The VDL Company and the Forth

James Hay and his family arrived as indentured servants of the V.D.L. Co. aboard the Forth which sailed 10 June 1833.1 There was already a James Hay living in Launceston in the early 1830's. That individual applied for a second class allotment on 1 September 1831, stating he intended to build a windmill to benefit the town of Launceston. He was a miller by trade so the offer wasn't purely altruistic. 2 The nominated occupation confirms that this was not the James Hay who would arrive aboard the Forth in 1833, although it was common for potential settlers to submit applications for land grants prior to their arrival so it was a possibility this was one and the same person. "The Forth [was] a barque of 369 tons ... captained by James Robertson...[the ship was on it's second voyage to Tasmania and] arrived Circular Head 13 November 1833 to land 27 passengers... The Barque [had] arrived in Launceston for the usual customs clearance."3

The Van Diemen's Land Company was created in 1825 by Royal Charter with the expectation of "cheap land, cheap labour and a large reserve of capital."4 When the number of available convicts fell short of expected they were forced to look further afield for their labour force. Men such as James Hay were recruited from largely rural and agricultural areas like Norfolk and Aberdeen. One of the passengers aboard the Forth was Philip Oakden, and Oakden's later descendants commissioned a book to be written about their ancestor which includes a summary of his diary and what it must have been like on the journey-

The journal of the voyage is inevitably full of weather and wind comments as well as sightings of porpoises, dolphins and whales. Sheep and pigs were killed for meat, though the monotony of the mutton made Phillip complain. One pig which was killed, had already travelled from Van Diemen's Land to England and was now on its return voyage, before losing its life to the cooking pot. Another little animal, a brown, wire haired terrier puppy, that had been born on a previous voyage of the Forth to V.D.L. had remained on the boat all its life and refused to ever leave the boat...

Turns were taken by the senior passengers to conduct divine service. Phillip played his part in giving out hymns, sermons and readings, though most of the passengers in steerage being Scotch were not used to the Episcopalian form of the service.

Many of the steerage passengers were not interested at all and did not come to Phillip's rendering of Wesley's sermon Matt. 16.v.26, "What is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world". Other small gatherings took place in the cabin, with some of the gentlemen reading alternatively from sermons and the Methodist Magazines. Phillip seems to have been regarded as the most senior and responsible of the cabin passengers, as he was asked to bleed a Mrs. Hays who was exhibiting dangerous behaviour. When he looked in the medicine chest there was no lancet and he was offered a pen knife with a blunt end. The woman settled down of her own accord but Phillip complained in his diary, "With sixty souls on board, there should have been a complete, well-arranged medicine chest with simple instruments. The ship owners were at fault but the Captain should have checked before sailing."

By September. the water in the barrels was becoming putrid because it had first been placed in new oak casks, intended for oil, instead of properly charred water butts, and of course the boat did not stop at any port to take any fresh water.5

In general, considering the length of time, the passengers appeared to have a reasonable voyage. By 24 October when Circular Head was only twelve miles away Phillip wrote lyrically, "The endevours to describe the excitement of the day would be a useless task. A man must sail nineteen weeks on the ocean he will then feel, what can easily be conveyed in words." 6

The journey of the Forth was also recorded in the pamphlet "Sheep Shall Safely Graze" by E. M. Yelland: As previously revealed the vessel was under charter to the Van Diemen's Land Company, and it is probable that Oakden took a share in the Charter for his cargo of merchandise. Their fellow passengers were Miss Head, and Messrs. R. Massey, Augustus Main and G. Mann; and about forty others in the steerage, who were going out to the Company as emigrant farmers.7

The barque arrived at Circular Head, 13 November 1833, but according to the press not all the indentures servants were satisfied with their situation:

The Forth has brought out to the Van Diemen's land company at Circular-head, a steam engine for a saw and flour mill, with a number of indented mechanics. The latter, however, appeared far from satisfied on their arrival, and some were threatening to break their engagements. There are now, we learn, about 100 acres under cultivation at Circular-head, and about 80 more in grass at Western-plains, so that the steam mill is not likely for some time to have much to do, unless the bruising of the gum-tree seed buttons should turn out a profitable project. Besides the large quantity of salt brought out by the Forth this voyage, there was more then 3 years' supply of that article already in store, and other articles were equally superabundant. The ploughs brought out last year are still lying near the landing place, with the grass grown over them.8

