In 1980, Boral bought its second New South Wales brickworks, Pacific Bricks at Badgerys Creek, west of Sydney. It also made a far less publicised acquisition in 1981, taking over Launceston Gas Company for $2.35 million.

History of Launceston Gas Company
     
 
In 1860, Launceston's first gas manufacturing plant was built. This consisted of a horizontal retort house. Retorts were made of clay or metal and set in large arched ovens. They were heated with coke until they became red hot. Coal was taken from an adjoining store and placed in the retort by hand. When it was full, the mouth of the retort was closed with an iron plate.

The gas rose from the coal and ascended a series of pipes, until it reached the hydraulic main where it bubbled up through water, leaving the retort house full of impurities and very hot. From the retort house it passed through a 'scrubber', which had a revolving water apparatus inside. This attracted a large portion of the tar and commercial liquor that needed to be removed.

From this apparatus, the gas then passed on until it reached the condensers which cooled the gas to 45° Fahrenheit (7.22° Celsius). It was then passed through purifiers where the carbonic acid, sulphurated hydrogen, ammonia and other impurities were extracted. By this stage it was usable and held in a gas container to be drawn off as required.

In those days, gas manufacture involved hand stokers placing coal on beds using long shovels. After twelve hours they would then extract the coke left after the gas had been carbonised from the coal. This was a very dirty labour-intensive job, one that would certainly not satisfy modern occupational health standards.


 


A vertical retort house completed in 1932.


 
 

The gas was then pumped into a small container in the south-east corner of the gasworks by a steam exhauster and piped into the Launceston gas distribution system. This method of gas manufacture was used until the 1930s, with most of the coal coming from Newcastle in New South Wales.

In 1931-32, a vertical retort house was constructed by Launceston Gas for two reasons. Firstly, the original retort house was so outmoded that it was becoming uneconomical and secondly, the Launceston gas distribution network had grown so much that the plant could not keep up with demand.

The vertical retort house consisted of eight retorts and was about 120 feet high. A conveyer belt took the coal to the top where it was stored in bunkers. Every hour coal was released from the bunkers into the retorts, a continuous carbonising process that took about twelve hours. Only one stoker was needed; his job was to remove a portion of the residual coke from the bottom of the retort. The coal was slowly fed from the top to the bottom of the retort continuously over the twelve-hour period.

Using this method of production, the quality of the gas could be changed by the rate at which the coke was extracted from the bottom of the retorts. The quality of the coke was also very high and the gasworks had quite a profitable sideline selling to the various blacksmith shops throughout Launceston.

 


A horizontal retort house, circa 1950. The used coke travelled by conveyer to be graded and sold. The retorts are on the right side two banks of eight, in three levels.


 
  By 1950, four gas containers had been constructed, one of which held 250,000 cubic feet of gas - the equivalent of two days' supply for Launceston. In 1956, a carburetted water gas plant was built. This was a Humphries and Glasgow plant using coal extracted from a local Tasmanian coalmine at Fingal. The quality of this coal was poor, and naphtha gas was added to enrich Launceston's town gas.

In 1977, both the vertical retort house and the Humphries and Glasgow plant were replaced with a catalytic reforming plant, which used LPG butane as fuel. This method of supplying town gas is still used today, though it is likely to be phased out in the not-too-distant future.


  A Launceston Gas Company truck supplying an LPG storage facility in 1982. The company's name was changed to Gas Corporation of Tasmania in 1984.

 
   
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