SOMETHING ABOUT OLD COLONISTS.
Written by J. E. Calder.
CAPTAIN PETER DILLON.
The subject of the following notice was, I beg to inform you, one of the old sea-kings, trading to the port of Hobart Town, more than half a century ago.
Closely associated as his name once was with this place, it was best known to our fathers by two remarkable events, which connect his adventurous career with Tasmania ; firstly, the wreck of his ship the Phatisalam, of 259 tons, on our coasts, and secondly, his discovery during a future voyage of the remains of the ill-starred expedition of Admiral de la Perouse, which he proved to have been lost amongst some islands of the North Pacific, now about 92 years ago, which discovery is connected with this town by the termination, whilst in our port, of many unhappy scenes that disquieted his voyage
As a ship commander, he was unfortunate, having, according to the Colonial Times of April, 1827, wrecked three vessels in his day, namely, the Calder, St. Patrick, and now, at Hunter's Island, Bass' Straits (on the 9th of July, 1821), the Ship Phatisalam.
This last disaster occurred whilst making the voyage from Calcutta to Hobart Town. He quitted the former on the 25th of January, but very bad weather coming on, the ship began to leak badly in the early part of her protracted voyage hitherwards, and long before sighting this land she was making 20in. of water per hour. Her voyage was disastrous throughout. Her crew of Lascars suffered so severely from the com- bined effects of excessive cold, overwork, and semi-starvation, that several of them died. With a diminished and sickly crew, Dillon made the Hunters early in July, after a tedious passage of
over five months. The weather was still as
dreadful as ever, and the gale most violent. In this state of things, and with a leaky vessel under him, he made for the land, but the gale still hardening, the ship went ashore. This was on the 9th of July.
The nook in which he beached her must have been a well sheltered one, for she lay there over three months, without suffering further damage.
After great privations, and the loss of several more of his hands by drowning, the captain and crew quitted the wreck, and reached George Town, in one of the ship's boats, after a stormy passage of twelve days.
As soon as the loss of the ship was reported to the authorities of Port Dalrymple, a survey of her was ordered, but which did not take place until 11th of October, and on the 18th she
In the official report of the " Condemnation of the Phatisalam," as it was headed, the sur- veyors state that, with " the view of preserving as much as possible of her remaining cargo," they condemned her " to the flames," a curious process as it seems to me-a poor ignorant landsman-of saving a ship's cargo by burning her hull. The report is signcd by W. G. Phillips, T. Griffiths, and Robert Brown. They fired her in five places.
It will not be improper to state that the condemning surveyors did not quite escape suspicion of improper practice in thus de- stroying Dillon's ship ; for in a volume pub- lished here in 1826, containing the report of an important enquiry, one of the witnesses Captain Laurie-stated that "the Attorney General," Mr. J. T. Gellibrand, '' frequently repeated at Mr. Murray's and elsewhere that I should have plenty of the Phatisalam's guineas to recompense me for my misfortunes. That was a vessel that was wrecked, out of which the defendant," one of the three surveyors, " ob- tained a considerable property. "
With this same Captain Dillon rests the great and entire merit of clearing up the long-lived mystery that had concealed the fate of the ill destined French discovery ships Boussole and Astrolabe, commanded by La Perouse and del Angle, which were lost, as now ascertained, in
Perouse, after effecting several important ser- vices to geography, in widely different parts of the globe, steered for New Holland ; and entered Botany Bay almost simultaneously with the "First Fleet," January, 1788, under the com- mand of Governor Arthur Phillip, to whom must be assigned the proud title of the Founder of the Australian Empire.
After a few weeks' sojourn at the camping place of Phillip, Perouse put to sea (on the 11th of March), from which day all trace of him was lost, for the long period of 21 years, when a faint ray of light was revealed to us of his after proceed- ings, by a discovery made in Adventure Bay (some five and thirty miles from Hobart Town), of a tree, marked with the words "Dig under- neath," in French, which was accordingly done, and a bottle disinterred, containing despatches signed by Perouse, and dated one month after he sailed from Botany Bay, which proved
that he had visited our coasts.
