Uniquely Tasmanian stories

I am obsessed with the Tasmanian high country and west coast, its beauty, its people and its cultural landscapes. How have we portrayed it, how have we used it, how should we conserve it? I love the stories of highland people, but also the peaks, tannin-stained red rivers, ancient rainforests and glacial valleys that have intertwined their lives.

On the Ossie: Tasmanian osmiridium and the fountain pen industry

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The Bells in Bothwell, Van Diemen’s Land, 1840-41

Sarah Bell, née Danby (1803–85), was born in London, England. After migrating to New South Wales, she married George Bell at Bullhill, near Liverpool, New South Wales, in 1834. The couple had three children—Sarah Jane (1836), Walter Stephen (1837) and Anne Danby (1839)—before relocating in Launceston, Van Diemen’s Land, in 1839 in order to operate a school. Anne Danby Bell died in Launceston in January 1840, but the couple had their youngest child, George Renison Bell, at Bothwell later that year, where George Bell had become postmaster and schoolteacher. However, the position proved unsatisfactory, prompting George to look for a job at a convict probation station.

Book 9: Sarah Bell’s Life History

22 May 1840–27 October 1841

My dear George immediately had an interview with T Wilkinson, who was pleased with the prospect of being soon released, & informed GB that it would be necessary for him to be over at the Post Office by 6 oclock the next morning that he might show him how to sort & arrange the letters &c. As our luggage would not be likely to arrive until the following day, if then, there was no alternative but for us to remain at the Inn. Early in the morning of the 22 my dear George arose, to run over to the

p.369 School house, (the post Office & School house being one) & on looking out of the window expressed much pleasure at seeing the ground all covered with snow for myself I thought it rather a mournful night; such cold weather was anything agreeable to me. On his return to breakfast, he was quite delighted with his moonlight peregrination on the snow, in the early morn; saying that he had not enjoyed such a walk since he left his ‘Father land’. As to his children, they were both astonished & delighted especially when they were allowed to handle as well as look at the snow.

After breakfast my husband again joined TW in the post Office, & they were occupied until dinner time. The news of our arrival having spread, rapidly, many were the enquiries, as to what sort of a School master, &, mistress, we should prove, &, the young folks were very

p.368 [sic: there are two] desirous of getting a look at my husband.

As our goods had not arrived by 4 PM we made arrangements for remaining where we were until after First day, this being 7th day (Saturday so called). I cannot at this time recollect, whether they arrived, on the 7th day evening, or 2nd day morning, but am inclined to think the former.

First day the 23rd. Being fine my dear GB took the children & myself to look at the pretty cottage which was to be our future residence. It was situated in a delightful garden tastefully laid out. The border of all the beds were of sweet vernal grass, casting forth a sweet perfume in the spring & summer. I felt much pleased with the quiet & sweet appearance of the place & that how endeavoring [sic] I was of such a home. On the 24th our luggage having reached its destination, we took possession of our new abode, & commenced unpacking & arranging what little furniture we had; such as beds & bedding. My dear George took a table & a few other necessaries of T Wilkinson, such as he intended

(I find that I have made a mistake in numbering the pages, & have left out 323 & 359. Therefore I have used the two last numbers over again as a corrective.)

p.369 leaving behind him for which he was to pay £5.  When my husband was about paying the Van driver who had managed to bring the things up all night, he had the assurance to demand an extra sum which GB positively refused to give him: saying that he ought rather deduct on account of the extra expences [sic] he had been the cause of putting us to. So after some altercation, the £12 was paid in the presence of witnesses according to the original agreement, & the receipt signed. This ended that miserable affair And with grateful hearts we that night ‘Stretched our tired limbs, & laid our heads, Upon our own delightful beds.

