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