The Mercury

Saturday 1 May 2004, page 20

 

Plans for Huon foray

 

1 May 1804

 

Having returned from Risdon Cove, Knopwood was joined that afternoon for dinner by the naturalist Robert Brown, and the two would undoubtedly have discussed Brown's intended departure tomorrow for an expedition with Humphrey in an effort to reach the Huon River overland.
From visual observation from the top of Mt Wellington they knew that the distance from the settlement to the Huon River was not very great, but Brown had already had some experience with the difficult terrain between the settlement and this river and had failed to reach it. The two wanted to try again and planned to leave tomorrow.
They knew it would be a major undertaking, as in those days an impenetrable rainforest wilderness stretched between Mt Wellington and the Snug Tiers, accentuated by high mountain ridges (Vinces Saddle) and deep valleys, and it would not be until the early 1830s that a very primitive bridle road could be opened between the two districts.
The track remained a source of much inconvenience and agitation, but it was not before the early 1870s that a proper road finally came into use and even today one does not have to wander far from the modern roads in this area to appreciate the rugged nature of the terrain.
Governor Collins also had his problems that day. Following the difficulties with the military and the convicts at Risdon Cove earlier that month he soon discovered that there were no less than six non-commissioned officers, and what with several soldiers already receiving punishment or being on their way to Sydney for that purpose, there were simply not enough ranks to provide sentry duties.
Collins therefore suggested to Lieutenant Moore to reduce some of the corporals to the ranks, and to put Moore's private servant -- also a soldier -- back to active duties. This got the hackles up of Lieutenant Moore, who objected that for reasons of his personal safety alone it was essential to maintain this man on his current duties as a personal servant.
A compromise solution was eventually worked out whereby the two sergeants were also to perform corporal duties, while Lieutenant Bowen lost one of his two guards who was pressed into duty at the Door of the Guard-House, as the Prisoners place their Dependence on finding the Guards asleep . . .(!)
On a more positive note, Collins received good reports about the inspection of the clothing worn by the convicts yesterday, and as a result announced that the convicts were to go to the government stores on Hunters Island to receive a new outfit, each consisting of two shirts, one jacket, one waistcoat, one pair of breeches (short trousers tied below the knees), one pair of trousers, two pairs of socks, one pair of shoes and a flannel cap, altogether an outfit that had to last them again for the next six months (including the coming winter!).
(Modern readers who are missing items of underwear in this list are quite correct; the fashion of earlier times did not know underwear as we know it today, and especially for the prisoners the distinction between what was worn on the skin and what was not was a fairly vague one -- if there was anything to wear at all underneath their blue jacket and trousers.)

 

 

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 2 May 2004, page 20

 

Going gets tough in Huon forest

 

2 May 1804

Humphrey and Brown start off on their expedition to reach the Huon River overland, which they had seen a few weeks ago from the top of the mountain.
After much hard work through very dense forest they finally reached the banks of the Huon, from where they “traced it much higher than any who had been here before us”. They admired the scenery and commented once again in amazement on the enormous size of trees in the area which at that time still included rich stands of pine along the Huon River -- hence the name of this wood.
The weather was wet and cold and the prospect of having to return to Hobart -- battling again through the same dense forests -- dismayed them greatly, and in the end they decided to work their way back by going due east via the Margate and Kingston areas.
These were drier with more open types of vegetation.
Brown had been there only a fortnight before, and from here knew his way back to the settlement, where they returned, cold, wet and hungry, on Wednesday May 16.
During the afternoon of that day, Knopwood met up with Governor Collins and Dr Bowden, and during the conversation the subject of the troublesome settler John Hartley cropped up.
Hartley was still at Risdon Cove but had lately been ill; Mountgarret had been attending him but in the end consulted his colleague Bowden about Hartley's case. Knowing the manner in which Hartley -- a difficult and quarrelsome man at the best of times -- would use any excuse to create problems, Collins requested Dr Bowden go
to Risdon Cove and have a look at him.
(After having examined him, Bowden later reported that Hartley had done his utmost to give an impression of being quite ill, a condition which he blamed on “some ill-treatment which he suffered during his journey on board the Ocean between England and Port Phillip”.
Knowing Hartley's reputation for claiming compensation on the slightest pretext, Bowden carefully prescribed a diet of rice and wine -- sent promptly to him the next day from the Government Store, and on another visit some time later found Hartley “much better”. (After the very privileged prescription of eight pounds of rice and two gallons of sherry, he would!).
Bowden wryly recollected later that during his perceived “illness”, Hartley received “all the possible medical care that the place at that time could afford”.

 

 

The Mercury

Monday 3 May 2004, page 19

 

Aboriginal Deaths at Risdon

 

3 May 1804

An incident takes place at Risdon Cove when a group of Aborigines unexpectedly attempted to move past and through the settlement. Many in the camp were frightened by this unfamiliar spectacle; they thought that it was an attack on them, and Lieutenant Moore -- in the absence of Lieutenant Bowen who was still absent taking his recalcitrant prisoners to a distant island -- ordered one of the carronades to be fired to frighten the intruders off.
The Aborigines fled via a nearby valley into the bush; some soldiers gave chase and used their firearms, and in the end a few of the visitors are found dead.
The report of the carronade was heard on the other side of the river at 2pm, causing Governor Collins to send somebody to find out what is going on.
Knowing full well the specific wishes of both Governor King and Governor Collins not to harm the natives, Lieutenant Moore and Mountgarret may probably have been exaggerating the perceived danger when Dr Mountgarret (who, according to Fawkner, had greatly panicked and had urged Moore to fire at the visitors) later that day writes a brief message to Knopwood telling him that they were confronted by not less than five or six hundred natives.
NOTE: Modern knowledge of the Aboriginal tribes in Tasmania puts the total population of Aborigines in Tasmania at that time as perhaps not more than about 4-6000, and their number in the whole of the Derwent area somewhere in the order of a few hundred.
The local Aborigines knew about the presence of the strangers and normally stayed well away from them, and the visitors were therefore probably a more distant group of Aborigines who happened to wander through the valley. They knew nothing about the presence of English settlers at Risdon, and were just as astonished to find these strange white-coloured people as the soldiers were when they were suddenly confronted by a large group of Aborigines, complete with their wives and children, and carrying waddies and spears.
Of course, when the confrontation took place, nobody would have taken an accurate count of their number. Later, those who had a responsibility in the matter probably found it in their interest to make this number considerable, while those not having such interests shrugged the matter off as only a few natives.
Later, Lieutenant Moore reported to Governor Collins that two Aborigines had been killed, while in a separate letter from Dr Mountgarret to Knopwood he invited him to come over, and also offered facilities to D. Matthew Bowden to be present at an intended dissection of a male corpse held for that purpose.
While the very idea of doing that may seem bizarre to us today, it does indicate a typical 18th century medical curiosity in anything not familiar to the scientific knowledge of the day. In this case the background being the then still lingering suspicion that the internal body of a savage might perhaps not be entirely the same as that of a white-coloured person. (At earlier occasions, the Aborigines themselves had also displayed similar interests in the physical and genital characteristics of their strangely coloured visitors.)
Although Dr Bowden did visit Risdon Cove a few days later on other business there is no indication that he made use of this offer.
Just what happened after that is not recorded in the surviving correspondence of the time, although during the Inquiry of 1830 of the Risdon Cove incident, ex-convict Edward White referred to this matter again when he claimed that Dr Mountgarret had collected some of their bones [which] were sent in two casks to Port Jackson by Dr Mountgarret.