25th. It will be supposed that the Post Office business as commenced by the new master immediately, but not so the School; we were kindly permitted to have a fortnight to get things in order. I could not help feeling uneasy,

p.370 about Margaret, lest something might happen, to prevent here coming up, also after the experience we had of that mode of travelling, it did not appear prudent for a lone female to travel in that way. My dear George & I talked the matter over, & then decided that it would be better for her to proceed to Oatlands by the coach, & as our friends the School master & his wife had offered to do anything in their power to assist us, we doubted not, but that she would be welcome to stay there, until some opportunity occurred of proceeding to Bothwell. I wrote to her accordingly. To my great sorrow I received a letter from her in reply, saying, that her friends in Launceston had persuaded her to remain with them, & carry on the straw bonnet business which she understood. Suspecting this was not the whole truth, I wrote to her again, & then she confessed, that a certain individual, old enough to be her grand father,

p.371 (for she was but 18) had succeeded in gaining her consent to marry him. I was aware of their courtship, & fondly hoped that her removing with us to Bothwell, would have been the means of breaking it off. Poor girl! I felt more for her than myself: for she was in orphan, & had only been about a year in the colony, & excepting those persons with whom she was staying in Launceston, she had not a single friend in this part of the world. But she lived bitterly to repent it. 3 times did she run away from the man, who was her husband; & who ought to have been as a Father unto her. Twice she came to me in Hobart Town, bringing a little daughter with her once, for she had several children very quickly.

But to return to myself, when the time came for opening the School, I had no assistant. Five [?] there were the post Office messengers, who were not on duty, broke wood & did a little gardening.

p.372 All I could do was, to go in to the school I the afternoon, & attend to the girls needle work. Had there been only boys, & no Post Office connected with the school, my dear George felt he could have managed very well; but as it was, he was much harassed with post duties. Some of the mails used to come in, in the night, others about 4 oclock in the morning. Then there was the sorting the letters, &, making up of the mails for other places, twice a week, early in the morning, & twice a week, in the afternoon, interrupting the duties of the school. Beside all the other matters requiring attention, such as the growing & receiving of letters, to numberless individuals. He also remarks in various places the abuse he sometimes had to put up with, because would not open the bag after the letters were all in, & the bag

p.373 sealed, for individuals who were too late, or for others who had made mistakes; all of which had he done so would have been entirely contrary to post office regulations. Then to make the matter worse, there were many who expected letters to be both received, & delivered on First days, which my dear George uniformly refused to do, thereby getting an ill name by the surrounding settlers. These various things all put together, where [sic] considered to be the exciting cause of many epileptic fits. Sometimes the school had to be shut up for two or 3 days altogether. And then I would get a young man, who was police clerk, to do the duties of the post office.

His epileptic attacks, appeared to be quite as frequent as before, seldom passing week without. Once he fell down among the chis [?], sadly wounded himself he would occasionally be seized in the midst of teaching, to the great alarm of the children.

p.374 I used to have a woman to come to wash & clean once a week, but it was not until the 1st of Tenth mo 1840 that my GB notices ‘That Sarah has at last engaged a young person as an assistant’. I was again expecting an addition to our family; & was very thankful of a little help. The young woman was clever & industrious but unfortunately not fond of children; this afterwards proved a serious drawback. Nothing particularly worthy of remark occurred ‘till the 21st of 11/mo when GB remarks that ‘My dear Sarah has been very ill all night & that Dr H was fetched at 1 o’clock AM then the nurse, & that at day break, he sent a note to our dear friend Jane Anderson at Thorpe, begging for her mother to come over, who arrived about 6 accompanied by her daughter Jane, adding that ‘at 7.20 Jane Anderson came running into the post office to tell me that ‘my dear wife was safely delivered of a plump boy, at

p.375 which I felt grateful to the Father of …[?]… as I did not expect it to be so soon over. By 8 I believe I had the first sight of the chubby face of my infant son, whom the Most High has sent unto me, found my dear Sarah very low, but calm & thankful, &, our spirits united at a Throne of Grace, that our heavenly Parent, would enable us to bring him up in His fear.’

‘Immediately after breakfast, Jane Anderson’s mother returned home, accompanied by Gerrard, who carried my dear Sarah Jane’s clothes, & brought back the fine oatmeal. In the afternoon Jane A returned, taking out little SJ with her.’

