A Social History of Richmond


A Social History of Richmond, 1820 – 1855. Peter MacFie 2003, 2017. https://petermacfiehistorian.net.au


The life and times of Richmond from 1820 to 1855 as recorded through the evidence presented at the Richmond court durng those years.

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A social History of Richmond, 1820 – 1855.pdf


The village of Richmond was similar yet so very different to today’s tourist town. Horses were the main method of transport, pulling waggons, carts or more fashionable gigs. Poorer people walked everywhere or caught a coach to Hobart Town. There were eight inns for travellers. Until 1850, convict road gangs, some with men wearing leg irons, worked in the streets and on roads approaching the village. Flocks of sheep were driven through the village to the sale-yards. Assigned servants assembled on the Muster Ground, now the Municipal Park, to have their names checked, observed carefully by constables and the Police Magistrate, based in the Watch House. Here offending assigned servants, convicts under sentence and occasional free settler were charged before magistrates, and held in the holding cells.

At the Court House nearby, charges were heard by magistrates and ‘justice’ handed out, by today’s standards, harsh and without feeling.

A Town Left Behind.

From being a pioneering district, after 1850 the town gradually became a town left behind by the spread of settlement to the north and the new colonies of Victoria and New Zealand. First the Victorian gold rush attracted settlers away, then in 1874 the town was by-passed by the Mainline Railway to the north and the Sorell Causeway to the south. Richmond became a quaint village, preserved by default. From the start of the first Jury Act in 1855 to the introduction of Municipal Government in 1864, the Richmond district was under the jurisdiction of affluent locals, rather than government appointed magistrates. Sentences were just as harsh, although flogging became a thing of the past. Richmond became the centre of local government for the Coal River Valley, holding council and court hearings, for cases stretching from Dulcot through Richmond to Campania and Colebrook.

Meanwhile, a new generation of settlers had moved into the village – Jacobs, Kellys, Andersons, Nichols, Ross and other families who stayed. Immigrants, including some German families plus military pensioners used the former barracks for temporary accommodation.

While the streets were home during the 1870s to elderly emancipist – former convicts – who lived in cheap rent or in huts in the bush at hamlets like Dulcot, most families tried to over-look their own convict origins.

The Catholic -Protestant divide continued, with the Bridge Inn being the Catholic pub and the Lennox Arms/Commercial the Protestant/visitors hotel. A deferential relationships between farm-hands and farm owners continued; but behind closed doors, another world existed.



Chapter 1

Village Life

Before 1855, the streets of Richmond were busy with workers and travellers coming and going – to shops, to the inns, to cut timber in the Meehan Range, to shear sheep or to have wheat ground at the village mills.

Getting to Richmond – Boats & Coaches

For the first years of its life, Richmond was reached easily by water, and boats ferried bulky goods to and from Hobart Town. The road to the jetty began at Henry Street which lead into Commercial Road and which once continued down to the jetty on Lowlands. In 1829, George Wray operated the 26 ton Richmond Packet, to and from Hobart. Other folk were also using Pittwater.

3/4/1839. Thomas Loyal (Asia 4) – Const Jones: having 5 sacks in his possession without satisfactory account.

Const William Wallace: Informed by Mr Thorne’s that some improper traffic was carried on in his boat – went with Const Johns down to the boat- observed bags hanging over side of the boat- prisoner saw us and placed bags in the bows – prisoner said they were Mr Thorne’s – and he got them from a boat that came down the River. Remanded.[1]

Although by 1861 the roads to Hobart were improving, Pittwater was still used for moving grain. The owners of the schooner Defiance advised the ‘Inhabitants of Richmond’ that the ship had undergone thorough repairs and was now ‘in a splendid condition for carrying grain’ on her usual trips between Richmond and Hobart. Rates were offered for wheat, oats and barley. Timber posts and rails were also supplied by Mr Brittain of Richmond.[2]


Travel to Richmond by coach began by 1830s, when Phillip Mills, who operated the New Norfolk coach, requested an upgrade of the road from Kangaroo Point to Richmond to allow him to operate a similar vehicle. Roderic O’Connor, Inspector of Roads, was scathing, describing the ‘very dreadful state’ of the track. A new line, however, was being built over Grass Tree Hill by a gang of convicts. This route wended its way over Grass Tree Hill and across the Derwent on the Risdon Ferry. Later, three of Richmond’s inns offered coaching services. As the road deteriorated, and steamers came into existence, Kangaroo Point once again became used.

