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YOUNGS OF ROKEBY AND THEIR FRIENDS" WITH PERMISSION OF THE
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THE TEXT CONTAINS MANY REFERENCES TO JAMES BELBIN'S DEALINGS WITH
ADMIRAL BLIGH WHO FOR THOSE INTERESTED WAS THE SAME WILLIAM
BLIGH AS THE INFAMOUS CAPTAIN OF " H.M.S. BOUNTY " WHOSE
CREW MUTINIED AGAINST HIM ON 28 APRIL 1789. OTHER CHAPTERS
FROM THE YOUNGS OF ROKEBY INCLUDE THE
BELBIN LETTERS WHICH ARE A SERIES OF EXCHANGES BETWEEN JAMES BELBIN
AND ADMIRAL BLIGH AND JAM ES
BELBIN THE YOUNGER AND WILLIAM BELBIN THE POLITICIAN.
James Belbin may not have been
the most distinguished of the ancestors, but he has been the most
publicised. He is the only ancestor to enjoy an entry in the Australian
Dictionary of Biography, (ADB), he is mentioned in numerous
places in the Historical Records of Australia, (HRA), and
is recalled in several books dealing with the early history of Tasmania.
In the National Capital of Canberra, a street  bears his name
to confirm his place among the pioneers of the country.
Belbin was born in London, 11 February 1771, and christened at St.
Clement Danes, 30 March 1771. He was the second of the seven children
of James and Susanna Belbin, with an older brother John and five
younger sisters, Charlotte, Susanna, Ann Harriet, Sarah and Maria.
According to Calder ,
James' parents had come from German brewing families, however, in
the 1990's people in Britain, Newfoundland and New Zealand, are
successfully tracing Belbin families back to the 16th century in
Southern England. On 21 August 1791, at the age of 20, Belbin arrived
at Port Jackson as a convict aboard Salamander, a vessel
of the Third Fleet. The convict indent  indicated that he was
tried in London, 9 September 1789, and received a 7 year sentence,
however the Old Bailey Session Papers  show his trial was 9 January
1788. At the age of 16, James was found guilty of house-breaking
and stealing clothing from a boarding house alongside his home.
The neighbours, who were the injured parties, took pains to say
that young James was a likeable lad; the sentence of the court may
therefore have shaken them, as it was Death, but with a recommendation
The trial proceedings were taken down in shorthand and then transcribed
for printing, distribution, and sale as a daily paper. A printed
record therefore remains to give some background to Belbin, his
occupation, and the area in which he lived. He apparently had received
some schooling as he could read and write. Although out of work
at the time of his crime, he had previously "been in service".
The transcript of the Old Bailey Trial as recorded by E. Hodgson,
Professor of Shorthand, revealed that James lived in Vere Street,
Clare Market, London.
A Vere Street still exists in London today, as it did in 1788, running
off Oxford Street near Bond Street. This was not Belbin's Vere Street,
as his was located in Clare Market near Lincoln's Inn Fields. The
latter Vere Street was an extension of Wild Street which disappeared
with the construction of Kingsway after the early 1820's. The Clare
Market no longer exists, but was placed between the Strand and Portugal
Street, Kingsway and the Law Courts. It was established in 1657,
became a free market during Cromwell`s time and was one of the more
important locations for food and other provisions. The pawnbroker
who received Belbin's stolen goods was located in Wild Street, Lincoln
Inn, off the Western side of today's Kingsway, only a longish stone-throw
from the old Clare Markets.
Fortunately James Belbin, along with over 100 fellow prisoners who
had been awarded a death sentence, was pardoned on 25 July 1789
at the Court of St. James, by His Majesty's Command, under the hand
of W.W.Grenville. 
Pardoned on the condition of their being transported to the Eastern
Coast of New South Wales or some one or other of the Islands adjacent,
for the terms hereafter mentioned.
The James Belbin who was convicted of burglary in the January 1788
Session of the Old Bailey, was one of the 23 persons awarded 7 years
transportation. A further 88 persons received transportation for life
on the same "pardon".Another Public Records Office (PRO)
document  lists the names of people released from the various gaols
to go aboard the ships of the Third Fleet. James Belbin is shown as
one of 42 men from Middlesex allotted a 7 year sentence of transportation
on 9 September 1789.
According to David Collins , after a short stay in Port Jackson
to restow provisions, Salamander and all its convicts left
for Norfolk Island 4 September 1791. The Norfolk Island Victualling
Book  confirms Belbin's arrival on the Island during September
1791. He received no pardons and his Certificate of Freedom, No 15/1047,
 showed that his sentence expired 9 September 1796, 7 years after
a 9 September 1789 conviction at the Old Bailey London.
Little is known of Belbin's early life on Norfolk Island. He seems
to have maintained a low profile and there are no records of punishments
or other incidents. Although he was victualled throughout 1791/92
, he was "On the Stores" for only 119 days in 1793, and
was "Off the Stores" throughout 1794. Again in 1795 he was
only On the Stores during January. Presumably his services were in
demand by one of the free settlers.
The ADB  considers Belbin a supplier of pork to the Stores. This
is confirmed by a note in Lieut. Governor King's papers in 1796, and
by numerous stores receipts through the years to 1806. Unfortunately
the ADB entry contains a number of incorrect statements, and is wrong
when it says James transferred to Norfolk Island to become a settler
after he had completed his sentence at Port Jackson. Belbin remained
at Norfolk from 1791 until 1808 when he was transferred to the Derwent
. His pork production was not particularly significant when compared
with that of his fellows. One of the most prodigious suppliers was
Robert Nash who produced wheat, maize, and pork in large quantities.
In one set of returns to 1807 , Belbin's name appeared only once,
May 1806, when he supplied "679 lbs. of swine flesh". This
was small when compared with the deliveries others on the same return.
In another return , for the period 1 Jan-16 Sept 1801, there were
many contributors with 141 receipts yielding a total of 129,793 lbs.
(average 920 lbs) of pork. Belbin managed only one delivery of 861
lbs on 26 February (receipt No. 23). During this period of 1801, Robert
Nash and other settlers also produced maize and wheat for the Store,
but Belbin was not in this field. Whereas many of the convict settlers
owned land by grant or by purchase, Belbin was never granted a block
on Norfolk and apparently did not buy land. Although he occupied from
15 - 30 acres at various times, the records show he was either renting
or leasing, as was the case with many of the part-time farmers on
the Island. Possibly it comes as no surprise to find that for some
time he was employed as a Constable on Norfolk Island. It is not clear
when he first took this job on, although an 1832 letter  implies
that it may have been during Captain John Townson's period as Commandant.
Certainly he resigned from the position on the 5 March 1802 .
Although a marriage certificate will never be produced as proof, Belbin's
wife for much of his life on Norfolk was an Ann Meredith, who died
on the Island in childbirth at the age of 35, 1 June 1805, . Ann
was the only female Meredith convict listed in the indents for 1788-1800
in 4/4003 . She was convicted at the 2nd Session of the Worcester
City Assizes, 2 February 1789, and received 7 years transportation.
Although her ship of arrival is missing from the usual records, a
Mitchell Library reference  shows that she was despatched on one
of the three ships of the Second Fleet which left the UK in December
The Berrow's Worcester Journal of 25 December 1788 advises
that Ann Meredith was charged in company with a man, Roger Croft,
and his wife Mary, of assaulting and ill-treating Joseph Williams,
and stealing 6 guineas, 6 or 7 shillings and a silver watch. At the
trial on 2 February 1789, Mary Croft was acquitted, but both Ann Meredith
and Roger Croft were sentenced to 7 years transportation. The Berrow's
Journal of 4 February 1798, reported that in Anne Meredith's case
"...endeavours were made to obtain an extenuation of the sentence
To date the only likely indicator noted of an earlier life for Ann
Meredith, is a Mormon record of the christening of a daughter of Thomas
and Mary Meredith at Kempsey, Worcester, 13 September 1769. Kempsey
was then about 3 miles south of Worcester. (Click
here for Andy Morrall's history of Kempsey.) A 1769
christening fits well for Ann Meredith of Norfolk Island, who also
named her first child Mary.