It appears that the nurse who had been engaged, chose to go away without saying anything to me as far as Jerusalem, so that when she was required she was not to be had. This was exceedingly trying & threw every thing into confusion. The young person whom I engaged chiefly as an assistant in the School knew nothing about infants, & had a great dislike to them [sic]. A person whose name was Colbeck Mother of two of the scholars

p.376 staid with me one night. On the 22nd my kind friend Jane Anderson came & remained that day, & towards evening another person whose name was Lewis came & offered her services, who also had two children that attended. In this way I was mercifully cared for & had reason to be thankful that I was not worse off trying as it was to be thus put about, but He who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb condescended to look with a pitying eye upon my low estate [sic], & brought me safely thro all, & made me once more the happy mother of a sweet & healthy babe, & had my assistant been fond of children as far as I was concerned we might have done very well in the school. But such not being the case she left me at the commencement of the school after the christmas [sic] holidays. I was again sadly harassed as I could not do my duty in school & out of school; & my duty as a mother: I did not neglect, whatever went undone.

p.377 Time rolled on: & complaints were made from different quarters. Finding that we could not give satisfaction, after doing to the best of our ability under the circumstances in which we were placed; my dear George thought it best to resign. On the 3rd of 1st mo 1841 I find we were favoured with a visit from GW Walker & Joseph Benson Mather. It afforded much pleasure to meet with those dear friends especially GWW whom we had not seen for early 4 years. John Sherwin the brother of our old friend Isaac Sherwin took tea with us that afternoon. He tho not professing with Friends, is a dear brother in the Lord & assisted us during our sojourn in Bothwell, with much spiritual help &, consolation. In the evening we all had a solemn sitting together, & after some time JBM & then GWW arose &, expressed what was on their minds. It was a time of deep searching of the heart, & altogether an affecting season. About 9 John Sherwin took his leave. We had hoped to have the company of our other two

p.378 friends for a few days, but they said they had engaged beds at the Inn where they had put up their horses, & that the next day they had visits to perform, but they would be happy to spend as much time with us as they could.

On the 4th my dear husband remarks as follows. ‘The two friends [sic] came 8.30. GW Walker read, & JBM knelt down in prayer & after further sitting GW spoke a little. They then went to call on some persons as before stated: returned about one & dined with us, after which they went out; returning again to tea; & I can truly say that we passed a most agreeable & edifying evening with our two friends. They strongly advise our endeavoring [sic] to remain thro the winter.’

Having taken my final farewell of our kind friends I saw no more of them, but my dear George went to the Inn the next morning, they promised to keep a look out, for some more suitable situation for him in

p.379 Hobart Town, & then bidding them adieu, they started for Skelton Castle the residence of Capt Dixon. We managed to continue the school till the end of the year; when T Wilkinson the former master returned, being dissatisfied with the situation he held in Hobart Town.

My dear George hired a cottage for 3 mos in Bothwell, where he intended to carry on the post Office, hoping & expecting that during that period something would turn up for us in Hobart [sic]. The dear children & I had an invitation to spend a few weeks at Sherwood accordingly we went, but I was taken so very ill, that I was obliged to return to my husband at Bothwell: & was confined for two mos to my bed, with a return of the same complaint, that obliged me to preserve a recumbent position so long, when in Launceston. Still we were favoured to find friends wherever we went, & Mary Ann Wigmore

p.380 the wife of Parson Wigmore (as he used to be called) was particularly kind & affectionate, rendering much assistance to my husband, & helpless children, as well as performing numerous acts of kindness &, tenderness, to myself. May God bless her, wherever she may be, for her goodness to us; & grant that she may never know the want of a friend. It appears that we had entertained the idea, that if the Friends in Hobart Town who had children old enough, would send two or 3 to board with us, it would have encouraged us to try & remain in Bothwell, but there were only two Friends who had, &, they did not like to part with them.

On the 25th of 9 mo my dear husband received an affectionate letter from Francis Cotton of Great Swan Port, wherein he stated having written to Capt Forster, recommending GB to the situation of Superintendent or Assistant Superint of a Probation

p.381 party &c. This very much pleased us, & my dear George determined to start to Hobart Town, without further delay. Having given Richard Wigmore instruction how to manage the Post Office business, &, commanding his dear wife & children to the care of their heavenly Father, he started off the same afternoon.

On the afternoon of the next day he reached Hobart Town, without anything remarkable, having walked the whole way. In the forenoon of the 27th he was introduced to Capt Forster, who said, that Francis Cotton had written to him, & that he had every wish to further FC’s views, but there was an objection in the way, which he could not get over, & he would tell him the plain truth at once. ‘These fellows (prisoners) must take off their hats to me & others; now you don’t, & I think it would be a breach of the established discipline, & have had a bad effect in the gang’. ‘I admitted (said GB) that it was true, we did not act in such ceremonies, as men generally

p.382 do, but it was well known, that it did not proceed from any want of respect, & I believed that even the prisoners, were not ignorant of our motives. Also, that altho I could not ask the men to take their hats off to me, I should not interfere, in their doing so to others. He replied, that it might be so, & he wished for the support of Christian men, to carry out his plans. If they acted on Gospel principles, he cared not what sect they belonged to, & if it were only in his own office, he cared nothing about it, but in the probation parties, he felt that it would be an evil, he could not get over. I then left him, with the understanding, that should he be brought to think differently, he would let me know’.

