Convicts, Entrepreneurs, Ghosts & a few characters

History of Richmond Tasmania

complete history of richmond tasmania

Early History of Richmond

The history of Richmond Tasmania dates back to the first European settlement in Tasmania. The first settlers explored the Coal River Valley area in 1803. Lieutenant John Bowen, who led the first Tasmanian settlement at Risdon Cove, and his surveyor James Meehan, initiated the exploration of the Richmond area. James found coal, and named the river that runs through Richmond village ‘Coal River’. He also found fertile land suitable for growing crops such as wheat.

Land grants were released from 1808 in the Richmond and Pittwater area. These were mostly granted to upper-class individuals such as governors, officers and surgeons, with ex-convicts and non-commissioned officers receiving smaller land grants. Many of these new land owners would sell meat or grains to the government.

There were challenges during these early days, such as trespassers, bushrangers, native aboriginals (the original owners of the land), damage to wheat crops, and sheep and cows being stolen. Farmers on the east side of the Coal River had to take their carts full of wheat across the river, which wasn’t always an easy task to accomplish, especially after a downpour of rain.

By 1820, all available farmland had been claimed and was in use for growing wheat or tending to sheep and cattle. The Coal River valley had been exporting wheat to New South Wales since 1816. The area had become known as ‘the granary of Australia’.

To make the crossing of the Coal River much easier, construction of the Richmond Bridge begun, with construction completed and the bridge officially opened in 1825. The area surrounding the bridge was seen by many as a suitable place for a town, due to it’s river crossing and growing agricultural operations. In 1824 Governor Sorell named this area the town of Richmond. It’s believed that the name Richmond came from the nearby property Richmond Park.

history of richmond bridge

In the early 1800’s Tasmania was still very much a penal colony, and in 1825 the Richmond Gaol was constructed. This gaol served and important role in housing the convicts that were transported between Hobart and further east (in later years to places like Port Arthur). These convicts also served an important role in building many key buildings in the new village. Convicts were chained together and often had a ball and chain attached to their leg, making it more difficult to escape. A brick court house was constructed next to the village green, also in 1825.

Richmond village grew rapidly, with a mix of residents comprising of settlers, convicts who had finished their sentence, penal officers, farmers and those passing through. By 1831 it had a courthouse, two inns, a windmill, a beautiful and highly practical sandstone bridge, and approximately 30 houses. By 1835 Richmond was the third largest town in Tasmania, after Hobart and Launceston.

outside of Richmond Gaol

Part of the Buscombe Empire

Richmond Granary & Post Office

richmond tasmania history

When you drive into Richmond from the Hobart end of the village, a tall large group of colonial buildings will stand out and grab your attention. These are the Richmond Granary and post office. Constructed in 1832 by James Buscombe, James and his family were responsible for many of Richmond villages first and finest buildings. He has greatly impacted the history of Richmond Tasmania.

The smaller part of the building on the left hand side was the Granary. This three storey building was constructed with large blocks of sandstone which still looks magnificent today. The Granary was constructed to hold grain that was grown on the Richmond farms and was awaiting transport to Hobart. A horse operated hoist was used to swing the wheat bags inside the building (this hoist remains present today).

Grain was sent to Hobart where it was sold or exported. This involved transporting the wheat via cart on a bush track to Kangaroo Point, where it was then loaded onto a ferry.

James Buscombe was also the Richmond postmaster and had originally run his operations from the Lennox Arms (know known as The Richmond Arms – another one of James’s business’s). To separate these and also provide a shop with regular day to day conveniences, as well as a private residence, he built the Richmond post office building, which is between The Granary and the corner of Bridge and Henry Streets.

The shop front featured large street facing windows featuring many small window panes and large double opening doors. These features have been retained and can be seen in the buildings current use as a gift shop.

there were characters on both sides of the bar!

Pubs

complete history of richmond tasmania

The only remaining pub in the village has seen some changes throughout the years. In 1827 James Buscombe acquired the allotment of land in the centre of the village, to build an inn that would serve those who travelled through on their way to Hobart or Launceston, as well as providing a watering hole for the locals.

The original pub was a two storey brick building commanding a central position in Bridge Street. It was opened in 1830 under the name of The Lennox Arms, which we assumed was after Charles Lennox, who was the Duke of Richmond in England.

