Just Across the Road

Chapman family at Maritimo
Chapman family at Maritimo

What is the story behind the house that looks over to ours, shares our street name, and watches us as we come and go? Our Girl Friday, Kristen Erskine digs a little deeper to find out.

A young Nutmegger put up his age and set sail from New Bedford, Connecticut, aboard a whaler in the early 1800s. He eventually served on the Menkar (named for one of the stars in the constellation Cetus also known as The Whale). The ship was crippled on a reef in Poverty Bay, New Zealand and limped to Hobart Town in 1858 where it was condemned and wrecked. Undaunted, Charles Augustus Chapman then joined one of the ‘luckiest and most profitable ships’ of the time, the Runnymede barque.

Three years later he married Jane Gaylor, sister of Charles (the founder of Customs House Hotel) on December 7th 1861 and continued his life at sea until he sought his real fortune by heading to the west coast and purchasing mining concessions with Dr Crowther around 1882. With the fortune he made from selling the shares in the Anchor Tin Mine he retired to Hobart Town and purchased 3 acres of land in Sandy Bay between the dairy farms of what would be Dynnyrne and the huge orchards that stretched to Nutgrove Beach.

By 1885 Maritimo (from the Portuguese for “view to the sea”) stood proudly facing the ocean where he’d spent most of his life. Already a father of four, he and Jane produced three more children with the youngest being premature and dying at birth.

I’d first laid eyes on the house whilst taking my eldest child to a nearby park. At that time it was one of those fantastic “haunted” houses, set well back from the road and virtually invisible because of the trees surrounding it. I just noted it as I walked to and from the park and as the years passed and more children joined us and more trips to the park ensued, a fair number of stories revolving around this mysterious house appeared in my writing.

Last year this all changed. We had a chance to move house and lo and behold it was directly across the road from that house which had fueled myriad plots conceived during those occasional idle moments whilst caring for my children.

When it occurred to me to look up, from beneath the boxes and chaos I realised a magical change had been wrought on the house. The hidden had become visible, the house standing proud on its gentle hill. The gigantic shrubbery tamed and snipped and trimmed. The white paint covering the bottom storey scrubbed away allowing the original sandstone to glow. And oh, what a glow in the morning, the house facing east and the stone changing hues with the dawn. There are children again, skipping and running and throwing balls. Some days I’m tempted to take them a hoop and stick across and see if they can recreate some late Victorian childhood games.

My dreams of living across the road from a haunted house have been tamed by the shouts of laughter, birthday parties, fertile pear trees and sharing a cider on the verandah. I am quite content. Some homes are grand and forbidding, Maritimo, now I’ve had the chance to get to know it, was simply lonely, needing a family and warmth within again. Not haunted at all, just waiting, for the walls to echo once more with children’s delight and for the spaces to be cherished again, the gardens cared for and reimagined.

The only photograph I’ve seen of Charles and Jane Chapman is in front of the home with some of their children, who were obviously trying very hard to be “good” but there is mischief in their grins and even Mrs Chapman is smiling slightly. I suspect she and her husband would be well pleased to see their home now. Once again a warm and congenial family home, still a “view to the sea”, and settling into a new generation growing within its sturdy walls. Meanwhile, I’m marking out other houses to feature in my haunted writing, Maritimo is far too sunny natured now.

Henry Savery: The Hermit of Van Diemen’s Land

Henry Savery memorial stone, Isle of the Dead, Tasmania
Henry Savery memorial stone, Isle of the Dead, Tasmania

Our Tasmanian editor, Rachel Edwards investigates the origin of the first published Australian novel, its distant legacy and the state of literacy today.

In 1825 a chap called Henry Savery, who had been sentenced for forgery was transported to Van Diemen’s land. He went on to become, via a stint writing a column using the pseudonym Hermit of Van Diemen’s Land and slandering various public figures, saved only by diaphanous nicknames – and via an unmatched moment in the history of the world where one small town had two newspapers with the same names and the same serial numbers, but I digress, Henry Savery went on to write what has become known as the first Australian novel. It is called Quintus Servinton and by all accounts it is an overwritten, dense, not very enjoyable read – and a thinly veiled autobiography and attempt to win back his wife, who had begun an affair with Sir Algernon Sidney Montagu, who was to join the Supreme Court in Hobart town, and who Montagu Bay was named after – and was brought up his by family friends, The Wordsworths.

Henry called himself ‘The Hermit of Van Diemen’s Land,’ an attempt at anonymity for writing a newspaper column (as indentured convict labour, it wasn’t all brickmaking and fending off bushrangers), in which he wrote assiduous and cutting summations of what was going on under Governor Arthur’s increasingly neurotic rule.

Quintus Servinton was published in 1830 and it varied most significantly from Savery’s life in its happy ending. It preceded Woman’s Love by another Van Diemonian, Mary Grimstone by 2 years and For the Term of His Natural Life, generally presumed to be the first Australian novel, by 44 years. For more academic detail about both Savery and Grimstone here is a PDF of E. Morris Miller’s 1958 paper ‘Australia’s First Two Novels, origins and background’

While it is a proud fact that these shores gave rise to the first Australian novel and it is often quoted that Tasmania has more readers per capita than other states – and more writers, we currently have only 50% functional literacy. 50% of people are ONLY functionally literate in Tasmania. It is a gobsmacking figure in Australia today and a heartbreaking one for Tasmania. In this, the International year of Communication, even more a call to action.

Readers and writers in Tasmania have a duty of care to others who struggle with these crucial life skills. While reading fiction makes the reader more empathetic and compassionate,  awards and recognition for writing are crucially important for Tasmania. To recognise and value the writing that is being done in Tasmania right now is to show that literacy is valued – and while spelling out a word in the supermarket may seem a long way from the books that have won the Tasmanian Literary Prizes, they are part of the same continuum. As a friend said “you can’t encourage kids to play footy and then take the AFL away.” The Tasmanian Literary Prize is a valuable institution that the State government must return to celebrate the strength and beauty of writing in this state and to show a society with decreasing literacy that reading and communication are valued, from the top down.

Here is an interview with Rod Howard, author of A Forger’s Tale, a biography of Henry, in 2011

Adapted from a filmed piece for the Tasmanian Leaders’ Program, July 2014.