Our Tasmanian Story

From the first days of European settlement

Early arrivals

The first European settlement in Tasmania, at Risdon Cove, under the command of 23 year old Lieutenant John Bowen, was abandoned within a year. None of my ancestors were part of this initial settlement, comprising just 49 soldiers, settlers and convicts, most of whom were returned to Sydney once Lieutenant-Governor Collins arrived in 1804.

T G Gregson, Liuet John Bowen and landing party at Risdon

T G Greyson, Lieutenant Bowen and landing party at Risdon Cove

The next group of European settlers in Tasmania (or Van Diemen’s Land as it was until 1853) was brought to Sullivan’s Cove as part of Lieutenant-Governor Collins’ settlement of 1804. My 4 x Great Grandfather, James Davey was part of this settlement. Aged twenty-three at the time, the Essex born labourer had been convicted of theft two years earlier and sentenced to seven years transportation.

John Fawkner, 34-year-old husband and father of two, a silver worker and refiner, had been sentenced to fourteen years transportation for receiving some £450 worth of stolen jewellery and silver goods. Fawkner’s wife Hannah, and their children, eleven-year-old John and nine-year-old Elizabeth, accompanied their father. Whether they can rightly be called ‘free settlers’ is debatable, but at least they had the opportunity to remain together as a family. This was particularly fortunate for young John as he was later to play an important role in the founding of Melbourne. His sister Elizabeth was to marry Richard Lucas and their daughter Ann married into my Coventry family.

The next of my ancestors to arrive in Tasmania were former convicts and their families arriving from Norfolk Island after the closure of the first settlement there. Indeed, it seems that James Davey left the Collins settlement at Sullivan’s Cove for Norfolk Island, only to return in 1813. James Jordan, an Irishman who arrived in Botany Bay aboard the first transport direct from Ireland, in 1791, married and raised his young family on Norfolk Island from 1792 until they were forced to leave in 1813. His wife, Mary, had died during the previous year.

William Coventry, another Irishman, fared less well on Norfolk Island and, indeed, retained his rebellious spirit until his untimely end during an attempted escape from Macquarie Harbour in 1830. Thomas Lucas, a marine aboard the First Fleet vessel, the Scarborough, his convict wife, Ann, and their four boys also travelled to Hobart Town from Norfolk Island. The settlers arriving from Norfolk Island were encouraged to settle outside the main town, with new settlements developing at New Norfolk and further north, at Norfolk Plains.

Amongst these settlers from Norfolk Island were members of the First and Second Fleets to Australia. On the First Fleet were convicts Stephen Martin, William Saltmarsh and his first wife Elizabeth Holligan; and the marine, Thomas Lucas. The Second Fleet brought Mary Butler (who was to be Saltmarsh’s second wife) and Hannah Pealing (who married Stephen Martin).

My Gillam and Higgins ancestors arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1827 aboard the Governor Ready. Thomas Gilham and Richard Higgins were members of the Aldington Gang of smugglers and, together with their leader, George Ransley, and a number of their comrades, they were sentenced to seven years transportation for firearms offences, having avoided the judge’s sentence of death following exercise of the Royal Pardon. Their wives and children followed them to Van Diemen’s Land a couple of years later.

Free settlers

The first of my ancestors that can really be thought of as having chosen Tasmania for their home are those who migrated as free settlers, either independently or under one of the assisted passage schemes. In 1842, just two and a half years after they married, with infant children in tow, John and Martha Lamprey left their farming life in South Petherton to establish themselves as pioneers in the Northdown district of north-western Tasmania.

On board the same ship were an older Scottish couple, Andrew and Janet Wilson and four children. The Wilsons were pioneers in the Mole Creek district at a place called Caveside. Others, like Thomas and Elizabeth Bourn, were attracted by the assisted migration scheme that paid for their passage in return for Thomas’ labour at the newly developing coal mines near Bicheno.

