Norfolk Plains

Continuing Our Tasmanian Story – from Norfolk Island

With the closure of the settlement, James Davey found himself sailing again for Van Diemen’s Land, one of the last to be removed from the British settlement on Norfolk Island. James, along with the last hundred or so to leave the island, settled at Norfolk Plains. On 20 January 1813, James Davey sailed aboard the Lady Nelson for Port Dalrymple, arriving there on the 1st of February. Travelling with James were nineteen free men, one male convict, six wives and sixteen children.[i] Six of the men and three of the women had arrived with the First Fleet. It is hardly surprising that some of them would have moved only reluctantly from their home of some 25 years to have to re-establish themselves in a new environment.

Three days after the Lady Nelson’s departure from Norfolk Island, the Minstrel set sail with 42 passengers, among them James’ future bride, Catherine Jordan. The Minstrel carried three men and a woman who had arrived with the First Fleet. The evacuation of Norfolk Island that had begun in 1805, gathering pace around 1808 was essentially completed with the passage of these two vessels. About thirty ‘best behaved’ convicts remained on Norfolk Island to kill and salt the remaining livestock and to destroy the last of the buildings to deter unauthorised resettlement. The brig Kangaroo finally completed the evacuation in March 1814.[ii]

Having spent many years clearing and cultivating the fertile land of Norfolk Island, many felt themselves to be ‘too old and too tired to start pioneering’ again.[iii] As inducement they were offered apparently generous grants of land in Van Diemen’s Land, as well as access to convict labour for the construction of homes and outbuildings and provision of food and clothing from twelve months to two years depending on the ‘class’ of setter. In practice some of the settlers received more than they appeared to be entitled to and others received far less.

James Davey received a grant of 40 acres at Norfolk Plains. Government records show that within a few years he was supplying meat and wheat to the Government stores. By 1816 he was living with sixteen year old Catherine Jordan, daughter of James Jordan (who had arrived at Sydney Cove aboard the notorious Queen in September 1791) and Second Fleet convict, Mary Butler. Sadly, Mary died on Norfolk Island when Catherine was only twelve or thirteen and just a few months before the family’s evacuation.

Prout, Longford & Norfolk Plains_Snapseed

Longford and part of Norfolk Plains V.D.L by John Skinner Prout

Early settlement at Norfolk Plains

The first explorers in the Norfolk Plains district were Dr Jacob Mountgarrett and Captain Hugh Piper, who had arrived in the colony with Lieutenant-Governor Patterson to establish the first settlement at York Town (later removed to Launceston). On 11 December 1811, Governor Lachlan Macquarie inspected the land between Launceston and the South Esk River, looking for an:

… eligible and good part of the country, not too far from this settlement, for giving farms to the Norfolk Island settlers whatever time they may happen to be removed from that Island on my orders to evacuate it. We rode … till we came to very fine extensive rich Plains, hitherto without any name and which I have now christened Norfolk Plains; conceiving this fine rich Tract of Country to be a most eligible and convenient Situation for accommodating the Norfolk Island Settlers with Farms, on that Settlement being entirely withdrawn.

The fine rich Tract of Country extends five or six miles along the Bank on the River South Esk; the Eastern extremity of them commencing about half a mile below where the Macquarie River (formerly known by the name of the Lake River) falls into the South Esk, and extending for about two miles to the foot of the Hills in the Center part of them; the Hills themselves having excellent Pasturage, and the River flowing along these fine Plains, render them highly advantageous for small Settlers, as the distance from Launceston – by which a good Cart Road might be made – does not exceed Nine miles. The Plains facing them, on the Left Bank of the South Esk, appear equally good and fit Tillage and Grazing.[iv]

Six months later Macquarie instructed the Surveyor to measure fifty farms at Norfolk Plains for free men still on Norfolk Island. There were to be four of eighty acres; eight of sixty acres; sixteen of fifty and twenty-two forty. The plan signed by Macquarie in April 1814 contained over 80 parcels of land, with more than fifty having river frontages on the South Esk or Lake Rivers.[v]

