Originally a clay-pit where convicts made bricks for the construction of St Johns Church, Princes Square is an extraordinary square with a colourful 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.