NOTE: To what extent any credence can be given to the accuracy of this evidence is uncertain, especially as a large quantity of salt would have been needed for preservation purposes -- a commodity which was extremely scarce just then. Also Governor Collins would have been most unlikely to have allowed for anything of this nature to occur.
Also, during the confusion a 2-year-old small native boy became separated from his parents (Mountgarret later notes that his parents were among the few aborigines who had been killed). He is now being cared for at the settlement, and according to the mores of the times it is assumed that Knopwood may like to baptise this child.
Later that evening Lieutenant Moore arrived in Sullivans Cove to report to Collins, who in view of the seriousness with which he viewed this event requested him to write a formal eyewitness report for submission to Governor King in Sydney.
While with Collins, Moore also raised the matter of the growing food shortage at Risdon Cove. At the time of his arrival at Risdon Cove, Collins had given instruction to put the settlement back onto full rations. That instruction had been thankfully complied with, but as a result the store of the settlement was now close to empty.
Collins saw no problems with that request and promised that he would issue instructions to the stores on Hunter Island to have the necessary rations sent to Risdon.
Moore then went on to Knopwood's tent, probably to further elaborate on some of the presumed dangers that the settlers at Risdon Cove had been facing that day.

 

 

 

The Mercury

Tuesday 4 May 2004, page 10

 

Deathly silence

 

4 May 1804

Judging from the embarrassed reaction of Knopwood, nobody at Sullivans Cove appears to be very keen to inspect the remaining evidence of the incident at Risdon.
Suddenly, there seems to be no boat available to ferry anybody across, and for the next few days there is no official reaction from the Sullivans Cove settlement on the matter.

 

 

The Mercury

Wednesday 5 May 2004, page 25

 

Sheep for the settlers

 

5 May 1804

Following the request by Lieutenant Moore a supply of food is sent to Risdon Cove, enough for one month.
Seemingly unperturbed by the earlier incident with the Aborigines, settlers Clark and Birt clearly have no problem with the idea of staying on at Risdon Cove, especially as they now have Cropped their Ground, and are desirous of remaining there until they have reaped the Fruit of their Labours.
Governor Collins is quite happy with that, and as a further encouragement sent them each two ewes, all expected to lamb in the near future. However, both Birt and Clark were told that all the present and new sheep are and would remain government property until the third generation, and for this reason would be marked as being public property.
Interestingly, Collins never formally announced the (unrecorded) adoption of the name Hobart Town to the people, unless we may accept the use of this name in today's parole book as an indication that the issue had now been settled.
Whatever the case was, it took some time before others also began using this name. Knopwood, for instance, took a fortnight before a new entry into his diary commenced with the line Remarks Hobart Town Camp.

 

 

The Mercury

Thursday 6 May 2004, page 16

 

Bowen returns from the Huon

 

6 May 1804

The weather that morning was so wet that the divine service had to be cancelled, giving all and sundry more time to spend on the building of their huts and other amenities.
During the day, the whaleboat with Lieutenant Bowen on board returned from his exploration of the Huon River, while another arrival was the Nancy from Sydney with despatches on board for Governor Collins.
A small sloop of only 20 tonnes, it had taken the Nancy nearly seven weeks to make the journey from Sydney to the Derwent and it seemed to have endured some pretty foul weather on the way as its sails required extensive repairs after arrival. For this, the materials had to be released from the local meagre supplies in the settlement store, forcing Collins later to ask Governor King to have these materials (canvas and twine) replaced, as he also had his own boats to worry about -- a sure indication of the extreme scarcity of basic materials that governed the life of the early settlers.
In one of the despatches from Sydney reaching Collins that day he is told that the Lady Barlow will be sent to the Derwent with a load of Bengal cattle for breeding purposes. Collins is very pleased with this news; he is familiar with the cattle and hopes to improve the Breed considerably by a cross with a very fine young Cape Bull which he is still to receive from Port Phillip in the Ocean.
This advance notice of the arrival of this stock is welcomed, as it gave him time for the further preparation at the Government Farm of a Shed and an Enclosure of several Acres of Ground for the reception of this Cattle.

 

 

The Mercury

Friday 7 May 2004, page 18

 

Aboriginal deaths disputed

 

7 May 1804

Knopwood had a meeting with the Lt. Governor respecting my garden by the house, the issue being that Knopwood, like several other senior officers, had asked Collins for a parcel of land on which to build a cottage.
His choice had fallen on some bushland fronting onto today's Salamanca Place, but the paperwork connected with Collins's permission had been a bit slow so he saw the Governor in the morning in an effort to speed things up.
Collins is quite happy with Knopwood's choice, calls in his clerk Shipman (also still working as an assistant to surveyor Harris), tells him what is required, and as a result that same afternoon Mr Shipman measured the ground.

