The Heritage Highway stretches from Hobart to Launceston with the most significant places being Kempton, Oatlands and Ross.
Filled with sandstone Georgian architecture, Ross sits on the banks of the Macquarie River, 69 miles north of Hobart and 48 miles south of Launceston as inscribed into the Ross Bridge in Roman numerals.
Ross was officially established in 1821 but only began real expansion in the 1830’s through land grants to free settlers decided from Hobart Town.
In todays Tasmania, the village of Ross is known for three reasons:
- The Bridge
- The Female Factory
- The Bakery
The reasons are as:
The Ross Bridge is a remarkable specimen of sandstone stonemasonry. Convict or otherwise.
The Ross Female Factory is part of Tasmania’s convict history.
The Bakery makes the best vanilla slices in the world. Yes, THE WORLD.
Significance of 42° South
Unbeknownst to all but the overly curious, Ross is in a significant location in the formation of Tasmania. It is located on the 42nd parallel of latitude.
Soon after Van Diemen’s Land (as Tasmania was called then) was first settled by the British, two settlements had been established; Port Dalrymple (north) and Hobart Town (south).
Something I was not aware of was that at 42° South Van Diemen’s Land was divided into the counties of Cornwall in the North and Buckinghamshire in the South.
Between 1804 and 1812, the beginning of the long standing Tasmanian North-South rivalry was formed. A rivalry that despite no actual border, existed in many forms for another 200 years.
In 1812 it was decided Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Davey was to govern Van Diemen’s Land as “Governor of the whole island”. This delineation served to be political but not cultural.
To learn more about the lines that divide Tasmania, take the time to read the information boards next to the town hall on Bridge Street. Some intriguing stuff.
The Bridge over the Macquarie River
The third oldest bridge in Australia, the Ross Bridge was completed in 1836. The colony’s architect John Lee Archer designed the bridge. It has 186 delicate arch carvings and was built by convict stonemasons Daniel Herbert and James Colbeck. Daniel Herbert is credited with the craftmanship of the arch carvings.
The construction of the bridge by Herbert and Colbeck took only 58 weeks. Prior to them being charged with completing the project, the building of the bridge encountered many setbacks, most notably the unsolved and repeated disappearance of the sandstone set aside for its construction.
There was no authority granted for the carvings, and there is no record of what the carvings depict.
Both men were granted their ticket of leave after completing their task. Herbert remained in Ross where he married and raised a family.
However, there are two faces that can be seen on the town side arch. Who are they?
As the story goes, there was a District Constable sent from Oatlands to investigate the sandstone thievery. His name was Jorgen Jorgenson. A Danish fellow who had originally arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on the Lady Nelson in 1803 as a commissioned sailor. Jorgenson later returned to Van Diemen’s Land in 1826 as a convict.
For a detailed story about Jorgen Jorgenson, please check out my recent blog post The Convict King.
The female face, separated by one carving to his left is believed to be his wife Norah.
The Female Factory
The Female Factory began as a chain gang station in 1841 to house 300 men for road construction between Campbell Town and Ross. This number dwindled as the road was completed.
By 1847 there was need for house of correction for female convicts in the ever expanding district. The conversion to the female factory was made. At any one time there were 60-120 female convicts stationed here during its 7 years (1848 – 1855) of operation. There was always approximately 40 infants in the nursery too.
The Ross Female Factory was predominately a young woman’s station. Most arrived at Ross convicted of stealing.
Reformation and Classification
The factory was created with three main purposes in mind:
- A hospital for pregnant women and a nursery
- A house of correction
- Hiring depot for domestic servants and in some cases what I describe as a “wife procurement centre”.
Female Factories were designed to “improve the habits of women” to be ladies of the day.
The tiered convict structure was identical to the format applied at the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart Town.
The classfication of convict:
- Crime Class
- Second Class
- Assignment Class
Additionally there was solitary confinement for the naughty of the naughty.
It was important for the authorities to separate the convict classes so the crime class prisoners couldn’t adversely influence the minor offenders or assigned women. The assignment class performed cooking and cleaning duties and were ready for domestic servitude.
The cottage still stands at the front of the site and is a museum into the female factory’s history.
However, like many of Tasmania’s convict era buildings the materials were repurposed to serve greater needs at the end of the prisons usefulness. It’s hard to imagine high walls and buildings throughout the open expanse that is the yard that I see now.
The Ross Bakery is the main reason I stop in at Ross whenever I am travelling through the midlands. It is often busy with fellow passers-by, but the service is swift and it is worth it for the vanilla slice alone. They produce on average 7 trays of vanilla slice per day. 40 slices per tray = lots of vanilla slice.
I always have a good coffee here too. Handy for the hour and a bit drive to Hobart.
Their pies, bread and wood-fired pizza are baked in the 160 year old brick wood-fired oven.
Ross Bakery has operated beside the Ross Bakery Inn for over 160 years. The inn was originally known as The Sherwood Castle Inn. It operated as a horse change station for travellers just as the inns along the highway at Oatlands and Kempton did between Launceston and Hobart Town.
One further little nugget of pop culture is that of a Japanese anime film called Kiki’s Delivery Service. Apparently the bakery has a striking similarity to the bakery in the film.
Kiki is the main character in the 1989 film who comes to a small town and lives in an attic room above the bakery. After visitors began asking to see the room, the owners decorated the room to match Kiki’s room in the film.
The Heritage Highway towns have churches from each denomination that populated them.
Ross has the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Church, originally the Wesleyan Church.The most impressive being the Uniting Church.
The Uniting Church (b.1885) holds a prominent position at the top of Church St, overlooking the open expanses of the area. The Anglican Church (b.1868) sits toward the northern end of the elm lined Church St. It is a rebuild of the original (b. 1835) that was demolished due to poor infrastructure. The Catholic Church is one quarter of the Four Corners of Ross. It was not a church until 1920 after the community raised the funds for its renovation from the existing store.
The Four Corners of Ross
On the four corners of Church and Bridge Streets are what is colloquially referred to as the “Four Corners of Ross”. I had thought the Four Corners of Ross were established in the planning of the town. However, it dates from 1920’s when the store was converted into the Catholic church. This quite possibly coincides with the end of World War I.
I always think of the 4 Corners of Ross as the Monopoly board, where you pass “Go” for $200 but soon end up in jail.
This is an interesting concept. Located in one of two red phone booths, you can make a telephone call to be told locals stories about the town. Unfortunately, the service was not in action due to COVID-19 health restrictions.
Just north of Ross is Campbell Town. It is the modern day equivalent of the Kempton, Oatlands and Ross. It serves as the main hub for midlands travel for those travelling between Launceston and Hobart.
Thank you for reading my mini-series on the heritage towns of the Heritage Highway. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them and learned a little about these towns and their significance in the history of Tasmania.
In case you missed the previous two chapters in the Heritage Highway series, you can find the links here: