Creating a colony: the European settlement of Tasmania 1803-1853
Anthea Gunn, National Museum of Australia, 14 October 2009
SHARON CASEY: Welcome to the Friends lounge. It’s a lovely turn-up here today. Anthea Gunn has worked for the National Museum of Australia for just over a year working with the gallery development team on Creating a Country, researching the exhibits on the gold rush and colonial history. Prior to that she was immersed in research and art in Sydney in the 1960s as part of her full-time PhD studies in art history at the Australian National University. In this talk Anthea will describe her research for the Hobart exhibit in the forthcoming Creating a Country gallery. Anthea recently travelled to the Tasmania visiting some of the earliest pastoral properties in the state, researching how the Tasmanian landscape determined the settler experience. This exhibit, along with the Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide one, is one of the place exhibits that explore early colonial history in Australia. We welcome Anthea.
ANTHEA GUNN: Thanks so much all of you for coming. Today I hope to give you a bit of an insight into the Hobart exhibit, colonial Hobart in general, development of that settlement and as it spread out into the Tasmanian landscape but also give you a bit of an insight into how Creating a Country is shaping up as we start to get some of the layout drawings for how the exhibition is going to look.
This is a sneak preview of one of those drawings [slide shown] to give you a bit of an idea of how it actually sits within the Museum. This is the mezzanine that you go over across to the Gallery of First Australians. This is where the boab tree currently is, the story-time area for kids with the stairs going down from Australian Journeys. This interesting precipice is where the first staircase down into Nation currently is and, as you can see, we are planning to take those out. This is where the Federation arch is downstairs and the caravan is over here. So as you can see it is all changing.
Colonial Foundations is the first module or theme that we are exploring in Creating a Country, starting with Sydney and then Hobart - this is the one we will be zeroing in on today - down into Melbourne and then to Adelaide. Then our visitors will go downstairs and explore all the other areas right around the ground floor area. Hopefully that gives you a bit of an overview of where we are sitting. This is our one case in which I am trying to cram as much colonial history as I can.
This is a view that was taken in about 1819 of the settlement of Hobart [slide shown]. It’s a great image because it really shows how Hobart sits within the landscape, the landscape as it was when it was encountered by the first European settlers. To give you a bit of background about that, the settlement was decided upon essentially when they realised that Tasmania was actually separate from the mainland. In 1799 Bass and Flinders discovered that there was a bit of a Bass Strait through there. This then threatened Britain’s imperial claim to the land of Tasmania because, of course, they had only claimed the mainland, not the island down the bottom. The reports about the soil conditions and other natural features of the landscape proved very interesting in that it looked like it was going to be very profitable, so they thought they better get a boat down there and get some people in there to claim it for Britain.
Unfortunately the first settlement in 1803, led by John Bowen when he settled in the Risdon site, wasn’t that good: the water wasn’t great; the landscape wasn’t great; the settlement wasn’t doing too well. Simultaneously, David Collins had been despatched from Britain with orders to establish a new penal settlement around Port Phillip, but unfortunately he had much the same experience as Bowen. He was now where Sorrento is and again found a similar experience: it was difficult to get a settlement going at Port Phillip. So they decided to move him down to the Derwent, and he soon discovered the present-day site of Hobart where he found there was a permanent supply of water and the land was much more forgiving and welcoming to them settling. Collins had originally come on the First Fleet in 1788, so he had had quite a bit of experience of the Australian landscape and particularly the existing inhabitants of Australia. He was quite keen to avoid the problems that had happened in Sydney with Aboriginal populations. That was quite a contrast with Bowen: there had been some violence between the Aboriginal people and Bowen’s Risdon settlement, which is still being debated about today, but Collins was very keen to try to have a much more peaceful settlement, with unfortunately a mixed degree of success on that.
From 1804, 400 convicts and about another 40 free settlers of military and other government personnel started to erect tents and explore the landscape that they had encountered. They found that kangaroo were particularly plentiful in the area and they soon realised that Tasmania in its isolation had never encountered any natural predators. In Sydney they had already discovered that dogs were particularly good at hunting kangaroo and had managed to breed dogs to be particularly effective, so when these dogs were introduced into Hobart and its surrounds they became very effective at killing kangaroos.
This is an 1835 drawing [slide shown]. The artist is Duterreau who painted The Conciliation painting that some of you may know. It is interesting because it shows how the dogs had been introduced and how they were now seen as a native hunting technique because the Aboriginal people soon saw how effective they were and arranged to get some dogs for themselves and adapt their traditional hunting methods of kangaroo to the dogs as well. I particularly love this drawing because it appears like the kangaroo has tiny, tiny wings instead of ears, but that is just my personal enjoyment. Also the camp fire, which I think it is, also looks like a tiny train, which is a very different interpretation of industrial technology. They are just the things that amuse me. This sort of history reveals the process of exchange between the technologies that the Europeans brought to the land, the existing technologies of the Indigenous people and how the people interacted through that. There is a sense of a genuine learning from one another and a sense that there is a shared kind of economy of food supplies.