NOTE: Precisely what went on during this survey of what was in effect the setting out of a land grant to Knopwood remains vague, but during the later part of his life Knopwood had endless trouble with the title to this land. One reason was that the actual enclosed area was in fact much larger than what his title indicated -- some of it even including land which is nowadays part of the military barracks higher up on the hill.
One of the boundaries of this property adjoined the south-eastern boundary of St Davids Park, one of the few visible items of evidence still surviving from this early period of settlement. Another boundary coincided with what nowadays is Montpelier Retreat.
Due to his fondness for the good life, Knopwood was in later years forced to borrow money on his title to Cottage Green and its surrounding land.
Towards the end of his life he was virtually dispossessed of his land by Governor Arthur, who used the dubious assistance of a Hobart lawyer to act as a straw man to gain ownership of Knopwood's land for a price which did not take into account the planned improvements right in front of the property (the construction of a roadway now called Salamanca Place).
This road would have increased the value of Knopwood's property considerably -- a piece of information artfully kept hidden from the elderly chaplain, who by then was living in poverty in faraway Rokeby.
AT Risdon Cove, Lieutenant Moore settled down to write his formal report on the events of last Thursday, and one cannot help but gain the impression from his letter that he is exaggerating the events to justify his actions, but even then he can only report the actual death of two Aborigines.

NOTE: The number of deaths at Risdon Cove has always been a matter of dispute. A later letter by Dr Mountgarret mentioned that three Aboriginals had been killed, a number also used later by Governor Collins, an officer unlikely to have accepted this or any other number if he had known it to be incorrect.
In later years, the incident continued to cause much indignant and emotional gossip; but as with all gossip, the facts were slowly embellished with unlikely details (see for instance the version of Evans below), and by the time the inquiry into this incident was being held by the Government in 1830 it is reasonable to suspect that the evidence then presented would have been less than entirely reliable.
As mentioned, the whole affair seems to have been met with general disapproval within the Hobart Town community.
A year later W.C. Wentworth, a Sydney lawyer who visited Hobart Town in 1810 (and would have heard of the story then), put the blame squarely on Lieutenant Moore, who directed a discharge of grape and canister [towards] a large body [of natives] who were approaching, as he imagined, with hostile designs, but as it has since been believed with much greater probability, merely from motives of curiosity and friendship.
However, as time went by the story became more embellished, as was evident when around 1820 a Tasmanian surveyor, G.W. Evans, expressed a similar but rather more fanciful opinion: As they approached [the camp] they were distinctly heard to sing, each man having in his hand a green bough, a well-known emblem of peace among savage tribes. Either their signals of amity were not well understood, or their numbers too great to be trusted: it is otherwise impossible to conceive that a British officer would have had recourse to so harsh and cruel a measure.
In the end it was the Tasmanian historian James B. Walker who summed it up well when he wrote (October 1889) that: It seems clear that the natives had no hostile intention in their visit. Everything suggests that they were a party coming from the east, probably the Oyster Bay tribe, engaged on a hunting expedition, and that they were [even] more astonished than the English on coming into contact with them. The fact that they had their women and children with them is perfectly conclusive proof that no attack was contemplated.
We can easily understand how terrified the Risdon people must have been with this sudden [appearance] of a horde of excited savages, yelling and gesticulating. Utterly ignorant of their custom, unable to understand them or to make themselves understood, the panic of the English convinced that the natives had collected in force to kill them was natural enough. The soldiers no doubt shared this general scare, and were probably quite inclined to take pot shots at the black savages.
But Lt. Moore ought not to have lost his head. He, at least, should have grasped the situation and restrained his men. A little more presence of mind on his part [together with] the exercise of a little tact and forbearance, and a collision would have been avoided.
But the harm had been done, as it became clear a few days later from the menacing attitude of some Aborigines towards a group of men on the eastern shore of the Derwent while gathering shells for the making of lime, a clear signal that the mood of at least some of the Aborigines in the area had changed.
Meanwhile, Governor King's instructions regarding Lieutenant Bowen and Risdon Cove had also arrived in the Nancy among the other official correspondence, and after pondering the question of how to best handle this matter, Collins sent a note to Risdon for Lieutenant Bowen and Lieutenant Moore, inviting them for a meeting at his house tomorrow.

 

 

The Mercury

Saturday 8 May 2004, page 24

 

Risdon Cove wind down begins

 

8 May 1804

The autumn weather seems to have come to an end when the settlement woke up to a very sharp frost, reminding all and sundry that winter is at their doorstep.
During the morning Lieutenant Bowen and Lieutenant Moore arrived for the meeting with Governor Collins who firmly told them that, according to instruction he has received from Governor King in Sydney, he was to formally take over the command of the Risdon settlement from that moment onward, but then diplomatically delegated the [daily] direction of the said Settlement until further notice to Lt. Bowen. However, being at present responsible for three settlements all several miles apart, Collins made it quite clear that he wanted to close the Risdon Cove settlement down as soon as possible.
Lieutenant Bowen and all the others at Risdon Cove under his command were to return to Sydney on the Ocean after its return from Port Phillip, and they were also firmly told that arrangements had already been made with Captain Mertho for their own accommodation on the ship as well as all the Risdon soldiers and convicts who would be returned to Sydney at the same time.
To facilitate the closing down of the settlement, Bowen was also asked to provide Collins with a list of all the people at Risdon, their trade etc, plus an inventory of the public stores at the settlement prior to their transfer to the stores at Sullivans Cove. (Unfortunately, no paperwork on these matters has come to light, making it impossible to determine with certainty the names of all who at that time were living at the Risdon Cove settlement and just what sort of an inventory they had at Risdon.)
They then discussed what to do with settlers Clark and William Birt. Both men had been promised to receive a grant of 200 acres each (80ha), but Collins argued that this would not be fair to the settlers who came with him and who had only been promised the normal allocation of 100 acres (40ha) each. But neither Birt or Clark seemed to have what it takes to be a good farmer and there was the distinct possibility that both in the end would want to return to Sydney, and so that matter was left in abeyance.
In the end, Birt and his family did indeed return to Sydney on the Ocean, but Richard Clark and his wife were shortly after transferred to the Collins settlement as a supervisor of the masons or, in modern language, the foreman of the building gang.
However, what with the food situation as is was, Clark did want to hold on to his paddocks at Risdon Cove and there are indications that he later had the satisfaction of reaping the harvest from his land.
Meanwhile, the distribution of rations for the officers was to be better (read: stricter) organised. From today onward their personal servants were to call in at the government store every Monday morning at 10am to take delivery of these rations. (Of course, this arrangement also had the benefit of making these rations as issued -- including spirits etc -- more private and away from the prying eyes of everyone else).
Finally, the old arrangement that work in the settlement would cease at sunset became somewhat impractical (what with the sun setting early behind the mountain anyway and the onset of much cooler weather) and a new arrangement is made: The bell, for leaving off work in the evening, will ring in future when the drum beats for the retreat.
Just what that time was is not recorded, but most probably was at the onset of darkness, around 5pm.
Meanwhile, out in the bush, Mr Brown, Mr Humphrey and their servants John Porter and a McGlauchlan (from Risdon Cove?) finally reached the banks of the Huon River. The weather was not helpful; it rained most of the time, while only the day before Brown recorded the conditions of the night just spent out in the open as Frost, Ice thickness of sixpence. They seem to have spent some time exploring the Huonville area as far as the present Glen Huon district, and possibly as far downstream as Cradoc.