Collins’ settlement

The Fawkners

Confirming the place of my Great Great Grandfather, James Henry Coventry, in the various Coventry lines in Tasmania has proven difficult. There is a fair amount of circumstantial evidence that suggests a connection to William and Ann Coventry. For many years I thought that they were his parents but I now think it more likely that they were his Uncle and Aunt. While this means that the connection to the Fawkners is a little more distant, given their place in colonial history, I remain interested in their story. Ann Coventry was born Ann Lucas — her father was Richard Lucas, who was born on Norfolk Island in 1794, and her mother was Elizabeth Fawkner, brother of John Pascoe Fawkner and daughter of John Fawkner and Hannah (nee Pascoe).

John Jnr was eleven years old when his family set sail from England and his later writings tell us a lot about Collins’ settlements at Port Phillip and in Van Diemen’s Land. They also provide interesting detail about the convict ‘process’.

John and Hannah married in Cripplegate, London, in January 1792. John was a metal refiner and silver worker whose ‘weakness for conviviality’ led him to spend too much of his money on drink and to live above his means. In 1801 the family was renting a small, narrow-fronted house and a workshop in White Cross Street. John Jnr had spent some years living with his mother’s sister and his grandparents before being sent to an Academy in Chelsea in 1800. Not far from the family home in White Cross Street was the Bell Inn where, on the evening of 30 April 1801, Fawkner was to make a life changing decision. It was here that the publican’s wife, Mrs Hayes, offered him the opportunity to buy cheaply a large collection of jewellery and silver goods for melting down. The goods were taken to his workshop where he began to melt down the silver. A soldier, Thomas Collett had stolen the goods in their red-leather trunk from the back of a cart loaded with baggage ready for transporting to the lodgings of its owner, a Jamaican plantation owner, John Christian Weppler. A few days later Weppler posted a reward of 150 guineas and the publican’s young servant told all she knew. A fortnight later Hayes and Collett were arrested. Hayes was sentenced to fourteen years transportation, Collett to seven.

When Collett and Hayes were taken to gaol another Bow Street runner went to White Cross Street to arrest Fawkner. After several attempts, he was arrested in the street and placed on trial. The indictment was made for ‘feloniously receiving on 30 April 1801 a gold snuff box set with diamonds, value £400; a diamond necklace, value £20; a pair of shoe buckles, value £11; two silver tablespoons, value £1/10-, and five silver teaspoons, value £2, being part and parcel of the goods and chattels stolen by Thomas Collett’. Found guilty, Fawkner was sentenced to fourteen years transportation and taken to the Woolwich hulks where he was stripped, washed, shaven, dressed in convict garb, chained and put to labour.

Misinformed about the timing of the Calcutta’s departure, Hannah and the children rushed to board the vessel in early February. In fact, it wasn’t to leave Spithead until 24 April.

The Calcutta

Together with the store-ship HMS Ocean, the Calcutta carried some 366 male convicts, from counties throughout England, as well as Irish, Scots and Welshmen. There was also a German, Frenchman, American, Gypsy, Pole and five Jews — all convicted under British law. Most convictions were for theft, with two boys transported for taking honey from an uncle’s beehive! The convicts were generally young, the oldest being a 57 year old Gypsy from Dorset and the youngest being two nine year old boys.[i] In addition to the convicts, there were a dozen civil officers, a guard of about fifty marines, 36 wives (including seventeen wives of convicts), 38 children and a few free men. With the exceptions of Reverend Robert Knopwood and assistant surgeon William l’Anson, it seems the civil officers, free settlers and their families sailed aboard the store-ship Ocean. The Ocean was to accompany the Calcutta to Port Phillip, where the British Government had decided to establish a new settlement.


Thomas Whitcomb, The action of September 1805 in which the French captured HMS Calcutta

As a relatively wealthy convict, John Fawkner was able to hire the Boatswain’s quarters, on the top deck, for 20 guineas, to provide some extra comfort for himself and his family.[ii] Most of the convicts, without such means, were accommodated in one of the two prison rooms in the centre of the ship, each with a hammock, flock mattress and one blanket. This is where the many agricultural labourers, like my ancestor James Davey, passed nearly six months on board, both prior to leaving England and during the lengthy voyage itself.