This became particularly important for the Europeans as, of course, the Hobart settlement had the same problem that most of the other settlements had in that the food supply ships weren’t as forthcoming as one would hope when you are dependent on them. The flour supply soon ran out. The entire settlement was dependent on the government stores for giving them food at that point, so kangaroos soon started to be bought from hunters and issued as the government food supply. Instead of getting a ration of flour from which you could make bread, you were given a ration of kangaroo meat which, although it was protein rich and the inhabitants were some of the healthiest colonial settlers in the UK, I don’t think they particularly enjoyed it and another dish of kangaroo was soon getting very boring indeed for the settlers.
The problem with curating an exhibit about this is actually finding sources that show us this in objects. It’s hard to present a kangaroo steak from 1805 and give people the sense of that food source. Fortunately, however, we do have the Reverend Robert Knopwood who had arrived with David Collins and served many roles within the colony. He was both the first Christian religious figure in the colony and was also appointed a magistrate. He soon started a farm and built one of the first solid houses in Hobart, and throughout all of this he, very conveniently for me, kept a diary. It is now one of the only records of daily life from the time. We are very fortunate that the University of Tasmania has a volume of his diary and is prepared to lend us that for our exhibit. In it he records things like ‘having been 16 months three weeks and five days exposed to the inclemency of all weathers and continual robberies by convicts and servants’, he was finally spending his first night in a solid building when his cottage was completed.
A constant theme of the diary is accounts of his trips hunting and fishing for which he has acquired a reputation as being a ‘sporting parson’ - the figure in England who takes up a parish but doesn’t seem to be particularly dedicated to their welfare and rather pursues his own sporting interests. For this Austen constantly comes to mind: she makes great fun of the sporting parsons that she encountered in Britain at the time.
But there is another way of reading this diary, particularly when we take into account how we now understand the role of kangaroo, because Knopwood constantly refers to his kangaroo dogs and how they are superior to pretty much anyone else’s. He refers to a dog named Spot with regular frequency, how Spot took out another kangaroo and then the sad day that Spot meets his unfortunate end. He actually commissioned essentially an autopsy to cut open Spot and find out what was the cause of this tragedy of losing such an animal - basically the kangaroo had gotten its own back and dealt him a deathly blow. Knopwood mentions hunting kangaroos every two to three days. He also mentions hunting fish, shellfish and birds, along with emus, and refers to different kinds of kangaroos which we believe now are both kangaroos and wallabies.
In October 1805 he lists the numbers and value of the kangaroos he had supplied the government store, noting that he and his men had killed 66 kangaroos in two months and two days. On 23 October he describes the government stores being in a dire state and that the colony was entirely reliant on kangaroos for food. Sorry, I haven’t shown you the photo of Knopwood. This is Bobby Knopwood, his white pony and Pincher [slide shown]. I think this image must be late 1820s when Knopwood is known for having a country estate. It is certainly not the hunting dog that would have been Spot’s ilk. I don’t think that dog would have had much chance against a rabbit really.
Another preoccupation of Knopwood’s in this period is his record of where, with whom and upon what he dined. It bears witness to the limited society that the colonists kept - the governor and the upper echelons of the military are constant companions. It must have been paramount to remain on good terms with this set of people when you were so far away from any alternatives and outnumbered by convicts. There is a particular sense that you have to maintain that social distance to maintain any kind of discipline that a convict settlement was dependent on. As you can imagine, that was greatly challenged when the open secret was that the David Collins, the lieutenant governor, was having an affair with a convict’s wife. This convict was granted particular favours so as to maintain the peace about that story and just turn a blind eye but, of course, that created all kind of social ramifications for everyone around him who also had to turn a blind eye and maintain the social network as it was then functioning, so to speak.
The colony gradually increased around the central point of Hobart. Farms became established and flocks and herds also increased. So while they are dependent on kangaroo they are busily building up other sources of food, and Knopwood records particular harvests. You can sense through the diary how when a harvest was made it was a kind of excitement that the weather had gotten to a point where the harvest was being brought in and gradually the colony was acquiring its own independence.
It is really interesting in this period how pre-industrial notions of land use applied to the new settlement in Van Diemen’s Land. As settlers take on grants of land flocks and herds have to be shepherded about so convicts are assigned to that duty, which means you are essentially giving someone that is a ‘guest’ of the crown, so to speak, free access across a landscape with a valuable source of animals. Of course, there is not much they can do with them because there is nowhere they can run off to and sell them and it also means that you are sending the convicts out as the front line against a feared population of Aboriginal people, so the convicts were obviously seen as being reasonably expendable.
