The Mercury

Saturday 1 November 2003, page 22

 

November 1, 1803, Tuesday

Probable date of arrival of the Dart in the Derwent. The ship drops its anchor near Risdon Cove just off what is now called Church Point, opposite the present Pasminco plant.

Most passengers may have stayed on board, so that those ashore could hurriedly arrange for the extra accommodation suddenly needed.
One interesting passenger on board is James Meehan, an Irish convict with skill in surveying. Bowen was asked ``to employ him in Surveying and Delineating such Situations as you may Judge necessary, [and to] give me the fullest Information with respect to the Distribution of the Town, Church and School land, Fortification, Court House, Settlers allotments and Government Grounds for the purpose of Agriculture and Grazing. I also hope to receive as Comprehensive an Account of the Country about you as possible''.

King then asks that all this is to happen very quickly, so that Meehan can return to Sydney when the Francis will arrive at Risdon within the near future.
There are no indications whatsoever that Bowen ever concerned himself very much with Meehan or his work.

 

 

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 2 November 2003, page 20

November 2, 1803, Saturday

Possibly having made his arrangements yesterday, Surveyor Meehan commences that day ``A Survey of Hobart, Van Diemen's Land''. He establishes a survey marker (the first one ever on Tasmanian soil) on the nearby shore nowadays called Store Point, and from here traverses a circular line around the Risdon settlement.
Meehan's survey notes of that day (including two measuring errors) still exist, and while of some historical and archaeological interest, the ultimate purpose of this particular survey remains very unclear. Did he want to stay out of the way of the general commotion in the settlement caused by the arrival of the Dart? Or did he simply want to show of his abilities and eagerness as a surveyor to Bowen, in front of whose tent he frequently appears to finish up over the next fortnight while making seemingly complicated survey readings?

 

The rest of the passengers and freight now also leave the Dart, but their precise numbers are not clear. King originally intended to send one military officer with six soldiers to Risdon Cove, together with 30-40 convicts. Later correspondence indicates that King intended to send still more settlers to Risdon, but in the end this does not seem to have eventuated.

 

Unfortunately, no detailed list of names of all these people seems to have survived, and as a result it becomes from here onwards very difficult to determine precisely who and how many people came with this second shipment.

According to a news item in the , the Dart left Sydney ``with provisions and 20 sows; also an officer, six soldiers and 30 Prisoners''. Many of the latter, including those who came a short time later on the Endeavour, turned out voluntarily to be drafted ``to that promising Settlement, under the promise that if their conduct merited the approbation of the Commandant, they would be allowed to return here at the end of two Years, or to be allowed to settle at that Place''.
But judging from a letter from Governor King to Lieutenant Bowen it would seem that the military in the end received only 14 extra soldiers and non-commissioned officers, while there also were in total about 42 extra convicts on board of the two ships, 20 of whom presumably were the volunteers mentioned in the article . Added to the original numbers that landed on September 12th, we come thus to a total of one commandant, three senior officers, 21 military, 66 convicts and 10 settlers, a grand total of 101 people. (From other sources it would appear that this figure may be close to the truth).

 

Also on board are two carronades ``...with their Furniture, Shot an other materials''. These two small cannons had an interesting origin. They were part of the armoury of the Investigator in which Captain Matthew Flinders had attempted to circumnavigate the Australian continent between 1801 and June 1803, when his vessel began to leak and had to be returned to Sydney. Here the ship was condemned, after which two of its carronades were appropriated for use at Risdon Cove.
Carronades were a relatively new weapon which had only been invented some 40 years before, and were chiefly used for short-range ship-to-ship skirmishes. The 12-pounders sent to Risdon Cove probably were about 65cm long; being relatively small guns, they used only about 500gm of powder, and for various technical reasons were notoriously unsteady in their use and difficult to aim accurately.

 

What ultimately happened to the carronades at Risdon Cove remains a mystery to this day, but one very similar to those landed at Risdon Cove (but smaller in size) may nowadays be seen in the backyard of the Narryna Folk Museum in Battery Point.

A letter from Governor King sent to Lieutenant Bowen with the Dart shows great concern on the part of King about the likely inexperience of Bowen in managing a new settlement.

 

The letter is full of practical advice, such as having to make very sure that the two carronades sent to him are safely ``...disposed of, as it is within the probabilities that they may be used against you'' (by the convicts, in the case of an uprising).

Of course, Bowen and the new officer in charge of the military (Lieutenant Moore) should never be absent from the settlement both at the same time. In order to avoid discontent among the military he is to be meticulous in giving them their full and proper rations, while in case of a shortage of food, they are to be the last ones to have their daily food rations reduced.

 

Bowen should also be very frugal in the use of nails, and King mentions an example of how that can be achieved: for instance, when asked for nails to make paling fences and the like, Bowen is to tell his men to make fences ``in the American manner, which requires no Nails''. In other words: chock-and-log fences and later post-and-rail fences, both soon to become a standard feature of the Australian rural landscape.