James Davey

James Davey was far more typical of his fellow convicts than was John Fawkner. James was about twenty-one years old when he was tried at the Essex Summer Assizes of 1802 for breaking into a shop and dwelling at Debden and stealing six yards of Irish cloth worth 10 shillings, a silk handkerchief and a pair of worsted stockings valued at two shillings each, £10 cash and four banknotes worth a pound each. He appeared at the trial with his accomplices, fellow labourers, Robert Davey and William Mills. They each pleaded not guilty and were acquitted. However, James was also charged with stealing two sacks worth ten pence (in October 1799 and March 1801) and a third sack in June 1802, also worth ten pence. It was this June offence that led Justice Baron Hotham ‘for the security of the country’ to sentence James to transportation for seven years. James was taken to Chelmsford Gaol and later transferred to the hulk, Prudentia, at Woolwich, from where he was subsequently transferred to the convict transport, Calcutta.

It seems likely, based on his age at the time of his trial and his residence in the small village of Debden that James was the son of Thomas and Sarah Davey and that he was baptized in the parish church of St Mary on 4 March 1781, the eighth of twelve baptisms recorded for children of this couple between 1769 and 1799. There is a burial record for Sarah on 15 July 1799, suggesting that James’ mother, at least, was spared the sorrow of seeing her young son transported beyond any prospect of reunion.

The Journey

The Ocean and Calcutta finally cleared the English Channel, in very rough weather, on 29 April 1803. The high winds, hail and squalls meant that nine days passed before the convicts could be mustered for Divine Service on the quarterdeck. The first port of call was Santa Cruz where a two-day stay provided welcome relief and an opportunity to obtain fresh provisions. The Equator was crossed on the 10th of June and the following day the sighting of a slave ship, Rio Nova, provided a welcome diversion from the monotony of the voyage.

The next port was Rio and the town of St Sebastian, overlooking the harbour. Nearly half the population was slaves from Guinea. The slaves washed linen in stone fountains while others, almost naked, worked in chains under the lash of an overseer. Mrs Fawkner made a visit ashore with her children to buy lime juice, oranges and lemons. Besides watching the slaves, the Fawkners visited several churches and were amazed by the beautiful statues and lavish gilding.

The ships left Rio on the 6th of July and became separated battling stormy seas during the night. The Calcutta was damaged and a sail was lost but was able to be repaired by ship’s carpenters. The convicts spent their time in semi-darkness, often gambling while others kept watch. They were also required to scrub the decks with wooden blocks and sand. Sixteen convicts were employed as servants to the officers and another nineteen were taken on as sailors.

A number of incidents throughout the voyage resulted in harsh disciplinary action. Mrs Riley received twelve lashes on her bare back for stealing a cap from another prisoner’s wife. William Bryant was flogged for drunkenness; John Coole was double ironed on suspicion of theft. John Cashman, a convict servant to the sailing master, stole a number of items and then drowned while attempting to escape while the ship took on provisions at Simon’s Bay. Rumours circulated about a plan to capture the ship, put the crew off on an island and sail for America. However, once the supposed ringleaders were caught, an investigation revealed that the rumours were spread by one convict hoping to incriminate another.

Seven weeks after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, King Island was sighted. The Calcutta was forced to brave a further storm and sustained considerable damage to her sails. The following day, on 9 October 1803, in calmer seas, the Calcutta sailed through the entrance to Port Phillip to find the Ocean, which had arrived two days earlier, lying at anchor.

The Sullivan’s Bay settlement

While the ships were riding at anchor, Collins received his first unfavourable impression of Port Phillip in a report from John Mertho, master of the Ocean.[iii] Although fresh water was scarce, Collins nevertheless chose Sullivan Bay for his settlement. This was a poor choice for an initial settlement. The soil was too sandy to grow food and only poor quality drinking water could be found. Many accounts suggest that Collins has already set his goal on settling in the more promising Van Diemen’s Land and this showed in his half-hearted attempts to properly explore the district.