 

 

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 9 May 2004, page 61

 

A walk with a gun

 

9 May 1804

During the morning, Dr Mountgarret visited the settlement at Sullivans Cove to see Knopwood, most likely to discus with this influential parson the events of the past few days, and to give him his version of these events.
Knopwood hears him politely but did not seem to express an opinion; he clearly got rid of his visitor again fairly soon, as that same afternoon he went “for a walk with my gun”.

 

 

The Mercury

Monday 10 May 2004, page 6

 

Risdon timber demand

 

10 May 1804

About this time, the removal of the Public Stores from Risdon Cove to Hobart took place, but on Collins' specific instructions they left the two carronades with their ammunition, plus some tools to keep the Camp Gang at the settlement occupied.
Clearly, the settlement at Risdon Cove was perceived as coming to an end, and in any case, any useful building materials and cut timber still in store at Risdon was desperately needed at Sullivans Cove.
Because of this, the taking down of any unused huts (and among them possibly still a number of prefabricated tent huts) at Risdon could also be expected, and Collins is clearly working towards that end.
Lieutenant Bowen, Mountgarret and Wilson (the latter still in charge of the store at Risdon Cove) came to the camp for a dinner with Lieutenant Lord, after which Bowen stayed the night with Knopwood.
One of the things they had on their mind was the christening of the native boy, a perfectly natural action for these people brought up in the Christian morality of the late 18th century.
They discussed it and then decided that tomorrow was as good a day as any to do so, while it also would give Knopwood a chance to inspect more closely the scene of the events a week ago.

 

 

The Mercury

Wednesday 12 May 2004, page 47

 

Death toll at Risdon

 

12 May 1804

The Reverend Knopwood, Lieutenant Bowen and Lieutenant Lord had gone to Risdon Cove yesterday, where Knopwood formally baptised the 2-year-old native boy, naively naming him Robert Hobart May. (From an earlier letter by Mountgarret it would seem that two of the Aborigines killed a few days ago had been the parents of this child, perhaps suggesting that a feeling of guilt and subsequent responsibility for the child may have been a possible reason for their action).
Today, still at Risdon, Knopwood later noted in his diary that in the afternoon we took a walk to see where the natives attacked the camp and the settlers. Clearly, the events of last week were still very much in their mind; Knopwood will have asked around just what did happen, and later they wandered about in and near the settlement to retrace the course of events.

