Skip to content



It’s a scrappy little press-clip, a pissant, scruffy thing – a press-clip that eluded me for years. It should be grander, cleaner – more appropriate – but, like the Triffitt’s, it stayed hidden, a little embarrased that it got something wrong.

It’s the first time in recorded history that we can actually see the words that James spoke. They weren’t his own – clearly the hand of others wrote this grovel – but somehow my missing press-clip conveys the moment – that and an illustrious man’s memoirs. Page ** of The Colonial Times in ** 1811 was hiding in the archives. It knew it was in disgrace. They spelt our James’ name wrong.  Not fair – after all that hard work – his first review, lost in genealogist limbo – misspelt, mislaid and impossible to find.


On the morning of November 11,  1811 James Triffitt stood stiffly in his bedroom as Mary fussed around. 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 but it was the best she could do. She’d been planning for days; ever since word filtered through that Governor Macquarie was coming to town and particularly since her husband had now so visibly risen to the top of the heap. James was chosen, along with Dennis McCarty, Brien Cullen and Abraham Hands, to give an address of welcome to the esteemed gentleman. They’d come a long way…

The whole of the settlement was here for this great event, assembled outside McCarty’s house for the grandest celebration that the district had ever seen, the first time the District had gathered since they’d 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 sailed into town.


The New Norfolk settlers led a vaguely pariah life; forever saddled with their convict past, sneered at, left to live in their own thieves’ colony up there in the Hills. They became insular by isolation. Nothing new there – this was a transplanted community, already parochial, stunted and greedy – life in Back River simply exacerbated the problem. They were all full of shared history, full of shared pain. Many were disappointed by their new life – some just gave up, defeated by the newness and the sheer hard grind – others felt cheated by the experts from Hobart Town, fell  prey to scams, both small and large – no-one was safe from avarice, even amongst their own small band. It was every man and woman for themselves; families turned inward, unable to embrace the commonality of their lives, the community that surrounded them. This wasn’t just an attitude of mind, it was a practicality as well – the sheer effort of getting off their land and into the wider world was just too much for most of them – attitudes hardened, old patterns of behaviour still prevailed.

Consider the expatriate. Even today these pods of ‘civilisation’ exist. Go to New Guinea. Lost souls in tropical limbo, carrying with them the mores of decades ago. These behaviours stay unaltered; expats live in a time warp, not realising that back home things have changed. So it was in Back River: this was – and still is in many ways – a little pod of eighteenth century manners, attitudes unchanged for a century, passed down as holy writ through the generations: this how to behave; this is correct – that is not.

Of course, such strictures only applied to public life; behind the scenes… anything goes.

Only a few really embraced the opportunity; those who did found that, with time, things began to get better. Those who didn’t became trapped in time, produced children who carried their parent’s cross through to the next generation – and the next and the next and… ignorance held sway. The women carped and complained, the men gave up; everybody drank much too much. Starting a new life is never easy – for some the road was just too hard.

The community started to feed upon itself for stimulation. Long held hatreds from Norfolk Island ran through all negotiations – it was a hard and dark place in the early years, a struggle just to get through. Few took the chance to look up from their plough to observe where they were. They didn’t see the forest, they just saw the trees – and in the trees saw houses and warmth, not beauty. These were inward looking people who preferred the company of others like them. No one else could possibly understand. All of them had that single bond. They’d lived through the Island.

Few of them thought about an outside world. They’d become habituated to looking inward, their backs to the ocean, caged in open spaces always with a border they could not cross, always girt by sea. Their minds were geared to punishment and control. Some were brutalized, unable to break free of the cycle of ignorance and violence – some were just brutes to begin with. Some cast off those shackles gladly – but none of them ever really escaped from what, for most, had been a twenty year intrusion into their lives.

The ghosts of Norfolk Island took a long, long time to disappear.



Just three days before her seventeenth birthday, on November 11, 1811, the peach dropped fresh from the tree.

The very nearly Marianne McCarty was to be displayed to the district on the grandest occasion New Norfolk had ever seen – the upcoming Vice Regal visit of Lieutenant Governor Lachlan Macquarie and his wife. What an auspicious occasion – even the calendar aligned.

Down by the river a row boat pulled up and a young woman stepped out.

Anxious arms helped her ashore and she walked briskly up the path, leaving them to carry her bags. Here she is – the fifteen year old princess of New Norfolk, mistress of Dennis McCarty, hostess for the Governor and his party tonight. It was exactly a month till their wedding – the bans had been called. With all the self-assurance of the district diva  Marianne swept into the house and planted a kiss on the sun-burnt cheeks of her husband-to-be. Marianne was on a mission.

To increase the cosmic potential the royal  couple were to stay in McCarty’s house that night – it being the only remotely decent shack in the district.

Nothing could be left to chance. She drilled the servants, dictating their every move in a grand ballet of sycophancy; cleaning, bowing and scraping to prepare their house for the First Couple. Urgent supplies arrived from town, every favor Dennis was ever owed was called upn and, by the eve of the great day, the house was tarted up within an inch of its life.

By two o’clock the whole district lined the banks of the Derwent waiting for something to happen, a great many waving memorials, petitions and favors ready to shove at the great man. Marianne stood on red alert on her verandah looking down the river. At two-thirty she heard a shout from the Government Farm – then, with heart beating, she saw the boat.



It’s difficult to imagine the magnitude of the occasion – or the import of Marianne’s part in it.


No sooner were the vice-regals on dry land they were presented with a line of sweating colonials.

One of them stepped forward and read from a trembling note.

What a grovel. The use of words is instructive:, ‘pledge’, ‘persevere’, ‘honesty’, ’exertion’ ,’ industry’, ‘duty’ – an interesting list of hot topics all to one end – don’t forget us! Feed us! Help!


