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'The Axe Had Never Sounded'

'The Axe Had Never Sounded': Place, people and heritage of Recherche Bay, Tasmania OPEN ACCESS

John Mulvaney
Volume: 14
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hb76
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  • Book Info
    'The Axe Had Never Sounded'
    Book Description:

    'This book meets well the triple promise of the title - the inter-connections of place, people and heritage. John Mulvaney brings to this work a deep knowledge of the history, ethnography and archaeology of Tasmania. He presents a comprehensive account of the area's history over the 200 years since French naval expeditions first charted its coastlines. The important records the French officers and scientists left of encounters with Aboriginal groups are discussed in detail, set in the wider ethnographic context and compared with those of later expeditions. 'The topical issues of understanding the importance of Recherche Bay as a cultural landscape and its protection and future management inform the book. Readers will be challenged to consider the connections between people and place, and how these may constitute significant national heritage.' Professor Isabel McBryde, AO, FRAI, FAHA, FSA The Australian National University

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-21-9
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Foreword (pp. xi-xvi)
    Senator Bob Brown

    Recherche Bay, at the southern tip of Tasmania, combines exquisite natural beauty with a rich, exciting human history.

    In 1792, French Vice-Admiral Bruny d′Entrecasteaux brought his two ships Recherche and Espérance to anchor in the bay. ′It will be difficult to describe my feelings at the sight of the solitary harbour situated at the extremes of the world, so perfectly enclosed that one feels separated from the rest of the universe,′ he wrote.

    After their storm-tossed journey from Brest via Cape Town, the ships and the 219 seamen, officers and scientists aboard recovered from scurvy and distemper at Recherche Bay....

  2. Introduction (pp. xvii-xx)

    This is a tale of two conflicting interests over a cultural landscape, between heritage conservation and political and economic expediency. Belatedly it had a happy ending. It reflects my personal involvement in heritage issues across the years, so my opinions may seem unduly on the side of heritage. For this I make no apology.

    Few Australians could locate Recherche Bay on a map, while pronouncing the place ′research′. Until recently, fewer still were aware of the significant role played by French navigators in charting Australian coasts. French activities have been better appreciated since commemorative celebrations for bicentenaries of their voyaging,...

  3. La Pérouse should have sailed home to France during 1789. Despite overriding current political and revolutionary preoccupations, his absence rated highly in the national consciousness. Presumably rivalry with England over issues of global discovery and annexation, combined with trading prospects in the new lands were all factors in the situation. In this era of discovery the Société d′Histoire Naturelle was also concerned for the safety of scientific collections made by La Pérouse. The thrill and importance of new discoveries proved an incentive to the scientific vitality of the Société, just as London′s Royal Society was stimulated by Cook, Bligh and...

  4. With an easterly breeze facilitating their departure from Brest, the frigates sailed on 21 September 1791. There was immediate excitement aboard Recherche, when three stowaways caused d′Entrecasteaux to order a return to shore. They were unlucky. Three further stowaways emerged too late to be offloaded, so they joined the crew.

    The vessels reached Cape Town 15 weeks out of Brest. Sailing again from Cape Town on 16 February 1792, they acquired two further stowaways.¹ 66 days later they concluded that Adventure Bay was near. English seafarers including James Cook and William Bligh favoured the shelter of Adventure Bay, on Bruny...

  5. When the naturalists disembarked and commenced exploration it proved a welcome relief. ′It is difficult to express the sensations we felt,′ Labillardière exclaimed romantically, ′at finding ourselves at length sheltered in this solitary harbour at the extremity of the globe.′¹ His English contemporary, William Wordsworth, would have been in sympathy: ′On Man, on Nature and on Human Life, Musing in Solitude.′

    Although French orders were to deal humanely with indigenous peoples, at their initial landing nobody knew what reception they might receive from the unknown and unseen inhabitants. Consequently, each naturalist entered the peninsula′s forest warily and well armed. They...

  6. During the eighteenth century, the Linnaean classification of flora enabled botany to be systematised and provided with a global reference. Linnaean taxonomy and nomenclature expedited the reduction of plants to specimens, numbers and names. Once a specimen was so identified, it represented that plant type no matter where it was found. In the heart of Paris, the Jardin du Roi was a central powerhouse for organising research which could benefit both science and the nation. Closely allied with the navy, its botanists encouraged the collection of plants from overseas.

    Global botany and the economic utilisation of newly found plants became...

  7. The dominant British orientation in the teaching of Australian history and science, together with the iconic status of James Cook and Matthew Flinders, has hampered the recognition of foreign contributions, none moreso than that of the d′Entrecasteaux expedition. This neglect was assisted by the deaths en route of the commander and prominent officers, the contemporary Napoleonic wars and the delayed publication of the journal of d′Entrecasteaux compiled and edited by Rossel in 1808, but never translated into English until 2001. Contrast this with Labillardière, whose account was twice published in English translation during 1800.

    The recent Australian-based publications on the...