During the first three weeks, the convicts were employed carrying goods from the Ocean to shore — barrels of biscuit, flour and salt provisions, as well as precious kegs of wine and spirits. Tents were pitched in groups, with prisoners at one end, then the soldiers, the free settlers and officers at the other end of the sandy clearing. Two coppers provided the cooking facilities and half a dozen casks sunk into the ground partially filtered the water that seeped into them.

The Fawkners remained on board until 19 October, when their relatively comfortable ship’s quarters were exchanged for a tent to be shared with two other families. However, within a relatively short time John Fawkner, assisted by the Gypsy, Cooper, managed to construct a makeshift hut covered by some old canvas, with hammocks for beds and old carpet to cover the sandy floor. Young John Pascoe Jnr enjoyed wandering about the sand dunes and exploring the rock pools for fish to relieve the constant diet of salt meat.

James Davey probably belonged to one of the various convict gangs that toiled from early morning to sunset, with only an hour’s break for lunch. Some of the convicts were still employed as officer’s servants, others cleared plots of land for gardens. The gangs cut and carted timber, harvested flax for weaving and built huts. The women were kept busy toiling over washtubs and the communal food-boilers.

Shortly after arriving, a party led by James Tuckey explored the Bay, failing to find the Yarra River. He reported back that the land was poor with little fresh water. A party also looked at the site of the future Geelong, but probably because there was good soil and water, there were also numerous Aboriginals who gave no signs of welcoming the intruders. Scouting parties had little success finding timber for the navy and the dangerous entrance to Port Phillip made the site unsuitable as a whaling base.

Collins decided to abandon the Sullivan Bay site and move to the Derwent in Van Diemen’s Land. On 30 January 1804 most of the convicts and settlers and about half of the marines and civil officers sailed for the Derwent aboard the Ocean and Lady Nelson.   The remainder followed on 20 May. One escapee, William Buckley, stayed behind, living with the Aboriginas for thirty years.

Sullivan’s Cove, 1804

The Ocean arrived in the Derwent on 11 February 1804 but unfavourable winds delayed landing at Bowen’s Risdon Bay camp for another five days. As it happened, Bowen was in Sydney, having taken for trial some soldiers who were accused of theft. Collins soon declared the Risdon site, which was dry and parched after four months without rain, as unsuitable for settlement. The site was too steep and windy and seemed a poor prospect for agriculture. After a short investigation, surveyor George Harris reported a very promising site across the river. The site of Hobart Town, at Sullivan’s Cove, had a permanent stream of fresh water and nestled at the base of Table Mountain (later renamed Mount Wellington). Collins decided to bring both groups of settlers together in Sullivan’s Cove, although it was not until July that the Risdon settlement was largely abandoned when Bowen and many of his company set sail for Sydney. Even then, a number of early settlers were granted farming land in the area.

GW Evans, View of Sullivan Cove 1804

Sullivans Cove, 1804

On 20 February, convicts and military guards from the Ocean landed at Sullivan’s Cove. They erected tends for the military and civil officers. Convict gangs were set to work felling timber and clearing the land. A high priority was also given to securing the settlement’s stores. A wharf was built from Hunter Island within the first few days to enable stores to be uploaded, along with a hut for storing the goods. The island was connected to shore only at low tide by a long sand pit.

As Autumn was fast approaching, there was an urgent need to construct shelter. At first everyone was housed in tents. Married couples were allocated tents beside the marines’ squared plot of ground. Free settlers were on the western side beyond the marines. The Governor’s marquee was set on rising ground, at the southern end of Elizabeth Street, about where the Town Hall is today.

