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Bromptonians in the New World (part 5)

Updated: Jul 20, 2021

Strangers in a Strange Land

After their lengthy, eventful journey, the Caroline finally arrived in Circular Head on 19 February 1828, and some of the passengers and livestock were able to disembark before the ship had to continue to Launceston to go through customs. This would have been quite an event in itself, with a mix of people and animals having to be off-loaded. Once again, not everything went to plan. The Colonial Advocate, and Tasmanian Monthly Review and Register, Saturday 1 March 1828, page 46 reported:

Once the excitement of reaching their destination and standing on dry land again had died down, it may not have been long before some were wondering what they had gotten themselves into. They had arrived, but what next?

The emigrants had believed they would find some comforts from home already in place, but as we saw from the testimony of Rosalie Hare (see Part 4) that was certainly not the case, with not even shelters being ready and the settlers "many wishing themselves back with their mothers, and all wishing themselves at home, and the directors of the company in heaven." You can only imagine their disappointment, especially amongst the families. . No sooner than they had arrived, than many had to set to work.

In its 3rd Report to the Van Diemen’s Land Co of 18 March 1828, it was reported that:

"It being necessary to provide immediate shelter for the people [just arrived on the Caroline], and a speedy supply of Agricultural produce for the subsistence of the Establishment, the Agricultural Servants were employed in clearing land for that purpose and the Mechanics [which included blacksmiths] in erecting huts, and other temporary accommodations."

These Yorkshiremen and women might also have been in wonder at some of the flora and fauna they encountered, which would have been a lot different to their homeland. Mrs Rosalie Hare (wife of the Caroline's Captain) described in her journal:

"Here were plenty of trees, but they were of stringy-bark, so called from their bark continually falling off and hanging in strips. Leaves only at the top. I was much pleased with the beautiful little parrots and cockatoos flying about; the kangaroos skipping on their hind legs are also very curious. The head of this animal is something like the head of a rabbit. The body very large In proportion, with a long tapering tail. The forelegs are not more than one-third the length of the hind legs. They spring from place to place with great swiftness upon their hind legs and tall."

Apart from the curious kangaroos, they would have certainly have been alarmed (as are most people) by the screams and screeches of the Tasmanian devil (listen here) as well as being amazed by the range of unfamiliar birds and animals which would have included the now endangered Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, the critically endangered swift parrot and the now extinct Tasmanian Emu (officially extinct by 1865) and the Tasmanian Tiger (last known example died in captivity in 1935).

Conflict with, Massacres and Genocide of Native Tasmanian peoples.

We must also remember that, as well as settlers and convicts, Van Diemen's Land had its own indigenous population - the so called "aboriginal Tasmanians" or "first nation peoples". The Caroline had arrived during a time of intense conflict between settlers and these peoples. What is now referred to as the Cape Grim Massacre occurred on 10 February 1828, only nine days before the Caroline arrived in Circular Head. It is estimated that 30 aboriginal people were shot by members of the VDL Co. ostensibly in retaliation for sheep raiding but effectively part of a wider genocide lasting several years. George Augustus Robinson stated in his journal of 10 August 1830 that:

"The white men at the Hampshire and Surrey Hills evince a hostile feeling towards the aborigines and declare they will shoot them whenever they may find them."

Before the colonisation of Tasmania in 1803, accurate numbers of the native Tasmanians are hard to establish and estimates range from 3,000 to 15,000+. The population suffered a drastic drop in numbers within three decades, so that by 1835 only some 400 Tasmanian aboriginal people survived, most of this remnant being incarcerated in camps where all but 47 died within the following 12 years. It was a shameful and brutal extermination.

Struggles of the VDL Company In today’s terms, the VDL Co might be said to have had an severe image problem. As well as conflict with the native peoples, it certainly had other significant difficulties in terms of achieving its main objective of a successful sheep rearing business because it did not have the best of land for that specific purpose.

Location of VDL Co lands in the December 1988 issue of Tasmanian Ancestry ( Vol 9 No 4, p173)

The VDL Co also did nothing to endear itself to local settlers. The following report in the Hobart Town Courier on Saturday 2 February 1828, page 3 complained about the fact that the VDL Co did not even bring news from England – in an age where communication between countries was limited, this would have been a major offence.