Ann Meredith arrived in the antipodes on Neptune as one of the 67
female convicts landed from that vessel. PRO documents  show that
the female convicts destined for Neptune were called up from the various
Counties as early as 24 October 1789. On that date the County Sheriffs
were advised that ".... Neptune will receive on Friday next female
convicts now under sentence in the gaol at.....". Another letter
in December from Wm Grenville  is quite surprising.
The contractor for the transportation of convicts to New South Wales
has informed me that the apartments designed for female convicts
on board the Neptune is capable of containing between 30 & 40
more women than the number now on board, and the preparations have
been made by him for the reception of such other females as may
be ready to embark. .....(the male convicts are to be advised that)...wives
of convicts may be taken aboard, and if the numbers are not taken
up, women who have cohabited with them ....(convict wives and defacto
wives to be victualled with food and clothing as for the convict
women on board).
One must assume that Ann Meredith was a "survivor", had
good stamina, or was extremely fortunate on the voyage out. 158 people
died on the voyage, and 269 out of the remaining 353 who landed at
Port Jackson were sick or were hospitalised. The Norfolk Island Victualling
Book shows that Ann was considered fit enough for almost immediate
transfer to Norfolk, as she arrived at the Island 7 August 1790 aboard
Lt. Ralph Clark's journal  reveals that Ann had her problems some
8 months after her arrival at Norfolk, when on 5 April 1791, with
three other women, she received 25 lashes "... for refusing to
do what ther (sic) overseer ordered them". Throughout an 18 month
period of 1790-1791 on Norfolk Island, 98 individual convicts (75
men and 23 women) were awarded floggings out of a possible 260 male
and 240 female convicts. At that time flogging was a traditional method
of punishment in the Armed Services as well as the prisons. In the
same 18 month period, 6 men from the Marines or the N.S.W. Corps were
also flogged on Norfolk. The incidents attracting such punishment
for private or convict, were almost universally being insubordinate
to an officer or overseer, the stealing of food, or deserting one's
labour or post. A military type discipline was enforced and those
with aggressive natures, short tempers, or independent attitudes were
more likely to suffer.
The Victualling Book  shows that Ann remained on the Stores until
the end of 1794, and gave birth to children Mary Meredith (born 5
February 1793 - received rations 1793-1794) and Elizabeth Meredith
(born 21 March 1795 - Off the Stores). Apart from the stores return
of 1802 and a listing in the 1805 Muster , Ann was hardly noted
in other records. The Mutch Index, and Rev. Henry Fulton's birth,
death and marriage records  list the death of Ann Meredith on
1 June 1805, but create a problem by noting that she was "Plyers
Ex-Marine private George Plyer arrived at Norfolk Island, 21 January
1792, following his discharge from the Establishment at Port Jackson
in December 1790 , to become a free settler on the Island. He
was one of 21 ex-marines who arrived on Queen with Rev Bain, intending
to make Norfolk their future home. David Collins had little faith
in the ability  of these ex-marines, to devote themselves to farming
activities, and, as if to vindicate the Judge Advocates views, within
a short time many of these would-be settlers had surrendered or sold
their land grants and taken up other activities. The relationship
between Plyer and Ann Meredith is confirmed by a return of Norfolk
Island women  who were Off the Stores, 20 July 1794. This report
showed that Ann Meredeth (sic) had one child at that time, was unmarried,
but was supported off the Stores by a Thomas (sic) Plyer, settler.
Plyer does not seem to have succeeded as a farmer. In the second half
of 1804 he appears on the Stores as a Private with the NSW Corps,
and was still a Private at Norfolk Island in 1806. In February 1808
he was on the Store but now under the heading of "Apprentices
and Free Men", instead of his past listing under the Military.
He disappears from the records in 1808 when he leaves for the Derwent
aboard the City of Edinburgh  without wife or child.
On Norfolk Island it was the Victualling Book naming practice to identify
convict women by the their name on arrival in the Colony, regardless
of whether they later acquired new names by marriage. Similarly the
children were known by the mother's surname and not that of the father.
In other records, and within the community itself, there is some evidence
that the wives were known by a married name. However, there was logic
in the Victualling Book practice. Some women changed husbands, and
presumably the children moved with the mother.
The February 1805 list of "People On and Off the Stores"
records the names of all persons on the Island at that time. Under
the heading "Children of All Descriptions Off the Stores",
seven Meredith children are grouped as :
Luckily, James Belbin recorded the names of his Norfolk Island family,
with some birth and death dates, in a "diary" possibly composed
between 1809-1811. These notes , which are now held in the University
of Tasmania Library, read as follows :
James Belbin, born February 11, 1771
Mary Ann Merredith February 10, 1793
Elizabeth Belbin February 26, 1795
Sarah Belbin January 29, 1795
Harriot & Catherine September 12, 1798
Susanna Belbin June 27, 1801
James Belbin August 30, 1803
Mary Brooks Belbin July 31, 1807, left at Norfolk Island with her
Ann Merredith (sic) Belbin died in childbirth May 31, 1805, aged 35
Harriot Belbin twin died June 19, 1805, aged 6 yrs 9 mths 7 days.
Both buried at Norfolk Island.
There are some discrepancies in birth dates when compared with the
Norfolk Island Victualling Book, and the age of Sarah (22 at marriage
on 9 September 1816) as shown in the records of St. David's Church,
Hobart. However, Belbin's diary may provide the closest approach to
an "official" document that can be found.
The Mutch Index  is very silent on births, deaths and marriages
in the Belbin family on Norfolk. The solitary reference reads :
BELBIN or MEREDITH, Hariott,
Although the child, Mary Ann, may have been a member of Belbin's family
on Norfolk, he seems to have denied parentage by calling her Meredith
rather than Belbin. One might assume her father was George Plyer;
the Mutch Cards at the Mitchell Library refer to a Mary Ann Plyer,
who was born at Norfolk Island, in the NSW 1811 Muster. Again, Captain
Piper reported that a "Sarah Plyer embarked aboard Lady Nelson
at Norfolk Island for Port Jackson, with Priv. Thomas Ashbury, April
1810 - Private 102nd Regt.". One of course would have to assume
that Capt Piper mistook Mary Ann for her sister Sarah.
The Norfolk Island Victualling Book notes that Private Thomas Ashbury
first went to Norfolk on the Atlantic, 4 November 1791, and received
stores throughout 1892 until Kitty left for Port Jackson on 9 March
1793. Although not really significant, the 1828 Census of NSW names
two Ashbury families. The youngsters at that time were called Mary
and Thomas Ashbury.
Belbin is understood to have served as a constable at Phillipburgh
until 5 March 1802. On that day Constable Belbin was removed from
the Stores and the Victualling Book where he had stood under "Settlers
from Sentences Expired". On the same day Ann Meredith and her
6 daughters, from the eldest, Mary Ann Meredith, down to young Susan
Meredith, were also removed from the Stores .
Several of the Merediths were reinstated on the Stores from June 1805
onwards, after the death of mother Ann Meredith. Elizabeth, Sarah,
and Catherine were included in "Children Above 2 Years of Age"
in the Victualling Book from 1 June to 31 December 1805. However,
on 15 August 1806, Sarah and Catherine Meredith are shown as "Orphan
Children", while Elizabeth is still listed under "Children
Above 2 Years of Age". Sarah and Catherine are still "Orphan
Children" in February 1808. Throughout all of this period James
Belbin, Susanna, and young James Meredith do not appear on the Stores.
