In the early days, Launceston was the commercial and energetic heart of Tasmania.
One of our entrepreneurs was John Jackson. He'd been editor of John Pascoe Fawkner's Launceston Advertiser in the 1830s, until trotting off to the new colony of South Australia to be its Colonial Treasurer and later Colonial Secretary.
Apparently their books of account were in a poor state and they needed a Launcestonian to sort things out.
He returned via Sydney in 1846 with the idea of Tasmania appointing an agent in England.
Sydney was already arranging its own, and Jackson pointed out how useful it would be to advance our interests, such as lobbying for self-government and against convict transportation, and to act as a commercial agent.
Our leading citizens loved the idea and a committee comprising Richard Dry, James Cox, Phil Oakden, TB Bartley and JW Gleadow set about raising money. They called their project the London Agency Fund.
With donations flooding in, and other important supporters joining such as William Kermode from Mona Vale and Joseph Archer from Panshanger, a Hobart group led by Tom Chapman (later member for Launceston and Premier) promised to match what they raised.
The project was secured, and as they all knew and trusted Jackson, he became our first London agent.
He served for seven years, proving to be an excellent source of information as well as an excellent advocate. With the end of transportation, however, there was less interest in privately funding the position.
Nevertheless, Jackson had proven the value of having someone in London and not long after, the newly- independent Tasmanian government decided to revive the role.
This time though, it was primarily to promote immigration.
The position eventually grew to become Agent-General for Tasmania with the passing of an Act in 1885.
This Act made it a semi-diplomatic post, with the first incumbent again a Launcestonian - former Premier (and later Sir) Adye Douglas. Several incumbents, like Adye Douglas, took the job as a pleasant break from Tasmanian politics.
An office was rented by the government, in a large building at No 458 on the Strand in London, opposite Charing Cross station.
A comfortable residence for the Agent-General was purchased at 31 West Heath Ave, Golders Green.
In 1981 the government of Premier Doug Lowe saw an opportunity to save money by closing the office, and make a tidy profit on selling the residence.
The decision was controversial, but went ahead, and the Agent-General Act was finally repealed in 1992.
Many of the names of our Agents-General over the years, would be familiar to most Northern Tasmanians. Among them were Sir Edward Braddon, Sir Philip Fysh, Sir John McCall, Sir Claude James and Sir Eric Von Bibra.
- Connect with the Launceston Historical Society at facebook.com/launcestonhistory.
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