Bowen and Batman – who were they?

There have been further demands to change traditional names, the latest being the bridges Bowen and Batman. Recently of course we had calls for the renaming of Franklin Square, named after Sir John Franklin. Bowen Bridge in the south was named after Lt John Bowen RN, while the bridge in the north, Batman, was named after John Batman. Their contribution not only to this state, but especially with Batman, to the nation is enormous and they are worthy to have important venues named in their honour. Neither men were perfect; no one is, including those who criticise them. Perhaps as Christ implores, they should cast out the beam in their own eye first.

The four lane Bowen Bridge crossing the Derwent River was opened in 1984 and was (as stated) named after Lt. John Bowen. Bowen was twenty three years of age (incorrectly stated in many sources as eighteen) with 48 other settlers, (free, military and convict) who settled at Risdon Cove in September 1803. He was instructed to land at Risdon Cove on the order of Philip Gidley King, acting on the recommendation of explorers, John Hayes and George Bass. Thus Bowen established the first British settlement in Tasmania. For that alone, he should be remembered and recognised. It was an incredible important historic episode for Tasmania and for Australia. He came with Martha Hayes Quinn who remained here after Bowen left our shores. Martha had two daughters by him, with descendants living here today. Martha went on to marry twice after John had gone and had further children.

Importantly, the settlement at Risdon Cove was named “Hobart” as testified by correspondence between Bowen and King. The settlement at Sullivan’s Cove the following year, which of course became Hobart Town, was actually the second settlement of that name. Lord Hobart was the Secretary of War and Colonies.

The contentious aspect about the Risdon Cove is the confrontation between the natives and the settlers which occurred in May 1804. An historian in a recently published book states that Bowen was there at the time, but in actual fact this is erroneous, as he was away exploring the Huon River. In charge of the settlement was marine Lieutenant William Moore. The scene saw a large number of natives confronting the small number of settlers and shots were fired. The few documented accounts we have indicate that possibly up to five natives were killed. The figures have now escalated to one hundred. A lot of this comes from the testimony of Edward White who gave evidence at the March 1830 inquiry into the affair. The big problem is, despite White saying he was there at the time, he was not, and thus his evidence cannot be accepted as accurate.

The arrival of Colonel David Collins to Risdon Cove in February 1804 was the start of the end of the Risdon Cove settlement. Even so, four settlers who died from Collin’s expedition are buried there. Dr C Pardoe, anthropologist, actually inspected the remains of one several years ago. The skeleton was found by farmer Fred Sargent in 1917.

Bowen, who came from a distinguished naval family, left the island to fight the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Much more can be said of this young man, his achievements, his frustrations and yes, his failures. That he played an important role in this state’s history cannot be denied.

The Batman Bridge spanning the River Tamar was opened in 1966. It is named after John Batman, who probably is best remembered for the founding the city of Melbourne. We should be proud as Tasmanians that we not only preceded Melbourne, but that city had its origins from one who lived here.

Batman was born in Parramatta, NSW, in 1803. Leaving NSW, he and his brother Henry arrived in Launceston in 1821 and his life here was full of achievement. He actually captured bushranger, Matthew Brady. Batman did indeed take place in the Black Line in 1830 which was an attempt to round up the aborigines of Tasmania. Here we have the conflicting nature of Batman. He did attack and kill a number of natives, including a woman and a child. Yet in October 1830 he gave refuge to twelve natives who sought sanctuary from him after a ferocious inter-tribal fight. He lived on his property which he called Kingston, north east Tasmania where he co-habited with Elizabeth Callaghan. They had a number of children and were eventually married. By 1835 he with friends, John Fawkner and John Helder Wedge, discussed plans to make discoveries on the mainland. Batman visited Port Phillip (where Melbourne now stands), returned and then set sail again on the vessel Rebecca which was built at Rosevears in the north. Once there he noted a suitable place for a village, the future Victorian capital. He was accompanied by a number of Sydney aborigines who he said (his journal – Mitchell Library) helped him with his dialogue with the local aborigines, he writing that they “perfectly understand each other”. The whole episode is a large story unto itself.

I would like to end on Batman what I have written in my book Parramatta – Tasmania historic connections about this man. “Certainly as John Bonwick early historian and author picture him, he was no hero, full of warts and all. Indeed, he was human. He was a man, however, who rose from humble beginnings and obtained prominent heights in our history books. It can be said that he grasped an opportunity and made the most of it.”

