Researching a building's history

The information below will guide you to information that may be available on your house, government buildings, or other Tasmanian buildings. Through your research ​you may find out when the building was built as well as who lived or worked there.

Tip: street names, numbers, suburbs and other place names can change over time. Numbers of houses in Hobart may have changed around 1907-1908.

What is online?

House Plans

The Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office has a limited selection of house plans. These plans are part of files of building applications and include the council areas of Hobart, Glenorchy, Launceston, Clarence, Kingborough and Bruny Island. 

Searching for plans in the councils of Hobart, Glenorchy, Launceston, and for Bruny Island using a Basic search
  • Search for Series and Street name but don’t put in the street type.
  • Enter the Series Number [eg. AE819, for Glenorchy] then type the word 'and' followed by the 'street' name (without street type). 
    • For example: AE819 and Smith (for Smith Street, Glenorchy)
  • When available, plans can be viewed in the History Room (91 Murray Street, Hobart). 
Searching for plans in the councils of Kingborough or Clarence 
  • You will need to obtain the building plan number from the council before you can search our database. Once you have the building plan number, search for the series in the Archives collection using a Basic search

  • Enter the Series Number. For example AC398, for Kingborough
  • Look through th​e items in the series to find the item that will include your plan. For example, plan number 2846 will be within item 'AC398/1/14 Building approvals, plans Nos. 2733-2868.'
Other building plans may still be held by your local council. Not all building plans have survived, as it was not a legal requirement for plans to be kept by councils. 

Who lived or worked in the building?

Directories and valuation rolls can help you find out who else has owned, lived in, or worked in a building, as well as when it was built.

1891-1948 Tasmanian Post Office Directories (Wise’s) - ​They are arranged in three parts: by location/town, alphabetical by surname, and by business/trade name. These are available to view online. It is good to note intersecting streets, to verify that you are looking at the right block.

Telephone Directories - The first exchange was in Hobart in 1883 and in 1884 when 58 numbers were in use. These were mainly business numbers. By the 1890s over 300 numbers are being used in Hobart and New Norfolk.  There was a state-wide telephone directory until 1970, when it became divided into northern and southern.  Search for Tas telephone directories to see all Tasmanian telephone directories.  Search for telephone subscribers to find earlier lists.

Tasmanian Directories and Almanacs provide a variety of directories; alphabetical,  trade and professional from 1824 – 1979/80. For a full list see Australian Almanacs 1806-1930: a bibliography, Ian Morrison et al. 

Street directories for Hobart are available at the Hobart Reading Room for these years:

Assessment and Valuation r​olls from the Tasmanian Government Gazette (formerly Hobart Town Gazette). An assessment of Hobart properties was done in 1847, but rates were not enacted until the establishment of the Municipal Councils in 1852. Hobart and Launceston valuations were undertaken​ between 1853-1855, 1858-1860, 1862-1863. The Rural Municipal Act of 1858 allowed for the collecting of this information in the country areas as well. The rolls show:

  • When a property first appears and give the name of the occupant as well as the name of the owner.
  • A significant change in the value of a property is likely to indicate subdivision, new construction, demolition or other activity.
  • They are most useful for Hobart (1847, 1853-1950) and Launceston (1853-1950) as these give street listings.
  • Some areas are listed alphabetically in the early rolls - e.g. Mount Stuart.

​​​​Accessing A​​ssessment and Valuation rolls:

1951-1984 Government Valuations (Archives record series AE298). These are organised geographically by municipality, then by division and street within each municipality.

c.1830 – 1890 Business Advertisements Index - This card index records business advertisements in the Tasmanian Directories and Almanacs, giving locations. The index is accessible in Hobart at the History Room.

Specialist buildings like hotels, guest houses and private hospitals required registration – (see section – Government Buildings). Churches and church buildings may be found among the records of the particular denomination e.g. search Anglican Church of Tasmania in a Basic Search.

Whitfeld Index - a selective index of personal names found in Tasmanian colonial newspapers 1816-1900, mostly applicable to Northern Tasmania. The main emphasis is on the names of members of early settler and eminent families and includes land grants and property sales.