It is of course possible that Sarah and Catherine were orphaned on
the death of their mother, and one assumes that orphans gained some
small benefit not available to children with parents. It would not
have been beyond James Belbin to cheat the Stores in some fashion,
however these "orphans " were among the five children who
went to VDL with him, were known as Belbins at the Derwent, and constituted
Several documents remain today, among Norfolk Island records from
the First Settlement, which refer in passing to Belbin or carry his
signature. A copy of a handwritten "Address of Welcome",
dated 4 October 1806, to Governor Bligh , rejoicing in his appointment
as Governor of NSW and pointing out how pleasant and productive Norfolk
is, carries Belbin's signature among that of 80 prominent Island settlers.
A document dated 17 June 1808 , "Vouchers for Cash Paid for
Buildings Left Behind on Norfolk Island", shows that the government
allowed the evacuees a total of £615 for their dwellings. James Belbin
shared in this payout to the extent of £12 for " a boarded and
shingled building". Belbin's signature appears similar to another
in one of his surviving books on Russian history.
In 1803 the first moves to close down Norfolk Island commenced when
Lord Hobart advised  that the numbers were to be reduced, and
that convicts and settlers were to be sent to Van Diemens Land. Lieut.
Governor Foveaux produced a list  of 41 Norfolk Island settlers
who, at 19 July 1804, had indicated that they would be prepared to
relocate to VDL. The Governor at Port Jackson, P.G.King, was very
reluctant to see the abandonment of the settlement he had pioneered;
he continued to delay the evacuation, and to propose measures which
would reduce rather than remove all the population. He was obviously
disturbed to note that the two most productive settlers on Norfolk,
Daniel Standfield and John Beresford, had indicated that they would
move to VDL. King wrote to the two favoured men suggesting that it
would not be in their best interests to "start the world anew
" at the Derwent. About this time the Governor also allowed two
free settlers to travel to Norfolk, with directions that they be permitted
to select farms from those abandoned by settlers leaving the Island
for the Derwent. When knowledge of these two matters became generally
known, it was not surprising that the logic of a move to VDL was not
so evident, and most of the settlers withdrew their names from Foveaux's
list. Subsequently Foveaux stated "....that inclination which
was before so manifest almost totally disappeared, and out of 41 who
had previously given in their names to remove, only 10 remained willing
to go, the others requested their names to be withdrawn completely"..
Among the 41 people on the Foveaux list were 19 who the Lieut. Governor
suggested should be given consideration and help in VDL, although
he acknowledged that the remainder would also be good settlers. One
of the 19 privileged persons was James Belbin, who was shown at that
time with a wife, six children, and 25 acres of leased land under
On 26 March 1805, after he had left the Island for England, Foveaux
prepared another schedule of names  dividing all the settlers
on the Island into First, Second, and Third Class, and also listing
the numbers of their family, their land, and the stock held.
| 1st Class Settlers
| 2nd Class Settlers
| 3rd Class Settlers
On this schedule, Belbin was considered a Settler of the Second Class,
with only 20 acres under lease, with a wife, 7 children, and 21 head
of swine. At that time Belbin was not a large owner of swine as there
were a number of people with 50-60 head, with 68 the largest holding.
Yet another return of Norfolk Island Settlers on 2 August 1807 ,
two years after the death of Ann Meredith, shows that James Belbin
has 32 acres of land, 16 hogs, and a crop 120 bushels of maize. He
again has a wife and the children have increased to 9, although daughter
Harriot had died in June 1805. James had obviously acquired a new
wife who brought several of her own children into the Belbin home.
Belbin's diary tells us that Mary Brooks Belbin was born 31 July 1807
, so there is no certainty that she was included as one of the
9 children. The new wife, a Brooks, may then have come with either
2 or 3 children excluding baby Mary.
Although there were two Brooks women on the Island in 1807, both called
Ann, one must favour Ann Brooks "The Younger" as Belbin's
wife, since she remained behind on Norfolk after 1808. The other Ann
Brooks arrived on Surprize in 1790 , and was also known as Ann
Lavender. She became the wife of James Morrisby and left with him
for VDL in December 1807. A Jane Brooks also reached Norfolk in 1790
but left the Island in 1796..
Ann Brooks (the Younger) came to the Colony on Pitt  in 1792.
The records show that her first child was born at Port Jackson in
1794  with John Cox as father. John Cox was a Private of the NSW
Corps who was on Norfolk between 1802-1810, however five children
had been born to Ann and John before the family appeared on the Victualling
List in 1802. When John Cox and Ann Brooks left for Port Dalrymple
on Lady Nelson in 1813, they took 7 children with them . Although
the 1812 Muster  of Norfolk Island people lists a Margaret Brooks
aged 4 but no Mary Brooks aged 5 years, a Mary, but not a Margaret,
is mentioned in the 1811  returns.
In an 1962 article on Settlement of the Norfolk Islanders at Norfolk
Plains, , Isabella Mead recalls how she viewed a powder horn from
the Cox home at Norfolk Plains, which had the birth dates of the Cox
children inscribed on it. The names and dates can be compared with
those gleaned from other Norfolk Island records.
From Cox Powder Horn
From Mutch Index / NI Records
|| John Brooks
|| b.15 Sep 1794 @ PJ
|| Ann Brooks
|| b.12 Jan 1798 @ PJ
|| William Brooks
|| b. 2 Feb 1800 @ PJ
|| Samuel Brooks
|| b. 2 Feb 1800 @PJ
|| Joseph Brooks
|| b.29 July 1802 @PJ
|| Susannah Brooks
|| b.29 July 1804 @NI
|| Margaret/Mary Brooks
|| b. c.1808 @NI
|| George Brooks
|| b. c.1810 @NI
|| Charles Brooks
|| b. c.1812 @NI
|Thus it appears that William Brooks
(twin) died as a child; a 1791 birth for John (jun) is unlikely since
both father and mother did not arrive in Port Jackson on Pitt until
1792; the third-last child was known as Mary rather than Margaret.
As the 1806 birthdate is a year early for Mary Brooks Belbin, and
John's birthdate is also wrong at 1791, the viewer, or the carver
of the powder horn, may have made a mistake. On the surface, it is
possible that there was a split in the Cox family in 1806 which resulted
in Ann Brooks taking shelter in the Belbin household with say, 3 of
the younger children. The breach, if there was a breach, had been
mended and the Cox family reunited by September 1808, when James Belbin
and "five motherless children" left Norfolk Island for the
Derwent on City of Edinburgh. In his diary Belbin certainly seems
to have laid claim to parentage of the Mary Brooks who moved to Norfolk
Plains with the Cox family in 1813.|
Although Belbin may have had up to 10 or 11 different children in
his household at various times on Norfolk Island, perhaps only 6 of
them by Ann Meredith and one by Ann Brooks could strictly be classed
as his own offspring.
During the 10 month period from November 1807 to September 1808, some
578 people were removed from Norfolk Island on the Five Embarkations
to the Derwent. The records vary, however at Hobartown Deputy Commissary
Leonard Fosbrook's listing  showed the numbers disembarking at
the Derwent as only 554.
