Chapter 2: Van Diemen’s Land 1830-1835


Duncan, E. Hobart Town on the River Derwent [from a painting by W.J.Huggins] 1830. Used with permission from the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office.


Tasmania’s first thirty years of settlement were characterised by the worst of colonial imperialism.  Before European settlement there were estimated to be about 7,000 indigenous people living on the island.  Their lifestyle, culture and land care management had been successful for the previous 40,000 years but in the space of thirty years they were obliterated from their traditional lands by disease, abduction, violence and murder. The Black Wars Research 2-1 raged between 1824 and 1830, culminating in the declaration of Martial Law.



The final act in this conflict was the event introduced by Governor George Arthur in September-October 1830 known as The Black Line Research 2-2.   In order to put an end to the Aboriginal raids on settler’s huts and to prevent the settlers taking the law into their own hands, Governor Arthur called upon every able-bodied male colonist, convict or free, to form a human chain that swept across the settled districts in an attempt to corral the Aborigines on the Tasman Peninsula.  Arthur hoped that by closing off the peninsula, the Aborigines would be able to maintain their culture there, and the colonists could occupy their lands without resistance.   The event cost £30,000, half of the colony’s annual budget, and was seen as a chaotic failure. Professor Lyndall Ryan in her book Tasmanian Aborigines: A History since 1803 (2011), Research 2-3 reveals that there were actually three lines and that this ethnic cleansing strategy was one which the British had used successfully in other countries.

George Augustus Robinson

George Augustus Robinson by William Dowling. Used with permission from the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

By 1833 only two hundred indigenous persons remained and it is thought that it was because of the Black Line that they agreed to go to Flinders Island. These two hundred survivors were persuaded to surrender themselves to George Augustus Robinson, a missionary who had been given the official title of Protector of Aborigines by an increasingly worried Governor George Arthur.

The theory was that by removing these survivors to Wybalenna Mission  on Flinders Island, the way would be clear, not only for their recovery from the violence inflicted on them, but also for the peaceful and immediate occupation of their lands by an increasing number of free settlers from Britain. By 1830 the colonial population of Van Diemen’s Land had risen to 23,500.  The Aborigines consented as they were given assurances by Robinson that by removing themselves they would be protected and reunited with family members and would eventually regain their lands.  However, the truth was that disease continued to reduce their numbers and by 1847 the last 47 inhabitants were moved to Oyster Cove, south of Hobart where they eventually died, the last being Truganini (1812-1876) and Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834-1905).

Hobart in 1830 by RG Reeve 1811-37 NMA

Hobart in 1830 by RG Reeve 1811-37 NMA

This, then, was the situation when Dr Barry Cotter sailed up the Derwent on the Juno on November 7th 1830. Research 2-4.  He probably did not learn about the Black Line of the previous month until his arrival in Hobart and as one of the many new settlers keen to take up land untroubled by Aboriginal resistance, he applied early for a land grant. The Archives of Tasmania record that, just one year later, he was granted 640 acres on 11 November, 1831.  The entry reads

Cotter, Barry – Surgeon, free emigrant, 640 acre grant, 11 November, 1831

This must have been one of the last land grants in Van Diemen’s Land as the practice was stopped in 1831. What happened to this land and exactly where it was is the subject of ongoing research, but there is a strong possibility that it was south of Ross near a place called Mona Vale.


The State Library of Victoria holds a very interesting document entitled Satirical Manuscript on Dr Cotter Research 2-5 which places Cotter at Mona Vale about this time.  As the name indicates, the document, written in 1872 and in satirical form, is full of odd descriptions and analogies common in this type of writing in the nineteenth century. Why the authors (Dr William Valentine and John Whitefoord, residents of Campbell Town in 1872) were so interested in Barry and Inez is a mystery, but their writing gives us a rare glimpse of personal aspects of their lives.

 Dr Valentine

Dr Valentine

Barry Cotter! The name carries me back upwards of forty years.  I see him now a Fine young Irish gentleman.  Ah young Ladies you should have seen his beautiful curling rippled Hair – yes we had a nice young man for a Doctor in those days – we were not old fogies then – Yes I remember Barry Cotter on a mettlesome Tit with fancy Cane, come riding from “Mona Towers” (where he staid c [stayed with?] Mrs [Kermode] on his first arrival –) and how nearly he married a daughter from there.  Ah well I must not dwell on those days or ‘twill make me sad. – Yes Cotter he went, and was lost to my Gaze.