This discovery was made by the ship Venus (Gazette, 21st April, 1827), in 1809 ("Bent's Chronology"). This was the last substantial intelligence of Perouse and his companions for one long while, and of whom nothing further was heard, until their fate was ascertained by Dillon in 1826-'27, the intelligence of which
was first disclosed at Hobart Town.
(I pause a minute to say, that a very interest- ing record of the visit of the Venus to Storm Bay, still exists on the shore near Crayfish Point, about 6 miles from Hobart Town. For some account of which, see note at end, Ship Venus, Batchelor's grave.)
I must now skip over about forty years from the time of the loss of the French discovery ships, to note that on Friday, the 6th of April, 1827, there arrived in the port of Hobart Town, the East India Company's armed cruiser Research, mounting 10 guns, and carrying a crew of 78 men, whose nationalities were about as various as those of the phantom privateer Genil, whose departure from Aden was lately telegraphed to us by the Chief Secretary of Bombay (see Mercury, 26th May, 1880), for six- teen languages were spoken on Dillon's ship (Gazette, 21st April, 1827). From the above day - 6th April, 1827—it is that our information dates, of the origin and progress of Dillon's enquiries into the fate of the missing ships.
A short notice appeared in the Colonial Times of the date last given, announcing the arrival of the Research, and giving an outline of the previous career of her captain ; and further,
promising a full report of Dillon's proceedings, in connection with his long search after tidings of the French navigator and his companions,
which it redeemed.
The following is the substance of a long paper on the subject. It commences with the account of a most deplorable trans- action at the "Feegees," as it is spelled, which happened on September of 1813, in which Dillon was defensively an actor. At this time Dillon was master of the cutter Elizabeth, sailing with the Bengal ship Hunter as tender, last from Calcutta to New South Wales, Fiji,
Many sailors, either deserters or castaways, were living at this time peaceably at Fiji, whom Captain Robson, of the Hunter, employed to cut sandal wood. Dillon had charge of the shore party, when a misunderstanding arose between the sailors and savages, which soon took the form of a fight, in which the former defended themselves with their guns for several hours against more than fifty times their number, but fell one by one, until all perished, except Dillon
and two others — a Prussian and Lascar — who fought their way to their boat, and escaped. This massacre occurred on the 7th of Sep-
After this disaster, Robson and Dillon left Fiji, and a week later sighted Barwell Island, callod Tucopia by the natives, where the Prus- sian (Martin Buchert) and the Lascar, who, not- withstanding recent events, seemed enamoured of savage life, were landed and left at their own request.
Time rolled on, and we find Dillon in 1826 the owner and commander of the ship St. Patrick. In this vessel he had made several voyages, and in May of the year last named, when sailing from Valparaiso to Pondicherry, he again sighted Tucopia ; and his thoughts naturally reverted to the two men whom, thir- teen years before, he had assisted to establish themselves here, and whom he found still living, and quite happily, amongst the savage islanders of Tucopia.
It was during this visit, of a few days' duration only, that he lighted on the first trace of the lost ships, by accidentally finding amongst his own people, the silver guard of a sword, which he, with seer-like sagacity, at once divined had belonged to La Perouse. It had been purchased from the Lascar for a few fish-hooks.
His suspicions wera confirmed by the discovery of a monogram "stamped" on it, containing, says the Colonial Times (which gives a well executed sketch of it) "every letter of the Admiral's name." Thus excited to enquiry, he learned from the natives, with the aid of his interpreters, the Prussian and Lascar, that at a distance of two days' sail (of their canoes), there existed a group of islands, called collectively " Malicolo," where there might be had a multi- tude of articles, originally obtained by the blacks from the wreck of two vessels, which he made no doubt were relics of the lost French ships.
The story of the wreck, as told by the Mali- colons to the Lascar, who had twice visited them since he first settled at Tucopia, was that " many years ago, two large vessels arrived at these islands, one of which anchored at the island of Whanoo, and the other at Paiow" and that both were driven ashore and wrecked in a gale.