This system continues right through up until the 1820s. Convict stockmen are put out on the fringes with populations of animals. To give them an incentive to do that work and to not just abscond into the bush is what is known as a ‘system of thirds’, where they were entitled to build up a flock out of a third of all the animals that were born from that flock. So they would gradually see maintenance of the whole flock as in their economic interest because they were building up their own flocks and herds. But it also leads to the rather odd position where you have people that are recorded as owning all these animals but with no land. It is quite an interesting little economy that developed. It is really interesting how that economy developed in relation to the specifics of what they found in Van Diemen’s Land in that this land created this unique economy and unique social setting. That is where all these objects for us are interacting within Creating a Country is how this place really defines its history and sets up a particular social and economic situation for these people.
It is interesting as well the numbers of kangaroo skins that are coming in. Knopwood refers to an instance where three settlers or former convicts were picked up by a schooner at Oyster Bay basically in completely dire straits - all of their provisions had been burnt. He writes with some degree of affront that the Aboriginal people had burnt all this and left these people in this dire situation. Then he notes as a footnote, ‘and they also lost 2,000 kangaroo skins’. This is in 1805, so these people can’t have been there for more than two years and they have taken out that much of the [kangaroo] population in that time. So it is not really surprising that the Indigenous people thought: ‘These people are wreaking havoc on our food supply as well as our land.’ Hindsight tells us a lot.
Gradually the population increases. Up until 1810 when David Collins dies the population is about 500, so it is very constant and people must have known each other incredibly well. The convicts that Collins had brought out with him were hand picked. He had had free range to pick people based on their previous skills and their general character. They were people that were identified by him as people that were able to build a colony. From 1810 that control breaks down. The UK starts sending boatloads of convicts out, the population increases exponentially and governance seems to break down. There is a series of governors from 1810 to 1823 that perhaps didn’t keep as close an eye on things as they could have.
Land was granted through a system of free land grants, as it was in Sydney. Convicts who became free, so emancipists, were encouraged to remain in the colony, continue to build on the population of the colony and also to obtain independence. But there is a sense that after these people were set free, we will give them a step up into good society so that they can be economically independent. So each male convict was entitled to 30 acres; a married convict was entitled to 50 upon release; and women apparently just had to get married.
We have a land grant that we are including in the exhibit - this is for one James Williams. To my mind it is unfortunate that we have a land grant to someone with apparently the most common name in England at the time. There are about 15 James Williams that were sent to Tasmania as convicts - mostly after 1817 when this grant was granted. It seems that James came to Sydney, served his sentence out there and then came to Hobart. Unfortunately, we are still tracking James down to find out a bit more about him and his particular circumstance. He was one of 111 grants across Van Diemen’s Land that year, and these totalled 17,158 acres. The majority of these were granted under 100 acres each. It is believed that at least 50 per cent of these kinds of grants were given to former convicts, the idea being that they would build up small properties and have a community of small land owners that were all responsible members of society.
Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way: 30 acres wasn’t really enough to get you economically sustained and people struggled to make ends meet on that, particularly because you then had to find the money to stock the land and to build a house and all the kinds of things that you would have wanted, so people frequently turned to less honourable means of doing that. But we can see up until this period of 1823 that the colony is evolving in a fairly organic way. It is responding to the situation that they found on the ground when they got there, and people are making the most of it in the way that people do.
In 1823 things change. Lieutenant Governor George Arthur arrives, and Arthur was nothing if not administratively gifted. He demanded that an exacting paper trail be kept and he seems to have supervised it minutely. He set things up so that a paper trail followed almost every government decision and that he could have it on his desk at his request to see what was going on - down to every stage of decision making. His vision was that the colony was to have a social system that did not easily allow miscreants to operate. Bushrangers had been a problem right from 1811. They were attacking with disastrous frequency. They were discouraging people from remaining on remote properties. The system which allowed for convicts to either easily escape or be stationed so remotely that they could support the bushranger system was clearly not working.
The system of small land grants that had been prevailing made the control of the landscape quite difficult. Such properties could be fertile enough to support their owners without being intensively worked - they could support a small flock of sheep - so theoretically the population could be relatively idle, but also these properties could be used in a system of sheep stealing that basically was stealing flocks of sheep and then moving them down from one end of the island to the other between the two centres of Hobart and Launceston. So a flock would be stolen, moved down, sold in Hobart - and vice versa. The entire sheep hustling system meant that, in a population of former convicts or free settlers, their time could be quite profitably spent doing that rather than working a fairly small grant of land up to the point where it was going to be profitable.
Arthur set about changing this whole system, and the key element of that for the land was in much larger land grants. From 1804 to 1822 there were some 130,000 acres of land granted but, between 1823 and 1831, it is a hair under 1,900,000 acres - so in half the period it is ten times as much. Land was now granted in accordance with capital that free settlers had to invest. Large land grants meant that settlers would be assigned larger numbers of convicts. It would be in their interest to maintain discipline and a relatively appealing notion to convicts to behave and remain on assignment, which was a preferable option as far as forced labour went. So it was wealth rather than the fact that you were in the colony that meant that you could get a land grant. The grants were starting now at - I think the smallest was half a square mile which I am going to get completely wrong but I think it’s 250 acres -
AUDIENCE MEMBER: About 640.
