2017 lecture Podcasts

October: Dianne Snowden

After the Orphan Schools

September: Erika Shankley

Non compos mentis: a bit of history of the TasmanIsland lighthouse

In 1848 JE Calder spoke of Tasman Island as ‘a wild and desolate place’, but Aboriginals had ventured there, and in 1642 Abel Tasman mapped it. The Iron Pot was Tasmania’s first light, and others followed. The Hobart Marine Board gave serious consideration to building a Tasman light in the 1880s, but then came another hiatus. In 1903 the Examiner especially bewailed this situation, and the next year work did commence. It intensified in May ’05 with arrival from Britain of the 244 cast iron pieces required for the tower—which eventually reached 276 meters above the sea. The official opening came on 2 April 1906. Keepers had arrived in May 1905, the most important early figure being George Johnston, who personified those people for whom lighthouse service became life-absorbing; his son, Leslie Babington Johnson, also became a keeper, and in 1920 his wife gave birth to a daughter on the island. Among the many regulations governing the service, was the requisite of marriage, and certainly women played an essential role. In October 1915 all lighthouses came under federal control, a report of that time approving the Tasman station. A disaster came in 1927 with re-building works as a crane collapsed, one man dying and another suffering injury. Then was established a ‘flying fox’ system, and in 1930 came wireless communication. World War 2 saw coast-watchers being based on the island. In 1975 wind power replaced kerosene in powering the light, itself now modernized, and in 1991 solar power became operative. The original lens is now in Sydney’s Maritime Museum. The site was now listed in various heritage registers, and an active body of ‘friends’ sought to maintain the site and its buildings

Summary by Professor Michael Roe

September: Rex Kerrison

The history of the World Ship Trust sailing vessel, May Queen

Mr Kerrison began by referring to the remarkable fact that this Tasmanian vessel had become the twenty-second recipient of the World Ship Trust Heritage Award. The Trust itself had been founded in Britain as a reaction to the destruction in 1949 of a vessel, originally French, that had fought at Trafalgar and long thereafter served in the Royal Navy. MQ was launched at Franklin in 1867, a time and place of much boat-building. A feature was her towering masts, longer than the keel.  MQ’s most important early owner was Henry Chesterman, a noted figure in maritime circles and assiduous in caring for MQ . She carried a variety of cargo, timber especially, but also brought up stone from Port Arthur for Hobart buildings. Her speed was remarkable, one trip from Port Esperance to Hobart taking but six hours. Crew did intensive physical labour, in tough conditions. A Beattie photograph showed MQ in full splendor, but in time she became increasingly decrepit. IXL, her last owner, presented MQ to the State, which in turn transferred care to Hobart’s port authority.  The Tasman Bridge collapse stopped restoration that had begun, and intent hovered to incinerate the vessel. Public opinion rallied, and so restoration resumed, with intense care to use authentic materials, thus qualifying for the Trust Award in 2003. In her life, MQ had carried perhaps a million tons of cargo, and travelled distance equivalent to forty times around the Equator.

Summary by Professor Michael Roe

August: Lucy Frost

Eldershaw Lecture - Lucy Frost, Indentured children: apprentices from the Queen's Asylum 1860-80

JULY: Pam Sharpe

The origins of landed settlers in Van Diemen’s Land to 1831

JUNE: Elisabeth Wilson

‘A howling and declamatory style’: 

Revivalist preacher Walter Douglas in Tasmania, 1869–72

Dr Wilson’s initial focus was on Hobart’s Town Hall in late December 1869. For several preceding weeks Walter Douglas had been preaching around Hobart, notably at the Peoples’ Hall in Bathurst Street. He had come from New Zealand, where hooligans had attacked him. Now, at the Town Hall, ‘great confusion’ prevailed as Douglas answered his detractors. Consequently Douglas was summonsed for breaking the peace, but the action failed as the Town Hall was ruled not to be a ‘public place’ within the meaning of the pertinent law. Counter-rhetoric continued, evidenced for example in letters to the Mercury. In background lay a long history of evangelical exhortation, notably emphatic in the US and Britain between 1858 and 1860. Figures in Tasmania’s counterpart story were Edward Moyes in 1866 and‘California’ Taylor around 1870, while soon afterwards William Brown and Matthew Burnett followed styles yet more similar to Douglas’s. These people held meetings in non-denominational, ‘neutral’, premises, and they could continue for hours.

