From Bantry Bay To Recherche Bay: The Carews Of Garrivoe * Return to John Popjoy

by Joan A. Carew Richardson

...When Ensign William-Marcus [Carew] resumed his active career on the 7th April 1825 he was posted to the 63rd (West Suffolk) Regiment of Foot. He was made a lieutenant on the 16th November 1826 and within a year or two his regiment was sent to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).

In January 1829 Lieutenant Carew was serving at the port of New Norfolk on the fast flowing River Derwent some forty kilometres upstream from the capital Hobart Town. It was a centre of shipbuilding for the colonial authority and Carew was soon supervising the construction of a vessel by mostly convict labourers. His capabilities did not impress Burnett, the Colonial Agent, who eventually reported his misgivings to Governor George Arthur. The Governor was concerned, but not altogether convinced that it was necessary to replace Carew. He wrote back to Burnett enquiring, "Can any one fact be brought home to show that Mr. Carew is not to be trusted with the authority; ...I have not distinctly apprehended any fact that goes to the extent to show that he is not to be trusted." (4) Burnett replied on the 20th June, "I certainly can adduce no fact to prove that Mr. Carew is an improper person to be appointed though I am as fully satisfied in my own mind that he is so, as I am that the work which he is superintending at the Galley has been materially retarded and impeded, by his having the directions of it... I am satisfied that the removal of Mr. Carew would be a far greater saving than the amount of his salary." (5)

Carew was removed from New Norfolk and posted to Hobart Town where preparations were under way to transport a party of hardened criminals to the penal settlement at Macquarie Harbour on the desolate west coast of Van Diemen's Land. On the 18th July 1829 thirty-three prisoners were embarked on the Colonial Government brig Cyprus, a newly completed fifty ton vessel. (6) A detachment of ten soldiers from the 63rd Regiment, who were to guard the prisoners, were under the command of Lieutenant Carew who was accompanied by his wife Eliza and their children Robert-Russell and Philippa-Maria. There were a few other females aboard, mostly soldiers' wives, but the number may have included twenty-seven year old Eliza Morris from Reading, who was serving a fourteen year sentence and had been assigned to the Carew family to act as nursemaid. (7) In addition to the Master and crew the Cyprus was carrying Doctor Walter Willliams, who was to become Surgeon at Macquarie Harbour. The vessel was not only loaded with supplies for its return voyage, but was also transporting all that was needed to support the penitentiary for several months.

The Cyprus left Hobart Town in late July, midwinter in the southern hemisphere, proceeding south through the D'Entrecasteaux Channel which is shielded from the open sea by the elongated Bruny Island. On reaching Recherche Bay, beyond the southernmost part of the channel, she was delayed for several days by bad weather. The Cyprus then "drove from her anchors" in a storm (8) and was obliged to return to Hobart Town for repairs. At the second attempt she got as far as Recherche Bay only to be delayed again by the weather, but this time it was due to the lack of a suitable wind. On the afternoon of the 14th August, Lieutenant Carew, accompanied by Surgeon Williams, John Burn the Mate of the Cyprus, a prisoner named John Popjoy, and one soldier, set off in a small boat ostensibly to fish. Carew was later to claim that the real purpose of the trip was to question Popjoy on the mood of the prisoners. It was a calm afternoon; Mrs Carew took tea with the Master in his cabin and most of the soldiers and prisoners were below deck. Two armed sentries and one unarmed soldier were on deck guarding nine of the prisoners who were taking the air. This number exceeded that permitted by regulations (9) and some of the prisoners are believed to have been freed of their shackles, perhaps by sympathetic crew members, some of whom were ticket of leave men.

A few of the nine caused a sudden commotion. The two sentries put up a spirited resistance but were quickly overpowered and their muskets seized. Soldiers below deck fired upwards through the hatchways until the covers were slammed down and heavy weights dragged over them. One of the shots caused a mutineer to lose his coat sleeve, but failed to inflict any further damage. Those trapped below were now in danger of suffocation; the threat to pour pitch and water down the hatches brought about a complete surrender. The action had lasted less than ten minutes; no one had been killed, but the Master was severely beaten up for offering resistance and one of the sentries sustained four cuts to his head.

