Over the century and a half since Circular Head was first settled, the question of who had the 'honour' to be the first white child born in the district has often been a matter of contention. Owing to the absence of records in the period 1827-1841, it has been easy for conflicting claims to be put forward with very little supporting evidence one way or the other.
The [Circular Head] 'Chronicle' of November 1927 carried heated correspondence between John Cartledge of Smithton and Peter Stearne of
In this article, Stearne stated that he was born in
John Cartledge replied in the 'Chronicle' of
Cartledge goes on to say "I should not have troubled you with the correction, but as there is considerable interest in the early days of the settlement it is advisable to have the date as correct as possible."
From the sources available to us in the 1980s, it seems that by the1920s there were at least five main contenders for the conflicting title of 'first white child', 'first white male child', 'first white child registered in Circular Head', and most confusing of all - 'first native born white children in Stanley'. These contenders are Peter Stearne, his sister Sara Stearne (later Mrs W. Ollington), his niece Jane Ollington (later Mrs. W Poke), John Cartledge's mother Eliza Spence and Eliza's brother.
Others who do not seem to be considered at all are the seven children born to Edward and Elizabeth Curr at 'Highfield' in the Circular Head Settlement of the Van Diemen's Land Coy., between 1830 and 1841.
John Cartledge's claim that his mother Eliza Spence was born in Circular Head in 1829, gained further credence from a report published in the 'Chronicle' 16th January, 1929. Under the heading "Personal", the report celebrated the 100th anniversary of her birth.
"One hundred years ago yesterday, Eliza Spence, the mother of John Cartledge, grandmother of Bert Cartledge of Temma, Edgar Cartledge of Smithton and Trooper Cartledge of Stanley, was born at Circular Head on
Eliza Spence and John Cartledge senr. were married in Launceston in 1846, and remained in Launceston for the whole of their married life. Most of the claims for the position of 'first white child' etc., are based on interviews with Peter Stearne, who obviously enjoyed talking to journalists.
He was interviewed by the 'Chronicle' reporter in the article already quoted, and among his reminiscences he mentions the house in which he was born "at the rear of
The 'Chronicle's' journalist commented that "Mr. Stearne has a vivid memory, his hearing is very acute, and he is as clear about up-to-date subjects as about ancient history." It seems strange then that Mr. Stearne should consistently confuse his sister, (some 16 years older than himself) with his sister's child, who was born a few days earlier than Peter!
Mrs. Ollington, nee Sarah Stearne, also enjoyed talking with reporters. An article appeared in the 'Weekly Courier' of
At the time of the interview, Mrs. Ollington had lived for 67 years in the Circular Head district, and was much loved and honoured by all who knew her. The reporter rather gushingly remarked that "The dear old lady looked the picture of health, with well rounded cheeks, still girlish in their natural colouring, with kindly eyes bright at all times, and really flashing occasionally even nowadays ... with the intellect still unimpaired as is evidenced by a wondrous memory ... "
Mrs. Ollington told the 'Courier' she was born in Thetford,
Mr. Stearne sen., was a builder under contract to the Van Diemen's Land Co. Also on board the 'Emu' were the VDL Co. agent, Mr. Gibson (who took over from Edward Curr), Gibson's wife, Parson Greigg, three or four VDL Co. clerks, several artisans and farm hands, " ... and some thirty females, young and old, 18 of whom were unmarried."
''The desolateness of the new home caused an air of despondency to pervade the ship, and in the midst of the crowd of wailing women and little children stood Sarah Stearne, gazing ,with wideopened eyes and mouth at the big rock before her, at the white stone barracks, and at the few shanties which were to take the place of the civilisation they had left behind." She was thirteen years old.
A year later Sarah Stearne married Thomas Ollington; the ceremony being performed by Parson Greigg. Thomas Ollington was evidently a resident of
In January 1844, Sarah Ollington gave birth to her first child Jane (later Mrs. W. Poke) in the house behind
The 'Weekly Courier' notes "In the same room with her on a recent Sunday afternoon, was her brother, Mr. Peter Stearne, a much respected Smithton resident ... Mr. Stearne is also historical, for he is believed to be the first white male born in the Circular Head District, perhaps the first one on the North West Coast, but his niece, Mrs. Poke sen., secured the real honour and glory, for she, as a white-born colonial, first breathed the air of Stanley a few days earlier."
