Hobart is Australia’s second oldest city and the state capital of Tasmania. It nestles at the foot of Mount Wellington, a dormant volcano, in the southeast of the state, on the banks of the Derwent River. Less cosmopolitan than many of the other state capitals, its isolated situation has led to Hobart retaining much of its colonial character, which is reflected in its elegant Georgian and Victorian architecture.
The Aboriginal population of the Hobart region was largely killed off by the last quarter of the nineteenth century, victims of the white settlers and susceptibility to new diseases introduced with the colonists. George Bass, a British explorer, visited the area in 1798. By 1803 a settlement was established at Risdon Cove, around 8 km from Hobart’s present site. It was founded by Lieutenant John Bowen on the orders of Philip Gidley King, the British governor of New South Wales who wanted to pre-empt any French attempts to colonize the island.
In 1804 the settlement, named Hobart Town after the earl of Buckinghamshire, was moved down the river. Its early population was a mix of convicts, sailors, free settlers and a few women and children. Though lacking natural resources, the town was located near a deep-water harbour that was unaffected by tidal changes. This enabled Hobart to become a trade hub and a centre for whalers and, until the 1830s, sealers who were active in the Bass Strait region. In the 1830s it also became a major ship-building town, though the industry died a slow death in the late nineteenth century with the decline in demand for wooden ships. The settlement was given city status in 1842 but retained its name Hobart Town until 1881.
Cheap and plentiful hydro-electric power, exploited early in the last century, still provides the basis for a small industrial sector. Metal refining and chemical working are important as well as textile and cement manufacturing and food processing. There is also a large newsprint mill and a major confectionery complex owned by Cadbury-Schweppes. A significant population of traditional craftworkers, including wood carvers and potters, attract visitors but the key to the development of tourism in the city was the establishment of Australia’s first legalized casino in Sandy Bay.
The deep-water port, which rivals Sydney, helps maintain Hobart’s significance as a trading post and major exports include fruit, wool and wood. The city is at the centre of a major freight rail network and has good motorway and air links.
Places of Interest
Among the most important tourist attractions are the botanical gardens, Battery Point (the old port area which has retained much of its nineteenth century architecture including St George’s Anglican Church) and Salamanca Place, an area dominated by the warehouses used during the colonial era and now converted into a modern cultural and commercial centre. This is also the arrival point for the winners of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. Field Marshall Viscount Montgomery spent a number of his childhood years being educated in Hobart and the city is the birthplace of swashbuckling film star, Errol Flynn.