Hobart Town (1804) First Settlers Association Inc

First Beginnings of Hobart

This is the speech delivered by the Association President Gwen Hardstaff at the
Hunter Street Hobart HTFS memorial on 20 February 2020.

History records many details of those early years of European settlement — the two men we have heard most about in modern times are Lt John Bowen RN and Lt Colonel David Collins RN.

We know that:

  • Lt John Bowen, at the age of 23, was sent by Governor King of NSW, under explicit instructions to establish a settlement at Risdon Cove.
  • This site had been previously named by Lieutenant John Hayes who had sailed up the Derwent in 1793.
  • Bowen arrived in command of the two ships — the Albion and the Lady Nelson in mid September 1803, and Bowen and his party of Military men, Free Settlers and Convicts (49 in total) set up the settlement there.
  • Bowen named the new settlement " Hobart ",** after Lord Hobart, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, as instructed by Governor King.

    [** "Town" was not added to the name until sometime after the settlement was removed by Collins to Sullivan's Cove.]

We also know that:

  • Gov. King had been made aware that the settlement at Risdon appeared unlikely to succeed due to many factors, including poor soil, lack of provisions, fresh water and equipment, and the military complement did not provide sufficient support to Bowen in this endeavour.
  • Gov. King sent a dispatch to Collins, agreeing with Collins prior advice to him, that the current site near present day Sorrento in Port Phillip Bay was not satisfactory for a permanent settlement and requested that he relocate, providing him with the options of either the Derwent or to Port Dalrymple in the north of the island.
  • The First ship from Collins party arrived in the Derwent on February 9th and Collins himself arrived on the second ship on February 16th .
  • At this time Bowen had left Risdon Cove and was in Sydney and because of shipping difficulties was unable to return to Risdon until March 10th, 2-3 weeks after Collins party arrived.
  • The ships of Collins party were in the Derwent from early February until the actual choice of site and the subsequent landing to establish the settlement here at Sullivans Cove on February 20th 1804.
  • [Sullivans Cove was previously named after John Sullivan, the British Under-Secretary of War and brother-in-law of Lord Hobart. Collins would have liked to call the new settlement Hobart, but this name was already in use by Bowen at Risdon Cove; Collins realised the Risdon settlement would not last, so waited a short time before naming the new settlement Hobart Town.]
  • [It is of interest that the Collins party at Sorrento did not all fit on the smaller ships Lady Nelson and Ocean — those settlers who were left behind did not arrive at Sullivans Cove until almost six months later when the Ocean returned.]

Today I want to spend time remembering another person who contributed significantly to the founding of the settlements on the Derwent — with Bowen and with Collins.

This man was JAMES MEEHAN (1774—1826) who started his colonial life as a convict, but rose to hold one of the top civil positions in the government of the day.

[n.b. as a note of interest ... I have read that the word CONVICT was not used in Van Diemans Land — they were referred to as PRISONERS]

  • Meehan came to Port Jackson in the convict ship the Friendship which arrived In February 1800. He was sent to New South Wales as a political prisoner after taking a minor role in the Irish rebellion of 1798.
  • As he had been a teacher and surveyor in Ireland, he was appointed as an assistant to Charles Grimes, the New South Wales Surveyor-General.
  • Meehan was sent to VDL (Risdon Cove) in October 1803, with instructions from Gov. King to survey the area around the new settlement. In later years, with this knowledge, Meehan was able to advise Collins on the merits of the mouth of the Hobart Rivulet as a place for the new settlement.

Prior to Governor Collins arrival the following work had been undertaken by Meehan:

