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Judy Davey | profile | all galleries >> Galleries >> Echoes from the Past tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Echoes from the Past

The Launceston Gasworks is a landmark in the city of Launceston. The shape of the vertical retort building is very distinctive and I can remember passing the site and being hit with the very strong smell of gas even in the car with the windows wound up.

Along with the images, some of the story of this site follows. Oddly, I've been unable to find much information about the site itself, stories from people who had worked there or even many images. The photo story which follows talks particularly about the new 'vertical retort' development but also gives some context as to events occurring in the rest of the world in March of 1932.

Until the 1860s the streets of Launceston at night were unlit and dangerous. Even in homes lighting was poor, the only source being tallow or wax candles and lamps fuelled by whale oil.

Going out at night meant taking your own lamp to avoid bumping into things and falling down holes. Only the public hotels with their compulsory lights over the entrance, provided any form of lighting in the streets. Night time meetings were often scheduled during the week closest to the full moon, so there would be enough light to find your way through the unlit streets.

The Launceston Gas Company was formed in 1858 and gas street lamps were lit for the first time in April 1860. Lamplighters were employed to run round the streets at dusk, carrying ladders to climb the lampposts and light the 123 lamps.

The gas was obtained from coal, roasted in retorts, and stored in an airtight gasometer, the sides of which rose and fell according to the amount of gas in storage. A network of underground pipes was placed throughout the town connecting street lights and homes.

During the 20th century the Launceston Gas works continued to operate profitably, despite competition from electricity. A new four-storey vertical retort house was built in 1932, replacing horizontal retorts and a new water based process was introduced in the 1950s. By the 1970s 6,000 homes were connected to 100km of gas mains. The late 1970s saw the end of the production of gas on the site, however the buildings are a stark reminder of a past technology. (Source: Launceston Historical Society Inc.)