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



The First Fleet

Continuing Our Tasmanian Story

Fleet connections

Richard Lucas is just one of a number of people associated with the First and Second Fleets to Australia who is linked (or potentially linked) in some way with my ancestry. Like nearly all of them, Richard arrived in Van Diemen’s Land from Norfolk Island. So, stepping back in time a little now, before the first European settlement in Van Diemen’s Land, I am going to introduce some of those remarkable individuals who sailed aboard the First Fleet to the new colony of New South Wales.

First Fleet entering Port Jackson

E L Bihan, The First Fleet Entering Port Jackson, January 26, 1788 (State Library of New South Wales)

Among those who sailed in the First Fleet were Stephen Martin (probably my 5 x Great Grandfather) on the Alexander and William Saltmarsh.

Journey to New South Wales

The story of the First Fleet has been recounted many times and as I have been able to discover little material specifically relating to the individuals of most interest to me, a brief outline of the journey will suffice for the purposes of this story.

The First Fleet comprised six convict transports — Alexander, Charlotte, Friendship, Lady Penrhyn, Prince of Wales and Scarborough — three storeships, and two men-o-war. The fleet weighed anchor on 13 May 1787. Sailing from Portsmouth in fine weather, it reached Tenerife on 3 June. There the fleet took on fresh water, pumpkins, onions, meat and Canary wine. A convict aboard the Alexander, John Power, attempted escape but was quickly recaptured and the fleet set sail again on 10 June.

From 6 August to 4 September, the fleet rested in the port of Rio de Janeiro, where the officers, marines and crew were allowed trips ashore, and the convicts had the run of the decks under supervision. Here, fresh meat was both excellent and cheap. Local rum, which proved of poor quality, was also purchased, along with other supplies. Clothing for the female convicts had not been forthcoming prior to leaving England so in Rio Phillip purchased 100 sacks of tapioca, the tapioca for eating and the strong burlap from which the sacks were made to be reused for clothing.

By mid-October the fleet reached Cape Town where it spent another month stocking up on plants, seeds and livestock for the new colony of New South Wales. During this period, Phillip also tried to build up the strength of convicts and crew for the last most difficult leg of the voyage. Fresh beef and mutton, soft bread and vegetables were served each day.

The fleet left the Cape on 13 November. It now headed into formidable oceans. Laden with new supplies, including some five hundred live animals, the transports laboured. Convict quarters were more cramped than before, with space having been given over to the construction of improvised pens for livestock and its food. The weather was dark, wet and gloomy but at least the gales remained favourable. Huge waves broke upon the decks and dumped freezing water upon the marines, the convicts and their bedding. Whale sightings and albatross punctuated the monotony.

On 3 January 1788 the coast of Van Diemen’s Land came into view. A week later, sailing northwards, the ships battled a violent thunderstorm that split the Golden Grove’s topsails, carried away the Prince of Wales’ main yard, and terrified the convicts below decks.

Two hundred and fifty days out from Portsmouth, the fleet reached its destination, Botany Bay, early on the 20th of January 1788. Governor Phillip soon decided against a settlement there and on the 22nd set off to examine Port Jackson where he chose an area beside the Tank Stream as a suitable site for settlement.

At Port Jackson the marines were employed to provide protection from attack and to assist in exploration and establishment of the new settlement. Thomas Lucas was likely to have participated in much of the early exploration of the area around Port Jackson and in the early engagement with the Eora and other Aboriginal people around the first settlement. Marines who had trades worked at their trades and were paid for their efforts. The marines were also engaged in tedious rounds of duty, mounting guard and the like.

On 1 October 1788 only five officers and four other ranks were prepared to accept the offer of a grant of land and discharge in the colony. Presumably most planned to return home at the end of their three years of service. Thomas Lucas was later to transfer to the New South Wales Corps.

Convicts of the First Fleet

Evidence that would definitively prove my Coventry family line has proven elusive during more than two decades of research. It seems very likely that my Great Great Grandfather, James Henry Coventry, was the grandson of Irish-born William Coventry and Mary Ann Martin, the daughter of Stephen Martin and Hannah Pealing. William and Mary Ann had four children, including two sons William James and John. For many years I thought that James Henry was one of William James’ children but now I think it more likely that his father was the far more elusive John Coventry.

Stephen Martin

Stephen Martin was born about 1748, possibly in Bristol in the south west of England. Around this time Bristol was growing rapidly to become England’s second largest city. Imported goods, products of the slave trade, such as sugar cane, tobacco, rum and cocoa, were imported via Bristol, providing a strong catalyst for growth.

I have yet to discover anything of Stephen’s early life. He was thirty-five when, on 28 April 1783, he was convicted at the Bristol Quarter Sessions of stealing a cann (a small pistol) and a pair of boots and spurs. Stephen was sentenced to seven years transportation.[i] Stephen was transferred to the convict hulk Censor where he lived and worked in harsh, squalid conditions, perhaps dredging the river, driving in posts to prevent erosion of the riverbanks, developing the Woolwich Arsenal or maintaining the hulk. Nearly four years after his conviction, Stephen was delivered to the transport Alexander, which was to carry him to Australia as part of the historic First Fleet.

William Saltmarsh

Also on board was William Saltmarsh, first husband of my 5 x Great Grandmother, Mary Butler. When William was just fourteen years old he faced the Lent Assizes at Surrey on the 28th of March 1785, with his friend George Freeland, charged with stealing from a shop in Putney and for taking, ‘with force and arms’, three cotton and two silk handkerchiefs. He was sentenced to seven years transportation and was held initially at Southwark gaol before being sent, in mid-1786, to the hulk Ceres and then, in August, to the Justitia. Like Stephen, he laboured hard over that period, and was fortunate to avoid an early grave from the numerous contagious illnesses that ran rife in the prisons and on the hulks. In January 1787 he was delivered to the Alexander. Unfortunately all we know of William’s early life is that he was described as a labourer and had lived in Putney before his arrest.