ANTHEA GUNN: OK - 640. Yes, I was right; I was completely wrong. I struggle with the metric system to be honest so this is all a bit of a challenge. We see that wealth is determining how much land you get. But it also means that people, theoretically at least, who were granted the land also had the means by which to enhance it so that you were able to build a house, get flocks and supplies and set yourself up a bit. But you also had free labour to work that land. The region we are talking about is the Midlands between Hobart and Launceston.
This is a shot taken from Brickenden of some of that pasture land as it is - two months ago [slide shown]. It is gorgeous. It’s an incredibly familiar landscape to European settlers who repeatedly describe it as open parkland - they mean the sense of the picturesque that had shaped notions of how British gentry desired their property to look and expended vast sums in making it conform to that, which I still think you can see in the lake outside. It is that same notion of landscape and notion of aesthetics that shape that period. When they came to Tasmania they found it seemingly as a gift from God: it was just there for them to expand the empire into. What they didn’t realise was that there were considerable technologies that involved as far as fire management with the Aboriginal people that created a sense of open landscape with larger trees throughout it. That sort of interchange of culture is fascinating about this landscape.
Brickenden is a property that was granted to the Archer family in 1818. It was one of the largest properties that was settled, and they essentially had a village of convicts. There were barns that they built. This is a well that was recently uncovered by an archaeological project on site [slide shown]. As you can see where that mesh is, there is a well underneath that which was a large reservoir. It is one of quite a few large reservoirs on that property, which would have required an enormous amount of labour in creating this system. The property itself is quite low lying so there is quite a lot of moisture, which was certainly evident everywhere in my time in Tasmania. These wells were self-maintained. There is still water in those, and that system has been functioning away without the family even remembering that the wells were there this entire time. Obviously it is full of all kinds of things that have found their way in there in the mean time. That level of development of the property is possible during this period because of the convicts. There is a huge amount of wooden buildings on this site that were all built in the 1820s and 1830s. They were all created from timber that was either on the site or from nearby that was felled by convicts, processed there and built into these quite beautiful wooden buildings that are unfortunately a trifle too large to bring to the Museum. Again, my problem remained of finding objects that are small enough and portable enough to go in a case and that wouldn’t leave an historical travesty behind if I was to take it. But historically it doesn’t make it any less interesting.
For Arthur the value of free settlers was their role in the convict system: their capacity to correct and reform convicts so that, once they were free, for them to be productive members of society who knew the value of hard work. Frankly, he had no time for them if they weren’t prepared to take that role. If people were there to just make money, he found them to be a waste of his time and less than interesting. He was particularly adamant that, if people were to get extensions on their land grants, it would only be if they had demonstrated that there was significant improvement to their property. There is a wonderful quote in which he describes his approach and understanding of both the convict system and the landscape of Tasmania. He wrote in 1833:
Classification is the soul of convict discipline. The whole territory is one large penitentiary, over the several parts of which convicts are distributed, not by chance or accident, but in obedience to principles rigidly observed. They are made to work out their bondage either in assignment, in the service of government, in the road gangs, in the chain gangs, in the penal settlements, or in the chain gangs in the penal settlements. This distribution is regulated by character and conduct, and by no means an arbitrary disposal.
I did a little victory dance internally when I came across the line ‘classification is the soul of convict discipline’, because that is the whole attitude that characterises everything that Arthur did - and even he recognised it and took the time to write it down in such an articulate way. It’s excellent. It makes writing exhibition text much easier when people say things like that for you. So the most degraded state is a penal settlement.
The shot we see here [slide shown] is of a small sandstone cliff. But it wasn’t a naturally created sandstone cliff: it’s been shaped by convicts quarrying out lumps of stone. Then they took those lumps of stone and walked behind where this photograph was taken and dumped them into the Derwent. The reason they were doing that was that they were trying to build a causeway across the Derwent. It was a particularly dire state of affairs. Arthur established this chain gang at Bridgewater in 1829 to form this causeway. More than 160 men worked in chains that were employed at the site. They quarried the stone, shaped it and wheeled it to the causeway, but it was endless because the stones sank into the soft mud. The project was abandoned seven years later and the causeway left uncompleted.
GTW Boyes, a colonial auditor, visited the station and recorded that these men were in a situation which must have been one of exquisite moral and physical memory. Wooden barracks had been erected for the convicts and for the military guard. Within the courtyard appropriated for their daily use the flogging triangle was in position, so they could never miss it, and there were small cells for close incarceration. Boyes described these:
Each cell is about 7 feet in length by 2 feet 6 inches in height and breadth, of course a stout man could not turn himself and when put in durance must be pushed in head foremost and when relieved from it drawn out by the heels. However I must not indulge in speculation, there are few if any stout men amongst the poor wretches, a more speedy means of diminishing the bulk of human expansion could hardly have been devised than the treatment of this penal station.
