The Lighting of Launceston

The following extract from the Launceston Daily Telegraph of Wednesday 11th December 1895 describes well the initial impact of the electric lighting of Launceston.

The citizens of Launceston were last night given a practical and convincing illustration of what the electric light really is.


For weary months they have had electricity talked to them, and now they have had demonstrated  in a manner that places beyond all possible doubt the fact that this is to be in the future one of the best lighted cities in the Southern Hemisphere.  That was the impression that any  unbiased mind could not fail to receive.  The gas lamps were lighted at the usual hour.

But shortly afterwards their light, at one period in the history of the city regarded as the triumph of public enterprise in street illumination, was dwarfed into a sickly glimmer compared with its more youthful, vigorous, and powerful competitor.  The effect in the streets was magical. Night was for the nonce turned into day.  Viewed from every point the light was pronounced an unqualified success.

‘Twas a light that made. Darkness itself appear. A thing of comfort.

Any misgivings that the citizens of Launceston might have had as to the ultimate success of lighting the city by electricity must have been dispelled by the trial installation.  The arc lamps which stud the centres of the principal thoroughfares were lit up at 8 o’clock, the current being turned on at the distributing station, which in turn got its supply from the generating station on the banks of the Esk. The Mayor (Alderman Ferrall) and the official representatives of Messrs Siemens Bros,  had assembled at the distributing station for the first test, to ascertain if the electric light would prove to be all that was desired.  As soon as the lamps were lit, their radiance cast a lurid brilliancy over the city, which was as satisfactory to the advocates of “more light” as it well could be.
The rays shed by the arc lamps mingled with each other, and the ordinary gloom of the city at night was dispelled, and darkness was turned into light.  The searching illuminant struck most  of those who saw it as nothing short of a revelation.  There were of course many people who expected much from the electric light, but even these sanguine mortals were surprised and pleased, and perhaps more were  astonished at the effect it produced when their hopes were realised by the simple turning on  of a flood of light that was sufficient to make objects at a considerable distance plainly discernible astonished at the effect it produced when their hopes were realised by the simple turning on of a flood of light that was sufficient to make objects at a considerable distance plainly discernible.
It was only to be expected that the lighting of the city by electricity would induce the residents to turn out masse, and spectators congregated in admiring groups, or paraded the streets,  now bathed in a flood of light.  The spectacle was inspiring. There was unanimity of opinion that the experimental effort of the contractors was a complete success.  Opponents and supporters of electricity alike agreed that the light was worthy all that had previously been said in its favour.  Not a few whose faith had been shaken by the opposition offered to the installation confessed readily ‘that the half had not been told them.  And they distinguished themselves by plunging right away into speculation as to how long it would be ere the magnificent water power available would be utilised to a greater extent in the direction of making enough electricity, not merely to light the streets and the houses of the
city, but to supply all the power Launceston requires to drive  machinery.  The desirableness of promptly laying down a system of electric trams was gone into by those suddenly gifted with a glimpse of the possibilities of the future, and altogether it was manifest that electricity has what is sometimes spoken of as a great future before it in Launceston.  The discussions as to the merits of the installation made it evident that “comparisons are odious”, for,  whilst the electric light in different communities has been commended for its strength and quality,   all admitted without hesitation that here was a steady and continuous light capable of performing its requirements without the slightest variation.  There were no sudden flickerings, which are noticeable where steam is the motive power.  Many reviewed the past and allowed their thoughts to lead them into abstruse calculations as to the quantity of water which, for generation after  generation, had tumbled down the Cataract in  waste.  The figures became larger as their minds dwelt on the theme, and the more they grew, so in proportion the more hazy became the  reckoning.  The spectators became content to contemplate the visible effects of what the utilisation of the wondrous motor stored for electrical purposes had brought about.  It was, undoubtedly, the best argument that could be advanced to dissipate the erroneous impressions that pessimists had conceived against the electric light.

It  came home to the most thoughtless of those who watched the display that they, as citizens, were part proprietors in an asset which was of considerable extent, and the full importance of which it was just then almost impossible to correctly or even adequately gauge.  There was the satisfaction of knowing that here in our midst was a “going concern”, capable of producing not only a wonderful and economical light for the city and its environments, but of providing an everlasting revenue, which would eventually mean the lessening of taxes.

Last night’s demonstration  –  if that is what it can properly be called – was  one which forced itself upon all who saw it as a credit to the city, to the contractors, and to all connected with it. “Good wine needs no bush”, and in like manner the electric light installation of Launceston requires no empty phrases of praise or flattering terms of commendation to exhibit its excellence.
Some of the incandescent lamps in the vicinity of the distributing station were also lighted, and these too proved perfectly satisfactory.

Shortly after 10 o’clock the whole of the lights were extinguished, and the effect was startling. The experience of two hours’ brilliancy served more than anything else to enforce the quality of the new light.
The experts engaged in the installation regard the experimental run of the machinery and the lighting of the streets as completely successful.  The date of the official switch on has not yet been definitely fixed.  It will probably take place about Christmas time. In the meanwhile renewed efforts will doubtless be  made by private consumers to get the new illuminant laid on, in order to get the full benefit of its advantages.’ As soon as the electricity was available the demand for light was so great it was necessary to add two more generating sets in 1899.

In 1900 it was found that the demand for light was still ever increasing.  Mr Corin recommended that the single phase system be scrapped and that it should be replaced with a three phase system.  After consideration the council instructed him to prepare plans and specifications for the work.  In 1903 the tender was given to Messrs Kolben and Co. of Prague.
The installation of the new machinery was completed in 1906.