First Days at Hunter Island
The Birthplace of Hobart
Under orders from Lieutenant-Governor David Collins all tents at Risdon Cove were struck and put aboard the Lady Nelson and her passengers were
‘At 6 am on Sunday, 19th February 1804, the Lady Nelson and the Ocean (upwards of 200 convicts and their guards were aboard the Ocean) weighed anchor and dropped down-river from Risdon Cove to the new site, which was named Sullivan’s Cove, in honour of the Under-Secretary of the Colonial Department in faraway London.
Next day disembarkation began and ‘Hobart Town’ was born. Gangs of convicts began clearing bushes and trees, erecting tents and huts, digging gardens and constructing a wharf. Everyone worked with a will, realising that this was at last journey’s end, ten months after they had left England.
They had wandered in the sandy wastes of Port Phillip for three months – but now they had reached the Promised Land. The clang of axes and the screech of saws marked the arrival of these men of the Age of Steel to occupy a land of forests thinly inhabited by one of the most primitive races on earth…’
‘…Here was nature in all its beauty and disorder. Immense logs that had been carried down by floods strewed the banks of the river and snagged its stream. Frogs croaked in reedy swamps which no man’s hand had ever attempted to drain, swamps in which thousands of wading and swimming birds found nurture. Queer marsupial animals scurried or hopped in the dense underbrush between the gigantic boles of the gum trees. Bright parrots flashed through the foliage, and birdsong trilled in cadences of liquid melody from thickets of flowering shrubs. Festoons of loose bark and moss swung from trees which rose sheer for hundreds of feet to the first branches. Snakes glided among ferns that grew in cool gullies where water cascaded and purled. The seasons were upside down. In February it was summer; but a heavy shower had ended the drought and bejewelled the foliage of the forest. From the small clearing where the tents were pitched the table-top mountain seemed a barrier to mark the edge of venturing. The only egress from the camp of migrant Europeans at the forest’s edge was by the broad channel of the Derwent River, and arm of the sea in whales – yes, whales! – lazily swam and spouted their strange fountains of foam.
In two weeks Hobart Town had taken shape. The tents and some huts were laid out in lines most of the stores had been landed. On 6th March, nearly a month after her arrival, the Lady Nelson sailed from Hobart Town bound for Port Jackson which she reached eight days later, after an absence of three and a half months of strenuous duty.’
From ‘The Viking of Van Diemen’s Land by Frank Clune and PR Stephensen, Angus and Robertson, 1954, P101.