How did Hobart’s Derwent River get its name?

Dan Sprod’s information for the Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies was a great help in understanding that our Derwent’s (http://www.utas.edu.au/library/companion_to_tasmanian_history/R/River%20Derwent.htm) European discovery was made during the second (1793) visit to what is now the island of Tasmania, by French explorer Bruny d’Entrecasteaux. The given French name ‘Rivière du Nord’ never took hold. When Englishman Lieutenant John Hayes arrived in April 1793, he was unaware of d’Entrecasteaux’s visit two months earlier, and named the river after the Derwent River in England.

Great Britain’s Derwent River flows through Cumbria, a sparsely populated non-metropolitan county in the north west of England.

Cumbria contains the famously beautiful Lakes District, and presents as a combination of mountains, rugged seashore, parkland and rural landscape. In the early eighteenth century, the landscape and climate similarities between Cumbria and our island’s river backed by the stunning Mount Wellington make it easy to understand how our river came to be named.  In England, the name Derwent is derived from a Celtic word for “oak trees”.  Australia and Tasmania do not have native trees with the same leaf and character as English Oaks. However the heavy thick forests with large stands of trees either side of Tasmania’s Derwent River, would have made a strong impression on Lieutenant Hayes.

The Cumbrian Derwent flows westwards towards the Irish Sea; the city of Workington sits at the mouth. Google Earth includes photos of a mountain, powdered with snow, showing similarities with our Mount Wellington at cooler times.  I imagine Lieutenant Hayes would have been away from England for many months, if not years, and so his ability to make direct comparisons between his English and our river would be based on hazy memories.  Notwithstanding this, when I look at a current photo of the Derwent in Cumbria, the landscape has a character similar to our local environment. Of course, the landscape and its features at both locations will not be the same as when seen in the late 1700s. However and despite the passing of centuries, I can see how and why Lieutenant Hayes chose to name our river, the Derwent.

But what about the man; what was Lieutenant Hayes connection with Cumbria and the Derwent River?

The Australian Dictionary of Biography (MUP Volume 1 1996) notes that Sir John Hayes (1768-1831), naval officer and explorer, was baptized on 11 February 1768, the son of Fletcher Hayes of Tallentire on the River Derwent, England. On 7 December 1781, when 13, he joined the Bombay Marine as a midshipman on the Bombay. By December 1788 he was promoted to second lieutenant and his rise through the ranks continued over the years. Hayes is best remembered for a private voyage undertaken between February 1792 and December 1794. Glowing accounts of New Guinea’s economic potential fired Hayes to lead an expedition financed by some Calcutta merchants. On 6 February 1793 the Duke of Clarence (250 tons) and the Duchess of Bengal (100 tons) left Calcutta, India. Because of adverse winds Hayes could not sail direct to New Guinea, so at the young age of 27 years, he decided to voyage round New Holland (this was the original European name for Australia). He reached Van Diemen’s Land on 24 April and left on 9 June. During that time, he discovered and named the Derwent River, and other features of the terrain. Risdon Cove and Cornelian Basin still bear the names he gave them. According to the publication “British Heritage of Tasmania’, (http://members.iinet.net.au/~rwatson1/britishheritage/BRITISH%20HERITAGE%20OF%20TASMANIA.pdf

Hayes named Ralphs’ Bay (a beautiful bay which I have mentioned during both my first and second stage of walking along the eastern shore of Tasmania’s Derwent River) at Lauderdale, after William Ralph who was in charge of the Duchess of Bengal.

While I would like to think that the City of Clarence (the eastern shore city of the Greater Hobart Area and the one in which I live) must have been named specifically after the ship which Hayes’ commanded, this apparently isn’t true.  It seems that the City of Clarence was named after King William IV of the United Kingdom who as he ascended the throne was titled His Royal Highness, The Duke of Clarence and St Andrews. However, let’s look at this a little more closely. In 1843, Prince William (the future King William IV crowned in 1830) began a career in the Royal Navy by becoming a midshipman at 13 years. In 1789 he was made Duke of Clarence, and then retired from the Navy in 1790.  The elements are: the future king is a naval man who held the title of Duke of Clarence before Lieutenant John Hayes (who started his naval career as a midshipman) set out from India towards Australia. Travelling to Tasmania, Hayes just happens to be in command of a ship named the Duke of Clarence in 1793. How did his ship get the name?  Considering the timing, surely Hayes ship was named in honour of the new Duke of Clarence (the Sailor King or Silly Willy as the future king was known). I would prefer to believe that the name of today’s City of Clarence lying along the eastern edges of the Derwent River, is a reference to the ship of the man who named our River, and only indirectly refers back to the early title of King William IV.

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