MARTHA HAYES: first lady of Risdon Cove
Reg. A. Watson
Martha Hayes, whose descendants still live in Tasmania, was lover to Lt John Bowen RN, the young officer who led the first British settlement to Van Diemen’s Land in September 1803, at Risdon Cove. Martha had two children to Bowen, but while he was later to leave the colony, she stayed. Eventually she became a respected and reasonably prosperous settler. Her daughter, Henrietta, was the first white child born in Tasmania.
Looking down to Risdon Cove and the Derwent, watercolour by E C Stanley, 1848. National Library of Australia.
By all accounts Martha was indeed a beauty. A visiting Irishman, Joseph Holt, in late 1805, described her as the “prettiest violet that I saw growing at the Derwent”
Little is known of Martha’s life before her arrival at Risdon Cove in September 1803. We know she was born in 1789, the only child of James Quinn and Mary Maria (nee De Knight) who later married Henry Hayes. Martha was named after her aunt, Martha De Knight.
Mary and Henry Hayes were arrested in May 1801 for receiving stolen goods, including a trunk and other valuables worth one thousand pounds. They were running a public house called The Bell beforehand and had previously owned some sort of second hand clothes and rag business. Martha’s step-father, Henry, was acquitted but Mary, believed to be the dominant of the two, was found guilty and sentenced to 14 years transportation.
While it was undoubtedly a difficult voyage, conditions aboard the naval ship on which she was transported, H.M.S. Glatton, were better than on ordinary convict transport ships. The authorities were concerned “to prevent the infectious sickness which has on former occasions proved so fatal to them on their passage to that part of the world.
On board was the young Lt John Bowen RN. Although not clearly proven, it is likely that young Martha, who was just 13 years old, accompanied her mother on the voyage. Martha, of course, was free and could consort with others much more easily than her mother, and it is probable that Martha met Bowen aboard the vessel and struck up a very friendly relationship with him. After their arrival in Sydney, Mary was assigned as a servant to a settler while Martha went to live with Bowen. Mary received a free pardon in 1810, having served nine years of her fourteen-year sentence.
Bowen was believed to be 22 years old at the time and it was not unusual for officers, and indeed Governors, to have mistresses. They were quite open about their relationships, as testified by Governor William Sorell in his relationship with Eliza Cox Kent, not to mention David Collins with Mrs Powers.
When Bowen sailed to establish the settlement at Risdon Cove, Martha accompanied him, first living in a tent, then a wooden hut. A convict, Joseph Parnell, who had been transported after the 1798 United Ireland rising, had been chosen as a servant to John and Martha and it is believed he became quite attached to the young lady.
John began building a new house some half-a-mile up the valley in a commanding position overlooking their old hut and the Parade Ground. The foundation ruins can be found today, now located on private land (TALC owned), forgotten and neglected.
Meanwhile, Martha’s step-father Henry, being a free man, followed his wife and journeyed to Port Phillip. There he met with Thomas Hayes and his wife Elizabeth. It is believed Thomas and Henry were brothers, but the connection is not conclusively proven - if not brothers, then perhaps cousins.
John had returned to Sydney, but Governor King, angry with him for deserting the settlement, promptly ordered him to return. He did so, taking with him Martha’s mother, Mary and Thomas Hayes. The voyage was difficult, but they arrived in Hobart on 10th March 1804. Thomas was given a grant of 100 acres at New Town creek, which he called “Project Farm”.
Later that month, Martha gave birth to John’s daughter Henrietta, probably named after her father, Henry. Rev. Knopwood recorded in his diary on 29th March, while visiting Bowen; “Gov Bowen’s young friend was confined to her bed.”Bowen arranged for Martha to be declared a settler, thus allowing her to receive a grant of land and government rations.
Martha now had the company of her parents, as well as Thomas and Elizabeth Hayes and their two sons. Bowen, however, left the colony for good, asking Knopwood to take a special interest in her welfare. He sailed away on the Ocean leaving behind Martha and their daughter Henrietta A second daughter, Martha Charlotte, was born on 3rd April 1805 after her father had left. They never saw each other, even though both daughters took great pride in their descent from Bowen. Knopwood christened them in August 1805 on a wet winter’s day.
Knopwood, true to his word, did keep an ‘eye’ on Martha and so did others. She soon received the attention of her neighbour, Andrew Whitehead, and Knopwood married them in 1811, Martha using the surname Hayes.
Andrew was a convict who had come out with David Collins when 18 years old. He was appointed to take charge of the government farm at Cornelian Bay. It was not his first marriage, his first wife, Elizabeth having died in 1809. Andrew and Martha enjoyed a social life and their home became a central point of the small New Town community. Governor Lachlan Macquarie from NSW visited their farm and stated of Whitehead that he was “a respectable farmer”.
It is believed that the first racetrack in Tasmania was established at their farm in 1813. In that year they received more land at New Town and were accustomed to receive visits from Knopwood.
Whitehead, however, was involved in a scandal the following year, whilst smuggling liquor from the vessel, Argo to Cornelian Bay, to be carried to his farm. Governor Davy, who followed David Collins, sentenced Whitehead to a few days “house arrest” as punishment - smuggling was not a serious crime in the new colony.
As Knopwood became older, Martha took great pride in looking after his welfare. There was obviously a close connection between them. In 1813 Knopwood gave both Bowen girls a bible. Martha had two children to Andrew, Mary born 1813 and Andrew 1820. Her first two daughters retained the name Bowen.
Sadly, Henrietta died in June 1823, unmarried, at the age of 19. The Hobart Town Gazette recorded: “DIED – On Saturday night of last, much beloved and respected, Miss Henrietta Bowen, daughter of John Bowen Esq., Captain in the Royal Navy. Her suffering she bore in piety and with resignation and departed this life sincerely lamented by all who had the pleasure of her acquaintance.” (Sat. 21 June 1823).
Martha Charlotte married surgeon, Dr Robert Garrett in 1823. The Gazette recorded: “MARRIED. – By special licence, by the Rev. William Bedford, Colonial Chaplain, on Thursday morning last, at St David’s Church, Robert Garrett, Esq., Assistant Surgeon on the Civil Establishment at this Settlement, to Miss M.C. Bowen, daughter of Captain John Bowen, of the Royal Navy.” (Sat. 6th December 1823).
Martha Charlotte’s father had not forgotten her and sent some silver plate as a wedding gift. Her mother Martha received a 50-acre grant on land bordering the area in the Glenorchy Municipality now known as Prince of Wales Bay. Bowen saw to it that a hut was built for her here.
No doubt Martha Hayes had retained some of her early beauty, for in January 1836 after Andrew’s death four years earlier, when she was 50 years old, she married again, this time to Bernard Williamson, a Police Clerk at Brighton, who was but twenty years of age. Even so, she outlived her husband when he died in early 1871. Martha briefly lived at her son-in-law’s farm, “Lea Farm”, at Browns River, in the Kingborough Municipality, but on May 15th 1871 she too died and is probably buried at St David’s Park, Hobart.
St David's Park, Hobart
Appreciation goes to Susan Adams a descendant of Mary for her valuable research.
Greater detail of the settlement can be found in Reg. A. Watson’s book, “JOHN BOWEN AND THE FOUNDING OF TASMANIA.”