Arriving from Norfolk Island

The Norfolk Islanders who arrived on the Lady Nelson and Minstrel travelled from January to April, calling at Sydney on the way. Once they landed at George Town, the journey to Launceston probably took another week. There they encountered a camp ‘full of miserable hovels’, largely abandoned as Macquarie had ordered the settlement back to George Town. The new arrivals camped for a day or two and were given their rations and Government-supplied equipment, including axes, shovels, nails and hoes. Their goods were then loaded onto oxen pulled carts for the final nine mile journey, through bush, to their new home.[vi] Camping beside the campfire on their first night, they had much to reflect upon – all they had left behind, much hard work ahead and no doubt many stories about the dangers of bushrangers, the Aboriginals, wild animals and a strange land.

Their early shelters were no doubt rudimentary. Isabella Mead records that:

Reeds tied in bundles laced to the rafters were used to thatch the roof. The floor was pressed earth. The furniture was possibly a rough bench or table, blocks of wood for seats; perhaps, but doubtful, a bed, but always some kind of chest or box in which they packed their possessions. Near the door, outside on a rough hewn bench, was always a tub of water. Some of the cooking was done over the open fire but most of it was done outside where there was more light. They probably helped one another to build their shelters, all living together for a time.[vii]

The men were quickly occupied in clearing the land and making a living. They hunted kangaroo and emu and wild duck and sowed seeds in newly dug earth. Wheat crops did well in the early years but by the 1820s the land was suffering and yields were down.

In her research, exploring whether the Norfolk Island settlers were such poor characters as had frequently been portrayed, Isabella Mead notes that those who settled along the west bank of the River were ‘not much good’ and in fact had largely disappeared by the 1830s. They were, apparently, notorious for stealing sheep. Amongst them was Thomas Livermore, the first husband of Elizabeth Dewsnap, who was eventually to become James Davey’s third wife:

By Livermore’s Ford were two small holdings of forty and thirty acres to George Marshall and Thomas Livermore. Soon the seventy acres belonged to Thomas Livermore. The ford was most conveniently situated for the sheep stealing activities which he evidently carried on, for it gave easy access to all the settled land to the east. He was aided and abetted by his convict servants; his shepherd Thomas Pawley, was said to have joined Brady and McCabe and £10 was offered for his apprehension. In September 1827, Thomas Livermore was drowned when crossing the river. He had married four days previously.’[viii]

In 1833, Elizabeth Livermore was transported for fourteen years for receiving four sheep that Thomas Merritt had stolen from their neighbor Henry Clayton.[ix] Merritt was hanged.[x]

Mead goes on to say that those who settled along the eastern bank of the river fared better, particularly those settlers who were married with children. Families here included the Jordans, Saltmarshes, Stevens, Coxes, Whites and Claytons.


[i] Broxham, p135

[ii] Broxham, p135

[iii] Morgan, p15

[iv] Lachlan Macquarie, Journal to and from Van Diemen’s Land to Sydney in New South Wales, 4 November 1811 – 6 January 1812.
Original held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.
ML Ref: A777 pp.34-73. [Microfilm Reel CY302 Frames #380-419],

[v] Mead, p61

[vi] Mead, p63

[vii] Mead, pp63-64

[viii] Mead, p65; Thomas Livermore and Elizabeth Dewsnap, Marriage Registration, RGD 36-1-1, via LINC Tasmania,; Thomas Livermore, Burial Registration, RGD 34-1-1, via LINC Tasmania,

[ix] 1833 ‘(From the Launceston Independent’, The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), 10 May, p. 4. , viewed 12 Mar 2016,; 1833 ‘SUPREME COURT.’, Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 – 1846), 2 May, p. 3. , viewed 12 Mar 2016,

[x] Mead, p65



Norfolk Island

Continuing Our Tasmanian Story – from Botany Bay and Port Jackson

Norfolk Island connections

In November 1805 the Sydney arrived at Sullivan’s Cove in Van Diemen’s Land, carrying sheep and cattle and the first of many settlers from Norfolk Island. Over the next eight years, as the first settlement on Norfolk Island was wound down, its population was relocated to Van Diemen’s land. Among these ‘third time exiles’ were some of my ancestors and their close relatives and associates. But first, let’s go back to 1788 and the first settlement there.


