Launceston's street names hide history of British settlement, war heroes, and farming families

Cimitiere Street, Dicky Whites Lane, Balfour Street, The Quadrant – names that direct our daily Launceston life. 

But why do Launceston streets bear these names? What’s the history behind them?

First settled in 1806 and known as Patersonia, Launceston was originally superseded by George Town, which was established two years earlier as the headquarters of the European settlement in Northern Tasmania.

In 18067, Patersonia was renamed Launceston after the Cornwall town where New South Wales’ Governor Phillip King was born.

By 1824, George Town was finally superseded by Launceston as the headquarters of the young settlement and became the hub of Northern Tasmania, with many streets named for British royalty and peers – York, Frederick, George, Churchill and Wellington among the many.

Launceston Historical Society president Marion Sargent said the names chosen later represented people embedded in the region’s heritage, from whole families to notable individuals.

Through the mid-years of the city’s growth, suburbs such as Mowbray, Ravenswood and Rocherlea were named after farming families and their properties, including Martin Mowbray Stephenson, whose 1820s-era farm is now the site of Launceston Church Grammar School.

So who are the people whose names still linger in our daily lives, long after they have passed on? 

Information from John and Don Morris’ 1989 book History in Our Streets, along with maps and resources available at the Launceston Linc, and the state government’s Placenames Tasmania, offers some insight.

Cimitiere Street

One of the more unusual street names in Launceston, Cimitiere Street was named after Gilbert Cimitiere, a French immigrant who joined the British Army , taking him to Flanders, the West Indies, and beyond.

Perhaps an unfortunate name, ‘cimitiere’ is French for ‘graveyard’, but Major Cimitiere progressed through the ranks before becoming the seventh Commandant of Port Dalrymple – now George Town.

Rising through the ranks to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel, Cimitiere had a turbulent career in Tasmania, not helped by language difficulties. His hard work to develop Port Dalrymple into a functioning military site were not enough to see him brush off accusations of poor administration.

The lieutenant-colonel avoided a court-marshal, was replaced and returned to Sydney, but his name is remembered in Cimitiere Street in both Launceston and George Town.

Brisbane Street

Named after a Scotsman, Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, who served at Flanders and was great friends with the Duke of Wellington.

The street was originally named Dicky White’s Street.

Dicky Whites Lane

Tucked away in The Quadrant is a classic example of a Launceston character being fondly remembered.

 Richard ‘Dicky’ White was a gambler, highwayman, publican and racing enthusiast whose colourful life saw him transported to Sydney, then transferred to Norfolk Island.

White purchased land at the corner of Brisbane Street and St John Streets and developed an auction market, then built the Launceston Hotel (now the site of Lonnies night club and Supre).

A flash character who did much to develop Launceston into a lively town, Dicky White is remembered for his exploits and his character.

Paterson Street

One of the oldest streets in Launceston, Paterson Street was named after Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson, a powerful man in the early years of the Sydney settlement.

His military career was just part of his character: as a botanist and explorer, Paterson also spent time in India, the Malabar Coasts and South Africa.

Sent by Lord Hobart to begin a settlement in Port Dalrymple, Paterson arrived in 1804 and set about exploring and establishing British control of the region.

Paterson named the Tamar, after Governor King’s hometown river in Cornwall, and also named the North and South Esk rivers.

Tatler Arcade

A name fit for a British tabloid, the Tatler Arcade, off St John Street, was named after the Tatler newsreel theatrette, and was previously also known as Tatler Parade.

The cinema showed continuous news and cartoons throughout the late 1950s and through the 60s, then was renamed Cinema 1 before disappearing along with much of Launceston’s great theatre history.

St John Street

Named for St John’s Anglican Church, this long hilly street through the heart of Launceston was one of the earliest streets named in Launceston, noted on an 1826 map along with Cameron, George, Charles and Paterson Streets.

Interestingly, the 1826 map places particular emphasis on High Street, which Launceston Historical Society president Marion Sargent thinks may suggest an original intention for High Street to be the city centre. 

The first records of Launceston’s St John parish begin in 1811, but the debate over Launceston or George Town as the headquarters of Northern Tasmania delayed the church building until 1824.

Early maps also show that Prince’s Square was originally named St John’s Square.

Dechaineux Way

Little more than a car park driveway, Dechaineux Way circumnavigates the parking lot behind Myers and the former Birchall’s building.

The official data on the Placenames Tasmania website reports it was named after Captain Emile Frank Verlaine Dechaineux, a Launceston-born distinguished career navy man born in 1902.

Dechaineux served on several notable ships including being named commander of the HMAS Australia in 1944.

His wartime career saw him manage a number of Allied operations through Australian and New Guinea waters: he died when the Australia was struck by a Japanese dive-bomber, and was buried at sea.

How are street names chosen?

City of Launceston acting general manager Michael Tidey said the council is responsible for naming urban streets.

"Typically the developer responsible for the new subdivision will suggest names and we then consult our own records and other local government areas to determine if those street names have been used elsewhere,” he said.

"Generally, the suggested names will then go to a public Council meeting for a decision from the Aldermen. This of courses gives anyone with concerns an opportunity to raise those concerns.”

State-wide, names are the responsibility of the state nomenclature board, a ten-person board led by the Surveyor General.

Local councils are responsible for naming of their own streets in named urban areas, but must notify the board within 40 days.

Established in 1950 to develop accurate maps of Tasmania, the board assigns names to places in Tasmania, determines spelling, and compiles a register of place names.