop south was Oatlands. This little Georgian town took us quite by surprise. If Anne and Jim hadn't given us a brochure about the Callington Windmill, we would have missed a significant slice of Tasmanian history. You will recall that we loved visiting Richmond earlier in our travels, but in an interesting way, the town of Oatlands surpasses it with such a variety of original buildings, and they still look authentic and original.

The Lancashire Windmill at Oatlands (Callington Mill) dates back to 1837. This tapered circular tower was built by convict labour. Each course of sandstone blocks have been built to key together, are radiused and tapered to give a smooth stone surface with mortar for the final binding and weather proofing. The turret on the top which carries the wind sails sits on a circular geared rack. The fan tail wind turbine drives a mechanism that keeps the main sails directly into the wind with no intervention from the miller.

The convict connection here shows another way these men were used. In this instance they were paid for their labour. Whether a fair days pay for a fair days work applied I cannot comment. But there were many projects where the convicts were used to build projects, develop farms and build all sorts of buildings

These are clotheless sails. The blades have louver like blades which the miller can adjust as required to keep the mill running in low or high winds without stopping the mill. The Dutch Mills were different. They had cloth sails that could be adjusted, but only when the mill was stopped. So, in terms of the 1830's this was high tech stuff. It operated like this for the first 60 years, but from time to time stopped for several days in succession if there was no wind. The miller decided that a boiler and steam engine would overcome that problem.

Towards the end of the 1890's, a fire destroyed the timber work in the interior of the mill, so just the dome and stone column survived until a project to restore the mill to a working mill was commenced in 1970 and finally completed in 2010. Just one problem, the sails were too close to the tower, so running the mill would present some difficulties. A rebuild of the turret was completed while we were in Oatlands, the total cost of the rebuild being over one million dollars. This included three pairs of grinding stones at $200,000 a pop. Lucky they come with a 100 year guarantee! So they will start milling here again this week without the hazard of blade clipping the stone tower.

There is plenty of interesting things to see around town, and we have included photos of some to give you a feel of this village. One of the remaining convict buildings is the gaolers house plus the walls and entrance to the gaol. I did a chuckle when I looked at the front steps to the gaolers house - worn very hollow in the middle. He must have had many visitors!

The little town of Oatlands provides a great little book that guides you around town giving a back ground to the majority of the buildings that you can see. A very worthwhile stop.

We camped just behind the windmill overnight, and may have stayed another day but for heavy rain turning the whole town into a shivering place that would have reflected how many of the original inhabitants and convicts felt about this town., so there was little delay in putting things to right.

Not everything built by the convicts was a total success. They built a church in 1856 in Oatlands only to have the 90 ft spire fall over two years later and destroy most of the building. The church on the site today was built in 1859

We decided to head north to Launceston to warmer temps, but got the hungries along the way. Must give a plug for the busiest bakery I have ever visited, Banjo's of Campbell Town. On a cold day, forget vanilla slice, get stuck into a really good pie! They were great, and we also stocked up on their date scones. There was no doubt that these were date scones - lots of dates. Tasha gave us great service with a smile, and we were ready to complete the journey to Launceston.

Additional photos below
Photos: 30, Displayed: 26


Stone CottageStone Cottage
Stone Cottage

Ross. Possibly the ministers house as next to the church.
Church on hillsideChurch on hillside
Church on hillside

Ross - no sign board that we could see.
An old signAn old sign
An old sign


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