Following the publication of several immigrants’ guides, settlers with capital began to relocate to the colony of Van Diemen’s Land from the early 1820s onwards. It was during this period that the first groups of farming pioneers arrived and settled in what became the Campbell Town Police District, that area in the Midlands, bounded by the Lower Macquarie, Blackmans, Lake, South Esk and Break O Day rivers.1On presenting their Letters of Approval for a land grant from the Colonial Office in London, they were generally granted one acre of land for every pound in capital or goods they brought with them, to a maximum of around 3000 acres. Most settlers arrived with between ₤2000 and ₤3000 in cash and had one year to settle on the grant and make improvements or else the grant lapsed.It is still possible to see that landscape through the eyes of the colonial artist Joseph Lycett, whose hand colored etchings, depicted the journey from Hobart through the Campbell Town Police District in the 1820s and recorded an almost empty Arcadian landscape, just at the point that it was being eroded by the forces of European settlement.2If we take this metaphoric journey with him we can see the type of pristine new world he tried to convey. His benign golden view from near the top of Constitution Hill on the Main Road leading to Campbell Town looks back over the natural pastures of the Bagdad Plains, almost hiding the insignificant dots of roadside houses where travelers could find accommodation.3 He stopped further along at the Jordan River to admire the Jericho Plains on his left, the low wooded slope of Spring Hill and the vaguely disturbing wilder hills rising higher in the mid ground to the top of Table Mountain.4Despite his assurances of the novelty and abundance of wildlife on these plains, it is his reference to the bushranger Lemon, “the terror of travelers who passed this way”, who hid out in the wetlands of the mid distance of this scene that creates the sense of unease about what was hidden in those densely wooded slopes and valleys.5He traveled on safely through the last of the hills and stopped near the southern boundary of the Campbell Town district. From the hilltop he could look at the reassuringly open Salt Pan Plains to his right. 6Below him, the dirt road became rougher and narrower as it snaked across the plains ahead which were broad and welcoming. The odd bump of Grimes Sugarloaf and the two salt pools were clearly visible. Sublime hills surrounded the plains and it would take many miles before a traveler would have to enter the forbidding Epping Forest which was just visible on the horizon. While Lycett wrote about the many sheep and cattle grazing there, they are quite invisible in this scene. Lycett paused next at the Ford across the Macquarie River.7 He picked out the tiny shapes of the two Government dwellings, their roofs and chimneys just discernable behind a small rise. One was where the Superintendent of the Government herds and his men were housed, and near it was the small barracks for the Corporal’s party that was stationed at Ross. A rough log and dirt bridge was already completed just below the ford and out of sight in the picture. Two travelers on horseback had chosen the ford crossing. Lycett traveled through the projected site of Ross village and crossed the rich Argyle Plains, only to stop on the road past Campbell Town where he could sketch the Macquarie Plains with the massive Tasman’s peak in the distance.8 For the first time, he drew one of the herds of sheep so prolific on these plains, but he neglected to portray any of the many convict herdsmen’s or storekeepers’ huts that he mentioned were scattered through the area.While Lycett hinted at the presence of huts, sheep and cattle, convict herdsmen, hunting parties, bushrangers, soldiers and government officials, they largely remained subordinated to his visual theme of the last bloom of Arcadia before it was swamped by colonial occupation. Yet this passing Arcadia had other significant omissions. It was, for Lycett, an empty landscape already devoid of its traditional owners, the Tasmanian Aborigines, who had created the park-like open grass lands with their fire farming techniques. It was already metamorphosing into an idealized pastoral landscape that pushed aside the sublime and wild mountains and their invisible custodians.9 Other travelers along this same main road brought some scenes of the new culture into sharper focus. Edward Curr recoiled from the rough huts along the roads where accommodation could be sought. As he described it:The cottage is usually built of sods or logs or mud and thatched with straw, a few logs laid together in the style of an American fence, perhaps compose the pig-sty; and an open detached yard of the same materials, serves to contain the working cattle. These are in the majority of cases the only features of a farm house in Van Diemen’s Land, unless, indeed, we think it proper to add the disgusting appearance of wool, bones, sheepskins, wasted manure, and the confused heap of ploughs, harrows, carts, firewood, and water casks, with a few quarters of mutton or kangaroo hanging on a neighboring tree, and a numerous tribe of dogs and idlers; the former barking, the latter lounging about. Everything betokens waste and disorder.10From that time on, the sublime would exist side by side with the shambolic as the hunting grounds of the traditional owners morphed into the farming landscape of settler society. Curr supported the growth of a wealthier settler class that would create well managed farms, instead of the haphazard small farmsteads of the emancipists that Lycett had airbrushed out of his views.11 Ironically the early homes of the new settlers would be just as roughly built as the one Curr described, although