George Raper, Principal Settlement on Norfolk Island, 1790 (National Library of Australia)

Establishing the first settlement

The first European settlers sent to Norfolk Island arrived with the First Fleet to Botany Bay. Nathaniel Lucas and Olivia Gascoigne, while not direct ancestors, are of interest because a number of their descendants connect with my family. Having sailed half way around the world, they barely saw Port Jackson or Botany Bay before they were embarked aboard the armed tender, Supply, under the command of Lieutenant Philip King, setting sail, on or about 17 February 1788, for Norfolk Island.[i] Arriving two weeks later, the twenty-four people on board, including eight convict men and six women, had to wait a further five days before the seas were sufficiently calm to land.

On landing they found a thickly forested island. Commandant Philip Gidley King described the island as:

… six miles long and four broad, and estimated it to contain 11 000 acres. The ground was everywhere covered with an almost impervious forest, through which he forced his way with great difficulty. The principal tree was the pine which grew everywhere. These great trees were often 140 to 200 feet high, 30 feet round at the base, and 80 feet to the first branch. The roots sometimes ran two feet above the ground, twisted in all directions. In this forest grew a sort of sapplejack as thick as a man’s leg, hanging in festoons from tree to tree, and forming a network which was well nigh impenetrable. … there was not a yard square of clear ground on the whole island. The soil was deep and rich, but not a blade of grass grew anywhere. Pigeons and parrots were in great numbers; the pigeons so tame that they could be knocked over with a stick … To conquer the virgin forest King had only 12 men, and one of these an old man of 72, another a boy of 15.[ii]

… To add to the Commandant’s troubles, all his people were ill with scurvy, from their salt diet, and his first attention was given to obtaining fresh provisions. At first they got turtle, but these were soon scared away. The fish supply was precarious as fishing was only possible in calm weather. Their chief resource was the pigeons, and the birds which abounded on Mount Pitt gave them many a good meal. [iii]

The population continued to grow as more convicts and free settlers arrived from New South Wales. By January 1790 there were 79 male and 33 female convicts and 32 free settlers on the island. In the months to follow they were joined by my ancestors:

  • Stephen Martin (5xG Grandfather; First Fleet convict; arrived NI March 1790)
  • Elizabeth Holligan (Child with William Saltmarsh; First Fleet convict; arrived NI March 1790)
  • Mary Butler (5xG Grandmother; Second Fleet convict; arrived NI August 1790)
  • William Saltmarsh (First spouse of Mary Butler; First Fleet convict; arrived NI August 1790)
  • Hannah Pealing (5xG Grandmother; Second Fleet convict; arrived NI August 1790)
  • James Jordan (5xG Grandfather; to NSW by Queen 1791; arrived NI August 1792)
  • William Coventry (4xG Grandfather; to NSW by Atlas 1802; arrived NI probably 1803)

Wilson Lowry, View of Sydney on the South Side of Norfolk Island, 1798 (National Library of Australia)

At some point James Davey left the fledgling settlement at Hobart Town for the convict settlement on Norfolk Island. This seems rather unusual given that the authorities were already planning for the settlement’s demise. Nevertheless, James appears as resident on Norfolk Island in the 1811 muster. The muster says that he had five acres under cultivation and that he owned six swine.

King’s departure

Lieutenant-Governor King remained on the island for nine years. He had worked hard to make a success of the settlement, but there was a general decline after his departure in 1796. However, the early settlers had, in the main, settled down to a relatively comfortable life. The climate was favourable compared with the fog and cold of England; the land was productive; fresh meat and produce had become plentiful after the early years of near starvation.[iv]

By 1804 the British Government had become convinced that the settlement at Norfolk Island would never be a success. It had decided to establish a settlement at Port Dalrymple in northern Van Diemen’s Land in order to defeat any designs the French may have had on the island and decided to move the Norfolk Islanders there.

