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ONE LAST FLING 1825

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This hidden titbit has just come to light: it’s part of a much, much longer article, mysteriously penned by ‘A Colonist’, published in Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser on Friday 3 June 1825. If you can cut through the flowery language, it’s a very interesting document – and the only one that gives a hint of what was really going on in James Triffitt’s life at the time. Finding this has inspired the sleuth in me. I love digging dirt.

So bear with me as I try to piece together the sequence of events that inspired this little clue. We’ll have to do the time-warp – several times. This story takes us into a whole other place.

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CLICK HERE FOR THE LETTER

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James Senior prospered rapidly and by 1820 was mustered as a resident of Elizabeth Town with 140 acres, 25 of which were sown in wheat, and 2 in barley and potatoes. He owned a horse, 100 cattle, 1,000 sheep and employed 4 convicts. (Thomas Johnston ex ‘Surrey’, Owen Boyle ex ‘Almorah’, William Nye ex ‘Hibernia’ and Michael Murray ex ‘Lord Melville’). He was a successful man.

Leaving aside the value of his land and houses, James must have been sitting on around 1, 500 pounds worth of cattle and the same in sheep, and selling meat, milk and wheat on a regular basis. This as well as his admittedly paltry salary as a Constable and whatever he could cream on the side. He was a wealthy man, in assets, at least, and by now, ten years after his arrival, solidly established as one of a number of persons of influence in the District. He had taken advantage of his skills, knowledge and probably his power as a Constable.

Both sons were off his hands, living apart and, like the livestock, breeding at a ferocious rate. He cast his lot with the ruling class and exercised the kind of hidden power and familiarity with the law his status gave him with, one hopes, a degree of restraint – but there is no guarantee of that.

When his great friend and protector, Dennis McCarty, drowned on March 20th in 1820 under suspicious circumstances James knew an era had come to an end. McCarty, through all his brushes with the law, for all his erratic behavior, had been a source of inspiration to James. McCarty had been the fighting Irishman James wished he was. Somehow he never had it in him to take on the world in quite the same way again – James was content with small victories, incrementally edging his way to the horizon.

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District Constable James Triffitt the Elder had already had a long life, full of adventure. He never thought, in his wildest imaginings, that he would end up on the other side of the world as a policeman, a landowner, a father; he had become a respectable man. For all that, something was gnawing at his bones. He had an itch that needed scratching. Our James Triffitt had not had enough sex.

While the loins still tingled he cast his roving eye for some fresh meat. We would call this a mid-life crisis – but he was probably just a randy old goat.

At fifty-five he still considered himself functional; perfectly capable of years more bonking. It seemed a shame to let the clock run down while there was still life in it. Mary was sisty-six. There was very definitely nothing happening there; Mary and James hadn’t played the two backed beast for quite some time. They’d stayed together dutifully, growing the boys and attending to the business of starting their life again, even marrying – but that 1811 wedding was the last gasp of the relationship; the marriage of both his lads the last straw.

Both woke from their journey of survival to realize that they had arrived. All the sacrifices, all that hard work and occasional graft was beginning to pay off, the boys grown and gone. Mary spent increasing hours alone on the farm while James was away, and James was away a great deal. With only four convicts for company, she became increasingly isolated, began to curdle in a most alarming way. She was sixty and looking a lot older; James was only forty-nine, still comparatively young and healthy and in need of all the pleasures now denied him as Mary turned rancid before his eyes. With no boys to unite them the carefully constructed facade fell away, leaving a shrill older woman fuming alone while her husband went out to play. Eventually the kind of old age she deserved crept up upon her; people left her alone to stew – James just kept away.

By January 1824 he was promised an additional land grant in recognition of his sterling service as a constable and all round jolly fine fellow.

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James was too thick to realize he had a crush, the sensation was completely alien to him. Instead the middle-aged policeman had an epiphany of sorts, the penny finally dropped.

In all his life he’d never been in love.

Mary Higgins hadn’t loved him, nor he Mary. They’d functioned as a unit, a practical solution to a pressing problem, then the years flew by, she got old, the boys grew up and he felt diminished. Time was running out. While the loins still tingled he cast his roving eye for some fresh meat. We would call this a mid-life crisis – but he was probably just a randy old goat.

James was no different from many men heading for the wall. His glory days behind him; he wanted to slam the brakes on and backpedal, turn back time and fall limply into the arms of his distant youth. Only men of a certain age could understand him now, to everybody else he became a ridiculous thing, a blushing, tongue-tied adolescent in the body of a fifty-five year old man. James, for a brief moment in the sun, just didn’t care. Whether this was a mid-life crisis or he was just a randy old goat, James cast his eyes about for excitement, for something new, preferably young and stupid, to pass the time away.

