Launceston is located in the island state of Tasmania just south of the Australian mainland.  The history of the region's Aboriginal people dates back over 40,000 years, but the first European settlers didn't explore the area of modern Launceston until 1804.  It was the now-famous Cataract Gorge and its endless fresh water supply that attracted early settler William Collins who wrote, "Upon approaching the entrance I observed a large fall of water over rocks, nearly a quarter of a mile up a straight gully between perpendicular rocks about 150 ft high.  The beauty of the scene is probably not surpassed in the world".

The city is known for a number of innovations, being the first to accomplish many things in Australia.  In 1847 a Launceston hospital became the first to successfully use anesthesia during a surgical operation.  The city was also home to Australia's first modern sewage system and its first telephone. In 1895, Launceston was the first town in Australia to be lit by electricity - from the Duck Reach hydro-electric power station in Cataract Gorge.

Launceston grew wealthy as the food bowl for the Australian mainland during the late 19th century, then prospered as a centre for refining tin (from Mount Bischoff tinmine) and gold (from Beaconsfield goldmine).  During the 20th century it was the site of a major wool spinning and weaving industry, but grew less prosperous as tarriff reductions reduced the protection afforded to Australian industries.  Fortunately, this economic downturn saved much of the city's 19th century architecture from "development" and Launceston is now home to the largest intact collection of 19th century buildings in Australia.  It still has complete, intact precincts of commercial buildings, gentlemen's residences and workers cottages.  Its city museum is housed in the 1870-era railway workshops.