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Bee hive and hobby garden politics in convict Tasmania, 1832 to 1835

George Arthur, Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania between 1823 and 1837, was
several times the target of criticism from the Editor of Hobart’s Colonial Times
newspaper - the subject being the excessive expenses incurred by the Governor’s
hobby garden in the grounds of Government House coupled with the excessive use
of convict resources in its upkeep. From its issue for 3 February 1835: “What a thing
it is to be a favorite, [sic.] Mr. Anstey of Oatlands, lately made application to the
Government for a swarm of Bees - his application was of course, immediately
attended to - Why? Is he not a J.P. and M.L.C.?

Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Sir George Arthur


Most people are glad to send for such ‘gifts,’ but this was not necessary on the part
of Mr. Anstey. A boat with five prisoners of the Crown was obtained from the Marine,
to carry two men and the hive to the Ferry at Green Point - whence these two men,
(prisoners belonging to the Government garden, and rationed by the Commissariat)
proceeded with the hive to Anstey Barton - the journey took them four days - this is
one way of employing prisoners of the Crown in Government employ. How fortunate
was Mr. Anstey to have such a present as a hive sent him ! About fifty applications
were made previously to his - even Mr. Burnett the public favorite, was high in the list
to have his turn - but the Colonial Secretary does not stand A.1. with His Excellency -
he has had no bees from Colonel Arthur's garden !” (p.6)
Anstey was a grazier, banker, magistrate and member of the Upper House. 1 He was
both professionally and personally known to the Governor and on the latter’s tour of
the interior which commenced in late February 1830, Anstey hosted the Governor
and his entourage. “The party arrived at Anstey Barton, the hospitable mansion of
1
http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A010020b.htm
Anstey, Thomas (1777 - 1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, Melbourne
University Press, 1966, pp 19-21.
Mr. Anstey near Oatlands in time for dinner on Monday, where they remained all
night, and proceeded on the road to Launceston next morning.” 2

Thomas Anstey’s home Anstey Barton, at Oatlands, c1850

John Burnett (1781-1860) was appointed the first Colonial Secretary of Van
Diemen's Land in March 1826. He was the Colonial Office's third choice. “He was not
a brilliant administrator, but at least in the early years he seems to have been
conscientious. … Several times Arthur showed great forbearance with Burnett's
deficiencies, but he could not overlook a deception with which Burnett attempted to
cover a serious breach of the land regulations. …” 3
Some hint of the Press’ ongoing antagonism towards Arthur may be drawn from the
following comments in the Australian Dictionary of Biography: 4 “Confronted with a
large convict-emancipist population, determined on the policy he wanted to carry out,
and always liable to criticism for abuse of patronage even where no such abuse
existed, this efficient and conscientious soldier-administrator had no time for civil
liberties or freedom of the press. In 1826-27 he prosecuted the editor Andrew Bent
for libel, and in 1827 persuaded the council to pass an act imposing a revocable
newspaper licence. When this was annulled in England he again had recourse to the
courts and prosecuted Gilbert Robertson of the True Colonist and Henry Melville of
the Colonial Times.”
Andrew Bent’s vendetta against Arthur is better understood once the following entry
on him in the Australian Dictionary of Biography is digested: “Although Lieutenant-
Governor William Sorell appeared to have doubts of the character of Bent's

