Foundation of Tasmania: First settled by convicts and soldiers [chapter 11 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton]

[Editor: This is chapter 11 of “The story of Australia” by Martin Hambleton. Published in The Sunday Mail, 26 August 1934.]

The story of Australia — XI.

Foundation of Tasmania

First settled by convicts and soldiers

For some years after the arrival of the First Fleet (1788) it was thought Tasmania formed part of the mainland of Australia, but in 1798 Bass and Flinders sailed round the island. In 1802 it was visited by a second French expedition, under Nicholas Baudon, which was engaged in an extensive collection in every branch of natural history. The activities of the French made Governor King highly suspicious. It forcibly struck him that collecting alone was not the principal object. He firmly believed that they had some intention of laying claim to the island.

Hobart Town

He, therefore, prepared to establish the King of England’s right to Van Diemen’s Land by forming an establishment on the island. For this purpose he chose Lieutenant John Bowen, who had just arrived in H.M.S. Glatton, and appointed him commander and superintendent of the proposed settlement. The Governor suggested Risdon Cove on the Derwent as a suitable place. The expedition sailed on August 31, and arrived at Risdon Cove, on the Derwent, on Sunday, September 12. The colony consisted of 49 persons, of whom 24 were convicts. He named his capital Hobart, which Collins subsequently lengthened to Hobart Town, the name was officially changed in 1881 to Hobart.

The settlement did not thrive: the convicts were lazy and useless, and the soldiers discontented. A month later Governor King sent 42 convicts and 15 soldiers to increase the strength of the settlement, and the little village was beginning to look populous, when unexpectedly there came a great accession from another quarter.

In the year 1803 an attempt was made to form a settlement at Port Phillip. In October Lieutenant Colonel David Collins arrived there from England with two vessels with nearly 300 convicts and a number of free settlers. He chose the sandy peninsula which divides the eastern arm of Port Phillip from the ocean as a site for the new colony, which position, from the first, was totally unsuitable for the purpose. No progress was made, and finally, in June, 1804, he was ordered to move the whole party across to Tasmania. He landed at Risdon on February 15, and on looking round decided to make his headquarters at Sullivan’s Cove, four miles below Risdon, and on the opposite side of the river. There, at the foot of lofty Mount Wellington, Hobart Town began to grow in its new situation.

Tasmania’s first Government house was finished in three weeks. Wattle and daub huts were built to house the convicts, and 30 men were sent to clear the ground for wheat at the Government farm.

Third settlement

A third settlement was made lest the French should intervene on the north coast of Tasmania. On October 15, 1801, Lieutenant-Colonel William Paterson sailed from Sydney with 67 soldiers, 74 convicts, and 40 free persons to form a settlement at Port Dalrymple. Paterson explored the Tamar River up to the junction of the North and South Esk. He formed his settlement at York Town, but, in March, 1806, moved the greater part of the establishment to the present site of Launceston. For eight years the small settlement continued to exist as an independent State, until, in 1812 it was placed under the charge of the Governor of Hobart Town.

The most important event during Collins’s administration was the removal of the Norfolk Islanders to Tasmania. This more than doubled the population of the Derwent settlement, and the newcomers were fed for two years at the public cost They were given land at New Norfolk, Sandy Bay, Pitt Island, and Clarence Plains, in the south of the island, and at Northfolk Plains in the North. Some of the best families in Tasmania are descended from them.

The Sunday Mail (Brisbane, Qld.), 26 August 1934 , p. 29

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