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|You have just passed the replica headstone – but not the grave – of John Merrison, Kelly’s longest serving workman, and as you will see if you peer at the inscription (composed by Kelly), Merrison was ‘a faithful servant and a good man’. Though he would die in 1851 following a short illness in St. Mary’s Hospital, Hobart, we have it on the authority of Kelly’s inscription that, in his 31 years on Kelly’s Farm, Merrison ‘only visited Hobart Town once’. He is buried in St. David’s Park, his headstone having been brought to Dennes Point in 1972.
Merrison is a convict and yet, despite the detailed records kept by the colonial bureaucracy, we know very little about him, not even the crime for which he was originally transported. We know that he is from Norfolk and is 39 years old when he arrives in 1821. At this time convicts are deployed under the ‘assignment system’ – later abolished – in which disembarking convicts are ‘assigned’ to the employment of settlers of means. Merrison becomes free in 1827 but chooses to remain here, even after Kelly is declared bankrupt in 1842. Though forced to sell most of his farm, Kelly allows Merrison to live close to here in a cottage, possibly the original farmhouse, on the few acres he still retains.
Kelly is frequently absent and relies on his workforce of shepherds, labourers and gardeners for the daily running of the farm. Though it is not unusual for Kelly to meet the medical expenses of his employees, none seems to be held in as high esteem as Merrison, for Kelly not only pays his good and faithful servant’s funeral expenses – not unusual – but he also places a memorial in the Colonial Times, the only jarring note being the paper’s misspelling of Merrison’s name as ‘Morrison’.
Further reading and image sources
Sheep on Kelly’s Point, from the Tasmanian Archives series: Miscellaneous Collection of Photographs. 1860 – 1992 (PH30), ref. NS2495_1_22.
The records of Merrison’s death and his convict record are from the Tasmanian Convict records. This is an invaluable research containing a wealth of records on convicts, searchable by name.
(Click to enlarge images)