2
Colonial Times, 3 April 1830, p.2a
3
Biographical details extracted from: P.R. Eldershaw, 'Burnett, John (1781-1860)',
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966, pp.182-183.
4
http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A010034b.htm
A. G. L. Shaw, 'Arthur, Sir George (1784 - 1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography,
Volume 1, Melbourne University Press, 1966, pp 32-38.
newspaper, it was not until Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur arrived that he
came under official censure. Leading articles in the Hobart Town Gazette and Van
Diemen's Land Advertiser on 8 October 1824 and 11 February 1825 and the
publication of letters by Robert Murray over the nom-de-plume, 'A Colonist', became
the bases for an action for libel, and on 1 August 1825 Bent was sentenced to
imprisonment and fined £500. Printing work for the government was withdrawn from
him and the title of his paper was pirated. From June until 19 August 1825, when he
adopted the title Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser for his newspaper, Bent's
paper and the official government gazettes used identical volume and serial
numbers. In the Colonial Times he continued to express opposition to Arthur's
attempts to control the press. He refused to apply for a licence under the Licensing
Act of 1827, put his paper 'in Mourning' and printed advertisements only.
To avoid further legal action he commenced the Colonial Advocate and Tasmanian
Monthly Review, which ran from March to October 1828, but again he fell a victim to
the law and suffered imprisonment. Worn out with conflict and trouble he was
preparing to sell his type and presses when news arrived that the British government
had disapproved the Licensing Act. Bent revived his Colonial Times and a little later
sold it to Henry Melville as a going concern. In 1830 he was defendant in a further
libel action and during the trial was referred to as 'this Nimrod of printers, this
Franklin of the Southern Hemisphere', later becoming known as the Tasmanian
Franklin. In 1836 he published Bent's News and Tasmanian Threepenny Register
but was once more prosecuted for libel and the paper ceased.”
It’s true the Governor did favour certain applicants with the gift of a bee hive. A story
titled An Anecdote from Australia, appeared in the penny journal The Leisure Hour, a
Family Journal of Instruction and Recreation, dated 25 November 1852. In part: “A
gentleman named Dr. Wilson, who had made several voyages to Van Diemen’s
Land, had observed that there were not any bees producing honey; he therefore, on
one of his voyages, took with him a hive of bees. … and were conveyed 16,000
miles to Hobart Town. Dr. Wilson generously placed the hive at the disposal of
Governor Arthur. It was placed in Government Garden; and so abundant was the
food, and so adapted the climate to the bees, that I was told that a single hive of
bees would produce twenty stocks in a year, the first swarms each yielding new
swarms. The governor politely presented his friends with hives of bees, so that, in a
very few seasons, most gardens in the colony were furnished with them.”
Arthur also gifted one hive to Governor Bourke in New South Wales. The Hobart
Town Courier for 24 August 1832 reported: “We are pleased to learn that His
Excellency Colonel Arthur, mindful of the interests of the sister colony, has sent a
hive of bees, one of the progeny of that brought out by Dr. Wilson last year in the
John, to Governor Bourke, for the benefit of the now very thriving colony under his
Government; and what is a singular coincidence, the hive has gone up in the ship
England, under the immediate care of Dr. Wilson, who originally and so successfully
imported the original from which it was produced. …” (p.2)
Two weeks after the Colonial Times article of 3 February 1835 a barbed update
appeared “A week or two since, when mentioning the affair about the bees being
forwarded from Government-garden to Oatlands, and the employing in so doing no
less than seven men belonging to the public works, we mentioned in error that the
two men who took the hive from the ferry to Anstey Barton were only four days on
their journey - we now beg to correct the error. The men were double that time. We
wonder whether Mr. Burnett has obtained his hive yet - it is only three years since he
applied for it.” (p.7a)
Such criticism of Governor Arthur’s alleged abuse of Government resources at his
garden was not the first nor the last. The “hobby” theme sarcastically recurred in the
Colonial Times for 23 September 1834: “Is it true that the Governor's Cows are to
have their rations altered ? - that in future they are to eat grass, and not cucumbers
and pine apples ? Is it true also that Mr. Charles Arthur is to purchase grass for his
horses, he receiving forage money for that purpose? Is it true also that fifty Crown
prisoners are to be taken from the ‘hobby’ and otherwise employed? - Great changes
we know are spoken of !”
The Editor of the Colonial Times found cause again to criticise the Governor and his
garden on 28 April 1835. “A new experiment is being tried at Government-garden -
the stone from the quarry is being wheeled on the fine manured flower-beds, but for
what purpose no one can tell. Cabbages have hitherto only cost the people a guinea
each, but the present manner of culture will raise their cost at least to thirty shillings -
but what right have the people to complain? Is this garden not Colonel Arthur's
hobby, and if he chooses, why should not ten, instead of five thousand pounds, be
annually expended on it - all the people are required to do is, to pay and look
