The Theatre Royal located on Campbell St Hobart was built in 1834 and is the earliest theatre built in Australia that is still fully operational today – each week the Theatre Royal stages various events: theatre, dance, musicals, opera, eisteddfods, music concerts or comedy. After a disastrous fire in 1984, the building was restored to its former glory and its delightful small but grand interior is now well worth a visit. Guided tours are on offer during the day.
But what does the Theatre Royal have to do with the Derwent River you may wonder.
Firstly, it is located only a stone’s throw from the Hobart Rivulet that flows into the Derwent River. The Hobart Rivulet was the source of fresh water to the first settlers in Sullivans Cove (a bay in the Derwent River) in the years after they established the colony in 1804. Picking up the crystal clear waters from flows on Mount Wellington, the Hobart Rivulet wound its way through the early ‘Hobarton’ and these days it continues to flow under much of the current city of Hobart.
Secondly, the early shores of the Derwent River were further inland in the early 19th century than today. Considerable land fill has been added over the past two centuries. When the Theatre Royal was built, the Derwent River was a little closer than today.
I have entertained myself with searches for old maps of Hobart so that I could understand where the Theatre Royal was located in relation to the original foreshore.
The image of the foreshore at Sullivans Cove below was drawn in 1804 (this was the year of first settlement here). Hunter Island was on its own before it was connected to the mainland by a causeway. This island was located not far from where Campbell St (the street on which the Theatre Royal is built) was established much later. The drawing shows the extensive forests which were removed over subsequent years to make way for the streets, houses and public buildings (image from http://www.tasfamily.net.au/~schafferi/images/Ocean&LNHunterIs1804img141.jpg
The site http://www.tasfamily.net.au/~schafferi/index.php?file=kop15.php offers the opinion ‘It is hard to imagine what Hobart Town would have been like when Lt. Gov. Collins arrived in 1804. The rivulet ran free, (except when it rained heavily sending logs that blocked the rivulet, sending water spilling across its banks) large gum trees stood on both sides of the rivulet, some of which had to be cut down to make room for the new settlement.‘ The drawing below, made by George P Harris in 1805 or 1806, seems to look across Hobarton from what today is referred to as the Domain. I think Harris employed a great deal of creativity when making the picture because the Mount Nelson Signal Station looms large on the distant hill yet it could not realistically have been that height.
Below, the 1811 town layout has an overlay of our contemporary streetscape (from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-24/footsteps-towards-freedom-art-project-begins/6251596). If you can locate the intersection of Campbell St and Collins St, then you can appreciated that the yet to be built Theatre Royal will be sited a few metres along Campbell St (on the block at the top side of the letter E of Street). You can appreciate how close this is to the Rivulet and to the Derwent River.
George Evans lithograph of 1819 below shows how little progress had been made in terms of new buildings and street construction 15 years after settlement ( http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-22/1819-slnsw-south-west-view-of-hobart-town-1819-george-william-e/5689410)
By 1832 significant developments had been made to Hobarton . The map below (from http://www.auspostalhistory.com/articles/180.php) was made two years before the Theatre Royal was built. Can you locate Campbell St? Once found, can you see the thick black line that crosses it – that line is the Hobart Rivulet? The future location for the new theatre was a couple of house blocks away from the intersection between the street and the rivulet. Looking at the shoreline with the Derwent River, already it is clear land has been reclaimed along the edge; the shape is manmade and the landscape no longer flows naturally.
On the Proeschel map below (with the hand writing at the top of the map indicating 1858), locate the intersection of Collins and Campbell Streets. Nearby, the Theatre Royal is listed as Public Edifice number 23 (from http://catalogue.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/item/?id=879658)
In Jarman’s map of Hobart Town (http://catalogue.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/item/?id=573294 indicates the date for this is 1858, although if the Proeschel map’s date is correct then the differences are too marked for this to be correct. More research required.), the end of Collins St has been modified so that two streets are located one either side of the Rivulet (black rectangle above Collins St is the Theatre Royal).
A woodcut map of 1879 by A C Cooke (from http://catalogue.statelibrary.tas.gov.au/item/?id=94421) gives a bird’s eye view of Hobart Town. On the lower right, the large watery dock can be seen intruding into the townscape. At the top end of this water is the large City Hall with Campbell St on its right hand side. Immediately behind the City Hall is Collins St. Therefore the Theatre Royal is located on the right hand side of Campbell St a little above Collins St.
The area around the Hobart Rivulet routinely flooded the streets after heavy rains in the 19th and early 20th centuries (substantial new drainage systems now prevents such occurrences). The photo below (from http://www.linc.tas.gov.au/tasmaniasheritage/browse/exhibitions/hobartrivulet/diversions-and-floods/image-3) was taken after a flood in the 1920s. We are looking back towards the centre of Hobart Town along the Hobart Rivulet. The large curved roof at the right of the photograph is the top of the Theatre Royal and, therefore, the first bridge in the distance which crosses over the Rivulet will distinguish Campbell Street.
The photo below (http://www.linc.tas.gov.au/tasmaniasheritage/browse/exhibitions/hobartrivulet/diversions-and-floods/image-2) was taken during flooding in the 1930s. The building on the right hand side is the City Hall which still functions as such today. The road to the right of the flooding Rivulet is Collins St and people are standing on Campbell St above the Rivulet. Therefore, the Theatre Royal is just out of shot to the left from where people are standing watching the torrent.
Leo Schofield’s short-lived but internationally renowned Hobart Baroque festival lit up the Theatre Royal with spectacular performances.
Our Theatre Royal was located for easy public access 180 odd years ago, and the site continues to attract crowds easily. A new performing arts centre will be built next door over the next couple of years. The Tasmanian Art School is located close by in Hunter St adjacent to the wharves and jetties jutting into the Derwent River. It fits with history to develop an artistic precinct near the water.