Thomas Davey


Thomas Davey (AOT, PH30/1/640)

Thomas Davey (17581823), Lt-Governor of Van Diemen's Land from 1813 to 1817. The European colony was little more than a camp when Davey arrived, and he was the first administrator of the whole island. He was challenged by the escalation of bushranging, but his requests to Lachlan Macquarie, Governor-in-Chief at Sydney, for increased military protection went unanswered. As a result of the situation, and lacking a criminal court, in 1815 Davey declared martial law. Although technically illegal, it resulted in some order being restored.1

In 1814 he issued a proclamation to treat Aborigines kindly; however, as the expansion of settlement brought the Indigenous inhabitants and colonists into contact, hostilities resulted.2 Escaped convicts and bushrangers ill-treated Aborigines, who in turn tried to gain revenge. Nevertheless, friendship also developed between settlers and Aborigines where the latter felt that the settlers had paid some kind of compensation in the form of provisions for use of the land.3

Contemporary views of Davey were diverse, ranging from his being a drunkard to being kind-hearted.4 He suffered from untrustworthy and incompetent subordinates, and shortages of skilled labour and equipment. The number of convicts was insufficient for the colony, which adversely affected the necessary public building programme and supply of workers for settlers.5 Despite a lack of resources, at the time of Davey's replacement the colony was self-sufficient in beef, mutton and grain, the building of St David's Church and a civil court had commenced, and a wharf had been erected on Hunter's Island. (See also Frontier Conflict.)

Further reading: A Shaw,'Some officials of early Van Diemen's Land', THRAPP 14/4, 1967; ADB 1; L Mickleborough, William Sorell in Van Diemen's Land, Hobart, 2004.

Leonie Mickleborough

Footnotes:
1. Historical Records of Australia 1, viii, pp 47273 Davey to Macquarie 13 March 1815, HRA III, ii p 79 Meeting of Bench of Magistrates 30 August 1814.
2. Hobart Town Gazette, 19 October 1816; M Nichols (ed), The Diary of the Reverend Robert Knopwood 18031838, Hobart, 1962, 27 March 1814, p 171.
3. J Ross, The Settler in Van Diemen's Land. Melbourne, 1975, pp. 8485; L Ryan, The Aboriginal Tasmanians. Brisbane, 1981; revised ed Sydney, 1996, pp 4, 85.
4. HRA 1, vii p 458 Macquarie to Bathurst 22 March 1815; see Knopwood for examples of approval 30 February, 13 March, 11 April, 10 May, 9 June 1814 and 18 January, 20 February, 12 August 1815; C M H Clark, A History of Australia Volume 1 from the earliest times to the age of Macquarie, Carlton, 1962, p 284
5. AOT Reel 6071, p. 151 Macquarie to Davey 18 August 1814 replying to complaints of 25 May and 10, 15 and 17 June 1814.