Reminiscences of J.F. Hobkirk

(Our thanks goes to Margaret Pegus for transcribing this wonderful story.)

See cover page for Reminiscences of J. F. Hobkirk

The reason I have decided to pen these lines and describe my experiences of a life, sufficiently interesting, I fancy, to be of interest to the public, is that after fifty-one years of living in Tasmania, to which country I came on the 2nd February, 1852, and in whichI have gone through an eventful life passed through many changes seen much of the life of the colonists, undergone many trials, and learnt a great deal of the life of those around me, and formed my conclusions as the results of a number of ups and downs. which this country has experienced.

I am one of those individuals,who being born abroad of English parentage, and educated from the age of four and a half in England, as a boy saw much of the South of England, and I may state that no British-born subject has a greater love for Great Britian that I have, for I left England at 16 and a half years old and passed some years on the Continent and in SouthAmerica, where I had the best opportunity of judging of the greatness, the influence, and respect of the British nation which foreigners entertained. In the old days I will take the Battle of Waterloo as my starting point, although many years before the enterprise and determined pluck, also the business capabilities of the British existed. I am now writing on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo since when in consequence of the effect it had upon the world generally,and Europe in particular. Great Britain had been the leading nation of the world and has no  reason to be ashamed of the position she has held amongst the nation; and now through foreign jealousy and envy she has been traduced and misrepresented, and principally, strange to say by a nation (Germany) which has very largely benefited by England's friendship She, however, holds in my humble opinion and I suppose in that of millions of Britions, the highest position of any nation in the world.

Going to the year 1817, my father, the son of a London West Indian merchant and a freeman of the City of London(I have in my possession his certificate) was sent out to Bahia, in Brazil, by Baring Bros. as a clerk to a mercantile firm(English)

Like thousands of others all over the world who were pushing the trade and good name of England wherever there was an opening. Some short time after his arrival there was a revolution at Bahia, and my father found himself at Rio de Janeiro the capital of Brazil, where he became secretary to the British Minister Sir Henry Chamberlain, who after a few years left for England to take a superior position as a British diplomatic representative in Europe. My father and Sir Robert Gordon who succeeded Chamberlain quarrrelled and my father started as an exchange broker in Rio. In those days there were no banks and the currency being issued in notes by the Government a very large and lucrative business was done by the British, foreign and Portuguese brokers. The issue of notes being in the hands of the Government and coin being bullion, certain coins were treated as bullion and fluctuated in value such as doubloons, sovereigns and dollars, which as well as diamonds and gold, it was illegal to export but never the less were exported and British men-of -war shipped on board a considerable quantity, the British admiral getting, I think, half percent for freight.

My father was a successful exchange broker. He married Miss Lecesne, who was a ward of Sir Hemry Chamberlain and in August 1829, I appeared on the scene.   I have a faint recollection of my infancy. I had a black nurse and when my mother travelled in the country,there were no roads only mule tracks. She went in a liteira,or litter with one mule in front and one behind. I sat cross-legged on a black's shoulder holding on to his woolly head. This black person took as much care of me as he could and carried me miles.

When I was about four years old I incurred a swelling under my right arm caused by my nurse(a black woman) pulling me up to carry me by my arm. My father decided to go to England to get the best advice and left with me, my mother, and two sisters in the "Gold Finch". In those days the mails were carried by English men-of-war,six gun sloops which did the passage in 6 weeks. After treatment I went with my parents to Normandy in France. I then returned with them to England and placed in school. I was then six years old. My father and family left for Rio de Janeiro leaving me in England by the doctor's advice. I look back to those years with much pleasure. At the expiration of three years my mother and father returned with the family. After about six years I was called to join my motherand family at Portsmouth; she had arrived there from Rio leaving my father there and joined my three sisters at Stoke, who had been for some years in charge of two ladies.  

Altogether we were nine children in all and my mother having stayed 6 months at Plymouth, we left for Italy to visit a half-sister of my mother's at Ancona on the Adriatic, where my uncle was Consul General for Russia. His name was Kielchen, he had been Consul at Rio and Boston in the United States. He was a Fin by birth and very clever. He spoke seven languages one as well as the other.

We travelled extensively in Europe and spent 3 ½ years in Italy. We created a sensation at the hotels where we stayed as the big English family. We numbered 13 at meals besides 2 servants.Travelling was a very different undertaking from what it is now as they have a number of railways at the present time. We were in number,fifteen my mother nine children,my uncle( Mr Kielchen) an English governess,an English maidservant,and one old black nurse.We hired two vituras (four horse coaches) and two carts for our luggage and set out on a journey. It took us four days and a half. The country was not free from banditti. We did not travel late,but put up at an albergo or inn every night and some queer places they were. We arrived in three days on the shores of the Adriatic and after passing Bologna,Rimini,and Pesaro we arrived at our destination Alcona where my uncle and aunt with their family resided-he being Consul-General of Russia in the Roman States and Ancona being the principal seaport. For one year we lived with my uncle in a large palace,the substantiality of which was great.

Subsequently we took a place in the country. The lives of the farmers were good and simple After a year we went into town to a flat in a palace which we rented from Count Torsiani. The palace fronted on the Grand Square. An interesting event took place whilst we lived there. Our old black nurse was mobbed in the Square. Looking out of the window, I saw her kneeling on the ground with a mob around her. She was praying aloud and the mob was jeering and hooting at her. I ran down and got some carabiniere to rescue her. The poor woman whilst we were in town she would not go out again.

About this time I went to a Trappist convent we knocked at the large gates and were admitted by a lay brother. The priests never spoke except on Christmas Day. I had an interview with the prior. He spoke French was a count belonging to a Neapolitian family and was very courteous. It was in March 1848 that I accompanied my uncle to Rome. He had an audience with the Pope and I accompanied him. We were with him about twenty minutes. There was no ostentation about the reception. There was only the Pope, my uncle and myself. He asked about England and my family At this time I became ill and my mother was advised to send me to Vienna to a Dr..  I returned at the end of two months to Trieste a very different man. It is now 53 years since I bade adieu to the country and I look back with pleasure to my experiences there at the same time, as an Englishman I thoroughly appreciated the freedom and the liberty that I enjoyed and the regard and respect that was shown for everything English.

To return to our movements, we remained in Trieste three months, a portion of our family left us, viz.the governess and maid servant.Cholera broke out which made us nervous. When we had been their two months, a vessel sent by my father, the "Phoenix," a Hamburg full rigged ship of 800 tons with a cargo of coffee arrived with orders to take us all out to Rio. In conjunction with a mercantile firm I sold the coffee and then we had to victual the ship for the passengers. We were to go to Sicily to buy a cargo of salt and the proceed down the Mediterranean on our way to Rio. We arrived opposite Gibralter in about ten days late at night.

The captain of the " Phoenix" was a Dane,he had been in the American merchant service We were excellent

friends but we used to have arguments about the power of Great Britain.I saying she was the most powerful nation in the world and he more for fun arguing against me.. After about 25 days we arrived in Rio de Janeiro. The entrance to the Bay of Rio is grand the Sugar-loaf a high mountain a fine sight. My father came on board he had everything ready to transport us to his house eleven miles from the town. We were a large cavalcade and the road was very interesting to me tropical and vegetation luxuriant. My father had built a mansion in charming grounds. When we arrived slavery existed and the slave trade was carried on under great difficulties for the British had a squadron guarding the coast of Brazil. The determination of the British to stop the slave trade lead to may unpleasant fracas with the Portuguese population. Slavery in Brazil was not a hard life the Brazilians on the whole were kind masters.

When we arrived in Rio it was August 1849 and I moved into my father's counting house as a clerk, in those days we the "clerks "slept in the house. The unmarried ones, we lived well and comfortably'had black servants to wait upon us,had the best of wine and provisions and ice.

Our hours were long from nine to six,with the break for dinner. There was an excellent theatre and entertainment.When the fever came all this changed Our residence was up in the Tijuca Mountains.being 1100 feet high was free of fever. I used to ride to a point in the mountain,over looking the city and during the time of the fever black cloud or pall overhung it and there was no sea breeze during the whole time.Two or three months after the pest had broken out my father sent the whole of the family up the Serra Mountains about 4000 feet and there we stayed for some time renting a place from an Englishman.Before this I had become of age having arrived at an important age of 21 when my father gave a dinner and a ball to a number of English friends at his place at Tijuca. We stayed up the mountains for a few months and I saw a lot of the country. From the time of my returning I had made up my mind to leave the country :when in Italy I had read much about Australia and  New Zealand and decided they were the countries I would like to settle in . I did not like the Portuguese, nor the climate and felt if I stayed I should marry a Brazilian and settle down as a Brazilian which I made up my mind not to do so. The country was inhabited by a large number of blacks fully three-quarters of the population were coloured people, a half were pure blacks,and the rest were mulattoes, quadroons octoroons and Portuguese I intimated to my father my intentions. He was averse to my going ,as he said I being the eldest son of a large family I would be of great asssistance to them in case of anything happening to him. One sister had been married a few months before but counting my mother there were ten in number. I had such a repugnance to settling in the country that I kept to my idea and said I would apply for a passage in a man-of-war of which several called at Rio on their way to Australia. My father's business had problems and with the return of the fever he decided to send us all out to New Zealand to make our home there; he to stop in Rio to wind up the business of Hobkirk,Weetman &Co; Mr Weetman to emigrate to New Zealand as well.

