W for Watermen of Sorell

Thanks to Helen Brinsmead for writing this post for the A-Z challenge.

Before the causeway was built, settlers and visitors to the Sorell District had to travel overland via Bridgewater, Grass Tree Hill and Richmond, a full day’s ride. A quicker way was to catch a boat from Kangaroo Point (now Bellerive), or across the Pittwater from Sorell. A long carriage ride or journey on horseback, or a boat trip in a skiff were the options until a public meeting was called in March 1849 with the residents of Sorell for consideration of the building of a causeway across the Pittwater. The concept was agreed with, with most of the discussion concerning whether extra taxes would be levied to pay for it. We know now that the Sorell Causeway wasn’t opened until 1872, leaving the ferrymen many more years to earn a living.

1827 John Stacey is listed as a Ferryman in Sorell when Rev Garrard registered his son John’s birth.

Mr J Davidson, an established waterman with a route from Clarence Inn to Kangaroo Point, proudly advertised in June 1831 that he had obtained a new 30 foot boat expressly to be “one of the safest ferry boats on the Derwent” in any weather.

Mr Davidson and his ferry

I wonder if Samuel Pearson, my 4x Great Grandfather, was an employee of Mr Davidson, as he is listed as a Ferryman of Sorell in the Christening register of his daughter Jemima in April 1831.

It looks as thought there was a need for two ferry journey, to the Lower Pittwater, and then, from Midway Point to Sorell with the traveller moved by cart, as in 1835, a theft was reported by Mr David Price. He’d left his bag in one boat “as he was crossing to another” as he was travelling to Kangaroo Point. His bag was found in the possession of another traveller, who said he’d been so intoxicated he’d not noticed which bag he’d picked up.

William Billett (Bellette) is noted as a Ferryman of Sorell by Chaplain James Norman on the Christening of his son John in 1837. I note that the same page of the Register has others listed as Boat Builder and Mariner. Clearly, Ferryman is acknowledged as an occupation in it’s own maritime field. I note that Samuel Pearson is one such Mariner listed, with his daughters Diane and Maria (my 3xGGmother) and son Richard being christened that year. Does this mean that he has become skilled enough or been employed on whaling ships or routes that take one out of the Derwent?

Unruly or drunk passengers were also a danger in crossing, along with the weather. In July 1838, a drunken passenger refused to let go of the sail when a squall rose. The boat with four passengers and cargo capsized. All were rescued by nearby boats. Unfortunately the waterman is not named. I wonder if it were William or John?

In 1840, Ferry proprietors and masters are named as Mr Spode and Mr Gunn in an article noting the there were a shortage of ‘proper hands in the boats’, leading most travellers to continue overland to cross at Risdon. There was a call to change the law regarding to which activities convict servants could be assigned, as it was currently illegal to use assigned servants in the operation of the ferries at Kangaroo Point, whereas Mr Dobson at Risdon, could.

Being ferried across the Derwent could not be assumed to be without risk. In November 1864, a Waterman named Carter was ferrying Mr Nicholls, when a squall capsized the boat: both were rescued.

The O’May family of Bellerive introduced the first steam ferry, the Surprise in 1871, after eight years running a sail boat ferry service.

By 1888, the ferryboat was more likely to be a steamer than a sail boat. The O’May family were now running the Taranna, the Minx and the Pearl, while the Kangaroo had a route from Bellerive to the city. All steamers were busy on the day of the eighth annual Regatta at Bellerive on Sunday 15 April.

PH30-1-2101 Steam ferry Kangaroo

H for Hannah Green

Thanks to Jo Hopkins for writing this post for the A-Z challenge.

Blue links will take you to the digitized images from Libraries Tasmania website.


Hannah Green’s story in Sorell begins around the time the small settlement at Pitt Water became Sorell, and her tale would mirror that of many early settlers of the district. While she is not a noted figure, she is a piece of the patchwork.

In September 1819 in London, Hannah Green was arrested carrying a forged £1 bank note. She was convicted and sentenced to be transported to Australia for 14 years. After a brief time in Newgate Prison, she sailed on the Morley, departing on 20 May 1820. The Morley arrived in Hobart Town at the end of August 1820 and Hannah was one of the 50 convict women to be offloaded and assigned. The remainder of the convict women sailed on to Sydney.

Hannah was assigned to Thomas Lascelles who was at that time the secretary to Lieutenant-Governor Sorell. Lascelles had properties in Hobart Town and in the Pitt Water district. Could Hannah have worked at Pitt Water?

When Governor Macquarie visited the Pitt Water settlement on 20 June 1821 and renamed the township Sorell, was Hannah present? It would be lovely to imagine her in the small crowd, sharing the excitement of the vice-regal visit.

On 7 January 1822, Hannah married free settler John Stacey who resided at Sorell. Just 15 months after her arrival and assignment and just 27 months since her arrest, Hannah is re-assigned to her husband and is effectively free. She only needed to attend muster and be of good behaviour to keep out of officialdoms eyes and serve out her sentence.

While minimal documentation is available for Hannah – her marriage registration, some musters, the baptism records of her children – it does show her living in Sorell going about her life.

St Georges Church where many Stacey events occurred

As the family grew, so did Sorell. The family had a house in Arthur Street across the paddock from where the mill was built. The children were baptised at the newly built St Georges Church and were attenders at the Sorell School. For a few years John was a Constable and would have worked with Alexander Laing at the new watch house. John was also a licenced ferryman who plied the route from the Pitt Water Bluff (around where the causeways now span the two arms of Pittwater). Could John have even rowed the official party across when Macquarie visited?

In April 1840, aged 43, Hannah Stacey was buried in Sorell, just days after the birth of a son.

Many local families can connect back to Hannah Green and John Stacey, and their story at the founding of Sorell.

Jo Hopkins is descended through the Jones line from Hannah and John’s daughter Charlotte.