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, hovered and clucked, 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”.

Neither name stuck.

‘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. 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.’

The First Fall was as far up the ‘Thames’ as river traffic could go. Our Norfolk Islanders were at the farthest edge of civilisation – as far away as they could possibly be. The Falls were about a foot high.

By the time they finished their grand tour it was late. The vice-regals tumbled into McCarty’s bed with a sigh and slept like babies.

Marianne passed the test. She married Dennis one month later.






James remained a constable for years. He enjoyed it, grew accustomed to the added rank and status, took care to continue his cultivation of the chief Constable, hot-blooded Dennis McCarthy. Being a constable was a part time job that took him away when occasion demanded. Constables were paid twenty-five Pounds a year as well as being victualled so it was a smart move. There was always that extra money coming in, and, as a constable, work took him all over the district, down into Hobart, into the courts – James began to know where the bodies were buried. Incrementally his power base widened.

Whether he was a good man at heart is impossible to tell, but he certainly knew how to play the game. This was a tiny community and the elevation in status Constable James Triffitt began to enjoy must have affected his family. Just how James handled his power, whether he resisted the temptations that came with be revealed.

Perhaps he was the only honest policeman in Van Diemen’s Land.

Somehow I doubt it.

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 were Messrs. Job Anthony and Dennis McCarthy but James Jnr. and Thomas were standing there too. Young James was eighteen by now, Tom fifteen. 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 Bobby Knopwood and with due ceremony their partnership was blessed. Then, to top off the day, Charlie Clark, after three years alone, left the ghost of Mary Lammerman behind and remarried.



MARY GAY                                            marries Dennis McCarty  8th Dec 1811

DENNIS McCARTY                              marries Mary Gay/Wainwright 8th Dec. 1811

WILLIAM SCATTERGOOD               marries Jane Gordon 21st Dec. 1811

JANE GORDON                                     marries William Scattergood 21st Dec. 1811

JOHN BERRY                                         marries Abigail Cummins 21st April 1812

ABIGAIL CUMMINS                            marries John Barry 21st April 1812

JAMES TRIFFITT                                 marries Mary Higgins 22nd April 1812

MARY HIGGINS                                   marries James Triffitt 22nd April 1812

CHARLES CLARK                                 marries Catherine Earley 22nd April 1812

CATHERINE EARLEY[Marsden]      marries Charles Clark 22nd April 1812

MATTHEW WOOD                               marries Catherine Lewis/Sponsford 22ndApr. 1812

CATHERINE LEWIS                            marries Matthew Wood 22nd April 1812

THOMAS GAY                                        marries Eleanor Wainwright 24th May 1812

ELEANOR WAINWRIGHT               marries Thomas Gay 24th May 1812

MICHAEL PURDON                            marries Mary Berrisford 8th Sept 1812

MARY BERRISFORD                         marries Michael Purdon 8th Sept. 1812

CONSTANTIA HIBBINS                    marries Augustus Morris in 1813

AUGUSTUS MORRIS                          marries Constantia Hibbins in 1813



Wednesday 27th. Novr. 1811.

At 6 o’clock this morning Mrs. M. and myself, on Horseback, accompanied by the Gentlemen of our Family and Lieut. Gunning, set out from Hobart Town on purpose to visit and inspect the Farms in the District of New Norfolk. —We rode to a Farm called Black Snake Point on the South side of the River about Twelve miles from Hobart Town, where we halted to Breakfast; after which we proceeded on Horseback again to Tea-Tree Point, three miles farther up the River, where we embarked on board of Capt. Murray’s Barge, which we found waiting for us there. —We set out in her at 12 o’clock, and after two Hours and a half’s rowe [sic] up this fine River, we arrived at Mr. Dennis Mc.Carty’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 Farm House, and a hearty rural honest welcome, we took up our residence for this day and Night.

At 1/2 past 3 p.m. Mrs. Macquarie & myself attended by some Gentlemen of our Party, and Mr. Mc.Carty, crossed the River to the South side to visit the Government Farm & Stock-Yard, running along this fine long reach of the River for about three quarters of a mile N.East & S.West. —The Land here is quite clear of Timber and the view from this Farm is beautiful and extensive; having a very pretty Rivulet of Fresh water running at the back of — the Farm being elevated, and running along a fine Ridge between the great River and the Rivulet. —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. c.Carty’s, where we had a most excellent Dinner.—

A great number of the Settlers received us with many Cheers and Huzzas on our first landing at Mc.Carty’s Farm, where they continued drinking, singing, and making Bone-fires the greater part of the Night. —We went in the Boat to see the 1st. Fall after Dinner.—

Thursday 28th. Novr. 1811.

At 1/2 past 5 a.m. we got up, and at 6 o’clock Mrs. M. & myself on Horseback, attended by the Gentlemen of our Party and Mr. Mc.Carty on foot, set out to visit and inspect the several Farms of this District, proceeding first along the Front Line of Farms on the Banks of the River, as far as William Clarke’s Farm, beyond the 2d. Fall, and about 4 1/2 miles  above Mc.Carty’s Farm (which is reckoned Twenty five miles from Hobart Town), and returning by the back Line of Farms to Mc.Carty’s at 10 o’clock to Breakfast. —We were all very highly gratified with our morning’s ride through this beautiful rich and Picturesque Country; the Soil of the Farms in general is excellent and there is at present every appearance of a plentiful and abundant Harvest; but the Houses of the Settlers are mean and badly built, and themselves miserably clothed.

Macquarie’s Journals: Mitchell Library

%d bloggers like this: