Robert Hay was born on the 31st March 1774, the fifth child to James Hay and Anne Riach. Robert was born in the parish of Kirkmichael in the county of Banffshire in north-east Scotland. Robert’s siblings were Isobel Hay b. 1764, John Hay b. 1766, Nathaniel Hay b. 1769, William Hay, b. 1771, James Hay b. 1780, Barbara Hay b. 1785. On the 21st March 1798 at the age of 24, Robert married Katherine Ogilvy in Forfar, Angus, Scotland. Robert and Katherine had two children Barbara (1798) and Ann (1801). Robert’s occupation was as a Carrier, it is likely that he would have had longer periods being away from home as his work would have been to take stock from one destination to another by cart or wagon.
On the 10th October 1801, aged 27 Robert who also went under the alias, James Colvan (spelled James Coleen and James Colvin on different records) had been arrested and was tried at the Perth Court of Judiciary Perthshire in Scotland for sheep stealing and with a further charge that same day of burglary and theft of 10 pound mostly in Perth guinea notes from a locked chest that was the property of Joseph Dryburn at Boat of Bardmoney, Alyth.
As a consequence of these convictions he was sentenced to 14 years transportation to Australia. He was gaoled at the Perth Tollbooth prior to his embarkation. Robert’s gaol records record him as being occupied as a Carrier, aged 28, literate and residing in Alyth a small village in Perth. When Robert was arrested his children were only babies, indeed Ann was only a newborn. As to the conversations that existed between him and his wife at this turn of events and following his arrest one can only guess. They must have been fairly acrimonious as the following year on the 19th August 1804 Katherine re-married. This time to Thomas Ewart in Alyth. From what I’ve been able to glean so far she outlived Robert and died in 1855 at the age of 77.
On the 24th April 1803 Robert left Scotland. He never returned to Scotland and it is unlikely that he ever saw his children again and I’ve yet to find any evidence that they had contact with him after he left. On board the Calcutta, he sailed from Portsmouth. He sailed with 307 males 7 of whom died on board.
The ships Calcutta and Ocean arrived at Port Phillip Bay on the 9th October 1803 of what would become Victoria’s first mainland settlement. The plan was to set up a settlement at the newly named Sullivan’s Bay. Both convicts, military and free settlers were included on the manifest of passengers.
The party landed and the settlement was established. The settlement was occupied from 10 October to 15th May 1804 the following year. During this time the expedition leader Lieutenant David Collins decided the area was unfit for settlement due to a lack of fresh water and suitable building materials. He had no idea just how close they were to fresh water supplies. Likewise he also missed the huge limestone deposits from which some of the most desirable and now heritage listed colonial homes were later built. Having lived nearby and seen these homes throughout my younger years I can tell you they are stunning. The decision was made and the settlement was abandoned in favour of the settlement of Risdon Cove in Van Diemen’s Land. During his time at Sullivan Bay, Robert who seemed to have a problem with identifying his possessions vs. others and was convicted of theft and treated to some convict justice. He received 80 lashes as punishment. The first party to exit was in January 1804. During this time 21 convicts escaped the settlement. The most famous being the wild William Buckley who went and lived with the Aboriginals for over 30 years.
Thirty people died during the short settlement period. Even given rough times and hardship this was a disproportionately high number of deaths. In the end the settlement was considered a disaster and Collins was widely criticised for the failure of the venture and for not having carried out a more thorough evaluation and inspections of the site and its surrounds. Whether this was his fault or not he bore the brunt of the fallout.
The settlement at Sullivan’s Bay would be resettled again one kilometre east of the original settlement and by 1870 would sport its own post office. At this time however it would be known by its new name of Sorrento. There exists today at the site a tourist destination called the Collins Settlement Historical Reserve.
Remaining evidence of the site includes four gravesites and some perfunctory items of household use including the obligatory set of leg irons for public viewing. The final exit party boarded the Ocean and embarked for Risdon Cove, Van Diemen’s Land in May of 1804.
Robert had stayed behind to assist with the final wrap up of the settlement. So for the second time in his life John was waving farewell to shoreline and setting off again for an unknown destination and life in a foreign land.
Collins had substantially more success in setting up the colony at Risdon Cove near to what is now Hobart Town.
The settlers were made up of free men and women, prisoners and military officers and personnel.