  • 07/11/1803 — In accordance with the instructions from Gov. King, Meehan surveyed many areas around the Risdon settlement and later took a small party, and made an extended survey of the surrounding area of where is the now Richmond and Clarence district. He reported that the weather was not good and reported 'slept under a tree and was very damp and cold' during this venture.
  • Records indicate that Meehan recorded his accurate compass readings with the typical 18th century practice of the use of a sextant and the measurement equipment of the Gunter chain, a metal measuring device 22 yards long with 100 links (still used for length of cricket pitch in modern times). This of course meant that there was much equipment to be carried by Meehan and party, often including tent, rugs, food etc ... no horses ... carried on their backs.
  • 23/11/1803 — made detailed survey of settlement area at Risdon Cove. It appears that Meehan realised the unsuitability of site and did not do any further work on setting out sites for school, church, hospital etc.
  • He also surveyed the western shores of Derwent and ventured as far as Macquarie Plains, Broadmarsh and Richmond, Campania districts.
  • It is of interest that Meehan had such a great range of freedom when he technically was still a convict — but obviously a very trusted person
  • 06/12/1803 he made exploratory visits around the shoreline of Ralphs Bay towards what became Rokeby, Howrah Beach and Bellerive. He made notes about the lack of fresh water in these areas.
  • 27/01/1804 James Meehan completed his survey of the River Derwent (took 4 days) from near present day Taroona area, past the mouth of the Hobart Rivulet to New Town Creek/Augusta Rd area).
  • During this journey, Meehan blazed a tree, as a survey marker, growing at a spot on the sandy outlet of the rivulet - at a spot that is now near the corner of Macquarie St and Market Place, he then returned to Risdon Cove.
  • At this stage Meehan could not have known that in another few weeks this would be where the Collins expedition would land to establish what we now know as our state capital, the city of Hobart, (nor could he have known that he would use this same marker again in 1811 when he returned to survey the Hobart Town settlement as it was at that time and commence the layout of a street plan.)
  • Around February 26th those free settlers, still on board Lady Nelson and Ocean, were allocated their land at New Town Creek area.
  • This area then became the 3rd settlement on the Derwent within six months.

Some other facts of note about James Meehan:

  • In June 1805, Governor King awarded Meehan a conditional pardon for his services. This was upgraded to a full pardon in June 1806.
  • In 1810 Governor Macquarie appointed Meehan as Acting Surveyor-General.
  • The MEEHAN RANGES - the range of hills on the eastern side of the Derwent, including Mt Direction, Gunners Quoin and the adjacent hills are named to acknowledge the survey work of James Meehan in this area.
  • In a Letter to Viscount Sidmouth (London, 1821) Governor Macquarie paid him this tribute: 'I have ... had an opportunity of witnessing his indefatigable assiduity in the fulfilment of his arduous duties. I believe that no man has suffered so much privation and fatigue in the service of this Colony as Mr Meehan has done. His integrity has never, to my knowledge, been impeached; and I certainly consider him to be, both on account of his professional skill, and the faithful and laborious discharge of his duty, a valuable man'.
  • This was indeed a fitting testament to Meehan's significant contribution to early Hobart

    [In 1992 a bronze tablet, commissioned by "TASMANIA'S DIVISION — AUSTRALIAN SURVEYING ASSOCIATION INC 1984" and produced by E.Z. Co., was placed in Market Place beside the City Hall on the eastern side of pavement, down almost to the Macquarie Street corner, to mark this place of historical significance — and it can be found there today. The wording is:


Next time you are down in that area, I urge you to stop, read this plaque and to remember James Meehan and his valuable work in the colony.

Some Additional notes:

  • The Risdon colony had been named "Hobart", under instructions from Governor King, and, on the abandonment of that place, Collins appropriated the name, and called his new settlement at Sullivan's Cove "Hobart Town". The name "Hobart Town" first appears in a General Order of 15th June, 1804. Hobart Town was henceforth the official designation of the colony.
  • This name it retained until 1881, when the Legislature dropped the superfluous "Town", and reverted to the simple original designation "Hobart".

Much of the information concerning the early years of settlement in Tasmania is recorded in the excellent Publication "The Founding of Hobart 1803 - 1804" by local historian and author Frank Bolt.

As previously mentioned, in 1793 Lieutenant John Hayes of the Bombay Marine, sailed up the Derwent River in the ship Duke of Clarence.

This was the only exploring expedition ever sent out by the East India Company into Australian waters. Lieutenant John Hayes was appointed to the command of the expedition, which consisted of two ships, the Duke of Clarence and the Duchess , and was dispatched from India to explore the coasts of Van Diemen's Land and its harbours, and to make its way back to India by the South Sea Islands and the Malay Archipelago.


Facebook  All content © 2024, Hobart Town (1804) First Settlers Association Inc.                Admin