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Joseph in van Dieman's Land

There was officially a freshwater need to transfer the Port Phillip Bay colony to the Derwent River in Van Diemen's Land in February 1804. The former highly respected and industrious Judge Advocate and Secretary of New South Wales, Colonel David Collins, took his job as the founding father of the colony seriously. He moved to the Derwent River in Van Diemen's Land from Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, giving his reason as a shortage of water. Current belief maintains that, typical of the era, it was more likely from the manner in which the NSW Corps and certain settlers had stirred up trouble with the local Aboriginals. As in Sydney, newly arrived from Britain, they regarded the members of this 60,000 years' old conservationist civilisation as little better than animals. In the 1600's, a similar European belief had been espoused by the Dutch Reformed Church. They told the Cape of Good Hope colonists that the African tribes were, 'the lost tribes of Israel' and placed there by God to aid the Dutch colonists to succeed.

David Collins had experienced the outcomes of this attitude before, as both Judge Advocate and Secretary of New South Wales under Governor Arthur Phillip. His enlightened attitude towards the original inhabitants of New Holland had already been revealed in what is now his 63 page appendix to his book, An Account of the English Colony of New South Wales, Vol. I, Brian H. Fletcher, editor, 1975, originally published in 1798 - the same year as the United Irish Insurrection. The following diary extract from, The Memoirs of Joseph Holt Vol II, T. Crofton Croker, editor, 1838, shows that Lt. Governor Collins made full use of the United Irish General Joseph Holt's wide experience as an able agriculturalist, veterinarian and keen observer. His diary ability came from his years of giving evidence in the Wicklow Court as a County Wicklow barony-subconstable.

Following the rising of the majority of the Irish convicts for their Vinegar Hill near Parramatta, Governor King had Joseph taken into custody without warning from Captain William Cox's employ at Brush Farm for interrogation on March 19, 1804. He was imprisoned in Sydney. On the 21'st, he was examined by Judge Atkins and five other justices. After a lengthy examination of the perjured witnesses for the Crown by both Judge Atkins and Joseph Holt, "Then the good judge said: 'Take him away. He knows more law than all in this court." (A Rum Story, Peter O'Shaugnessy, editor, 1988: Rebellion in Wicklow, 1998, Ruan O'Donnell). His ability and experience as sub-constable to capture and take to trial various Co. Wicklow villains was well known in his home country, Scotland and England.

Lieutenant General Craig had only offered Three Hundred Pounds for General Joseph Holt's capture in Ireland. When Hester Holt enquired of Governor King why Joseph was not to be released, he stated, "If your husband gives four thousand pounds bail for his good behaviour I will let him stay..........He thought I could not get such weighty bail but Mr Smythe, the Provost Marshal, was by and he wrote a note and offered himself (as) one of the bailees. Him, Mr Cox, Mr Marsden, Mr Abbott, the four Bailees was ready. And then he said I had too much friends in the colony and I should go. She replied that it was both a sin and shame to send a man away from his family that could not be committed to trial." (op.cit., Peter O'Shaughnessy, 1988). His overall value as an agricultural advisor in New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land remains to be assessed.

It is interesting to note that the editors of Joseph's memoirs differ as to the bailees. "Mr Smyth, the Provost Marshal, who was by, offered himself as one of my bail, in which offer he was soon joined by Mr Cox, Mr Marsden, and Mr Hobby (Lieutenant in the New South Wales Corps and former commandant of the Hawkesbury District). Upon hearing which, the Governor said, "No, he has too many friends in the Colony, and shall go." ( op.cit., 1838, T. Crofton Croker).

