Tasmania has an excess of beautiful and fascinating 19th century colonial towns. Places like Campbell Town and Richmond are famous for their gift shops, their pretty vistas and their overt tourist appeal. But, of all the early 19th towns, there is nothing quite the equal of Ross.
The secret is that the Midland Highway (the main route between Hobart and Launceston) by-passes Ross thus preserving the original, sleepy character of the town.
The great quality of Ross is that it has not been overly corrupted by modern tourism. The town is very typically English and, with its warm Ross sandstone, is reminiscent of the towns which can be seen in the Cotswolds or in north Oxfordshire. In many ways Ross is a town which has been held in aspic. It is beautifully preserved.
Located 117 km north of Hobart and 78 km south of Launceston, Ross is 76 metres above sea level. The district was first explored by Europeans in 1807 when the surveyor Charles Grimes travelled from the north to the south of Tasmania's central valley area. He mapped sections of the river which subsequently became known as Macquarie River (Governor Macquarie named it after himself when he travelled through the area in 1811).
On his second journey through central Tasmania, Macquarie chose the location beside the river for a township. He called it Ross after the home of his friend H.M. Buchanan who lived on Loch Lomond in Scotland. At that time the river was forded. Later that year a wooden bridge was built and by 1836 the stone bridge, one of the finest in Australia, was completed.
Throughout the nineteenth century Ross was an important stopover point between Launceston and Hobart. As such it was a horse coach changing point, a town for the local garrison and an important destination for produce from the surrounding farms.
Today it is arguably the finest nineteenth century village in Australia. It has resisted the excesses of commercialism and the combination of the tree-lined main street, the beautiful bridge and river, and the location of the Wesleyan Church at the top of the slight hill, combine to give it a remarkable aesthetic beauty and tranquillity.
Things to see
Quite rightly the pride of the village this beautiful stone bridge was constructed by convicts in 1836. It is the third oldest bridge still standing in Australia and is recognised as the most important convict-built bridge in the country. It was constructed on the orders of Governor Arthur and designed by John Lee Archer. Built by convicts its beautiful stonework is the result of two convict stonemasons - Daniel Herbert and James Colbeck. They were paid one shilling a day. Herbert, who had been transported for highway robbery in 1827, was freed after the bridge was completed and is buried in the Old Cemetery. He is credited with the beautiful carvings on the side of the bridge. Experts have described the carvings as 'possibly the richest achievement of the earlier colonial period if not the most significant sculpture on any edifice in the Commonwealth.' Leslie Greener, who was largely responsible for discovering that Daniel Herbert was responsible for the carvings, has written: 'Ross Bridge is the most beautiful of its kind today. The carvings have in them that delight in the shapes themselves that our sculptors lost somewhere in the 13th century.'
The main crossroad in Ross is known, with some humour, as Temptation, Recreation, Salvation and Damnation. The reason for this combination is that on one corner (Temptation) stood the Man-O-Ross Hotel, on another corner (Salvation) was the Roman Catholic Church, on the third corner was the Town Hall (Recreation) and on the fourth stood the Jail (Damnation). More details are provided under the Church Street heading. The field gun in the middle of the crossroads was actually used during the Boer War.
There are a total of 40 historic buildings in Ross (to do the village justice get a proper map or a copy of 'Let's Talk About Ross') of which no fewer than 22 are located on Church Street. If you drive to the Wesley Church (now the Uniting Church) at the top of Church Street and walk three blocks down the western side of the street and back three blocks (on the eastern side) you will experience much of the appeal of Ross.
1. Uniting Church - built in 1885. Note particularly the blackwood pews, the font with its carved cherubim, the beautiful stained glass windows and the modern tapestry which depicts the tree of life and was woven in Aubusson in France.
2. Walk down the hill. You will pass the old Drill Hall which was used by the Light Horse Regiment in the lead up to World War I.
3. Next to the hall is and old cottage. It was used as the first Army headquarters in the town.
4. The Tasmanian Wool Centre. This interesting centre includes a museum, wool exhibition, and a wool and craft area.
5. The Ross Memorial Library and Recreation Room. Built in the 1830s this building was the original headquarters for the Royal Ordnance Corps. It is still possible to see the corps crest - three cannons on a shield - carved above the door. It is rare to find such an insignia above any door in Australia.
6. Damnation. It is now a residence but it was originally the local gaol.
7. Over the road is the Roman Catholic Church which was once a store. It was converted into a church in 1920.
8. Next door to the church is a small cottage which was once used as the town's first post office.
9 and 10. Further along the street are the Scotch Thistle Inn and its coach house. The inn was licensed in 1840. It now operates as a restaurant.
11. Further down the street (before you reach High Street) is the Ross Post Office which was built in 1896. It still has many elements which recall the way it operated in earlier times. There is a mounting stone outside to help people get on their horses and there is still an old post box and a stamp vending machine.
12. Cross over High Street and keep walking. About halfway up the next block is an old rubble stone building which was built in 1830. It is a fine example of early colonial architecture.
13. On the corner of Church and Badajos Streets, and across the street, is St Johns Church of England which was built in 1868. The organ is more than 100 years old and the church is notable for its fine stained glass windows, its oak lectern and its unusual Caen stone pulpit.
14. Head back towards the Uniting Church on the eastern side of Church Street. There are a number of very old houses in this block - you pass 'Elphinstone', once the Sherwood Castle Hotel, which dates from the 1830s;
15. Macquarie House and Store. The building dates from the 1840s. It now contains a fine collection of military memorabilia dating from 1800 including both Australian and foreign military equipment, uniforms, vehicles etc.
16. Next door is the stone residence of one of the town's earliest inhabitants, Dr. McNamara and on the corner;
17. Is the old St John's Sunday school. It has stood on the corner since the 1840s although the present building dates from 1902 when it was rebuilt.
18. Across High Street on the corner is an old restored cottage which is believed to have been a military hospital at one time in its long life;
19. Further down the street is Hawthorn Cottage which dates from 1910 when it was built for the Tacey family;
20. and the Old Ross General Store which is a fine example of the stonemason's art.
21. Back at the corner of Church and Bridge street are 'Temptation' or the Man O Ross Hotel which was established by William Saddler in 1835 and, directly opposite, is:
22. 'Recreation' - the Old Ross Town Hall.
It is, by any means, a remarkable street which simply has no peer in Australia. A fine collection of colonial buildings on a wide street edged by elm trees. The first settlers couldn't have recreated their mother country more precisely.
The area on either side of the Ross Bridge is protected for swans and ducks but the river is a popular haunt for fishermen and women eager to catch an elusive trout.
In the District
A couple of kilometres south of Ross and to the east you can see the beautiful Somercot's Cottage. Built around 1840 by Captain Samuel Horton it has 20-paned French window and a cobbled courtyard. It is privately owned. Nearby in Mona Vale Road is Wetmore House, a single-storey Victorian house built in 1888 with extensive views over the Macquarie River. There are typical of the area. Ross is actually surrounded by buildings of great historical and architectural interest.
Tasmanian Wool Centre
Ross TAS 7209
Telephone: (03) 6381 5466