I often forget how recently Australia was civilised until I come across its oldest buildings. Take our oldest bridge for example, built in 1825 in one of my all-time-favourite places in the world, Tasmania. Named the Richmond Bridge, it’s comparatively youthful in the world of stone and mortar.
Not that it matters because it looks rather lovely, as if it could be part of a scene in The Wind in the Willows. And if you climb a good vantage point as I did, you can spy Australia’s oldest Catholic church – St. John’s Catholic church – in the background. Throw in an ostensible haunting the bridge is notorious for and the Richmond Bridge makes for an intriguing visit.
Initially named Bigge’s Bridge after Royal Commissioner John Thomas Bigge – who recognised its need to connect trade between Hobart and Port Arthur – the Richmond Bridge was established roughly 25 kilometres north of Hobart in a town called Richmond. As one reader commented, Richmond is a tad touristy and there are other, perhaps more pleasant towns nearby such as Ross. However the town still has plenty going for it.
Richmond also contains Australia’s oldest intact jail and one of the most sensational scallop pies I’ve tasted in ALL my Tassie scallop pie scoffing (believe me, that’s quite a bit). You’ll find such a treat located in the Richmond Bakery. Furthermore, 19th-century hexafoil markings used for practicing ‘magic’ were recently found in the old Richmond Courthouse, hinting at a colourful past for a town so young.
As I’ve mentioned, the Richmond Bridge is allegedly haunted too. The story is as follows: a reputedly cruel jailer named George Grover often whipped convicts from a cart as they quarried sandstone from nearby Butcher’s Hill. One night in 1832, Grover staggered home after a drunken fight and fell asleep atop the bridge. He was pushed off during the night and fell seven meters to his death. No one was convicted of his murder, however it’s widely reported his ghost now haunts the bridge.
The Richmond Bridge was Australian National Heritage Listed in 2005, and thanks in part to Grover’s legend, it draws around 200,000 visitors annually. In all, Richmond is well worth a look, particularly as there’s several more of Australia’s youthfully old things about town. Additionally, savouring a Richmond Bakery scallop pie on Australia’s oldest bridge is a worthwhile experience.