Saturday, 21 September 2013

Batchelor's Grave, Taroona

History has recorded very little about James Batchelor. Just about all that's known about him is that he occupies the oldest marked colonial grave in Tasmania. We only know him as a strapping young seaman who died on his ship during the journey from Calcutta. In some places he is recorded as second officer on the Venus, in other accounts as first officer. Whatever his rank and whatever the cause of his death, one thing is clear. In a peaceful location, just above the high water mark of the beach at modern day Taroona, James was buried according to the custom of sailors of the times, wrapped in his hammock or in sailcloth.

A fine ship of 350 tonnes, equipped with two guns and a crew of 50, the Venus was built in India and made two voyages between 1808 and 1810 to bring wheat and other various products to the hungry colony of New South Wales. On the 28th of January 1810 Batchelor died on the approach to the then six-year-old settlement of Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land.

Rather than bury him at sea, the captain of the schooner Venus, Eber Bunker, dropped anchor in the Derwent and buried his second officer above the high tide mark at Taroona.
Following the burial service, the Venus called at Adventure Bay on Bruny Island, where Captain Bunker found a bottle with French words on it…probably left by explorer Bruny D’Entrecastreaux.
While he wasn't the first European to die in the young colony, no one else's grave from before that time has survived - not with their name still on it anyway.

Two centuries of salt winds, marauding cattle, bushfires, thoughtless fisherman and well meaning restoration has taken its toll on the freestone tablet inscribed with the barest details of a man's life and death. The white-painted stone has also been touched up so many times that names had been altered and even whole words lost. A description of the grave from the 1880's states that Batchelor was 21 when he died. That line of inscription's now gone.

As signs at the site say “ The grave marker has been lost beneath the undergrowth, rediscovered again, broken into pieces and restored. Its inscription has been overpainted many times and inevitably, some of its accuracy has been lost. This version is as close to original as we can manage, given the passage of time”. The one point that the historical records agree is that James Batchelor was buried at the site on the 28th January 1810.

The site is now a protected historical site and is listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register & the Australian Heritage Database.

Main Information Source: Information signs posted at the site.