generally a good deal tidier.12Yet only ten years were to pass before another pattern had been imposed upon the landscape, even though its seeds were already growing when Lycett first drew his scenes. The Bigge Report, published by 1823, reviewed the previous ten years of Macquarie’s management of the convict system in New South Wales and proposed major changes. Convicts of both sexes would be more closely managed than previously. They would serve a specific number of years of their sentence working for settlers before being eligible for tickets of leave. Their rations and allowances for clothing and other necessities were specified and they would be required to live in barracks on the farms or in those provided by the administration for all government convicts.13Female convicts could no longer marry on arriving in the colony, but had to work at least three years for settlers or in a government female factory.14 Byshifting the responsibility of supervision and the cost of their keep onto settlers, the convict system was supposed to cost less to Britain. At the same time “respectable Settlers, Men of real Capital” and not “needy adventurers” would be encouraged to migrate to the colonies attracted by cheap land and cheap convict labour.15 Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur, after arriving in Van Diemen’s Land in 1824, had to implement the new policies of the assignment system that grew out of the Bigge Report. His task was to impose order and control on the chaotic spread of settlers, convicts and animals that quickly filled Lycett’s pastures along the Main Road of Van Diemen’s Land.16 Prior to 1823 only 47,180 acres of crown land had been granted to settlers. By the end of 1823 this had increased to over 400,000 acres, as settlers with capital started to arrive.17 By the end of 1824 the choicest land in the Campbell Town Police District had already been selected by the new arrivals. The farming landscape created by the new settlers with capital is the next of the several landscapes of the 1830s that this thesis will primarily be concerned with, a landscape that did not altogether obliterate Lycett’s Arcadia, but was layered on top of it.If a traveler rode along the same route through the Campbell Town police district in the early 1830s, that Lycett had depicted a decade earlier, he would experience a landscape under the forces of British occupation, and from Arthur’s point of view, under his control. A government presence was in view everywhere. Police and military detachments were strategically deployed throughout the district; magistrates’ farms were within a few miles of each other and road gangs and their compounds could be found at intervals along the major roads. Court houses, police barracks and fenced lock ups were prominently located in many of the small country villages. The engagement with the Indigenous inhabitants was all but over with only small pocketsof Aborigines remaining in some of the remote parts of the district or surviving as isolated individuals or as the protected clients of a few settlers.18Nevertheless the settlers still feared the Aborigines, despite the general contemporary belief that only 300 to 400 Aborigines remained.19 But as the fear of Aborigines receded during the 1830s, Arthur’s colonial government tightened its control over the 1100 convicts who worked as labourers and servants for the 1000 settlers of the Campbell Town police district. Livestock theft continued to be a major problem for settlers who now attributed it to convicts, ticket-of- leave men and emancipists. Soldiers from the 63rd, 57th, 17th Regiments and the 4th Foot were deployed to occupy and control the district, during the first few years of the 1830s. A substantial deployment of between 20 and 40 soldiers were always located at the village of Ross.20 In 1830 two or three soldiers were also stationed at Campbell Town, Blackman’s River, Auburn farm on the Isis River, Lake River and at Mr. Scott’s farm and the farms of two justices of the peace – Hezekial Harrison on the Macquarie and James Sutherland on the Isis. As the numbers of soldiers in the District declined from around 110 to 60 men, they were consolidated over the next few years at four locations. In 1831 there were 28 soldiers distributed between Auburn, Break o’ Day Plains and St Pauls Plains, all areas on either the Isis or South Esk Rivers, where there may have still been Aborigines residing nearby.21The following year some of these soldiers were redeployed to the remote settlements of Avoca and Fingal, further along the South Esk Valley.22 The isolated tracks and bridle paths that followed the rivers or cut across country to the new settlements were patrolled by contingents of redcoats on foot and their white tents and rough wooden barracks and stables were erected wherever they were deployed. But while their visibility was high in parts of the district, it is doubtful if they had a great impact in protecting settlers from Aboriginal attacks, bushrangers or mutinous convicts. By the time news of an attack reached a military outpost and they traveled to assist, the attack had usually passed. For all intents and purposes, the settlers and their convict servants had to defend themselves as well as they could.23 Soldiers appeared to act more as a deterrent and were used to track perpetrators after the event.24 They were gradually replaced by convict police as the fear of the Aboriginal population declined.As the soldiers were withdrawn into a smaller number of larger camps in settlements on the more isolated fringes of the district, the deployment of convict police became more critical. They were moved into the pacified areas after the military moved out, from where they could control the main roads and tracks and give support to