Changing names because certain people are out of favour with certain people is not a genuine reason to do so. If we are looking for perfect people to name things after, then we shall not find them. Many prominent people of international renown, like Lincoln, Churchill, Kennedy, Ghandi, Mandela (etc., etc.) had their flaws and some serious ones, but we must recognise their positive contributions as we must with Bowen and Batman.

Reg. A. Watson is a Tasmanian historian and author of “John Bowen the Founder of Tasmania”.

Franklin Square and Sir John and Lady Franklin

There have been recent calls for the re-naming of Franklin Square in Hobart which was dedicated to Sir John Franklin, with his statue contained in the grounds. It may be well worth to inspect Sir John and Lady Franklin’s time in Tasmania and understand why the park’s name should remain.

Sir John has been remembered world-wide more for his Arctic exploration rather than his colonial administration of Van Diemen’s Land.

He died in 1847 while exploring the vast, icy expanse and 129 fellow travellers died with him.  The exact date and cause of his death has puzzled scientists and historians for years.

Franklin was born in 1786 in Lincolnshire, England.  Before beginning his exploration in earnest in 1845 he had already led an amazing life. Between 1819 and 1825 Franklin set off in several expeditions to the Arctic Ocean and returned to England with valuable geographical and scientific knowledge.

In 1836 he was appointed Lt. Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, arriving in January 1837 with his wife, Lady Jane, both of whom were well educated and well travelled.  Upon arrival in Launceston they were received by the citizens and were accompanied to Hobart, it was reported, by “300 horsemen.”

His eight year term of the penal colony was that of an able administrator with a humane outlook.  He clashed many times with his colonial secretary, John Montagu, over the issue of land speculation.  The controversy would reach London.

Another very interesting episode in Franklin’s life was to do with bushranger, Martin Cash.  Martin with two comrades, Kavanah and Jones together with Bessie (politely referred as Mrs Cash) were held up in their fort at Mt Dromedary. Knowing the military were out to find them, they sent Bessie to Hobart Town for safety.  Bessie was subsequently arrested which made Martin furious.  As a consequence he wrote the following letter to Sir John Franklin:

’If Mrs Cash is not released forthwith and properly remunerated we will, in the first instance, visit Government House and beginning with Sir John administer a wholesome lesson in the shape of a sound flogging.’’

Bessie was indeed released, but not because of the threat.  Her release lured Martin into Hobart Town, as planned, where he was recognised and after an enormous and dramatic chase, was captured, ending his bushranging career.

The Franklins left in 1845, his wife exhorted him to seek further glory and he set his mind to explore the Arctic wastes. The fabled North-West Passage across the top of Canada had been sought for centuries and Britain had taken a major interest in its discovery.

In 1845 the British government despatched Franklin, in command of the Erubus and Terror, in another search.  In July he reached Walefish Island in Davis Strait. He was never seen again and it was not until 1847 that serious apprehension began to be entertained regarding the fate of the expedition.

For the next 14 years, 40 expeditions were sent to determine the fate of the Franklin party. In 1860 the expedition of Captain Charles Hall learned of several particulars concerning the Franklin death.

He found a small boat off King William Island near Cape Crozier, containing two skeletons and a pathetic baggage of soil handkerchiefs and silver teaspoons engraved with Franklin’s crest.  Both Franklin’s vessels had been trapped in ice and eventually sunk.  The explorers and crew managed to disembark in time taking supplies and a large row boat.

What followed is a story of heroism and self sacrifice, but also illogical behaviour. When leaving the sinking vessels the survivors took hundreds of bibles and hymnals and office furniture, placing them in the row boat only to drag them across the ice for more than 1600km. Certainly, the cruelty of exposure took its toll.  Scientists believe after visiting the sites and a thorough investigation, concluded that lead poisoning could have caused their illogical behaviour.

Franklin’s wife, died in 1875 in London, a few days before the unveiling of a memorial to her husband in Westminster Abbey.

Lady Franklin was a promoter of the arts.  In 1839 she purchased 410 acres of land at Lenah Valley (then called Kangaroo Valley) and began to plan a Museum for the display of Sculpture, Natural History and Painting.  It seems an odd place to build at the time so far away of the capital, Hobart Town.  She wrote to her sister in England, Mrs Mary Simkinson of the Museum which she described as “a pretty little design of Greek proportions with one or two rooms.”

