The Heritage Highway stretches from Hobart to Launceston, but the coolest and most significant places in Tasmania’s history are Kempton, Oatlands, Ross and Campbell Town.
The Heritage Highway is essentially The Midlands Highway but with some scenic side stops. The Heritage Highway was originally built by convict labour.
Taking the Road to Kempton
I hopped in my trusty makeshift DMC DeLorean and set the dial to the 1800’s.
Zooming out of Hobart Town I pass by Pontville, Mangalore and a place called Bagdad.
My first point of call is Kempton which is just off the highway. The township was founded in or around 1821. Back then it would take as many as four days to travel to Hobart Town by horse and cart.
I knew just a few things about Kempton before I arrived:
- It was originally called Green Ponds.
- It was renamed Kempton after Anthony Fenn Kemp who held a large amount of acreage in the area at an estate called Mount Vernon.
- Old Kempton Distillery is what many folks go to Kempton for today. People love Tasmanian whisky.
Kempton is pretty much one main street, and that is what the street is called, Main Street. Kempton is perfect for a leisurely walk up and down Main Street. As a town it had all the facilities of what a town of the day needed; a tavern or four, an inn or nine, a church or four, shops and some residents in nice cottages, plus a probation station. Later, it was even connected by railway.
Fortunately, many of these buildings have been preserved in a time warp in one way or another so we can appreciate them almost as they were in the mid to late 1800s. Additionally, Kempton has been smart and created storyboards at significant locations around the town that aid in the information consumption for eager discoverers to help understand what Kempton was like in its glory days. It turns out, Green Ponds was renamed Kemp Town in 1840 before becoming Kempton in the 1890’s.
Come on Inn to Kempton
Towns along the Heritage Highway were to provide safe lodgings for the traders and travellers within the colony. The towns were strategically marked out for horse and cart travel. This allowed Kempton to prosper and it became an important location having as many as nine inns to facilitate the coaching trade and supplies required for travellers and merchants.
The prominent inns through its heyday were the:
- Royal Oak
- Turf Hotel
- Commercial Inn
- Wilmot Arms
- Good Woman Inn
- The Exchange
The buildings of the Royal Oak, Commercial Inn and Wilmot Arms exist to this day. The Royal Oak is now “Oakmore”, a private residence and the Commercial Inn is now Dysart House, home to Old Kempton Distillery.
Wilmot Arms is now a bed and breakfast. The Turf Hotel burnt down early 20th century and the Good Woman Inn was demolished in the 1920’s. The Exchange was the last of the inns to hold a licence until it burnt down in the 1990s. It was reborn as the Huntingdon Tavern. I love the history of old pubs. Van Diemen’s Land sure loved a pub, a tavern or an inn.
Whisky and Churches
Dysart House was built in 1842 and “was one of the finest inns on the road”. Old Kempton Distillery now distills highly sought after whisky and gin on its premises. They have a cellar door, run tours as well as a distillery school!
Lime many towns of the era, Kempton catered for the faiths. It had four churches.
Congregational Church (est. 1840) which was the headquarters of the district. It is now a private residence.
Presbyterian Church (est. 1886) for the growing masses of Scottish settlers is now the community hall.
St Mary’s Anglican Church of England (est. 1867) continues today
St Peter’s Roman Catholic Church (est. 1923), is now a bed and breakfast.
“King and Country”
Twenty-two men from Kempton enlisted to go to war in World War I. The Kempton WWI Clocktower Memorial was erected in honour of those who served.
Lining Memorial Avenue, just off Main Street at the entrance to Kempton, a tree was planted for each soldier in 1918, twenty-two in total. These trees still stand today.
At the far end of Main Street is the ubiquitous sandstone bridge. Kempton Bridge was built in 1840, but does not have the grandeur of its more famous cousins at Richmond, Ross or even Campbell Town. It is standing and operational, nonetheless.
Anthony Fenn Kemp
Perhaps the most intriguing historical aspect of Kempton is who the town was named after. Who was Anthony Fenn Kemp?
Anthony Fenn Kemp was an arsehole, but he was an arsehole who “played the game” in the early stages of the colony, and played it well. For the most part.
He came to New South Wales as a soldier in 1797 and was the commander of the “Rum Corps”. Kemp ventured to Van Diemen’s Land as second in command at the establishment at Port Dalrymple in the north of Tasmania. Once in Hobart Town, Kemp became the prominent merchant in Hobart Town on the back of unpaid loans and bonds from his family’s business in London, dealing in all things, but mainly European items plus plenty of wine, rum and tobacco. He was granted a large acreage at Green Ponds and set about establishing his “empire”.
Through mischievous and usually dishonest dealings Kemp rose to be highly involved in Hobart Town’s society, including at various times control of the young colony’s treasury, a role as a magistrate and ousting a Governor he disliked.
He was intrinsically involved in Tasmania becoming its own colony to further his own power and business. Along the way, Kemp fathered eleven daughters and seven sons with reportedly not much care for any of them. This included dumping four back in London. Hence the “Father of Tasmania” in more ways than one.
The town that now bears his name is less than forty minutes by Subaru out of Hobart. It is a worthwhile and fascinating introduction to the history of the Heritage Highway.