As soon as we decided to leave a hamburg full-rigged ship was chartered, the "Heinrich:" she had very good accommodation for passengers and my father made arrangements for a cargo of American flour, which was to be taken to Sydney and sold then to proceed to New Zealand .

The "Havanna : a Britishfrigate had arrived at Rio and brought the news that gold had been discovered in New South Wales hence the decision to sell the flour in Sydney. At the end of August 1851 we left Rio de Janeiro. Our old nurse who had been eith the family since my parent's marriage would not come with us. She said she would go to England, but no other country, as she remembered her treatment in Italy where she had been mobbed and when in England she had been well treated. When we left in the morning she elected to come with us and lay on the deck crying and calling out she should go and would not go ashore. The boat crew had to carry her into the boat by force. My father remained to wind up the business but a faithful black of his came with us. We left Rio in August,the bow of the ship being turned to Australia. There were nine Hobkirks our black servant and six Weetmans. One morning we descried a barque a short distance from us she had British colours. The captain Mr. Weetman and myself got into a boat which was lowered with the purpose of boarding her. She proved to be the "Rajah of Sarawak" bound from Melbourne to Singapore. (View drawing depicting this event in October 1851.) He informed us of the discovery of gold at port Phillip that there was great excitement at Melbourne, and that he had the greatest difficulty in getting away as ships were lying in the bay for want of hands, the crews having nearly all gone to the gold diggings. We left his ship and decided that we would change our destination and sell the flour in Melbourne. (For a more detailed description of this encounter go here.) A few days after we arrived a Mr. Harrison, a resident in Williamstown who kept a store there came on board. He had seen our names in the paper as passengers. He knew my mother well and had danced at her wedding in 1828. There was no chance of a family getting to New Zealand and he recommended our going to Van Diemen's Land. "Why," I said  "that is a prison, is it not." He said it was a penal settlement, but a very eligible place to live in; Everything was quite safe and pleasant there. He had married in that country and the society was very good and respectable.

After consideration we decided to go and gave Captain Coffey of the Brig "William" 25 pounds in sovereigns to take us to Launceston. We arrived at the Queen's Wharf all right and I went ashore and saw the agent who advised me to take our party to the Cornwall Hotel. There were no cars or cabs in those days so we hired a dray to take our luggage which was pretty cumbersome.

Our black servant used to stand in the verandah and a large assemblage collected in the street to look at him, a black man being a very unusual sight.

We arrived on the 2nd February 1852.

In 1853 the colony changed it's name and became Tasmania. In 1853 arrangements were made for a demonstration to record the cessation of transportation.

In 1854 my father arrived he came by way of the Cape going there in a sailing vessel and picking up a steamer from England on its way to Australasia he had some capital and so we started the business of Hobkirk and Son. Twelve months after we commenced, a brother William came from England and we employed him as a clerk. After a time my father sold the business and bought a property I went to superintend the improvements which were necessarey the family numbering ten and our old black servant Francisco. I had then some excellent friends in India members of a family that I had been brought up with and decided to go there my father was again averse to me leaving the family in case anything happened to him I would be the one to assist the family. However I was asked to become a partner to a man who was opening a school and as I spoke four languages. It seemed ideal and I was guaranteed to receive not less that !50 pounds per year. I thus made a very decent income.

(from now on he is working on legal matters in various ways, becoming a Provisional Assignee and speaks about the developement of Tasmania) Back to J.F.

I now think it is time I close this account of my life trusting that it may interest some. I could have been more personal in my remarks in many cases but as I have said I have been on the whole treated with justice and fairness. I have seen many ups and downs in the 52 years I have been here. The colony has also been up and down, I think that now there is a prospect of prosperity in Tasmania. I am certainly near the end of this life and am waiting for the summons to leave this world, for I hope and trust better. I have had much experience of life. In this country aloneI have had something like, or very near, one thousand estates through my hands, some of them very trying and difficult to manage and some anything but lucrative. I have been witness to a good deal of suffering, and to much endurance of trouble and anxiety, and with a waiting for the end, I am a writer of life. I hope not uninteresting, but acceptable to the public.

J. F. Hobkirk

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