Princes Square, Launceston

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  • Princes Square, Launceston
  • Princes Square, Launceston
  • Princes Square, Launceston
  • Princes Square, Launceston
  • Pugh statue Launceston

Originally a clay-pit where convicts made bricks for the construction of St Johns Church, Princes Square is an extraordinary square with a fascinating history. Princes Square was part of Launceston’s network of planned public places, a formal and organised public space that demonstrated European sophistication, and remains an unusually intact and original 19th century town square. It was created in the image of similar British designs, its elm trees, like its name, suggested its suitability as a site of royal celebrations.

Before the square was opened in 1859, the site had been used as a military parade ground before being set aside as a public reserve in 1826. In 1853 it was where the people of Launceston celebrated the cessation of the transportation of convicts, and the Jubilee of the foundation of the Colony of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on 10th August 1803. In 1834, Prince’s Square was rumoured to have been the site of a public execution of two bushrangers. During WWII trenches were dug in the Square for air raid shelters.

When elections were first held in the 1840s, candidates were nominated in public open air locations, and in Launceston the place where the candidates presented their perspectives to the voting public was Princes Square. Temporary wooden structures were erected in Princes Square for candidates to stand on and hecklers and musicians ensured the event was a raucous one.

Reverend John West, the leading figure of the movement to stop transportation, held his rallies at the Square. West presented an Australasian League flag to a Melbourne meeting held to abolish transportation. This flag was very similar to the Australian flag, and was flown proudly in Princes Square in 1952 when Launcestonians celebrated 100 years since the end of transportation.

The Square was originally intended, according to the Mayor of the era, Rev. Henry Dowling, as a place “beautified by art”, to provide “rest and recreation after a day’s toil”, presenting “an attraction to every stranger who might visit our town.” Dowling was instrumental in the founding of the area as a public square. Dowling was prominent figure in Tasmanian history, working as minister, politician, banker, author, publisher, and campaigning against transportation, encouraged free migration to Tasmania.

The area was first known as St Johns Square, it was renamed Princes Square when it was officially opened and the Val d’Osne Fountain turned on, on 9th November 1859, which also happened to coincide with the 18th birthday of H.R.H. Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, who turned the fountain on. The Prince also planted two commemorative oaks. The Launceston Council took over City Park in 1863, and two William McGowans, father and son, successive Superintendents of Reserves, beautified these parks.

Princes Square, LauncestonThe Val d’Osne Fountain, in the centre of the Square, was located in part to celebrate the turning on of the town’s waterworks and the Federation-style lavatory block by Dowling, who instigated the fountain’s acquisition. Purchased from the Paris Exhibition of 1858, the original fountain had to be changed because the locals objected to the half-naked nymph – she was replaced by a pineapple. The fountain is rare, thought to be one of the original works of its design and is a fine piece of work from one of the finest French sculptors of his era.

The 7m high, 4 basin fountain features statues of Neptune, Galatea, Amphitrite and Asis on the lower tier and 4 sea nymphs holding hands on the upper tier. There are 43 water jets in total. The fountain was produced by the Val d’Osne Foundry which was the biggest producing fine art foundry in France. The catalog number was 554T. The Val d’Osne Fountain is one of Australia’s oldest and most prestigious fountains still in operation in a public square.

The sculptures were created by Mathurin Moreau, who worked in the factory from 1849 to 1879 and in which he produced over 100 statues. Some say his work revolutionised the mass production of high quality models. Thomas Wade was given the task of constructing the basin for the fountain.

Local lore states that the fountain was sent to Launceston by accident. When the order was placed there was a mix up and the small city of Launceston, Tasmania, received the more expensive, elaborate fountain instead of Launceston in Cornwall, England. By the time the mistake was realised the fountain had already been erected. Some say the council refused to pay the bill when the mistake was uncovered, others that it was logistically too expensive to ship it back, but most often, they just laugh at the thought that another city somewhere in the world got their cheap version. From all accounts this is just an old wives tale.

Another feature of the Square is a statue of Dr William Russ Pugh, the first to use general anaesthetic in the Southern Hemisphere for a surgical operation. Launceston is therefore noted as the first place in the Southern Hemisphere in which general anaesthetic was used.

One of the first unsuccessful attempts at balloon flight in Australia took place in Launceston, the attempted launch taking place at Princes Square.

Place Categories: Activities, Attractions, Historic Sites, Parks And Gardens and Public Art.

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