In order to obtain an understanding of the early settlers in the Port Phillip District, and find out why they thought there was a need for a settlement across Bass Strait, Rex Harcourt has travelled to Tasmania many times. He enjoyed discovering their environment and gave us some details about the homes of John Batman, Henry Reed and the Sinclair Brothers.
The boundaries of the Batman estate at Kingston in north-east Tasmania, at the base of Ben Lomond, remain much as they were when Batman left in 1836. The property consists of 7,000 acres of poor rocky land in an otherwise beautiful environment. The present owners have rebuilt a small cottage on their land and advertised it as John Batman's home. This has been, perhaps unwisely, classified by the Australian Heritage Commission. It is far too small to have been the home of a family the size of Batman's. Other ruins on the property include those of a much more substantial home which included a cellar. The latter may have been used to hide Eliza Callaghan, an escaped convict girl who later became John Batman's wife.
Perhaps the best clue to John Batman's home may be found in a painting by John Glover, entitled 'Ben Lomond from Mr. Bateman's ground whose house is seen below ...... '. This painting is not accessible at present.
Henry Reed's house in Kings Meadows is a huge mansion complete with a chapel and mausoleum where he and other family members are buried. Reed, a one-time colleague of John Batman and a merchant shipper, financed Batman's first voyage to Port Phillip. This possibly earned him about 10% interest. A wealthy man, he became a fervent Wesleyan and perhaps the world's greatest lay evangelist. William Booth looked on him as a co-founder of the Salvation Army, and although not worth much now in monetary terms, the Henry Reed Trust that he set up still features in the Salvation Army Accounts. His warehouse in Launceston is now a museum called Macquarie House. In March 1836, Reed visited the Port Phillip settlement to evaluate the possibility of a mission for aborigines. The outcome was a station at Birregurra. He was the first person to preach the gospel on the site of Melbourne, although the Rev. Joseph Orton was the first ordained minister to do so.
James and John Sinclair also lived in north-east Tasmania. Their main homestead near the Launceston airport is undergoing renovation. Removal of smoke stains from walls has revealed some wonderful wallpaper depicting triumphant scenes of one of the French kings. In Launceston itself is a home which belonged to John Sinclair. It is a wonderful example of a brick noggin construction. The Sinclair brothers worked in the mercantile / maritime business and, like Henry Reed, were involved in shipping across Bass Strait to Portland. Whilst helping to establish whaling stations, they had time to study the surrounding country. They also had interests in Twofold Bay in New South Wales, purchasing beef.
Major Mitchell talked about 'Australia Felix', but it was Tasmanians again who initiated the overland movement of cattle into the district. George McKillop from Tasmania visited the Port Phillip District, realised its potential and with John Gardiner and John Hepburn, brought about 300 head of cattle from the Monaro district, which is inland from Twofold Bay. They first backtracked to the Canberra area and then roughly followed the route taken by Hume and Hovell in 1824. By 1838 when the next wave of overlanders came from New South Wales, the pattern of settlement was well established across Victoria as the Tasmanians coming across Bass Strait had moved up the river courses into the western district.
Rex Harcourt's book 'Southern Invasion, Northern Conquest' is an enormously interesting book packed with detail about the early days of the Port Phillip District. He describes how Sydney gained most from the hard work done by the Tasmanians. Of the earliest pioneers, only the Port Phillip Association members received any reimbursements for their costs and that was a miserly amount. It is very easy reading but with a good bibliography for those wanting more.
Contributed by Jan Hanslow (PPPG Member No. 1057)
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