That is his account of what these poor men went through. But besides the cells and the triangles, the quantity of food was reduced or the weight and length of chains was varied. This must have been particularly torturous because short chains meant that you couldn’t move your legs very well. So to be lugging stone and dumping it into a river, seeing it disappear, not eating very much, not being able to turn over in bed at night and then being hunched over for the entire time must have been unbearable. It is astonishing that humans can do this sort of thing to each other.
We have a collection of objects that have been found over the years around the Bridgewater site. The first two things about how these objects were discovered is remarkable. This shirt and the shoe that you see here [pointing to objects] were found in what was the commandant’s cottage. The shoe was found near the fire place and the shirt was found balled up in the top of the walls. Research throughout England has shown that shoes and clothing are found in particular places in properties that were built from pretty much the fourteenth century up to the nineteenth century. They seem to have had a folk magic associated with them that spirits or witches could be warded off if you had these sort of charms placed into the building. It seems to be consistent as well; it is not accidental. The shirt is pretty much the only complete shirt of this period that convicts would have been wearing from the period, so it’s an extraordinary find. We are extraordinarily privileged to have it in the National Museum’s collection. As you can see there is minor damage but it is virtually the only one that is in this good a condition.
It would have been extraordinarily valuable at the time, because clothing was something that was almost impossible to obtain up until the 1830s. There is a letter by David Collins writing to someone in London, and the chief content of that letter is how he desperately needed new clothes and I don’t think he was saying it in the same way that I do each morning before my wardrobe. He was literally in a dire strait. Clothing was one of the chief ways that you could maintain your social status and not just ‘I am looking particularly fine,’ but actually saying whether you are a convict or not. Often convicts and the people looking after them were wearing the same clothes because they were the only clothes that could be found. So for people to ball up a shirt like this and put it basically new into a wall, it must have been a powerful kind of magic that they were trying to ward off or evoke in doing so.
The shoe also has another remarkable aspect to it. As you can see, the rear of the shoe is not in particularly good nick. The reason for that is that it’s been cut away so that a poor convict who had to wear that shoe and wear leg irons had no protection between his ankle and the leg irons. So combine that with being underfed, can’t turn over at night, chained and hobbled over, you had the fact that leg irons were digging into your ankle with every footstep you took and that you would get beaten if you didn’t keep taking those footsteps - it was a particularly thorough approach to essentially torturing people into behaving.
To take a turn, obviously, as we can see from Bridgewater, that kind of labour was just the worst. It was designed to be that so that it would be a deterrent, so that convicts would want to remain on assignment. It would lubricate that whole system so that they would be desirous of staying on properties as labourers in considerably better circumstances, if not something that any of us would consider engaging, but the majority of convicts had a different experience to that of Bridgewater, thank goodness - they remained out in the landscape.
This object has been a fantastic way of understanding a lot of that history [slide shown]. Earlier this year a silver cup came up for auction in Perth, having been for many years in private collections, and mostly seemingly for its interest to silver collectors as an example of colonial silver. But the research that we have been undertaking here has been fascinating as a way of accessing a lot of the social relationships of Tasmania in the early 1830s. It’s a silver cup and, as we can see, it is just there [indicates object], which is very exciting. So do have a look afterwards and get up close to it. It is a shade under 30 centimetres tall but it records a lot of Tasmanian history. The inscription reads:
Presented to JAMES SIMPSON Esq.re Police Magistrate of the District of CAMPBELL TOWN by the Inhabitants as a mark of the Public Esteem.
It was presented on August 21st, 1834. We started asking obvious questions about why the public felt such esteem for Simpson and digging into what his role would have been as a police magistrate at this time and who the people were that he was serving in this district.
If you have driven between Hobart and Launceston Campbell Town is about half way. Everyone that I have referred to as I have been researching Campbell Town says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s that place that’s half way. We always stopped there for a coffee.’ I would say, ‘It has a really interesting history,’ and the answer would be, ‘I have never known that.’ It is one of those places that you know if you are doing that trip, in the same way that I presumably know the Sutton Forest McDonald’s on the way to Sydney.
But digging behind that has been quite amazing. It’s stunning countryside, considerably nicer than the Sutton Forest McDonald’s. It was one of the areas in the early 1820s that they were expanding into quite rapidly. It was this idea of much larger land grants that were going into the countryside at this time. You may have noticed that it’s the same name as Campbelltown in Sydney, and it’s for the same reason that Lachlan Macquarie, then governor of both, named it in honour of his wife’s maiden name in 1821. But this time either by accident or design it has been preserved as two words. It is right beside the Elizabeth River, also named after Macquarie’s wife. The rich pastures were then being given over to large land grants, attracting wealthy settlers and discouraging those small holdings that we were discussing.
These large properties were much more effective for the assignment system. The population there would have been probably half and half - half convict, half free settlers. The landholder relationships to some extent replicated the landholder-labourer relationships of rural England where labourers essentially worked for their keep on rural properties. So there is sort of an ingrained sense for convicts who had had that background in rural England that there would have been a sense of familiarity about working out your sentence in that context. It would have been much less shameful than obviously working on a chain gang but anything where you were really marked out as being a convict. Essentially the landholder needed you as much as you needed them, so survival and economic flourishing was very codependent.