Buscombe claimed to offer the greater range and a higher standard of wines than the Hobart inns. He also offered groceries, and even housed the post office before a purpose built post office was opened. Buscombe was very successful with his business and property interests so by 1840 he decided to focus more on the post office and store, and made the pub available for lease. Numerous licencees managed The Lennox Arms until it was sold to Cascade Brewery in 1879.

In 1888 The Lennox Arms was destroyed by fire. The only part which survived was the sandstone  stables,which are now used as accommodation. Cascade wasted no time in rebuilding and constructed a large 17 room double storey sandstone building with large street facing verandah. The new pub was named The Commercial Hotel. In 1972 The Commercial Hotel was renamed The Richmond Arms Hotel.

Some of the previous pubs include the Bridge Inn, which is now used as the Sweets and Treats lolly shop. It originally opened in 1824 as the Richmond Wine Vaults, and continually held a hotel license until 1975. The former Prince of Wales Hotel operated from 1849 until the early 1900’s at the rear of what is now known as Mrs Currie’s House – a colonial red brick two story building on Franklin Street.

On the corner of Henry and Bathurst Streets you’ll see the former Richmond Hotel. This originated in the 1830’s, and was also used as a staging post for coaches. Today it has been restored into a residence, but fortunately the owners have retained some of the painted signage. Other former pubs include the Star and Garter Inn, Jolly Farmers Inn and Sawyer’s Arms,

outside of richmond arms hotel

The Heart of the community in hard times

Churches of Richmond Tasmania

St John's Church

black and white sketch St john's church richmond

Perched upon a small hill overlooking the Richmond Bridge, riverbank and primary school is St John’s Church. This beautiful church lays claim to being the oldest catholic church still in use in Australia. The insides are beautifully layed out with old fashioned pews, stations of the cross, finely detailed alter and stained glass windows.

history of richmond tasmania

St Luke's Anglican Church

history of richmond tasmania churches

St Luke’s church is a real rarity in that it has barely changed since it was constructed in 1834. Not many historic churches in Tasmania can lay claim to this. Widely admired churches such as St David’s Cathedral in Hobart is not the original structure, and even St John’s Church in Richmond had it’s spire replaced with that of a different style. The only noticeable changes are the stained glass windows which were installed at the back of the church in 1864 and the addition of a clock in the bell tower in 1922.

St Luke’s church was made for a very large parish, which included Richmond, Pittwater, Colebrook (formerly known as Jerusalem) and the east coast. This expansive area was then divided into four parishes with St Luke’s being constructed for those in the Richmond area.

Like many buildings constructed at the time, it was constructed from stone that came from the nearby Butcher’s Hills and the builders were convicts from the Richmond Gaol. Despite the convict labour, the church was constructed to a high standard, with many visitors today commenting on the craftsmanship of the roof. Because of this, James Thompson, the convict responsible, was freed. This treatment was rare, as convicts were usually treated rather inhumanely.

Before the church had even finished completion, there was a rush of couples wishing to get married., with one couple having their ceremony before it was completed just to gain the honour of being the first couple married in the church. Afterwards there were as many as three weddings a day conducted at St Luke’s church.

Congregational Church

History Richmond Churches

The third church in Richmond was the Congregational Church. The original church was built on Torrens Street in 1845 on land donated by John Buscombe. The burial grounds that surrounded the original church are still present, opposite the Richmond Primary School. In 1868 Reverend Tinning joined the parish and the parish gained more followers.

A new church was constructed on the corner of Bridge St and Percy St , and was completed in 1875. Like St Luke’s, this church has changed very little. The Congregational church was sold in 2016 and is now no longer in use.

Some of the oldest still existing in Australia

Schools

There were many schools, which came and went in Richmond, and the colonial government placed a high importance on school and church in maintaining a civil society. Some of these were operated in private residences. One of these was Geraldine Cottage, which supposedly had students divided into two rooms, Heaven and Hell (one was for Catholics the other Anglican, however we don’t know which was which).

While many of these schools came and went, others hung around and are still teaching students today. Richmond Primary School owns the title of being the oldest continuously used public education facility in Australia. The old school house on the corner of Torrens Street and Commercial Road was constructed in 1834

St John’s School is a Catholic primary school which was established in 1843. It has the honour of being the oldest Catholic School still in existence in Australia.

