George Town is on the eastern side of the mouth of the Tamar River, about 45 km. north of Launceston. It is the administrative centre of the George Town municipality of 650 sq. km., which has Bass Strait as its northern boundary.
George Town was fleetingly settled by a party under Lieut. Colonel William Paterson in 1804. The settlement was soon moved down the Tamar to Launceston. In 1812 Governor Lachlan Macquarie proposed that the site of George Town (named after King George III), would be better than Launceston and in 1816 the town was laid out. The first occupants were a military station, a female factory and a few settlers. The Bigge report of 1825 reversed Macquarie’s decision to make George Town the administrative centre instead of Launceston. In the 1830s George Town was an embarkation point for settlers moving to the Port Phillip district (e.g. Dutton, Henty and Batman).
George Town remained a place of small settlement until the 1870s, when gold was discovered at a number of nearby places. The population rose from150 (1869) to 260 (1880), but access remained confined to the river. It did not become a municipality until 1907. The description in the 1904 edition of The Australian Handbook was –
… a watering-place at the mouth of the River Tamar, on the east bank,in the county of Dorset, electorate and police district of Georgetown, about160 miles NW. of Hobart, 37 NW. of Launceston, and 10 miles from Beaconsfield. Steamers ply daily to and from Launceston; fare, 4s. Hotel: Planks; principal boarding-houses: Harris’, Richards’, Hopkins’. It is a post town, and has parcel post, money-order office, savings bank and telegraph station, Itis the cable station for the Australian service. There is a public library,containing 1,200 volumes, two places of worship (Episcopal), St. Mary’s and Primitive Methodist, one State school, and a private school. Road Trust,Main Road Board, Improvement Association, Court of Requests and generalsessions. Gold, iron and coal has been found in the district. Chiefly apastoral district. Good shooting, bathing, boating and fishing and salubriousclimate. Nearest towns are Exeter, 20 miles, Ilfracombe, 3 miles, Sidmouth,13 miles, York Town, 6 miles, Leonardsburg, 6 miles, and Lefroy, 10 miles.At Low Head, 8 miles distant, there is a splendid ocean beach and good boarding accommodation, also at Kelso Bay, favourite marine resort. Ratable valueof property, ‚£17,250. Capital value of district, ‚£158,257. Road Trust valuation, ‚£5,500. Agricultural returns to March 1st, 1901,were 94,175 acres worked: wheat, 138 acres; peas, 141 acres; oats, 350 acres;potatoes, 112 acres; gardens and orchards, 124 acres. Produce: wheat, 2,484bushels; peas 1,833 bushels; oats, 10,724 bushels; potatoes, 355 tons; apples,1,293 bushels; pears, 325 bushels. Stock: horses, 575; cattle, 2,239; sheep,26,490; pigs, 1,041. Population of electoral district, 3,667; town (1901census), 274.
From 1907 to 1936 the administrative centre of the municipality was at the more populous Lefroy. In 1936 the running of the Council was taken overby a commission because of the impoverishment of the municipality. The commission remained in office until 1954. Mining and fruit growing were the district’smain industries.
In 1948 constriction began on the aluminium refineries and smelter at Bell Bay, 6 km. south of George Town. Production began in 1955 under the management of the Australian Aluminium Production Commission (joint Commonwealth and Tasmanian Government’s operation). In 1961 it was sold to Comalco, which increased production capacity. The construction of the plant brought in workers, resulting in a construction-camp population and a brisk hotel trade. Comalco’s expansion led to George Town’s expansion, and other developments were attracted. These included oil terminals, a roll-on roll-off shipping terminal (1958), the Temco high carbon terro manganese plant and two wood chip companies. Bell Bay became Launceston’s container port, connected by railway,and the site of Launceston’s thermal power station (1971).
About 25% of George Town’s residential stock is public housing. In 1996a higher-than-average proportion of George Town’s residents were on unemployment or parenting allowances, and there was a high proportion of children under15.
Whilst tourism is active around George Town, the town centre does not feature as an attraction. The retail centre, however, is comprehensive,Education from kindergarten to year 10 is available.
In 1991 the Bass Strait ferry service from George Town ended and a catamaran service failed in 1996. An oil carrier, Iron Baron, ran aground near George Town in 1996. About 9 km. north of George Town is Low Head, a promontory on the east side of the mouth of the Tamar. Several of its lighthouse (1833)facilities and housing are on the Register of the National Estate.
George Town’s census populations have been 278 (1911),1,868 (1954), 4,838 (1971) and 5,026 (1991). The municipality’s census populationshave been 1,040 (1911), 578 (1933) and 6,929 (1991).
Promotional literature, Municipality of George Town, 1996.
- Branagan, J.C., “George Town: History of the Town and District”,Regal Publications, 1994.
- Carroll, Brian, “Potlines and People: A History of the Bell BayAluminium Smelter”, Comalco Ltd., 1980.