  8. For all Australians the expedition′s most significant consequence involved their contact with Tasmanian people. Although this was delayed until 1793, it represented the longest and most intensive racial contact until that time. Previous British meetings at Adventure Bay on Bruny Island did not result in such detailed ethnography or racial interaction.¹ Because most of the contact occurred on the north-eastern peninsula and north to Southport Lagoon, these occasions of mutually friendly interaction provide a prime criterion for the area′s National Heritage listing. The evidence offered by the several French observers, combined with the area′s archaeological potential, provide contemporary Aboriginal Tasmanians...

  9. When Labillardière and other savants disembarked at Recherche Bay for the second time, the date was 24 January 1793. The frigates were anchored in Rocky Bay, unknown to the British at Sydney. In two days time Sydney Cove would celebrate five years of occupation. The prompt publication and English translation of Labillardière′s account in 1800 made an important contribution towards humanising the Tasmanians. Unfortunately that information and the sympathetic attempt at cross-cultural understanding exerted no influence upon Risdon Cove′s settlers in 1803. Ironically, that settlement was largely made because of unnecessary concern for French territorial intentions following the d′Entrecasteaux and...

  10. When an archaeologist contemplates the accounts by the diarists during their two visits to Recherche Bay, his or her eyes should light up, just as the Tasmanians′ must have done upon receipt of their gifts. The area around Recherche Bay, particularly the north-east peninsula and the Cockle Creek area, offer great opportunities to document both the French occupation and the racial encounter.

    The possibilities for excavating the French presence are obvious. Investigations should cover the area of the observatory and the industrial activities near Bennetts Point during 1792. Action should also be directed to the Cockle Creek occupation in 1793....

  11. The d′Entrecasteaux expedition proved almost as forlorn a venture as that of La Pérouse, whom they failed to find. Following their Tasmanian departure in 1793 they sailed within 60 kilometres of Vanikoro where La Pérouse was wrecked, but continued on through the Solomon Islands. Previously, off New Caledonia on 6 May 1793, the tubercular Huon de Kermadec died, ostensibly from fever.

    Worse followed on 19 July, when d′Entrecasteaux died from scurvy and related complications. As the senior officer, d′Auribeau took command as they approached eastern Indonesian waters. Rossel commanded l′Espérance. In a tribute to the significant role of d′Entrecasteaux, Edward...

  12. It must be concluded from consulting historical sources that, until recent years, the d′Entrecasteaux expedition caused few ripples in Australian historical waters. Nicolas Baudin′s comparable two-vessel exploration from 1800 to 1804 fared little better, although he was fortunate to meet the Australian exploration icon, Matthew Flinders, in Encounter Bay, which helped sustain his memorable status in Australian history. D′Entrecasteaux largely sank from British public memory as Long′s two lines in his Stories of Australian exploration (1903) bear witness: ′He cruised in Australian waters for more than a year, till he died in 1793.′¹

    Baudin benefited from a resurgence of interest...

  13. While the spectacular environs of Recherche Bay conceal secrets of pre-European Tasmanian existence and symbolise their sociable racial interaction with the first European visitors, its significance does not end in 1793. Across the past two centuries the history and archaeology of this remote place comprises a palimpsest of diverse European endeavours. Developing and decaying as they did, such pioneering industrial initiatives and associated social conditions provide thought-provoking testimony and material traces for all Australians. This constitutes a truly cultural landscape of national status to cherish and preserve. It offers a rich resource for cultural tourism that could sustain an industry...

  14. Lady Jane Franklin was one of Australia′s most enterprising wives of colonial governors. She was energetic, incurably inquisitive and had faith in improving people through industry and education. In 1838 she purchased 1280 acres of virgin forestland on the western bank of the Huon River, naming it Huon Fernlands (Franklin today). Her vision was to convert it into a settlement of free tenant farmers who would strive to purchase the land. Sea and river transport were essential to supply the settlers, so she arranged for a boat to be constructed for £300. It was built at Port Davey from Huon...

  15. A thriving sawmilling industry existed at two centres around the bay by 1900. The steam-driven mill continued at Waterhole Cove until 1868. Then the industry faltered until 1884, when large sawmills were established by the Catamaran River and at Leprena on the western side of the northern bay. By 1900 the population living there exceeded 100 at each centre. It was around the turn of the century that coal mining also offered employment, and an active industrial period followed for a few years. The seams of coal proved limited or uneconomic. As trees were felled, their distance from the sawmill...

  16. Australians came late to the realisation that their natural environment and the historical imprint of past generations upon the landscape were valued possessions to treasure. Such features comprised not only material traces, such as forests, geological monuments, buildings, ruins or archaeological sites, but also intangibles associated with past persons or events, symbolic of ideas, memory or spirituality.

    Such intangible or non-material factors present alternative considerations, additional to potential economic development or that overworked catch-cry of ′jobs′. When carefully assessed, these valued places may provide different opportunities for employment or development, such as tourism. Even when they cannot, once-off economic investment...

  17. Under the new Heritage legislation nominations are invited for places to gain National Heritage status. Following evaluation by the Heritage Council, its advice is given to the minister. During the first week that the Act came into force, February 2004, I nominated the north-eastern peninsula of Recherche Bay. This was the main area of contact between the French and the Tasmanians, the collecting ground for flora, the location of the vegetable garden and scene of the geomagnetic observations. It also was the area likely to be destroyed. While the entire harbour has heritage values and merits listing, greater research was...