NOTE: Whatever the motives were for what occurred at Risdon Cove on May 3 1804, the Hobart Town community was clearly not impressed with the fact that it had happened at all. It resulted in much indignant talk and gossip about these events, and the incident later being added to the subjects on which a Inquiry into the Military Operations Against the Aborigines of Tasmania was held in 1830.
This committee heard four witnesses about the incident at Risdon Cove, only one of whom, a convict by the name of Edward White, had actually been there when the confrontation took place. (To what extent he had witnessed all that occurred was not revealed.) Knopwood, although not an eye witness, had made his own investigations a few days later; another two who also gave evidence, William Stocker and Robert Evans, were that day on the other side of the river and much of their evidence seems to reflect the later gossip rather than the precise testimony of eye witnesses.
The exact purpose of the presence of the visitors remains unclear. Several sources claim that the Aborigines were hunting kangaroos, but later and more fanciful suggestions that the visitors were gathering for the purpose of holding a corroboree cannot be substantiated from contemporary evidence. However, all later comments agreed on one thing: the behaviour of the visitors was peaceful, and that there were no obvious hostile intentions.
From what can be deduced from the 1830 evidence and the earlier correspondence of 1804, the first encounter seems to have been on the river flat near the modern Risdon Jail and the Shones Corner traffic intersection, where the visitors had met up with Lieutenant Moore's servant who was carrying home a few kangaroos which he had shot earlier that day. Being an essential source of food to them the Aborigines forcefully took one from him, an action which this man took as an attack and hurried back to the camp to report to his master what had just happened.
Taking a few soldiers with him, Moore then went to see for himself just what was going on, and later reported that judging from their appearance and numbers I thought them to be very far from being friendly. Meanwhile, I was also informed that some of them were beating Birt, the settler, at his farm. I then dispatched two Soldiers to his assistance, with orders not to fire if they could avoid it. They did, however, find it necessary to do so, and one was killed on the Spot, and another found Dead in the Valley. (Lieutenant Moore, May 7, 1804).
(These and other comments about Birt suggest that this settler had cleared and vegetated a parcel of land on the fertile river flat of the Risdon Creek, some distance away from the settlement itself. This is further supported by the remark of Moore that he had to send some soldiers to Burk's hut to find out just what went on there, the distance being out of sight and too far to shout.)
Moore then returned to the settlement on the hill, from where they watched the group of Aborigines split up into two parties; one followed the northern bank of the Risdon Creek, where after a short distance they would have come face-to-face with the soldiers guarding the store on the bank of the creek. (This may have been somewhere near the site of the present monument; no details are known of any conflict here, although some older members of the tribe were observed making spears).
The westward movement of the others higher up on the hill however brought them directly into the settlement itself where, at the panicking suggestion of an apparently very frightened Dr Mountgarret (John Pascoe Fawkner quotes him as having urged Lieutenant Moore to shoot the black devils down) and an equally frightened Martha Hayes (then with a baby only a few days old), Lieutenant Moore gave the order to fire a carronade to intimidate them. (This was the report which was heard at Sullivans Cove).
The visitors indeed took fright and fled into a nearby gully, after which Mr Mountgarret with some Soldiers and Prisoners followed them Some distance up the Valley, and had reason to suppose more were wounded, as one was seen to be taken away bleeding (Lieutenant Moore, May 7, 1804).
The exact number of deaths remains unclear. In a report of a few days later, Moore mentioned the death of two Aborigines; they had been shot near the hut of settler Birt and afterwards identified as the parents of a small boy, while Mountgarret added a third male person to this list. In a subsequent report by Governor Collins to Governor King about the incident he also used this number: three Natives were Killed on the Spot, although Knopwood at the Inquiry of 1830 said that he supposed five or six (If so, there is no other evidence to corroborate this figure).
The only actual eye witness before the committee was an Edward White -- a former convict from Risdon Cove -- who stated that a great many of the Natives [were] slaughtered or wounded, but when pressed for details had no idea how many. Although many earlier and later commentators all solemnly agreed that it was . . . our people who went from the camp to attack the natives, the committee in its final summing up was not entirely sure about who originated an aggression.
In view of all this, the extent to which any of the 1830 evidence about the number of Aborigines killed in May 1804 may be accepted as correct remains uncertain, a problem which the committee itself already recognised when it concluded that: . . . the numbers slain . . . have been estimated as high as 50, but then added, significantly, that although the Committee, [judging from] the ease with which [these] numbers (had a tendency during the Inquiry to be) magnified, as well as from other statements contradictory to the above, (the Members of the Committee) are induced to hope that this estimate is greatly overrated.
In other words, the members of the committee recognised an inclination by some witnesses to exaggerate the number killed without being able to base them on coherent evidence, and therefore hesitated to accept any of the mentioned numbers of people killed as gospel truth.
Fawkner, on the other hand, had no such inhibitions when some 60 years later he wrote about the same occurrence and probably reflected the wild and colourful rumours which soon would have swept the community on the western shore of the Derwent when he recalled that the soldiers actually fired upon the unarmed Aborigines while engaged in dancing, and that men, women and children were fired upon. It was later said that not less than fifty were shot down, while some others crawled away, only to die a lingering death in the woods. About thirty bodies were later found, and burnt or buried at the choice of those sent to clear the air of the smell -- a highly sensational account for which there is not a shred of any other evidence to support it.
It should be remembered that Fawkner was only a young boy when it happened and certainly did not witness any of the events at Risdon Cove in person. He only would have repeated what his memory told him that he had heard at that time, while his use of the figure of 50 tends to suggest that he aided his memory with a copy of the findings of the Committee of Inquiry, published by the British Parliament in 1831 -- as Fawkner did with some other subjects and statistics he wrote about.
That shots were fired is beyond question, but any number of deaths as stated in the evidence given to the committee or mentioned in earlier rumours must be looked at with many reservations. There is no evidence on what effect the firing of the carronade had other than a loud bang, while as far as the soldiers were concerned their lack of professionalism, the legendary inefficiency of the old flint-lock front-end loaders in use at that time, the time it would have taken to reload these old weapons (at least one minute -- more under difficult circumstances), and the speed with which the frightened visitors would have fled after the sound of the first few shots makes the actual number of Aborigines they would have been able to shoot very problematic indeed.

 

 

The Mercury

Thursday 13 May 2004, page 27

 

Collins worried by Aboriginal blunders

 

13 May 1804

Being a Sunday, Lieutenant Bowen and the Reverend Knopwood returned to Sullivans Cove early in the morning for Knopwood to perform Divine Service. Curious for more details about the incident the week before last, Governor Collins then invited Knopwood and Bowen to dine with him that afternoon. Naturally, the talk around the table drifts onto the visit of Knopwood to Risdon Cove a few days ago, and during the discussion the subject of the christening of the Aboriginal boy last Friday crops up.
Collins was very much upset to discover that This Child . . . has been baptised by our Chaplain without my knowledge or Consent having been asked, and also somehow got the (seemingly not correct) impression that Mountgarret wished to take this Native Boy back with him to England. He knew that this was very much against the policy of the Government, and angrily directed that the boy be returned to his own people, partly for the boy's own sake and partly in order to retain good relations with the Aborigines.
When writing about this matter to Governor King the next day, Collins once again expressed his abhorrence of the whole affair, because it is was bound to create much ill will among the indiscriminating Savages around them and would encourage them to revenge the Death of their Companions upon those who had no share in the Attack. But I shall make a Point, if it is at all in my power, of doing away with the Evil Impression which by this and a former Affair they may have received of our dispositions towards them. (The former Affair he is alluding to may have been the case when some weeks ago another small boy had been caught by his men, and kept locked up for a short while).
He then went on to say that he had instructed Lieutenant Bowen to see to it that the child be returned to any Party of Natives that might be seen in the neighbourhood of Risdon Cove because he thinks that they may otherwise think that we had destroyed it.
In a later reply, Governor King very much agreed with Collins' attitude towards what happened. Expressing his regrets about the unfortunate Event at Risdon Cove, he hoped that the measures you had in contemplation to gain their Confidence have had success. I [also agree with you that] no native should be sent to England, as such measures are contrary to the wish of the Government.
These Government policies were very clear; Lord Hobart had specifically instructed Collins that You are to endeavour by every means in your power to make contact with the natives, to gain their confidence, and to instruct all persons under your Government to live in friendship and kindness with them. And if anyone shall commit any act of violence against them or wantonly hinder them in the exercise of their several occupations, you are to bring such offenders to punishment according to the degree of their offence.
That day a prisoner by the name of William Peale died. A middle-aged man from Yorkshire, he had been sentenced to death for stealing one ewe and one lamb.
While the official cause of his death was not recorded, the irregular and often inappropriate food issued to the convicts in combination with respiratory problems and in particular pneumonia, caused by insufficient clothing and working in cold and wet weather conditions, were usually the main causes of death of convicts. (Several decades later, the cause of death of a prisoner at Port Arthur usually had similar causes, and for quite similar reasons.)

