The Mercury

Tuesday 7 October 2003, page 8


October 7, 1803, Friday

Governor King receives Lieutenant Bowen's first report of September 20th via Captain Bunker of the Albion, who had arrived back in Sydney the day before.

In an accompanying letter to Governor King, Captain Bunker describes his contribution to the events as "landed the stock and stores on acct of Government and with lashing two of my whale boats side to side we got them on shore very well."

What Governor and Mrs King thought of the black swans sent to them from the Derwent is not recorded.



The Mercury

Wednesday 8 October 2003, page 21


October 8, 1803, Saturday

After returning late from a boating expedition that day, the weather prevented Lieutenant Bowen, together with storekeeper Wilson and their crew from securing the boat in its usual place, which as a result had to be left ``at the point on the nearby shore of the Derwent.''


Some convicts noticed this and after persuading three others to join them, the group of seven stole the boat during the night and sailed it down the harbour and up the East Coast. A belated chase was made, but the convicts had vanished in the darkness of the night.


Some later sources say that the boat belonged to Dr Mountgarret, but whatever the case may have been the loss of this boat would have been a very serious matter to the settlement in general, not to mention the equally serious loss of face over the fact that the theft happened at all.


The instigator of this escape was a John Druce, a former coxswain of the Government longboat in Sydney and a classic example of a convict who thought he had nothing to lose.


After various other misdemeanours in Sydney he had already some months ago attempted a similar escape with others. They did at first succeed, but soon after were found and captured again at the Hunter River. Druce was promptly returned to Sydney, just in time for the authorities to have this troublemaker quickly added to Lieutenant Bowen's workforce for the proposed settlement at the Derwent.


The ultimate end of John Druce remained unclear for a long while, although a curious news item in the Sydney Gazette of January 15th next mentions that ``some people of the Port Phillip settlement had found on a nearby beach a hewn rudder [and nearby] the wreck of a boat, together with some stove casks with the name Porpoise marked upon them, for which we can in no other probable way account than to suppose this to be the boat of Druce and the unhappy companions of this rash enterprise [who] attempted an escape from the Settlement on the Derwent. This conjecture receives considerable strength from the appearance of the roughly hewn rudder, evidently the [result] of extreme necessity and inability.''

It is uncertain (if not unlikely) that this was indeed the boat used by Druce and his men to escape, but we do know now that after many adventures and arguments the convicts in the end fell in with sealers in the Furneaux Group where some joined them; others were marooned, while in the end three of them finally reached the safety of Sydney - and the waiting arms of the law.  Druce himself eventually made it to New Zealand, while again others escaped by joining the crew of whaling ships and from then on are lost sight of.


The Mercury

Thursday 9 October 2003, page 12


October 9, 1803,Sunday

Unbeknown to either Governor King or Lieutenant Bowen, Lieutenant - Governor Collins and his expedition arrive that day in Port Phillip with the instruction from the British Government to establish a settlement on the southern coast of New South Wales (which at that time included Victoria) ``to the northward of Basses Streight and on King Island, or any other Island within the said Streight.''

In Sydney, Governor King did not become aware of these developments until the unexpected appearance of the Ocean in Port Jackson on November 24, 1803, while Lieutenant Bowen would remain blissfully ignorant of the events about to take place at the Derwent until his arrival in Sydney on January 21, 1804.
It soon appeared that their landing site (the present Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula) and its environment was ill-chosen, forcing the entire expedition, after a time-consuming consultation with Governor King in Sydney, to re-embark and try their luck at Bowen's settlement on the Derwent in Van Diemen's Land.



Sunday Tasmanian

Sunday 12 October 2003, page 18


October 12, 1803, Wednesday

Governor King receives Bowen's second report, dated 27th September, after the return of the Lady Nelson.


King most likely will have spoken with Lieutenant Courtoys about the situation at Risdon Cove and whether to send further men and supplies to the Derwent. The need for this is pressed onto him, and he issues instructions accordingly.



The Mercury

Wednesday 15 October 2003, page 18


October 15, 1803, Saturday

Probably acting on the comments made to him by Lieutenant Curtoys, Governor King issues instructions that a further number of soldiers and settlers with their families are to join Lieutenant Bowen at Risdon Cove, although it would appear from the reconstruction of later details that in the end only convicts and soldiers were sent to Risdon Cove.

The soldiers at Risdon Cove are famously notorious for the bad press they always seem to receive in the history books. Just what was the reason for that?

These men were members of the New South Wales Corps, a regiment especially set up in 1789 to take over from the Marines, a corps that had come out with the First Fleet in 1788 for the specific purpose of guarding the convicts, generally maintaining order and, in case of a foreign attack, defend the young colony.

But soon after their arrival at Port Jackson, members from all ranks within the corps began to object to the use of their corps for what was, in effect, mainly the duty of guarding and overseeing prisoners, and in order to avoid any problems the British Government gave Major Grose a commission to raise a special regiment for this particular service.

The first contingents arrived with the Second Fleet in 1790, and from then onward many of the subsequent members of the corps were locally recruited _ several of whom had been convicts earlier. The NSW Corps had considerable status within the colony, while its commanding officer was, ex officio, second only to the Governor himself and held the title of Lieutenant-Governor.

Two major events which involved the corps in their duties of maintaining public order and safety were the Rum Rebellion of 1804 and the deposition of Governor Bligh in 1810.

While not a bunch of angels (rough times required rough action), the corps as a whole contributed materially to the development of the Sydney region as a habitable and functioning community.

The corps was disbanded again in 1810 when some members (mainly veterans) returned to England; others joined other regiments (mainly the 73rd), while a considerable proportion of the remainder stayed behind in the colony.

