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|To your west is the convergence of D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the Derwent River, here at the northernmost tip of Bruny Island. D’Entrecasteaux called this point Cap de la Sortie, which James Kelly anglicised to ‘Cape Get-Out’. In fact, the low spit pointing into the Channel and across to mainland Tasmania, is Dennes Point. The next point around, actually the northernmost tip of the island, is Kelly’s Point. The next low-lying promontory as you move east, not visible from here, is now Cape de la Sortie, D’Entrecasteaux’s original naming having been bumped east to make way for an acknowledgement of James Kelly. Kelly looms large in the early history of southern Tasmania. Born in New South Wales in 1791, his mother an Irish convict and his father probably a cook on a convict transport, at age 13 he is already a seasoned mariner. By the time he relocates to Hobart in 1814 he has already sailed to India and through much of the Pacific, and has made at least two voyages to Macquarie Island, on the first of which he is shipwrecked and lucky to survive.
It also seems likely that James Kelly is the very first Australian-born master mariner.
In Hobart Kelly soon makes his mark, at first skippering schooners for shipowner-merchant, Thomas Birch. On a voyage to New Zealand Kelly’s crew is attacked by Maoris near present-day Otago. Three of the crew are killed, and Kelly’s retribution is swift and brutal. Back in Van Diemen’s Land, he seals his place in Tasmanian history by circumnavigating the island in an open whale boat, ‘discovering’ Macquarie Harbour and, possibly, Port Davey. In 1819 he is the Derwent’s pilot and harbourmaster, and for twenty years he is a prominent philanthropist and benefactor.
In 1818, as a reward for his epic circumnavigation of Van Diemen’s Land, Kelly is granted 100 acres at Bruny’s northern tip, the very first formalised entitlement to European ownership of the island. He adds to the original grant until he has amassed over 2000 acres, though he spends more time in Hobart than at Cape Get-Out. Handsome, red-brick Woodlands, still standing today, may have superseded Kelly’s original farmhouse. The precise date of its construction remains uncertain, though the Denne family is in residence here by 1842.
Eventually the colony’s fickle economy catches up with him, and in 1842 Kelly is declared bankrupt. Though retaining a reduced involvement in whaling, he sells his North Bruny holdings, keeping only a small acreage with a cottage, possibly the original farmhouse, and a more substantial home on the coast to the east, Waterview. James Kelly, once described as ‘a fine, jolly John Bull looking fellow’, dies in Hobart, survived by only three of ten children, in 1859.
Pretyman, E.R. (1962) ‘Kelly, James (1791-1859)’ Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 2, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne. Pretyman’s biography of Kelly is available online.
Walker, P.B. (compiler) (1986), The Log (of the Circumnavigation of Van Diemen’s Land by Captain James Kelly 1814-1815) and Other Accounts, Government Printer, Hobart.
Kelly’s Indenture document was sourced from KM Bowden’s Captain James Kelly of Hobart Town (Melbourne University Press, 1964). Bowden notes that the ‘original is in the possession of Sir William Crowther, Hobart’. It is therefore thought to be in the Crowther Collection held by the Tasmanian Archives.
The Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office holds many records relating to James Kelly, including the James Kelly portrait (from series: Miscellaneous Collection of Photographs. 1860 – 1992, ref. PH30_1_8643).
The map showing Kelly’s Lands was sourced from TasArc’s Archaeological Survey, Kelly’s Farm Section, Cape de la Sortie, North Bruny Island (2014). It is from the Tasmanian Archives, ref. LSD 1/52/206.
(Click to enlarge images)