Chain Gangs

During the 1830s, convict road gangs, with some men in chains, worked along the road in and around Richmond. They included convicts working on the Grass Tree Hill Road. Prisoners who broke rules could be punished by being sent to work on these gangs.

Henry Scarlett (Strathfieldsay 14), blacksmith PW. AWOL from muster last night.

Prisoner: I went out with two of my shipmates as far as Mr Peevor’s and coming back I lost my road

Lt Bayley: work done so badly that many of the men can get their irons off. 3months hard labour Grass Tree Hill.[3]

Prisoners under sentence, were not allowed tobacco, but men working at the road stations or in road gangs were supplied by their mates. However, friends caught in the act could also be charged. James Sanderson (Surrey 4, 7 years), a member of the Richmond Street Gang, was charged with being in possession of tobacco given to him by John Bisdell, when 50 yards from his cart. Bisdell (Barossa 1, 15 years), an assigned servant of stonemason Thomas Herbert, was charged with giving tobacco to a prisoner under sentence. Sanderson 6 Weeks HL, Bisdell 21 Days HL.[4]


Assigned servants drove carts and waggons drawn by horse or bullocks which delivered goods and people from Kangaroo Point to Richmond and beyond. Carters had to pass several inns and enjoyed the opportunity, sometimes leaving their teams unattended.

30/3/1839. John Bull (York 14) assigned J Eggleton- Insolence.

Eggleton: I ordered prisoner to unload cart at Clarke’s Jetty at Kangaroo Point and to proceed back to Richmond – I crossed over to Hobart and on return to the Point I found that the prisoner had unloaded his cart at Mr Clarke’s and turned his bullocks into the bush – I got the bullocks and after having loaded one cart I drove it – first that load then the other and then came on to Richmond – he left the Point on Thursday evening – yesterday he returned home without his cart; he told me he had left it about 3 miles from Richmond near Mr Parramore’s fence – (Anglewood Farm) found cart about 2 miles from Richmond, drawn across the road- said he didn’t care if he was taken before (Magistrate) Mr Breton. 6 DSC[5]

On 19/6/1847, Lawrence Cotham of the Richmond Hotel charged George White (Tortoise 7) with ‘driving his dray on the wrong side of the High Road (ie Grass Tree Hill Rad) by which Mr Cotham’s gig was upset on Friday night.’ Cotham was driving the Richmond Mail between Richmond and Malcolm Huts when he hit the front of two drays being driven by White and William Reis, the owner. Discharged.

In March 1862, Mr Weale was fined three pounds plus costs (in default one month’s imprisonment with hard labour in the House of Correction, Richmond), for gross misconduct in allowing his waggon and team of four horses to return from Grass Tree Hill to the Bridge Inn without him. The Warden, Coverdale, felt Weale’s leaving the team to fend for itself most disgraceful, which endangered the property of their masters and the life and property of the public, and he was determined to put a stop to it. Waggoner Drew was also fined 10 shillings and costs for riding asleep on his waggon at night drawn by three horses.[6]

Sawyers – Quick-Witted (& Thirsty)

Sometimes convict workers got away with semi-legal purchases. Skilled convicts, such as sawyers, were far from submissive, and resented interference, especially from constables or soldiers. One constable dared to try to stop a sawyer carrying away a barrel of beer from town – and on Christmas Day, 1838.

3/1/1839. William Vickers (Moffat 7/TL) charged Const Smith.

