Australia’s First Slaves & Servants

Two hundred years ago this year, a branch of my family arrived into Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).  It was a penal outpost then, one envisioned by those in authority of the day, to take in the tens of thousands of convicts over the next seventy years.

These were people expelled from the British Isles as the “Upper Crust” attempted to deal with those living in poverty, the destitute. Those often starving lower class and the disenfranchised. People who were mostly a product of the industrial revolution of the day, that was being experienced in their own country that of the British Isles.

I have a broad and complex history of convicts amongst my ancestors, these classed as criminals even though they were mostly children and teens. Commonly they had stolen food and clothing to survive. The theft of a ‘peck of pears’ here… a handkerchief or a shift there. They were taken from their families and transported, or shipped like a stolen package to a place they could neither imagine, nor even envisage. 

They had been separated from everything they understood or knew. Once here after a journey of months on the high seas, they were totally isolated from family and what was familiar. Their lands of origin mostly never to seen or known again. They were commonly placed into questionable servitude, a polite form of slavery usually suffered for several years and more, while they grew into adulthood, if they even survived their trials. They were the backbone of our own culture and country. They built our early towns & cities, our houses and our roads; and they didn’t always behave well or take to authority easily either, as witnessed by their many and varied misdemeanours.

However, the mob I’m visiting from our past, who first arrived into Hobart in 1822, were free-born and free settlers. They came as a family to re-unite with a convicted father but the two girls who were to stay in Van Diemen’s Land in 1822, were separated from their mother and brothers in Hobart while the remainder of their family moved on to Sydney Town. This was because they had received news that their convict father had attempted and managed an escape, having stowed away aboard a trader to India. However he had died the year earlier, unbeknown to them when they departed Scotland.

Ann & Margaret Honeyman were aged ten & twelve when they were indentured to the Reid family as nursemaids to their young children. Their mother, now widowed had little choice but to make such an arrangement for their welfare. Then she went on to sail into Sydney Town with the two youngest boys. There she made  another life one of her own. She was a feisty young woman herself, by all accounts and records, but that is another story for another time.

As pioneers, the Reids and their entourage ventured into the highlands of Tasmania, which was a strange place then. A bush filled with wildflowers, wild natives and bushrangers as well as the strange, noisy devils of the wilderness which haunted the night hours with their fierce scream. They built Ratho Homestead, one of the early pioneering settlements alongside Dennistoun and others early homesteads around Bothwell and along the Clyde River.

Ratho Homestead, Bothwell Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania)

Ann was my ancestress and she was to die on the childbed at barely 18 years of age, married to a Scotsman, being from Scotland herself. Her story is as fascinating as it is short-lived. Her sister Margaret was to go on to live a longer and fruitful life in the highlands of Van Diemen’s Land, around Bothwell.

This is where we are headed over the next months, on a slow family pilgrimage to Ratho, a B&B in Bothwell which was pioneered by the Reid family, including Ann & Margaret Honeyman their servants. We are set to experience the joys of the Aussie Highlands of Tassie and the surrounds of Hobart.

The Bushrangers

Over the next months we will be travelling down through the outback NSW into The Riverina, or into bushranger country in and around the Murrumbidgee River.  From there we are headed into our National Capital, Canberra and onto the Snowy Mountains and the glorious snow country in season.

Once we switch out a few much loved relies for others, we will be headed onto Van Diemen’s Land, or Tasmania and into those beautiful Highlands.  This is a tour that has been months, if not years in the making and I am very much looking forward to it.  

Come join me on my adventures. You can subscribe to this page to receive notice as I head out on each new adventure along the way.

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