 

The first page of Surveyor James Meehan's field notes in which he commences a survey of the layout of 'Hobart, Van Diemens Land.' The date of November 2nd, 1803, and he begins his survey traverse 'From Hollow Gumtree on Nn Pt Risdon Cove' (present-day Store Point, opposite the Electrolytic Zinc Works). Meehan still works with compass bearings expressed with the 32 principal points of the compass circle, but for increased accuracy adds compass degrees, while distances are measured with the Gunter chain, an early 17th century metal measuring device 22 yards long (20.1m) and subdivided into 100 links. Thus, the notation in the middle of the page 'W11 3/4S3' indicates a distance of three chains (60.3m) with a compass bearing of 11 degrees south of west, ie 270~-11~45' = 258~15'.

Although survey notes such as these contain much valuable information about the physical location and layout of the early settlement of Risdon (and later of Collins' Hobart Town and the settler's New Town), the interpretation of these essentially 18th century-style survey field notes has its moments. (Copy courtesy of Tasmanian State Archives)

 

The Mercury

Monday 3 November 2003, page 11

 

November 3, 1803, Thursday


In the small settlement itself there is much work going on to accommodate the newcomers. The sudden expansion of the population requires many new huts to be built with some existing ones to be enlarged, and all that quite apart from those huts that were still under construction.
Meehan continues his survey encircling the settlement, beginning with some astronomical observations. They then go back to their survey lines in the nearby bush north of the settlement, and on returning home at the end of the day come across Bowen's horse which apparently had escaped from its enclosure. They manage to catch it and return it to the settlement.

Bowen had bought this mare in Sydney for 120, and at his departure in August 1804 sold it again to the Public Store in Hobart Town for that same amount. Both Governor King and Governor. Collins were quite happy with this purchase, as it added to the stock available at the Derwent for breeding purposes. Later remarks suggest that Bowen also had brought a dog which also remained behind, dogs being a prized animal in the hunt for "kangaroos''.

 

 

 

The Mercury

Friday 7 November 2003, page 15

 

November 7, 1803, Monday

In accordance with his instructions from Governor King, Surveyor Meehan leaves the settlement with a party for an extended survey of the surrounding area, during which he would visit much of the present Clarence Municipality and the Richmond district. They find indications of coal, see fine pastures, but also much land that is totally unfit for proper agriculture.

A check on the remaining provisions shows that the present level of food rations cannot be maintained. As there are no indications when the next supplies will arrive from Sydney, the decision is made to reduce the weekly rations to of normal. Fortunately, some trusted convicts can be allowed to hunt with firearms and in that way are able to supplement the daily rations of the settlement with kangaroo meat and black swans.

 

 

The Mercury

Wednesday 12 November 2003, page 22

 

November 12, 1803, Saturday

The Endeavour arrives at Risdon Cove.

Nothing is known officially about the passenger list, but according to a General Order published in the Sydney Gazette, a sergeant and four privates were to leave for Risdon, while from other figures relating to the Dart we may deduce that some 12 prisoners were also on board.
NOTE: Like Captain Bunker of the Albion the previous month, the owners of the Endeavour (Messrs Kable and Underwood) were also paid in kind for the hire of their boat.

Against the background of the time the list of these articles makes interesting reading: 8 ``suit slops'' (standard clothing issue, usually worn by convicts or sailors), nearly 50 litres of ``spirits'' (a valuable commodity, either to award the sailors or as an item for barter trade), four oars, seven ``hogsheads'' (large vats holding some 200 litres, probably used as water or oil containers on board of the ship), and 12 musket flints.

 

 

The Mercury

Thursday 13 November 2003, page 5

 

November 13, 1803, Sunday

Surveyor Meehan is still in the field; they sleep rough (ie under a tree, wrapped in a rug), and at 3am the rain begins to fall.
Complains Meehan in his field notes: ``...and it rained until the evening with scarcely any interruption. Was obliged to stop. Idle until evening.''
The next morning is still damp, and being a very industrious man he continues to work.

But some of his convict chainmen and carriers appeared to be less keen and less fit, at one stage causing Meehan to note in his diary that they ``stopped this night; the men are almost unable to travel''.

 

 

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 16 November 2003, page 49

November 16, 1803, Wednesday

 

Meehan returns from his survey expedition with one injured member, most likely a convict who was still an inexperienced bushman.

 

 

Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 23 November 2003, page 22

 

November 23, 1803, Wednesday

Meehan commences a survey of the settlement, noting the various huts, gardens, barns and other structures.

