The VDL Company and the Emu

The Atkins family arrived in Van Diemen’s Land aboard the 'Emu' on 19 December 1841. Samuel Atkins was described as a servant of the Van Diemen's Land (V.D.L.) Company, and with his wife Jane Ayres, and their four children, had moved from their 'native place' of Kenninghall, Norfolk, England, to the new colonies. Accompanying them was James Gibson, the replacement of Edward Curr as the V.D.L. Company Agent or Manager.

In a V.D.L. Company document dated 22 July 1841, Samuel Atkins is described as an Agricultural Labourer whose yearly wages amounted to 25 pounds, 6 shillings, 5 pence. The cost of their journey to Tasmania was 6 pounds, 5 shillings, and was paid as an advance proportion of that yearly sum.1

The Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen’s Land Gazette, dated Friday, January 7, 1842, records the arrival of the 'Emu' on 30 December 1841, and notes the 381 ton Barque sailed from Plymouth on the 19th August 1841. Sailing via the Cape of Good Hope, which they passed on the 9th November, 1841, the 'Emu' carried a varied cargo of goods, including alcohol, meat, dried fruit and some haberdashery:

CIRCULAR HEAD, 22nd December 1841. Arrived, on the 19th inst., the barque Emu, 381 tons, Capt. Howard, from London 17th August last, and the Cape of Good Hope 8th alt, Passengers for Circular Head-James Gibson, Esq., Mrs. Gibson, and two servants ; ltev. Mr. and Mrs. Grigg and six children,' Miss Milton, Mr. and Mrs. Chambers, Mr. and Mrs. Rouse and six children, Mr. Willshire, Mr. Carr, Mr. Jeffrey, Mr. Corney, Mr. Hicks, and 30 indented servants with their families; total persons, 96. Passengers for Hobarton -Two Mr. Chapmans, Mr. Chaptan, Dr. Johnson, Mr. Atkin. On the 16th Sept. spoke the Platina, from Port Phillip, bound to London, lat. 4 ° 26' N., long. 19° 21' W.; 101 days out, all well. The Emu will leave in a few days for Hobart Town. 2

How Samuel and Jane were recruited by the Van Diemen's Land Company is not known at this point:

The word INDENTURED means to be contracted to under a written agreement And a SERVANT is a person in the use of another person. The company's charter passed the great seal on 10th November, 1825. Already the search had begun to find the tradesmen and labourers needed to develop the large grant of agricultural land obtained in the north west of Van Diemen's Land to a financially successful wool producing enterprise. Convicts could supply free labour but they had little rural knowledge or mechanical expertise. The aboriginal natives were difficult to train and would not remain on the settlements. So the indentured servant was the most reliable means of maintaining the workforce.3

The family arrived just in time for the local census. In the colony census for 1842, submitted on 1 Jan 1842, for those at the residence at midnight 31 Dec 1841, Samuel Atkins is described as the householder, employer of servants, and the person in charge of a completed wooden dwelling owned by the Van Diemen's Land Company. Twelve persons were residing there, comprised of two married couples, both aged between 21 and 45, three of whom arrived free (Samuel and Jane, and an unknown female) with the husband of the unknown female in Private Assignment (a convict). Given the known details of the Atkins family at this time we can say that their four children were represented on the submission, and from that information we can then summarise the details of the other family:

The husband and father was a convict who had been assigned to domestic service. The husband, wife and children were Roman Catholic. The husband and wife had 4 children, all boys aged under 7. Three of the children were born in the colony and the other arrived free. At some point it would be an interesting exercise to ascertain the identity of this other family.4

The V.D.L. Co. books have Samuel listed as an overseer on 31 January 1842 and 31 May 1842.5 On 1 Jan 1843 in the census of that year he is described as a Gardener/Stockman. While this is only 12 months after the earlier census by this time the other family do not appear. Oddly enough we also lose sight of Samuel and Jane's son James, who would have only been around 10 years old at the time. It wasn't uncommon for children that young to be working for other families as servants, but the reality of his circumstances are unknown.6

  • 1. AOT Passenger List "Emu" VDL 224, p. 47 (Online Transcription)
  • 2. "SHIP NEWS." The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 - 1880) 25 December 1841: 2. Web. 21 May 2019;
  • 3. Duniam, Maureen: Indentured Servants of the Van Diemen's Land Company
  • 4. AOT Census Registration CEN1/1/8 15
  • 5. Reference to be followed up
  • 6. AOT Census Registration CEN1/1/49 49