The Story of Port Dalrymple by Llwelyn Slingsby Bethell

‘Life and Work in Northern Tasmania’

I’ve been reading a lot about Tasmania recently.  I’ve not lived there since 1974, but I still think of it as ‘home’.  I visit regularly, and daydream about (one day) moving back.  In the meantime, I read.

This book, first published in 1957, provides a history of European settlement from the discovery of Port Dalrymple by Matthew Flinders in 1798 until just after the beginning of the twentieth century.

While the main focus is on the establishment and growth of Launceston and on some of the more notable colonists involved, it also looks at the settlement of the North-West coast.

Mr Bethell focusses on the region north of the forty-second parallel, (Lt Colonel Paterson’s command) which means that neither the penal system nor broader political activities are covered in detail because both were directed from Hobart. It’s interesting to read about the movement of the administrative centre from George Town to Launceston, and the challenges of navigating the Tamar. 

While I know much of the early history of Launceston from other reading, Mr Bethell addresses the factors (including mining, land quality, proximity to mainland Australia) which had an impact on northern Tasmania’s development. The photographs of Launceston’s significant buildings, including the Customs House, the Town Hall and the Albert Hall, reflect its late nineteenth century prosperity.  But the collapse of many mining activities and emigration (which had waxed and waned over the period) has had an impact on subsequent development and prosperity.

The scope of the book is narrow.  The writing reflects the historiography of the period, without reference to the original inhabitants. And yet it is interesting: I found it worth reading. This book was first published in 1957, which makes it nearly as old as I am.  My copy is a reprint from 1980.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith