Friday, 5 April 2013

Hobart Gas Company

The Hobart Gas Company was established by an Act of Parliament in 1854 and was empowered to manufacture and distribute coal gas and to establish a gasworks to light the city streets. Technological apparatus and skilled workers were imported and the gasworks were built off Macquarie Street. This was the third gasworks in the southern hemisphere, following Sydney (1841) and Melbourne (1850). The engineer was William Falconer, an experienced Scot who later built gasworks in Launceston & Latrobe. 

The first gas flowed through the system on 7 March 1857. Coal was also imported, the early fuel containing a mixture of English Boghead coal. Other coal came mainly from Newcastle in New South Wales.
For many years, the company’s waste products also contributed to the local economy, its coke stoking the boilers of many industries and institutions. Its waste tar was used extensively for road making and, later, as fuel. At one stage the company manufactured sulphate of ammonia until this was taken over by the Electrolytic Zinc Co.

As the demand for gas grew, the gasworks were extended, and in 1894 the Company established an electric power station to generate and supply electricity to customers in Hobart and it installed a series of generators, using gas engines in 1898 and steam from 1901. The chimney and remaining group of buildings housed the generating plant and offices of the company. With the financial collapse of the private electrical company, the Gas Co. bought the Hobart distribution system of that company in 1913. The combined distribution systems were bought by the new Government Hydro-Electric Department in 1915, after the Department completed the Waddamana development in 1916 which was Hydro Tasmania's first hydro power station.

In 1924, extra land along Evans Street was purchased and a reconstruction of the entire site was completed. The purifiers were relocated, a tank was constructed for tar and liquor, and a new vertical retort house was constructed. Coal arrived in railway trucks on elevated tracks and was automatically fed into bunkers on top of the retorts.

Succeeding years saw problems of economic depression, shortages of coal, and customers' preference for electricity and despite the introduction of a catalytic oil system in 1965 to reduce dependence on coal, the company's fortunes continued to decline. Town gas ended in 1978. Many of the buildings and all of the equipment were removed to allow Davey Street to be extended through the site in 1987. 

Much of the industrial heritage was demolished, but the engine house and office buildings are the remaining buildings that sit in a small rectangular plot of land, renamed the Gas Works Village, and have been renovated for use by private enterprise such as Hogs Breath Café and 9/11 Bottleshop.