There is considerable confusion over this claim that Mrs. William Poke, or "Granny Poke" as she came to be known, was the "first native-born white child". This was another of Mr. Stearne's expressions, as remembered by his daughter, Mrs. W. McInnes, when speaking to a reporter from the 'Advocate'. Mrs. McInnes of Devonport, talked about her father in an article published by the 'Advocate' on
In interpreting "native born" as meaning "born of Tasmanian- born parents", Mrs. McInnes suggested Stearne and his sister "two years his senior", (identified by Mrs. McInnes as none other than Mrs. Ollington) "were born at a time when it would have been quite possible for them to be
grand-children of married couples who arrived at Circular Head in 'Tranmere' in 1826." Alternatively, Mrs. McInnes hypothesised that Peter and Sarah's parents - Peter Garner Stearne sen., and his wife Sarah, nee Thorp, "could have been born elsewhere in
Another claim put forward for Jane Ollington ("Grannie Poke") and Peter Stearne, is that they were the "first white children registered in Circular Head." Alas, this too, does not stand up to close scrutiny! The official register of births begun in
To Margaret Scott must go the 'honour', then, of being the "first white child registered in Circular Head." Peter Stearne's birth on
About the Nut, and part of the isthmus it was called Circular Head because the shape of it was like a half circle. The back country, like the country back of
Perhaps it was this insistence on Circular Head being only "the Nut and part of the isthmus", that permitted him to 'stretch' the facts a little in order to make his claims for himself and "Grannie Poke". However, as early as 1827, the settlement between Cape Grim and Hampshire Hills was referred to as "the Circular Head settlement of the Van Diemen's Land Coy.", and 'Highfield', home of Edward Curr up on the Green Hills, was considered part of the Circular Head settlement. During Edward Curr's tenure as Chief Agent of the VDL Co., his wife Elizabeth bore seven children at 'Highfield'; the first, Augusta Mary being born on
It is believed that the Curr children born in Circular Head would have been registered in
The absence of both the Spence and Curr' families from the Circular Head District by the 1840s, and the lack of records, may well account for Stearne's assumption that the generation of children born around Circular Head in the '40s were the "first native-born" generation. The Spence family moved to Hampshire Hills some time around 1835, and thence to Launceston.
Ignorance about the Curr' family is not so easily understood. On board the same ship that brought the Stearne family was Mr. Gibson, who was to take over the position of Chief Agent for the VDL Co. from Edward Curr'. Curr' then took his family - wife Elizabeth and 13 children, seven of whom had been born at 'Highfield' to
Despite Stearne's claims to fame having been disproved, it seems that he and his sister Mrs. Ollington eventually made more of an impact on the district than either the Curr's or the Spences. Of Peter Stearne's family, nine were still alive in 1927 and had married around the district. Mrs. Ollington's children were noted in her obituary in the 'Chronicle'
James, Thomas and Albert of Scotchtown. The daughters are Mrs. W.J.Poke and Mrs P O'Halloran of Smithton, Mrs. Quilliam of Montagu, Mrs. T.Ling of Smithton, Mrs. R.Blake of
As noted in the 'Weekly Courier', when Sarah Stearne married Thomas Ollington in 1842, there was only one Ollington family in
Peter Stearne and "Grannie Poke" may not indeed have been the first white children born or registered in Circular Head. Chronologically, they cannot be considered for such a claim to fame. However, they have left behind them a legacy that is still growing in the Circular Head District. While it is certainly important "to have the data as correct as possible" in the interests of historical accuracy, all of the Stearne family's descendants can feel justifiable pride that they still live in the district their forebears helped to settle.
- /03/1830 Male Spence child born Circular Head District.
-/01/1844 Jane Ollington ("Grannie Poke") born
16/01/ 1927 Circular Head 'Chronicle '.
09/01/1971 The register of births at Stanley from 1841, as quoted in 'The Advocate’
Elizabeth Curr's diary, as quoted in 'Historic
© 1984, 1994.
This article by Sue Cartledge first appeared in the Circular Head Local History Journal; December
1984, ISSN 0814-8708, published by the Circular Head Local History Project.
Eliza Spence married John Cartledge in 1846.