pleasant, they nave no right to talk of lavish expenditure and such like; the Governor
ought to do as he likes on every occasion - no matter what expensive whims he may
take into his head.” (pp.7-8)
The earliest criticism of the Governor’s expensive hobby appears to have been that
contained in a long diatribe which appeared in the Colonial Times for 18 April 1832.
It aimed to bring to public attention “the shameful abuses to which such
establishments as the Government garden, the Government farms, and other similar
'farces' …” are prone. The article demanded the “entire discontinuance of all similar
encroachments upon the public purse. Let any one tell us, if he can ... what is done
with the annual produce of the large Government garden in Macquarie street? What
again becomes of the immense crops that are, or ought to be, grown at New Town?
Whose tables are benefited by the productions of the garden at New Norfolk? of that
at George Town ? at Launceston? Why, the smallest of these establishments would
alone produce ten times more fruit and vegetables than it is possible to consume at
the table of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor; …”
The article went on to question “whether or not even His Excellency himself is
supposed by the Home Government to incur by gardens, hot-houses,
conservatories, alone, an annual invisible expense fully equal to ... one of five and
twenty hundred per annum he receives as salary. Who is there that will pretend to
tell us, that the satellites of the greater powers - the friends, hangers-on,
dependants, relations of the Head of the Government have a right to share in the
good things that result from these establishments? Under what pretence are they
made partakers of the 'guinea cabbages' which these places produce, to an extent
unequalled we verily believe, in any other Colony under the British Crown? ... let us
repeat our enquiry, what becomes of the immense surplus produce of even one
garden alone, after His Excellency's own table shall have been abundantly supplied?
If it be sold, how are the proceeds disposed of? If it he given away, upon whom has
the right of thus bestowing it, been conferred? Why is there a power with respect to
the productions of Government gardens, that are sufficiently extensive to supply half
the town with vegetables all the year round, different from that which we know is the
case, with regard to any other public property? Can a ship, or even a boat, that has
been built at Macquarie Harbour by Crown prisoners, who have been fed and
clothed at the expense of the Crown, be given away even by the Crown itself? Can a
single article (no matter of what nature) that has become the property of the public,
either by purchase or the labour of individuals, be disposed of other than for the
legitimate purposes of the public? The answer admits of no medium, but to each of
these questions must be either yes, or no. If the former, 'show us the authority;' if the
latter, 'account to us then for the surplus productions of the Government gardens.' ...
It is the invisible expenditure therefore of the Colony, such as is incurred by hobbies
of the nature of Government farms and gardens ... that requires the pruning knife of
the Reformer. ...” (p.2)
Yet one of the Governor’s hobby activities miraculously escaped negative comment.
The Colonial Times for 18 June 1833 reported the gift of a Tasmanian devil to an
anonymous authority on the island of Mauritius. 5 “When Captain Petrie lately sailed
from this in the Drummore to the Mauritius, he took with him as a present to one of
the authorities at Port Louis, one of those savage creatures peculiar to this Island,
commonly called a devil, which had been caught and as far as was practicable
tamed, by Mr. Davidson at the Government garden. Considerable difficulty arose
however in landing it at Port Louis, for the officer of the customs there strongly
remonstrated against landing in their beautiful, island, any thing in the shape or even
with the name of the devil. They recollected no doubt, the time when, their
predecessors the Dutch were forced to abandon the island when it became overrun
with rats.
However on ascertaining that it was only a simple quadruped, though a curious one,
and on the gentleman to whom it was given, undertaking to keep it secure, it was at
last allowed to be landed. But the devil was not long in his new berth when he
contrived to make his escape, and for some weeks dreadful havock [sic.] was played
among the poultry around, until with difficulty he was shot.

It is curious, that though this singular animal has now been known mid described by
naturalists for some years, a living specimen has never been sent to England, until
Capt. [Adam] Riddell of the Duckenfield, which sailed the other day undertook to do
so. There is now a dam (of in other words a she-devil) in a crib at the Government
gardens, which has brought forth three young ones, but they seem quite
untameable. - The Lennaean [sic.] name is dasyurus ursinus.” 6 (p.2)

5
From Wikipedia: Mauritius is an island nation off the coast of the African continent in the
southwest Indian Ocean, about 900 kilometres (560 mi) east of Madagascar.
6
Wikipedia names the current classification as Sarcophilus harrisii
The Duckenfield, incorrectly identified in the drawing above as the Duckingfield

Governor Arthur’s reputation seems not to have suffered at the time from claims by
the Press concentrated on his alleged misuse of convict labour, the production of
“guinea cabbages” and assumed favouritism in the gift of a hive of bees to selected
friends.

Peter Barrett

Caloundra, Queensland, Jan. 2010

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