            Douglas was born in Scotland in 1823 and migrated as a child to the USA. His youth was turbulent; after marriage, his wife and child soon died, provoking his despair and alcoholism. Back in Britain Douglas underwent conversion and began mission work, which led him to migrate to New Zealand in 1864. After two years he crossed to Australia, there addressing society’s sinners, his style so extreme as to suggest bipolar disorder. After a relatively settled sojourn in Melbourne he came to Tasmania, a local contact being Robert Andrew Mather. After the Town Hall ruckus Douglas tried Queensland, but returned to Tasmania late in 1870. In early 1871 he made substantial mark in north-west Tasmania, achieving mass salvation of souls, andwinning support from Anglican and Wesleyan clergy; ‘fellowships’ then established through Brethren evangelists yet survive. Apparently Douglas mingled orthodox preaching with what critics called a ‘coarse declamatory style’.  Stories spread of religious mania afflicting convert John Bartram, and of a 96-year-old’s death reputedly hastened by attendance at some Douglas meetings. Among those who upheld Douglas was Melbourne’s noted evangelical Anglican HB Macartney, albeit even he accepted that many Douglas converts later resiled. Yet there prevailed not only that legacy in the north-west, but continuing Douglasite groups in both Hobart and Launceston. Dr Wilson concluded by remarking that Douglas’s years in Australasia were his most productive; true to the mystery often surrounding him, she had been unable to find record of his death. 

Summary by Professor Michael Roe

MAY: Robert Dooley

From ‘abundance of emues’ to a rare bird in the land: the extinction of the Tasmanian emu

Mr Dooley began with reference to his long-standing interest in this subject. The emue was itself an object of interest to early colonists: Collins, Bowen, and Knopwood all made pertinent references, with their own variants of spelling.  GA Robinson’s journals added to the story, indicating that Aboriginals used the designations ‘Pun.nune.ner’ and ‘Gonanner’. One of the four surviving skins of the emue evidently derived from Robinson’s estate: it and two others were now in the London’s Natural History Museum, the fourth was in Frankfurt. The London pair—one male, one female—had come into the possession of RC Gunn, who presented them to the British Museum. At some stage these skins were transferred to the Natural History Museum; a request from Tasmanian ornithologist Robert Hall in 1908 that one skin be returned to Tasmania appears not to have evoked any response. Illustrations of the skins showed white feathers on the neck, a characteristic distinguishing Tasmanian emues from mainland counterparts. Doubtless other specimens, dead and alive, were exported: in 1824 the Hobart Town Gazette spoke of King George having a pair.

Early commentators agreed in stressing how ‘abundant’ the emus initially were. Robinson described how emue remains were ‘thickly strewn’ around Aboriginal habitations, and their dancing appears to have been emulated at an Aboriginal ceremony at Cape Grim in 1834. Colonists used ‘Emu’ in a variety of place-names, and even for a tavern in Hobart’s Liverpool street. But ‘abundance’ soon withered, as early as 1826 Adam Amos noting their scarcity around Oyster Bay, while Gunn vainly sought to persuade Governor Arthur to attempt protection. James Fenton’s Bush Life  added to this story as of mid-century, with the Mercury declaring the species almost gone in 1874.

Various commentators have proposed reasons for this disappearance. John West cited introduction of the mainland ostrich;  ‘Peregrine’ (Michael Sharland) thought fencing the culprit as the bird could not jump any such obstacle; use of land for farming diminished resources. Human predation had a large part in the grim story. Emue meat and eggs were sought as food from early days; skins were used as floor-covering; feathers were collected; and hunting was a colonial sport, dogs adept and ruthless in the chase. A passage from Robinson’s journals offers perhaps a still more decisive factor: it spoke of a ‘kie or rat’ killing ‘goanna’.  As the earlier reference to ‘gonanner’ suggests, the victims cited by Robinson could well be emue. There were five species of Tasmanian rat, one of them—the water rat—a killer. However Mr Dooley proposed that the reference could be to rattus rattus, the common black rat, introduced especially by convict transports into the island, and as early as 1816 described as very ferocious; rattus rattus has had devastating impact on both Lord Howe and Macquarie Islands, and in New Zealand.