The original school was housed in a building behind the St john’s Church. In 1925 a larger building was constructed at the school’s current site between the church and the Richmond Bridge. Like many catholic schools, nuns were involved in the teaching and operations until 1984.

One of Richmond's Grandest Properties

The Old Rectory

history richmond rectory

The Old Rectory is one of the most stunning historic buildings in Richmond village. The two storey georgian style house is constructed on a 4ha block on a slight angle looking over the Coal River. Included in the property are stables, outhouses and a garden of significant size. It was built for James Gordon who was the police magistrate for Richmond between 1829 and 1832. You’ll also see James’s name listed on Richmond Bridge as being a key witness at the official opening.

In 1835 the house was sold for the grand sum of 700 pounds. There were numerous owners and tenants until 1854 when police commissioner William Henry Breton sold the property to Dr John Cloverdale. Cloverdale was an intelligent and widely liked gentleman who arrived in Tasmania after being born in India and studying medicine in Glasgow. He established a medical practice in the village and used the small cottage on the corner of Edward and Bathurst streets as his dispensary.

When the Richmond Municipal Council was formed in 1861, Cloverdale topped the election poll. He became the warden and held this role until 1864 when he left Richmond to become a surgeon superintendent in the Hobart suburb of New Town. Both the Old Rectory and the Dispensary are now private residences.

A well preserved time capsule of Richmond & Tasmanian History

Oak Lodge

history of richmond historic building

Oak Lodge is another property which originated from the Buscombe family, this time from Henry Buscombe. This fine house has passed hands through many distinguished individuals including a Navy purser who commanded a ship against the African slave trade. Oak Lodge was also home to a Harvard-graduate doctor who was a distant cousin of the Roosevelt presidents.

This property is in remarkable condition for it’s age. It has been kept largely original and nowadays it is used as a museum. It’s well worth visiting, not just for the architecture, but for the stories and historic items, such as the doctors tools.

Great Example of Colonial Architecture

Bellevue House

Bellevue House is located on the corner of Bridge St and Blair St, and is one of the first historic buildings you’ll see as you drive into Richmond from Hobart. The land was purchased by licensed victualler Samuel Evans in 1839. Evans constructed the two storey house with 12 large rooms and accompanying stables designed to accommodate 6 horses.

During the 1850’s and 1860’s the property was occupied by the village police magistrates Major Charles Schaw, who was then followed by Charles Wilmot. In 1870 Bellevue House was sold to the publican of the Lennox Arms (now known as the Richmond Arms) Thomas Charles Ryly. Wryly was a wealthy man who was also a coach proprietor and mail contractor who also owned many other properties In Richmond.

Ryly lived in the property until his passing in 1908. His wife continued to live there until 1936, passing away at 96 – an incredible feat in those times. The property has since passed hands numerous times and recently sold for a fraction over one million dollars – a staggering amount compared to the first time it was sold in 1853 for 950 pounds.

Popular Tourist Destination

Richmond in the 21st Century

Bellevue House is located on the corner of Bridge St and Blair St, and is one of the first historic buildings you’ll see as you drive into Richmond from Hobart. The land was purchased by licensed victualler Samuel Evans in 1839. Evans constructed the two storey house with 12 large rooms and accompanying stables designed to accommodate 6 horses.

During the 1850’s and 1860’s the property was occupied by the village police magistrates Major Charles Schaw, who was then followed by Charles Wilmot. In 1870 Bellevue House was sold to the publican of the Lennox Arms (now known as the Richmond Arms) Thomas Charles Ryly. Wryly was a wealthy man who was also a coach proprietor and mail contractor who also owned many other properties In Richmond.

Ryly lived in the property until his passing in 1908. His wife continued to live there until 1936, passing away at 96 – an incredible feat in those times. The property has since passed hands numerous times and recently sold for a fraction over one million dollars – a staggering amount compared to the first time it was sold in 1853 for 950 pounds.

 

Sources:

‘A Thematic History of the Cultural Resources of the township of Richmond and a statement of cultural significance’ by Dr Dianne Snowden (Dianne is one of the best living sources for historical information on Richmond).
Australian Heritage Database
By JERRYE & ROY KLOTZ MD – Own workCC BY-SA 3.0Link
Image: By LBM1948 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0], from Wikimedia Commons (has been cropped).