No 5. Oatlands and Surroundings

Oatlands is one of the oldest of our Tasmanian towns, and in years gone by was one of the most important. Its central position on the main road between Hobart Town and Launceston was decidedly favourable to its interests generally, while a number of our sturdiest pioneers were resident in the immediate vicinity. Quoting from records in my possession, dated so far back as 1829, I find Oatlands, even at that early period of the colony's history, described in the following terms:-

"This township is situated on the borders of a fine lagoon, now called Lake Frederick. It is about four miles round, with a small island in the centre, but the water, although deep, is overgrown with rushes, giving it the appearance of a verdant plain. On its banks, and near the outlet at the northern end is the village of Oatlands. Several cottages are already erected, also an excellent soldiers' barracks and officers' quarters built by the Royal Staff Corps. A church and gaol are in progress. Mr Anstey is the police magistrate of this district, his residence (Anstey Barton) being situated about three miles to the west of the township. Near it are the stock farms of Mr Mackersey, Mr Weeding, and Mr Salmon. To the east of Oatlands is a branch road leading to a large extent of open country called the eastern marshes and blue hills. The distance is too great from the market of Hobart Town to admit of this fine tract of country being occupied in any other manner than as grazing ground. The principal stock huts are those belonging to Messrs David Lord, Bisdee, Loane, Bryant, Hobbs, and Earle. From Oatlands the traveller has the choice of two roads to Launceston, viz., one, the new road through St. Peter's Pass, and the other, the original thoroughfare to the right, which we give first. For two miles beyond the township of Oatlands the road is very hilly, this being the dividing range between Hobart Town and Launceston ; within the distance of half-a-mile the waters run north and south from the same hill. A few miles to the right are also the sources of the streams which fall into the eastern sea at Oyster Bay. At two miles from Oatlands we enter the beautiful tract of country called York Plains, and for the next two miles the road is delightful. The land is thinly wooded, and presents to the eye picturesque groups of trees in the midst of verdant lawns. The hills also which bound the prospect are deserving of notice, and add to the interest of the landscape, consisting generally of conical shaped mounts, covered with grass to the summit. At the bottom of one of these hills is the grazing farm of Mr Murdock. At the northern end of the plain the traveller arrives at the inn kept by Mr B. Nokes."

The foregoing is a brief description of Oatlands and its surroundings 64 years ago, when the place was in its infancy. The authority whence the above extract is taken also furnishes interesting information relative to the military detachments stationed in those days at Oatlands and its neighbourhood. On the township there was stationed a detachment of the 63rd Foot, consisting of Lieutenant M. Vicary two sergeants, two corporals, and 83 privates. At the Eastern Marshes, Ensign Lockyer, of the 57th Foot, with one sergeant and 13 privates, constituted the local military force. Lieutenant Vicary when he retired from the army settled in Tasmania, and his descendants became prominent residents of the south. Mr Donald Vicary, a successful settler at present living on Tasman's Peninsula, is a near relative. Oatlands saw its palmiest days when the stage coach competition was at its height. At various times coaches were run on the main road by Mrs Mary Ann Cox (well remembered by old Launcestonians as hostess of the Cornwall Hotel). Messrs Ben Hyrons (another Launceston identity), James Lord, Alfred Page, and A. Burbury. There was spirited opposition at periods, and the travelling public reaped the benefit in the form of low fares. It is recorded that during the height of one of these competitions a passenger could travel from Hobart Town to Launceston or vice versa for the small sum of five shillings, with a good dinner thrown in. As I said before, it was in the coaching days that Oatlands flourished. Travellers were numerous on the road, and the town formed a handy resting place for man and beast. The Oatlands Hotel, kept by the late Mr Samuel Page, was one of the most flourishing hostelries in the island. Across the street the Midland Hotel, presided over by Mr W. Bramich, also did a thriving trade, while business generally throughout the district was decidedly brisk. The Supreme Court used to sit at Oatlands, and the town was, as a rule, crowded during the period the sessions were being held. The court sat in those substantial stone buildings occupied until recently as Municipal offices. Many of the fittings of the hall of justice have now been removed, but the judge's tribunal still remains, and the peep holes ,through the powerfully constructed doors, which ensured an extra watch being kept on the prisoners' dock, are yet in evidence. On the floor may be traced the spots where stood the dock, witness box, and other incidentals of a court of justice. Almost opposite the Supreme Court, the watchhouse was situated. This structure is now fast hastening to decay, a quantity of the stones having been removed to be turned to account in other parts of the town. The visitor may yet see the exercise yard, while some of the cells are intact. One apartment is utilised by the local chemist as a factory for the manufacture of phosphorised oats. Not far away from the watchhouse, the old guard house, mess quarters, and officers' residence are still standing, the latter building being occupied as a dwelling house by Mr J. S. Stanfield. (To be Contined.) 1

  • 1. THE SKETCHER - Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899) 21 January 1893: p3