In his concluding remarks, Mr Dooley described his pursuit of this story in London, where he was able to see skin specimens, and have taken the photographs that had embellished his talk. He stressed that there remained scope and need for further research. 

Summary by Professor Michael Roe

April: Greg Lehman

(Dis)regarding the Savages: terra nullius in Tasmanian colonial art

Dr Lehman began with a critique of traditional historiography which concealed the ‘endless carnage of suffering’ in human affairs—and such suffering was the fate of Tasmanian aboriginals. One trope at work in this process was the myth of the noble savage: upholders of the myth sympathised with such people as the Tasmanians yet saw their doom as inevitable, in a sense because of that very nobility. Dr Lehman traced the notion of the ‘noble savage’, foreshadowed in ancient times by Homer and Hesiod and culminating with JJ Rousseau.

John White, who accompanied Walter Raleigh to Virginia presented American Indians in picturesque way, implying that they would assist Britons in successful colonisation. William Dampier presented an altogether contrasting view of Australians, allegedly ‘the miserablest people in the world’, and this left a lasting impress on British thought: the Aboriginals had achieved nothing and were at the mercy of nature, thus the land appeared ‘terra nullius’. So in 1840 James Calder spoke of Tasmanian Aboriginal history as ‘a veritable blank’; there was no restraint on colonists making society in their desired form. Artists played their part in this story, like mapmakers presenting a view of the land that European newcomers could and should mould by their standards of civilisation.

Thomas Watling presented ‘picturesque’ scenes of the Sydney region in the 1790s, and the pertinent Tasmanian story advanced in 1809 as John Lewin reworked depictions of Port Dalrymple by G.P. Harris. Lewin so acted at the request of William Paterson, recently in command at Port Dalrymple, and he presented the place in almost sublime way, promising pastoral riches and virtually excluding Aboriginals. GW Evans, who also served under Paterson, likewise pictured the island as bounteous and beautiful, stressing the colonists’ achievement and minimising the Aboriginal presence—there was no hint of such positive interaction between Britons and Aboriginals as James Boyce shows to have been the case. In this treatment Evans’s Vandiemonian work differed from that he did in Sydney. Dr Lehman suggested that Paterson (and others in high authority) might well have ordered Evans and Lewin to portray the southern colony and to elide any Aboriginal presence, so as to encourage  settlers (who in turn would help destroy Aboriginality). Successive panoramas of Tasmanian scenes by Evans, Joseph Lycett, Simpkinson de Wesselow, Augustus Earle, and Benjamin Duterrau likewise omitted Aboriginals. Dr Lehman differed from those commentators who doubted whether Lycett ever visited Van Diemen’s Land, believing that in 1821 he may have been in Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s entourage—which certainly encountered Aboriginals, yet they do not appear in Lycett’s Tasmanian work, again contrasting with New South Wales counterparts. So these artists, and those who controlled them, contributed to the notion of terra nullius. The very absence of Aboriginality is crucial to this chapter of art history, yet commentators have failed to take the point. Only when Aboriginals had been coerced and controlled could John Glover and others present them, more or less in apparent sympathy, as part of the Tasmanian scene. Summary by Professor Michael Roe

March: Tony Marshall

Edward Abbot: pressman, litigant and politician


Mr Marshall began by remarking that while his subject was most renowned for his authorship of Australia’s first cookbook, he had a life story well beyond that. Army and naval service distinguished his forebears, his father serving with the New South Wales Corps prior to becoming Deputy Judge-Advocate in Van Diemen’s Land in 1814. Edward, eldest child of the family, was born in 1801. He served as an official in his father’s court, a lucrative role, while being active in social affairs and further wealth-building. Always close to William Sorell, Abbott lost his post after George Arthur became Lieutenant-Governor. TG Gregson was his friend and political ally, consonant with their antipathy to Arthur and support of political change. Arthur had overturned Sorell’s grant to Abbott senior the grant of land at Launceston’s ‘Swamp’, provoking a long-contentious issue. Edward fathered several children by one Ann Johnson, her background unknown; they duly married in 1853.

