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The Story of John Petchey  1792 -1850 (Final Chapter)

Enterprise Years

John Petchey was an industrious and enterprising man and became the first true entrpeneur of Tasmania. Between 1819 and 1848 he acquire at least 2000 acres of land rearing thousands of sheep and cattle. He was a merchant supplying firewood to the gaol and the military. He partnered up with an older, fellow convict, William Wood originally from Maidstone in Kent and built a first class hotel, similar to the one below supplying it with beer from his own brewery. Probably his most ambitious project though was the manufacturing of tanning.

In the area that is now called Petchey's Bay there grew timber whose bark could be processed into tanning. Tanning is a dark brown liquid used for dying leather. John and William produced 100 tons of tanning which they planned to export to England. They were awarded a prestigious medal for the process of making this tanning. In 1824 John and his wife Mary sailed back to England on board the mechant ship Guildford to sell this tanning. Unfortunately they could not sell it because the colour was too dark for the fashion of the day. Eventually they sold it to a buyer in Liverpool.

But the voyage to England was not entirely a disaster because John and his wife Mary were able to bring to Hobart William's family he had left behind. Unfortunately there is no information about John meeting up with his family that he had left behind, that must be left to the imagination.


But one thing this ex-Essex farm labourer really got to love was ships and boats. He and his family lived near Kangaroo Point which is now in Bellerieve. Before any bridges were built ferries were the only way across the River Derwent and John operated the ferries. He had three rigged boats and a whale boat. He also established boat yards there employing a master boat builder whose name was Samuel Johnson. The picture below is of one of his actual boats, a cutter called the Royal William. This 42 ton sailing ship operated between Hobart and Southern Australia and New Zealand.

As well as ferries he also had whale boats with three shore stations in Recherche Bay. However John's greatest triumph was the launching of a 3 masted square rigged sailing ship called a barque (357 tons) in October 1838. It was named the Sir George Arthur after the governor of Tasmania and in 1839 John and Mary Petchey sailed back to old England round Cape Horn on this their very own ship where they had it's hull coppered. But there was no temptaion to stay, Hobart was their home where they had truly prospered from rags to riches arriving in the Derwent on 10 May 1840, the ship carrying two guns and a crew of 19 men.


Family Tragedies

But while John's business enterprises went from strength to strength, most of his children died very young. His wife Mary had 11 children in 24 years but it appears that only one, Sarah

Ann, born 5th August 1819, lived a full life, marrying a Professor of Music, William Wilkins Russell on the 6th of March 1838. Also, Mary, his devoted wife, sadly died of breast cancer on 15th February 1843.


John's enterprises did much to establish civilisation in that remote corner of the world. He was a man, who like us all, had his faults and failings. Although he usually kept the governor's happy it is on record that he had brushes with the law because at least once he was caught giving employment on one of his boats to an escaped convict or two.


Although John remarried soon after Mary died, his life was soon to come to a tragic end. So we must now come to that sad part of our story. On the 3rd of December 1850 he took part in the annual Hobart Regatta on the River Derwent. (Remember December would be summer down there). Sadly, while he was racing his sailing boat it capsized and he drowned.


There was an inquest into the tragedy which was reported in all the local papers where questions were asked why no one had stopped to rescue him. It was a sad, tragic ending to 'Handsome John'.


So I hope you enjoyed this story of one of your very own ancestors, who knows what we may find out next!

ship-inn-hobart sml
Royal William

Rebels Lane

Adventures of the Mind

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