Not everyone stayed at Risdon Cove, some chose to return to Port Jackson and the fledgling settlement of Sydney. At the time that Robert arrived in Risdon Cove he was one of the 433 people in total who were involved in establishing the new township. According to records of the day each of these people were provided with by the ‘stores’ in those early days. The goal of course was to ‘get off the stores’ sooner rather than later. (Convicts Unbound by Marjorie Tipping has a full list of settlers and is a fantastic resource book. I found it at the library and had to ask to use it but it’s well worth the read.)
The Reverend Knopwood who was the well-known clergyman and a diarist in Tasmania reported in one of his diaries, that in March 1805 Robert Hay was among those reported as being missing in the bush around Hobart for three months before being found – and who had reported seeing a Tasmanian tiger in its natural environment.
Rev. Knopwood was well know to the New Norfolk pioneers as he was the clergyman for their daily spiritual guidance, christenings, marriages and funerals.
Rev. Knopwood kept detailed diaries for over thirty years that reported on the happenings of the district. Whilst our Robert had had something of an unruly start he would settle down with his family to be one of the founding families of New Norfolk and would be integral to it’s success in those early days. In the Hobart musters of 1811, 1818 and 1819 Robert presented himself to be recorded amongst the community’s numbers. These musters pre-dated what would eventually become census records. To put some context around what the area was like for these pioneers at this time – New Norfolk was first settled in 1807. Back River so named because it was at the back of the Derwent River sat along what is now rolling hills abutting Mt Dromedary. Once the land was cleared it was found to be river flats with a regular and easy to obtain water supply. The land was fertile. Nowadays if you go looking for Back River you won’t find it. It’s in an area called Magra in the Derwent River Valley.
Maria had been born on Norfolk Island on the 15th November 1796. She was the daughter of William Hazelwood a convict on the Third Fleet aboard the William and Ann, who had arrived at Port Jackson before being sent up to Norfolk Island. It was in Norfolk Island where he had met and married his wife and Maria’s mother, Elizabeth Hopper. Elizabeth had been a convict aboard the Lady Juliana that has also famously been known at ‘the floating brothel’. Unlike many of the convicts who were sent out to Australia the Lady Juliana on this particular journey had been what would appear almost enjoyable. Maria was to be the only child of William and Elizabeth as her mother had died not long after her birth. Both William and Elizabeth had families back home but this was conveniently overlooked. Maria was considered a legitimate and free-born child on the island of New Norfolk. Maria who was also recorded as Martha was relinquished by her father into an orphanage of care following the death of her mother. It would have been impossible for William to look after the infant Maria. She was baptised a few years later on the 30th May 1802 as a six year old. Obviously the religious contingent caught up with her father.
On the 4th June 1803 William brought seven year old Maria home from the orphanage to live with him.
By May of the following year (1804) he took her back to the orphanage.
On the 3rd September 1808 Maria left the orphanage and went home briefly to live with her father before they were decamped as part of the forced clearing of Norfolk Island bound for their new home in Van Diemen’s Land in “New Norfolk”.
They boarded the City of Edinburgh and set off whilst the last chill of winter would still have sat on the land.
Maria had only ever known Norfolk Island and her mother’s remains lay buried never to be visited again by her daughter.
As a sweetener for all that the settlers had lost by moving from Norfolk Island, efforts were made to keep the community together when they resettled. William like others from the island were able to buy more land for less at Back River than what it would have cost them had they not come from Norfolk Island. As his only child, Maria would inherit all that William left. He bought land at Back River, approximately 30 acres. It was here that he and Maria lived. Robert Hay was sent to work for William Hazelwood and it is here that he met Maria. He himself would not be given a pardon until February of 1812. What did eventuate however was that Robert and fifteen year old Maria got together and their first child Mary Ann Hay was born in August of 1810.
“Publick Baptisms, Sullivan’s Cove, River Derwent, Van Diemen’s Land 1810” “Mary Ann, Daughter of Maria Hopper July 6.” She was the first child baptized that month by Rev. Robert Knopwood. father is not named – Well known it was Robert Hay.
He was not recorded on official records as the father of the child. However it is unlikely that anyone was confused as to whom the father of the baby was. Sadly little Mary Ann would die ten years later. Before they married in November of 1815 with Robert a grandly aged forty and Maria twenty years his junior, they had two further children Jane Hay in 1812 and William Hazelwood Hay in 1814. After their marriage they extended their family with John Hay in 1816. Robert Hay 1819, James Hay 1821, Elizabeth Hay 1823, Maria Hay 1825, Caroline Hay 1828, David Hay 1830 and Anne (Annie) Hay in 1835. Eleven children all told. Their wedding was officiated by the Rev. Knopwood. Daresay however that the nuptials may have taken place under the gum trees as there was not a church yet built in the area.
