Tasmania, originally known as Van Diemen's Land, was established in 1803 as a British penal colony. Convicts were forced to migrate to Tasmania as the British Government's 'solution' to the issue of serious overcrowding in their prison system. Over the next 50 years, 73,500 convicts were transported to Tasmania for crimes ranging from minor misdemeanours to political activities. Convicts skills and hard labour were utilised to build what would become the infrastructure of Australian society.
Founding the Richmond area
The Richmond area was one of the first areas to be discovered. In 1803 a small party led by Lieutenant John Bowen crossed the hills from the Derwent Valley to explore the valley where the Coal River and Richmond are now located. The Coal River was named by the party when small deposits of coal were found in the river.
Building a bridge
Richmond had been used as a crossing point for people traveling by land to the Tasman and Fleurieu peninsulas for some years. When the Coal River flooded, access to the east coast was greatly restricted. The need for a bridge connecting the peninsulas was obvious from as early as 1820. Construction of the bridge began in 1823, with convicts constructing the bridge by hand from local sandstone. The bridge was completed after 17 months in 1825.
The construction of the bridge saw the town of Richmond expand rapidly. By 1830 Richmond was Van Diemen Land's third largest town and had grown into an important military outpost and convict station.
For most of the 19th century, the Coal River enabled considerable trade with Hobart. As a result, Richmond became a major stop on the route from Hobart to Port Arthur. When the Sorell causeway opened in 1872, however, Richmond was bypassed, which resulted in the town remaining relatively unchanged and untouched for the next 100 years.
The Richmond Bridge and other elements of built heritage throughout the regions and towns of Tasmania remain significant landmarks today, reflecting the convict and colonial heritage of the region.
A popular Australian landmark
Today the Richmond Bridge is widely recognised, and has featured in numerous publications, tourist and historic literature, on postage stamps and in the work of major Australian artists.
The bridge and its surrounds draw almost 200,000 visitors annually to Richmond's idyllic settings to learn about an important part of the convict heritage.
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