Another story provided more detail about the ships cargo:

THE undersigned has just landed, in good order by the barque Forth, from London, the following goods, which he offers for sale on reasonable terms, and solicits a share of the patronage of the inhabitants of Launceston and its vicinity:-

Shingling, batten, rose, scupper, and brass head nails,iron and copper boat, knee and clench nails and roves, clout nails, flemish tacks, screws, door, cupboard, and brass locks, iron and brass binges, brass frame sash pullies, lines and weights, coopers', carpenters' and smiths tools, pint and quart imperial measures, pewter and queen's metal pots, cork screws, bottle wire, wak, and bottling corks, ship scrapers.and caulking irons, double and single barrell fowling pieces, and rifle percussion caps, London clay pipes.

Ledger journal, and cash books, 6 quire by Smith and Elder, suitable for a merchants office, double superfine milled Durham mustard, in 1 lb. and 1/2 lb. bottles.

Youths', mens' and gentlemens' hats of superior quality, one case of millinery consisting of childrens' jean coloured pelisses, frocks, tippets, and sleeves and trowsen, ladies' habit shirt«, collars, palerines, infants' lace and cambric caps, lace crowns, horse shoes and edging, tambour work, collars, worked aprons, womens* caps with lace and cambric, with work and edging.

Fine Jamaica rum, 20 o. p., Leward Island 5 o, p., in bond. Port wine In bottles and Hhds, Sherry, Teneriffe, Madeira, Lisbon, Marseilla wines, in quantities not less than 3 doz. or 5 gallons draft, Taylor & Co's. pale ale and brown stout in Hhds. & Smith's India pale ale, and best brown stout in Hhds. and in bottle.

Patent marine soap, warranted to wash in salt water, bard soap in 50lb boxes.

JOHN MAIN. Charles street, Launceston.9

The concerns expressed earlier in the press about dissatisfied servants was borne out when the Van Diemen's Land Company advertised as follows:


WHEREAS John Thomson, and William Allan, millwrights, and Donald Kennedy, shepherd, lately arrived in the Colony per ship Forth, from London, and under indentures to tbe Van Diemen's Land Company for seven years, have absconded from Circular head, this is to caution all persons from employing or harbouring the said John Thomson, William Allan, and Donald'Kennedy.

JOHN KERR, Company's Agent.
Dec 10, 1839.10

James Hay occupation was recorded as House Carpenter, and a later VDL Co. document notes his tenure began in 1833 for seven years which started the day he landed. Notably absent from the passenger list is James and Ann's son James Jnr. so it can only be presumed he died in infancy or early childhood. He would have been five for the journey aboard the Forth.11

Shipping Record of the Forth

Shipping Record of the Forth
Image Provided by the Archives Office of Tasmania

  • 1. TAHO Ships Passenger List, 'Forth' 10 Jun 1833.
  • 2. TAHO LSD1/1/108 pp. 494 - 497
  • 3. Duniam, Ann, "Indentured Servants of the Van Diemen's Land Company; Website no longer exists"
  • 4. Jennifer Duxbury: 'Colonial servitude: indentured and assigned servants of the Van Diemens' Land Company 1825-41'; Monash Publications in History, Dept. of History, Monash University, 1989
  • 5. Bailey, Anne and Robin: An Early Tasmanian Story, Blenallen Press, 2004:
  • 6. Bailey, Anne and Robin: An Early Tasmanian Story, Blenallen Press, 2004:
  • 7. Yelland, E. M., "Sheep Shall Safely Graze,", 20 Aug 2000.
  • 8. "The Courier." The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 - 1839) 22 November 1833: 2. Web. 20 Mar 2016;
  • 9. "The Courier." The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 - 1839) 22 November 1833: 2. Web. 20 Mar 2016;
  • 10. "Classified Advertising" The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 - 1839) 20 December 1833: 1. Web. 20 Mar 2016;
  • 11. TAHO Ships Passenger List, 'Forth' 10 Jun 1833.