 

 

The Mercury

Saturday 15 May 2004, page 22

 

Fly in the ointment

 

15 May 1804

Hartley, a free settler who came with Governor Collins from Port Phillip to Risdon, apparently still lives -- without permission and quite contrary to instructions -- at Risdon Cove and now wants to build a boat. Collins does not trust Hartley and reminds him that no boats are permitted to be built without the specific approval of Governor King.
Because the prisoners know that the only chance of escape is over water, Government policy is that boats not in use are to be securely locked to a mooring chain and constantly guarded by a Centinel. Collins is also in the process of having a boathouse erected on Hunters Island in which the boats will be put away and locked up at night, thus making it far more difficult for anyone to make off with a boat
under the cover of darkness.
Furthermore, no private person -- and that includes even the free settlers -- is permitted to have or make boats without specific Government approval. (It would be quite a number of years before this regulation first was to be relaxed, and then quietly dropped.)
When writing to Governor King about this matter, Collins warns him that I know that Hartley came out with government sanction to engage in the Seal Fishery, but do believe that he should be limited to that only; he should also be tied down by severe Prohibitions and Penalties not to Smuggle or carry on any Trade whatsoever with any Vessel or Vessels which may be in port here. With this oblique warning, Governor King certainly would have got the message.

NOTE: Every community has its recognised troublemaker, and Hartley is the one here.
During the early years of settlement in Australia, few settlers managed to create more problems, arguments, administrative paperwork and generally much hot air than Hartley ever did. Why Collins permitted Hartley to stay at Risdon Cove, notwithstanding his formal disapproval is not clear, but the probable reason was that Collins knew full well that Hartley's options at Risdon would be quite limited and rather saw him isolated there rather than going about and fermenting trouble within his own settlement.
Collins already had told him a few weeks ago that he would not be allowed to stay at Risdon for whatever reason, whereupon Hartley began to claim extravagant damages for his investments there, first from Collins, then from Governor King.
When some time afterwards Hartley returned to London to seek redress “from the British Government” for all the perceived wrongdoings to him from the hands of Governor King and Governor Collins, it was in the end Governor King who, with a sigh of great relief, bundled the considerable file of papers on Hartley together and sent the whole lot off to London for the bureaucracy there to sort it all out.
But London also soon got the size of him and in order to get him out of the way mollified Hartley with vague promises for an appointment in Sydney. He fell for that and returned to Sydney, again ready to create still more trouble.

 

 

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 16 May 2004, page 21

 

Frost “thick as sixpence”

 

16 May 1804

Robert Brown (1773-1858) began his scientific studies as a medical student at the Edinburgh University, but did not take a degree in this field as by that time he had developed an interest in botany.
Sir Joseph Banks obtained him the position of naturalist on the Flinders exploration around the Australian continent, enabling Brown to gain a broad overall introduction into the coastal flora of Australia.
When the news of the arrival of the Collins expedition became known in Sydney he travelled in the Lady Nelson to join them at Port Phillip.
As this ship on her journey there travelled via northern Tasmania, he was a member of the party which inspected the harbour of Port Dalrymple and the Tamar River, visited the settlement at Port Phillip and then stayed with the Collins expedition at the Derwent during the first five months of the settlement in 1804.
Brown returned to England the next year to spend much of the rest of his life as the keeper of the library of Sir Joseph Banks and in various functions within the Linnean Society.
His several publications (and especially his Prodomus, a major work on the Australian flora) were signify cant milestones in the establishment of botany as a scientific discipline.
His physical stamina was incredible, and he managed to cram an enormous amount of bush bashing into the relatively short period of five months while he was here.
Even while Collins was still landing his people on the shore of Sullivans Cove, Brown already climbed to the top of Mt Wellington, which he did several more times.
He also made several ‘excursions’ around the mountain, one to North West Bay, and one in the company of Humphrey to the Huon River.
On the expedition to the Huon Valley he said he woke up one morning covered with frost “the thickness of a sixpence”. 

Naturally, all this happened long before the advent of modern bush walking gear.

 

 

Native boy shows mettle

 

16 May 1804

Lt Bowen, Mr Wilson and Dr Mountgarret arrive at Sullivans Cove with the “native boy” to show him to Governor Collins, probably in an effort to make him change his mind.
But Collins, remembering the fiasco of sending the Sydney Aboriginal Bennelong to London, rejected the idea out of hand, and told them once more to return the boy to his own people.
For some unknown reason Collins' instructions were not complied with; after the return of the Ocean to Sydney in August, a story about the boy appeared in the Sydney Gazette, assuring its readers that “the little captive was humanely received and cherished, and is at this time under the protection of a Gentleman of the Settlement at Sullivans Cove.

The little creature was very fond of kangaroo flesh, but would at first only receive it after it had been scorched upon the cinders; it is now becoming nicer in the choice of food, and has consequently resigned a preference to the above mode of cookery.

He is remarkably active and tractable, manages a stick, and even handles a spear with surprising agility, and does not in any degree appear susceptible of fear or apprehension; but on the contrary, opposes with frankness every imagined danger.

Against the attack of a dog he not only defends himself with a stick, but in turn becomes the assailant.”
A year later the name of the boy crops up once more as one of those who were inoculated, indicating that at that time he was still about in the Hobart Town settlement.
After that date, however, his existence vanishes from the records.
During the day, botanist Robert Brown and the geologist Humphrey returned from their 16-day expedition overland to the Huon River.
Brown had attempted this route before but had been defeated by the thick virgin forests in the present Longley and Grove areas.
This time, and in the company of the geologist Mr Humphrey, the expedition had been more successful although the going had been very hard, very cold and very wet.
In the settlement they meet Lt Bowen, Wilson and Mountgarret, who also had had their adventures over the past few days.
There was thus much to talk about, and in the end they all ended up in the tent of Lt Lord for dinner and, no doubt, to talk about the recent experiences of all those present.
It got late, and Bowen once again stayed overnight with Knopwood in his tent.