            From 1837 Abbott became interested in printeries and newspapers, especially the Hobart Town Advertiser. Sir John Franklin had his support, but Sir William Denison ruled against him apropos ‘the Swamp’, thus embittering relations. Generally the later 1840s were hard times for Abbott, his last landholding being sold in 1850. However he continued sitting as a justice of the peace, first in an honorary role, but from 1848 also as the ‘stipendiary’ officer on the eastern shore. Abbott moved house to Bellerive, becoming a man of local property, while effectively discharging his official duties. With the coming of self-government he won election from Clarence to the House of Assembly. There he often criticised governmental policy, while remaining a spokesman for his electorate’s particular interests and becoming Warden of Clarence when that office was created in 1860; then too he secured £3000 for loss of ‘the Swamp’. He won successive elections both as Warden and for the House of Assembly, before in 1864 succeeding to a Legislative Council seat, vacated by John Compton Gregson. That year the cookery book was published, its compilation one of the man’s many busy pursuits. A mark of Parliament’s esteem was his moving the Address-in-Reply at the 1866 session; soon after he was appointed ‘usher of the black rod’, a parliamentary office. Abbott retired from office soon after and died in 1869, to be buried at St Mark’s Bellerive.

            Mr Marshall remarked that it had long been supposed that Abbott left no personal papers.  However in 2014 such genealogical research as the web made possible (especially in the skilled hands of our member, Elizabeth Wilson) ‘discovered’ some Abbott descendants, and they retained some books and papers belonging to Edward. They indicated his wider literary interests, notably concerning Dickens and Carlyle. A family Bible had some annotations. One rued the story of his own ‘prodigal son’—Ted, eldest of the family. By contrast the papers also included a moving and affectionate letter from Edward to another son, regretting the meagre legacy that would be left him and beseeching that he care for his mother. Marshall’s closing words proposed that Edward Abbott should have a bigger place in Tasmanian memory than currently prevailed. Summary by Professor Michael Roe

February: Peter Hughes

a history of furniture making in colonial Tasmania:

Initial findings and observations


Mr Hughes began by remarking that many difficulties beset his topic.  Through the colonial period some 160 persons were described as cabinet makers—and as well there were convict artisans—and to ascribe particular items to specific individuals was very difficult; all the while furniture was imported, and identification of this as against local work could likewise be puzzling. Cedar was the most commonly used Australian timber, but Huon and other pine, deal, blackwood, she-oak, elm, myrtle, all had their role, while imported woods included mahogany and New Zealand kauri. The earliest depiction of colonial domesticity—GP Harris’s cottage--showed a chair of some elegance, unlikely to be of local make; in the same year, 1806, Robert Knopwood spoke of ‘his man’—probably John Earl—making furniture. By the early 1820s newspaper advertisements cited tables of various kinds, wardrobes, chests, commodes, bedsteads. In the years ahead newspaper comment lauded local work and timber. Tasmanian exhibits at the Great Exhibition of 1851 were primarily works in timber. Among the contributors was one James Lumsden whose exhibited table has won latter-day showing via the BBC’s ‘Antique Roadshow’, and subsequently a massive selling price in Tasmania. William Champion, John McLoughlin, and James Whitesides were other considerable achievers of the time, but highest fame must go to William Hamilton. After arriving in Hobart in 1832 Hamilton soon made his mark; he established bigger premises in 1842 and was the subject of an extremely eulogistic report in the Hobart Town Courier in January 1847.  In 1855 he entered partnership with a son. Mr Hughes showed illustrations of Hamilton’s work and also detailed plans of his business premises: well-planned and commodious, but suffered disastrous fire damage in 1869. By then the colony at large was suffering economic doldrums, and likewise the achievement of colonial craftsmen was now declining. Summary by Professor Michael Roe


2016         2015


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Header photograph credit: John Bennett - ABC radio announcer (PH30-1-5455) courtesy Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

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