John Bowen

Founder of Tasmania - Lieutenant, Royal Navy. (1780-1827)

John Bowen

John Bowen

September 12, 2003 was the 200th birthday of the State of Tasmania. Lieutenant John Bowen, Royal Navy established the first-ever British settlement of Tasmania. He arrived with 48 settlers aboard the vessels, Lady Nelson and Albion, at Risdon Cove, situated on the River Derwent in southern Tasmania, on September 12, 1803.

Faced with hardships such as poor soil and low rainfall, the site was badly chosen. This, however, was not Bowen's fault, as Governor Philip Gidley King in Sydney, who was influenced by the explorations of Bass and Flinders and Lieutenant John Hayes, directed him to the site.

With the arrival of Captain David Collins in February 1804, the site for a permanent settlement was moved from Risdon Cove to Sullivan's Cove (the present site of Hobart). John Bowen left Tasmania (then called Van Diemen's Land) somewhat disillusioned with how he had been treated by officialdom. He was never to return. Descendants of Bowen and his lady friend, Martha Hayes, still live on the Island State today.

John Bowen can be justified in being described as the Founder of Tasmania. Although Tasmania was discovered back in November 1642 by Dutchman, Abel Janszoon Tasman, it was not until 161 years later, that the British settled the island in fear that the French would do likewise.

The important historical site of Risdon Cove, where Bowen settled in 1803, was given by the Ray Groom Liberal Government in 1995 to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Lands Council (TALC). It is the second oldest settlement in Australia, and the only historical site which remains much as it was two hundred years ago. Therefore it should be preserved for all Tasmanians. A memorial to Bowen and to those who settled with him in 1803 was erected at Risdon Cove in 1904 and is still there, but just about everything else pertaining to Bowen has been removed and/or neglected. The memorial was vandalised at the hand-over in 1996.

As a consequence, Tasmanian historian and author Reg. A. Watson, together with friends, developed a site dedicated to Bowen and the early settlers. Called The Bowen Commemorative Historical Site it was launched on September 14th 2002 and is located at Cosy Cabins, East Derwent Highway, Bowen Park, Tasmania, 7015. Two rooms named after Bowen's ships, The Lady Nelson and the Albion, were put aside to display documented material pertaining to Bowen, David Collins, and Lt-Col William Patterson. Bronze plaques, an audio narrative, flagpoles, and other items are included in the Centre, and are available for inspection to the public.

Mr Watson stresses that it is important that the efforts of Bowen and the early settlers are not forgotten.

His contribution, not only to Tasmania's history, but to the nation of Australia, is profound, but I feel, for political purposes he is being neglected by officialdom. Therefore it is important for private individuals, children and groups to continually recognise Bowen for future generations, said Mr Watson.

Anniversary Celebrations

As the State Tasmanian Government chose not to celebrate Bowen's arrival because of political considerations, the BOWEN COMMEMORATIVE HISTORICAL SITE took on the challenge.  Saturday 13th September saw a formal dinner to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the British settlement of Tasmania and the coming of Bowen and the early settlers. Hon Michael Hodgman MHA, QC  was guest speaker, while Sydney academic and author, Keith Windschuttle did the honours in launching Mr Watson's book. The following day (Sept 14th) saw a church service  held at the Rokeby Presbyterian Church,  in memory of Bowen and in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the British settlement.

To commemorate the 210th anniversary in the year 2013, Reg Watson gave a lecture on John Bowen and Risdon Cove to a well attended lecture. His Bowen book was republished for the 210th anniversary.

Current Position

In 1995 and again in 2004 and in 2005 Bowen's historical Memorial was vandalised, by members of the TALC. The Tasmanian Government has refused to guarantee protection or promotion of Risdon Cove and of the Bowen Memorial, even to the point of refusing to erect an inconspicuous sign directing visitors to the site. The fights continues into the year 2013. Mr Reg Watson, in co-operation with fellow concerned burgesses, has mounted a campaign to correct this submissive attitude to political correctness. Recent approaches to the Tasmanian Historic Commission (THC) are continuing, but so far little has been achieved with the THC

Bowem Monument

The Bowen Memorial.

A publication has been written by Mr Reg. A.Watson entitled, "John Bowen and the Founding of Tasmania" and was released 13th September 2003 at a formal dinner to coincide with the 200th year of Bowen's settlement. It is available posted within Australia for $20.  Contact:   Trade inquiries welcomed.

The Bowen Lecture delivered by Reg A Watson on the 210th Aniversary of the Bowen Settlement at Risdon Cove audio is available and provides a concise history of the founding of Tasmania.

New DVD: "The disgrace of Risdon Cove" Produced by the Bowen Association. The title explains it all. A thought-provoking and disturbing account of the way governments now treat valuable historic sites. $25.