He was put aboard the Betsy bound for Norfolk Island, on the orders of Governor King, where he was subjected to hard labour by Major Joseph Foveaux immediately upon his arrival. This was ceased following Surgeon D'arcy Wentworth's protestations to Major Foveaux that it would cause Joseph's death. D'arcy warned that he would give evidence that the harsh treatment meted out would have been the cause. It ceased on August 27, 1804, after Joseph had endured his, "torture for fourteen weeks and two days." op. cit., Peter O'Shaughnessy, 1988). He was then a free man on Norfolk Island until November 1805 when the new Commandant, Captain John Piper, gave Joseph the responsibility for the Norfolk Island's first shipment of sheep and cattle to Van Diemen's Land which were being shipped on board the Sydney with some of the Norfolk Island settlers, ahead of this first penal colony closing and the convicts being transferred there.

The inability of the established colonies in New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land to obtain a self-sufficient food supply was a constant source of worry for the Governors and Lieutenant Governors. Captain Piper would have seen Joseph's ability as a "cattle doctor' (veterinarian) on Norfolk Island and, through the farming success of his brother officer, Captain William Cox, have witnessed Joseph's ability as an agricultural manager in NSW.

Agriculturalists were in short supply in the colony. It possibly was in recognition of this that, following discussions with Joseph, Captain Piper decided to send him with the sheep and cattle to the Van Diemen's Land together with his dispatches recommending Joseph's agricultural abilities to Lieutenant Governor Patterson. It seems likely that they would have recognised and discussed Lt Governor Collins's urgent need to increase the food supply for the planned increase of the Van Diemen's Land population by that of Norfolk Island. Food was already in a parlous state in Van Diemen's Land. The ingenuity of what was planned is breath-taking, particularly considering the harsh era in which it was established.

It had been the British government's original intention, under Governor Arthur Phillip, to grant land to the settlers, marines, soldiers and ticket-of-leave convicts with the provision of animals, grain, seeds and tools from the Government Stores so that the new colony would be self-sufficient in food production. However, the importation of rum and its use as currency, mainly by the NSW Corps officers, saw the former convicts easily parted from their NSW land grants and the officers involved becoming wealthy, extensive land owners, the most prominent of whom was Captain John Macarthur.

As the former Judge Advocate and Secretary of New South Wales, Lieutenant Governor David Collins was perfectly aware of what had been intended and the reason for the plans failure. A Marine Colonel, he was now determined to carry out this enlightened policy in Van Diemen's Land. The ticket-of-leave convicts were to pay off their land grants by supplying produce to the Government Stores. Most of the United Irishmen had worked on the estates of mainly Ascendancy landowners who absented themselves from their income-producing large estates in Ireland in favour of London's pleasures. Their farmhands were also subsistence farmers in their own right.

As the deputy alnager, with his office in The Flannel House at Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow, Joseph had inspected and stamped the approved woven woollen 'flannel' collected on his farm rounds. Joseph Holt was thus well aware of many of his now convict men's farming background and would have advised the Lieutenant Governor accordingly. In contrast to the cruel conditions that the convicts had endured on Norfolk Island, they were now to enjoy their future life in what many of them declared was a 'Garden of Eden'. It is a matter of record that David Collins implemented this strategy with some success. These two men helped lay the successful agricultural foundation for the future of Van Diemen's Land, hence Joseph Holt's inclusion on the Hobart Memorial to Settlers from Norfolk Island in St David's Park with Lieutenant Governor David Collin's statue overwatching it.


"1805 Dec 2. ... Captain Forrest landed immediately with the dispatches from Norfolk Island. There were on board a great number of sheep and cattle belonging to the government, and a Mr George Guest with his wife and six children. I remained in the ship that night, and the next
1805 Dec 3... morning I was visited by Denis Carty, a young man from the County Wexford; he was very glad to see me. I then dressed myself and went on shore, to pay my respects to Governor Collins, who received me very kindly, and told me he was sorry to hear of the severe conduct of Governor King towards me. He said that he was in possession of the history of the whole transaction and he also said that Foveaux's treatment of me was unpardonable, and ought to subject him to trial.

"I remarked to his Excellency that "if the storm which produced misfortune was a thousand miles off from the spot where I stood in sunshine, it was sure, by some sudden shift of the wind, to burst over my head, and to strike me down to the earth with its lightning."

