Wednesday 1 June 2016

York Town Historic Site

York Town is the fifth oldest settlement in Australia behind Sydney, Norfolk Island, Risdon Cove and Hobart. It was settled in December 1804 under the leadership of Lt. Col. William Paterson. At its height it was home to 300 people. On the 24th May 1804 Lord Hobart wrote to Governor King of New South Wales instructing him to form a settlement at Port Dalrymple with Lt. Col. William Paterson in command. The colonization of Port Dalrymple was a strategic move to secure British interest in Bass Strait, as well as providing a further colony to accommodate settlers removed from Norfolk Island.

These were the instructions from Governor King to Captain Kent on the 1st of October 1804 “You are hereby required and directed to proceed without loss of time with H.M. Buffalo to Port Dalrymple, on the south side of Bass’s Straits, with the armed tender Lady Nelson, the Francis and Integrity. You will receive on board Lieutenant Colonel William Paterson who has been directed to embark with the civil and military establishment. It may be necessary for the soldiers to assist in the duty of the ship, as well as guard the convicts, they will be victualled with full navy rations, the woman and children of such soldiers together with convicts, will be victualled at two- thirds allowance, without spirits".

On the 8th of June 1804 Col. Paterson departed New South Wales only to turn back 11 days later due to the severity of winter gales. On the 15th of October Paterson again sailed out of Sydney Harbour bound for Port Dalrymple. Heavy gales were encountered as they plied there way south. The ships became separated and it was the Buffalo that sailed into Port Dalrymple on the 4th of November followed by Integrity on the 5th and the Lady Nelson and the Francis on the 21st.

A letter dated 26th of November from Lieutenant Governor Paterson to Governor King. Colonel Paterson writes of the camp at Outer Cove. He talks of the examination of the harbor as far as Swan Point. He states that he has lodged some stores under guard on Green Island and that dry stores are lodged in a well thatched hut near his own house until a better building can be erected.

On the 11th His Majesty’s Colors were hoisted with the usual Ceremony under Royal Salute from the Buffalo. The next day they proceeded to clear ground for temporary buildings and cultivation. Paterson stated that he had made several short excursions in the vicinity of the Cove but had not yet discovered anything to recommend it as a permanent situation. However the area was convenient for the receiving of stores and if the run of water continued all year there may be 100 acres fit for cultivation and pasture for a few cattle.

In the same letter Paterson talks of his appreciation of Captain Kent. He had organised the laying of beacons and the erection of a Flagstaff at Lower Head which would make entering the Port much safer. Kent had also made several important discoveries, lime stone and free stone for building and at the head of Western Arm two fine runs of excellent water one which he named Kent’s Burn (York Town Rivulet), the other McMillan's Burn, (Massey’s Creek). Paterson stated that he had visited the site and at the time it appeared to be the most eligible situation for the seat of government.

On the 27th of December, in a letter to Governor King Paterson writes that on the 28th of November he embarked on board the Lady Nelson with Ensign Hugh Piper, Mr. Mountgarrett, a Corporal and five soldiers to proceed up the River for the purpose of exploration and evaluation. He would then report his findings to the Governor. Paterson found that the country in general exceeded his expectations in respect to fresh water and good soil.

On the 15th of December Paterson revisited Western Arm wishing to be satisfied with respect to its situation. It was still his opinion that the head of Western Arm was the most eligible situation for a permanent residence. At this time he named the area Yorkton (York Town) and the hill to the right Mount Albany.
The explorers then continued on to Lower Head. Paterson found a large Lagoon. This area was convenient for the landing of cattle and the pasture so excellent that it induced Paterson to continue Outer Cove as a Port.

On the 17th of December Paterson marked out the ground at York Town for the erection of Quarters and had the Prisoners employed in the embarking of the two wooden houses and other stores on board the Lady Nelson and Francis. Part of the stores and working hands were then transported across from Outer Cove to York Town to enable buildings to be erected before the winter season began. In a letter from Governor King to Paterson dated 28th of January 1805 Governor King commented on the selection of the site for the new settlement. He concurred that Paterson would be the best judge of the most eligible place for the principle settlement and securing the best situation for Settlers. Governor King also writes of the advantages Paterson had stated respecting Western Arm, which pointed it out to be the most eligible place for the headquarters. In addition he approved of the name given to the intended town as well as the district.

Paterson wrote to Governor King on the 8th of January informing him of his preparations for removal to York Town. He had employed three soldiers (carpenters) to assist in the building of temporary quarters before he moved the military from the Cove. An area of better than forty acres had been cleared between the two runs at Western Arm, which would soon be burnt off to prevent any accidents by fire happening to the huts, as these were to be thatched for the present. As soon as this was achieved he intended to employ all hands to erect a strong log house for the stores. This done, he removed most of the detachment from Outer Cove to prevent any criminal activities taking place.