some of the isolated non stipendiary magistrates. Their role was to be a deterrent to rebellious convict workers and to round up runaways. While Campbell Town and Ross villages continued to have the largest contingents of police, four constables were also located at Snake Banks and Avoca, to control the roads to Launceston and the east coast and one more constable was stationed at Fingal.25 As well, individual constables were stationed in bush huts or on settlers’ farms on the Lake, Isis and Macquarie Rivers. Pairs were similarly housed at the Georges River and the Campbell Town Tiers, rough wooded country that provided a refuge for convict runaways.26Throughout the 1830s about 30 constables were scattered throughout the district and between 60 and 110 soldiers in greater concentrations, provided support at Ross and the remote parts of the South Esk and Isis river valleys. This represented about one constable or soldier for every eight to twelve convicts in the district. This was one of the main differences between the use of control in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. In New South Wales, as settlement expanded over the Blue Mountains, settlers and convicts moved rapidly into the plains beyond, effectively moving outside the control of sparsely scattered magistrates and small numbers of police.27On the surface, this deployment of military peace keepers looked formidable, particularly once the additional superstructure of civil control is considered. By the mid 1830s a military force of 65 soldiers and officers, and a police establishment of 43 protected a district of around 2000 convict and free settlers.28 This represented a police presence of 1/46 residents, while in rural New South Wales the police ratio was 1/344, and in rural Britain it was 1/2700. With this concentration of police it is easy to see the police establishment and the magistrate’s court as “machines for social control” especially as they could also draw upon eleven non stipendiary magistrates who were large land owners and some were former military officers.29 Furthermore the local magistrates were located throughout the police district, even in the most remote valleys, so that their neighbors could more easily access court procedures against uncooperative convict servants. For example, magistrates James Sutherland and Charles Viveash were landholders on the Isis River and Captains William Serjeantson and James Crear were located on the South Esk River, while the Waterloo veteran, Major William Gray, was settled at the remote St Pauls Plains. North of Campbell Town on the Main Road, Captain William Wood and Richard Willis farmed on either side of Epping Forest, an area notorious for bushrangers. In the more settled areas around Campbell Town and Ross, John Leake, Benjamin Horne, Henry Jellicoe and the elderly and irascible Lieutenant Samual Hill were available to assist with court sittings.The Police Magistrate was in charge of the courts and the complex infrastructure of local magistrates, police and jails. He also loosely controlled a variety of other convict civil appointments such as postmen, javelin men (jail guards), watch house keepers and government store keepers. His office was in Campbell Town in the building that also housed a court room and clerk’s room, situated near the jail in the government compound on Bridge Street.Campbell Town itself sat like a garrison town, the centre of the civil and military deployments. It had grown from an inconspicuous collection of huts with one brick dwelling in the mid 1820s, to an adequate supply town containing “a Court House, Gaol, the residence of the district Police Magistrate, two tolerable inns, two or three public houses, a few labourers’ and mechanics’ cottages, and two extensive stores, where may be obtained all articles in general demand”.30 The government compound dominated Bridge Street by taking up a whole block from the Elizabeth River to King Street. Although it occupied a large tract of land in the centre of the village, a plan of the existing compound and some of its buildings from the late 1830s shows a number of makeshift brick and log buildings along Bridge Street that failed to adequately symbolize the power of the civil jurisdiction to the local population and travelers riding down the main street.31The jail straggled along from the King Street corner, constructed from a continuous frontage of several jail barracks, including two sleeping wards, a surgeon’s rooms, a watchman’s hut and a general mess room. Behind these were the penitentiary yards, a carpenters shop, a bathhouse and boilers, an assignable ward, an exempt ward and a hospital. Outdoor fireplaces and privies were accessible from the exercise yards. Three solitary cells were located in the government lumber yard in the large paddock behind the jail. The pound was along side the lumber yard in King Street together with a small hut for two constable pound keepers on its boundary.The only two storey brick building in the compound, and the only building with a ceiling, was separated from the jail by an open yard and fronted Bridge Street. Another five roomed cottage was directly behind it across a wide yard. Although the existing site plan names these buildings as the Road Offices, clerk’s rooms and dwelling, it is likely these were once the officers’ quarters and soldiers’ barracks of the regiment assigned to the town in the early 1830s.The Police Office also had a frontage on Bridge Street. The Police Magistrate’s offices were located at the back of the building and a long room twelve by thirty-two foot, at one end of the building, was possibly the original Magistrate’s Court. A timber building of a similar size was awkwardly attached to the back of the court and named the Police Clerk’s quarters.32Further