The ADB is again incorrect in stating that the Belbin family reached
the Derwent on Estramina. Belbin's diary and the passenger lists show
that they travelled to the Derwent on City of Edinburgh. The passenger
list  retained at the Mitchell Library also showed the land and
buildings each individual had held on Norfolk. Belbin owned no land
prior to embarkation, although a note is appended recommending that
he receive a land grant in VDL. The "five motherless children",
mentioned by Belbin in a statement preserved in the HRA , were
his five surviving children by Ann Meredith, Elizabeth (13), Sarah
(11), Catherine (10), Susan (7), and James (5). Mary Ann Meredith
(15) apparently remained behind on Norfolk to continue her own life
independent of the Belbins.
|| Depart Norfolk Island
|| Arrive Derwent
| Lady Nelson
|| 9 Nov 1807
|| 29 Nov 1807
|| 26 Dec 1807
|| 17 Jan 1808
| Lady Nelson
|| 14 Feb 1808
|| 1 Mar 1808
|| 15 May 1808
|| 7 Jun 1808
| City of Edinburgh
|| 3 Sep 1808
|| 2 Oct 1808
|The City of Edinburgh carried by
far the greatest number of people from Norfolk Island, and by October
1808 the Hobart population would have been inflated from 488 on 24
March 1807, to about 1050 persons. The weather during the voyage of
City of Edinburgh was said to be inordinately bad, but this hardly
explains why the vessel had to lie off Norfolk Island for three months
before it was eventually loaded for sailing to the Derwent in September
1808. Some of the Islanders were unwilling to depart Norfolk and perhaps
there was some truth in the following statement.|
It is known that the enforced removal of this people from their happy
little homesteads, to commence a life anew in a land of convicts and
savages, was most displeasing to them; and some of them even ventured
to resist, or rather evacuate, the imperial mandate for their expulsion.
Of these recusants .... who took to the bush sooner than be evicted
from their lands. But according to the practices of the good old times
they were hunted down by the crew of the boat employed to take them
aboard the vessel, the Estramina or City of Edinburgh that was sent
thither to remove them, on the decks of which they were finally pitched
like a couple of dogs. .
Perhaps Belbin's dairy provides a unique record of the City of Edinburgh
movements. Thus :
City of Edinburgh arrived off Norfolk Island June 4th 1808
Embarked on board Sept 3
Arrived off Van Diemans (sic) Land Sept 28th
Anchor'd in the Harbour Oct 2
Landed at Hobart Town Oct 3 1808
Victualled from the Stores Oct 5 1808
City of Edinburgh saild for Port Jackson Oct 28th
The problems experienced by James Belbin (sen) at the Derwent in 1809/10
with Lieut.Governor David Collins were vividly recorded by
J E Calder in the Hobart Mercury . However, if we adjust his
narrative to accord with incidents noted in the Belbin diary of 1810/11,
and add a little general history of the early settlement at Hobart,
a slightly different story emerges.
It was suggested that Belbin was out of favour with Lieut. Edward
Lord after the Norfolk settler made some scathing comments about justice
in the Derwent settlement, following the public flogging of a Mrs
Dolly Roberts early in December 1808. In the course of a trip to Sydney,
Lieut. Lord had selected a female convict, Maria Risely, to look after
his business affairs at Hobart, and had obtained her pardon from the
military junta then in power following the removal of Governor Bligh
from Office. Back at Hobart, Maria Risely proved an astute business
woman, and Lieut Lord`s affairs prospered. In November however, she
was so soundly defeated in a verbal slanging match with Mrs Roberts,
that she tearfully fled to the back of her shop. Lieut Lord was out
of town but soon heard of the incident. Without further ado he had
Mrs Roberts tied to the back of a cart and publicly flogged. Although
Belbin is supposed to have made only a few audible comments, George
Harris the Surveyor, who acted as a magistrate from time to time,
challenged Lord's authority to order a flogging without a trial. Lieut.
Lord responded by arresting Mr Harris, thereby causing Lieut. Governor
Collins some trouble in calming his Executive.
In February 1809 Governor Bligh had been allowed to board Porpoise
in Port Jackson on the understanding that he would return directly
to England. Bligh had no intention of leaving Australian waters, believing
his duty was to remain on hand until the British Government sent a
force to remove the Botany Bay Mutineers. As David Collins at the
Derwent had previously indicated his private support of Governor Bligh
while the latter was imprisoned in Sydney, it was not surprising that
the Porpoise should sail up the Derwent in March. Belbin noted Governor
Bligh's arrival 31 March, and the salute he received from the Great
Guns ashore. The Porpoise was to remain in the Derwent until January
the following year.
Many of the Norfolk Islanders at the Derwent were now an unhappy and
disgruntled group. They had arrived with the understanding that they
would be fed and clothed from the Store for two years, would receive
two acres of land for each acre held at Norfolk, they would be given
a house equivalent to that left behind, and would be allocated two
convicts to help clear their new land . They now discovered the
Store was practically empty. There was virtually no food or clothing
available, and they were required to live on Kangaroo meat from the
bush. There were no spare houses and the newcomers had to share the
small homes of the convicts they might otherwise have expected would
be assigned to clear their land. Although the land itself was considered
very inferior to the rich volcanic soil of Norfolk Island, a number
of people who had previously been classed as farmers appear to have
had difficulties in obtaining land. The change in climate from subtropical
Norfolk would not have helped to raise their ebbing spirits. It was
probably a significant event when, on 10 April 1809, Belbin noted
that snow covered Mt. Wellington; this would have been the first snow
seen by the Belbin children.
Bligh became aware of the plight of the Norfolk Islanders, and requested
permission to address them and explain that their current situation
was not the fault of Lieut Governor Collins, but was caused by the
NSW Corps. Collins was now under pressure from the Military Government
at Sydney, and the Service representatives in his own split Executive,
to deny Bligh and his party any assistance. It was not beyond Bligh
to arouse the Norfolk group into measures which would embarrass both
Collins and the NSW Corps. Collins refused Bligh permission to address
the new settlers, and no doubt the deposed Governor became a little
more difficult and demanding.
In the meantime a group of Norfolk Islanders had prepared a petition
to be sent to Governor Bligh, which was circulated for signature,
and was held by James Belbin when news of it reached Lieut. Lord's
ears. The suggestion is that this petition may have been the work
of James Dodding and James Belbin together. Although the last wave
of Norfolk Islanders had arrived six months earlier, Belbin and his
children were still billeted in the house of convict Daniel Ankers
and his wife. Fanny Ankers and Hannah Power, the wife of another convict,
were said to have shared the gunroom aboard Calcutta on the passage
from England . On the voyage out, they reputedly became the mistresses
of Deputy Commissary Fosbrook and Lieut. Governor Collins respectively,
and continued in that capacity at the settlement. It was perhaps not
surprising that the location of the petition could be pinpointed by
local Officers. Any subversive activities beneath the Anker roof would
have reached Collins' ears in an extremely short time.
On 24 April 1809, an antagonistic Lieut. Lord, dressed in full dress
uniform, presented himself at the Anker/Belbin house and searched
until he found the Islander`s petition. A scuffle then took place
in the mud outside the hut, during which the petition was torn to
pieces and the Lieutenant's uniform was muddied. Belbin was marched
off to the lockup to be charged as a mutineer, with the promise that
he would hang as a mutineer. He was held for several days until he
appeared before the court of Rev. Knopwood and Lieut. Lord on 26 April.
Belbin may have been surprised at finding himself freed, on giving
an assurance that he would observe a General Order made the previous
day by Lieut. Governor Collins. .
Hobart Town, 25th April, 1809.
The Lieut. Governor, understanding that several of the Norfolk settlers
and several other Persons have presumed to address Letters and Petitions
to Governor Bligh since his arrival in this Settlement, without the
knowledge and consent of the Lieut Governor, as he is willing to ascribe
this conduct of theirs to Ignorance, he thereby informs them that
they are not on any account to address or present any Letter, Paper,
or Petition to Governor Bligh without the previous knowledge of the
Governor of this Settlement, and if, after the publication of this
Order, any person or persons are found offending therein, he or they
will be brought before a Bench of Magistrates to answer for the same.
Presumably Lieut. Lord`s precipitate action in gaoling Belbin, a free
man, had exposed the fact that if it was wished to restrict access
to Governor Bligh, then some form of local Order had to be published.
Late in April a ship from Sydney brought copies of the Sydney Gazette
which declared Governor Bligh a proscribed person and prohibited communication
with any member of his family or establishment. Bligh immediately
prepared his own counter proclamation and sent it to Collins asking
that it be printed on the Government printing press. Unfortunately
it was found that all the printing ink had gone missing.
