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Among the many and various curiosities that greet those arriving in Hobart, one that literally towers above the rest is a distinctive brick chimney standing over the highway on the city's eastern cusp.

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Old building and chimney stack Original gas works building

Hobart Gas Company – A History

Among the many and various curiosities that greet those arriving in Hobart, one that literally towers above the rest, is a distinctive brick chimney standing over the highway on the city centre's eastern edge.

Built for the Hobart Gas Company, this grand two-tonne stack is square-based yet octagonal through its upper reaches. Built more than a century ago, it was used for barely a dozen years.

Its significance is less about longevity, however, than it is about science; this handsome construction represents the technological underpinnings of modern Hobart and the innovative steam, gas and electric energy that powered it.

Hobart Gas Company was formed in 1854 to light the city streets. Processed from imported coal – the local product was of poor quality – the new 'town gas' impacted the young city of Hobart like nothing before it. Gas lighting in factories, homes and streets replaced oil lamps and candles, so that working hours lengthened, streets became safer, and the convenience of gas lighting and cooking came to homes.

At the end of that century, with growing demand for electricity, a bullish Hobart Gas Company also established its Electric Light Station and installed a series of electric generators, first gas engines in 1898 then supplemented by steam-driven turbo alternators from 1901.

It was this last addition that required the brick chimney that stands today as a means of venting steam vapour and coal fumes. It was built at one end of the company's Engine House, which also still remains.

In one of those quirks of history, the company sold its electricity production capability just twelve years later to the government, then forming the Hydro Electric Commission. And while it continued to focus on the production and distribution of gas, the Hobart gasworks gradually lost energy supremacy to the electric upstart. The plant shut on May 1, 1978.

Fifteen years later, an environmental study recommended the city retain the chimney, and also noted "significant views to and from this landmark should be maintained."

At its base, the handful of original gasworks buildings are now a restaurant, convenience store, bottle shop and offices. Above them, the stack remains, a quiet reminder of an industry that once was -- and a unique signpost for those visiting Hobart.