AUTAS001124068149w150 mona vale

Kempe, N.J (attributed) [Mona Vale, the residence of William Kermode ESQ, Van Diemen’s Land], 13th January 1838], 1838. Used with permission from the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

A wonderful description and the closest we have to a portrait, as no other physical descriptions of the young Dr Cotter seem to exist.  The ‘Mona Towers’ referred to is an old name for the present Mona Vale and it was originally settled by a Manxman, William Kermode and his son Robert in 1824.  A man of great energy and vision for the future of Van Diemen’s Land, Kermode immediately began improving and cultivating the land.  When his wife and three daughters joined him in May 1828 he set about making Mona Vale a show place. By 1834 when Dr Cotter would have known him, his first modest timber house had been replaced by a substantial brick building; stone cottages and farm buildings were being erected and much of the estate laid out and fenced.
AUTAS001126183300w150 mona vale photograph

Mona Vale in Allport Album 11, No. 29. Used with permission from the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office

His son Robert rebuilt the house on a grand scale and in 1867 it was estimated to be the most luxurious private home in Australia.  The house still stands and is well known locally as the “Calendar House”, for its reportedly 365 windows, 52 rooms, 12 chimneys, 4 stairways and 7 entrances.  Cotter never saw this mansion, but it seems from the Satirical Manuscript that he was welcome in the Kermode family home. Two of Kermode’s three daughters remain untraced, but Anne who was born in 1816 may have been the daughter Dr Cotter ‘nearly married’.


The Satirical Manuscript also mentions Inez in reference to time she spent in Launceston and confirms the suspicion that she was in Launceston prior to arriving in Port Phillip.  On April 3, 1833, Colonel Kenneth Snodgrass travelled to Hobart on the Imogene, so perhaps Inez travelled with him.  These two paragraphs give an interesting description of Inez, especially considering they were written thirty years after the event, Inez being, in fact, dead for eight years when these descriptions were written.  It would seem from these descriptions that her illegitimate birth was common knowledge at the time and that she was older than the eleven years that the 1824 birthdate would give her. The 1815 birthdate would make her twenty years old in 1835.

“Well then … about 1835 I knew Inez Fitzgerald (or Fitzwilliams but I think the former) in Launceston a pretty little plump Girl – (I can’t a bear yer Scraggy ones) she was engaged at a Fancy Repository and tho’ I believe a strict Roman Catholic, much patronised by the Protestant young Gentry of the Period.  She went to Melbourne and was there married to Cotter (I saw the announcement of the fact in the papers) – who had a pharmaceutical place of Business in that Township – but whether by a Roman Catholic Priest, or a Protestant Parson (we had no “Priests” in those good old days).

 This is the only reference to Inez being Catholic, and she may well have been, being born of a Spanish mother and Irish father. The reference to her being popular among the ‘young gentry’ of Launceston together with several references in the rest of the Satirical Manuscript to her prettiness and flirtatiousness, prepare us for the events in her later life to which her feminine charm would lead her.

 Inez Seville (Fitzwilliam)? was Her Name, Ireland was her Nation, and the Milliners Shop was her Dwelling place, a most lively Habitation – Parentage Birth & Education Unknown to deponent but said to be the result of one of those little accidents which will Happen in the best regulated Families……. [Her father] consider’d her safe transit a matter of such Paramount Importance that he sent her out in the two Emigrant Ships which brought out the first Missionaries of the Female Persuasion to Launceston……

The ships were in fact sent to the colony by the London Emigration Committee Research 2-5, but follow up research shows no sign of Inez among the 3,000 ‘single and free’ women who arrived through this program.

 Fashion 1833

Fashion 1833

Launceston in 1835 had five millinery shops and newspaper advertisements show that the competition between them was fierce. They were all run by women Research 2-6 whose millinery and dressmaking skills ensured that the gentlewomen of Launceston were clothed in the latest fashions of Paris and London.

Fashion 1833

Fashion 1833

There is no record of Inez being associated with any of them, but employment in such an establishment would be open to a woman in her situation.  Given her upbringing, she would have had all the necessary attributes of good breeding to engage with the increasingly wealthy members of Launceston society, even if it was only on a commercial level.  The other main area of employment was that of companion to a lady and governess to her children. Inez claims, in a later letter, that she held this position as she was companion to Mrs Arundel Wrighte Research 2-7, wife of the first postmaster of Launceston and governess to their three daughters, but whether that was actually in Launceston, as well as later in Port Phillip, is probable, but not confirmed.


