University of Tasmania
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Wasted away in drunkenness and neglect? : Clarence Plains and Cambridge land grants 1810-1820

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posted on 2023-05-27, 09:26 authored by Smith, Margaret D
The early history of Van Diemen's Land has suffered from the perception that it was merely an outpost of New South Wales. While this may have been true in an administrative sense, there is an assumption that the lives of those in early Van Diemen's Land paralleled those of the inhabitants of early Port Jackson and that studies of that colony can be assumed to apply to Hobart Town. Most historians writing about the early settlements have lumped disparate groups together or have concentrated on noteworthy individuals, or on those who arrived on a particular ship. While much has been gained from these studies, less has been written on the detailed experience of the inhabitants as a community. The concept that the Van Diemen's Land convicts comprised the worst of the secondary offenders is an attitude that has been difficult to overcome. Historians have written about the early settlement and tended to gloss over the next decades until the 1820s, seeing the Bigge Report as the major catalyst in bringing major adaptations to the economy. In 1852 West wrote of the early years: The first annals of the settlement offer few events worthy of record. The transactions of a community, which in 1810 did not comprehend more than thirteen hundred and twenty one persons, - the greater part subject to penal control - could not, unassociated with the present, detain attention for a moment. It is only recently that some historians have started to pay more attention to individuals and their contributions to the development of Van Diemen' s Land. The decision to transplant a segment of British society into another new setting was one fraught with problems. This period of Australian settlement fell within the time covered by the Napoleonic wars, and immediately following the French and Industrial revolutions, all of which influenced the decisions made in the establishment and expansion of Britain's Australian colonial possessions. Many of the problems faced were similar to those that had been faced by Port Jackson earlier. Even in times of great need there appears to have been little, if any, attempt to utilize native plants as food except in the direst necessity, although kangaroo and swan were rapidly utilized in a move that quickly impacted upon the Aboriginal inhabitants. Later self-styled 'agricultural experts' added to the illusion of a ramshackle and haphazard settlement which depended upon slovenly and outmoded farming practices. In order to consider whether the criticisms leveled against the early settlers were justified, this thesis makes a detailed study of the Clarence Plains and Cambridge areas of Van Diemen's Land during the period 1810 - 1820. This period covers the time from three months after the first land grants were made in the area through to the eve of the publication of the Bigge report, which changed Government policy on land grants. The land grantees in this area ranged from small emancipist farmers who were granted 30 acre blocks, through marines and free settlers, to large landowner businessmen and civil administrators who controlled land of up to several thousand acres spread across several districts. Only the grants made up to December 1820 have been included in the study, although there were people living and working land in the district who did not receive their grants until a later date. This investigation covers the use that grantees made of the land, and their wider economic and social relations. As much of the work on early Australian history categorises people into distinct groups of free settler, ex-military, emancipist and colonial born, the settlers have been examined in these groups in order to discover if there was an overwhelming advantage given to any group. This is particularly important as there is a presumption within the existing literature that the ex-military and free settlers had a distinct advantage over the emancipist and colonial born segments of society. In examining the relationships between the different groups, and the reasons why grants may have been sold or given up, the work aims to show that a variety of factors contributed to colonial failure other than the oft decried laziness or lack of ability. In order to explore these issues this thesis has made extensive use of the existing land grants and muster lists, which cover the study area. In the course of this research several problems were encountered. The major one has been the scarcity of evidence particularly in the period up until 1817. Many of the documents that do remain are government dispatches reproduced in the Historical Records of Australia series. These rarely mention small landholders by name. Records of land sales, differing land practice and evidence of other occupations is also scarce. In order to fill the gap, an extensive examination was made of the Hobart Town Gazette and the few remaining copies of the Van Diemen 's Land Gazette and General Advertiser and The Derwent Star and Van Diemen 's Land Intelligencer for any mention of the settlers from the Clarence Plains and Cambridge area. A detailed analysis of the Register of Judgements in Civil Cases, 1817-1821 has been undertaken to discover the level of indebtedness within the community. It has also been necessary to study records of births, deaths and marriages in order to find the relationships and family ties amongst the settlers.


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