"He said, "You have a just right to say so."

"Governor Collins made me take a couple of glasses of wine, and he told me to call in the evening upon him, as he had a good deal of business to transact with Captain Forrest. Therefore, taking a respectful leave of the Governor, I went to my friend Carty, and dined with him. After dinner we walked together towards Newtown, which was the government settlement, and in the evening I went to call upon the Governor.

"He asked me how I liked the climate?

"I told him, very well, for what I had seen of it, which was not much; that I certainly liked the temperature of the air, and as far as I could judge, preferred the place to Port Jackson.

"Governor Collins then said, that he would feel obliged to me, if during my stay I would take his boat and boat's crew, and explore the land along the river, making any remarks or observations that occurred to me, upon the ground, so that he might know where best to appoint a location to place the settlers in, that would arrive from Norfolk Island. He added, the superintendent will bear you company, with your friend, Mr Denis Carty.

"I told his Excellency, in reply, that it would give me great pleasure to put him in possession of every thing that my slight knowledge might enable me to observe.

"He shook his head, and remarked that though he had never seen me before, yet that he had a full account of what sort of man I was.

"I bowed, and thanked him for his good opinion of me.

"He presented me with some wine and cakes, and made me sit down. Governor Collins further requested, that at my convenience I would go through the government crop, and the settlers' crops, and acquaint him with my idea of what they might be expected to average.

"I told him that I would do this the next day, as I could not go exploring until the day following, requiring a smith to make me an instrument which perhaps I might want. He was very curious to know what this instrument was. I answered that, "the face of the earth was as deceitful as that of a man." That many a man looked honest and good, if you were to judge him from his countenance, but that a smiling countenance, often disguised the heart of a villain. This," said I, "experience has convinced me of."

'"Your observation is perfectly correct, Mr Holt," observed the Governor, "you are, I perceive, a moralist."

"To convince the Governor that he had not formed a false estimate of me, and to illustrate the moral, I said, "Sir, does not Major Foveaux look smiling and pleasant, even when he is ordering a man to receive from one to five hundred lashes? I am not going, Sir, to explore for you, and to return with a fine account, which might mislead you: no, Sir, I must bore into the soil, and examine what is beneath the surface, it is for this purpose that I require an auger made."

"Governor Collins seemed pleased at my explanation, and was so good as to remark, that I perfectly agreed with the character which he had heard of me. I wished his Excellency good evening, and went to join my friend, Mr. Carty, to whom I mentioned my intention of going through the crops, the next day, in order to make a return of my opinion respecting them to the Governor.

"1805 Dec. 4. On the following morning, my friend Mr. Carty, and I set out, after breakfast, upon this business; what very much surprised me was, perceiving that there had been a frost as thick as a dollar, as it was the 4th of December, which in this part of the world may be compared to July in Ireland, and is, in fact, considered the prime hot month. We proceeded to Newtown, and going through the government wheat, I soon observed that one-fourth of it was smutted. Mr Clark, the overseer of the crops, met me, and I asked him what his opinion was about the produce? He said, he never saw a better crop in his life. I made a slight remark to him about the fullness of the ears of wheat. "Yes," said he, "did you ever see such an ear of wheat before;" and well I might say so, for not one single grain of wheat was there in it. It was an ear of smut. I left the sagacious superintendent perfectly happy in his joyous ignorance. I did not see any occasion for making him miserable; besides, it is a foolish thing ever to take an apprentice without a fee; it spoils trade to do so; and is not of any utility to the teacher. Upon coming to the end of the government crop, Mr Clark wished me good morning, and a pleasant walk. When he parted from us, I put my friend Mr Carty, in full possession of all my knowledge respecting the smut in wheat: I had a few ears in my hand, which enabled me to explain and shew him the nature of this destructive blight; "about which," said I, "Mr Clark knows nothing. He may understand mending a flag-walking lady's shoe, but I am sure he is ignorant of a crop of wheat."

