Friday, 8 March 2013

Ross Village

First surveyed in 1807 by Government Surveyor Charles Grimes, who traced sections of the river.  Governor Macquarie, inspired by the findings, visited in 1811 and named the area Argyle Plains and the river Macquarie. On his second journey through central Tasmania, Macquarie chose the location beside the river for a township
In 1812 a garrison of soldiers was stationed at the ford of the Macquarie River to protect the development of this future town.  Other buildings were soon built and in 1821 the settlement was proclaimed the town of Ross.  Governor Macquarie 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.  Ross was considered ideally situated being centrally located and easily accessible from both North and South.  The good flat country was ideal for farming and so for supplying food and the river provided a reliable water supply.  Indeed in those early years of the colony, the government operated a large farm in the district for agriculture and breeding of draft oxen.  It was broken up in 1830 and sold off to private landholders.

The Macquarie River was originally crossed by a ford at Ross.  In 1821 a low level bridge was built consisting of logs laid on some stone buttresses and covered with earth and gravel.  In 1836 this was replaced by the splendid sandstone bridge which is still one of the historic features of Ross today. 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 recognized 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 military presence remained an important part of Ross for many of its early years and its influence can still be seen today.  A number of the early buildings around the town have military origins and several streets are named after battles of the Napoleonic wars.  Some of the military stationed here in those early days were veterans of these campaigns. As Ross developed it became important not only as a garrison town but also as a coach horse change and livestock market.  In 1826 it became the venue for the first agricultural show in the midlands.  These beginnings are evident in the coaching inns and the fine properties in the surrounding district.

It also became the site of one of four Female Factories opened in Tasmania and operated from 1848 – 1855. The site of the Ross Female Factory can still be visited and although very little physical architecture remains in place, it is still considered one of the most archeologically intact female convict sites in Australia.

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. Tasmania was a draw card for early European settlement for several reasons. Access to the southern waters for seals and whales was one. Excellent farming districts for stock and grain to feed the rest of the colony added to the appeal to settle. The third reason, the island was ideal to send convicts to. The size allowed security of the convicts to be more manageable. 

A road was needed between the North and South of the state. White man had discovered the original aboriginal inhabitants had already carved trade routes throughout the state. One such trade route was between the Launceston district in the North and the "Hobart Town" district in the South. This trade route is now called the "Heritage Highway". The best source of labour to construct the road was convicts. The cheapest convicts to use needed less supervision, so low security convicts were used. Places like Ross were set up at river crossings along the route. The convicts could build and maintain the road and river crossing (in this case the famous convict built bridge). 

The convicts also had to build the accommodation for themselves and the officers in the village. As sandstone was more readily available than other building materials, a lasting legacy of convict built sandstone buildings now provide the visitor with an amazing experience. These early European settlers aimed at recreating a familiar environment to them. It is no mistake that the village is English in style complete with English Elms, cottage gardens and quaint Georgian style cottages.

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. 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).  The field gun in the middle of the crossroads was actually used during the Boer War.

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 tranquility. 

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 stopped in time. It is beautifully preserved.