In March 1804, Governor Collins announced in his general orders that a Government Farm was to be established at what he called “Farm Bay” but what is now called Cornelian Bay. The Cornelian Bay site became the Government Farm, to be manned by convicts with overseers and tasked with supplying fresh vegetables and other produce for the first residents of Hobart Town. By 1805, Collins was able to report that a good crop of wheat was expected at the farm. The farm was manned by 30 convicts who had the particular agricultural skills to make the most of the new farm area and as such the farm was to become the central agricultural enterprise in the colony for a number of years. There was a larger area under cultivation than at any of the settler’s farms at the time.
By 1807 the Government had 23 acres under wheat and 13 acres under barley. Most of the livestock in the colony at this time was held by the Government which had 153 head of cattle and 301 sheep. The colonial government had decreed there was to be no unauthorized communication between the farm and the camp at Sullivans Cove or between the farm and settlers in the nearby New Town area. The settlers were particularly cautioned against hiring any of the prisoners from the Government Farm to work on their own properties under the threat of a 5 pound fine.
The area seems not to have been farmed after Collin’s death and by 1813 the land had been granted to Andrew Whitehead who had previously been the farm manager. In the early years, over a thousand acres of the land was granted to Andrew Whitehead, who grew crops and raised stock. His original farm homestead was probably located on the site of the present Jewish Cemetery.
At about the same time, the northern part of the site became a popular recreational destination as a racecourse and picnic spot. This would appear to be the site of the racecourse as described in Rev Robert Knopwood’s diaries.
In 1818, Governor Sorell bought Whitehead’s farm including a house and outbuildings for 1000 pounds, together with grants totaling 600 acres and worth 300 pounds. The property was then leased back to Whitehead. However, attempts to further cultivate the land failed.
In 1843 the farm was advertised for rental. It comprised of 120 acres including 60 acres under crop. Buildings on the site consisted of a good dwelling house, barn, cow house, piggery, fowl & pigeon houses, a blacksmith’s shop, two stalled stables and men’s huts, the whole property being fenced. In 1848, Bishop Nixon, who was the first Anglican Bishop of Tasmania, tried to purchase the Government farm area. However, he was informed that the property was under a seven year lease already and as such was not available. He ultimately purchased the property “Runnymede” in New Town in 1850. In November 1858, the farm was subdivided and partly auctioned off by the agents Worley & Frodsham. It seems that the remainder of the farm may still have been leased from the Government.
By 1843, the four original cemeteries around Hobart Town had become public health hazards – the sites were too close to the city and the soil was often so rocky that the graves could not be dug deeply enough. But although the population of Hobart continued to grow, a report on the health risks was ignored. The Cornelian Bay site was suggested as a suitable location for a new cemetery, but action was not taken for nearly two decades – one of the reasons was that the site was thought to be too far from the city for poorer people to visit.
Finally, after much argument, procrastination and the passing of several Government bills required for its formation, the Cornelian Bay Cemetery was opened in 1872, with clearing and fencing done by convict labour. Twelve year-old Bridget Ryan, who died from typhoid fever in that year, was the first person to be buried there. Her grave can still be seen. The farmhouse became the cemetery caretaker’s residence.
The first new building on the Cemetery site was the mortuary chapel, designed and built by colonial architect Henry Hunter in 1872. The chapel’s original Huon pine and iron gates were only recently found in the undergrowth where they once stood. Surviving buildings that have been classified by the National Trust include the sandstone blacksmith’s shop, which dates back to 1822, during the Government Farm years, a whimsical Henry Hunter-designed shelter in the style of a garden gazebo and the superintendent’s residence.
It is highly likely that the vast majority of Tasmanians don’t realize the important past that the area has, going right back to the birth of the colony and not just as the main Hobart cemetery. A very important site for the establishment of the new colony in 1804 and the survival of the colonists and convicts.
Text & Information Sources
The New Town Rivulet Historical Study - Lindy Scripps 1993