Lieutenant Carew, on hearing the shots, took it to be a signal for his party to return. On drawing alongside he found muskets trained upon him and the mutineers in control of the Cyprus. Vainly he pleaded with them promising to forget the whole episode if they surrendered. When he tried to board the vessel a musket was thrust in his chest. At last his wife and two children were allowed to join him and they were rowed ashore, the other small boat belonging to the Cyprus being used as an armed escort. Return trips were made until all the women and children, the soldiers, almost all the crew, plus thirteen prisoners who refused to join in the mutiny, were deposited at five points along the shore of Recherche Bay. Supplies of food (including at least one slaughtered sheep) and drink were landed, but no more than would sustain the forty-five abandoned persons for about a week. Admittedly the mutineers were not aware of the extent of the cargo on board and their main concern would be to ensure they had sufficient for a long voyage. Next morning when the wind rose, away sailed the Cyprus; she was out of sight in two hours.

Recherche Bay affords little shelter. Low promontories at the northern and southern extremities give some protection, but most of the six kilometres of shore is flat and featureless. A stream, stained dark brown from the resin of hardwood trees, flows across the beach at the mid-way point, now named Catamaran. Beyond the beach lie sand dunes and beyond these lies impenetrable forest. The dunes are infested with snakes, but these are not likely to have been active in the cold season. Apart from shellfish the castaways found little to supplement their meagre rations. The trees yield nothing edible and whilst aborigines could find sustenance from roots and berries, and knew how to trap seabirds, rich in oily meat for both food and fuel, the Europeans lacked such skills. There was no elevated ground to give a view of the terrain. Climbing a tall tree was as good as useless. The forest is full of giant trees; the only view from the top would be the tree canopy. There was little hope of signalling a passing vessel and weeks would elapse before either Hobart Town or Macquarie Harbour became anxious.

The resourceful Popjoy volunteered to set off northwards to seek help. Another man went with him, but they were defeated by hostile aborigines and the enormous width of the fast flowing Huon River. They returned to the camp at Recherche Bay five days later, naked and weary. Undeterred by this, five prisoners, having no more than seven pounds of food between them, set off in hope of reaching Hobart Town. Meanwhile one of the ship's crew, Morgan, began to fashion a coracle from interlaced wattles and pieces of wood. Canvas from two hammocks helped to cover the wattle and to make rowlocks for the paddles. Mrs Carew supplied needles and thread and helped with the sewing. The craft was waterproofed with a mixture of boiled soap and resin.

The twelve foot craft was crewed by Morgan and the irrepressible Popjoy, who had navigational experience. They left in a strong breeze from the south-west, but when the weather deteriorated overnight, those left at the camp feared the frail vessel was lost. Supplies of biscuit had now been exhausted and the castaways were surviving on soup made from any fish and mussels they could find, augmented by the last scraps of mutton and thickened with flour. They had become skilful at fashioning windbreaks and rough shelters from branches, but they were all suffering from exposure. Two days after Morgan and Popjoy set sail they reached Partridge Island, some twenty miles from Recherche Bay, where the government ships Orelia and Georgiana were lying becalmed offshore; the latter was en route to India. Morgan and Popjoy and the coracle were put aboard a vessel bound for Hobart Town and the sloop Opossum was immediately despatched to rescue those at Recherche Bay. The castaways had eventually resorted to roasting a dog and had then been without any food for the final forty-eight hours of their two-week ordeal. The convicts trying to reach Hobart Town on foot were discovered ten days later by the men of a timber-felling gang. The five, then close to starvation, had followed the Huon River far inland still seeking a crossing point.

The Hobart Town Courier published every Saturday, reported on 5th September 1829 that the Opossum had landed forty persons from Recherche Bay on Monday. "The conduct of Mrs Carew has been described to us as most courageous..." Henry Melville, then editor of the Colonial Times wrote: "Mrs Carew would not come on shore until after dusk." (10) Hardly surprising after two weeks without clean clothes. Next Saturday's edition of the Hobart Town Courier gave a sketch of the coracle surrounded by a small group of persons, one of whom was said to be Mrs Carew.

