Voyage to Van Dieman’s Land, 1827

Van Dieman’s Land, October 1827.

Captain Harper finally drops anchor in the Derwent River, Hobart Town. After four months sailing from England, the ship is now in the harbour. The 37 wealthy free settlers are on the verge of disembarking in Van Dieman’s Land to settle permanently in the new colony. Each gentleman settler is in receipt of a land grant of at least five hundred acres. The cargo includes boxes of wearing apparel, haberdashery, woollens, millinery and calico, bales of blankets, carpeting, hosiery, leather and stationery, casks of furniture, jewellery, cheese and soap, cases of turpentine, candle paint, agricultural supplies, shot and lead. A large supply of alcohol including 15 puncheons of rum and 90 hogsheads of porter and beer along with a cask of hop seeds also survive the long journey. Unfortunately, the livestock that was shipped for sale in Van Diemen’s Land does not experience the same fate.

Arrival at the bottom of the world

At the time of berthing in Hobart Town, the ship’s doctor reports that all the settlers are weak but otherwise in good health. Joseph and Edna are the last to walk unsteadily down the gang plank followed by their four children.

Joseph rubs and shades his eyes with his hands. He announces excitedly in a husky voice, “We have arrived at the bottom of the world!”.

He turns his head to look back his family. The children are all weak, pale and undernourished They struggle to walk. Robert, the eldest boy, at the age of 13 tries to show some interest. With quivering pale lips, he asks “Are we really going to live here Papa? Forever”.

Robert does not like the response he gets from his father and begins crying. The other children begin weeping too even though they do not fully comprehend that they will never go back home again.

Joseph does not let their grief ruin his excitement and in his usual way he attempts to appease the situation. “As soon as we settle in, we’ll go on a tiger hunt”, he announces in a forced jovial voice. Ten-year-old Hector wipes away his tears and frowns at his father with disbelief.

Daisy and Millie’s eyes gleam with anticipation. “Really Papa?” At the tender age of four, the twins do not seem as vulnerable as the boys.

“There are dangerous tigers everywhere”

Unfortunately, Edna doesn’t share the same enthusiasm as her husband. Her voice chokes up as she fights back tears, “Mr Joseph, I can’t live here. The flies are attacking us, the landscape’s abysmal, the seasons are odd and there are dangerous tigers everywhere. And there are no schools for the children. It’s simply more than I can endure”.

Despite Edna’s opposition, she is a strong, yet diminutive woman, fiercely protective of her family and always obedient to her husband. Joseph has immense pride for his wife and is not too concerned about her opposition to the new colony. His thoughts take him back to the treacherous sea journey his family had endured. And survived.  

“It’s too late for praying”

There was this one storm, more terrifying than its predecessors which showed no sign of abating. Finally, the thunderous roar of a rogue wave at least 100 foot high, in Joseph’s estimation, hit the ship’s deck. As the water gushed into the cabins, passengers rushed out screaming, their belongings floating around them.  Many women were holding onto rails, praying. “It’s too late for praying” Edna hollers as she rushes out on deck and starts baling out with the rest of the men.  

After settling Edna and the twins in a public house in Hobart Town, Joseph is keen to take possession of his 500-acre land grant situated on the East Coast of Van Dieman’s Land. Along with the acreage, the government offers Joseph five convict servants: one for each 100 acres. Robert and Hector have regained their strength and are excited to set off on foot with their father to inspect the land. Two of the convict servants with good trekking and navigation skills accompany them.  After walking several days through thick, treacherous wild bush and scrub, they finally arrive at their destination.

Within one year, Joseph builds a two-room dry stone cottage with a camp oven and a food barn out the back. After being separated from her husband and sons, Edna is ready to get back to washing, cleaning, mending, knitting socks and making puddings. But most of all, she is keen to begin working on the farm and cultivating crops on the 60 acres of land that the men cleared during her absence. The natural spring on the property reminds both Joseph and Edna of the English village of Banwell, the place where they were born.

“I feel like I am home in England”

“I like this place”, announces Edna. “When I close my eyes and listen to the sound of the spring water flowing, I feel like I am home in England”.

Joseph glances at Edith admiringly and scratches his long white beard. He doesn’t say anything but gives a knowing smile.

“Let’s call our new home Banwell” she beams.

Although the landscape of Banwell in Van Diemans Land is vastly different to that of their birthplace, there are some similarities too.

Banwell, on the southwest coast of England is an ancient village, in the district of Somerset. The village is well known for its spring that was used to draw water by the tons for the corn and paper mills. After the acquisition of the paper mill, Joseph and his brother could see the potential for a brewery in the area. As industrious and affluent farmers, the brothers began harvesting hops on their land and converted the paper mill into a brewery. The beer was manufactured from the pure, clear water that was pumped from the natural spring and the hops that were grown on the land.

Within a short amount of time, the brewers were supplying the beer to most of the inns in Somerset. Although the business was thriving and Joseph was enjoying his status as a brewer, one day everything changed. It was the day he received a letter from a friend and fellow member of the yeomanry.  The information contained in the letter reignited his thirst for adventure and prompted him to follow a different path.

A letter from Van Dieman’s Land

My Dear Mr Brickhill,

I embrace this opportunity to let you know that I arrived safely in Van Dieman’s Land. My application for a land grant for 500 acres from the British Government was successful. My acreage is on the East Coast not far from the sea. Cultivating the land is hard work but I am convinced already the conditions are better than England. I like the colony and it is my firmest wish that you apply to the Government for your own land grant. For five hundred pounds, you can get five hundred acres and five convict servants. Please give this matter your immediate consideration,

Your affectionate friend,

Mr E Cole.