Accounts from people living in Tasmania in periods such as the 1830s can be useful, especially if they have good indexes. For example Button’s Flotsam and Jetsam: floating fragments of a life in England and Tasmania.

Using occupants to find information on a building

Once you have occupant names you can search the Tasmanian Names Index to find additional information:

  • Census records indicate the construction type of a building - stone, brick or wood - and show the number of people residing in the building, listed under householders’ names.
  • Wills can be used to trace property history. If the will you are looking for is not available, you may wish to contact the Land Data Registration Branch of the Land Titles Office, as they have copies of some wills relating to land transfers.

Finding pictures (photos, paintings etc.) of a building

  • We do not have many images of residential properties in our collections. However we may have an image if a house featured in prominent events or was of significant historical value.
  • In some cases streetscape images and panoramas may include your house/building. For example check postcards for particular towns.

Search for archival images that have not been digitised

  • Do an item search online using the key word ‘photograph’ in the description.
  • A hardcopy card index in the Reading Room should also be checked for indexed images

Finding resources for particular areas

Histories of towns/suburbs
Search for local histories which have been published for many parts of Tasmania.  

There is a register of drainage plans that covers the Glenorchy Municipality 1942-1970, although the plans themselves no longer exist. The register AE496 describes owner and date of contract completion, and is useful for dating buildings.

Drainage Board plans, published between 1905 and 1909 and available to view online, are useful for central Hobart properties from North Hobart to Battery Point, and westward to South Hobart. Also useful are Metropolitan Drainage Board plans for New Town and Queenborough. These show outlines of buildings, with floor level (in feet), name major buildings and can include street numbers (as they were c.1910)

Northern Tasmania
The Friends of the Launceston Library have published a useful guide to researching Launceston property. The Launceston Local Studies Collection can also be very useful for further resources.

Southern Tasmania
Southern Master Metropolitan Planning Authority maps c. 1960s-1980s can be viewed online and provide building and street details based on aerial photography.
Maps can also be very useful, for example ‘Jarman's Map of Hobart Town’ can be used to locate early Hobart street names.

Rural Tasmania
Valuation field books, Australian Taxation Office 1923-1964. These records held in the National Archives of Australia provide a comprehensive report on 524 rural Tasmanian properties. Go to Record Search and select “guest” then “Record Search – Advanced Search”, Enter P2134 to series number field. And any identifiers you have for the property (owner, property name or location)  Digitised copies are available for some properties. Others can  be requested from the National Archives Office, Hobart.

Finding the first owners of the land your building sits on

Land Grant Maps (c.1850 - c. 1950), can help identify individual blocks of land. These maps give the name of the original land owner to whom land was granted.

  • These are available to view at 91 Murray Street (2nd floor), along with an index. They are organised by : town plans that give town blocks and boundaries and arranged alphabetically and  County plans – the blocks outside towns, parishes, railways, forests etc., These are  arranged numerically by County e.g. Buckingham 1, 2 etc.The very earliest land grants (1803-1832) are listed in Index to Early Land Grants, VDL 1804 – 1823 and Register of Land Grants, VDL, 1824-1832 by Thelma McKay

Public Places

Buildings that were used as public places were inspected by government officials – These series can be examined when the records are open. (Some are on closed access for 25 years). There are some restrictions on accessing personal information.​ Not all files have plans.
AD772 - this series contains plans of public entertainment, and plans of sewerage, drainage and abattoirs. (1954-1976) Open Access.
AD712 (in North and North-Eastern Tasmania) - created by the Public Health Division, this series includes sports clubs, community centres, public toilets, licensed premises, restaurants and cafes. (1950-1990) Access: D25 years  
AD706 (in North and North Eastern Tasmania) created initially by the Public Health Division, this series includes motels, sports clubs, restaurants, hotels, nursing homes, hospitals public toilets, churches, public halls,  community centres, public toilets, licensed premises, and cafes. (1956-1995) Access: D25years
HSD1 General Correspondence files of the Department of Public Health (1930-1945) Open Access
HSD5 General Correspondence files of the Department of Public Health (1946-1990) D25 years

Looking further

Undertake general searches
In some cases buildings are the subject of books or pamphlets. Some of these will be available in local libraries, others will only be available to view at 91 Murray Street.

