The Apsley to Bothwell coach in Bothwell, about 1880 (AOT, PH30/1/1967)

Transport was, for the Aborigines, by foot or by canoe, and for early European settlers, by sailing ship, foot or horseback – the first horse arrived with Bowen in 1803. Carriages appeared shortly afterwards, but with few roads, the easiest method of transport was by water, up rivers or around the coast. There was no regular coach service on the main Hobart–Launceston route until the 1830s. Where possible, goods were transported by sea; many waterside places had a jetty, and ferries were used to cross rivers. Roads improved only gradually.

Steamships appeared in the 1830s, but were at first unreliable and little used. Only in the second half of the century was transport revolutionised by machines: reliable steamships and the railway. Railway lines were built around much of the island, first from Launceston to Deloraine in 1871, then linking most major towns, while steamships meant faster services between Tasmania and the mainland, and Britain. Trams appeared in the major towns from the 1890s. Transport of both goods and people was now much faster, easier and cheaper.

Individual transport changed enormously with the introduction of the motor car in the 1890s. These were at first few, but the police began licensing vehicles and drivers in 1909, and gradually numbers grew. Motor lorries proved of great benefit to farmers. By the 1920s there was so much motor traffic that roads had to be rebuilt and main roads sealed, which again improved transport. By now, virtually all intrastate transport was by road or rail rather than sea. Air transport appeared, and passenger services were set up from 1932. With so much development of transport, more control was necessary. Traffic lights were established in major towns from 1937, and the government's Transport Commission was set up in 1939. The opening of the Hobart Bridge in 1943 made transport to eastern Tasmania from Hobart much easier.

From the 1950s, petrol-powered transport became the main form within the state, as motor trucks, cars and coaches began to supersede rail transport. Public transport declined with increasing use of private vehicles. The standards of roads improved, and virtually all public roads were sealed by the 1970s. Interstate transport was at first dominated by ships, though aircraft were increasingly used by passengers, and, from the 1990s, for freight.

Further reading: Transport Tasmania, Annual Report 1989.

Alison Alexander