The Heritage Highway features many quaint 19th-century towns, many of which were constructed as early coaching stops and military outposts. These towns feature several historic landmarks and buildings built by convict labour. Take time to visit the towns, explore the history and learn more about what life was like those many years ago.
1. Brickendon Estate
Located near Longford in the Northern Midlands, Brickendon Estate is home to one of Tasmania’s oldest farming properties. Settled in 1824 by William Archer, the property has been continually maintained and owned by the descendants of Archer for seven generations. While Brickendon is still a working farm, its doors are open to the public, and visitors are invited to explore the historic working farm and convict village, walk the historic gardens – which feature 180-year-old trees and around 100 varieties of heritage roses – and stay in the onsite heritage accommodation.
Brickendon, along with its neighbouring property, Woolmers Estate (originally home to William’s brother), makes up a UNESCO World Heritage Convict Site as one of Australia’s finest examples of 19th-century pioneer farming.
Brickendon is open for visitors and overnight stays. However, Woolmers is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
2. The Ross Female Factory Historic Site
The Ross Female Factory operated as a probation station for female convicts between 1847 and 1854. Though there are few remains above ground, the historic site is recognised as the most archaeologically intact female convict sites in Australia.
The Overseer’s Cottage is now a museum that displays the history of the convict site and the life of the female convicts. Wander the site, gaze out at the landscape, and imagine the harsh realities of life there for the convict women.
3. The Oatlands Military Precinct
The Military Precinct was established in 1826 when Oatlands was deemed to become a large interior capital city in Van Diemen’s Land. Skilled tradesman were sent to the town to build a Goal, Commissariat Store, a guard house, Court House and Commandant’s Quarters. The city never eventuated. Thesedays, Oatlands remains the administrative centre of the Southern Midlands and of the thirty building originally constructed, only seven remain.
Visitors keen to explore the precinct can now pick up a copy of the Oatlands Key from any business on High Street displaying the key logo (a deposit is required that is refundable upon the key’s return), and enjoy a self-guided tour. The key grants electronic access to the Oatlands Gaoler’s Residence, the Supreme Court House, and the Oatlands Commissariat. Explore the buildings, admire the restoration work, check out the archaeological and heritage collection items on display, read the information panels, and soak up the atmosphere.
While you are there, take some time to explore the other AR experiences that are dotted around the town.
4. Shene Estate & Distillery
Shene Estate & Distillery is a striking convict-built property at Pontville, in the Southern Midlands. The estate was once an ostentatious country residence of London lawyer and early colonialist, Gamaliel Butler, and features a gothic stable built to house 13 horses.
Today, the property has been lovely restored by current owners, the Kernke Family, and features a working distillery.
The Kernke’s current run tours of the property and happily share the colourful stories of Shene’s past and the enchanting remnants of life over the past two centuries. Their award-winning Poltergeist Gin and triple distilled Mackey Single Malt Whisky are produced onsite (tastings are offered on tour) and on Sunday’s their roadside stall in open to pick up a bottle or two and chat to the makers.
5. Ross Bridge
The Ross Bridge (c. 1836) is the third oldest bridge still in use in Australia. The bridge was designed by colonial architect John Lee Archer and two skilled convict stonemasons, Daniel Herbert and James Colbeck, worked on its construction. Take a closer look and you’ll spy 186 intricate carvings over the beautiful sandstone arches (Herbert is believed to be the artist). The icons retain an air of mystery to this day and include animals, birds, insects, plants, Celtic designs, and heads of local personalities and authoritarians.
6. Red Bridge, Campbell Town
The Red Bridge at Campbell Town was built by convicts and construction utilised more than 1.5 million handmade bricks. The job was completed in 1838 and the bridge is today the oldest bridge on the National Highway.
The Convict Brick Trail is located nearby on High Street. Each brick is engraved with a real convict’s name and a few personal details, giving us a glimpse into their colourful and trying stories.
- Join 1830s Convict Field Policeman John James in solving three true convict-era crimes with a game of Skulduggery.
- Pick up a copy of Stories from the Sandstone to discover the true history of Oatlands.
- Follow the Shadows of the Past Silhouette Trail between Tunbridge and Kempton. The 16 sculptures depict different aspects of the region’s history, including: bushrangers, convict chain gangs, stage coach travellers, policemen, soldiers, and more.
- Enjoy a quiet drink in a historic watering hole and ask the friendly locals for tales of days gone by.
- Stickybeak at early settler graves in the historic cemeteries (you can even hear Voices from the Graves at Longford).
- For a creative, powerful interpretation of the convict era, watch the 1825 revenge thriller film The Nightingale (Oatlands was a filming location).
For travel tips from the friendly locals, pop into the region’s Visitor Information Centres.
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The Oatlands Key: Access the Historic Military Precinct