Richmond, homely but haunted

23:14, Sep 12 2012
Richmond, Tasmania
ROCK SOLID: Australia's oldest operating bridge, with St John's church in the background.

Why go?

Richmond, about a 30-minute drive north of Hobart, is Australia's best-preserved Georgian village and home to more than 50 historic buildings, most dating from the 1820s. It's also in the centre of one of Australia's fastest-growing wine regions, the Coal River Valley.

What's it known for?

Richmond is best known for being old - at least by Australian standards - and among its historic claims to fame are Australia's oldest intact jail (1825) and Australia's oldest remaining Catholic church, St John's, built in 1836. Its most famous landmark is the oldest bridge still in use. Built of sandstone hauled to the construction site by convicts, the elegant arched bridge was completed in 1825 when tiny Richmond, now home to about 800 people, was one of the colony's most important convict stations and military posts, and the third-largest town in what was then called Van Diemen's Land.

What you didn't know ...

In 1832 George Grover, a warden at the jail who was notorious for his cruelty and was commonly known as the "wicked flagellator", was murdered and thrown off the bridge into the Coal River. According to local legend, Grover used to sit in the heavy carts full of stone that were being dragged by convicts from the quarry to the bridge site, whipping the prisoners like horses. The stories differ as to whether he was killed by a pickaxe or pushed off while passed out in a drunken stupor, but either way, his spirit is said to haunt the bridge seeking revenge against his killers. He most often appears on cold, foggy nights. His large black Labrador is also said to haunt the bridge but, unlike his former master, Grover's dog is believed to be a protector of lonely women crossing the bridge.

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What's new?

Watch cheese being made at artisan cheesemaker The Wicked Cheese Co in the new tasting house. Made by the former chief cheesemaker at King Island, the range includes rich creamy soft cheeses (triple cream brie and camembert) as well as a spicy chilli cheddar, chilli camembert, and a wicked whisky cheddar, a hand-made vintage cheddar marinated in eight-year-old single-malt Tasmanian whisky. There's a licensed cafe on-site and a range of gourmet Tasmanian products. Open daily, 10am-4.30pm, 1238 Richmond Road. wickedcheese.com.au.

Don't miss

There are more than 50 historic buildings throughout the town, although not all are open to the public. One you shouldn't miss is the jail. Built in 1825, it was in use until 1928, and not much has changed since the last prisoners served their time. It's open for self-guided tours daily, 9am-5pm, and as you wander through the cold, cramped cells, you can read the stories of various inmates. One of the jail's more colourful was Isaac "Ikey" Solomon. An English criminal sent to Richmond in 1832 for receiving stolen property, he is believed to be the model for the Fagin character in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist. 37 Bathurst Street. richmondgaol.com.au.

Where to eat

For a quick lunch on the run, the Richmond Bakery (Edward Street) does great pies, pastries and cakes in a lovely courtyard setting. Ma Foosies (46 Bridge Street), in a cute 1831 cottage, is another good lunch option. The Richmond Arms Hotel (42 Bridge Street) does better-than-average pub food and is open for lunch and dinner daily. The Richmond Wine Centre (27 Bridge Road) does lunch daily and dinner on Friday and Saturday nights and is a good place to sample some of the local Coal River wines.

Where to stay

Bridge Cottage, one of the first in Richmond, was built by convicts in 1823. Fully self-contained, it has an open fireplace and garden courtyard, and faces the historic bridge.   accommodation-tasmania.com.au. If Bridge Cottage is too close to the haunted bridge for comfort, try Red Brier Cottage, which is actually two cottages - one a modern villa, the other in heritage style. Both properties have a spa, kitchen and rural views.   redbrier.com.au.

How to get there

Richmond is 24 kilometres from Hobart. Both Qantas and Virgin Australia have daily flights to Hobart.

For more information, see richmondvillage.com.au and discovertasmania.com

The Age