"This Mr Clark had been a shoemaker in London; by interest he got out to New South Wales as a free settler, and he was then made superintendent of the government crops, about which he knew nothing. It is this kind of interest that is injurious to the public; the interest which appoints men to situations for which they are not qualified. Clark was no more fit to be a superintendent of a farm, than I am to be secretary of state. But the worst thing in the appointment of an unqualified person to office, is, that he generally attempts to make up for his ignorance by presumption, and becomes overbearing and tyrannical. He is jealous of every one who has abilities to fill the post in which he is placed, and in, proportion to his inability, is his conceit. It is the cause of misery to thousands, to take a tiger from the land, or a shark out of water, that go about seeking whom they can devour, and place them as rulers; instead of a man with a heart of a Christian and the head of a scholar. Oh that those who are put in authority over us would well weigh and consider the disposition and qualifications of the men, by them appointed to be governors in the far off corners of the earth!

"Mr Carty and I went on the settler's farms. The first we came to belonged to a settler from Cornwall, in England. I entered into conversation with him about his crop, and asked him how he liked the country, and so on. He said, that in a few weeks he hoped he should like the country better than he had hitherto done, for he would then begin to shear his wheat.

"I remarked, that I wished he could clean drag it; that is, in the same way that we drag the dirty wool off the sheep's tails, to make them clean. The settler, or farmer, did not seem to understand me. I said, "Sir, how many bushels do you expect to the acre? He replied, "I think there will be thirty-five, some say forty." 'It looks, said I, "as if you will not get more than thirty." "Why sir, he observed, " it is well headed, and large grain." I stepped into the wheat, and began to pick off a few large, blue-looking ears of smut, and when I had a dozen of them in my hand, I asked the farmer "Had he ever seen finer wheat in England?" He said, not. Then I told him, that I feared he was much mistaken in his calculations, as I did not think his crop would produce him twenty bushels to the acre, and that only with much trouble to get it fit for use. I then explained to him his mistake; and showed him that out of the dozen ears which I had in my hand, the produce was not equal to one sound ear.

"I made a note of all this in my book; and I went on to the next farm, which belonged to a Mr Hayes, who resided there with his wife and daughter. They were manufacturers of straw; plaiting it, in the neatest manner, for the use of ladies. The daughter was a beautiful girl; she was the prettiest violet that I saw growing at the Derwent. The old lady was very pleasant, as my friend and I carried a bottle of good rum with us. I saw a very fine grey-hound here, and admired her beauty so much, that the old lady took me to look at her pups. She had nine, and Mrs Hayes asked me what I might value them at? I told her that I did not know, as I had never seen any sold. She said that she would keep one of them, and that the other eight had been sold for eighty pound, and to be taken when six weeks old. I said I would make a note of this also; which I did.

"I examined the wheat upon the farms of all the settlers, and brought back with me, for the Governor, samples both of the wheat and the smut. My visit to the settlers' farms, and the conversations that I had with them about their crops, left all the poor fellows in a perfect fever.

"I waited on the governor, and, after showing him samples of the smut, I told him that, as near as I could calculate, to deduct the smut from the apparent produce, would render the crop one thousand bushels of wheat short of the returns that had been made to him.

"1805. Dec. - He asked me, whether Clark, the superintendent, was with me when I made the examination? I answered, that "he was with me when I inspected the government crop."

"And did he not see the smut?" enquired the Governor.

"No sir," said I; "the poor man knows nothing about it."

"His Excellency made me remain with him a good while in his tent; and, among other things that he spoke of, he expressed a wish that I would inspect the stock.

"I told him that I would do so with much pleasure; and accordingly, the next day, I made the inspection, in company with Mr Patrickson, who was a tailor by trade, from St Giles in London, and was superintendent over the stock and the town. I went through the sheep, and found them in a most unhealthy condition, requiring much care and doctoring. The cows were also in a very bad state. There were five hundred of them, which had just arrived from India, one of the hottest countries of the globe; and the long sea voyage, with want of sufficient water, had produced a great scurf on their skins.