Eliza Carew was rightly hailed as the heroine of the hour, but her husband's part in the adventure was shrouded in silence. The Courier received several anonymous letters which it declined to publish, but the 19th September edition told its subscribers, "We beg to explain a mistake which some of our readers might fall into from the little graphic attempt in our last. They might perhaps be led to suppose that Lieutenant Carew did not take an active part in rescuing the crew and passengers from their perilous condition; whereas his conduct throughout, as we learn, was most exemplary, not only giving his commands in the most encouraging and cheerful manner, but taking a most active part himself in the exertions necessary to preserve his little party from destruction."

The personal file for Lieutenant William-Marcus Carew in the Tasmanian Archives Office at Hobart lists his recall to Headquarters on the 29th August 1829, the day after his rescue from Recherche Bay, by reason of misconduct. Governor Arthur made a full report of the incident to London (11) on the 11th September adding. "I am exceedingly concerned to state my belief that this disastrous occurrence is mainly to be attributed to want of caution in the Officer who commanded the Guard, Lieutenant Carew of the 63rd Regiment into whose conduct I have instituted an inquiry, and I apprehend it will be my imperative duty to bring him to trial before a General Court Martial."

Arthur thought it likely that the eighteen convicts aboard the Cyprus would sail for New Zealand. He had already intimated this to the officer commanding the Royal Navy at Port Arthur in the hope that the vessel would be intercepted...

The very first news of the Cyprus incident to reach London appeared in The Times on the 20th February 1830. It was a long report from the Lloyd's agent at Hobart Town, dated 12th September 1829, in which he declared, "I have also seen the coracle described, and should think that no man would venture to cross the Thames in it unless to avoid instant death." Governor Arthur's despatch, written the day before, doubtless reached London at the same time...

John Popjoy gained a free pardon for his several acts of bravery during the Cyprus incident and returned to England. The Court Martial evidence, however, had revealed him to be an informer which could bode ill for his future safety. In the autumn of 1830 Popjoy was in trouble for assaulting a gentleman disinclined to welcome him as a potential son-in-law. Popjoy was tried in a London court where he told the story of his being a castaway, pleading his sufferings in mitigation for the trouble he was now in. The magistrate and all present listened in apparent fascination to Popjoy's narrative. An astute court official, who had studied the Hue and Cry, began to wonder if the trickle of seamen reaching London in suspicious circumstances was connected with the capture of the Cyprus.

It so happened that the gaoler from Hobart Town, Mr Capon, was also in London for the trial of Ikey Solomon (believed to be the person on whom Dickens's character Fagin was based) who had escaped from London in 1827, turning up in Van Diemen's Land a year later. Mr Capon and Popjoy were both able to recognise and name the seamen and so the fate of the Cyprus was sealed.

There were nineteen men aboard the brig when she sailed away from Recherche Bay on the 15th August 1829. All but one of them were prisoners, the other being a member of the crew persuaded to help them. One of the prisoners, William Swallow, possessed considerable sea-going experiences and a criminal record spanning twenty years. He had been found guilty of hijacking a schooner in 1810 (15) and was sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen's Land. The ship bearing him hence, the Deveron, was crippled in a storm. None of the crew was willing to go aloft to cut out the torn rigging and the Master was about to attempt the task himself, when Swallow volunteered. On reaching Van Diemen's Land the grateful crew smuggled him back on board. Swallow escaped to South America, playing cat and mouse with the British authorities for some years until he was recaptured and again despatched to Van Diemen's Land. He was one of the ring-leaders of the Cyprus mutiny, being desperate to avoid incarceration at Macquarie Harbour, from which there was little hope of escape.

Swallow set course for the Friendly Islands without, so far as it is known, any adequate navigational charts. He avoided ports where there might be British vessels or officials watching for the lost brig, making no landing before reaching the island of Niue. (16) Most of the inhabitants were equal to their reputation for friendliness and half a dozen of the mutineers elected to remain there, each with a dusky maiden. Another man disappeared and it was feared that he had either drowned or ended up in a cooking pot.

