Freycinet Visitor’s Centre
The Visitor Centre.
Abel Janszoon Tasman and a page from his journal.
No sooner than we had entered the Visitor Centre - post Wineglass Lookout bimble, [not far along the road from where we had parked Mabel], than we were at the information boards.
When the first European explorers sailed along this coastline, they gazed through telescopes at the land that was – to them – brand new. As they charted the outlines of islands, bays and bluffs, they gave new names in Old World languages – Dutch, French, English – to land that had already been named by Aboriginal people for thousands of years.
The newcomers chose names that acknowledged patrons and flattered politicians. Names that put a personal stamp on their discoveries. Names that expressed their wonder or surprise. But what they were doing here, so far from the European ports of Rotterdam, Southampton and Le Havre ???
Dutch navigator Abel Tasman commanded the first ships to sail into these waters. Europe’s seafaring powers – the English, French, Portuguese and Dutch – were deeply curious about the existence of an unknown southland that would balance the northern landmass of the Old World. All wanted to be the first to find it.
In 1642, Tasman was sent by the Governor of the East Indies, Anthony van Diemen, to explore for land in southern waters and seek a new trading route to the Dutch colonies in south-east Asia, avoiding the Spanish-held Philippines. Tasman’s route took him further south than any European explorer had been. He sighted land to the west, skirted the South Coast and was blown by heavy gales out of Storm Bay. Further north, he named islands along the coast – one in honour of Governor van Diemen’s wife, Maria, and another for a famous colleague and friend, Justus Schouten.
Tasman thought the peninsula we know as Freycinet was an island, marking on his chart as Vanderlins Eylandt, after Cornelius van der Lijn, who followed van Diemen as Governor of the East Indies.
The East Coast waited 130 years before its next European visit. This time, the French tricolour flew from the masthead of Marion du Fresne’s two ships on their 1772 voyage of geographic survey and scientific discovery.
Using information from Tasman’s charts, they rounded Tasman Island and sailed north, dropping anchor south of the Marion Bay Narrows and exploring ashore in search of fresh water and timber for masts. Regrettably, his encounter with Tasmanian Aboriginal people resulted in the first death from European musket fire.
In the following year, the English arrived. Tobias Furneaux, captain of the ship Adventure, was second in command to James Cook on their voyage to explore deep into unknown southern waters. The ships were separated after reaching New Zealand and Furneaux steered for Van Diemen’s Land, where he sheltered in a bay he named for his ship. As he continued north along the coast, Furneaux saw columns of smoke ashore - his chart marks the place as the Bay of Fires.
[Furneaux was born in Swilly House, a beautiful Georgian mansion with parts dating back to Tudor times, and set within 50 acres of rolling Devon pastures. It was described in a 19th-century guidebook as 'agreeably situated in a sheltered lawn... set amongst well kept gardens and pleasant sylvan surroundings'.]
On later voyages, James Cook and William Bligh both landed in Adventure Bay, but the next British navigator to explore the East Coast was John Henry Cox. In 1789 the brig Mercury anchored in the western lee of Maria Island then passed north through the wide passage between the island and the coast.
As the eighteenth century ended in Europe, the quest for scientific knowledge grew. The adventurous French navigator La Perouse was missing in southern waters on one of his bold voyages of discovery, and in 1792 the French Government sent Admiral Bruni D’Entrecasteaux to the far south, to search for La Perouse as well as to chart unknown coastlines.
D’Entrecasteaux spent a month exploring the bays and waterways of a wide channel separating Bruny Island from the mainland. His ships’ boats rowed and sailed into the estuary of a wide river, Riviere du Nord. [The Englishman John Hayes, followed the same route a year later in 1793, renaming the river the Derwent].
Sketch showing discoveries of Baudin’s expedition. Captain Matthew Flinders.
At the turn of the century, England and France were at war. While their armies and navies clashed in European battles, the navigators of the world’s two great colonial powers continued their voyages in distant oceans, gathering scientific knowledge and filing away information of strategic importance.
In 1802, Admiral Baudin led a French scientific expedition to explore the south coasts of New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land. In the ships Naturaliste and Geographe, the Frenchmen spent several weeks in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Derwent regions, then made detailed surveys along the East Coast, making several journeys ashore from anchorage near Maria Island.
Baudin’s cartographer Freycinet explored inland and the expedition’s naturalist Francois Peron described and classified 2500 new species of animals and plants and collected 100,000 specimens.