On 19 May, Pegasus arrived from Sydney with orders from Colonel Paterson
that Collins observe and promulgate the proclamation against Bligh.
Collins no doubt realised that he could obtain no assistance from
Bligh for his struggling Colony, and possibly reasoned that cooperation
with the Rebels in Sydney might solve some of his problems. On Sunday
21 May 1809, Lieut. Governor Collins had Paterson's proclamation,
and one of his own accepting the authenticity of the Rebel Government,
read by Rev. Knopwood at the church service, and by Samuel Warriner
in the Lumber Yard. Immediately afterwards a small group of Norfolk
Islanders responded by preparing and signing yet another statement
of loyalty to Governor Bligh.. This was sent to Governor Bligh
the same day and its contents would have filtered back to Collins.
James Belbin's name appeared as the second of the 18 signatories.
Another signatory was James Dodding who, Belbin noted in his diary,
left Hobart on 30 June aboard Pegasus. All who signed the document
were Norfolk islanders, except for an unknown Wm. Shardley; however,
it seems likely that the transcriber of the petition, for its subsequent
inclusion among the Bligh Papers, may have misread Shardley instead
One wonders at the persistence of the petitioners and whether they
were truly motivated by loyalty to Bligh as the representative of
the crown, or were simply expressing their opposition to the Derwent
Authority. Although most of the Norfolk landholders received land
at the Derwent, it seems possible that 6 out of 8 emancipated settlers
who signed the petition and had farmed on Norfolk, may not have initially
received land at Hobart. Certainly Belbin did not obtain a grant until
On 29 September 1809, again in defiance of Collins' prohibition, James
Belbin went aboard Porpoise to meet Governor Bligh. Information on
this latest episode and the petition must have reached Collins' ears.
Belbin had pushed his luck too far and on 7 November he was arrested
.... on a false charge of insolence, because I thought proper to correct
my daughter, Sarah, the night before.
The dissenter was held in gaol until 4 December when the court sentenced
....500 lashes by Lieut. Governor Collins' order for denying Collins'
proclamation, and because I would not acknowledge any person other
than His Excellency William Bligh esquire as the Governor in Chief,
without a legal cause for changing my mind.
The history books give a completely different view of the background
to this incident as, at the 7 May 1811 London court martial of Lieut
Col Geo Johnstone, Governor Bligh actually reported , :
Of a few poor unfortunate settlers, who attempted to get off a few
fowls and some mutton to my daughter, some where seized and flogged
and one poor man, whose name was Belbin, received, I believe, 400
or 500 lashes and was imprisoned for the relief he had given my daughter.
One can only speculate if this was factually the case or whether Bligh
had been misinformed about the incident. It does raise the question
as to whether it had been arranged for Belbin to attend the court
martial as a witness, and if this had in turn resulted in his departure
from Hobart being deliberately delayed by military interests in VDL
or Port Jackson. Again, perhaps with greater accuracy, in his History
of Tasmania James West  said :
.... the settlers were interdicted from holding communication. A free
man Mr Belbin was flogged for the infraction of this order, but afterwards
received a grant from the Crown in reward of his loyalty.
The Calder article states
that Belbin's day of punishment was not disclosed, but that he was
kept in suspense while being imprisoned for many weeks. During this
time his young son stayed with him. When the day of punishment arrived
Collins insisted on witnessing the flogging. The Lieut. Governor was
upset when Belbin became unconscious after only 50 lashes, and the
two attending surgeons insisted, in the face of Collins' directions
to continue, that the punishment finish. There appears to be no evidence
that Belbin ever received the balance of the flogging. In his diary
Belbin acknowledges that he -
.... was incapable of receiving but 50 lashes, and was afterwards
held in confinement till Monday the 15th Jany 1810, when I was brought
before Mr K and H (Knopwood and Humphrey) and dismissed after being
confined for 10 weeks, wanting 1 day, during which time I was prohibited
from speaking to any person but my children.....
Belbin stated that son James was injured on 23 December and thereafter
he felt it necessary to keep the lad in the Guardhouse with him. According
to Belbin, Governor Bligh and Porpoise sailed for Port Jackson on
3 January, some 9 days earlier than the date usually quoted in the
history books. On the following day Mrs Ankers locked the Belbin children
out of the house and Kitty, Susan, and James then slept in the Guardhouse
with their father.
Belbin was told that he would have been released on 10 January, however
on that day he refused a request from the Governor's household that
he allow his 11 year-old daughter Catherine, to live at Government
House and nurse Collins' child by his young Norfolk Island born mistress,
Margaret Eddington. The day of freedom was therefore delayed.
After his release from gaol, Belbin applied for permission to leave
the Derwent for Sydney. Initially permission was granted but it had
little substance. Space was available in ships in the harbour and
masters were willing to take Belbin provided he obtained the official
Government clearance. Unfortunately the desired piece of paper could
not be obtained. In February the Lieut. Governor had Belbin's name
removed from the Stores, some 8 months earlier than a relocated Norfolk
Islander would have expected.
One might have anticipated an improvement in Belbin's situation after
the unexpected death of Governor Collins on 24 March, 1810. Lieut
Lord now took control of the settlement. Perhaps this may have influenced
the court in awarding Belbin a sentence of 300 lashes in July, after
a notice had been pinned up commending the behaviour of a Marine Corporal
The ADB suggests that on 16 November 1811, James Belbin left Hobart
taking his son James with him, to work his passage to England where
he obtained redress of his wrongs. The daughters were left at Hobart
to fend for themselves while 8-year-old James travelled with his father.
However the ADB again errs, as on 16 November the Sydney Gazette,
in accordance with the practice of the day, carried this notice:
Claims & Demands The following persons being about to
depart from the Colony, request all Claims and Demands against them,
to be presented for payment. In the Friends, Mr Matthews, James Belbin
& Son, & Sarah Porter.
The Gazette continued to comment on the impending departure of Friends
for England via Rio, in company with Admiral Gambier, but it was not
until Saturday 7 December 1811 that the readers learned that the two
ships had finally left the Harbour on 2 December. There is still room
for conjecture on Belbin's actual departure date for England. Belbin
sought a Certificate of Freedom which was not issued until 23 November.
At that time Friends was on her way down the Harbour, and one the
wonders if this was actually his ship of passage.
If we accept Calder's statement
that the Belbins remained 10 months in England , with a comment
from Belbin  that it took 7 months to reach the UK from Port Jackson,
a January departure is possible. However
Calder did confirm Friends as the ship of passage. On the other
hand in 1821 Belbin told Commissioner Bigge  that he was away
from the Colony for 20 months, which implied a February 1812 departure.
This is very close to 2 March 1812 when a James Belbin was baptised
at Hobart with Sarah Belbin, who would then be 15 years of age, given
as the mother but no mention of a father. Perhaps this was Sarah's
child, but it is also possible that the ship that carried the two
male Belbins called briefly at Hobart allowing a quick visit to see
the rest of the family. Perhaps, on the spur of the moment, it was
decided that the young 9-year-old traveller ought to be christened.
There were of course other passengers on the homeward bound voyage
of Friends, and they can be identified from the pages of the Sydney
Gazette for the months of October and November 1811. Two of the earliest
passages were notified 26 October for Mary Mercer and a brother William
Robinson, a youth. Mary Bendall, Mr.J.C.Palmer and his wife Hannah,
were mentioned as passengers on Friends, 2 November, when the ship
had an expected departure date of 15 November. Mr. Matthews, late
of Mangalore, Mr John Grant, Sarah Porter, and finally William and
Judith Kelly and family were added to the list on 9 November. The
last of the passengers to be declared was Lieut. Hadley of the 102nd
Regiment, who appeared in the same paper as the Belbins, Sarah Porter
and Mr. Matthews. The Belbins therefore sailed to England as fellow
passengers of the very vocal John Grant, who made things so difficult
for both himself and Captain Piper, during his 2 1/2 year stay as
a convict on Norfolk Island from June 1805 to January 1808.
