Having completed his survey work for the new road route from the Mersey River Crossing (Kimberley) through to Emu Bay (Burnie) by autumn 1845, Surveyor-General Robert Power was now free to immediately dismiss Kentish for his haughty, insolent attitude expressed towards him earlier. However, the unpopular Governor of Van Diemen’s Land Sir Eardley-Wilmot once again took Kentish’s side and intervened in the awarding of an upcoming contract to re-survey Launceston and its suburbs. The Governor chose to over-ride Surveyor-General Power and gave the project to Kentish. Nathaniel, his wife Anna Kentish with their two daughters Emilia (12), Marie (11) and son Harry (9) moved from Burnie to Lyttleton St, Launceston, where their children receive their secondary education in private schools. Harry attended the Launceston Church Grammar School, where he became a first-class student and at the end of his first year missed out on a scholarship by just one point.
Launceston Fiasco Aug 1845 – July 1846
Kentish’s new contract was to re-survey Launceston and suburbs, correct all earlier mistakes and provide new town maps showing all property boundaries accurately enough to be used for legal purposes. It wasn’t long before the local newspaper reported: “Mr Kentish and his assistants with their flags and instruments, can now to be seen in every part of the township.” However, it appears Kentish signed his prepared contract under some serious misapprehensions. It stated that the work was to be completed within eight months for a contract price of £260. Kentish soon realized this task would take closer to two years. Nor it seems did he understand that this time he needed employ his own men, buy his own equipment and mapping materials.
Once again, a great dispute erupted between Kentish and Surveyor General Power who was infuriated at the Governor’s intervention and did everything, he could to hinder Kentish’s progress. Kentish had already asked for an advance of £100 to pay current expenses, which soon began to exceed the total contract price. Kentish was now paying his employees out of his own life savings. When his eight-month contract ended in June 1846, Kentish’s work was far from finished. Immediately Power suspended him for breach of contract without any further re-imbursement and forbade him any future employment in the Survey Department. So, Kentish was again dismissed with a lot of debts and thirty incomplete sectional maps of greater Launceston.
On 30 July 1846 Kentish immediately wrote a long letter to his friend and patron Governor Eardley-Wilmot outlining his grievances and appealing for his intervention. He told the Governor that he received malicious persecution from the Surveyor-General and named four other government officers who were united in their opposition to him. One was the Auditor-General George Boyes, father of Lukin Boyes, his old survey assistant on the road to Emu Bay.
Alone in Hobart Aug 1846 – June 1848
Kentish now travelled to Hobart to talk with the Governor and argue his case with various Government officials. Initially he stayed at the Ship’s Hotel, then took lodgings in Melville Street where he lived for most of the next two years while his wife and family remained in Launceston.
In September 1846 barely a month after Kentish travelled south, Governor Eardley-Wilmot himself received word from London of his own dismissal and that he was being replaced by Sir William Denison. The shaken Governor told Kentish, he would now have to hold his complaints over until his successor arrived. Kentish was forced to wait a further four months without work until the new replacement Govenor Sir William Denison arrived in Hobart on 25 Jan 1847. In a rather surprising development, the following week, Sir Eardley-Wilmot died unexpectedly in Hobart aged 64 years, still trying to defend himself against his dismissal. Finally, on 8 Feb 1847 Surveyor Kentish was able to present Governor Denison with his list of complaints. To support his claims, he also temporarily loaned Dennison his 30 unfinished maps of Launceston for his perusal only.
Among Kentish‘s many grievances were his outstanding claims against the Survey Department for tools and food supplies which he had purchased out of his own money during his exploration work along the North West Coast. He was also angered that his official report of his three years exploring, and discoveries was the only document of its kind that had not been released to the public for their general information. Then he claimed he was deceived and duped into signing the new Launceston contract which had cost about £1,000. He implored His Excellency to punish Messrs Power, Boyes, Breton, Sams and Goodwin including Judge Montagu for their vengeance upon him. He requested the Governor to appoint an unbiased judge to try the various libellous charges he intended to bring against these detractors. Kentish also mentioned that his health had been ruined in government service and that he was now suffering from a relapse of a previous complaint brought on doctors said by anxiety and mental excitement. Finally, he requested further employment.
Governor Denison‘s Reaction
Sir William initially promised all his grievances would be investigated. But then next day the Governor‘s private secretary wrote to Kentish stating that His Excellency could not change the usual course of judicial proceedings and that Kentish’s letter along with his 30 maps had been passed to the Colonial Secretary’s office.