With this in mind, there is of course the question why so many of the military sent to Risdon Cove were such bad characters. On further study it was found that when Governor King wanted a number of soldiers to go to Risdon Cove in Van Diemen's Land, the service records of individual soldiers indicated that King asked each of the various detachments of the NSW Corps to contribute a few men.

Of course, this request presented a golden opportunity for these detachments to rid themselves of their dead wood, and as a result Lieutenant Bowen was given the assistance of some of the worst characters the corps could find.

Unfortunately, many of the marines given to Collins for service at Port Phillip also suffered from disciplinary problems, and one of the motives that made him decide to move from there to the Derwent was the fervent hope that the soldiers given to Bowen were much better than his.
In this he was sadly mistaken; after his arrival in February 1804, Governor Collins soon got the drift of the calibre of the military he was dealing with at this settlement. For this reason he decided to stick with his own troops and did not hesitate to ship all those at Risdon Cove back to Sydney at the first available opportunity (August, 1804).

Here, a number of them appeared for a court martial, but only one was actually dismissed, and the rest were quietly absorbed again in the corps.

Several of the others were promptly sent back again to Van Diemen's Land, this time to serve under Colonel Paterson when he founded the settlement on the Tamar later that same year.



The Mercury

Saturday 18 October 2003, page 32


October 18, 1803, Tuesday

Governor King charters the Dart and the Endeavour to take to Risdon Cove one officer (Lieutenant Moore), several soldiers, about 40 convicts, two carronades and other provisions and stores, together with a government surveyor, an Irish convict by the name of James Meehan.

Probably in order to bolster Bowen's apparent power over this increased population of Risdon Cove (and in particular the army personnel), King also signed that day a formal warrant, confirming the appointment of Bowen as the commandant of the said settlement, addressing this document to ``Lieutenant John Bowen, with Acting Rank as Commander in the Royal Navy by Warrant from James Cornett, Esq, Commander of His Majestys Ship Glatton''.

Bowen's appointment was a badly worded affair with many grey areas. Bowen's original appointment in March 1803 was in the form of a commission, ie a formal instruction to do certain things, and describing the level of responsibility to which the receiver of this commission had to answer.
In this case, Bowen's commission instructed him to form an establishment at a convenient place, and appointed him as ``the Commandant and Superintendant oft he said Settlement''.

James Colnett, as Bowen's immediate superior officer as Captain of the Glatton, formally ratified this appointment, also advising Bowen that because of his charge to form a settlement and to ``Counteract any Projects or plans the French Republic may arraigne, and in view of the Greater Respect and Attention that would be paid in particular by Foreign Nations to high-ranking officers, I authorise you to Wear the Uniform of a Commander in the Royal Navy, but without any pay or addition to Your Salary other than what is Allowed You as Commandant of that Settlement.''

Strictly speaking thus, this was only a permission to dress up in a uniform which suggested a high military rank which, in effect, Bowen had not formally been given and certainly was not a formal promotion to this rank, temporarily or not. (Given the exalted status of a Commander in the British Navy, this authorisation by Captain Colnett was absurd, and may have to be seen as a non-to-subtle attempt by Colnett to make a fool of Governor King, with whom at that moment he had a blazing row about other matters).

When in October 1803 a decision was made to send additional (army) troops to Risdon, Governor King again foresaw possible friction between Lieutenant Bowen as a naval officer and the army officer who would be in charge of the army personnel at Risdon Cove, and for this reason repeated his appointment of Bowen in the form of a warrant, which he addressed to Lieutenant John Bowen, with ``Acting Rank as Commander in the Royal Navy by Warrant from James Colnett, Esqr., Commander of his Majestys Ship Glatton'', and then appointed Bowen once more to be commandant of the said settlement.
It is not clear why King addressed Bowen here as a lieutenant with acting rank ``as a commander'' ( which Colnett's letter had not given him), but he may have purposely repeated this silly suggestion to clearly document in the files that it came from Captain Colnett, and certainly not from himself in his role as Governor.

Whatever the niceties of this matter were, the text of Bowen's appointments left one matter unresolved: that of the validity of his command over army personnel. King had already warned Bowen that the army people at the settlement ``will of Course be under the Immediate Command of the Officer i.e. at first sergeant Wexted and soon after Lieutenant Moore, and I earnestly request you that you will not Interfere in any part of the Detail of that Detachment, nor that you will on any Account Employ them in any other Situation than on their Military Duty.''

It would be this very same issue of command that in another six months or so would cause a serious conflict between Lieutenant Bowen in his role as commandant of the settlement, and Lieutenant Moore as the commandant of the army soldiers under his command at Risdon Cove.



The Mercury

Monday 20 October 2003, page 16


The Endeavour leaves Sydney for Risdon Cove but has to return to port again shortly after lightning injures two members of the crew.



The Mercury

Friday 24 October 2003, page 19


October 24, 1803, Monday

The Dart and the Endeavour leave Sydney once more, but due to different sailing speed and weather conditions they become separated.


In the Diary entry for September 14, I mentioned Lieutenant John Bowen as having been born in Ifracombe, Devonshire.

Very recent information shows that he was, in fact, born in London and that he was baptised on February 16, 1785, in one of Hawkmoor's better known churches: Saint Georges-in-the-East -a short distance east of the famous Tower of London.

This brings us close to the London Docks area, where his father as a naval man would have found his occupation. By the time Bowen was born the family must already have been living there for some time, as his older brother James was also baptised in this same church (1783).

The actual date of John's Bowen's birth was not recorded.

It is interesting to note that this part of London's East End was not all that far away from where his later mistress, Martha Hayes, came from. Having grown up in the same area, both would have spoken the same London Cockney.