Our hero found what he was missing in the youthful arms of Sophie Daniels.

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Sophie Daniels was just twenty when fifty-six year old James Triffitt took her on – you’d think she’d hardly had time for a story.

Quite the reverse. Sophie had many secrets. For such a little scrubber, she came from very interesting stock. Sophie’s father was Lieutenant William Collins, adventurer, explorer – the Hobart Town Harbor Master and first cousin to David Collins, boss of Tasmania.

Click the links below for chapter and verse on Will’s remarkable adventures.

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Will’s life is quite extraordinary – but, in the telling, rather long.  Not everybody will find him as fascinating as I have – so here’s part of the final, relevant chaper: the accidental conception of Sophia Daniels.

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Harbor Master Will Collins needed an occasional diversion and, to his cost, found it in the warm embrace of a young woman called Mary. She was known as Mary Daniels. Unfortunately, the diversion turned out to be rather more long term.

Will would have had a great deal of trouble procreating children prior to that. He was a citizen of considerable note in Hobart Town at that time; as Harbour Master he was in a position of great importance, so when the mysterious Mary took him in her arms it may well have been a clandestine affair – no easy feat in Van Diemen’s Land at any time, let alone in 1804.

Let’s just remember the size of things. On 25th  February 1804 a muster took place and officials counted one hundred and seventy-eight male prisoners and just nine females – all prisoners or free wives of prisoners – and eight children belonging to the convicts. There were thirty-three Military and civil personnel; eighteen male and female settlers with thirteen children and three visitors. In grand total the population of Sullivans Cove was about two hundred and sixty-two – but in the lengthy and detailed lists of the settlers of Hobart Town up till August 1804, a Miss Daniels does not appear.

[A keen researcher should track Will’s movements in December 1804. Additional research suggests the dirty deed may well have been done in Sydney, on one of his many trips to the ‘Mainland’ – which would explain Mary Daniels’ absence from the Hobart Town records. The more I think of it the more likely it seems.]

Somewhere in mid-December, twelve months to the day since he left Port Philip, ready for history, William also found fate wrapped in the eager thighs of his young lover. One of these encounters produced the seed of his next adventure – fatherhood. That collision of egg and William marks the end of Will’s Great Year. The explorer in him took hold of a single successful sperm and impelled it to its natural conclusion.

This time Will found more than the Cataract Gorge –  he found life itself.

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The Harbor Master was horrified – there was no fatherly twinkle in his gimlet eye.

Will was a man in the prime of his life, doing exactly what he had ever wanted, and more – the last thing he needed in his busy life was a wife and a baby. By the end of his great year he was in his stride, energetically devouring whatever challenge was put in front of him. He was having fun. The privations, the difficulties of life in Hobart Town were a mere blip on his radar, as were most of the people in the Town. He lived in a tiny bubble of privilege inside a community of thieves. He was young, ambitious and acutely aware that a bastard by some ex-convict whore wasn’t part of the game-plan – this was serious; he could see it all going down the drain, his new found status and influence, his new society friends. This wasn’t in the destiny he planned for himself. Will was acutely conscious of every class driven slight, watched himself excluded, keenly felt the subtle tang of privilege when the door to it was slammed in his face. Now, just when he’s leapt the fence, a bitch and a bastard comes along.

With the clear conscience of a young man in a hurry, he disposed of them.

The gentlemanly thing to do was to part with cash, send the expectant mother away, anywhere, just away from here, and agree to provide for the mother and child into eternity. This was achieved with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of dignity – probably with the odd threat thrown in. Speed was of the essence. In a community of five hundred people nothing was private. Using his connections in an intricate mesh of lies Will Collins got rid of pregnant Mary with a wad of money and an honorable agreement to look after the child – provided it was long-distance.

Mary agreed without too much persuasion and fell out of William’s life. She’s one of the ghosts that floats in and out of this story, unknown, unheralded, there just to bear a child and disappear.

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Sophia was born on September 17th, 1805 and baptized at St. Phillips, Sydney, on November 17th that same year.  The infant took on her mother’s surname and grew up in New South Wales. Both parties honored their agreement and not much more was said about the matter. To all intents and purposes Sophia’s father was long gone and never talked about. She may have been dimly aware of someone in Van Diemen’s Land but wouldn’t have much cared. Life was placed in front of her, she put her head down and ate, looking up only to chew her cud with blank, bovine eyes, barely able to connect the seconds. Will Collins never forgot, however, particularly when it came time to write out the cheque, and remained faithful to his part of the deal all his life. Somewhere in New South Wales the Harbour Master’s bastard daughter assumed her adolescence.