Foxhunters Return Campbell Town built in the 1830s

Dr Cotter would have known The Foxhunter’s Return, Campbell Town, built in the 1830’s by convicts. It is recorded that he dined several times with the original owner, William Broad.

Dr Cotter was twenty-three years of age when he was appointed Assistant Surgeon Research 2-8  at Campbell Town, a post he held for five years. As Assistant Surgeon (‘assistant’ to the Colonial Surgeon in Hobart) he was the ‘Government doctor’ in the area, on a Government salary and his first priority should have been local convicts, other prisoners, Aborigines, the Military and other Government representatives and he would have travelled extensively in the surrounding areas.  This is borne out by the letters and newspaper articles of the time, including a report as early as 16 April 1832, of him attending the Oatlands Race Meeting, a distance of about 50 km from Campbell Town.

Dr Cotter bought land in Campbell Town and in his official diary, John Helder Wedge, the Assistant Surveyor of Van Diemen’s Land, records that he owned ‘town allotment 10’ in Campbell Town in 1834. Research shows that the block was ten acres and was situated in Bond Street (Tasmanian Archives CSO 5/1/13/149) which runs adjacent to East Street. The Campbell Town area had been settled for about twenty years and the township was half way between Hobart and Launceston and as postal and coaching services improved, became an important overnight stop.

Map showing Midlands Tasmania by Berichard d'apres Kelisi

Map showing Midlands Tasmania by Berichard d’apres Kelisi

Although Campbell Town was, in military terms, considered only an outpost to neighbouring Ross, it was an important police centre for the region, with the gaol in constant use as, although the Aboriginal resistance was over, this was the period when bushrangers terrorised settlers in the area.

Twelve kilometres away, the township of Ross was a Military settlement, originally created after Governor Macquarie’s 1811 tour of the area, and by 1829 it had two lieutenants and fifty-five privates. Although the Ross Female factory was not to open until 1848, there was a party of convicts stationed there from 1830 when orders were given by the Lt. Governor George Arthur that a stone bridge should be constructed.   The slow start to the building of the Ross Bridge was an administrative nightmare for the Hobart officials and, as we will see in the following evidence, Dr Barry Cotter was implicated as not providing adequate health care for the convict workers.  The Ross Bridge was finally finished in 1836 and is the third oldest convict built bridge still in use in Australia.


The Bridge at Ross

The Bridge at Ross

Evidence has come to light in the form of three files from the Colonial Secretary’s Office containing a total of forty-two letters which pertain to Dr Cotter’s period as Assistant Surgeon at Campbell Town and his eventual dismissal from that position.Research 2-9  The first file (CSO-1-703-15388) consists of seven letters written between 27th February 1834 and 10th April 1834 detailing complaints about Dr Cotter’s lack of attendance on two convicts (Bissell and Lund) and a soldier, Private Malone, at the Ross Bridge gang. Charles Atkinson, the Supervisor of Works at Ross, (an interesting character-read more here) is the main accuser, writing to the Colonial Surgeon in Hobart, James Scott and the Colonial Secretary, John Montagu.  The Police Magistrate at Campbell Town, John Leake, was called in to investigate and his report clears Dr Cotter of wrongdoing and ends with

It appears to us that the belief on Mr Atkinson’s mind, that Mr Cotter had neglected his duty, was mainly attributable to the sick at Ross having been frequently visited without Mr Atkinson being made acquainted with the fact, and which apparent neglect was by Mr Atkinson in his zeal for the public since very properly reported.  I beg to assure His Excellency [the Colonial Surgeon] that as far as my observation goes and which opinion is supported by the Gentlemen of the neighbourhood that Mr Cotter is both attentive to his patients and fulfils the duties of his office with kindness and humanity.

It is interesting that this went all the way to the top because the Colonial Secretary replied that he and the Lieutenant Governor (George Arthur) were satisfied with the result and asked John Leake to convey this to Dr Cotter.

The second file (CSO-1-790-16286) contains twenty-seven items written between the 20th July 1834 and 30th April 1835 again concerning complaints against Dr Cotter.  This time the focus is the death of a convict Thomas Chandler and Charles Atkinson, places the blame squarely on Dr Cotter’s shoulders. It is fairly obvious from reading the letters and depositions at the Enquiry that Dr Cotter was lax in his attendance on the convicts and that he was not vigilant in his paperwork, and consequently that requisitions for medicines were not always followed through.  At the same time, it is equally obvious that Charles Atkinson was vindictive and aggressive in his pursuance of Dr Cotter.  The outcome of the Enquiry however, was fairly non committal

The committee is of the opinion that the death of the convict named Chandler was not either caused or accelerated by any neglect or inattention on the part of Dr Cotter, who appeared to have paid as much attention to Chandler as could reasonably be expected, after he really considered him to be in a dangerous state.  But as respects Mr Cotter’s general attention to the party at Ross Bridge, they do not consider that he has been so systematic in his professional duties as he ought to have been.