Sailing north to the Furneaux Islands, the two ships became separated in a storm. The Naturaliste surveyed the Hunter group and other Bass Strait Islands, then sailed north to reach Port Jackson in April 1802. But Baudin in the Geographe passed through the Bass Strait and continued into the Great Australian Bight, meeting Matthew Flinders in Encounter Bay at the mouth of the Murray River.
On the return voyage to Port Jackson, for reasons unknown Baudin continued south down the west coast of Van Diemen’s Land, completing his circumnavigation of the island. His crew was weak with scurvy when they finally reached Port Jackson in June 1802.
Governor King received the French visitors with hospitality and friendship, but he did not overlook the Empire’s wider strategic interests – peace had been declared in Europe, but the world’s political climate remained tense during the first years of the new century.
Soon after Baudin’s two ships had sailed from Port Jackson, King sent Lieutenant Charles Robbins to stake England’s claim to the territory they had been exploring.
Claude-Francois Fortier’s drawing
Robbins carried several sets of orders – depending on the weather he may encounter, he was charged to raise the flag at Frederick Henry Bay and the Derwent, or at King Island and Port Phillip. To further establish the English claim, Robbins was instructed to place a guard at each landing place, turn up the ground and plant seeds.
Robbins crossed paths with Baudin on King Island, handing Baudin a brief letter from King, reinforcing the Crown’s possession of Van Diemen’s Land and the southern coast of the mainland. An English landing party planted the Union Jack under the noses of the amused Frenchmen, who were studying insects at the time.
King then decided that even more positive steps must be taken – in 1803 he ordered the youthful Lieutenant John Bowen to establish a colony on the shores of the Derwent River, claiming all Van Diemen’s Land for the Crown.
First, they came by sea – then on horseback and on foot. Rough tracks became coach routes then motor roads. Today’s comfortable drive of a couple of hours from Hobart or Launceston to the East Coast was a multi-day expedition – not so very long ago.
Two East Coast families arrived in Van Dieman’s Land on the same ship - the Emerald, the fist vessel to be privately chartered by free settlers, brought members of the Amos and Meredith clans from England in 1821.
26th January 1816. “A heavy swell setting in from the Southard in the afternoon, we hauled up in Waub’s Boat Harbour. Heavy surf on the beach half filled the boat when landing, which wet our skins.” Bicheno entry in the James Kelly’s log during his 1815-1816 circumnavigation in the whaleboat ‘Elizabeth’.
29th September 1821. “At daylight found we were in the bay off Little Swan Port. Pulled at the oars for three hours and a favourable breeze springing up, made Meredith’s Creek about ten o’clock where we found Mr. Amos had built a small hut on the south side of the creek. Planted fruit trees.”
30th September 1821. “Looked around for a convenient place to build a store to receive and lodge our goods, implements etc.etc. and live in until the surveyor measures off the grants and we can each fix a final residence and farm buildings, stockyards etc. Caught fish.”
Diary of George Meredith, first settler at Swansea.
The sheep here are large but rather leggy. George Meredith in a letter to his brother John in England.
George Meredith and Adam Amos took their teenage sons with them when they left Hobart Town in an open whaleboat for the voyage to the East Coast, where Lieutenant Governor Sorell had sent them to choose their land grants.
George selected land at Meredith River just north of where the township of Swansea would grow up. He built huts, store sheds and stockyards, sowed wheat and barley and explored along the banks of the Swan River seeking good grazing land for the livestock he’d brought from England – not ‘large and leggy’ specimens like the local sheep but top-class Saxon Merino rams and ewes.
Over the years, George Meredith acquired thousands of acres of land, prospering from agriculture as well as other activities including ship-building, flour milling and tanning. He also pioneered shore-based whaling on the East Coast, operating stations at Coles Bay, Refuge Island, Darlington and Prosser Bay.
There were bitter disputes about land boundaries between Meredith and William Talbot, who had been issued an identical authority to occupy the land. Governor Sorell finally granted Talbot land in the Fingal Valley, where he established the fine grazing property ‘Malahide’.
The Meredith’s homestead was designed and built by an ex-convict known as ‘Old Bull’. He built ‘Cambria’ to last, and it became the much-loved family home for generations of Meredith’s, including the multi-talented Louisa Anne Meredith, who had married George’s son Charles. Her evocative writings and paintings captured the flavour of Tasmanian country life during the late 19th century.
“Little Walter died at four o’clock this morning. Robert very ill. Father and me making a coffin.” Amos family diary entry 1842.
Adam Amos had been a tenant farmer of George Meredith in Pembrokeshire, England. With his brother John and their families, they joined the Merediths on a voyage of emigration in 1821.