In the meantime, before despatches arrived from England, King, then Governor of New South Wales, arranged for Colonel Patterson to establish a settlement at Port Dalrymple. Patterson wrote to Major Foveaux on Norfolk Island, inviting any settlers who wished to go, to remove to Port Dalrymple. Few wanted to go, despite the promise of substantial land grants, free assigned servants and two year’s rations.

Nevertheless, in 1807, the first of the Norfolk Islanders arrived in Van Diemen’s Land, followed by more than six hundred more a year later. To compensate for the land they gave up, the settlers were offered two acres for every acre of cleared land they had owned on Norfolk Island, and one acre for every acre of waste or unimproved land that they had left behind. Buildings were to be established, free of charge and equal to the value of those they left; they were to be clothed and provided with rations for two years and to be given the labour of four convicts for the first nine months in Van Diemen’s Land and two for a further fifteen months.[v] Not surprisingly, the government was unable to fulfill these promises, resulting in much anger and disappointment for those who felt betrayed. Some evacuees received more generous land grants than their holdings on Norfolk Island warranted, while others received far less than was promised.[vi]



[i] Graeme Broxham, ‘Abandoning the first settlement of Norfolk Island: A maritime perspective’, Papers and Proceedings: Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Vol. 59, No. 2, Aug 2012, p121

[ii] James Backhouse, ‘Early Tasmania’, Papers Read before the Royal Society of Tasmania During the years 1888 to 1889, Tasmania: John Vail, Government Printer, 1902, p148

[iii] James Backhouse, ‘Early Tasmania’, p148

[iv] Isabella Mead, ‘Settlement of the Norfolk Islanders at Norfolk Plains’, Papers and Proceedings: Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Vol. 12, No. 2, November 1964, p59

[v] K R Von Stieglitz, Longford Past and Present, with notes on Perth, Pateena and Illawarra, Tasmania, 1947, p6

[vi] Sharon Morgan, Land Settlement in Early Tasmania, Creating an Antipodean England, Cambridge University Press, 1992, p15


Botany Bay and Port Jackson

Continuing Our Tasmanian Story – from the First Fleet

The First Fleet’s brig Supply was the first to arrive at Botany Bay, on 18 January 1788. The following day the Alexander, Scarborough and Friendship arrived followed by the Sirius and the rest of the First Fleet the day after. On 21 January, Phillip proceeded to Port Jackson to find a better site for settlement. Numerous landings were made in Port Jackson until Sydney Cove was found and assessed to be the best site. The party probably camped there over night, returning to Botany Bay the following morning. On his return, Governor Phillip ordered that the whole fleet sail for Port Jackson the next day, the 24th of January. However, the wind was foul the next day and only the Supply sailed, setting anchor in Sydney Cove on the evening of the 25th. Early on the 26th of January the Marines and convicts were taken ashore in Supply’s boats.

That afternoon a small ceremony was held, involving Phillip, a few key officers and marines and some exhausted convicts who had spent the day clearing a campsite from the sandy bush. The British flag was run up a makeshift flagpole and toasts were made to the King and the success of the new settlement, and the marines fired four volleys.

The Founding of Australia

Algernon Talmage, The Founding of Australia by Capt. Arthur Phillip RN, Sydney Cove, January 26, 1788 (courtesy Trove)

The women had to wait until the 6th of February before they were brought ashore. Bowes described the occasion in some detail:

At five o’clock this morning, all things were got in order for landing the whole of the women, and 3 of the ships longboats came alongside us to receive them; previous to their quitting the ship, a strict search was made to try if any of the many things which they had stolen on board could be found, but their artifice eluded the most strict search, and at six o’clock p.m. we had the long wished for pleasure of seeing the last of them leave the ship. They were dressed in general very clean, and some few amongst them might be said to be well dressed. The men convicts got to them very soon after they landed, and it is beyond my abilities to give a just description of the scene of debauchery and riot that ensued during the night. They had not been landed more than an hour, before they had all got their tents pitched or anything in order to receive them, but there came on the most violent storm of thunder lightening and rain I ever saw. The lightening was incessant during the whole night and I never heard it rain faster. About 12 o’clock in the night one severe flash of lightning struck a very large tree in the centre of the Camp, under which some places were constructed to keep the sheep and hogs in. It split the tree from top to bottom, killed five sheep belonging to Major Ross, and a pig of one of the Lieutenants. The severity of the lightening this and the two preceding nights leaves no room to doubt but many of the trees which appear burnt up to the tops of them were the effect of lightning. The sailors in our ship requested to have some grog to make merry with upon the women quitting the ship, indeed the Captain himself had no small reason to rejoice upon their being all safely landed and given into the care of the Governor, as he was under the penalty of £40 for every convict that was missing. For which reason he complied with the sailor’s request, and about the time they began to be elevated the tempest came on. The scene which presented itself at this time and during the greater part of the night beggars every description.