"Having completed my examination, and made my observations, I gave my opinion to his Excellency upon the best mode of treatment. He was pleased to express himself as very much obliged to me.

"I said, "Sir, if I have been of any service, it is not to government that I desire to be so; but my wish is, to evince respect for the character of Colonel Collins."

"The Governor said, "that he felt obliged to me for this compliment, and valued my opinion of him."

"This gentleman had the good will, the good wishes, and the good word of every one in the settlement. His conduct was exemplary, and his disposition humane. His treatment of the run-away convicts was conciliatory, and even kind. He would go into the forests, among the natives, to allow these poor creatures, the runaways, an opportunity of returning to their former condition; and, half-dead with cold and hunger, they would come and drop on their knees before him, imploring pardon for their behaviour.

"Well," he would say to them, "now that you have lived in the bush, do you think the change you made was for the better? Are you sorry for what you have done?"

"Yes sir."

"And will you promise me never to go away again?"

"Never, sir."

"Go to the storekeeper, then," the benevolent Collins would say, " and get a suit of slops and your week's ration, then go to the overseer and attend to your work. I give you my pardon; but remember, that I expect you will keep your promise to me."

"I never heard of any governor or commandant acting in this manner, nor did I ever witness much leniency from any governor. I have, however, been assured, that there was less crime, and much fewer faults committed among the people under Governor Collins, than in any other settlement, which I think is a clear proof that mercy and humanity are the best policy.

"Colonel Collins died at the Derwent, sincerely lamented by every one there, as well as by all to whom this amiable and excellent gentleman was known, even by reputation.

"1805 Dec. 20. After I had given Governor Collins my advice respecting the treatment of the government stock, I ordered the coxswain of his boat to be ready the next morning at six o'clock I had my marl-auger; and Mr Clark the superintendent, and my friend, Mr Carty, embarked with me. We soon got to Herdsman's Cove ("the modern day Bridgewater", The State Library of Tasmania & Archive and Heritage Office.), the place where Doctor Mountgarret first made the settlement. I went ashore here, and following the course of a fresh-water river or rather brook, and I found very nice land along the banks; but it did not continue so far as to tempt a settler to take a farm there. I ordered the boatmen to row four miles up the Great River (Derwent), and I told them that I would fire two shots within a minute when I wanted them. I ranged through the forest, and, as I had brought two grey-hounds with me, I had a nice chase after a kangaroo-rat, which is an animal nearly as large as a hare. The dogs killed her and I shot a wood-duck. The claws of this bird enable it to perch on the boughs of a tree, and, at the same time, it has the power of diving under the water like a duck, and the plumage is nearly the same. I made the man who attended us carry my game. After this much sport, I began to lean towards the Great River; in doing which, we came to a beautiful spring of water, by the side whereof I sat down, and with Mr Clark, and my friend Mr Carty, took some refreshment. We soon set forward, and met the boat. Mr Clark wished to return, and I was glad of it; he went back by land, and Mr Carty and I proceeded on in the boat.

"At the next fresh water stream that I perceived emptying into the main river, I went ashore, and finding some good looking land, applied my marl - auger to it. I found black mellow earth, of a very good appearance. Having given orders to the boat as before, I took out my course due north, for about two miles; I then altered it, and began to make for the river again: but I could not find above a hundred acres of good land in connexion. Upon embarking again, we started a fine flock of black swans. It was the 20th December, and at that season the swans all go up the river, until their wings get quills, which they drop in this month. We came up with this flock, but only took one of them. Soon after we saw a very pretty stream of strong running water, coming down out of a glen about two miles beyond Dromedary Mountain. I made the boatmen row for the banks, and making fast the boat there, we all went ashore. I tried the ground, and found it to be a black sandy loam. I liked it very much but the question was how far it extended. I made what observations I thought necessary, after examining about two miles square, and laid down a plan of it, as well as I was able. On our return to the boat, the dogs started and killed a small kangaroo, the men soon paunched it, and we set out for Alum Rock ("Alum Rock is in the Kingston/Brown area.", op. cit.) When it was about five o'clock, I thought it better to go ashore, and to make up our fire for the night. Accordingly, we drew up our boat, and having lit a fire, one of the men plucked the swan, and another skinned the kangaroo; the duck and rat remained for the morning. Our camp-kettle was put on with a piece of salt pork in it, and after we had enjoyed ourselves, we all lay down, and slept soundly until the morning.