Adam chose land on the middle reaches of the Swan River. His selection ‘Glen Gala’, was the first of a collection of pioneer homesteads that formed the rural hamlet of Cranbrook. The high standards of farming established by the two brothers and their families impressed the Land Commissioners, who rewarded them with extra grants of new land to farm.
Amos became entangled in the feud between George Meredith and William Talbot, but Governor Sorell attempted to settle the matter by granting Talbot land in the Fingal Valley appointing Amos to the position of Chief District Constable and Keeper of the Pound.
Although they were already skilled and practical people, the men and women pioneer families faced the difficulties and dangers of establishing new farms in a new land. The Amos family had its share of troubles – ‘Glen Gala’ was twice destroyed by fire, and parts of its flour mill were swept away by floods. An Amos daughter drowned in the mill race and a son lost his life in a riding accident.
But like other East Coast Pioneer families, they persisted – and today, their descendants carry on the traditions of hard work and care of the land.
“We visited a man who had become notorious for the use of profane language and for cursing his eyes; he had become nearly blind, but seemed far from having profited from his judgement.” Quaker missionary James Backhouse after calling on John Harte.
A wild young man from a distinguished Irish family, John de Courcy Harte settled in the district in 1821, building the homestead ‘Bellbrook’. Always in and out of debt, ‘Paddy’ Harte sold or leased part of ‘Bellbrook’ to Patrick Conolly and acquired some poor quality land at Little Swanport in shady deals that led to legal strife in years to come.
Paddy cooled his heels in the Hobart Gaol for debt, went to New South Wales to seek new fortunes and finally returned to reclaim ‘Bellbrook’ after fighting Conolly through the courts.
The Surveyor-General JE Calder never forgot his chance meeting with Harte in Radford’s Inn at Little Swanport, during which Paddy managed to down two bottles of ale with his new friend, then depart at a gallop without paying. Calder believed that Harte was responsible for “many of the silly names that disgrace our maps of the East Coast” – the Paradise Gorge on the Prosser near Orford, Break Me Neck and Bust Me Gall Hills were probably named by Paddy Harte.
Francis and Anna Cotton.
The Cottons of Kelvedon. One of the East Coast’s most prominent pioneer families, the Cotton dynasty began with Francis Cotton, who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 1829 with his wife Anna and five children. Their close friend and fellow Quaker Dr George Fordyce Story emigrated with them.
After losing many of their possessions in a shipwreck on Maria Island and most of the rest in a fire at their temporary cottage in Swansea, they selected land at Salty Lagoon south of Swansea, built a house and established the estate they called ‘Kelvedon’ after Anna’s home village in Essex. The house was the location of Tasmania’s first Quaker meeting and there are two Quaker cemeteries on the site.
Dr Story lived with the Cotton family and worked from a surgery at ‘Kelvedon’. He once rescued Anna Cotton and her youngest daughter Rachel from a drunken hold-up attempt by ‘Dido’, a bushranger who had once worked as a labourer for the Cottons. “Oh Mrs Cotton, don’t let them tie me up – you know I’d never harm a member of the Cotton family!” said ‘Dido’ after his capture.
Francis and Anna had fourteen children – their descendants have continued to play prominent roles in the life of the East Coast and Tasmania’s Quaker community. Members of the family were instrumental in the push to have Freycinet declared a national park. The Cotton family still owns and farms at ‘Kelvedon’ today.
“The 11th was a Sunday, but I had to march ten miles to the house of Mr Herring, whose estate is ‘Apsley’. I do not think I ever saw such a road. I had seen no rain since I left Oatlands but hereabouts it had fallen in plenty, and in consequence great doubts were expressed at Bicheno as to whether I could get across the river [I forget the name] which for three days had been impassable to man or horse. By wading nearly up to my middle, I got across in safety, and after wading another stream knee deep and repeatedly walking many yards at a time in eight to ten inches of water on the road, and many, many more yards in muddy slush, I got to Apsley, a nice figure for a drawing room!” F.J. Cockburn’s journal of a walking tour of the East Coast in the 1850’s.
“At the seaward end of the rocky Paradise glen, where Prosser’s River widens to a small estuary, the Meredith Bridge spans the stream, connecting the northern and southern portions of the East Coast. Before its erection, the broad river river formed a serious obstacle to communication, and I well remember, on my first journey hither, being amazed by seeing two horsemen riding out, as it seemed to me, straight into open sea, as though bound for Maria Island, when I was informed that they were in reality making their way across the river by following the course of a long spit of sand, which forming a comparative shallow, enabled travellers at certain periods of the tide to gain the opposite beach, though not without considerable risk and a thorough wetting.” Louise Anne Meredith ‘Our Island Home – A Tasmanian Sketch Book’, 1879.