As at Port Philip, the Fawkners were allowed to erect their own shelter. Ten foot posts were sunk into the earth about two feet apart, the gaps filled with wattle and plastered over with mud. Round poles formed the roof rafters that were covered with wattle crosspieces, thatched with grass. Doorways were hung with patched canvas and window openings covered with oiled paper or thin cloth, with wood shutters on the outside.[iv]

In 1832, a missionary visiting Van Diemen’s Land recorded his conversation with a woman who had arrived as a child with Collins’ party. She revealed that hollow logs also provided early shelter:

At that period she was but a child; and on landing was lodged with some others under a blanket supported by sticks, near the place where the Commissariat-office now stands in Hobart-Town, which at that time was covered with wood. After spending a night there, they were removed to the spot where the village of New Town now stands, and lodged in a hollow tree. Here they were first visited by the Aborigines, with whom the children were often left, and who treated them kindly. Provisions becoming scarce, the people often cooked maritime plants collected at the sea shore, which bear to this day, the name of Botany Bay Greens. Sometimes they collected for food the crap or refuse of the blubber whales, out of which the oil had been taken by whaling vessels and which washed up on the shores. At length the pressure of hunger was so great, as to oblige the Governor to give leave to some of the convicts, to go into the country and shift for themselves. Many of these committed outrages upon the natives, whose animosity toward the white people thus became excited at an early period, notwithstanding many years elapsed before they were in open hostility.[v]

What of James Davey and the other convicts? A bell rang every morning at 5 o’clock warning them to turn out in their blue kersey jackets and trousers for work. They laboured until six in the evening, with an hour’s break for breakfast and an hour and a half for dinner. An extra hour was granted on Tuesday for the issue of rations. On Saturday’s work ceased at eleven. Initially at least, nearly all able-bodies men were engaged in construction — building shelter, storage facilities and other public works.

The marines were rostered around the clock to perform sentry duty; they regularly attended drill, ceremonial parade and Divine Service. As the numbers were small, Collins also reinstituted a night watch of trusted convicts and civil officers to protect the valuable food supplies.

Convicts and marines alike were required to attend Knopwood’s Anglican religious service on Sundays. There was no church so services were generally conducted outdoors.

On 25 June, the Ocean returned carrying those who remained of the white population at Port Phillip. The population now grew to 433 people — 358 men, 39 women and 36 children. By July there were nineteen children under the age of ten. Before the first poor crops could be harvested, two ships from Port Jackson brought more hungry mouths. As the settlement faced its first winter, frosts destroyed the vegetables in the ground, snow appeared on the mountain, rain fell steadily and the cold invaded the makeshift accommodation, contributing to the ill health of the under-fed and poorly clothed population. John Pascoe Fawkner was one of many struck by scurvy. He lost the use of his right leg until well into the following year. When the rations gave out again in early 1806, young Johnnie Fawkner, like others his age, spent his days roaming the river’s tidal flats for wild parsley and the sage-like vegetable known as Botany Bay Greens.

By the end of 1806 food shortages had reached such a critical state that the convicts were too weak to work long hours. While the officers retained a small ration most of the colony’s inhabitants received nothing. The storehouses were largely empty. Imagine the relief when, on 10 October, a Boston whaler, the King George, arrived, carrying a small cargo of beef, pork and sugar. About this time, three shopkeepers had begun trading — former convicts Michael Solomon and Jemmy Lord, and John Ingle, resigned from his job as overseer. Each bought the biscuits, barley and rice from the whaler’s captain and sold their wares to the highest bidder.

Kangaroos (foresters, wallabies and kangaroo rats) were numerous and made an important contribution to the diet. Slender pieces of kangaroo meat were threaded on a stick and hung across an open fire. This was known as ‘sticker up’.[vi] Their skins were also used for clothing and footwear.

By this time, the Fawkners were establishing themselves on a fifty-acre grant at the Rivulet (Claremont), seven and a half miles from Hobart. Young Johnnie worked as a shepherd, looking after ten ewes that his father had purchased from George Guest, the first of many settlers to arrive from Norfolk Island from November 1805. In later years, John Pascoe Fawkner was to recall ‘this tedious work with great bitterness … living in a hut of sods and grass thatch and wandering all day after hairy, bleating sheep … in almost complete isolation.’[vii] He lived this way, for moths alone, while his sister Elizabeth kept house for their father in Hobart Town. Their mother had sailed for England in August 1806 to claim the estate bequeathed to her by her father. She earnt her passage as a maid to Mrs Bate, wife of the Deputy Judge-Advocate. Later, the rough hut erected at the Rivulet and most of its meagre contents, including all of John Jnr’s clothes, were lost when the place burnt down due to John Fawkner senior’s rum-induced carelessness.