Some swearing, others quarrelling, others singing – not in the least regarding the tempest, though so violent that the thunder shook the ship exceeded anything I ever before had a conception of. I never before experienced so uncomfortable a night, expecting every moment the ship would be struck with the lightening. The sailors almost all drunk, and incapable of rendering much assistance had an accident happened and the heat was almost suffocating.[i]


William Bradley, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson

William Bradley, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson, March 1788 (Mitchell Library)

First years

A great deal has been written about the challenges faced by the first settlement at Port Jackson. My purpose here is to reflect primarily on what I have been able to discover about my ancestors, and those most closely connected with them. Like the vast bulk of convicts they will have struggled with the strange climate and the restricted diet; they will have wondered about the new plants and animals around them, and probably worried about the intentions of the local inhabitants, the Eora.

There was a great deal of work to do to provide the most basic foundations for the settlement. Settlers and convicts were engaged in clearing the ground, erecting tents and building huts in the marine and convict encampments; constructing public amenities such as the commissary and hospital as well as the slightly grander governor’s house; unloading provisions; clearing ground for the public farm and even erecting an observatory. Work was also required to repair and refit the fleet’s ships.

By July 1788, Lieutenant Henry Waterhouse could write to his father:

The Town now begins to cut a figure a number of Wooden Houses are built & the Governors & Lieut Governors Stone Houses are almost built likewise the Hospital and Store houses. At a little distance from the Town there is a farm for the Cultivation of Seed & Cattle for the Publick, there is a number of private Farms & Gardens about there is likewise a brick field & kiln at which some Thousands of excellent Bricks have been made …[ii]

William Saltmarsh’s brushes with the law

William Saltmarsh was soon working as a cooper in the commissary store and later, at the wharf. As cooper he was probably making barrels to store all manner of goods, including rum. On 11 August 1788 William was accused of stealing spirits belonging to Mr Zachariah Clark and of being found drunk. Collins and Alt sat as a bench of magistrates to hear the charge. William Broughton alleged that on the 9th of August he had noticed a strong smell of rum in the store and had found Saltmarsh very drunk. In his defense, William Saltmarsh said that he had put water into an empty pipe of Rio Spirits on the 7th of August and drunk it two days later. He was found guilty and sentenced to seventy lashes![iii] The early floggings at Sydney Cove were described as being ‘at the cart’s tail’, with the recipient probably tied to a cartwheel or the raised back of a cart.[iv] The lash was a cat-o’-nine-tails, with nine knotted leather strands at the end of a short whip. Painful indeed.

William’s luck improved the following year when, on 6 June 1789 he was credited with capturing the escaped convict known as Black Caesar. Apparently Caesar was raiding the settlement for food when William caught him around midnight. Tried at Deptford, in Kent, on 17 March 1786, for stealing cash valued at 240 shillings, John Caesar had been sentenced to seven years transportation and, like William, had sailed aboard the Alexander. Collins described Caesar as ‘an incorrigibly stubborn black’[v] and recorded:

Caesar, being closely attended to, was at length apprehended and secured. This man was always reputed the hardest-working convict in the country; his frame was muscular and well calculated for hard labour; but in his intellects he did not very widely differ from a brute; his appetite was ravenous, for he could in any one day devour the full ration for two days. To gratify his appetite he was compelled to steal from others, and all his thefts were directed to that purpose. He was such a wretch, and so indifferent about meeting death that he declared, while in confinement, that if he should be hanged he would create a laugh before he was turned off, by playing off some trick upon the executioner.[vi]

Recognised as Australia’s first bushranger, Caesar was to abscond a number of times, finally being caught and fatally shot in 1796.