 

 

The Mercury

Monday 17 May 2004, page 10

 

17 May 1804

The next morning, Knopwood shares his breakfast with Lt.Bowen, Mr. Wilson, Lt. Lord and the geologist Humphrey, after which everyone went their own way.

 

 

The Mercury

Tuesday 18 May 2004, page 10

 

Nancy off on a seal hunt

 

18 May 1804

With its sails repaired again, the Nancy sails for King Island for a seal-catching expedition. More rain.

 

 

The Mercury

Wednesday 19 May 2004, page 31

 

Crackdown on wharf security

 

19 May 1804

The new system of handing out the weekly rations of food and other supplies from the quartermaster's tents on Hunter Island (see April 2) seems to have run into some problems. Clearly, there are still too many people milling about on the island for a variety of reasons at any one time or are simply hanging about (the island was also used now as a landing place of goods and passengers from ships arriving and leaving the port).
The presence of all these people obviously endangered the security of the goods (and weaponry!) stored on the island, and new rules are issued. From now onward only one person at a time may enter the tents from which the stores are issued, and the rest of the queue has to wait on the camp side of the guard tent at the entrance of the island.
Furthermore, whenever a docket is signed for the issue of goods from the public stores this form is to be handed to the Assistant Deputy Commissary, and the applicant is to come back the next day to collect the requested items.
And as far as the use of the wharf on the island is concerned, people are told not to hang about there. Even the boat crews were not to stay upon the Island longer than the business which took them may require.
The weather also helped to discourage this growing habit. Foul weather still persists and even late that afternoon the Nancy, which left the cove yesterday, could still be seen down the river trying very hard to work her way into open waters.

 

 

The Mercury

Thursday 20 May 2004, page 21

 

Collins goes to church

 

20 May 1804

Knopwood makes a special note in his diary that today Governor Collins attended Divine service -- suggesting that he did not always do so?

 

 

The Mercury

Friday 21 May 2004, page 18

 

Married couple reunited

 

21 May 1804

Today, four more Risdon Cove convicts are moved to Hobart Town to work and their behaviour was such that all of them, for one reason or another, were permitted to stay on. One of these four was a woman, a Mary Lawler, who after a long separation was finally allowed to join her husband again. Michael Lawler was a convict who had come out with Governor Collins.

NOTE: Irish couple James and Mary Lawler had been tried and sentenced in 1802. The wife had been transported to Sydney while the husband somehow managed to be among those sent out with Collins. It may have been sheer coincidence that the two should hear of each other while both were in the Derwent and after the appropriate requests were made, Mary Lawler was among the first prisoners to be transferred from Risdon Cove to the settlement at Sullivans Cove.
Collins would happily have approved, partly because he believed very much in the steadying influence of the married couples in his settlement, and also because both were known to be familiar with gardening. In other words they knew how to work the vegetable gardens, fruit trees and the like -- skills all badly needed in Hobart Town.
The Lawlers became industrious rural people with their own 16ha farm near Rokeby, where they successfully grew wheat and vegetables, and later even employed other convicts as labourers on their farm.
The botanist Robert Brown is by now living at Risdon Cove, using a room in Mountgarret's cottage. Making use of the boat transporting the convicts from Risdon to Sullivans Cove he joined them, and then dropped in at Knopwood's tent with an invitation for him to be the guest of the officers at Risdon Cove for a few nights.
Knopwood was very pleased with this invitation, and so an arrangement was made for him and surveyor Harris to visit Risdon tomorrow.

 

 

The Mercury

Saturday 22 May 2004, page 17

 

Dining at Risdon Cove

 

22 May 1804

During the morning, Knopwood and Surveyor Harris walked to Prince of Wales Bay, where a boat ferried them across to the Risdon settlement.
They dined with Lieutenant Moore, Lieutenant Bowen and Wilson, after which Knopwood stayed for the night as the guest of Bowen.
(In his diary notes, Knopwood did not make any mention of Bowen's partner Martha Hayes, who had a new born baby.)
That day in the Hobart camp a prisoner by the name of Nicholas Piroelle died, and for some unknown reason wild rumours began to circulate within the small community that he might have been poisoned.

 

 

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 23 May 2004, page 52

 

Focus still on Risdon

 

23 May 1804

Knopwood still enjoyed himself at Risdon, but at the same time kept a sharp eye on what went on there.
Dr Mountgarret accompanied Mr Brown, the botanist, to Sullivans Cove, from where Brown was organising yet another expedition on and around Mt Wellington. Then Dr Mountgarret hurried back to Risdon Cove where he wanted to rejoin the company of Lt. Bowen and Knopwood.

 

 

The Mercury

Monday 24 May 2004, page 10

 

Convict nabbed after store raid

 

24 May 1804

Still at Risdon, Knopwood got up early and in the company of Mountgarret managed to shoot a large kangaroo, a welcome addition to their meat rations.
Later that morning, he and Lieutenant Bowen returned to the camp at Sullivans Cove where they spent the rest of the day, with Bowen staying overnight in Knopwood's tent.
The evening is not without incident.
At 10pm the silence was shattered by the report of a gun from near the stores on Hunter Island, and shortly afterward the sergeant in charge of the guard on the island comes to the settlement with a convict who had tried to rob the store of spirits, leather and the like.
Clearly, Collins' recent prohibitions about people being on the island were not based on idle talk.

 

 

The Mercury

Tuesday 25 May 2004, page 14

 

Welcome new cove plot for Knopwood

 

25 May 1804

Lieutenant Bowen, possibly in the company of Robert Brown, returned to Risdon Cove, while at Sullivans Cove Knopwood busied himself with the layout of his new allotment facing the cove, and especially with the important question of where his garden was going to be.
He also proudly noted in his diary that his hen was sitting on 19 eggs, a very important matter in a place where eggs were a welcome extra to the standard rations issued from the government stores.