A more substantial building, constructed from stout slabs, a grey-shingle roof and red clay chimney, replaced the rough hut. A solid wooden door opened onto a narrow room with crossbeams high overhead and divided in two by a bark petition nailed from a crossbeam to the floor. In one corner a lightweight ladder led to a loft under the high roof.[viii] The family moved out to the property as soon as the cottage was completed. Young Elizabeth kept house. Johnnie looked after the sheep and goats. But their father spent most of his time drinking with his mates in Hobart. By the middle of 1807, the Fawkner’s farm comprised a small vegetable garden, three Bengal cows and a bull calf, eight sheep and one goat. The family’s diet consisted of salt meat, rice and pearl barley. When they became desperate a sheep was killed and the precious meat sold in Hobart Town for 2s 6d a pound.

Fawkner, JP, cottage at Claremont

Fawkner’s Cottage, Claremont, mid 20th Century

John Fawkner senior continued to spend much of his time in Hobart Town. The arrival of the Duchess of York, with a substantial supply of rum, saw much of the population rolling about drunk in the streets. Reverend Knopwood was so unwell he couldn’t perform Divine Service and, witnessing his father’s ‘guzzling and raging like a beast’ young John Fawkner resolved never to develop a taste for drink.[ix] One night while their father was away, John and Elizabeth were visited by two bushrangers, Samuel Tomlins and William Russell. The house was ransacked, nearly all their clothes, and all their flour and salt provisions stolen; but the children were able to escape into the dark night unharmed.

Despite such difficulties, the farm began to produce. They had two acres under wheat, although the harvest was disappointingly halved to some thirty bushels with an equivalent amount lost to smut. The sheep and goats were breeding well, with herds of 62 and 72 respectively. By 1807 the Fawkners had their own oxen to cultivate the land and axe-men to clear and burn for them. Exchanging their goods for cash, the family began to prosper.

In 1809, Hannah Fawkner returned to Hobart Town, bringing her considerable inheritance with her. This meant that seventeen-year-old Elizabeth was no longer required to run the house and, in October that year, she married Thomas Green. Green had been sentenced to death for horse stealing in 1802 but this was commuted to transportation for life and he too had sailed aboard the Calcutta to the new colony. Green actually tried to escape from the Sullivan’s Cove settlement. He and Richard Wright made it as far as Sydney aboard the Myrtle but they were caught and returned. After his marriage, Green worked at Campbell Town and then, when Elizabeth was granted land, he took up farming. The couple had two children — Thomas, born in 1810, and Sarah Eliza in 1812. At the age of 27, and just two days before his daughter’s baptism, Thomas Green died. Baby Sarah died in April the following year. In 1816 Elizabeth remarried. Her second husband was Richard Lucas, a settler from Norfolk Island, then living at Brown’s River, Kingston.

[Next … the First Fleet]

[i] Cotter, Richard, 2001, No Place for a Colony: Sullivan Bay, Sorrento and the Collins Settlement, Melbourne: Essien, p28

[ii] Cotter, p49

[iii] Cotter, p59

[iv] Hugh Anderson, 1962, Out of the Shadow, The Career of John Pascoe Fawkner, F W Cheshire, Melbourne, p22

[v] James Backhouse, 1833, A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies, London: Hamilton, Adams & Co, p21

[vi] Alan Atkinson, 2004, The European’s in Australia, A History, volume 2, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p7

[vii] Hugh Anderson, p26

[viii] Hugh Anderson, p29

[ix] Hugh Anderson, p29


3 thoughts on “Our Tasmanian Story

  1. Have you written this in a book as I would love to buy a copy as I am a descendant of the fawkners.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s