May I be permitted to occupy a small space in your journal to call attention to a serious inconvenience which travellers by coach from George’s Bay to the Corners frequently have to suffer? I refer to the practice of arriving too late at the Corners to catch the express train to Hobart.
No blame is attached to the horses – but the coachman dawdles away valuable time in a manner which proclaims him a past master in the art of ‘how not to do it’. Time is wasted in every conceivable way. It takes longer to change horses, longer to strap the luggage on the roof, longer to collect the mail bags, longer to buckle a strap or fix a chain, longer to light a pipe and longer to spin a yarn with a friend than on any coach I have ever travelled with in my life.
I am not likely to visit the East Coast again for some time and when I do I shall certainly adopt some mode of conveyance other than the coach. But the increasing importance of the East Coast tin mining district and the large number of persons who are required to travel thither on business render it important that regularity and punctuality should be strictly observed.
March 29 1882”
“Observe ladies and gentlemen, the astonishing brilliance of a five candle-power electrical light globe!” William Morris exhibiting electric light in Hobart, 1882.
James Morris brought his wife and baby to Hobart Town from Essex in 1853 – his mother, sister and brother William followed soon after.
The Morrises were successful and entrepreneurial business people. James worked with well-known Hobart Firm Mather & Son before branching out on his own in Swansea, where he bought the business that stayed in the family for generations. William tried his luck on the mainland goldfields before going into business in the North East and then Hobart, where he demonstrated one of the town’s first installations of electric lighting in 1882.
Today, the fine old Morris building is a Swansea landmark, one of the last and best country general stores, where you can buy anything from chewing gum to gumboots.
Silence and calm seem to be the keynotes of life in St Helen’s. Here and there in the broad main street could be seen parties of well-dressed ladies sauntering about enjoying the beauties of the day. From the direction of the tin mines could be seen strings of ore-laden carts, the full-fed teams well under command. On the road, parties of Chinamen trudged along in single file, as is the wont of the patient Mongolians. A small steamer was moored to the wharf and a handful of lumbers were engaging in discharging the cargo and stacking tin ore. All, however, was going on without noise or apparent effort.
“You see,” our guide remarked, “We do not fash ourselves with frantic work. Life is worth living at this place without rushing at it or through it. We have our local circulating library, our little literary and reading clubs, our concerts and picnics. Who could fail to be content in a place like this?” Travel Diary of Henry Button, touring the East Coast in the 1880’s.
“We became acquainted with the ‘Tasmanian boy’ as we cycled along the coast. He is the same tough, cheeky and carefree young terror as his species on the mainland. The traveller is fair game to this young imp. Seeing us toiling slowly uphill, he would jeer. ‘Aw, it’s the pace wot kill, ain’t it mister?.’ And once on a terrifying downhill run, a young Tasmanian of twelve summers or so, literally festooned with dead rabbits, popped up over a stone and yelled ‘Hey mister, got the time on yer?’” Cycling journalists TM Hogan and Hal Gye, circa 1920.
We had a look around the natural history end.
We looked at a cross section of the local Marine Reserve and ‘loved’ one particular creature.
Barry – otherwise known as Psychrolutes sp, is not happy out of water. Psychrolutes is Greek for ‘someone that has had a cold bath’. Blobfish grow to about 70 cms and live in very deep waters from 600 to 2800 metres. The pressure down there is up to two hundred and eighty times higher than the surface – if humans went to such depths we would be so squashed that we wouldn’t look too good either. So how do blobfish survive? Their jelly-like flesh enables them to cope. If they had a full skeleton, lots of muscles and air-filled cavities like other fish [and us], the extreme pressure at the bottom of the ocean would make the blobfish collapse. Having very few muscles means they can’t swim around so, they sit on the dark ocean floor and eat any food that happens to pass by. They are the ultimate deep sea couch-potato.
From fish to blob.
A message from Barry. “In complete darkness, sitting at the bottom of the ocean, thousands of metres deep and under enormous crushing pressure. Next thing I was brought to the surface in a net and I went all flabby. I don’t normally look like this – I’m actually a compact little fish. Now I’ve been voted ‘the ugliest creature on earth’!”
ALL IN ALL LOVELY TO READ ABOUT REAL PEOPLE
REALLY WELL PRESENTED