Richmond village is a microcosm of colonial times in Tasmania. It is the Tardis that takes you to 1829.
My drive in the Escape Hatch across the Tasman Bridge from Hobart Town on a sunny Saturday last November, takes about 30 minutes, weaving through the grassy countryside passing the numerous Coal River Valley vineyards and farming estates.
You know you’ve made Richmond village when you reach the engraved stone sign emblazoned RICHMOND.
Drive through Bridge Street and go directly to Richmond Bridge. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
Bridge Street is the main street, and, if you forgive the service station, no major building is too much out of place. Sandstone dominates the architecture, and that is not mentioning the Richmond Bridge and Richmond Gaol, the two famous convict built structures.
The Oldest Bridge in Australia
The bridge area has adequate parking and is a nice base to begin your exploration by foot.
The luscious grass park offers an English beginning to the first views of the bridge. Some may say a perfect place for a pic-a-nic. Say “hello” to the little duck families greeting you. You can freely say something else to any seagulls who may decide you are good company to keep.
You can walk under the bridge, admiring the cobbled skills of the convicts who built this 196 years ago.
The storyboard near the bridge claims it’s not the finest convict work, a la Ross Bridge, but the fact it is Australia’s oldest standing bridge is testament to its quality for purpose. The bridge takes modern day traffic, even if it has suffered a shunt or two to its bricks.
On the town side, over the rather dormant Coal River, I take in a different perspective of the bridge. If my memory serves me right, photographers tend to use the town side for their Richmond Bridge images.
Walking up the slight incline to the “main street” of Bridge Street, I encounter more grassed park land to my left, which takes me in the direction of the gaol. My second destination. The bridge and the gaol are the historical prizes here.
Passing by the current excuse for a police station, I locate the great sandstone wall of Richmond Gaol, accompanied by a terrible loud speaker cajoling me to visit the goal, like it’s some sort of carnival freak show.
The gaol precedes Port Arthur in construction, and has been preserved, rather than restored. Except I think that is not the case with the recently opened Gaoler’s House.
The gaol operated as short term confinement between 1825 and 1861 and kept convicts awaiting judicial punishment.
Throughout your self paced tour of Richmond Gaol you’ll learn about some of the people and their stories.
- The Flaggelator and The Ghost – everyone despised the flogger, George Grover.
George Grover held the role of flaggelator at Richmond. He performed his floggings at 9am in the flogging yard. Surprisingly, being the flaggelator did not win Grover any friends. Grover was pushed off the Richmond bridge in 1832. It is said that his ghost lurks beneath the arches of the bridge.
- The Hangman – It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Solomon Blay was the colony’s public executioner. He was based in Richmond, and travelled to Hobart, Launceston and Oatlands to perform his duties. I suppose, he admirably performed his role as the hangman for fifty years.
- Gaol Keepers – Sometimes it was confusing who the real law breakers were.
Being a gaol keeper did not mean you were an upstanding honest citizen. Charges against gaol keepers included stealing, insolence and drunk while on duty. Gaol keeper Randal Young was once locked up in his own gaol.
- Isaac (Ikey) Solomon – Was he the inspiration for Fagin in Oliver Twist?
Solomon was pick pocket and ‘receiver of stolen goods’ in London who was sentenced to transportation twice, arrived in Van Diemen’s Land 1831 and worked as a Javelin-man (guard) at Richmond Gaol from 1831 and 1834.
The Bermuda Triangle
In the “back alleys” of central Richmond you will find the bakery, the lolly shop and tastings of things Tasmanian.
It is like the Bermuda Triangle. You could get lost in here. Adult supervision is required.
I tend to remember the Richmond Bakery as some mystical Bakery of Greatness. It doesn’t seem to live up to my memories expectations now. The bakery does a roaring trade with it’s wide-range of hot pies and treats for take away or eat in.
The Richmond Lolly Shop (aka Sweets & Treats)
The ice-creams in standard cone or waffle are one thing, but it’s the lolly selection that wins the punters over. Sweet toothers, beware. I managed to escape lightly.
The All-Tasmanian products Tastings House is amazing. The selection of gins, wines and whisky among others is absurd. Many products can be tasted.
Back on Bridge Street
Richmond Market is a small local market, inside and outside of the hall on Bridge Street, open on Saturdays between 9am -3pm.
Central to Bridge Street, the Richmond Arms was originally built in 1827 and named the Lennox Arms Hotel. Fire burned down the hotel in 1888. It was replaced by the Commercial Hotel. It has only been named the Richmond Arms since 1972.
The current day hotel is open and inviting on the outside with its court with seating.
It offers the standard pub grub and beer options that I would expect. “I’ll have a Draught, thanks” will nett you a Cascade Draught. Just like it used to in Hobart 20 years ago.
If Richmond is a microcosm of Colonial Times, the Model Village of Hobart Town is exactly that of Hobart Town, circa the 1820’s.
The Model Village hand out map, with the “current day” comparison photos is well out of date, but the model village stacks up well, teaching a Hobart resident more than a few things about the early days of the city and the buildings that no longer exist.
Three buildings stood out to me.
The gaol was impressive in size and town location for the period in time.
The Commissariat Store, on Macquarie Street is the oldest continually occupied building in Australia. It is now part of the Tasmanian museum and Art Gallery (TMAG).
The amount of reclaimed land was also amazing to me.
It was good to see the oldest pub in Australia, The Hope (now The Hope and Anchor) in its prominent position on Macquarie Street.
In keeping with the sense of history in Richmond, the Model Village fits in nicely, taking me back to a place a long, long time ago.
A skol, sip, drop and dram of Tasmania
After being taken back in time, something more in the present may be in order. Craft Cellars is just across the road and stock a great range of exclusively Tasmanian beer, wine, cider, gin and whisky. You can’t go wrong in stocking up here.
You can also sit in the courtyard and have a refresher too.
The Science of Animal Poo at Pooseum, is just a few metres further down the road from Craft Cellars.
Jokes aside, this recently opened shrine to all things scat is an informative and interactive science museum for kids and adults alike.
There is oodles of information on the importance of poo in the animal world, where it plays a role far larger in the animal kingdom than it does for us prudish humans.
After scoring a miserable 1 on the scat quiz, I did my best to take the information in.
If in the presence of penguins or hippopotamus, I suggest you stand well clear. Projectile warning. Check out the Poo Videos in the museum…. You’ll see.
I think I can proudly say, “I know my shit”.
That was my Richmond outing all wrapped up. Richmond is an enjoyable, easy and extremely close to Hobart for a morning or afternoon trip.
On the way back to Hobart Town, you can stop in at any of the vineyards and cellar doors. Frogmore Creek, Pooleys, Coal Valley and the one I keep forgetting, Puddleduck.
Try not to miss Wicked Cheese for your Coal River Valley cheese experience either.