The actual museum site was chosen in 1841 and was officially opened with its library in October 1843. It was unfortunate that Lady Franklin had little time to enjoy her accomplishment as the Franklins left the island soon after.  The property was called Ancanthe, a Greek word meaning a “vale of flowers”. Care of it passed to the Governors of Queens College until 1938 when it was transferred to the Hobart City Council. In 1947 it was leased to the Art Society of Tasmania, who still cares for the building.

The Museum and park is located in the most wonderful of places.  It is surrounded by natural bushland with Mount Wellington beyond.  It is an oasis in a rapidly urbanised area, bringing tranquillity and beauty and a link to the past.

The Franklins played an immensely important part in our history.  It is noticed that 78 per cent of responses to The Mercury wanted no name change to the park.  I hope, on this occasion, the majority’s wish will be honoured.

William Lambie

William John Lambie has the sad distinction of being the first ever Australian war correspondent to die in the service of his profession. He was killed in 1900 during The Anglo-Boer War. Yet today, hardly anyone remembers this brave and dedicated man.   Perhaps it is now time that we should recall the exploits of William Lambie and remember him.

For a time he worked for The Mercury Newspaper and lost his life while on patrol with the Tasmanians and is buried with Tasmanians.  He is often referred to, wrongly, as a Tasmanian.

Lambie was born in Scotland in 1860 and arrived in Australia with his family at the age of three.  He was educated in Victoria and in 1883 arrived in Tasmania.

Lambie’s time in South Africa was short lived.  He was attached to the 1st Australian Regiment, a pre Federation unit combining contingents from all the Australian colonies. Just three months later it was reported:  “It is with the deepest regret that we publish the sad news cabled from England of the death of Mr W.J. Lambie special correspondent in South Africa.” (Feb 13, 1900).

It was the first war to be substantially serviced by local journalists.  Some Australian journalist represented English papers, while other represented multiple newspapers. It was where the famous ‘Banjo’ Paterson worked as a journalist for Reuters, Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Argus. Paterson only writes briefly of Lambie’s death, saying “We hear that the infantry has had a bad time at Colesberg and that Lambie is killed – a very simple matter to happen among these kopjes.” ( kopje – a small hill)

Lambie was with a Tasmanian patrol under the command of Captain St. Clair Cameron.  A large party of Boers closely watched their movements. A scout spied the enemy and as a consequence, Captain Cameron split his command, one to move towards the kopjes and the other to fall back to protect the rear. Lambie and fellow correspondent Alfred Hales decided to move with the advance party.

The Tasmanians came under fire, dismounted and returned the fire.  Trooper Pearce was shot through the neck, but survived.  Trooper Atherly Gilham cried out that he had been shot through the shoulder and in trying to get under better cover received a mortal shot through his heart.  Fellow trooper, Alfred Button was killed outright. The Boers called on Lambie and Hales to surrender, but ignoring the call they galloped in the hope of reaching cover.  The Boers opened fire and shot accurately, toppling Lambie from his saddle, to die on the spot.  Hales made it, but stated of Lambie’s death, “had come to him sudden and sharp”.

The toll of the ambush was two Tasmanians killed, one war correspondent, one trooper wounded and four Tasmanians taken prisoner together with correspondent Hales.  It is reported that 11 Boers were killed. So ended the short life of William Lambie, war correspondent. Eventually his next of kin would receive the Queens South African Medal, without clasps.

A Melbourne newspaper reported: “The late Mr. Lambie was barely forty years old. A native of Argyleshire.  Mr. Lambie is the son of the manse, his father being the late Rev. James Lambie, a well-known Presbyterian minister on the Werribee. He was thoroughly Australian and had had varied experience of journalistic work in these colonies.”

Lambie had previously covered the Australian involvement in the Sudan Campaign of 1885. It was there where he was first ambushed that time by Arabs on camels and was wounded.

In South Africa Lambie was buried with those who also were killed on the spot.  In December 1905 his body was exhumed and reburied in the military cemetery of Colesberg with the Tasmanians and with a trooper F. Clark, who although not a Tasmanian also rests with them.  It has been difficult to find out exactly where Clark fits in, as there is no mention of him during the ambush.  I suspect that he belonged with an English regiment and that during a skirmish in the region March 6, he was killed and when the bodies exhumed, it was judged that he too was a Tasmanian.

Sadly, when Lambie was re-buried at Colesberg, the inscribers got it wrong.  Being listed as a Tasmanian, as he was killed with them, is understandable, but his inscription reads: “PTE. W.I.LAMBIE.

