Celebrating the 200th tale of historic Tasmania from the Launceston Historical Society.
From the mid-1850s citizens asked the Municipal Council to provide public swimming baths for the "cleanliness, longevity, and health" of the people of Launceston.
River bathing, prohibited between 8am and 8pm from the 1860s, did not stop men and boys swimming naked at the First Basin and near the Cataract Gorge entrance at all hours of the day.
Louisa Jordan left the council a legacy of £200 in 1877 for the erection of public baths for the poor of Launceston.
It took 30 years of investigation, but the council finally chose a spot for public baths at Fisherman's Creek just below Ritchie's Flour Mill and not far from the Margaret Street sewer.
Built by John Batten, they opened in January 1885 - but only for men.
The baths were divided into two, with one side free and the other costing threepence to use. For bathers' comfort, stones were removed from the bottom and replaced by sand.
The council had arranged with Mr Ritchie to supply fresh water from his mill, but this fell through, so the baths could only be used when the tide was high.
The Launceston High School's first swimming sports day held at the new baths in March 1885 at high tide was a successful and enjoyable event.
It was soon realised however, that the site was not ideal and by April 1886 some Aldermen voted to abandon the baths altogether and not spend any more money on them.
The thick walls made from wooden battens, filled with silt rammed tight, began to bulge and subside in the mud.
There are many newspaper reports of the disgusting condition of the mud baths and the unmentionable matter from the sewers that floated in the water.
The baths were never very successful, with polluted water and changing depths being unhealthy and dangerous.
After many complaints from men worried about their wives and children being exposed to indecent sights, in January 1887 the council decided that a screen be erected to obscure the gaze of those on the Cataract Hill.
Big floods in 1889 and 1893 damaged the baths and caretaker's residence.
Although the council was reluctant to spend any more money, it decided to allocate £50 to mend the damage before the 1894 summer season.
Builders removed the end wall and replaced it with timber battens while 160 tons of sand was spread on the bottom.
A moveable trap door installed over the inlet kept out weeds and timber.
The improvements were popular as 1200 youths took advantage of the baths in the last week of January 1894.
For several years the citizens lobbied for 'proper' baths with clean water to be erected.
The Victoria Swimming and Turkish Baths opened in Paterson Street in August 1898 and the old baths fell into disrepair.
The area became part of Kings Park, proclaimed a public reserve in 1939.
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