One might have assumed that Grant and Belbin could have formed a loose
friendship on the long trip home to England; both had a common Norfolk
Island background, a pronounced tendency to tilt at the windmills
of authority, and a willingness to put pen to paper with little thought
of the consequences. On the other hand, perhaps Grant's self-centredness,
and a belief in his membership of the privileged class, may have prevented
any such association with James Belbin, the commoner. Grant was one
of the few convicts to keep a detailed journal while in New South
Wales, albeit in French, which only recently provided the data for
the book John Grant's Journey (63); here then was an opportunity to
finally ascertain the route of Friends in 1812, and to determine whether
the vessel did call at Hobart allowing a March christening of the
9-year-old James Belbin. Although microfilms of Grant's journal can
be examined in the Mitchell Library, it comes as a bitter disappointment
to find that the author's span of entries finishes in 1810, some 18
months before he departed the colony on Friends.
James Belbin evidently reached England in August/September 1812, and
no doubt spent several months looking for work and knocking on doors,
before he eventually reached the ear of the ex-Governor Bligh.
A letter of commendation dated 19 December 1812, from Admiral Bligh
 at Durham Place, Lambeth, was added to Belbin's own petition
to Lord Bathurst, which detailed the manner in which the old transportee
had suffered discrimination. Belbin seems to have misled Bligh in
stating that he held 30 acres by purchase on Norfolk Island. One can
imagine that by December Belbin was in a penniless state and required
some form of shelter, even a ship's hold. Admiral Bligh suggested
that the father and son be given free passages back to Port Jackson
on HMS Kangaroo which was then being fitted out for Colonial service.
However, the Belbin family received their passages on the convict
ship Earl Spencer, which sailed from England in company with Kangaroo,
2 June 1813.
Belbin's circumstances must have improved by May 1813, as he managed
to woo and marry a new bride, Elizabeth, while in London. A marriage
between a James Belbin and Elizabeth Poulter took place at the St.
Clement Danes Church, Westminster, 29 March 1813. Elizabeth's maiden
name has never been revealed in documents in VDL, although Baptism
records at the Derwent for her first few children were most particular
in adding that James and Elizabeth Belbin were "married in England".
There is however no doubt about the above marriage being that of the
Derwent settlers. St. Clement Danes was only a short distance from
Belbin's old home in the Clare Market, and the signature on the marriage
certificate resembled another in a surviving book of Belbin's, an
1803 edition of Card's Revolutions of Russia. Positive confirmation
comes from William Belbin's NSW death certificate, which stated that
his mother was Elizabeth Poulton (sic). No ages are given in the London
marriage certificate, but based on death records, the bride and bridegroom
should have been 33 and 43 years respectively.
Earl Spencer arrived at Port Jackson, 15 October, 1813 with 196 male
convicts, an Ensign of the 73rd Regiment with 36 men and NCO's, and
a number of free settlers and their families. Four convicts and one
of the ship's crew died on the voyage out. The Sydney Gazette of 16
October advised the names of the free settlers.
Mr & Mrs Belvin (sic) and son,
Mr & Mrs Hovel & family,
Mr & Mrs Pear & family,
Nr D Miller & 4 servants,
Mr I Nicholas,
Mr John Dixon,
Mr & Mrs Young.
Mr & Mrs Kendall & family,
Although James Belbin appeared to return to the Colony in style with
a free settler's family, officially he may have been ignored as such.
Governor Macquarie's despatch of 28 April 1814,  to Earl Bathurst,
advised that the Colony had been augmented by 13 free settlers since
the arrival of Earl Spencer. The settlers were named, and included
all the free passengers from Earl Spencer, except Belbin who did not
rate a mention.
One fellow passenger on Earl Spencer, Mr Hovel, was in fact none other
than the William Hilton Hovell, who with Hamilton Hume would become
one of Australia's celebrated explorers in 1824-25. One wonders if
the Belbin family followed the newspaper accounts of the disputes
between the two explorers.
Another fellow passenger, Mr Young, was the Henry St. John Young 
who came out as an assistant surgeon for the Colony. In July 1815
he was sent to the Derwent as Surgeon, and after causing Lt. Gov.
Davey some serious problems, was eventually fired from the Government
service by Lt. Gov. Sorell in 1818. St John Young's name was later
associated with Bills held by James Belbin in 1817, which were dishonoured
. Young was still living in Hobart in the early 1820's.
Belbin brought a letter from England written by Lord Bathurst ,
requesting that the bearer receive his outstanding entitlements as
a Norfolk Islander settler. This was soon presented at Governor Macquarie's
Office . The Governor's secretary, John Campbell, provided another
letter , dated 20 November 1813, directing Lt Gov Davey that the
bearer James Belbin, his wife, and his son, be placed on the Stores
for 18 months, and that he be granted a block of 80 acres.
While in Sydney Belbin presumably called on Admiral Bligh's daughter,
now the wife of Lt Col O'Connell of the 73rd Regt. The Norfolk settler
was able to present Davey with some form of reference from O'Connell
, along with John Campbell's letter, immediately after returning
The Sydney Gazette of 13 November 1813 advised that:
James Belbin, wife and child, intending to proceed to the Derwent
request that all claims against them be presented.
In a letter to Surveyor-General George Frankland, 26 March 1832
, requesting confirmation of ownership of some of his properties,
Belbin mentioned that although he reached Sydney in Earl Spencer in
1813, he did not return to Hobart until 1814. Surprisingly
Calder claims that he was detained at Sydney for 9 months .
This was incorrect as Belbin and family travelled from Sydney on Windham
 which reached Hobart 22 April. On 29 April, 1814, Governor Davy
issued an order at Hobart to -
... Victual James Belbin & Son, a new settler, for 18 months from
this day, and then discharge them without further delay.
The 1822 Derwent Muster  causes some confusion by claiming that
Elizabeth Belbin was free "by servitude". This implies that
she had arrived as a convict, but had been released on assignment
to another, presumably her husband James Belbin. There were no female
convicts on Earl Spencer, and Elizabeth would not have been mentioned
if she had actually been a convict. Apart from that, the difficulty
of meeting and marrying a convict in London, who was bound for transportation,
It is perhaps possible that Elizabeth Belbin's maiden name (Poulton/Poulten)
was generally known at Hobart, and that she was confused in the Muster
with a female convict with the name of E.A.W.Polten. This woman arrived
in Sydney aboard Wanstead in 1814, and was sent down to Hobart before
1816. The records show that this Polten/Polter received a seven year
sentence in Hampshire, March 1813, and was classed as a Mantuamaker
[48, 60, 61, 62]. The 1822 Derwent Muster, which contains several
minor errors of detail, is obviously incorrect in referring to Elizabeth
Belbin as free "by servitude".
Once back in Hobart, James Belbin (sen) commenced a second family,
which can be identified from the St. David's Church records.
Maria daughter of James and Elizabeth Belvin (sic) (married
in England) b. 24 Nov 1814, bap. 26 Dec 1814. Married David Garside.
Frances daughter of James and Elizabeth Belbin (married
England) b. 1 Feb 1817, bap. 4 March 1817.
Married Richard Fleming.
Ann daughter of James and
Elizabeth Belbin (married England) b. 11 July 1819, bap. 9 August
Married William Henry Smith.
Jane Mary born 3 April
1822, married William Short.
William born 7 Feb 1823,
Married Rebecca Dowdell.