But by the late 1820s landholders felt besieged. Sheep and cattle rustling was flourishing, bushrangers were on the increase, it seemed, rather than a decrease and were a constant threat that they would come into your property. Obviously you couldn’t call the police at that point. Bushrangers often could turn convicts against you in that they would often set free convicts or take the master’s port and dole it out around the convicts and they would have a drink while the landholders were tied up on the lounge room floor. There is an obvious relationship there that the convicts probably weren’t going to tell on bushrangers. So there is a level of secrecy that that sort of knowledge could exist. It would be very difficult to break into that and police it.
The third and most complex issue was the Aboriginal people. This vast and quite sudden increase into the land by free settlers that wanted to set up established fenced properties meant that they were demanding exclusive use of that land, which for Aboriginal people meant that they were losing their homes, they were losing their food supply, they were losing all their traditional way of life. So of course they did what anyone would do and fought for it, which seems to have been quite puzzling to a lot of the settlers. There is quite a few letters that survive of Arthur where he talks about it with almost sad perplexed state of ‘how do we quell these vengeful hearts’ - almost ‘why don’t they like us?’ and it’s like ‘Why would they?’ They were desperately trying to find a way through that incredibly difficult situation. They weren’t about to wind back European settlement, so they had to find a solution of some sort and hopefully a peaceful one.
The way that Arthur approached trying to find a system by which to do that was to find an administrative system, a system by which he could govern the landscape remotely. He divided the landscape into police districts, which are these different coloured areas that you see here [slide shown] and Campbell Town, if I remember rightly, is the blue one. It covered quite a good chunk of that middle territory. Each of these districts was appointed a police magistrate - so in this case James Simpson - a clerk, constables, field police and one flagellator. Simpson arrived in March 1827 and basically from that became a key figure in Arthur’s attempts to operate Van Diemen’s Land as a giant gaol, with Hobart as its central administration point.
The magistrates were directed to report back to Arthur on the site of the colony, such as on 8 May 1828 the Colonial Secretary directed them to report:
… whether there are any Farmers in your District, on which the Proprietors do not reside, superintended by Ticket of Leave men or Convicts; if so, you will be pleased to state their characters.
Arthur employed a hands-on approach to governing, inquiring into the particulars of individual cases. He directed the Secretary to write to Simpson in March 1829 - this is one of my favourite cases – so the Secretary wrote:
With reference to your order of the seventeenth instant to the Superintendent of the Road Party at St Peter’s Pass directing him to receive the three convicts named in the margin from the service of Mr Willis, I am instructed to request that you will report to me for His Excellency’s information in what manner the men are ‘totally useless’, stating whether it arises from bodily infirmity or any other cause.
Aside from the excellent turn of phrase, it shows us how Arthur was taking that micro level of detail and that particular instances of convicts seemingly being assigned inappropriately was drawing his attention. He goes on to remind Simpson that, in any such case of re-assigning convicts, they should be coming back to Hobart, they should be getting a recorded judgment - the process needs to be maintained of how such things are handled bureaucratically.
[James] Simpson himself had arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in April 1825. He was first appointed superintendent of government stock at Ross Bridge and then Police Magistrate, a position he held until 1834, despite moving to Hobart in 1832 where he concurrently held the position as Commissioner of the Land Board - so all very significant roles within the government and in maintaining land and order at this time. By all accounts Simpson was successful and well respected. Jorgen Jorgenson, a former convict who for a time worked under cover in Campbell Town amongst the sheep stealing ring - I have so got a detective series written in my head about that - wrote the following description of Simpson:
I must first premise that about four years since, Mr James Simpson was the Police Magistrate of this District, a Gentleman of high honour and integrity ... Under his administration the District enjoyed great quiet, so much so, that at length all felons, sheep and cattle stealers, harbourers and disorderly persons fled from a District so unsafe for them to reside in.
But this skirts over the most intractable problem of violence between the traditional owners and the settlers. The Colonial Secretary wrote to Simpson in September 1828 in response to a report of an attack by Aboriginal people on one of the Campbell Town properties:
… the Lieutenant Governor very much regrets that these people continue to manifest such a hostile spirit … He recommends that you should conceit with the Officer commanding the Military Parties some decided measures for restraining the Aborigines from entering the settled Districts.
In November Martial Law was declared, and the government offered land grants to free settlers, or tickets of leave or conditional pardons to convicts, who helped in the efforts to ‘conciliate’ the Aboriginal people. John Batman was one such free settler. He led a party that searched the bush in Simpson’s district, guided by captured Indigenous women, to ‘endeavour if possible to meet their tribe and effect a reconciliation with them which I hope will be done. The women appear to place the greatest confidence in everything I say to them.’ That is what Batman wrote to Simpson. As it now known, such attempts were a disaster for Tasmanian Indigenous peoples, resulting in the loss of both a way of life and of many lives.
