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The Collins/Holt Discussions

Sullivan's Cove, Van Diemen's Land - December 3 to 23, 1805.

It is obvious that these two military men quickly obtained a high regard for each other. It is interesting to learn the outcome of their discussions. The United Irish General and the Lieutenant Governor, a marine Colonel, shared an empathy which resulted in his former United Irish troops, now convicts, being offered agricultural land, stocked to varying degrees with government animals and seed, and paid for through the production of grain, flour, fruit, vegetables, wool, meat, poultry and eggs. Valuation was to be agreed and produce sold to Government Stores for the good of the settlement. The implementation of this ingenious scheme, originating from London, for the planned self-sufficient maintenance of the Van Diemen's Land colony's food supply was in sharp contrast to that existing previously in Van Diemen's Land, Norfolk Island and New South Wales. John Piper, Joseph Holt and David Collins had all experienced the latter. The Lieutenant Governor was perfectly aware why it had failed previously. Although David Collins gets historians' recognition occasionally for its implementation, the part that Joseph Holt and John Piper played in it has yet to be recognised.

Joseph's appreciation of the needs and comfort of his men pervades his 'history'. There is no finer example of this than the preparations General Joseph Holt ordered in July 1798 for the potato and beef stew with which to welcome and nourish the 11,000 exhausted Wexford/Carlow United Irish remnants under the leadership of Colonel Myles Byrne, Captain Anthony Perry, Fr Mogue Kearns and others to the Wicklow Mountains following their long harassed march after their military rout at Vinegar Hill, County Wexford, on June 21, 1798. It was Fr Mogue Kearns who had been one of the main protagonists for such a static battle against the then Colonel's advice. During their retreat, Fr John Murphy and his men became lost and separated in the fog from the main force. Most of them were butchered at The Battle of Kilcumney along with the nearby villagers, such as at Ballinkillen. (Kilcumney '98 - its Origins, Aftermath & Legacy, Mick Kinsella, Edward N. Moran, Conor Murphy, 1988). Joseph had predicted the result, protected his men and prepared for its aftermath.

Captain John Piper would have been aware of the original plan for making the colony self-sufficient with food by including the 'ticket-of-leave' convicts in land grants and the reasons for its failure in Sydney. It is obvious that, after discussions with Joseph, he included an improved plan in his dispatches to Lieutenant Governor Collins. David Collins had not met Joseph Holt, he had returned to England in 1796 from where he sailed on HMS Calcutta, again without his wife, and approximately 400 convicts to Port Phillip on the 9th October 1803. After reading Captain John Piper's dispatches, his warm welcome of Joseph Holt into his tent at Sullivan's Cove on the 3rd December 1805, as recorded by Joseph Holt, is there for all to see and is now thought to have also been influenced by their membership of The Masonic Lodge. John Piper would have informed David of Joseph's successful agricultural activities in New South Wales for Captain William Cox and himself. Captain Piper would have wanted to help his brother officer, Colonel David Collins, out of his well known food supply difficulties which he was already experiencing before the closure of the Norfolk Island Penal Colony. Without the successful implementation of this ingenious plan to aid the enlarged population, it was obvious that the Van Diemen's Land colony would fail.

That a good proportion of the convicts were formerly Joseph's United Irish troops added more poignancy for him; however, it took a Lt. Governor of Colonel David Collins' calibre, answerable to Governor King and his seniors in Great Britain, to not only agree but to implement the idea successfully.


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