One might have expected that James Belbin would at last settle back
to a more relaxed life style on his new property, however he continued
to be involved in the administrative problems of the Colony. The HRA
makes several references  to the actions of the Deputy Asst. Commissary
Hogan, who defrauded Belbin and several other settlers by issuing
faulty promissory notes and pocketing the proceeds. A Court Martial
was ordered in Sydney, at which Belbin and other witnesses were required
to attend. The Hobart Town Gazette of 20 September 1817, noted Belbin's
departure for Sydney aboard Elizabeth Henrietta. This may not have
been a very pleasant trip for Belbin, as other passengers aboard the
vessel were "Mrs Hogan and family." Another prosecution
witness, Mr A.F.Kemp, was a little more fortunate, as he sailed for
Port Jackson on Mermaid. Belbin gave details of Hogan's activities
to Commissioner Bigge when that gentleman visited VDL in 1820..
While in Sydney, Belbin again found it necessary to petition the Government
for assistance. On 1 November 1817 he wrote  to Judge Advocate
Wylde, pointing out that he was a witness who had been directed by
Governor Macquarie to appear in Sydney; he had left VDL 14 September
and arrived in Sydney 2 October; his wife and four children remained
in Hobart with no one to support them; he had difficulties in finding
lodgings in Sydney. The letter was sent on to Macquarie who initialled
it, and marked it "perused". Belbin`s letter is in his normal
petitioning style, and although he seems to have written it, the English
is far superior to that in a letter, written perhaps in haste, to
daughter Elizabeth in 1824. Perhaps with so much time on his hands
in Sydney, he was able to redraft and rewrite the letter to the Judge
Belbin was not the only petitioner on this occasion. Anthony Kemp,
a fellow witness, wrote several letters to the Judge Advocate. His
letters were not begging, but haughty demanding notes written in a
firm and confident hand. The first letter, early in November, pointed
out that his business was suffering through his long absence from
VDL. He noted that the trial would start next week, and requested
that his evidence should be taken first so that he could return on
the ship in which he had secured a passage to Hobart. This request
was not met, as his second letter of 6 December mentions that the
Court Martial has just finished, and he now claims considerable compensation
for coming 800 miles from his home and business. .
One is struck by Belbin's practised hand writing which is well rounded
and entirely legible. When he wrote letters to people in Authority,
he was apparently fairly familiar with the business "officialese"
of the day (apart from a tendency to use "has" instead of
"as"). It must be assumed that he had worked extensively
in some clerical capacity. Belbin admitted to " ... a Confidential
Situation I held in the concerns of E Lord Esq., Merchant of Hobart
Town, of the value of £200 per annum" , which ended in September
1817. One is quite staggered by the claimed size of this salary, and
the fact that it was paid by his old enemy of 1809/10. Perhaps Belbin
had been involved in the Rum transactions between Lord and Lt Jeffreys
when HMS Kangaroo made its final visit to the Derwent in 1817.
Some time after his return to Hobart Town, Belbin (sen) became an
Inspector of Stock. The Hobart Town Gazette of 14 August, 1819, noted-:
Mr William Rayner having some time since tendered his resignation
as Inspector of Stock, the function of which he found impossible to
execute with the increasing duties of his Office as Storekeeper, the
Lieut Governor has been pleased to approve of Mr Rayner resigning
and to appoint Mr James Belbyn (sic) to succeed him as Inspector of
Stock for Hobart and Kangaroo Point. Mr Belbyn will take upon him
the Duty of his appointment and will commence salary from Monday the
Colonel Sorell's order of 8 September 1821 detailed Belbin's additional
duties as the Superintendent of Slaughterhouses, and how they related
to those as Inspector of Stock. When son William was born, 7 February
1825, James was recognised by the Registrar as a carpenter of Hobart
Town, a trade initially followed by both his sons James (jun) and
William. There is no record of James Belbin as a landholder in Evans'
book of 1822, although a brief note in the 1826 Land Commissioner's
Report  mentions that he had stock being looked after by shepherds.
The ADB states that "He received land between Hobart and Pittwater
where he built a home and prosperous farm". Other references
seem to show that James Belbin (sen) lived most of his life with his
family in Macquarie Street, Hobart.
Belbin was scarcely noticed by the Rev. Bobby Knopwood after his court
hearings of 1809. He is mentioned only once in Knopwood`s diary for
1803-38 . This incident occurred 30 August 1822 when Primrose,
one of Knopwood`s servants, and "Mr Belbin's servant " broke
into the reverend gentleman's house, there was a scuffle and a gun
was discharged. The two miscreants were dealt with by the magistrate
on 3 September 1822.
Apparently James was again in trouble in October 1825, when Jocelyn
Thomas, the Acting Colonial Treasurer and also a member of Governor
Arthur's five man Executive Council, sought the Lieut. Governor's
involvement to punish/discipline the Inspector of Government Slaughter
Houses, for some real or imagined insult of Thomas by Belbin. The
Governor observed that he would require more information from Mr Thomas
than already offered, as Mr Belbin might deny the accusation. Belbin
outlasted Mr Thomas in Government service, as the latter absconded
in 1832 when the Governor discovered a considerable shortage in the
About December 1843/January 1844, James was attempting to collect
a sheaf of testimonials to support his application to Governor Wilmot
for a Government Pension, on his retiring from the position of Superintendent
and Inspector of Government Stock and Slaughterhouses. Some of the
distinguished people who were prepared to put their names to references
included, A.Montague, M.Forster, W.Fisher, Wm Kermode, C.Swanston,
John Kerr, and G.T.Boyes. It is perhaps fair to note that the last-named
person, in his diary, shows he thought old Belbin a bit of a pest,
who had a tendency to exaggerate his achievements and problems. Mr
Belbin would however have treasured the following testimonial given
by Judge Pedder:
I have known Mr Belbin nearly 20 years; for 14 years he lived exactly
opposite to me in Macquarie Street, and during that time he and his
family were, I may almost say, under my daily inspection. I can bear
witness to the assiduity with which he performed the duties of his
office and I can moreover state that in the times when sheep-stealing
was more frequent than it is now, his care in entering into his books
the marks on the animals brought to the Slaughter house was of great
benefit in detecting (and perhaps diminishing) the commission of that
offence. I can bear testimony also to the exemplary manner in which
with slender means he has brought up a numerous family. Mr Belbin
and his wife are individually and highly respected by none more than
by Lady Pedder and myself, and I beg to commend this memorial to the
most possible consideration by the Government.
J. L. Pedder, Dec 16, 1843
We gain a little more insight into Belbin's character on reading a
letter  written at Hobart in 1824, to daughter Elizabeth, who
then lived in England and had not contacted the family in 10 years.
James was residing in Macquarie Street in 1828 and was still there
when he died 8 May 1848, aged 77 years. He was buried in St. David's
Churchyard, but his remains were shifted to another location in later
years. In Inscriptions in Stone  he is referred to as "Senior
Chief Superintendent and Inspector of Stock of Tasmania". James'
wife Elizabeth died, 10 December 1849 aged 68 years, from "fever
and extreme debility". No obituaries to the old emancipist have
yet been uncovered, and the only newspaper reference to his death
sighted so far appears in The Britannia and Trades Advocate, which
later was known as The Britannia, and then in July 1851, the Tasmanian
Colonist. The B&TA references informed that :
11 May 1848 - On May, 8th Instant, at his residence in Macquarie Street,
Mr James Belbin, in the 78th year of his age. His friends are respectively
invited to attend his remains to the place of interment, tomorrow
at 3 o'clock.
13 December 1849 - On the 10th instant, at her residence, Macquarie
Street, Mrs Elizabeth Belbin, relict of the late Mr James Belbin,
in the 69th year of her age. Friends are respectfully invited to attend
her remains to the place of interment this day, (Thursday) at half
past 3 o'clock.
Perhaps it is fitting that The Britannia was the paper to carry Belbin's
final reference. It appears as a vitriolic, outspoken tabloid, intent
on agitating the Government and legal institutions of the day. Over
a century before the term "investigative journalism" had
been coined, the bias and character assassination practised by this
paper dwarfs the efforts of television journalists of the 1980's.