[i] State Library of New South Wales, Early Convict Index, Alphabetical and Ship Indents,,

Online resources

Stephen Martin on my Ancestry Tree

William Saltmarsh on my Ancestry Tree

The Forgotten Islands and Albert Boyes Kay

Today I am reposting a post from my earlier website, from 9 October 2011.

It’s grey and overcast in Canberra today with occasional rain; not what I had in mind for the long weekend in the middle of the school holidays.  At least it has given me an excuse to curl up with a book for a little while.  I’m enjoying Michael Veitch’s The Forgotten Islands and now I’ve even come across a family connection, albeit a little remote and not entirely proven.  As I’ve mentioned on other pages, I have yet to prove where James Henry Coventry fits into the north-west coast’s Coventry family, but wherever it is, there’s at least some connection to Circular Head’s Kay family.  I have long thought that James was the son of William James Coventry and Ann Lucas, but increasingly I wonder whether he is the James Daniel Coventry registered to William’s brother John Francis and his wife, Rachel Ward, in 1849.  In any event the Coventry, Lucas and Kay families are connected in various ways.

William Coventry and Ann Lucas’s daughter Elizabeth married George Kay, son of Robert Kay and Elizabeth (nee Couper), in 1855.  George’s brother, James, married William and Ann’s niece, Susan Lucas, and his sister Alice Elizabeth Kay married William and Ann’s son John Francis Coventry.  George, James and Alice Kay were three children born to Scottish immigrants, Robert and Elizabeth Kay.  The story in Veitch’s book is about the tragic death of another of the Kay’s children, Albert Boyes Kay, in 1895.

Albert and Maria Kay

From The Forgotten Islands

In the old photograph, a young Maria Kay has a sweet, rather timeless face standing next to her husband, Albert Kay, dressed in his finest suit, waistcoat and watch chain.  Only the severity of his wife’s parted hair and their rock-like postures makes the idea of them existing in any epoch but the Victorian quite unimaginable.  

How the people of these times found time do anything besides breed is bewildering, but the Kays with their typical family of eight children also ran sheep on Trefoil Island even though they could only visit the place occasionally for working parties. It was whilst on one such trip in the spring of 1895 that Maria, expecting her ninth child, suddenly required medical attention.

Their only means back across the water to Woolnorth on Tasmania’s north coast was in a small, flat-bottomed dinghy, requiring a good hour of hard rowing, and to that end Albert took along his eldest, sixteen-year-old Walter Robert, as well as Sara Virginia, nearly four, and for safekeeping, little Robert Latimer Kay, just twenty-two months old.  Perhaps Maria had a premonition; perhaps she could see the notoriously difficult tide swirling around the various shoals and reefs that dotted their passage, but at the last moment, she handed little Robert back to the safety of his siblings, who stood anxiously on the beach watching their departure.

Albert intended to return as soon as possible with Walter to collect his remaining family.  With a wife in distress and two children on his small boat, he pushed away from the sand into the current. 

They seemed to make headway at first, Albert manoeuvring the dinghy through the current as best he could, but, not far from the shore, a sudden wave rose as if from nowhere, lifting the hopelessly inadequate boat like a paper toy.  As the watching children later described, the boat seemed to rise up, throwing the four of them into the sea. Their father Albert could swim but was hampered by a badly set broken leg.  In any case, against the furious, swirling rip-tide, even the strongest of swimmers was doomed. 

The last the children remember seeing of their father was his desperate attempts to hold up the youngest, Sara Virginia.  Then, in an instant, all of them vanished forever.  Belinda Maud, Lydia May, Albert Boys, Jane Georgiana, Wintena Alberta and little Robert, having just witnessed the death of their parents and two siblings, were now entirely alone on an inhospitable island, without a soul knowing of their plight.  The eldest, Belinda, was just thirteen and a half. 

In one of those tales of fortitude that was held up to exemplify the pioneering spirit, and which delighted the romantic press of the day, the six Kay children, under the guidance of the remarkable Belinda Maud, survived alone and unassisted on Trefoil Island for six weeks. 

They organised food and shelter, undertook daily patrols of the beaches looking for the remains of their parents and siblings and lit signal fires that were never allowed to go out.  They food they had carried over soon ran out so Albert Boys, aged ten, would kill the occasional sheep to provide fresh meat. 

Finally, the fire was spotted by one James Parker of the May Queen, and the starving and bedraggled children were rescued and placed in the care of astonished relatives.  Their names would become legendary throughout the district for generations.  (The May Queen herself survives to this day and, now restored, adorns Hobart’s Constitution Dock.)

The children never found the remains of their parents or siblings.  Instead, a plaque in their memory was placed in the little cemetery at Stanley for Albert Kay, fifty-three, his wife Maria, thirty-seven, and their two children. …

Trefoil Island

News reports

Contemporary news reports can be found on TROVE:

An Awful Domestic Calamity‘, The Mercury, 29 November 1895, p. 3

Terrible Boating Fatality‘, Launceston Examiner, 30 November, p. 7

A Sad Drowning Story‘, Wellington Times and Agricultural and Mining Gazette, 30 November, p. 2

A Tasmanian Tragedy‘, Australian Town and Country Journal, 7 December 1895

Marooned for Six Weeks‘, The North Western Advocate and the Emu Bay Times, 15 March, p. 8

The Pathetic Fate of the Kay Family‘, Zeehan and Dundas Herald, 3 December, p. 3


Photograph of Albert and Maria Kay courtesy of Forty Degrees South