Will Collins slipped effortlessly into the marriage he’d always been fated to have, with Charity Hobbs, the youngest sister of James Hobbs R.N.

She was Hobart aristocracy. She was class. These things mattered a lot to Will Collins and he gratefully took her into his heart. Somewhere, some time when it was all too late, he must have told her about Sophia. Let’s hope so, because otherwise it must have been an awful shock when they read his will. William prospered on paper but when push came to shove and he died of cholera, things were not quite as they should be. A great deal of his largesse appeared to be with the bank’s money. Charity and his son were left destitute.

In his original will, dated January 3, 1810, provision was made for his wife Charity Hobbs, his son William Henry and ‘his natural daughter Sophia Collins’ whom he leaves to the care of his wife. If the terms of this will were still in force in 1818 then it’s entirely possible that young Sophie, a blushing young snip of fourteen may well have arrived at the docks, suitcase in hand, to be placed in the bosom of the fractured Collins family.

Stranger things have happened.

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SOPHIE’S MUM is possibly Mary Daniels, sentenced to life in the Essex Assizes on 22 July 1801 who sailed from Cowes on the ‘Experiment’ on 2 January 1804 – one of one hundred and thirty-eight and arrived in Sydney on 24 June 1804. I have the distinct feeling one John Pilmire/Pitcher/Pilcher, a private in the NSW Corp, sailed with her.  They were obviously intimate on the voyage – records show a Belinda PITCHER was born in 1804. A second daughter,  Elizabeth PITCHER  was born in 1807, just before Mary married John Pilmire/Pitcher/Pilcher on 9 August 1807.

If we have the correct Mary she received a convict pardon on 1 December 1809 and a free pardon 25 May 1810 and, it appears, separated from Private Pitcher. Two more children are born in Sydney: Joseph DANIELS sometime in  1814 and Robert DANIELS in 1816. A third – Mary Daniels – was born in Tasmania in 1819.

A John Daniels and his wife moved to Tasmania in 1819 with their children… and a young lady called Sarah Daniels.

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Sophia Daniels first appeared in the Derwent Valley when she met and married James Barnes.

Jimmy Barnes was a bit of a lad. Jim was prone to trouble, had a criminal streak a mile wide. Actually his name wasn’t Barnes at all. It was Holland. He followed in John Holland’s footsteps a little too carefully, and with about the same expertise. Another of the Norfolk Island brats, he was born in 1802 and just five when he left the Island on Christmas Day, 1807. He traveled with his step-father, John Barnes and Martha Edwards to Van Diemen’s Land. Hence the name change. They all, of course, settled in the Derwent Valley.

If his name sounds familiar – it is.

Jim is the older brother of Lizzie Barnes, the girl who broke up the Triffitt household – by now Mrs. James Triffitt Jr., mother of a growing brood.

Once the Barnes boy met the youthful Sophia Daniels he fell for her ample charms in a thrice. She was sweet sixteen when they met. Jimmy proposed three months after her seventeenth birthday  – on the 17th of December 1821 – and six weeks later, on January 31st1822 they were wed.

Of course, it didn’t last long.

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Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser Saturday 1 February 1823.

Sophia did a runner, twelve months after the marriage.

Why did she run? No idea. She was eighteen, he twenty-two – stuff happens – but for such a shocking move, there’s always a compelling reason – and always somewhere else to go. Sophie wouldn’t have bolted over the back fence with no prospects, no protector, nowhere to go – she knew precisely what she was doing and who she was going to do it with.

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Constable James Triffitt came charging to her aid. What a gentleman.

Actually, he was just a randy old goat. After all, both had what the other was craving – not that James’ standards were very high. For him she just had to be nineteen with big breasts and inviting thighs.

She was a bit more discerning. Sophie began to see some advantages in his company; he was a wealthy landowner, a respectable man, a District Constable, he had sheep and wheat and maturity. He could be the father she never had, could take her out of the life she was in, transform her. She grew to like the twinkle in his eye, the boyish smile when he saw her, saw through the vast difference in their ages and settled on the practical path. She didn’t find it such a chore.

James and Sophia fled to the hills.

Both ignored the fact that they were married and proceeded to the bedroom with a great deal of haste and laughter. Sophie, when she put her mind to it, could be sensational sex and knew it, so the younger took the trembling elder in her care, showed him a whole new world of lovemaking that brought a tear to his eye. All those dry years with Mary fell away in an instant and the two of them collided in a startling display of sexual fireworks. Amidst a bout of winter enthusiasm she fell pregnant in September that year.