Const John Smith: On Christmas Day I was on duty in Richmond. About 11 ‘clock in the forenoon I saw one of the sawyers from Grass Tree Hill going out of the Township with a keg on his back – I went after him and asked what he had got there- he said it was wine and it belonged to a free man and not him- I took hold of the keg and a few men came up to stand over the keg and asked me what I was going to do with it – he had not a permit for its removal – the few men then attempted to force the keg from me- a number of men came up at the time and the prisoner was amongst them.

I called upon the prisoner in the Queen’s name to aid and assist me in the execution my duty – he refused and kicked me and knocked me down- & the keg was taken away by the prisoner who ran away with the men who had the keg – there were about 8 men and the prisoner went with them as far as Maj de Gillern’s (ie on Grass Tree Hill) where I followed them. 6 months hard labour Half Way Hill Party.[7]


An illegal economy operated between officials, settlers and convicts, especially where the prisoners had a saleable commodity or skill. Such cases usually implied bribery.

A proven case of stand-over tactics occurred in 1836 when John Martin, Public Works overseer, was charged with having Government men in his employment. Henry Buscombe (a free builder) was strongly implicated. Edward Butterworth and Thomas Williams paid Martin a dollar week ‘for being watchman while John Wilkinson, hut keeper, also paid one dollar a week for being ‘allowed reaping, threshing and cleaning.’ Thomas Richardson brick maker with the Public Works, paid Martin £2 sterling for burning bricks which James Lord, overseer, and Thomas Broad, flagellator had made. Three thousand of the 9,000 bricks burnt were taken as commission by Martin, and sold to ‘Mr Henry Buscombe’. Buscombe had paid the brick-burner £2-12-0 and Martin received £2 while the 12 shillings was kept by Richardson.[8]

Assigned servants took advantage of their positions to try and make some deals ‘on the quiet.’ Any building material was sought after, including shingles. A servant of Lt Benjamin Bayly of the 21st Regiment (in charge of the Grass Tree Hill Road Gang), used his connection – and nearly got away with it.

William Fitzgerald, under colonial sentence, was charged in July 1834, with bringing 3,000 shingles from Grass Tree Hill without leave. Lt Bayley met the culprit driving the Government cart and bullocks, loaded with shingles, ‘going up the hill near Major De Gillern’s.’ Fitzgerald claimed to have received the shingles from James Hunt, and was told to leave them ‘at French’s Hut.’ Fitzgerald supposed Hunt had been given permission as he (Hunt) was Mr Bayly’s private servant.’(Sentence: 4 months hard labour Grass Tree Hill Road Party). Hunt (Commander Harcourt – Life) was then charged with ‘improper conduct in splitting shingles for himself and sending them from Grass Tree Hill to Richmond in a Government Cart.’ Pleading guilty, Hunt said in his defence that ‘he is sorry and throws himself upon the mercy of the court.’ Magistrate Peter Murdoch exercised his mercy and committed Hunt to three months Grass Tree Hill Chain Gang.[9]

In July 1838, an employee at Young’s Tannery was approached to sell leather on the black-market at the Bridge Inn.

6/7/1838. James Beardman (Lord William Bentick 7) charged by Mr Young with Gross Disorderly Conduct

Henry Watts: assigned Young (approached by Beardman at McPhail’s Public House to act as receiver) – He asked if my master ‘behaved well to me as to money, because if he did not, Beardman could put me in the way of money- He asked if I could get anything from my master – willing to take anything – hides, leather – knew his master had a large mawl etc

6 months hard labour, no chains, TL suspended.

Street Brawls.

Free-for-all fights in the streets of Richmond were not rare. In 1847, a brawl erupted between men working for David Lord, owner of Richmond Park and Daisy Bank farms, and constables stationed at the Richmond Watch House. Free men and former prisoners shared an intense dislike for other ex-prisoners who had become constables. Punishment for the free was significantly less severe.

George Read (free) overseer at Lord’s, was charged with assaulting Jabez Brown.

Brown: The prisoner said he ‘would be buggered if any two constables in the island would put him in the Watch House,’ and struck me in the face and hit me with a stick.’ Fined £4.