Lambie left a widow, Clara Ada Church Lambie (1862-1946)

At one time a memorial tablet was erected to his memory at the entrance to The Age newspaper in Collins Street, Melbourne.  Since the move to Spencer Street it has been mislaid. Lambie remains forgotten.  Surely this is unjust.

In 2012 Lambie was inducted into the Melbourne Press Club Hall of Fame. Several years ago I made an effort to have a plaque dedicated to Lambie to be placed at the Boer War Memorial, Hobart.  Sadly, the Hobart City Council rejected my application.

My book, “Heroes All” deals with Tasmania’s involvement with The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

The Irish and their contribution to Tasmania

St Patrick’s Day is an event that is widely celebrated and promoted. The wearing of the green and of the shamrock is fashionable throughout the world. Festivities take place to recall and declare all things Irish. With the celebration of St Patrick’s Day, one wonders and ponders on the contribution that the Irish have made to Tasmania.

We tend to think that the majority of convicts who came to Tasmania were Irish; but this is not true. About 25 per cent of all convicts were Irish, therefore leaving more than 70 per cent being English, with a spattering of other nationalities and races making up the rest. Interestingly enough out of all types of convicts, the Scots were the best educated, the English had a literacy rate to some degree of 50 per cent, the Irish the lowest. Most of the Irish convicts were sentenced because of criminal acts, but many also were victims of a defective land system, which meant the peasant became increasingly dependent on the landlords. Many were transported on what was called “White Boy” offences, ranging from disturbances and taking illegal oaths to stealing cattle, sheep and horses, particularly in times of hardship, such as the potato crop failure. The worse offenders were transported to Van Diemen’s Land then to Macquarie Harbour. Peak times were during the 1830s. There were also political prisoners and here I must mention the seven Irish exiles to Van Diemen’s Land, John Mitchel, Thomas Francis Meagher, John Martin, William Smith O’Brien, Kevin O’Doherty, Terence MacManus and Patrick O’Donohoe, They were sent to their penal home in 1849 and 1850. Several successfully escaped while, one was caught in the act and the others were pardoned by Queen Victoria. Three of the seven exiles were Protestant.

So what has their contribution to Tasmania been? In one word: enormous! As with many thousands of Tasmanians, from a very difficult beginning they carved a life for themselves, foundations of which seceding generations have built on. The Irish blended in well. Sure, they kept their religion and their pride in being Irish, but over all there was little confrontation in Tasmania. Most worked hard, many made good for themselves. Hard, working, law-biding, moral, strong family people. Was it a struggle? Of course.

Our Irish Legacy in Tasmania lives on. The Irish largely settled towns such a Richmond and Westbury and many Tasmanians have Irish names, both Christian and Surnames. Out of their religion come magnificent cathedrals such as St Mary’s and St Joseph’s. All Labour Premiers of Tasmania until Eric Reece were of Irish and Catholic stock. One of the most colourful and interesting Premiers, was Dwyer-Gray who was of this ilk. He was a staunch Tasmanian who actively worked for secession, believing Federation had not been kind to the island he loved and served. True like many Irishmen he loved the bottle, which was a bit of a problem. We must not forget that our international film star, Errol Flynn was of Irish stock. Errol was more prone to claim Irish ancestry than his Tasmanian origins, perhaps something we Tasmanians may wish to forget.

Militarily of course, their contribution to our war effort was strong. Perhaps during the Boer War, they sympathised with the hardy Boer, but during World War I their contribution is without question and they suffered the price as well as everyone else. Indeed the Irish participation in the war on the side of the British was enormous and that is why the Irish uprising in 1916 was a failure. During World War II of course they had so harmonised with the rest of the population they were no longer, by a large degree, distinctive to the rest of the population.

Our affection for Ireland should be strong, not forgetting that the influence that it has had in shaping our State which cannot be underestimated. Irish humour is world renown. They have the wonderful ability to be able to laugh at themselves, something which (and they may not like to admit it) they have in common with the English. We all have our “Irish” joke. Maybe politically incorrect, but the beauty is, the Irish join in.

Australia Day and Just who was Betty King?

Just outside the Derwent Valley town of New Norfolk is the rural community of Back River. The Back River Chapel was once an old Methodist worshiping house. The cemetery grounds contain a number of First Fleeters from January 26th 1788, one being Betty King. Betty has the distinction of being the last First Fleeter to die (1856) in Tasmania and perhaps Australia.

