The birthplace of European Settlement in Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land): Risdon Cove

The start of my walk along the next stage of the Derwent River will be at Risdon Cove.

Earlier blogs explained how Lieutenant John Hayes, with two ships, entered the River and named it the Derwent in 1793. Twenty six kilometres upstream, while mapping the River, he saw an inlet on the eastern shore and named it Risdon Cove. Risdon, Risdon Vale and Risdon Cove were named after Captain William Bellamy Risdon. Risdon took command of the Duke of Clarence, the second ship that was part of Hayes excursion up the Derwent River.

Another decade passed before European colonisation began.

The Lady Nelson was the first ship to arrive at Risdon Cove in September 1803 when Lieutenant Bowen was sent from Port Jackson (Sydney area) to establish the first settlement at Risdon Cove, and rename it Hobart. As an aside, in the late 1980s a replica was built and the new Lady Nelson became well known on the Derwent River round Hobart. Currently locals and visitors volunteer time to maintain and crew the ship. Short sails are scheduled throughout the year for those who are interested. The website http://www.ladynelson.org.au/ provides further information, and has published the photo which I have reproduced below.

Lady Nelson

Despite the recommendation of the explorer George Bass, Risdon Cove proved to be a bad choice for a settlement site because the soil was poor and fresh water minimal.

In early February 1804, Lieutenant Colonel David Collins arrived from establishing the first small settlement at Sullivan Bay in the state of, what is now known, as Victoria. Quickly Collins realised Risdon Cove was inadequate and ordered the relocation of the settlement to a new site at Sullivan’s Cove, the present wharf-front centre of today’s Hobart. By late February 1804, the military and convicts had been moved to Sullivan’s Cove on the western shore of the Derwent River.

How many settlers were there?

Gathering reliable figures for the numbers of people remaining at Risdon while Bowen was away sailing and exploring and once Collins had moved some of his people to Sullivan’s Cove has proved to be impossible. According to the reputable Australian Dictionary of Biography, Bowen’s landing party in 1803 numbered 49 persons in total including 24 convicts previously transported from England via Port Jackson (Sydney). The site http://www.treasury.tas.gov.au/domino/historyW.nsf/v-all/021976A07261DACBCA256EB400107431 declared that in 1803, 100 people were settled at Risdon Cove, so I assume that further ships arrived after Bowen later that year. The same website refers to “Collins’s expedition of more than 430 people.” Apparently by July 1804, Collins had ‘hutted’ 400 people on the western shore around Sullivan’s Cove and bays further along the Derwent River. Other reports indicate an unspecified number of people stole a boat and escaped from Risdon Cove, thereby reducing the number of people living in that tiny settlement.  I wanted to have a sense of the scale of the residents remaining at Risdon Cove in order to determine whether the settlers might be afraid of the aboriginals simply on the basis of being outnumbered.

4 thoughts on “The birthplace of European Settlement in Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land): Risdon Cove

      1. Jane Risdon

        Sometimes you can get misled easily with all the information out there and available freely, so research is important but off the top of my head this seems to be about right and I have not looked at my notes and research for some time as I am busy with my novels and more, but this doesn’t jar so I am sure all is well. Are you out walking over Xmas?

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        1. Tasmanian traveller Post author

          In relation to my walk, I am constrained by two things at the moment – the weather is too hot on many days to walk, and when the weather is okay my friends are too busy to drive me into the inland parts that I want to walk. So its all a bit frustrating – but it does free me up to plan, and to be ready to seize any opportunity I can. So I am not saying I wont be walking over Christmas rather it depends on when the right moment arises.

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