The loss of his maps infuriated Kentish. Six weeks later, on 23 March 1847, Kentish received a letter from the Colonial Secretary J E Bicheno informing him his accounts were being examined and that he would be given their findings in due course. He offered Kentish a further 12 months to complete his re-surveying of Launceston. Then upon completion of his work his agreed original contract sum of £260 would be paid in full, less £100 already advanced to him. There would be no prospect of any further position becoming vacant for which he was qualified to fill. The letter concluded:
‘In future, your communication should be strictly and precisely limited to the subject matter in hand. His Excellency’s time being too valuable to be wasted in the perusal of irrelevant discussion’.
Kentish was offended by the reply and decided to take his grievances direct to the public.
Appeal to the Public
By now Kentish was needing money and turned once more to printing his booklets for publication, some in Launceston, others in Hobart. A new one was Bush Life in Van Diemen’s Land, another Bush life in South Australia, but a fire at the Hobart printers resulted in only eight copies being saved out of 1000 copies printed. This resulted in Kentish and printer being involved in a court case. Other proposed monthly magazines included the Tasmanian Boys Own, Church and State and a semi-quarterly The Australiasian. Although advertised for subscription, most of these didn’t evenuate.
Kentish commenced holding public lectures and plying the newspapers with long letters. On 9 April 1847 at the Music Hall, Collins St, Hobart, Kentish gave a public lecture entitled: N L Kentish, Surveyor, Engineer & Explorer versus the Government. An Extraordinary Case of Aggravated Cruelty and Injustice.
On 3 July 1847 the Launceston Examiner printed his article entitled: Statement of Extraordinary But Indisputable Facts, Disclosing A Case of Unprecedented and Unparalleled Persecution and Injustice, Cruelty And Oppressions, officially permitted and inflicted on Mr N L Kentish. He wrote;
‘In common with the people at large, we have long considered the Survey Department as the most inefficient, useless, and expensive branch of the public service… the whole staff could be dismissed without detriment to the public.’ Kentish claimed ‘that he was better qualified to fill the position than the present Surveyor-General’. And that ‘not only had the Government persecuted him, but the judges conspired against him, the commissioners acted unfairly, and his creditors harshly.’
Of course, the Press and the public had a field day. When Kentish wrote emotionally:
‘I have received a letter from my little daughter at Launceston stating that her mother is too ill to write to me or to leave her bed chamber. From the tenor of my child’s letter, I apprehend my wife is dangerously ill in Launceston. The editor of the Hobart Guardian wrote Kentish has an itching for writing about himself.
Regarding a long drawn out court case over a book printing in Launceston, the editor of the Cornwall Chronicle W L Goodwin declared Kentish ‘a most atrocious swindler, after which Kentish sued him for libel. At one stage he took his old survey assistant Lukin Boyes to court for libel, but the case failed. Some newspapers began questioning his sanity and refused to print Kentish’s letters because they were really advertisements about himself that technically needed to be paid for before being published.
Kentish now became desperate for money, being sued for unpaid bills including school fees in Launceston. He owned a house in Burnie which he couldn’t sell because he had erected it on VDL Co land and he didn’t have any deeds. Mrs Anna Kentish was forced to rent a building in Upper Brisbane Street, Launceston and open a boarding house for young ladies. Later she moved to another building on the corner of Wellington Street and Elizabeth Street.
In Hobart Kentish cashed in his life insurance, then began making out cheques on bank accounts with no money in them. Finally, in a long running insolvency case in both the Launceston and Hobart Court of Requests, Kentish was declared bankrupt. Mrs Kentish even lost her bed linen. One newspaper summing up the surveyor’s situation:
‘We think Mr. Kentish has made out a strong case against himself. He has doubtless suffered much, and his unfortunate family more. Both are the victims of persecution. It is a melancholy case of self-martyrdom.’
In a strange kind of farewell to his six years spent in Van Diemen’s Land, the irrepressible Kentish proposed the building of a Public Bath House beside the Derwent River, possibly based on what he had seen at Southampton where he lived while attempting his huge map of the County of Hampshire.
Over the summer of 1847-48 he became secretary of the newly formed Hobart Swimmers Association that promoted the concept. As a civil engineer he designed this public bath house with ten dressing cubicles and two shower cubicles to be built beside the recently erected jetty out from the Government paddocks. Kentish remained for the opening, and gallantly offered himself as life-guard. Then on 24 April 1848 our infamous surveyor of the North West Coast sailed from Hobart aboard the 170-ton brig Haven to start a new life in Melbourne.