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1811: THE BIG DAY

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On the morning of November 11,  1811 James Triffitt stood stiffly in his bedroom as Mary fussed around. She was trying to fasten the top button of his shirt and comb his hair simultaneously. Both sons stood snickering in the corner enjoying their father’s unease. Mary pushed his bushy eyebrows into place with a moistened finger and dusted his shoulders. Try as she might her good husband was going to look pretty shabby in his borrowed suit coat and trousers but it was the best she could do.

She had been planning for days; her wardrobe thought about, new ribbon sewn into the hem of her dress. Ever since word had filtered through that Governor Macquarie was visiting the district and particularly since her husband was now visibly risen to the top of the heap. James Sr’s was chosen, along with Dennis McCarty, Brien Cullen and Abraham Hands, to give an address of welcome to the esteemed gentleman.

James Triffitt mumbled the words of his speech. He could neither read nor write but that had never stopped him in the past. His youngest son, Thomas, had been drafted to teach him and now, subject only to an attack of last minute nerves, the magic words were implanted in his brain.

‘Our gratitude for allowing us to remain on the King’s Stores shall never be effaced from our memories and our children shall be instructed, as soon as their articulation commence, to lisp the name of Governor Macquarie…’

The whole of the settlement would come together for this great event. They were to assemble outside McCarty’s house that evening for the grandest celebration that the district had ever seen, the first time the District had gathered since some of them had arrived; for once there was a feeling of community, even if only for a night. Three years, almost to the day since the settlers arrived the Vice Regal party trotted into town.

Down by the river bank a row boat pulled up at McCarty’s jetty and a young woman stepped out. Anxious male arms helped her ashore and she walked briskly up the path, leaving them to carry her bags. She was the fifteen year old princess of New Norfolk, mistress of Dennis McCarty, host for the Governor and his party tonight – she was to be his hostess. It was exactly two weeks till their wedding. Marianne swept into the house and planted a kiss on the sun-burnt cheeks of her husband-to-be.

This was going to be a wonderful day; the very nearly Mary McCarty was to be displayed to the district on the grandest occasion New Norfolk would ever have – the upcoming Vice Regal visit of Lieutenant Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his good lady wife, the very elegant Lady M. What’s more the royal couple was going to stay in McCarty’s house that night. Nothing could be left to chance. While Dennis drilled her behavior she was returning the favor and drilling his servants, dictating their every move in a grand ballet of sycophancy; cleaning, bowing and scraping to prepare their house for the First Couple of the colony. Urgent supplies had arrived from town, every favor Dennis had ever been owed was called upon and, by the eve of the great day the house and surrounds were tarted up within an inch of their life. This made it just tolerable.It was still the grandest house in the district.

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As the great moment approached the good citizens of the area began to congregate, some to pay their respects, a great many waving memorials, petitions and favors ready to shove them at the great man. This was the best chance they’d had in an eternity to get a message, a complaint or a request across. Marianne, dressed like some suburban tart, thought she looked wonderful, and in comparison to the rest of the settler women she certainly stood out. She was clean for a start. By two o’clock the whole district was lining the banks of the Derwent waiting for something to happen. Marianne stood on her verandah looking down the river. At 2.30p.m. she heard a shout from the Government Farm; their arrival was imminent and, with her heart beating, she saw the boat.

The vice regal party had already had a long day. They’d arisen at 5 a.m. and by six were on horseback heading north. They stopped for breakfast at a farm called Black Snake Point then headed to another three miles further up at Tea Tree Point where they transferred to a barge owned by Captain Murray.

‘We set out in her at 12 o’clock,’ Macquarie wrote, ‘and after two hours and a half’s row up this fine River, we arrived at Mr. Dennis McCarty’s Farm in the District of New Norfolk, 5 miles from Tea Tree Point on the north side of the River, where, finding a comfortable farmhouse and a hearty rural honest welcome, we took up our residence for this day and night.’

Marianne was the hearty rural welcome. She and a hundred of so of the locals, come to gawp. ‘A great number of the settlers received us with many cheers and huzzas on our first landing at McCarty’s Farm,’ the great man recorded. A row of ill-clad local dignitaries stood stiffly on the bank clutching a worn piece of paper each.

Dennis McCarty had chosen, as a public demonstration of the power of his patronage, three of the district’s most prominent men; James Triffitt, Bryan Cullen and Abraham Hands, to give, with him, an address to the poor Governor. James Triffitt’s moment of glory had arrived.

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The grand couple stopped briefly at the McCarty residence, long enough for Marianne to perform her much practiced curtsey, long enough for tea. Those twin peaks accomplished she clucked and hovered and made sure everything went to plan, stood silent when not talked to and talked when she had to. The visitors barely said hello before they were rowed over to the Government Farm and Stockyard on the bluff. The Governor was obviously in an expansive mood that day, already impressed at what he’d seen. He was in a naming mood.

‘This situation appeared to me so eligible and so remarkably well adapted for a Township, being twenty miles only from Hobart Town, that I have determined to erect one here for the District of New Norfolk, naming it “Elizabeth-Town”, in honor of my dear good wife, and I have christened the Rivulet “The Thames”. After a delightful walk at Elizabeth Town, we re-crossed the River to Mr. McCarty’s, where we had a most excellent Dinner.’

Dinner was Marianne’s greatest test. While her husband chatted politely she’d organized a feast of epic proportions. All parties ate and drank very well, according to reports, occasionally wandering out to the verandah to renewed cheering from the settlers who were clearly in for a big celebration; ‘…they continued drinking, singing, and making bonfires the greater part of the night. We went in the boat to see the 1st Fall after dinner.’

By the time they had finished their grand tour it was late. The vice-regals tumbled into McCarty’s bed with a sigh and slept like babies. Marianne allowed herself a moment of relaxation. She passed the test.

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An unexpected legacy of Macquarie’s visit was a rash of marriages in Back River. I can find no direct record as yet, but something must have been said about the right of the settlers who had been married in a previous life to remarry. It was in everybody’s interests to promote lasting legal unions between the settlers, particularly those who had been living in sin for years. Both their immortal souls and the Governor’s sense of propriety were at risk. However, a great many of these people were already married – to husbands and wives back in England or to partners who had left, returned home or just plain disappeared while in the colony. Which was the bigger sin – bigamy or adultery?

The closest man to God at the time was Governor Macquarie. I suspect that at some point on his visit to New Norfolk he must have pronounced that any man or woman who had not cohabited or had connection with an absent spouse for a certain number of years – maybe seven or ten, maybe twenty – could deem that marriage finished, null and void.

Two weeks after the Vice Regal visit, on 8th December 1811, Marianne Wainwright and Dennis McCarty were married – then, two weeks later on 21st December William Scattergood married Jane Gordon.

On 22nd April 1812 at St. Matthew’s church in New Norfolk James and Mary were finally hitched. He was 41, she was 54.  Knopwood tied the knot.

The official witnesses at this interesting nod to convention were Messrs. Job Anthony and Dennis McCarthy but James Jnr. and Thomas were standing there too. Young James was 18 by now, Tom 15 . The lads were still reeling from the bash that followed the marriage of John Barry and Abigail Cummins the day before. There was more to come. After Mum and Dad were married Catherine Williams and Matthew Wood fronted Reverend Knopwood and with due ceremony their partnership was blessed. Then, to top off the day, Charles Clark, widower, left the ghost of Mary Lammerman behind and remarried.

A month later Thomas Guy and Eleanor Wainwright followed the trend. They were all next-door neighbors in Back River, at least one of each couple had a wife or husband back in England and all of them had been together for years.

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