George Town (including Bell Bay, York
Town, Lefroy and Low Head)
One of Tasmania's most important historic
Located 53 km north of Launceston on the East
Tamar Highway, George Town is one of the most
important historic sites in North eastern
George Town can claim to be one of the
earliest European settlements in Tasmania. As
early as 1804 William Paterson camped on the
site and by 1811 a permanent settlement had been
established by Lachlan Macquarie and named after
the English king, George III.
Paterson ran the HMS Buffalo aground at York
Cove and, apparently nonplussed by his
misfortune, duly ran up the flag, fired three
volleys in the air, and played the national
anthem. A memorial to the event stands on
Esplanade North at Windmill Point - continue
west down Macquarie Street from the Main Road.
The town grew in fits and starts. There were
times when it was an important centre but these
were matched by periods when the town slumped
back into insignificance.
In The Savage Crows, the novelist Robert
Drewe paints a rather grim picture of George
Town in the 1830s. He describes it as 'a dull,
lifeless place, few people remaining there
except those connected with the Government.
There was a good wooden jetty and a gaol but no
church. The only other major buildings were the
lunatic asylum and the female factory, both
swarming with inmates.'
This was not entirely accurate as, between
1834-1840, it became the most important port on
Van Diemen's Land's north coast, being
particularly active in its trading with the new
colony of Victoria.
It slumped in the 1840s only to be
revitalised in the 1870s when gold was
discovered at Lefroy, 15 km east of the town.
Lefroy, which is now little more than a ghost
town is well worth a visit. After the discovery
of gold in 1870 it became a thriving gold mining
town with a population reaching 5000 around the
turn of the century. Now there are only the
ruins of a few buildings.
Today George Town is a modern administrative
centre. It is economically driven by the
aluminium industry at Bell Bay and the tourist
industry which attracts people to this
attractive area of northern Tasmania.
Things to see:
Old Watch House Museum
A suitable starting point for visitors to George
Town is the Old Watch House Museum in Macquarie
Street (turn towards the river from the Main
Road) which was originally the local lockup for
both male and female offenders. Originally built
in 1843 it has been restored and now operates as
a craft shop and information centre.
One of George Town's main historic attractions
is 'The Grove', an elegant stone house located
at 25 Cimitiere Street - turn west off Goulburn
Street. It was probably built in 1829 and was
occupied in the 1830s and 1840s by Mathew
Friend, the port officer and magistrate. It is
open from 9.00 a.m. - 5.30 p.m. in summer and
10.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. in other seasons. Contact
(03) 6382 1336 for more information.
A few kilometres south of George Town is the
industrial port of Bell Bay which achieved fame
in the 1950s and 1960s when it became the site
of Australia's first producer of aluminium. It
utilised Tasmania's cheap electricity to convert
bauxite into finished aluminium. It is possible
to inspect the Comalco Aluminium site. Contact
the works on (03) 6382 5111.
Today Bell Bay is a thriving port servicing
most of northern Tasmania. Its industries are
based around aluminium, its thermal power
station, its woodchip and paper mills, and its
large oil installations.
lighthouse at Low Head
5 km north of George Town is Low Head, a
sheltered harbour which is now a classified
historic town. Apart from its status as a
popular holiday resort location (East Beach is a
popular surfing location and Lagoon Bay is ideal
for children), the tiny settlement has a 12 m
high lighthouse which overlooks the entrance to
the River Tamar. It was built in 1888 to replace
the original lighthouse which was constructed by
convicts in the early 1830s.
The nearby pilot station (the oldest in
Australia it was completed in 1835) houses a
Maritime Museum which includes memorabilia
salvaged from the many shipwrecks on the north
coast as well as some interesting, early diving
The river track between Pilot Bay and the
lighthouse is the best place to watch the fairy
penguins come ashore at dusk.
Visitors seeking more information should
refer to George Town: History of the Town and
District by J. G. Branagan which provides a very
comprehensive history of the entire district.