James Grimshead (Cressy, 15 years) was charged with assaulting Const. Roose, saying

‘he would not go to the Watch House with any bloody constable.’ When Roose arrived other men were on Jabez Brown ‘when I went to assist.’

Robert Steel (Barossa 2, 15 years) charged with assaulting Constables Briggs and Clarke.

Briggs: A number of men were struggling with the constables, they kicked me in the stomach and struck me.

Several other of Lord’s men were charged with assaulting constables –

William Martin (Barossa 2, 10 years) assaulting Const. Davis;

Henry Budd (Moffatt 3, 10 years) assaulting Const. Roberts.

Roberts: I was struck on the nose by the prisoner’s foot and made to bleed – the prisoner escaped.

All 2 months hard labour each.[10]

Chapter 2

Masters and Servants

The Assignment and later Passholder systems gave a high degree of power to the master/employer. However, assigned servants were not powerless, and used non-cooperation, non-production and verbal abuse to discredit and undermine the power of an over-bearing master. Occasionally sabotage was used, the most destructive being the deliberate burning of haystacks and barns, a popular method of revenge amongst bushrangers.

Within the shops and inns, another level of relationship existed between owners and servants. Here, small businesses could be ‘taken down’ by a servant or an unscrupulous – or desperate – traveller.

The Establishment


As the ‘official’ church, Church of England clergy were not always respected by assigned labourers. This attitude is explained by the aloof manner of Anglican clergymen and their families. Some could be taken advantage of by their servants. The clergy lived in part of a home now known as Fernville.

24/3/1838 James Fitzgerald (Asia 4 /7 Years) Assigned to Rev. Aislabie -charged by master with pilfering a quantity of wine.[11]

The strong distaste held by the Established church for emancipists is found in a letter written in 1850 by Anne Marriott (nee Schaw), wife of Rev. Marriott, an Anglican clergyman. Anne was the daughter of the Richmond Police Magistrate and former soldier, Major Charles Schaw. Writing to her mother-in-law, Anne spoke of the caution and success in finding a servant who had to be:

… a respectable free girl of 18 whom I have taught at the Sunday School for the last 3 or 4 years, consequently I have had opportunities of judging a little of her character….I intend to adopt my sister’s plan of never (sic) having a prisoner in a nursery or even one free by servitude. I find it such a comfort having my sister so near to me…. having had 9 children and next month expects her tenth…she finds it so hard to keep a good (governess) any length of time.

As most of the town and district were emancipated convicts, the letter indicates the high degree of prejudice evident among senior public figures and their families, which resulted in a ‘caste system’ within the community.[12]

Charles Schaw, Magistrate

A soldier who arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in 1833, he became Richmond magistrate in 1841, a position he held for 15 years, before renting Rosny at Bellerive in 1851[13]. Schaw’s family were disliked for their haughty manners and quarrelsome nature. A former soldier, he was noted for his short temper, vindictiveness and for favouring friends from the bench. A strongly prejudiced magistrate, he used the bench for his own ends. He and fellow magistrate, J.H. Butcher, were both anti-convict and vehemently anti-Catholic.

Margaret Randall (Tasmanian 4, 10 years) Assigned to and also Charged by Schaw with Neglect of Work.

Schaw: I Found her working on a piece of cloth for herself – needlework – instead of for the family. 1 months hard labour.


FG Brock, MD – the Hard-Hearted Richmond Doctor

Irish born Dr F G Brock, was stationed at Richmond around 1837 He was later appointed (twice) to Port Arthur Penal Station as assistant surgeon, where he was known for strictness and an ‘overbearing and irritating personality’, coupled with a lack of sympathy for convicts.[14] At Port Arthur, Brock was praised for eradicating ‘malingering,’ or the pretended illness of convicts.[15]

Cases involving Brock’s servants at Richmond reveal a similar strict personality. His female servants seem to have especially disliked him.

