Kempton is situated on the Midlands Highway to Launceston just 35 minutes from Hobart. It is now by-passed, but certainly not to be passed by.
Kempton was originally known as ‘Green Ponds’ or ‘Green Water Holes’ from the pools of water left by the course of the Green Ponds Rivulet during summer months. At the base of Constitution Hill, it was a natural stopping place on the early track between Hobart Town and Launceston.
The first known land grant in the area was to Anthony Fenn Kemp, a former military officer. By all accounts a highly tempestuous character, Kemp had been deeply involved with the ‘Rum Rebellion’ of 1808 but escaped prosecution. Arriving in Van Diemen’s Land in 1816, Kemp was granted 700 acres at Green Ponds, which he named Mount Vernon after George Washington’s homestead in America. Kemp had republican leanings, supporting the independence of Van Diemen’s Land from New South Wales, freedom of the press, and trial by jury. On his Mount Vernon estate, Kemp bred first class sheep and helped pioneer the Tasmanian wool industry. In the late 1840s, the township of Green Ponds began to be referred to as ‘Kempton’ (or ‘Kemp Town’), and one of Kemp’s eleven children, George Anthony Kemp, became the first Warden of the Green Ponds municipality in 1861.
Within a few years of Kemp’s original 1816 grant, a number of free settlers took up land at Green Ponds. By 1823, a number of settlers – such as Thomas Gorringe, John & Charles Franks, George Ashton and Joseph Johnson – were farming at Green Ponds. The development of the township soon followed, with the establishment of inns such as the ‘Royal Oak’ and ‘Three Jolly Farmers’. By 1829 Green Ponds had three inns and a simple log chapel; 1834 saw the establishment of a convict road station on the Green Ponds glebe. The station closed in 1841, but the Superintendent’s Cottage (1837) survives as part of the Southern Midlands Council Kempton offices.
Following closure of the convict station, much of the former glebe was sold into private ownership, with many new houses being built in the 1840s. By the time Green Ponds became a municipality in its own right (1862) Kempton boasted a number of coaching inns and shops. At Ellis’ or Lumsden’s stores almost everything was available, from farm equipment and ironmongery through to ladies’ fashions and wallpaper. For the thirsty traveller, hostelries such as the Good Woman, Exchange, Wilmot Arms or the Turf Hotel offered rest and refreshment. Kempton is also home to perhaps the grandest coaching inn on the old highway, William Henry Ellis’ Commercial Hotel, now known as Dysart House. The enterprising Ellis, an emancipated embezzler, added a 20-stall stable to his grand hotel, allowing him to open up a Hobart to Green Ponds coaching service. With such reliance on horse drawn transport, Kempton was also home to a number of tradesmen such as wheelwrights, ostlers, blacksmiths, and even a watchmaker.
Today Kempton is bypassed by the new Midlands Highway, but the township still retains its village atmosphere. In the 1890s Kempton was known for its annual agricultural show, which today takes the form of the Kempton Festival. With the changing times, prizes are no longer awarded for the best chook or pumpkin, but new innovations such as the very popular sheep racing event at the 2014 Kempton Festival are continuing a venerable tradition.