Historic Heritage Highway
The most direct route between Hobart in the south and Launceston in the north is via the Midland Highway. The road follows much the same route built by convict labour in the early 1800s and this early history has left its mark with something of interest for everyone.
Life for the 70,000 convicts transported to Tasmania was relentlessly brutal, yet despite this, their skills and labour produced outstanding examples of architecture and design across the state, many of which can still be found along Tasmania's 'Heritage Highway'.
Just off the highway are the historic towns of Kempton, Oatlands and Ross, each offering fascinating examples of early Australian architecture. The historic village of Kempton near Hobart has a charming collection of colonial homes, cottages, shops and taverns, all found along the main street.
Further north is Oatlands with the largest collection of colonial sandstone buildings in Australia, many built by convict labour. Oatlands is hard to miss with the silhouette of Callington Mill on the skyline easily visible from the highway. Built in 1837, the mill is the only tower mill of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
At the village of Ross, the Ross Bridge, built in 1836, features 186 intricate Celtic–inspired colonial carvings depicting symbols, flora, fauna and the faces of notable characters of the time. Also at Ross is the site of the Ross Female Factory, once a probation station for women. (There's also a female factory in Hobart.)
And at Campbell Town, 65 km from Launceston, there are more than a hundred homes over a century old. Also in Campbell Town, the Red Bridge, built in 1838, is one of Australia's oldest bridges. Convicts built the bridge using one and a half million bricks hand-made in the town itself.
Most of Tasmania's convicts were part of the Assignment system with convicts providing cheap labour on farms and in domestic situations, road gangs and other government infrastructure projects. The highly skilled trades of these assigned convicts enabled many landowners to build grand estates.
Woolmers Estate, 7 km from the town of Longford, is one of the most intact 19th century homesteads in Australia and one of Tasmania's five World Heritage listed convict sites. The estate has been continuously farmed since 1817 by six generations of the same family and consists of significant buildings, interior features and artefacts surviving from every period of the estate's history.
Nearby to Woolmers is Brickendon Estate, an historic working farm and another of Tasmania's World Heritage listed convict sites.
For those interested in finding more about the state's early convict history there are local museums in Campbell Town and Oatlands, not to mention the many antique shops and antiquarian book shops that double as museums along the way.
For more on the Heritage Highway see our self-drive itinerary, Heritage Highway.