4/1/1839. Susan Sloane sic (America 7) – runs through house, resists arrest- 1 months hard labour SC

Elizabeth Gore was charged with Insolence, then refused to proceed to the service of Dr Brock.[16]

A former Pt Puer lad assigned to Brock trafficked in stolen goods, but was shown no sympathy or consideration for his background.

5/11/1838. Joseph Welsh (Aurora 7) assigned Dr Brock, Pt Arthur boy (sic). Guilty AWOL and Disorderly Conduct in destroying cloth. 19/11 – stole shoes given to wardsman in the Gaol- 6 months hard labour and returned to Government.

Brock was an over-bearing master, especially to his house servants.

22/12/1838. John Edwards (Jupiter 7) assigned Dr Brock. He was waiting at table. Having acted improperly I corrected him and he said, “You must always have something to find fault with”.

I desired him to hold his tongue and he replied, ‘I’ll say a good deal more than that.’ In about 20 minutes after I sent for him when I thought he was cool and told him if he as sorry for what he had done and I would forgive him — he replied in an insolent manner, “I am not sorry for nothing I have said”. I then sent for a constable.’

36 lashes.

Small Businesses

Small businesses were vulnerable for different reasons. In a cross-roads village, Richmond hoteliers needed to be awake to tricks of passing travellers. Samuel Burgess (Star & Garter), Mary McCullogh[17] (Union Hotel) and Daniel Elsey (working at the Bridge Inn), were all suspicious of a sovereign passed over their bars by Dominic McBride.

Evidence from Samuel Burgess. McBride called for a pot of beer in payment of which he tendered a counterfeit sovereign. It was one of those coins with ‘To Hanover’ on one side.

McBride claimed to have received it in change either at Swanston or Spring Bay on the East Coast.

Evidence of Mary McCullogh, wife of licensed victualler.

… defendant came to her house and asked for a bottle of rum for which he tendered counterfeit sovereign.

Daniel Elsey, Bridge Inn. Defendant tried to get a ‘night’s lodgings and something to eat.’

Unable to get work, McBride complained,’ Bugger it, that’s the way to try a bloody man.’ He then asked Daniel Elsey, a local, to a game of skittles at the Star & Garter, paying for a pot of beer with the counterfeit coin. Arrested by Senior Constable Beakley, McBride was convicted in Hobart and sentenced to 12 months hard labour for forgery at HM Gaol Hobart Town.[18]

End of Excerpt.

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Footnotes from Excerpt

[1]MM 110/2/1838 ff.

[2]Hobart Town Advertiser,  12/3/1861, p1.

[3]MM 110/2 1833 ff.

[4]LC445 3/11/1847.

[5]‘MM 110/2 1838.

[6]Hobart Town Advertiser 12/3/1862, p3.

[7]MM 110/2/1838 ff.

[8]MacFie, PH Dobbers & Cobbers – Informers and Mateship Among  Convicts,  Officials and Settlers on the Grass Tree Hill Road, Tasmania 1830-1850, THRA, 1988.

[9]MacFie, Dobbers & Cobbers, ibid, p 14.

[10]LC 445 28/11/1846.

[11]MM 110/2, 24/3/1838. good detail.

[12]MacFie, At That Time a’ Day, draft text. ’ – a Social History of Richmond and the Coal River Valley, draft text, 2000.

[13]Brittania & Trades Advocate, 6/3/1851, p3 c7.

[14]Glover, Margaret Civilian Officials of Port Arthur – Their Lives & Lifestyles, Port Arthur Conservation Project, National Parks & Wildlife Service, 1984, p 3.

[15]MacFie & Bonet, Convict Health at Port Arthur & Tasman Peninsula, 1830-1877, the Relationship between Diet, Work, Medical Care and Health, Port Arthur Conservation Project, National Parks & Wildlife Service, 1985, p16.

[16]MM 110/2 1838 ff.

[17]Mary was Simon McCullogh’s second wife.

[18]Hobart Town Advertiser, 5/12/1860 p 2.

End of footnotes from excerpt