James Belbin must surely hold some record for the manner in which
he was noted by, or forced the attention of such a large collection
of Governors and administrators of the Australian Colonies. In 1812
when he petitioned Lord Bathurst; he felt confident in nominating
Capt. John Townson, Lt. Col. Foveaux, and Capt. John Piper, successive
Commandants on Norfolk Island, as officers who would vouch for his
good character and honesty. As a settler he petitioned Governor Bligh
in 1806, 1809, and 1812, and the Admiral felt moved to give his solid
support in 1812. Lieut Governor Collins was plagued by the actions
of James Belbin. Governor Macquarie required Lieut Governor Davy to
make special arrangements to victual Belbin's family and provide a
land grant in 1814. By 1817, Belbin was again seeking support from
Macquarie in Port Jackson and perhaps this helped Lieut Governor Sorell
to promote the old colonist to his official positions of authority
in 1821-24. 1825 saw Colonial Treasurer Thomas urging Governor Arthur
to take action against Belbin for insolence. In 1843 Governor Wilmot
was being chased for a Government pension.
It seems unlikely that Belbin would have escaped the attention of
the remaining Governor, Sir John Franklin, as the diarist G.T.W.Boyes,
who made such cutting remarks about James Belbin, was the Colonial
Secretary during Sir John's period of administration. Belbin did not
live to bask in the achievements of his youngest son, William, who
became and remained a Member of Parliament for 19 years, and held
the office of Mayor of Hobart for 3 years. Today James Belbin has
a street named after him in the National Capital, Canberra, but in
Tasmania, where he lived and experienced so many troubles, only a
minor creek at Cambridge bears his name near land once held by the
1. Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 548, 11 March 1980
2. J E Calder, Hobart Mercury,
2,8,9 April 1880.
3. Indent of Convict Ships 1788-1800, 4/4003, Reel 392, AONSW.
4. Old Bailey Session Papers, Dec 1787-1789, Q343.1/L, M.L.
5. Pardons for Transportation, 25 July 1789, AJCP PRO Reel 419, HO
13/7, P140-148 M.L
6. Criminal Records, AJCP PRO Reel 87, HO 11/1, P112, M.L.
7. David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in NSW, 1797-1806,
8. Norfolk Island Victualling Book 1792-94, Roll CY 367, M.L.
9. Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol 1, P78.
10. Belbin/Bigge Evidence, 29 March 1820, HRA, Series 3, Vol 3, P346-9.
11. Returns of Food to the Stores 1806, Reel 762, AONSW.
12. Returns to the Stores, 1 Jan - 16 Sep 1801, AJCP, PRO Reel 14,
CO 201/29, P29, M.L.
13. Norfolk Island Victualling Book, 1 Jan - 31 Dec 1802, AJCP PRO
Reel 14, CO 201/29, P210, M.L.
14. Criminal Records, AJCP, PRO Reel 87, HO11/1, P69, M.L.
15. Evan Nepean, Letter to County Sheriffs, 24 Oct 1789, AJCP, PRO
Reel 419, HO 13/7, P283, M.L.
16. Wm. Grenville, Letter to Lieut Shapeste, 2 Dec 1789, AJCP, PRO
Reel 419, HO 13/7, P323, M.L.
17. Fidlon & Ryan, Journal and Letters of Lt. Ralph Clark 1787-1792,
Australian Documents Library, 1981, P128-220.
18. People On and Off the Store Feb 1805, Reel 762, COD 413, AONSW.
19. St. Phillips's Register, Vol 4A, N.I. Birth Register, 1797-1806,
20. Marines discharged Oct/Dec 1791, AJCP PRO Reel 3277, ADM 1/2309,
21. Ref (7) P197.
22. Women Off the Stores 20 July 1794, AJCP PRO Reel 5, CO 201/10,
23. City of Edinburgh Passenger List, Reel 763, AONSW.
24. Belbin Papers, Royal Soc. of Tas., Mss. RS 90/1, University of
25. Address of Welcome to Bligh, Reel 762, AONSW.
26. Vouchers for Buildings Left on Norfolk, Reel 763, AONSW
27. Lord Hobart to P G King, 24 June 1803, HRA Series 1, Vol 4, P304.
28. Foveaux List of Settlers, HRA Series 1, Vol 5, P216 .
29. Lt Gov Foveaux, 26 March 1805, Observations on the Removal of
Settlers, HRA, Series 1, Vol 6, P 75.
30. Foveaux Observations on Removal of Settlers, AJCP, 26 March 1805
PRO Reel 21, CO201/42.
31. Return of Settlers, 2 August 1807, AJCP, PRO Reel 22, CO 201/14,
32. Lt. Crane's Muster, August 1812, Reel 763, AONSW.
33. Lady Nelson Shipping List, An45, M.L.
34. Return of People at Norfolk Island 1811, C191, M.L.
35. Isabella Mead, "Settlement of the Norfolk Islanders at Norfolk
Plains", Proceedings THRA, Vol 12, No 2, 1962, P61-62.
36. J.B.Walker "Deportation of the Norfolk Islanders to the Derwent,
1808", Early Tasmania, Tas. Govt. Printer, 1895.
37. City of Edinburgh Shipping List, An45/ , M.L.
38. W. Windham to Gov. Bligh, 30 December 1806, Terms for Removal
of Settlers, HRA, Series 1, Vol 6, P73.
39. Marjorie Tipping,"The Calcutta Convicts" Proceedings
THRA Vol 22 No 1, Mar 1975
40. Collins' Proclamation, HRA, Series 1, Vol 7, P158.
41. Norfolk Islanders' Petition, HRA, Vol 1, No 7, P159.
42. J. Campbell to Lieut Gov Davey, 25 Nov 1813, Ref 2.
43. G. Mackaness, The Life of Vice-Admiral William Bligh, P142, Angus
& Robertson, 1931.
44. John West, History of Tasmania, P45, Angus & Robertson, 1850.
45. Bligh as Referee to Belbin, HRA, Series 1, Vol 7, P685.
46. Belbin to Surveyor General Frankland, 26 March, 1832, Tas Gov.
Archives, LSD 1/12, P407-408.
47. T.D.Mutch, Mutch Index 1787-1814, Reel 2125, AONSW.
48. 1822 Derwent Muster, AJCP PRO Reel 65, HO 10/18, M.L.
49. Hogan's Court Martial, HRA, Series 3,Vol 2, P263.
50. Belbin to Wylde, Nov 1 1817, Letters to Colonial Secretary, Reel
2162, 4/1737, P145-164, AONSW.
51. Kemp to Wylde, Nov 1817, 6 Dec 1817, Reel 2162, 4/1737, P 147-164.
52. Mary Nichols (Ed), Diary of Rev Robert Knopwood 1803-1838, THRA,
53. James Belbin to Eliz Belbin, 7 June 1824, AJCP PRO Reel 50, CO
54. Richard Lord, Inscriptions in Stone, P 169, 1976.
55. Belbin's Certificate of Freedom, No 15/1047, 23 November 1811,
4/4427, COD 18, AONSW.
56. Macquarie to Lord Bathurst, 28 April 1814, AJCP PRO Reel 33, CO
57. Belbin to Campbell, 31 December 1817, 4/1739, Reel 2162, P291-293,
58. Anne McKay (Ed.), Journals for the Land Commissioners for VDL
1826-28, Uni of Tas, Hobart,1962.
59. J. Thomas to Lieut Gov Arthur, 24 Oct 1825, CSO 1/305/7353, AO
60. 1819 Muster, PRO Reel 60, HO 10/2, M.L.
61. 1816 Muster, PRO Reel 61, HO 10/4, M.L.
62. Wanstead Indent, COD 140, AONSW.
63. W.S.Hill-Reid, John Grant's Journey, A Convict's Story, Heinemann,
64. Henry Goulburn to Gov. Macquarie, 31 Jan 1813, PRO Reel CO 202/7/193.
65. Ritchie John, A Charge of Mutiny, Nat Library of Australia, Canberra,