In addition, the VDL Co was in conflict with the Government of the day. According to C.J. Binks in his 1989 book Explorers of Western Tasmania (p.39):

Bushrangers and Convicts

As indentured servants, the new emigrants were directed to where they worked, and often worked alongside convicts under similar conditions. Life was certainly harsh for all, and some settlers and escaped convicts turned to bushranging - basically they became outlaws.

One of the farm servants from Brompton-on-Swale - Joseph Hind - was actually reported in Colonial Correspondence as being allotted land as a reward for capturing bushrangers some time before 1837.

Bushranger Samuel Britton

One contemporary bushranger was a man called Samuel Britton. He'd been originally sentenced for smuggling at Bristol Quarter Sessions in England in 1822 and was sentenced to 14 years. He was transported to Van Diemen's Land on the convict ship "Caledonia" along with 149 other convicts- sailing 19 June 1822 and arriving in November 1822. Its almost certain that in such a sparsely populated area, some of the passengers from the Caroline would have known and heard of Britton and perhaps even worked with him. Sharon Burnell's research indicates that George Barras from Brompton-on-Swale, worked in the same areas for example and as a single man and a blacksmith he would certainly be out working alongside convicts.

In December 1828 Britton absconded from his master W.G.Walker, Esq and joined up with another escapee, John Bevan. Bevan was betrayed and shot by a new gang member in late February 1830, and for the next few years Britton sought revenge for his friends death. 

The Colonial Times of Hobart announced on 26-Feb-1833
WHEREAS Samuel Britton, No. 547, per "Caledonia", a convict, is now at large and has committed many depredations, and it being very desirable to capture him, I am authorised by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, to offer a Reward of Two Hundred Sovereigns to any person or persons who shall apprehend and lodge him in safe custody. In addition to the above Reward, a Free Pardon will be granted, should the said Samuel Britton be taken prisoner. M. FORSTER. C.P.M

On New Years Day 1835, Britton and two of his long time gang members Jeffkins and Brown were engaged in a gun battle with police near Kelso on the Tamer River, Britton was shot in the thigh and suffered a severe wound and was left behind while Jeffkins and Brown went to find food. Troopers caught up with them and in the ensuing shoot-out Jeffkins was killed and Brown fatally wounded. Brown told the authorities as to the whereabouts of Britton before his death but when a search was initiated, no sign of Britton was to be found. To this day the survival and whereabouts of Samuel Britton remains a mystery. 

Completion of Indentured Service

We know that the emigrants on the Caroline were indentured servants and despite the tough conditions, it seems that they did complete their terms of service, although apart from becoming a bushranger, there was probably little choice.

Edward Curr is reported in the Seventh Report to the General Meeting of the Van Diemens Land Co (pp14-15 in original report) as stating in May 1831:

"It has been a source of sincere satisfaction to me, in which I am sure the Court will participate, to find all the old indented servants of the Company, who went out per the Tranmere and Caroline, doing extremely well with not more, I believe, than one exception, and with the same one exception, very well spoken of. The farming men are generally in places at wages of from thirty to fifty guineas a-year with a maintenance; the shepherds £50 to £60 a-year; the mechanics are chiefly in this town and earning 10s. per day and upwards: these latter have got town allotments, and are most of them building or about to build good brick cottages for themselves."

Possibly the ‘one exception’ that Curr refers to was Alan Baxter - a joiner/carpenter from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Curr reported Baxter on 12 February 1831 in a letter to the Colonial Secretary as complaining of ill-treatment and injustice, as having been the worst behaved indentured servant on the Caroline, and the only one to have been brought before a Magistrate. (Note: It was Alan Baxter, according to Rosalie Hare "a certain A.. B...", who had to be put in irons onboard the Caroline on Aug 8th 1827 after getting drunk, using mutinous language and threatening the lives of the Captain and Surgeon).

NEXT TIME: In part 6 we will look at what happened to the Hind family, and the Stevenson, Prest and Barras men from Brompton-on-Swale. It’s a story of enterprise, resilience and mixed fortunes.

Links to Previous Articles in this Series

NOTE: Please feel free to add your comments and questions to the blog - scroll down to the comments section at the bottom of the page.

[Source: Original research by Sharon Burnell and Peter Hodgson] [Source: The Voyage of the Caroline by Rosalie Hare 1827-1828]

[Source: Explorers of Western Tasmania by C.J.Binks 1989]

[Source: National Library of Australia]

[Source: Convict Records]


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