With the perfidy that seems to be inherent in the Polynesian savage, the natives of Whanoo instantly attacked the seamen of the ship wrecked on their shores. The Frenchmen, half defenceless as they were at the moment, resented the aggression, and slew several of their assailants. But they were ultimately overpowercd by multitudes too numerous to be successfully resisted, and, says Dillon, "not a single soul escaped out of this vessel." The ship wrecked at Paiow did better, and though attacked in like manner by the blacks, the crew, instead of fighting, made peace with them, of which the terms were kept by both sides.
But the Frenchmen seemed soon to have sickened of the wild life they were leading, and set to work to escape from their seclusion ; and before long, had built and rigged a small vessel from the remains of the wrecks, and sailed off with as many of the survivors as she would accommodate, the rest remaining behind until assistance could be sent them ; but she was heard of no more, either there or elsewhere.
With this intelligence, Dillon sailed direct for Malicolo, to follow up the enquiry. But the owner of the ship's cargo being on board, he so objected to further delays, that Dillon pursued his voyage.
He was at Calcutta in the latter part of 1826 ; and the subject of the loss of Perouse was still uppermost in his thoughts, to which he tried to attract public attention by appeals through the Indian papers. But his project for an official enquiry into the fate of Perouse was for a while but coldly received. But the Asiatic Society at Calcutta at last took it up ; and the Government being appealed to, the company, at the cost of £15,000, fitted up the Research, and despatched her under Dillon to Malicolo.
The result of his enquiries at the islands was
the accumulation of such a vast stock of relics of
Perouse's expedition, as cleared away all doubt about the fate of the ships. With those vestiges he returned to India, and was in Paris with the proofs of his success early in 1828.
He was received at Paris with the distinction that his perseverance deserved, and the French King, Charles X., personally congratulated him
on his achievements. He was next rewarded
with a pension of 4,000 francs, and I believe ennobled, a style of reception quite antipodal of that with which our own country rewards
meritorious services of this nature.
Of the distressing incidents that cast a dark shadow over the last voyage of Dillon to Malicolo, of the four days' trial in our own Supreme Court, al Hobart Town, that, ensued on his return (all arising from a temporary de- privation of reason), I shall not trouble the
reader of this notice.
Of the future career of Captain Dillon I know nothing.
Note-Ship Venus - Batchelor's Grave. Cray-
I first saw Batchelor's tomb about 48 years ago, when surveying old locations that front on this part of the coast.
The relic spoken of in the text is a narrow freestone tablet that overlays the remains of the second officer of the Venus, who died and was buried here, in January of 1810.
As I had either lost, or had parted with, my old copy of the inscription recording the death of this gentleman, I made the best use I could of an idle afternoon of last week, to pay one more visit to the solitary grave of the young seaman.
In my stroll thither, I was fortunate enough to fall in with an old friend (Mr. F. Lipscomb), who, like myself, seemed as though he did not
know how to get through the rest of a long summer afternoon. I had known Mr. Lipscomb in the days of George IV., so of course he gave me a hearty welcome to his home. As it was quite plain to me that he wanted something to do, I proposed a drive along the pleasant road that passes by his door, for I quite well knew he was never without a good horse in his stable. He brightened up wonderfully at the hint, and in loss than five minutes we were spanking along the road, in the direction of Brown's River.
Mr. Lipscomb, who has lived in this district these fifty years by-past, and who in early life was known to any number of the fathers of Tas- mania, is of course a good local antiquarian and historian, and almost necessarily a pleasant companion. As we sped along, he pointed out more that one place, where some noteworthy object had once stood, but with which, in most cases, some melancholy interest only was con- nected. In this way, we drove on until the 6th milestone was reached, along as pleasant a road and through scenery as agreeable, as one could wish for. At this point, we turned off the road in the direction of the sea-shore, and a further distance of about half a mile, through an uncleared and uncultivated paddock, landed us at the place of internment of young Batchelor.
The memorial tablet consists of a flat, narrow, and now broken slab, of about 5ft. long, and
has been placed where it lay, with nothing but, its own weight to keep it in its place.
The grave is on private but unimproved land. The name of the original proprietor of which I had forgotten, but Mr. Lipscomb assigned it to a person named Colloy, one of the old " Norfolkers " of 1808, I believe. In after years it passed into the hands of Major Cartwright, who I hear bequeathed it to his brother's family. The soil of it is generally good, and not many would suffer it to lie idle.