Swallow wanted to sail to Japan which had isolated itself from the rest of the world, thus making recapture less likely. Most of the others favoured getting to China, for they were hopeful of returning to England under assumed identities. They landed at small Pacific islands occasionally in the hope of getting fresh water; these landings afforded the opportunity for more men to desert (they were recaptured, as was one of the men left at Niue, and all were tried and sentenced at Hobart Town), while another was killed by a spear in his back. When the Cyprus eventually reached a Japanese fishing port she was persuaded to leave by cannon fire from a coast fort.

Six months after sailing from Recherche Bay the now leakingCyprus, with scarcely more than a handful of men on board, came in sight of the Chinese port of Whampoa at the mouth of the Pearl River. Some of the men bribed a passing junk to take them ashore, leaving Swallow and the rest to launch the jolly-boat, for the Cyprus was now sinking. Swallow concocted a story that they were survivors from a British vessel named the Edward of which he was the captain. The name 'Edward' and the port 'London' were duly painted on the jolly-boat and Swallow went ashore in his new identity of Captain Waldron.

His story was accepted and he and three of his crewmen - Watts, Beveridge and Stevenson - all using aliases, signed on as crew aboard the Charles Grant, about to leave for England via Cape Horn. Three more of the mutineers joined a Danish barque bound for Europe via Cape Horn; they eluded recapture by the British. Left at Whampoa was George James Davis, who hid himself until another British vessel arrived. She was the Kellie Castle, an East Indiaman. Davis sought a berth, but the Captain first consulted the British representatives at Whampoa who then examined Davis. He told the story that he was a survivor from the Edward, but he had forgotten that her imaginary Captain was named Waldron. As the questioning progressed, Davis's account became more suspect. He was put aboard the Kellie Castle as a prisoner to be handed over to the Thames Police on arrival in London. A list of names or aliases used by the others who purported to be from the Edward, plus the jolly-boat bearing that name, were conveyed as evidence.

When the Charles Grant lay off Margate, waiting for a tide to enable her to enter the Thames, William Swallow alias Captain Waldron went ashore in the pilot boat and made his way home to his wife. She, no doubt thinking him dead, had married one named Flock. (17)

On the 13th October 1830 Davis, Watts, Stevenson and Beveridge made their second appearance at the Thames Street Police Office. This time they were charged with being concerned in the seizure of the Cyprus. (18) Thomas Capon, Esq., affirmed that all four were convicts despatched from Hobart Town gaol aboard that vessel. John Popjoy stated that all four were armed on the day of the mutiny. Three members of the crew of the Charles Grant described the events at Whampoa. The jolly-boat brought to London by the Kellie Castle and now moored off the Police Office, was inspected by Popjoy who identified it as the one belonging to the Cyprus. Witnesses from the Charles Grant alleged that Watts had more than once worn women's stockings during the voyage and had sold other items of female apparel to crew members. It was suspected that these were the property of Lieutenant Carew's wife. A soldier's shirt, sold by another of the prisoners to a crew member, was displayed in court. Popjoy believed that it belonged to one of the guards aboard the Cyprus.

No defence was offered and the four were committed for trial at the next Admiralty sessions. An announcement was made to the effect that efforts were being made to apprehend Captain Waldron, whom the authorities were certain was a convict named Swallow. Two days later he was arrested, Mr Flock having obligingly revealed his whereabouts. Swallow was brought before the lower court and gave a full account of the Cyprus story, maintaining that the mutineers had forced him to sail the vessel for them, and claiming that he had spent the ensuing six months in fear of his life.

All five prisoners appeared before the Admiralty Court on the 4th November. The jury deliberated for two hours before reporting that they found Davis, Watts, Stevenson and Beveridge guilty. They were not, however, convinced that Swallow was a willing participant. The Court acquitted Swallow, but did not free him because he had illegally returned from transportation. The four others were condemned to death.