This is part of the Campbell Town scenery. This is the northern border which is on Woolmers, about 30 or 40 minutes out of Launceston. It gives a sense of how much of the landscape was under Simpson’s control [slide shown]. This is a proclamation board [slide shown] which is one of a large number that Arthur had directed to be painted in an attempt to communicate with Aboriginal people that they desired peace. Looking at it through today’s eyes, it is frankly ridiculous, as you can see. It is interesting aesthetically as it has this sort of comic strip format: you have an Aboriginal man, a European man and of course their obligatory dogs, and again Aboriginal and European people all getting along swimmingly; then meeting with the military and saying ‘How now, good chap’; and then, but if anything does go wrong of course - and it could go wrong either way - you will meet with appropriate British justice. Everyone is equal before the eyes of the law. And this was in 1830 after marshal law had been declared, Arthur Simpson had been directed to find a way of excluding these people from these properties and after Batman has gone out into the landscape with captured Indigenous women. There are numerous accounts of things being anything but peaceful, and justice going any way but two ways. It’s a challenging and really complex history of different attempts to try to find solutions, but the solution is just not working.
But the result was that the prosperity and security of Campbell Town was relatively assured for the settlers, and their fear abated. They felt extremely grateful to Simpson, and in 1832 raised a subscription to express this gratitude in the form of a silver presentation cup - much to my joy so many years later. But in a bit of a neighbourhood controversy nothing was heard for a year and of course it reached the letters page of the paper, as everything reached the letters page of the paper in colonial times - much to my delight when I read the digital newspapers online that the National Library has done which is a fantastic resource for finding out what was on the minds of the colonists. Someone wrote to the paper in 1833 making very pointed allegations that money had been given but nothing had been heard of it. Someone known as ‘A Subscriber’ responded to the first correspondent, supposing that:
… the treasurer would though, at the eleventh hour [his emphasis], have taken some steps to carry the subscribers wishes into effect, but ... I conclude it still remains in the treasurer’s pocket or banking account.
You can imagine how pointed that is in a small society. Everyone knows who the treasurer was. A third correspondent hastened to reply and revealed that:
… an order for making the plate was twice put into the hands of the first silversmith in Hobart-town, who, after a very considerable delay, was obliged to abandon the undertaking on account of losing his workman: it was then forwarded to a gentleman of the highest respectability in London, and funds placed at his disposal, who will no doubt execute the commission with satisfaction to all parties.
The cup here reveals another aspect of Van Diemen’s Land history about the conditions for essentially small business in Hobart in the early 1830s. The Hobart silversmith was David Barclay. He had first advertised his services as a watch and chronometer maker a few days after his arrival in Hobart in 1830. A free settler, Barclay was able to employ assigned convicts, and it was Joseph Forrester, a convict, who had the skills to actually make such embossed silvery items as this one [slide shown], but they all bear the mark of Barclay as the owner of the business. Forrester was a Scottish silversmith, jeweller and watchmaker, sentenced to transportation for life for house breaking. He proved a troublesome employee for Barclay. He was repeatedly found out of hours in various public houses, insolent to his master and fought with fellow servants. In March 1833 things came to a bit of a head: he had been found absent, having attempted to excite fellow servants into insubordination and was threatening to abscond into the bush should he be sent back to Barclay, which is an interesting employment relations technique - essentially saying, ‘I will become a bushranger if you make me work for him again.’ Perhaps unsurprisingly he was sentenced to work on a road party for 15 months, and this was right at the moment when Campbell Town wished to employ his services to make a tribute for their own James Simpson. So, of course, the order then had to be sent to London. Forrester and other convict employees were causing these endless problems for Barclay, but their specialist skills were vital to his being able to meet the needs of customers and maintain the competitive edge of having such a qualified person working for him. Convict labour meant that the colony quickly thrived and established itself, but being forced to rely on such a source for skilled labour was really a double edged sword.
The hallmarks on the cup correspond to this history. I will bring the cup back up [slide shown]. You can see the hallmarks just above there. They tell us that it was made in London in 1833 by Edward, Edward Jr, John and William Barnard. It eventually arrived in Hobart, and Thomas Bannister presented the cup to Simpson in August 1834, two years after the money had been collected, along with the following letter which the Courier also thoughtfully published for our benefit:
I have been requested by the inhabitants of Campbell Town, to present you this piece of plate, as a testimony of the degree of estimation in which you are held in that district. It is peculiarly gratifying to me, that I should have been selected to communicate to you, my dear Sir, the sense entertained by those gentlemen of your personal merits, and your public character as a magistrate.
Simpson in turn replied in a letter that was also published in the paper, saying that he ‘received with unmixed gratification the testimonial of the esteem of the inhabitants of Campbell Town’, reflecting that:
… if success has attended my endeavours towards the faithful discharge of the duties of my office, I feel how much of that success is attributable to the cordial support of those amongst whom it was my good fortune to be placed.
