Friday, April 21, 2017

Dastardly Deeds in Old Hobart Town - Piracy in Tasmania



I suspect that this is a statue of Errol Flynn, Tasmania's most famous 'pirate' having starred in no less than five pirate films - seen in the Hope and Anchor - Tasmania's oldest pub

Argh me hearties! Perhaps it was passing the smuggler's pub in Sandy Bay today, but for some reason I am moved to write about pirates – no, not those who rip videos or those who attack pleasure craft or even oil rigs in the South China Sea, but the old fashioned swashbuckling kind. Though the Tasmanian ones may not have worn cocked hats or had parrots on their shoulders, they were nevertheless a big item in Old Hobart Town. As curator of the Australian Maritime Museum Dr Stephen Gapps wrote in his “Pirate Tales” :

“If there was ever a scourge of piracy in Australian history, it was in Tasmania during the 1820s to 1850s, when Van Diemen’s Land was the repository of the largest number, and many of the most hardened and desperate, of convicts in the colonies. ‘Piratical seizure’ was so prevalent that there was a standing Port Order to Derwent shipping that ‘when moored… sails must be taken off the spars and the ship’s rudder taken ashore.’
The Hope and Anchor located on the corner of Macquarie St and Market Place not far from the docks, contains many maritime treasures


Here are just some of the stories which I have managed to cobble together from various sources. As far back as 1797, the  female convicts aboard the Jane Shorebound for Van Diemen’s Land, sweet -talked their captors into taking them to Brazil instead. In 1813 the Unity was ‘piratically seized” by seven men while she lay at anchor in the harbour off Hobart Town. After cutting the moorings, they released the captain and crew at Cape Frederick, but nothing  is known of the fate of either vessel beyond that. I always thought Pirates Bay, that expansive crescent beach just before Eaglehawk Neck and Port Arthur, was so named because it offered such untrammelled views of the coastline, but it turns out that it is named after the 1822  capture of theSeaflower” by convicts at this site, while her captain was taking on water. Nothing more was heard of the  “Seaflower” or her captors either, who are presumed to have perished at sea. As may be evident from the above, Tasmanian pirates were not so much about stealing booty or attacking other ships, but about finding some means to escape this cursed isle. 

The Riverview Hotel along Sandy Bay Road, near Porter Hill was not so much a pirates' pub but a smugglers' pub . Porter Hill itself is named after the barrels of dark beer which used to be left in the bushes here to be taken in via the back door while patrons drank at the bar
A more heroic tale of survival and incredible feats of seamanship is that of the “Cyprus” taken over by convicts in 1829 as she awaited more favourable weather in Recherche Bay. She was on her way to Sarah Island, that place on the wild west coast, where the most hardened convicts were sent. Eighteen of them took over the ship, and, setting the Captain and some 44 sailors and convicts ashore with ample provisions, they set sail for South America. Nine of their number scarpered on reaching the South Seas and were never heard of again. The rest continued to Tahiti where the weather turned against them, so they made for Japan. Unwelcome in Japan, they turned to China instead, scuttling the ship and claiming to be shipwrecked sailors. Although the remaining  crew managed to obtain passage to England they were recognised on the streets of London by one of the men whom they had set ashore and by the Hobart Gaoler who happened to be in London at the time. Three were hanged, four were returned to Hobart as convicts,  but for some reason their leader now called “Captain Swallow” escaped this fate by saying that the convicts had forced him to participate against his will. You can read the full account  at the Australian Maritime Museum website. 

Stained Glass window in the Riverview
Another story of daring, cunning and superb seamanship concerns the rollicking tale of the “Frederick “ commemorated in Australia’s longest running play at Strahan, "The Ship that Never Was”.
This involved the 1834 seizure of the ‘Frederick” the last ship to be built by convicts for the crown at Macquarie Harbour. Before she was quite finished, ten convicts who were entrusted with sailing her to Hobart,  stole her en route and sailed to Chile where the ship sprang a leak. Although they were arrested for piracy, six managed to escape, ending their days in Jamaica and America.  Of the four who remained, they were  sent first to England and then back to Hobart for trial.  Due to a technicality, i.e. that the ship was not yet registered and had been taken in Macquarie Harbour, not on the open sea, they could not be charged with the hanging offence of piracy. They were however, condemned to live out their days in the even harsher penal colony on Norfolk Island.

Keeping blind Watch - Old Searchlight at Queen's Domain



No story about pirates would be complete without tales of buried treasure. According to the Pirate Island website, the Colonial Ship “Hope” which sank between the Iron Pot and Betsy Island in 1822, had 40,000 gold sovereigns on board. Two soldiers are said to have buried the gold on nearby Bruny Island. The soldiers having been subsequently dispatched to India, were unable to return to collect the loot. Though there have been many searches over the years and centuries, the hoard has never been found. If you are thinking of having a look, be warned  - there's a lot of sand on Bruny Island!  
 
The Drunken Admiral on Hunter Street  also has a lot maritime relics, Hunter Street having been the scene of much of the action


These are just some of the stories that live on in our folklore, though I am sure there are many more. We do love a good villain. As I was writing them down I wondered why it was that we are so fond of pirates, bushrangers and other scoundrels. Feats of daring and courage are always applauded, the more so if they involve cocking a snook at authority. Nor is it hard to understand the convicts’ desire for freedom and escape at all costs – conditions in the colony were cruel and death was often preferable. Even before being arrested, they would have been at the margins of society  - transported for stealing a handkerchief, a pair of shoes, some bread or a sheep. Many were Irish rebels and thus enemies of the crown, so in some ways the dream of freedom, the easy win, quick riches, the risk taking and defiance of authority are in Australia’s DNA. We also love to cheer the underdog. 

Even though the soldiers’ and sailors' lives would not have been as harsh, they too were subject to orders, control and command and would have been equally isolated and captive in this strange land, as would the ‘free’ settlers and indentured servants. If nothing else, the odd tale of escape or putting something over the authorities would certainly have broken the monotony. I have a feeling that had we not had these colourful characters, we would have had to invent them.
  
A glimpse of Pirates Bay, Tasman Peninsula at dusk. On a clear day you can see to Cape Huay and the Lanterns

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