But Capt F never was brought to think differently, & as far as he was concerned, my dear husband’s journey to Town was useless; altho in some other

p.383 respects such was not the case. He remained in Hobart [sic], until the 31st & then set off to return to Bothwell, unsuccessful in all his attempts, to get a situation. As we could not live upon 30 pounds per annum, it was judged expedient, that GB should give up the post office, & remove with us all into Hobart Town, where he would be more at hand, should any thing offer for him. This at first was a heavy trial to me, but I prayed for grace, to be enabled to give up my will entirely & at length was favored [sic] to resign myself & all my concerns, into the hands of my dear Lord & master, when blessed be His holy name, all anxiety for the future left me. Could I have had my own will, I would rather have remained in the country at any risk, but it was not to be. I should have stated, that my dear George returned all safe, on the 1st of 10th mo. We were happy to meet again, but still it was mixed with sorrow.

[There are no pages 384‒88]

p.389 It may be supposed that the dear children were not a little pleased, to see their dear Father. I believe I have never mentioned dear little George, since his birth, but as I proceed, I find it will not do, to particularize so much, as I did at first, lest time should fail me, to accomplish what I have undertaken. I cannot say, that George was a very robust baby, but thro mercy he usually enjoyed good health, excepting occasional interruptions from teething. I felt that he in some measure, made up for the loss of my dear Anne, & I had a great fear of trusting him in the arms of any girl. So that excepting much assistance, as his Father could occasionally give me I nursed him chiefly myself; preferring to let him crawl about on the floor, or be drawn about at times in a little wooden box with wheels, by SJ & W to trusting him out of sight with any one. He was weaned when about 8 mos old, & immediately after we went to Sherwood. It may be asked, how came G Bell to

p.390 carry on the post office duties after leaving the school? To this I would reply, that the Post Master Gen having no fault to find with GB wrote to him, to know if he meant to give it up? It immediately occurred to dear George, that it might be worth his while, to try & perform its duties, & perhaps he might be able, to connect something close with it: but just at the time, a family arrived in Bothwell & commenced a new store so there was no opening for us. We had little doubt but that it was wisely ordered, as we had no friends to draw upon, & we should most likely, have been involved in many difficulties. After the post office affairs were settled, the business thereof was transferred to the school, under charge of T Wilkinson, as formerly. We then commenced packing, & making arrangements for our journey to Hobart Town. We were very kindly assisted, by James Garret[t] & his wife. What little leisure we could get, we employed in taking leave of persons & places, whom

p.391 perhaps we might never be permitted to see again on earth; or revisit those haunts with which we had become familiar. In a solitary place, the last first day, we were there, my dear George sat down, &, read a few extracts from Isaac Pennington [?], part of which my dear GB copied on his return.

IP thus writes. ‘That the discovery of our having erred from the right path, is a shewing forth of Power, but we must not expect assistance, at the very time, &, in the very manner, we would wish. Our duty is to look to the Lord, to wait on him, & to be thankful, for what little assistance, He may vouchsafe unto us, believing that He will not leave us to be overpowered. The language of, How can I overcome? &c, &c, does not proceed from the true seed. He that would feel strength beforehand, & act in the sense of that strength, from him the power withdraws; but he that is weak, & hath no strength, but as it freely drops into him, from moment, to moment, this is the

p.392 vessel, the power chooseth to manifest itself unto, & to be continually appearing.’

‘It was brought home to my mind, that if I were fighting, I must expect sometimes to be knocked down, &, sometimes severely wounded; but in such case, I must not allow my faith to fail, but arose with what portion of strength I have remaining & carry on the battle in the firm belief, that I shall surely obtain the victory in the end; if I be loyal & true hearted; through the great captain of our salvation. Heavenly Parent: So thou preserve this truth constantly in my mind, & make me humble before thee.’