Dyson’s hat

James Dyson served the last few years of his sentence as a convict in Van Diemen’s Land in the district around Launceston. One location that is named in his record is now a suburb of that city called King’s Meadows. It would not be accurate to say we did not know what Dyson was doing while he was stationed there — We do — He was on a chain-gang, performing hard labour on the roads around that town.

The clear as mud portion of James Dyson’s convict record about his time at Kings Meadows

What ever the crime was that got him an [obscured] number of months on the chain gang, we know it involved violence, and that he was sentenced to work on the roads from King’s Meadows by Robert Wales, police magistrate for the Morven district — better known today as Evandale — 18km south of Launceston.

Dyson was assigned to northern Van Diemen’s Land in July 1837. He was assigned to Morven on the 4 December, then was sent (back?) to King’s Meadows barely a week later. This suggests he probably wasn’t involved in digging the irrigation tunnel tunnel that had been started in Evandale but was abandoned around this time, but he might have been put to work constructing what is now the highway between Launceston and Hobart.

Evandale in 2017

https://www.evandaletasmania.com/convict-built-water-scheme.html

I visited King’s Meadows in 2017. Before I visited, I could find no record of where the convict depôt was located, and now I know if I had stood right on top of it, there would have been nothing above ground for me to see back then.  So I found some  parkland in the region near a light industrial zone that I chose this as being the closest I would get to the James Dyson convict experience for this area:—

Look’s sort of meadow-ish, doesn’t it? [2017]

However, thanks to some superb detective work by local historian and surveyor John Dent that was presented to the Launceston Historical Society in February 2018, followed up by an archaeological dig later in this year, I now know a lot more about the King’s Meadows Convict station then I did before. More to the point, the Convict Station has been located, even if it will soon disappear again, this time forever under the foundations of a new housing development:—

“Constructed in 1837, the Kings Meadow Convict Station housed more than 150 convicts, as well as officials and military personnel.
It was built to assist with the Evandale to Launceston Water Scheme, which proved to be unsuccessful. The structure, which was about 40 by 40 metres, was abandoned as a convict station the in early 1840s, before being sold to a private landowner in 1854.”

https://www.examiner.com.au/story/5741088/convict-station-unearthed-at-kings-meadows/

But the icing on the cake to this story is the discovery of the artefacts associated with this site, including a convict hat, of a design hitherto completely unknown.

https://www.examiner.com.au/story/5750368/hats-off-to-convict-history-at-kings-meadows/

As we know, there could have been over 150 convicts on the ground at any one time to whom this hat could have belonged, so the probability that this one hat could pinned down to the possession of one named convict who was confirmed to have been there at the time has to be fairly infinitesimal… for this to be so, would be far too great an outrageous coincidence, and as we know, outrageous coincidences never happen in this family….

… so here I present, for your edification and amusement, James Dyson in Tasmania:—

“Where did you get that hat?… Where Did you get that Hat?”

5 comments

  1. Good Morning from Perth during Phase 3 of Covid19, 1 July 2020.
    I am wondering if your James Dyson in Tasmania could also be the same James Dyson married to Fanny (Frances) that is buried in our heritage listed East Perth Cemetery. Probably James was a common name at that time but could our James be in that family tree? What dates of birth and death apply to your James Dyson? Many thanks and look forward to your response as I am researching stories from the East Perth Cemetery. Cheers, Michelle

  2. Just watched the TV show “Who Do You Think You Are” and today’s episode was investigating the ancestry of performer Todd McKenney. This James Dyson was his 3rd time great great grandfather (I think) and was indeed the chap buried in your East Perth cemetery. You could probably find the show on SBS On Demand. Very interesting history!

    1. Hi Eugenia,
      Thanks for the feedback… The talking head sending Todd to Tasmania to explore his convict ancestor’s past was me! That show was also the motivating factor for many of us to organise the restoration of James Dyson’s grave. The episode (as of March 2021) is not currently on SBS On Demand but I hope it will return the next time they re-run the series.
      Thanks again for reaching out!

  3. Hi Alan,
    My ancestor James (aka William) Hitchman was at King’s Meadows Convict Station, and his name appeared in the archaeological report released by the Launceston Council.
    https://www.launceston.tas.gov.au/News-Media/Council-releases-report-into-Kings-Meadows-convict-station (See bottom of the page)
    They identified 5 convicts identified as having been at King’s Meadows, and Dyson wasn’t one of them. So I reckon the hat belongs to Jim Hitchman. Please send me the hat.
    Best wishes,
    Lenore

  4. Lenore,
    I’d say I would fight you for it, but I suspect our ancestors already did!
    Kindest regards,
    Alan Thompson

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