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Corporate entry Van Diemen's Land Society (1829 - c. 1831)

From
1829
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
To
c. 1831
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Summary

The Van Diemen's Land Society was established in 1829 by John Henderson. The society aimed to provide information about Van Diemen's Land and its natural resources for the good of the colony. It also aimed to establish a museum and 'experimental garden' to investigate, amongst other things, the edible native produce of Van Diemen's Land. A successful request for patronage was put forward to the then Lieutenant Governor George Arthur. The Society only lasted for two years but its decline arguably portrays the changing social and political structures of colonial society.

Details

The Van Diemen's Land Society was established in 1829 by John Henderson. The society aimed to provide information about Van Diemen's Land and its natural resources for the good of the colony. It also aimed to establish a museum and 'experimental garden' to investigate, amongst other things, the edible native produce of Van Diemen's Land. A successful request for patronage was put forward to the then Lieutenant Governor George Arthur. Although the Society only lasted for two years it is one of the earliest Scientific bodies in Australia on record.

The first secretary and Treasurer was Adam Turnbull a medical practitioner and holder of multiple government positions, the vice patrons were John Lewes Pedder a chief justice, and John Burnett a colonial secretary. John Henderson was president and assisted by George Frankland the surveyor general and Charles Swanston, a banker and merchant, as vice presidents.

Tensions arose within the Van Diemen's Land Society about membership. While some founding members such as James Ross, Joseph Hone and George Frankland stressed the need to admit members by virtue of scientific merit and passion the society was modelled on European and British Royal Societies that were often heavily informed by class distinctions. In the first ever meeting of the Van Diemen's Land Society Dr John Ross was quoted on page 4 of the Hobart Town Courier, 23 January 1830, saying:

"The Royal Society of London which we propose to emulate according to the rules of the late President, Sir Joseph Bankes, admitted none but those whom he chose to term real gentlemen of independent fortune. He excluded even the learned professors of law and physic[s], because they take fees. It would be improper for us to follow such a precedent in Van Diemen's land, where consistent with the true character of English-men our best and most deserving settlers are either ploughmen or shopkeepers in the real sense of the word and the more nearly they approach that character the more eligible I think they ought to be as members of this Society, which in order to attain the glorious ends it has in view, will I trust embrace and constitute the main Society of Van Diemen's land. There are many deserving individuals though in the humbler walks of life, who would be valuable members, and indeed there is no saying how rapidly an industrious and deserving man in this thriving colony may arrive at opulence."

This policy did however lead to a number of prominent members of early Van Diemen's Land Society being denied membership because they weren't seen to be 'scientific'. These decisions led to the resignation of Vice Patron John Burnett and accusations that the society was exclusionary and 'in the Governments pocket' in the contemporary news media. Shortly after this John Henderson left the colony for an international posting.

The society struggled on and was 'revitalised' in 1830 by Dr James Scott who gave membership to Thomas George Gregson and William Kermode both of whom were outspoken against George Arthurs Government. The arrival of Matthew Curling Friend a port officer also served to boost the society. Around this time it appears the society began more actively corresponding with equivalent scientific bodies internationally, this also included electing international members.

Despite these revivals the last trace of activity from the society came in February 1831 although the museum established by the society was reported on until 1834.

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Elizabeth Daniels