The harsh winter frosts have finished, and the warm days of spring have finally arrived. The soil is well prepared, the trellises are up and the spring is overflowing from the winter rains. Joseph and the boys tentatively open the cask of hop seeds. They are in perfect condition and ready for sowing. Within six weeks the seeds have germinated and the hopyard is full of tiny green hop plants.

Banwell, Tasmania, October 1967.

Hec is feeling uneasy about the future of his precious hopyard.

“All these bloody upstarts have come here with their fanciful ideas about growing grapes for wine”.

My grandmother rolls her eyes. Always calm and pragmatic, she is almost at the point of screaming when her husband makes this same complaint yet again.

“Hec, you know as well as I do that the growing conditions for hops are better further south”, she replies in a calm, slow voice, over-enunciating each word. “The properties are further inland and they have better irrigation systems using water from the Derwent River.  Hec Brickhill, do you understand because if you don’t, I’m leaving” she threatens.

Growing hops and making beer is in my grandfather’s blood. It is as innate as his piercing blue eyes, his oversized pointy nose and his long white beard. He learnt the craft from his father and his grandfather Joseph. Unfortunately, as the population of Tasmania increases, so does the number of new hop farmers making it nonviable for Grandpa to continue with his hopyard.

Sadness washes over Grandpa. The thought of Granny leaving was too much to bear.

“Alrighty Agnes, I hear you”.

“Just one hop plant. She’ll do …”

Grandpa decides to sell the hop plants to farmers further south who are planning to get into the brewing business. Out of the profits, my grandparents turn the hop yard into a market garden growing everything from vegetables to fruit trees. Grandpa decides to keep just one plant for his own consumption.

The solitary hop plant is entwined tightly around a 12-foot post, cut from the tallest, skinniest gum tree Grandpa could find. Six lengths of thick twine are attached to the top of the pole and pegged to the ground intermittently surrounding it like a maypole. In the hot summer sun, she grows so fast, almost a foot every day. By harvest time, she has grown to over 25 feet.

“She’s my prize possession”, Grandpa claims as he gazes at the hop plant he refers to as ‘his woman’.

She wraps herself tightly around her post like an insecure lover. Towards the end of summer, she is at her most attractive. Her flowers have a delicate pine aroma and resemble tiny, green pinecones that have transposed the maypole into a beautiful full skirt dazzling in the afternoon sun.

Finally, it’s late autumn. As the seasons change, so does the hop plant. Her flowers dry up and she develops an unpleasant dry grassy odour that you can smell from a yard away.

Grandpa pulls a dried-up flower from the vine. He squeezes it between his fingers then nestles it in the palm of his hand. It feels springy and sticky to touch. Bending his head, he almost touches the cone with the tip of his long pointy nose as he inhales deeply.

“She’s ready for the brew!”

“She’s ready!” he declares enthusiastically.

Finally, the old Chevvy swerves around the last bend before the sign comes into view. Old Green Hills Road. Dad makes a left-hand turn, careers off the smooth bitumen of the highway and bumps onto the unsealed country road.

It’s a cool late autumn day. The rain has stopped but the inside windows of the car keep fogging up. Dad says we should all stop breathing and that’d fix the problem. Mum changes the subject as she often does when Dad attempts a joke.

“Dad’s going to be happy about all this rain. Wonder if he’s had to pump much water from the spring this year”.

“Probably not,” Dad says condescendingly.

The creek adjacent to the road is overflowing and the spring is full. “The hops’ll be thriving,” Mum adds.

Dad doesn’t change his driving style to allow for poor visibility. He hurtles down the road trying to avoid the potholes that have deepened since our last visit to Banwell.

Grandpa’s homebrew is on his mind for sure. One, two, three. Brrrrr. At last, the car rolls over the fourth and final cattle grid before making a final left turn towards the cottage.

Just around the corner the pigface appears on either side of the wooden gate. The bright purple daisy-like flowers are gone and now it’s just a mass of fat green grubs. Mum is very knowledgeable just like Grandpa and says the pretty flowers will be back in the summertime.

After negotiating the garden beds inside the gate, Dad parks in front of the dry-stone cottage. Granny and Grandpa are standing outside eagerly awaiting our arrival.

“Come on you young coves”, Grandpa shouts in his gravelly voice, the result of smoking too much cigarette tobacco. We are the young coves, my four brothers and me.

“Start polishing the glasses ….”

“The beer’s brewed and ready to go!”

Malted barley, home-grown hops and water. They are the only ingredients Grandpa uses in his home brew. But somehow during the fermentation process that mix becomes so powerful that the pressure blows the bottle tops off and they often hit the ceiling. Once the spuming subsides, there is only about a quarter of the amber fluid left in each bottle.

Grandpa is always generous with his brew. He has no age limit rule for imbibing alcohol.

“Glasses for everyone” Grandpa demands. Granny obediently takes nine glasses, formerly vegemite jars, out of the old pine dresser.

“A glass of foam for the young coves”.

“Ohhh, Dad” my mother always says in a weary voice, knowing that his response will never change.

Grandpa always knows best. “It can’t hurt them”.

After all, as a third-generation brewer, he would know. And besides, we are all parched after the long drive to Banwell.

Reference List:

‘Castle Day-Dreams’ Martin, M, Abblitt, L. (1992). Meadley Family History Services, Nunawading, VIC.

Maureen Martin Ferris, pers.comm.

Kelly’s directory istoy-of-sullians-cove-1804-1820.php&pageback=kop46.php’s_La nd_1827


Image: © Johannes Schenk at Unsplash. Thankyou for the image.



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