Mary’s reaction was volcanic. Thomas rushed to her side. She ranged from anger to embarrassment, from laughter to scorn. Twenty! The little bitch was 20! Carrying her husband’s child. Mary hovered there, half-way between humiliation and horror, for quite some time. The news broke at Christmas, always bloody Christmas, as if the Festive season wasn’t grisly enough without this latest little scrubber let loose on the house. None of Mary’s anger was going to stop that bulge in Sophie’s stomach though, nor was it going to take 40 years off her age; Mary was outfoxed, redundant, past her use-by-date and every glimpse she had of Sophie’s smooth unlined cheeks, those perfect round eyes, firm breasts and radiant pregnancy only served to drive the mallet home. She didn’t let on but she was hurting, feeling vulnerable and alone. James was probably just waiting her out, hoping she’d die, but sweet Mary had no intention of doing so. She was going to stay alive just to piss him off.

James had moved on. A switch had been clicked and with complete certainly he knew that he was doing the right thing. He had his second chance, liked how it felt and showed not a care in the world for how Mary felt. He didn’t know it, but he was paying her back for all those loveless years. Little Sophie was a blast of youth, affection, fresh, clean air. He sucked it in with gusto and for the first time in his life felt loved.

The following year in July the first son was born to James Senior and Sophia – Charles

Business prospered. He’s recorded in this year as being a supplier for wheat and maize to the Commissariat Dept, his first son as meat contractor for said Department. Then, in late 1826  Sophia and James’ second child appears – Louisa Matilda Triffitt. Mary may have settled into a state of grudging acceptance. But then again, she may not. Either way, she was on her own. James had headed out of town with his mistress and the kids to settle on 1,300 acres of land on the appropriately titled ‘Emu Bottom Creek’, near Hamilton, on the far outskirts of the settled area of the upper Derwent. This property was called Catrine Vale.

James Snr. Built the present sandstone house.

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Both ignored the fact that they were married and proceeded to the bedroom with a great deal of haste and laughter. All those dry years with Mary fell away in an instant and the two of them collided in a what I hope was a startling display of sexual fireworks.

Two years later James Triffitt was being pilloried for his immoral activities.

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Let’s recall the moral climate of the time. This excerpt from ‘The Fatal Shore’ says it better than I ever could:

When he stepped ashore from the Adrian on May 12th. 1824, Governor George Arthur seemed distant, cold and aloof. His tall frame was stooped; the pallor of his face had not been changed by months at sea. His mouth was thin and compressed, the corners turned down. He rarely smiled in public. In conversation he would fix you with his wide, glaucous, interrogatory grey eyes, and he did not seem to blink as much as other people. He radiated an impression, not of wolfish severity, but of unshakeable and vigilant moral calm. If ever there was an Australian governor who had no trouble distinguishing right from wrong, it was George Arthur…

Arthur’s serenity came from religion… The Calvinist Evangelicism he professed was not a private matter. Arthur had been put on earth to impose his values on others – that was the burden and duty of leadership. He knew human nature was born and steeped in wickedness and could only be redeemed by prostration before Christ… in a complete surrender of faith. All social amusements that stood in the way of the Savior’s work were vain, and to be shunned. He was, as the vernacular of a later Australia would express it, a God-bothering, blue-nosed wowser…

Arthur meant to close all the loopholes in the system of convict punishment and turn the island into an ideal police state where surveillance was constant and total… To enforce this ‘enlightened rigor’ as he called it, Arthur devised an extraordinarily complete system of social control. Van Diemen’s Land was a police state; he made no bones about that. But under Arthur, it also became the closest thing to a totalitarian society.. that would ever exist within the British Empire. Arthur wanted to control his island utterly, settlers as well as convicts. His system was had the logic of his given premise, which was that Van Diemen’s Land was first and foremost a jail, and that any free people who lived there must put up with the inconveniences of a penal society – the galling apparatus of police, spies, travel passes, trade restrictions, a muzzled press and crackdowns on the right of assembly – if they were to enjoy its benefits: – free land grants and cheap assigned labor.

Robert Hughes: The Fatal Shore

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Hobart Town Gazette and Van Diemen’s Land Advertiser Friday 3 June 1825

So, what was it that brought about this chorus of disapproval? THE SECOND FLEET by MICHAEL FLYNN gives us a clue:

Sophia Barnes/Daniels, lived with James Triffitt Snr and they had at least three children; Richard born 1828, Sophia in 1829 and Mary Ann 1831. There was one other child, Charles, born circa 1825; whether he was the son of James Barnes or James Triffitt is uncertain, as no birth or baptism for Charles has been found. His death certificate registered in Victoria states father James Triffin (Triffitt?), mother Sophia Daniels.

Another document shows Charles was born in July 1825 – but, right now I’ve lost the source.  I’ll find it again. I suspect that an eight-month pregnant Sophie may have turned heads.

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