Published resources can be a great help in learning more about building styles and methods. Useful information on Australian architectural styles and history can be found in our collections.​ We also have books on how to trace the history of your house.

Do a search of Tasmanian newspapers on Trove
Trove lets you search early (to 1954) Tasmanian newspapers online. Try searching for your suburb/street/house, owner, occupier, or business name. In most cases you will need a name or a full address in order to have success. Your searches can be refined by State, and date.

Search the Tasmanian I​​ndex ​ ​

This index to Tasmanian newspapers and journals includes references to historic Tasmanian buildings that appear in major Tasmanian publications.

Other Government Agencies

Land Titles Office has resources that can help to trace the history of property through the use of historic maps, plans, deeds and titles. The records of the Caveat Board can also assist with proof of early land transactions that may note buildings on the land.  Speak to the agency about what assistance is available  to enable you to access their records.

The Land Information System Tasmania has several useful resources including LISTmap - is an internet-based map viewer for the LIST. It enables users to view and create maps from over 250 spatial datasets stored in the LIST. Users can create maps and interrogate features within the datasets to find out information about the features.
You can also access current title, valuation and property sales information online for a fee.  

Heritage Tasmania
Heritage Tasmania has the latest register of Tasmanian heritage properties available for viewing and downloading.

Government Buildings

Tracing the history of government buildings entails many of the approaches already described. In addition, they have their own unique records and strategies that set them apart from researching private property. Government buildings may have been built or acquired by government.

Commonwealth buildings

Buildings utilised for Federal/Commonwealth purposes can be found in the holdings of the National Archives of Australia. Such buildings include Post Offices, Customs House, Defence buildings and so forth. Search online or visit their office at 91 Murray Street for more information.

State Government Buildings

The Colonial Secretary’s Office and subsequent agencies were responsible for the building of many of the earliest Tasmanian Government buildings.

The Public Works Department  (1835 – 1977) was responsible for the construction and maintenance of public buildings and infrastructure. There are over 260 individual series of records for the Public Works Department. Some series are highlighted here but there are many more that describe contacts, tenders, specifications and general and specific types of government building and infrastructure construction. To see all possible sources search agency TA24 and check the online finding guide Index to public works 1877-1935 for public works that were approved by the Tasmanian Parliament to commence construction during the indicated year.
Some useful records include:

  • PWD266 - plans of public buildings and infrastructure between 1834 and 1995 (police stations, court houses, gaols, government offices, hospitals, schools, railways, bridges and jetties). Many plans are listed by name as items within PWD266. Many plans are available on aperture card. Selected ones have been digitised and can be viewed online.
  • PWD18 - Correspondence and Associated Papers Relating to Various ​​​Works Provided for in Public Works Execution Acts, 1877-1936.
  • PWD29 - General Government buildings, arranged by municipalities.
  • PWD70 - Accommodation houses.
  • PWD57 - Health.
  • PWD54 - Department of Education.
  • PWD55 - Police.
  • PWD261 - General Government buildings, arranged alphabetically by department - much of the correspondence is about interiors.

Individual Government Departments that built and/or owned their own buildings can hold records on the construction of their building.  Search through the individual department (agency search), looking for series created by the Department (such as correspondence, minutes, photographic series). For example the Education Department (TA63) has many correspondence files relating to schools and early indexes, registers and letter books that can be used to compile school building histories. Marine Board of Hobart (TA71) minutes can be used to trace buildings used for marine and harbour purposes.

Parliamentary Standing Commi​ttees on Public Works - Various published reports of Journals and Printed Papers of Parliament are held in the Hobart reference collection. 

Local Government buildings

Records of council - owned or acquired buildings can be found in the records of the individual councils using an agency search by council name.​​​​​​​​