Robert and Maria must have been either desperate or dauntless to take up in this land in those early days. The area was full of bandits (now known as bushrangers) and the early settlers were frequently robbed and held up at threat of violence. One famous bushranger who trolled the area was the infamous Martin Cash. Robert himself was held up by bushrangers and at another time in his role as Constable of hunting down bushrangers. During 1813 Robert Hay had been appointed and was working as a Constable in the New Norfolk district. He gave evidence against another New Norfolk resident Denis McCarty. Local inhabitants expressed their distrust in Denis McCarty and his business methods. Robert was deposed in April 1815 at the inquest on the body of Charles Carlyle/Carlisle an associate of the bushranger Michael Howe. He was murdered by Hugh Burn’s. Hugh Burns had collected and armed men to hunt down the bushrangers.
In 1818 Robert received a land grant of 30 acres from Governor Macquarie for an area of land from Jones Springs to the Fat Doe River Run at Elizabeth Town in what would be re-named New Norfolk and the Hay area specifically, Back River. Robert grew mostly wheat crops and is recorded as having 50 male and 50 female cattle, 200 sheep and 200 ewes by the following year 1819.
His application and approval for a land grant of 30 acres was reported in the newspapers on the 14th February 1818. Other pioneering families in the Back River around this time included Shone, Triffit, Clelland, Bradshaw, Kingshott, Cockerill, Young, Jilletts and King. Robert employed a government servant (convict) and a free man and supplied the commissariat (stores) with meat for the fledgling colony.
On the 31st January 1818 Robert Hay is reported to have tendered 800 lb. of meat to the Hobart Town stores for the use of the colonists. The average amount appears to have been around 500 lb. – so Robert must have had a reasonably good period at this time. In 1819 Robert again tendered 750 lb. of meat for the stores.
31st October 1819 Hobart Town Gazette – LOST, or Mislaid, a pocket book containing sundry papers, particularly a promissory note drawn by Robert Rennie for £22 10s, dated in June, 1819, payable six Months after date; for which note the Subscriber has not received any valuable Consideration. — Also, two store receipts for £5 each; Nos. 236 and 237.–A reward of five Pounds will be given to whoever will restore the said pocket book and its contents, at the Gazette Office.
ROBERT HAY, New Norfolk A muster of all persons was called for in 1820 and reported in The Hobart Town Gazette for the Back River district where the Hay family were living. At Elizabeth Town, New Norfolk, on Monday, October 23rd, all the Free Men and Women, on and off the Stores, in the District of New Norfolk, the Back Settlement, and District of Melville; also those resident at the Fat Doe River, the Rivers Plenty and Styx, Stony-Hut Plains, and all Outstations and Stock-yards in that Quarter.
By this time it is highly likely that given the amount of meat that Robert was contributing to the stores on a regular basis that his family were ‘off the stores’. They may still have been getting some flour and salt but it is likely that they purchased this with the money that they made from the sale of their meat.
To be ‘on the stores’ was considered shameful and vagrant. In August 1827 Hay advertised a 30-acre property for sale with house and farm. He cautioned persons against buying the farm through Mr Butler or Mr Wells and that no other person but himself had any claim on the farm The land that was mentioned as being for sale in the above is likely land that was William Hazelwood’s and left to Maria and Robert. It would have been Maria’s inheritance. William Hazelwood lived on into his nineties. Throughout this time he was supported by his daughter and son in law for the remainder of his life.
Robert died at Back River, New Norfolk a farmer. Buried 8 June 1839 St Matthews Church of England Cemetary aged 69. Maria went on to live another forty one years. An astounding amount of time even by todays standards. One of our first ancestors actually born in Australia. From the Hobart Mercury, Wednesday morning, 1 September 1880: HAY – On August 30, at Back River, New Norfolk, Maria Hay, aged 85 years, widow of the late Robert Hay. The funeral will leave her late residence, on FRIDAY NEXT, at 3 o’clock
Headstone reads: Headstone reads: “Why should I longer here delay When Angels beckon me away And Jesus bids me come Erected as a mark of affection by her daughter Annie Triffitt.”