Four months after capturing Caesar, William was back on the other side of the law. This time he was accused of stealing oars form Lieutenant Ralph Clark’s boat. Was he planning his own escape? Or perhaps he fancied some fresh fish to add to the meagre rations? In any event, he paid dearly, facing the magistrates on 13 October and sentenced to seventy lashes!

Two months later William attended a far happier event – the baptism of his daughter Ann. Born to convict Elizabeth Holligan, Ann was baptised at St Phillips on 20 December 1789. Elizabeth had sailed to the colony on board the Prince of Wales. A few years older than William, Elizabeth was a Londoner and had faced trial at the Old Bailey on 18 April 1787 where she was found guilty of stealing six pairs of worsted stockings valued at eight shillings. For this, she was sentenced to seven years transportation.

Very little is known about William and Elizabeth’s relationship. On 6 March 1790 Elizabeth and Ann sailed to Norfolk Island with some 200 convicts and two companies of marines as part of a strategy to reduce the pressure on supplies at Sydney Cove. Although William was to follow some months later, they seem not to have re-connected as a family.[vii]

A return of male convicts in July 1790 listed only three coopers at Sydney Cove.[viii] Perhaps such a scarcity meant that William had been able to continue performing his trade notwithstanding his transgressions.[ix] However, the following month, William was sent to the fledgling settlement on Norfolk Island. It is not clear from the records why William was sent, whether there was some intention for him to reunite with Elizabeth and Ann, whether his skills were needed there, or perhaps his earlier transgressions now counted against him? Perhaps his transfer was simply part of a broader strategy to move some of the hungry mouths of Sydney Cove to the more sparsely populated island.

Stephen Martin at Sydney Cove

Stephen Martin’s experience of Sydney Cove was not too dissimilar from William’s. He found himself on the wrong side of the lash on two occasions. In February 1789 Captain Collins dealt summarily with Stephen and another convict for neglecting their work and ordered that each receive twenty-five lashes. Nine months later, Stephen was charged, together with John Russell, with stealing a pair of shoes and buckles, a loaf of bread and piece of beef. The pair faced a hearing before the Justice of Peace at Rosehill on 28 November 1789 and was sentenced ‘to repay each two pounds of flour, one pound a week, and Martin to receive fifty lashes’.[x]

Stephen Martin was sent to Norfolk Island, on board the Sirius, at the same time as Elizabeth and Ann Holligan. The Sirius was then to sail on to Canton for provisions. However, the weather was unkind and on 19 March 1790, just a few days after the convicts and marines disembarked, the Sirius was broken up upon the reef, resulting in the loss of many personal goods and provisions.



[i] Bowes Smyth, Arthur, c1790, A Journal of a Voyage from Portsmouth to New South Wales and China in the Lady Penrhyn, transcript published by State Library of New South Wales (edited for punctuation and full words)

[ii] Henry Waterhouse, Letter to William Waterhouse, 11 July 1788, State Library of New South Wales,

[iii] John Cobley, 1962, Sydney Cove, 1788, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, p205

[iv] Egan, 1999, Buried Alive: Sydney 1788-92, Eyewitness accounts of the making of a nation, Allen and Unwin, St Leonard’s, New South Wales, p105

[v] Tim Flannery, 1999, The Birth of Sydney, Text Publishing, Melbourne, p93

[vi] Tim Flannery, p94

[vii] Elizabeth and Ann only remained on the island for three years before returning to Sydney aboard the Chesterfield in 1793.

[viii] Egan, p183

[ix] Frederick Watson & Australia, Parliament Library Committee, 1914, Letter from Arthur Phillip to Grenville, Annexure: General Return of Male Convicts, Sydney, 23 July 1790, Historical Records of Australia, Volume 1

[x] Irene Schaffer, 1985, From Convicts to Settlers, Tasmania, pp48-49