jail precincts, mostly empty paddocks, continued down Bridge Street. Two sets of police barracks appear to have been constructed in these paddocks behind the jail, some time in the 1830s.33Most likely these were split log huts able to house the sleeping barracks and mess room of the six to ten convict constables assigned to duty in Campbell Town. Various other temporary huts, not recorded in these site maps, may have housed the convict post men, the jail guards or javelin men and the flagellator. A large fenced vegetable garden and the government paddock for police and soldiers’ horses stretched behind these buildings. As in many of the government compounds in rural villages during the assignment period, the official buildings were ramshackle, straggling and temporary, without any discernable architectural value. Visually they symbolized the impoverishment of the convict department and the barely adequate control it exercised over the convicts. Even the local jailer, Thomas Hughes, complained to no avail about the ruinous state of the Campbell Town jail, which had gaps so wide between the split logs in the walls that a prisoner could step between them.34But it was the spaces in between these sites of power and lines of control that are the most interesting. An army of occupation, both military and civil, always has its weak points. The settlers’ farms were squeezed in between the control lines of police outposts, soldiers and magistrates and their response to this show of force was always ambiguous. They were middle class small capitalists and they initially welcomed the protection of the soldiers and police from both the indigenous people and their more unruly convict workers, but at the same time many settlers believed in the contemporary political and social reforms of their homeland and so forged a different cultural response to both the military occupation, which had always been anathema to British people, and the unrepresentative civil administration of Lieutenant-Governor Arthur. This became especially critical when they saw their own personal liberties proscribed, and realized that the Aboriginal threat had been removed and most of their convict workers were quite similar to the men and women they had employed in Britain and were not so great a threat to their safety as they had first believed.35 In effect, they argued that they were forced to endure a curtailment of their civil liberties for a protection that they no longer needed. The smartest employers quickly understood that the best work came from men and women who were offered good conditions and so indulgences of extra rations and other benefits were used to extract labour from assigned servants.36Their convict workers were quick to notice and explore the gaps and to test the edges of the power that was ranged against them and to pass this knowledge on to each other. They came to understand that despite the relatively high ratio of police and soldiers to convicts, compared to New South Wales, convicts could still exercise considerable autonomy. The 108 soldiers and police were insufficient to lock down the district and exert complete control over the convict population of around 1200 men and women. The farms and their convict workforces were too thinly spread overtoo large an area. The terrain also defeated this purpose. Broad pastures gave way to hills and steep mountains covered in light scrub or uncut forests. Too many spaces existed where men could travel and meet unseen by the authority that tried to control them. This resistance to authority and control represented the third landscape of the district. This was the landscape of the safe huts and back roads, where the sheep stealers, the fencers of stolen goods, the traders, the sly grog sellers and others running small clandestine cash businesses could carry on uninterrupted by the gaze of authority. It was in these spaces that convicts could take their leisure or conduct their illicit transactions to buy themselves a future, some flash clothes or grog.37Although convicts were officially not allowed to have money, many subverted this and obtained cash either illicitly or through conspiring with their employers to negotiate bonus payments in cash and kind for extra work at harvest. Even some ganged men went out and worked for cash on weekends. Cash knew no boundaries; it flowed everywhere, through the official landscape of occupation and the hidden landscape of the convict world. It became an important instrument of freedom for convicts that subverted the assignment system and helped some to reestablish some control over their lives.This landscape existed on the edge of farms, in the backyards of shops and inns and in the side streets of villages. It moved along the back tracks where the police and soldiers did not often patrol and through the scrub and hills behind the farms. This landscape created new lines of power in-between those created by authority and was not only one of resistance to power, but also an affirmation of a new type of life being forged out of a combination of convict working class culture and desires that interacted with the farmers’ aspirations for wealth.
The Social Landscapes of the Midlands
30 Henry Walter Parker, The Rise, Progress and Present State of Van Diemen’s Land with advice to emigrants, (London, J. Cross, 1833), pp. 112-113. See also, Suzanne Lester, Spring Bay, A Social History, (Hobart, Artemis, 1994), p. 190, for a photo of a vertical split-log walled hut with a bark roof.Although this photo purports to be c. 1912, the materials and design are typical of sketches of simple huts of the 1830s and 1840s found in Public Works Department Plans. See PWD 266/1715, & 1716 Plans of a constable’s hut and a watch house at Snake Banks police station, 1838, AOT.