Batchelor's grave was once enclosed by Mr. Lipscomb himself, at the cost of Major Cartwright. But not a vestige of the fence remains, having, it is believed, been torn down for firewood by fishermen who still frequent this spot —an act of vandalism for which no possible excuse could be found, as all the ground there-
abouts is still bush land.
This humble monument is placed exactly op- posite the north-eastern end of the Crayfish Point sand beach, and is about ten paces from
After an exposure to atmospheric action, to destructive sea-mists or spray, the tread of cattle and idle fishermen, for three score and ten years, it surprised us to find that its inscrip- tion was still fairly legible. It ran thus :
Sh Venus E. Bunker
J. C. Bullon
Ownr. Ob. Jan.* 28
1810 Æt 21
I have been told by Mr. Douglas, Secretary of the Post Office, who is a frequent pilgrim to the Point, that a report having got abroad a few years ago, that Mr. Batchelor's remains had been tampered with, a gentleman interested in the spot, caused the grave to be opened, when the skeleton was found quite perfect. It was that of a very large man. As not the least vestage of a coffin remained, it was presumed that the body had been buried ship-fashion,
that is in a hammock.
In an account lately handed you, of the ad- ministration of our third Governor Sorell, I spoke of the disorderly conduct of two of the early commandants of Launceston, of neither of whom, however, has much intelligence been preserved, but I will here introduce the little I
Lieutenant-Colonel Gilbert Cimitiere,
Of the 48th Regiment, who was the ninth of the Launceston commandants, and was so appointed in succession to Major James Stewart, on the 14th of March, 1818. That he was not well suited for his post, is shown in several of Sorell's reports to his superior at Sydney. He appears to have been a very petulant and over-sensitive person, who mistook every order he received from Sorell, for a studied infringement of his
* This the only word I could not quite decipher ; it may be Jul, (July.)
authority, which gave rise to many unpleasant official altercations between them. In one of Sorell's reports to Macquarie at Sydney, 25th of May, 1820, Cimitiere's conduct is described as exhibiting " a tendency to misconstruction, a want of judgment and temperance, and a tenacity of the least exercise of authority even to the extent of a suggestion, and a petulant, and latterly an insubordinate tone, which have given rise to several unpleasant communications ; and as he considers me to have attempted to circumscribe his authority, and that he is justified doing all that now appears, it will be obvious to your Excellency that it will be no longer possible for me to exercise over Lieut. Colonel Cimitiere the control by which my com- mission, and by your Excellency's instructions to me, I judge to belong to my official character and responsibility." Sorell further complains of his neglect of the interests of the people of Launceston, and of the great preference he gave to George Town, thus :-" He seems to consider that in the infancy of the establishment of George Town, where he has fifty soldiers and two hundred convicts, his attention is to be withdrawn from the bulk of the inhabitants and property of the settlement ; and that with an
excellent boat and crew solely for his own service, and a Government House, it is a hardship occasionally to visit them, so in his letter of the 4th of March, before sub- mitted, he complains of the hardship of visiting Launceston, and of the whole of the settlers and convicts being brought down to George Town, when a body of the latter arrive."
Cimitiere was a Frenchman ; and of his pecu- liar manner of meting out justice to the convict classes when he was on the Bench, a curious account is given in a letter of the late Mr. Cathcart's, of Invermay, near Launceston. After saying that Cimitiere was in command at the North, he says, " He spoke broken English, and was full of French ideas. He was the resi- dent magistrate at George Town, and some of his sentences passed on the convicts, speak volumes for him, viz., 'What is the complaint against this man ? (to the constable) ' I appre- hended him for being in the bush, without his master's consent, and his general conduct is bad.' ' So that is the charge against you. Will you hear that?' 'What have you to say.'
'Nothing, sir.' ' Well then, the sentence I shall pass on you for running into the bushes is, that you are to have fifty flogs, and sent three calico months to Macquarie Harbour, ' "
Cimitiere was succeeded in the command of the North by Lieut.-Colonel Cameron, of the 3rd Regiment, on the 14th of December, 1822.