In a letter to Governor King dated 21st February 1805 Paterson writes of a short excursion from the settlement at Western Arm on the 9th of February. He mentions finding blackwood and wattle the only wood as yet found useful for shingles. He also states that he has discovered sassafras growing in considerable quantities and fit for many purposes. The best being for house building and boats.
Paterson also writes of problems he is having with a species of ant that has been eating the leaves off the plants of grains and oats in his garden at Outer Cove, but adds, that at Western Arm, he did not have any problems with insect pests eating the vegetables. He was however concerned about the abundance in number of small rat like quadrupeds between the two burns. These had been eating the potatoes, french beans and other large seeds.

In the same letter Paterson discusses the store at Western Arm that he hopes to start building immediately. He proposes that it will be logged and shingled and of sufficient dimensions. He comments that Palmer's Mill may be of great acquisition. In March 1805 William Paterson’s wife Eliza joined him. Both she and her servant Hannah (Ann Williams) sailed from Port Jackson on the Buffalo.

On the 14th of November 1805 Paterson wrote to Earl Camden recalling the past twelve months He felt that the greatest part of the difficulties had been surmounted. The stores were well secured in substantial buildings, all of the officers had houses, the detachment was in good huts and the prisoners were comfortably sheltered.  On the same date Paterson wrote to Governor King. In regards to public buildings he felt he had done as much as possible and intended to go on with brick making through the summer when he hoped to have a substantial jail built. At that time there was a small brick one well secured behind the Guard House paling. A public oven was also erected.

Paterson had also established a government gardens with fruit trees, ornamental plantings and a summerhouse. It was situated around a small waterfall on the York Town Rivulet. Then Paterson faced major concerns although the settlers worked hard they were faced with many problems. When the cold of winter set in their cattle began to die in large numbers, crops failed and food supplies diminished and morale was low. Food shortages had plagued the fledgling settlement from the outset. Robberies of the government stores and sheep stealing were common occurrences. The situation escalated in June 1806 when the ship, Venus, carrying valuable rations, was seized by a soldier, convict pilot and first mate.

During Paterson’s absence of over seven months to attend to military business in Sydney, the settlement descended into chaos. He returned in April 1807 to find that many farms had been abandoned and the inhabitants had taken to “wood ranging” hunting kangaroos to survive. Several convicts had absconded and were living like “desperate and dangerous bandits”  Good grazing land, fresh water and an excellent deep water port were some of the things which prompted Paterson to propose a move to more fertile plains near the Cataract (the present site of Launceston).

On the 27th of September 1807 Governor Bligh wrote to Paterson concerned at the distribution of convicts - forty-two at York Town and fifty-four at Launceston. He was distressed at the lack of permanent Headquarters and Paterson’s inability to supervise the people under his control. Although Launceston became the principle settlement in the north Paterson continued to live at York Town until 1808. By 1809 over 300 acres were in cultivation at the new location, which was fast becoming established. In contrast, York Town was largely abandoned. When Governor Macquarie visited from New South Wales in 1811, he found only a few houses remaining.

Convict gardener, Harry Barrett, stayed on in York Town to tend the gardens, along with some soldiers to guard the stores. Barrett and his family were among the few residents to live in York Town after its official closure. In February 1895, a reporter from the “Tasmanian” newspaper paid a visit to York Town and on arriving at the site, stumbled across an old tumble down shed, two small wooden cottages, each surrounded by a garden and the ruins of an old cemetery. James Barrett, the son of Paterson’s convict gardener, Henry Barrett, spoke to the reporter at length about his father and what he had told him about the early days. He pointed out the remains of the old cellar of the Governors’ cottage, the location of the officer’s quarters and the old prisoner’s camp. The reporter concluded “There is little known of this sequestered spot and the present generation has not troubled itself with much to unravel the story which so intimately binds itself with the past. The story, however, is one every Tasmanian should know…”

York Town lays claim to being the first declared permanent settlement in the north of the state. In its heyday boasting many residences set in Botanical Gardens some of these included Lieutenant Governor Paterson’s house, Soldiers Barracks, Guard House, Store and many dwellings some built with bricks made on the site. The settlement had a substantial population set in an area of 40 acres. The Cemetery is no longer recognizable and like its inhabitants some of the town still remains buried underground but occasionally remnants make their way to the surface to remind us of a past that has been forgotten.

Renewed interest in the history of York Town came from members of the Royal Society and Scenic preservation Board in the 1950’s. Several allotments were acquired by the government and a monument was erected in Nov 1954 to mark the sesqui- centenary of the original settlement. Further allotments have since been acquired and the site has been developed as a historic attraction.

Recent archeological investigations organized by the West Tamar Historical Society have revealed interesting facts about the construction of the original buildings and about the everyday lives of the inhabitants.
York Town is without a doubt a valuable historical site of national importance.

Main Text & Information Source –
York Town Historic Site brochure