This Hobart historical walking tour reveals the Tasmanian capital’s fascinating backstory; how it was established as a British colony and how it became the vibrant city it is today. Explore the old city centre and historic waterfront precincts at a leisurely pace with your local guide. Duration: 3 hours (approx.)
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Even by Tasmanian standards, it’s a cold midwinter afternoon.
Only a select few have braved the chill to join this Grand Hobart Walk, one of the informative strolls through time offered by Hobart Historic Tours. We meet our guide Jenny and begin this three-hour ramble through the city’s heart by stepping back to 1804 in Sullivans Cove, where the British established a settlement that year.
After pointing out Hunter Street’s strip of heritage warehouse conversions, Jenny reveals an early 19th century picture of the same spot, then little more than a narrow causeway and tiny island. Later, she indicates the original shoreline, now many metres from the Derwent River.
One of the top things to do in Hobart is the nearby Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Some of the earliest colonial buildings still stand here, including the 1810 Commissariat Store. Jenny draws our attention to this structure’s obscured vault entrances and remnants of a waterside ramp, all evident in her copy of an early 19th century sketch.
She shares the stories behind several other historic Hobart buildings, including whitewashed Ingle Hall, which has been part of some shady deals over the years according to records. We admire Hobart Town Hall’s Victorian grandeur, and learn how the interior was returned to its former glory in the late 20th century. Sadly, being Sunday, we’re not able to go inside and see the grand ballroom, but it sounds like a worthwhile venture for another time.
Instead, we’re led into the walk’s most surprising building: the Hobart Real Tennis Club, established in 1875. Jenny explains that ‘real’, or ‘royal’, tennis is the original version of the sport, which dates back to the days of Henry VIII. Behind a high stone wall, we encounter an incongruous Tudor-style indoor court, and watch a boy being coached in this familiar game in an unfamiliar setting.
Green spaces also feature in the walk. St David’s Park was a cemetery until the 1870s. Jenny points out funerary monuments scattered among the trees. She then leads us along the park’s curving walkway, where low stone walls are embedded with scores of old tombstones. It’s sobering to think that hundreds of people, including many children, are buried here, just metres from where the Salamanca Market comes alive every Saturday.
In Franklin Square, Jenny reveals the unimpeded view to the handsome Greek Revival St George’s Church. Its spire was critical to semaphore signalling (as far as the Port Arthur penal settlement) in colonial times, so to this day it would take an act of British Parliament to build a structure blocking the view.
We head toward the historic Battery Point district, pausing in Salamanca Place by a cast iron pot once used to boil down whale blubber. There’s also a monument to Abel Tasman, whose name inspired the post-convict-era re-branding of Van Diemen’s Land.
According to Jenny, the Salamanca Place warehouses were derelict by the 1970s, only saved by the eponymous market’s unexpected rise. Today they form Hobart’s most recognisable streetscape, and the place to wine and dine. Galleries and gift shops abound.
We walk through a gap between these former warehouses and up Kelly’s Steps. Reminiscent of the timeworn stone stairs in The Rocks district in Sydney, this is the only aspect of this Hobart historic walking tour that may pose a problem for those with restricted mobility.
Jenny leeds us among Battery Point’s remarkably well preserved 19th century residential architecture, including the picturesque circle of little cottages that form Arthur Circus, and more grand affairs such as Lenna — a 19th century whaling merchant’s Italianate mansion. We enter the building, now a boutique hotel, and walk upstairs to see the water views so important to its original owner.
Upon request, Jenny stops at Battery Point’s renowned Jackman & McRoss bakery. Coffee and delectable cake are just what’s needed after more than two hours of walking.
From here we amble back to the waterfront, passing a semaphore telegraph, the remnants of ship builders’ slipways, and the point where Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race winners are clocked each December.
This Hobart historical walking tour concludes in Salamanca Place, where fairy lights glow in the twilight and warm bars beckon. Weary but delighted by all we’ve seen and learned thanks to Jenny’s relaxed, informative guidance, I wonder if she can provide one final insight — a good place to kick back here amongst Hobart’s history?
After farewells and good wishes, I’m soon sipping a hot cider, wondering what tales Irish Murphy’s hefty old stone walls could tell.
Patricia travelled as a guest of Hobart Historic Tours.
Additional images: Bigstock
Patricia Maunder has been a media professional for more than 20 years, and has worked in print, online and radio. Currently based in Melbourne, she considers the Canadian city of Montreal to be her ‘other’ hometown — having lived there from 2012 to 2016. Patricia has travelled in every continent except the one that’s beckoned since she was a child — Antarctica. A travel writer as well as an arts journalist, she enjoys culturally themed journeys and nature-based adventures.