This had been the first trial for piracy since that of Captain Kidd in 1700. (19) It caused a major sensation and mounted officers were needed to control the crowd when the verdicts were known. The public felt that there had been a miscarriage of justice; petitions were made to the Prime Minister, to Queen Adelaide and to government departments. The Lord Mayor of London became involved and there was a re-enactment of the Cyprus story on the London stage.

The Times for the 14th December 1830 announced that the government was investigating further evidence proffered by Popjoy concerning "someone more guilty than those already sentenced". This may have been a ploy on Popjoy's part to delay the executions. If so it was only partially successful, for Davis and Watts were hanged at Newgate on the 16th December. The sentences of Stevenson and Beveridge were commuted to transportation for life; the two of them and Swallow, ultimately arrived at Macquarie Harbour.

This notorious penitentiary was closed down in 1834. There had been press criticism of its harsh regime from before the Cyprus was seized...

...When the settlement was on the point of closure another government brig, the newly built Frederick, was hijacked whilst riding at anchor waiting for a sufficient tide to enable her to cross the bar. The three survivors from the Cyprus were not involved, having already been transferred to Port Arthur; Swallow died there of tuberculosis in 1834. (20)

Popjoy came to an untimely end. One reliable source (21) reported that "he was lost off the coast of Boulogne", but a more recent commentator observes that "his death was suitably arranged by the London underworld". (22) It is quite possible, however, for both statements to be correct.

The Cyprus incident became a celebrated part of the history of penal time in Australia and Tasmania (not an Australian state until 1901). The more the colonial authorities tried to suppress the story, the more often it was retold. A ballad written by Frank Macnamara (Frank the Poet) who was transported for forgery in the 1820s (23) was proscribed but is still in oral circulation on the island 130 years later... (24)


(*) This is taken from Joan's two-part article, 'The Carews of Garrivoe' in the Journal of One-Name Studies,Vol. 5 Nos. 2 and 3. Back to text

(4) CS) 1/901/19147 Private (undated) Memorandum from Governor George Arthur to Colonial Agent J. Burnett. Tasmanian Archives Office, Hobart. Back to text

(5) Ibid. J. Burnett to Governor Arthur dated 20 June 1829. Back to text

(6) Her tonnage is shown in a Ms volume in the museum at Port Arthur, Tasmania. Coulton Smith in Tales of Old Tasmania, 1978, p.92, avers she was a brig of 108 tonnes. Back to text

(7) Hobart Town Gazette, Saturday, January 2nd 1830. Back to text

(8) The Penal Settlements of Van Diemen's Land, Thomas James Lempriere circa 1834-42, reproduced by Royal Society of Tasmania (North Branch, 1954, pp. 15-21. Back to text

(9) The History of Tasmania, John West, first published 1852. New edition 1971, published by Angus & Robertson of Sydney, pp. 425-26. (The Reverend John West was editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, 1854-1873). Back to text

(10) The History of Van Diemen's Land 1824-1835 during the Administration of Governor George Arthur, by Henry Melville, edited by George Mackaness, published by Horowitz-Graham, Sydney, 1965. Back to text

(11) G.O. 33/6/ pp.352-54 Duplicate of Dispatch No. 55 Van Diemen's Land 11 September 1829, Lieutenant Governor Arthur to The Right Honourable Sir George Murray, G.C.B. Tasmanian Archives Office, Hobart. Back to text

(15) The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes, Pan Books, 1988, p.215. Back to text

(16) Tales of Old Tasmania, Coultman Smith, 1978, pp. 92-100. Back to text

(17) The Times, Monday, 18th October, p. 3. Back to text

(18) Ibid. Thursday, 14th October 1830. Back to text

(19) As (16) above. Back to text

(20) A History of Tasmania, Dr Lloyd Robson, OUP Melbourne, 1983, p.150. Back to text

(21) The editorial notes by A.G.L. Shaw to the 1971 edition of 9 above. See his Section xiii, p.196. Back to text

(22) As (16) above. Back to text

(23) True Patriots All, G.C. Ingleton, Sydney, 1952, pp.127-29. Back to text

(24) As (20) above. Top of page