© Meg Dillon 2008
Australian Colonial History

The Journey

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 1 . On 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 2 . If 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. Despite 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. He 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. Below 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. 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. 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. Other travelers along this same main road brought some scenes of the new culture into sharper focus