 

 

The Mercury

Saturday 29 May 2004, page 26

 

Collins sidesteps fight

 

29 May 1804

In the morning, Lieutenant Moore and Wilson (an ex-army officer himself) went to see Knopwood, probably seeking his views on the events of yesterday. Knopwood wasn't quite sure what to think of the whole matter and invited Lieutenant Lord and Humphrey to join them for a meal as an amicable venue to discuss the matter.
But then the matter reached the ears of Governor Collins who, with his background knowledge of the military climate in Sydney, knew full well in advance who would be the winner of an argument between an army officer and a naval officer before a court martial in Sydney made up of army officers, and was wise enough to stay out of the fight.
Choosing his words carefully, Collins wrote to Governor King that, Lieutenant Bowen having called Lieutenant Moore a rascal, threatening to shoot him and attempting to arrest him with the help of a prisoner, he was of the opinion that the Honor of the Kings Commission and the Regiment to which Lieut Moore belongs was implicated in the business and therefore [he] could not settle it [locally] and prevent it from going to you.
In response to the rumours in the settlement about the recent death of Piroelle, Collins published a notice to say that an autopsy had been performed. This stated that the deceased had died from what appeared to be an old heart problem combined with fluid in the lungs, and that his intestines showed nothing that could have indicated foul play. There was therefore no reason for anyone to think that Piroelle had died from other than natural causes.
Somewhere near Mt Connection, Brown's servant William Porter complained that he felt dizzy and that he was unable to continue any further. Brown, who also was a medical doctor, attended him as well as he could, and then left him in the care of the other servant, McGlaughlan, while he continued to explore the immediate neighbourhood. But on his return Porter's condition had not improved, so he decided to spend the night with his servant at that spot.

 

 

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 30 May 2004, page 44

 

Servant rescued

 

30 May 1804

Rested enough to make it downhill again, Brown accompanied his ailing servant back to the western shore of the Derwent where he was able to draw the attention of a passing boat.
The crew ferried the patient back to Risdon while Brown, now left with only one servant, hurried once more uphill towards the top of the mountain, this time reaching as far as the upper parts of “the settler's rivulet” -- probably meaning the upper reaches of the New Town Creek, which put him somewhere below Mt Arthur just north of Mt Wellington.
Meanwhile, at Sullivans Cove, Knopwood and others clearly wished to keep Lt Moore at the camp because later that morning he was still there having breakfast with Knopwood and in the company of Humphrey.

 

 

The Mercury

Monday 31 May 2004, page 19

 

Court martial slams Bowen

 

31 May 1804

Brown set off early and being a fit man he reached the summit of Mt Wellington at midday and used his time there to explore the area and measuring the “magnetic influence” (magnetic field) of the Organ Pipes. But the terrain at the top was not easy going and at one stage he lost his footing and sprained his ankle so badly that he could not make any real progress, and then realised that he was in trouble.
He managed to get some distance down again, where he made himself a shelter and lit a fire to keep himself warm during the coming night. In his field notes he recorded that my foot gets more painful, and am scarcely able to stand on it. Slept none; there was a cold wind but the shelter, the fire and a blanket defended me tolerably well. Fortunately, the night was fine as the day before also had been.
(This unseasonably mild break in the weather probably saved Brown's life. If the weather conditions had been normal as over the past month or so, he would most likely not have survived his ordeal so close to the summit.)
Down below in the settlement, Lieutenant Moore once again had breakfast with Knopwood, and then the pair set off for Risdon Cove. This time Knopwood diplomatically stayed at Moore's hut, but not before he had also called in at Lieutenant Bowen's hut. Obviously, some serious negotiations were taking place but to no avail. Bowen insisted on formally reporting the matter to Moore's commanding officer (Lieutenant Colonel Paterson).

NOTE: After receiving the correspondence, this experienced officer recognises trouble a mile off, and with appropriate excuses quickly passes the matter on a court-martial with Lieutenant Moore in the dock.
The court martial took place in September following the return of the Ocean back to Sydney, the underlying issue being that Moore, as an army officer, refused to acknowledge the authority of a naval officer -- which Bowen was -- while in the background there was the nagging question of the status of the commanding officer at Risdon Cove in view of the fact that Governor Collins was now perceived to be in charge of the entire colony in southern Tasmania. (In between all these arguments, it seemed to be conveniently forgotten that Collins had delegated the daily running of the settlement to Bowen, thus putting him in charge.)
After going through the motions the Court -- as Collins had foreseen -- cleared Moore of all charges, described Bowen's evidence in the case as malicious, vexatious and groundless and chastised him severely for directing a convict constable to apprehend a British officer.
Of course, this judgment could be seen as somewhat biased, given the fact that nine of the 10 judges were fellow-officers of the NSW Corps, and the circumstances under which Bowen had to assert his authority.
The finding of the court certainly raised the eyebrows of Governor King who, upon hearing of the outcome, immediately wrote a note to the President of the Court Martial reminding him again of the fact that according to a General Order issued by Collins, dated May 8, Bowen was indeed in command of the entire settlement at Risdon Cove, including thus the military and that on this basis he had the full right to ask Moore to hand over the Order Book.
But the court was in no mood to alter its judgement, and fully confirmed their former Sentence that very same day. Governor King does not seem to have made any further efforts on the matter, probably because he knew that Bowen would soon be on his way back to England anyway, while Moore was an officer not worth making an issue about.
While in hindsight we may now look upon this matter as an immature squabble between two fellow officers who should have known better, the transcript of the evidence throws an interesting light on the problems caused by the primitive conditions and manpower problems that Bowen had to cope with while in charge of the settlement.
Reading between the lines of the transcript of the court hearing, however, a portrait emerges of Moore as being a singularly difficult character to deal with, who only a short time after the attempted arrest by Bowen required the high level intervention of Collins himself to pull him into line.
Collins would have been very glad indeed when both Bowen and Moore disappeared from his life with the departure of the Ocean on August 9.
That day botanist Brown and the geologist Humphrey returned from their 16-day expedition overland to the Huon River. Brown had attempted this route before but had been defeated by the thick forests in the present Longley and Grove areas. This time, and in the company of the geologist Mr Humphrey, the expedition had been more successful although the going had been very hard, very cold and very wet.
In the settlement they met up with Bowen, Wilson and Dr Mountgarret, who also had had their adventures over the past few days. There was much to talk about and they all ended up at the tent of Lieutenant Lord for dinner and, no doubt, to talk about the recent experiences of all those present. It gets late, and Bowen once again stays overnight with Knopwood in his tent.