Given the fact that the newcomers have only been here for a few weeks, Meehan's survey field notes show that an enormous amount of work appears to have been done. He not only records the presence of a fair number of huts, but also attaches the names of occupiers to them, indicating for instance that Lieutenant Moore (who wisely had left his family in Sydney) is for the time being put up in a small hut while another and larger one is being erected for him.
Lieutenant Bowen by now also seems to have a hut (probably more comfortable accommodation than the tent he had to live in at first),
Mountgarret is working on a fair-sized hut (eventually growing to some 6.5m by 16.5m) some distance away from the military, while on a higher site overlooking the entire settlement work has started on an official stone residence for Lieutenant Bowen. (Because of the soon-to-follow later developments this house never got beyond its foundations, still there to this day). The blacksmith also has his hut and a shed in which he has his forge.
The settlers have been given their promised 2ha town allotment to use for their own purposes and have made huts to live in, plus a few stockyards. Just how they had arranged their accommodation is not clear; remains of sandstone foundations suggest that they (at least to begin with?) erected one or two huts and/or a barn, while a heap of scattered sandstone rubble nearby could indicate that the necessary stone had been carried to the site (presumably by convicts) for further building purposes, but in the end was never used.

New (and probably better) accommodation for the convicts appears to have been erected in the form of an orderly row of huts stretching in an east-west alignment, while at the western end of this row the military are accommodated in a few scattered huts between the convicts and the huts of Bowen and Moore. A flagpole is located in front of Lieutenant Bowen's tent (nowadays again marked by a flagpole), while down below on the edge of the Risdon Creek a stone store has been erected, guarded not only by a constant military watch but also by the storekeeper, Mr Wilson, who lives only a few metres away in his own hut. (The stone remains of his fireplace are still to be seen there today).

As far as the layout of the town of Risdon was concerned, Meehan never got beyond the tentative delineation of two streets, one of which ran east-west and was lined with the huts of the convicts. This street was crossed by a north-south running street, vaguely ending at its northern end near the stone foundations of a house, intended to be the official residence of the Governor, as Lieutenant Bowen was called at the settlement (even today, some paddock fences still recall the location of these projected streets).

But already then, Meehan must have realised the gross unsuitability of the site chosen by Bowen for a town, and never did any work on setting out sites for churches, schools and the like, spending instead his time in a much more useful manner by exploring and reporting on an Account of the Country about.
He explored much of the present Clarence and Richmond areas, surveyed the western shores of the Derwent opposite Risdon, and also ventured as far as the Macquarie Plains, Broadmarsh and Campania districts.

Meehan's stint at Risdon Cove had only been intended to be fairly short, and he was to have returned to Sydney on the Francis which was planned to be sent to the Derwent very soon. But the Francis never got to the Derwent, and in the end Meehan stayed on until March 1804, when he was able to return to Sydney as a passenger on the Lady Nelson. Although he did survey some of the land allocations to the settlers alongside the New Town Creek, lack of time prevented him from doing any work on the layout of Collins' Hobart Town while he was still there.

As it was, it was not before 1811 when he returned, and then on the instructions of Governor Macquarie hurriedly set out to do what was not done during the winter of 1804: the layout of present day central Hobart.

 

 

The Mercury

Monday 24 November 2003, page 12

 

November 24, 1803, Thursday

 

 

The Ocean makes a totally unexpected appearance in Sydney in order to deliver to Governor King the messages from Governor Collins, recently landed at Port Phillip. Collins reports that neither the coastline of Bass Strait or Port Phillip itself appears to be suitable for a major settlement, and asks for advice and transport assistance in the relocation of his people.

Realising the wider strategic significance of the intended settlement immediately, Governor King promptly re-engages the Ocean (then on its way to China) to transport the Collins' expedition to wherever Collins decides to go. Almost immediately the Ocean sets sail again for Port Phillip, while King also engages a number of other much smaller ships (such as the Lady Nelson) for support services.

In between all these major decisions facing Governor King, the news reaching him that day (via a copy of an American newspaper!) of the resumption of the war between England and France must have appeared to him as almost a minor matter.

(For some bureaucratic reason or other, Governor King did not receive formal advice about the existence of a state of war with the French until May of the next year, a full year later thus after the actual outbreak of the war. Just as well that during this period no French vessels visited Sydney, as otherwise the legal position of Governor King in relation to these visitors would have been an interesting one - to put it mildly!).

 

The Mercury

Saturday 29November 2003, page 24

 

November 29, 1803, Tuesday

The Risdon site chosen by Lieutenant Bowen for the settlement and its immediate environs did not contain any sites being actively occupied by any local Aborigines. There also had not been any (at least recorded) encounters with the local aboriginal tribes, although their presence was known from the small campfires that could be seen in the distance almost every night.

Lyndall Ryan in her book The Aboriginal Tasmanians maintains that the area along the eastern shore of the Derwent was frequented by the Moomairremener band, but also an area where other bands of the Big River tribes occasionally roamed during their seasonal wanderings for new sources of food.
Kangaroo meat in particular was an important part of the daily diet of the Aboriginals; the actions of these new and strange-looking people by themselves did not seem to worry them overly much, but when the newcomers also began hunting these same animals to satisfy their own needs, their very presence within their territory became a serious threat