Betty also has another incredible distinction. She claimed to be and indeed it is mentioned on her tombstone, the first white woman to set foot in Australia. Now I know there will be claims that a French woman who, it is said, dressed as a sailor on two French vessels that anchored off Reserche Bay (1792 and again 1793) who was the first to do so. Let’s be fair, however. Even if she was aboard there is no evidence she came ashore.

So was Betty the first? Well, we should look at her story. Admittedly there is no record backing up her claim, but as she was a convict this is not all unusual.

Betty arrived as a prisoner and a somewhat troublesome one. The surname King came later after she lived with a marine, Samuel King, when spending some time on Norfolk Island. There is debate what her real name was, Thackey, Thackay, Thakcery, Hackery or Hackley.

After many months at sea, the First Fleet under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Botany Bay 20th January 1788 and six days later Phillip journeyed to Sydney Cove with a permanent settlement.

Betty and Samuel arrived to Tasmania after she had gained her freedom and they were married in 1810 by pioneer priest, Rev Bobby Knopwood. They settled at Back River and called their property ‘Kings Rocks’’.

Samuel was to die in 1849 while Betty lived into her early 90s dying 7th August 1856. Before passing on Betty told her amazing story to the father of land owner, Henry Shoobridge. She said that at the time of arrival January 26th 1788 she was acting as a Lady’s Maid.

She related that it was to be the Officer’s ladies who were to set foot on land first of all. However, they did not like the look of the surf through which they were to be carried with the possibility of getting a wetting. Just to be reassured they asked that a maid (Betty) be carried ashore first as a rehearsal. This was apparently done and as it was only a preliminary trial there was no official record was kept of it. However, no official account alters the fact of the incident, which was that Betty was carried and dropped ashore. In a letter dated 29th Mary 1955 Henry Shoobridge states this. The story does indeed seem feasible.

So impressed was Henry Shoobridge he placed a tombstone near to the exact spot of her burial, it reading,

Near this spot
Was laid to rest
BETTY KING
The first white woman
To set foot in Australia

I am constantly amazed how this most interesting and important historical feature is not better known or promoted. It is a gem.

Tasmania has of course quite a number of burial places for First Fleeters (including one of my own ancestors) who came on the first Australia Day, now 231 years ago. Our connection is quite significant.

From that beginning various colonies came together 1st January 1901 to form the new nation of Australia. It came not by violence, revolution or civil war, but the Mother Country saw it was time for their child to grow up and leave home and to go its separate way. It’s a marvellous story. Right from the start that was the case, embracing our own Constitution and signing the Versailles Treaty of WWI in 1919 as an independent country. We developed our own peculiar form of government, adopting the Westminster system of Mother Britain and as we were a federation, modelled the Federal Upper House on the American Senate which was promoted by our own Tasmanian, Andrew Inglis Clark.

The point is of course, there would be no nation of Australia without the first settlement on January 26th 1788. Everything has to have a foundation and the foundation of our nation, which is the envy of the world, was on that date.

Australia has changed over the last few decades, sometime for the better, sometimes not. I have stated in previous publications that we are no longer a united nation, but Australia Day January 26th is the day which can bring us all together regardless of social, racial, religious or political affiliation. There are cries every year to change the day, but a poll conducted last week by the Sydney research firm, Research Now has found 75 per cent of Australians want the date to remain. That is huge. A poll conducted by a publication (of a left wing persuasion) in January 2017 said the same, with new arrivals providing a higher per cent. Fifty per cent of those Australians who claim aboriginality voted to keep the day as it is. Jacinta Price, Aboriginal Councillor for Alice Springs stated on the ABC Drum last year we should keep Australia Day January 26th and that any push to change is divisive. Well known political aboriginal activist, Warren Mundane said there are much more important things to worry about if we are to solve aboriginal health and wellbeing. The late Sir Neville Bonner, the first aboriginal senator, agreed.

Recently I was contacted by email regarding the fact that a number of people in London will also be celebrating Australia Day at the bust of Admiral Arthur Phillip (January 25th) which will be the 26th here. I was quite moved by this and they sent me a photograph of their observance for 2018.

We are a great country, despite our differences and problems. The question must be asked of everyone where else would you like to live? If of course you prefer somewhere else, then that is your right and choice and you have the option of leaving. Me, I chose to stay here.