The third file (CSO-1-799-17080) contains seven letters, written between 14th April 1835 and 30th April 1835.  These letters are between Charles Atkinson, the Colonial Surgeon and the Colonial Secretary and concern the slow progress of work at the Ross bridge.  Atkinson claims it is because of the lack of suitable workmen and sickness among the men, and submits his resignation as Supervisor of Convicts.   There are complaints again about Dr Cotter’s lack of attendance and the seventh letter, dated 30th April 1835, written by James Scott, Colonial Surgeon, dismisses Dr Cotter from his post as Assistant Surgeon at Campbell Town and recommends that Dr David Strang, a private practitioner in Campbell Town, is appointed to the post.  The letter is published here in full.

To the Colonial Secretary.


In reply to your letter 17080/1 of the 29th Instant enclosing from Mr. Atkinson the Superintendent of Works at Ross, another complaint for neglect of duty against Mr. Cotter the Assistant Surgeon, I beg leave to state that when the last enquiry in November was entered into on a similar complaint, he was admonished and warned of the consequence of again laying himself open to blame; since that time two complaints have been preferred against him, relative to which although the papers have been transmitted to him for an explanation he has taken no notice of them, independent of which he has omitted to send in his returns to this office since February last, notwithstanding he has been repeatedly applied to on the subject; in short his general conduct has been masked with so much inattention to his duty that I feel no hesitation in recommending him to be dismissed forthwith, and in the event of this recommendation being adopted, I beg to recommend that Mr. Strang, a Private Surgeon who has been for several years residing at Campbell Town, who is highly spoken of by the Establishment of that district, and whose medical qualifications are satisfactory, be appointed to the situation on the usual payment allowances.

I have the honor to be Sir,

Your most obedient servant

J. Scott

Colonial Surgeon

In among all of this Dr Cotter also faced court on 10th April 1835, for assault, having been involved in a pub brawl with three other gentlemen, John and William Headlam and Robert Bayles against a young man James Hughes and his father Thomas Hughes. William Headlam was the main offender in this brawl and it seemed that Dr Cotter weighed in, in support of his companions.  He was fined one shilling and court costs.  It is interesting to note that the judge presiding over this trial was J. Whitefood who, thirty years later, was to be involved in the writing of the Satirical Manuscript.

It is also interesting to note that Dr Cotter had an earlier dispute with a person named Hughes in 1833 as shown by one of three letters Research 2-10 which are held in the Special Collections Section of the Morris Millar Library, Hobart (Ref: Cotter, Barry 1833, L1/F211, 257-8) in a collection of letters relating to the Leake family.  John Leake was the Police Magistrate in Campbell Town mentioned above. The letters are unrelated.  This one shows that the matter relating to Hughes in 1833 was settled with a local enquiry.

 I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your communication, in the case of Mr Hughes and Dr Cotter.  The result of the inquiry is such as I expected – I regret that the disagreement of these parties should have occasioned you any trouble, but trust that the opinion you have given will prove a lesson to both.

The second letter shows Dr Cotter writing to John Leake to advise him that his presence is required at Ross Bridge for an ‘investigation which is about to take place’ (that is, into Cotter’s own neglect of duty) and the third concerns confusion over the appearance of Dr Cotter at Launceston Quarter sessions on Monday 6th October 1834, a matter which is also covered in CSO-1-760-16286.

Finally, it seems that April 10th, 1835 was a busy day in court for Dr Cotter as recent research has revealed another court case involving him, this time in the role of prosecutor.  He brought charges against a convict, Joseph Sunderland, whom he had employed as his assistant.  Sunderland was charged with ‘being drunk whilst in charge of his master’s premises in consequence of which the premises were robbed’.  He was sentenced to twelve months hard labour and died four months after his conviction (Tasmanian Archive LC83/1 Image 163). Joseph Sunderland’s story is fairly typical of the men of the chain gangs who built the roads and bridges in Van Diemen’s Land at the time that Dr Cotter lived there.  You can  read his story here Research 2-11 and access his records on the Founders and Survivors Website here

Read Chapter 3

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