"1805 Dec. 21 Perceiving a considerable mountain at the distance of four miles, I was anxious to get to the top of it, that I might have an extensive view, and discover the nature of the surrounding country. I therefore made the boatmen row me under the butt of this mountain, and landing, I began to advance up the side; it took me two hours to reach the top. There I sat down, and I saw the finest looking country eyes ever beheld. The land at both sides of the river was very flat, and free of timber, the river was very wide and the mountain that I was upon was soft, sandy ground, which rose higher than Table Mountain, or Mount Dromedary ("Dromedary Mt. is still that, 5 miles north east of New Norfolk. op. cit.). I took a glass of rum, and called it Mount Casha (Pulpit Rock). We thought the plains below us were too far for us to attempt to explore, as we could not bring the boat on with us, a rocky ledge running across the river from one side to the other, which prevented our passage.

"1805 Dec. 23 We next proceeded to Alum Rock; it is a bluff rock, about forty feet above the level of the river, and the alum was very clear. On my account I had but an unsatisfactory account for the Governor. I went to him, and reported that there appeared to me to be several good single farms, and the plains that I saw from the summit of the mountain (New Norfolk plains from Pulpit Rock). He said he would send a party to explore those plains, and to examine the river; and he remarked, that if I could remain a week longer, he would request me to proceed to Pit Water plains; but the ship had moved to Frederick Henry Bay, and fearing that I might miss my passage in her, I thought it better to follow her. The Governor proposed to me to come and live with him, and he offered to make me superintendent of stock over the government stock, and cultivation, promising at the same time, to give me as much land as I desired, beside a town grant, and every encouragement that a man could expect; "for," said he, "I might as well have two old women as the present superintendents, to arrange and conduct business that is of vital importance to the well-being of the settlement.

"I told his Excellency, that as I had a good deal of horned cattle, and stock, it would be troublesome for me to remove.

"He instantly said in reply, "I will soon manage that; for I will make Governor King take your stock in New South Wales, and I will give you full value for them here." And Governor Collins did write to Governor King to make this request, viz. that he would take my stock and grain at a fair valuation, and send my family down to Van Diemen's Land. When the Rev. Mr Marsden came to inform me of this, that Governor Collins had written for me, my wife was not satisfied to move; so I declined going, and that the day that I did so, was a bad day for me, as I might soon have made a fortune under Governor Collins; but having one hundred and ten acres of land, and good beginnings of every kind of stock, I thought it better not to go against my wife's inclination, as and Mr Marsden said that Governor King would not remain in the colony.

"My parting conversation with Governor Collins, was on the 23rd day of December 1807 "( A printer's error, it was 1805. Memoirs of Joseph Holt, General of The Irish Rebels, T. Crofton Croker, editor, 1838).

* * * *** * * *

The State Library of Tasmania & Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office have kindly researched Joseph's above diary entries for the Fellowship as an aid for members to visit the sites that he either named or mentioned in 1805.

Dr Mountgarret's, Herdsman Cove is thought to be "the modern day Bridgewater" -

"Dromedary Mt is still that, 5 miles north east of New Norfolk" -

"Alum Rock is in the Kingston /Brown River area." -

"Mount Casha is unknown."

One of the Cornelius Family Tree researchers, Deborah Rae, England, has kindly suggested that Mt Casha is a writing misinterpretation for Mt Cashel. This remains to be authenticated.
Current research for The Holt Family Fellowship's celebration tour in 2011 suggests that it is the current Pulpit Rock.


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