Arthur pressed Simpson to stay in Hobart but was unsuccessful and, as Arthur wrote to the Secretary of State, Simpson was ‘infected with the Port Phillip mania’. Simpson resigned in 1834 and went on to join the Port Phillip Association, continuing the close association that he had with John Batman in Campbell Town. It seems that their experiences in Van Diemen’s Land shaped Batman’s infamous attempt, with the support of Simpson and others in the Port Phillip Association, to form a treaty with the Indigenous people around Port Phillip. Simpson was appointed as arbitrator in disputes in Melbourne once that settlement was up and going and went on to become a police magistrate in Victoria, as well as holding a succession of other positions, including the glorious President of Commissioners of Sewers and Water Supply, which is of course vital but not necessarily the one that you would want on your tombstone. He was constantly involved in business and community life of that colony up until his death in 1857. He was consistently well regarded there also because his funerary procession was 1.2 kilometres in length. He seems to have been a figure that maintained a public regard throughout all his various government roles. That then ties the Simpson cup into the Batman treaty, which is one of the key objects also with the settlement of Port Phillip and will be a key part of the display on the Melbourne exhibit, which if you remember is just near the Hobart exhibit. That is why I have been doing little happy dances whenever I think about how that is all coming together object wise.
Just to conclude and hasten through much of subsequent history: the cessation of transportation was in 1855 [Correction: The year of cessation of transportation was 1853] and this is the cessation of transportation medallion [slide shown]. There was much rejoicing across Tasmania when that was announced as it meant that Van Diemen’s Land could attempt to put its convict past behind them. What I do particularly enjoy is that here you see the emu and kangaroo increasingly forming their role on the crest. But if you think back to the cup, if you noticed the animals flying by - this crest is on the back and it has the two kangaroos looking behind each other in a way that I think they are a bit miffed because one of them thinks the other one is carrying more weight, but again they are the marks of someone that has been thinking about this too much. And then either side they are looking back over their shoulders on either side to an emu and to a black swan, all of which were key parts of the diet of Tasmania to the point where the Tasmanian emu was eaten completely out. People look at you a bit askance when you talk about Tasmania having an emu at one point. And the black swan - I have forgotten which governor it was but one of them had to issue a proclamation to decree that the black swan was no longer edible because they were at risk of being eaten out, which is really interesting in terms of Australia’s environmental consciousness of how we became increasingly aware of the value of animals and not eating them out. The medallion forms a nice little full stop within the case to the history of convict Van Diemen’s Land. I will hand it over to you for questions. [applause].
QUESTION: What is the story with the hunting of the Aborigines in Tasmania? Will you be dealing with that?
ANTHEA GUNN: It is part of the story that is obviously very complex. The main kind of known campaign is called the ‘Black Line campaign’, and that again is in 1830. So it’s the same time that they are putting up the proclamation board saying ‘Happy, freedom and justice for everyone’, and the Black Line they meant quite literally. They got the military, as well as every able-bodied man that they could lay their hands on, to form a physical line across the accessible parts of Tasmania and tried to walk down so that the Aboriginal people would effectively be herded onto Tasman Peninsula. It was seen that if they could give them Tasman Peninsula there would be freedom and land and there could be a peaceful settlement. But there was a military strategic approach to the peninsula in that it had a small connection to mainland and that could easily be guarded.
The Black Line was an abysmal failure by most accounts in that it caught two people and cost an astronomical sum of money at the time. But, if nothing else, it completely broke any sense of freedom that the Aboriginal people had been able to maintain and security in their homes when they knew they were actively hunted like that. There are also many and varied individual campaigns. When Aboriginal people would attack a homestead, the violence was usually returned tenfold. Looking through the accounts with today’s eyes you can see that these people were trying to find food and were trying to find some sort of security in their landscape. But if they attacked a house, and the things they stole were things like flour, they would then be hunted down. There are numerous accounts of people essentially killing a whole ‘tribe’. The population at 1803 is estimated to have been about 5000 to 7000; by 1833 it was in the hundreds. It was incredibly violent and horrendous.
QUESTION: You mentioned early on road gangs and chain gangs. What were the differences in conditions for road gangs as opposed to chain gangs?
ANTHEA GUNN: My understanding of it is that it just meant you were privileged enough within the system that you could labour on a road, which was backbreaking labour enough but you weren’t actually chained while you were doing it; whereas chain gangs would have been chained up because they were seen as a particular risk of escape.
QUESTION: When was the name ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ dropped off and the name ‘Tasmania’ became established?
ANTHEA GUNN: It is 1850s. I am trying to remember if it’s at the time of the cessation of transportation or if it’s a bit later – 1855 [Correction: The year of cessation of transportation was 1853]. The medal is 1855 so that puts it at the same time. With the name change there is a definite sense of ‘we are trying to get rid of ourselves’. It is basically rebranding the island, trying to find a new way of being known amongst the world.
SHARON CASEY: Thanks very much Anthea. It’s been a really fantastic, interesting talk. [applause]
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Date published: 27 October 2009