The original overland route to our North West Coast opened up by Van Diemen’s Land surveyors Henry Hellyer and Joseph Fossey in 1827-28 proved to be a disaster. Passing behind Mount Roland, it was so incredibly steep in several places, bullock teams pulling wagons couldn’t climb it. Through the 1830s several surveyors, including Joseph Ring (later Town Surveyor for Hobart), searched for an alternative route to the West. All failed to find a way to cross the deep ravines of the Forth Valley. However, Surveyor-General Robert Power had the responsibility to open roads to every new settlement, so eventually an agreement was reached between his department and Edward Curr, manager of the VDL Co to jointly fund another attempt to find a better route to Emu Bay.
When Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish (43) fronted up to Surveyor-General Robert Power (46) in Hobart with impressive credentials endorsed by Governor Gawler of South Australia, Power appointed him to his Survey Department on 18 November 1841. It would soon become a decision Power would greatly regret. What the Surveyor-General didn’t know at the time, was that the egotistical Kentish possessed a serious personality trait that compelled him to constantly promote himself and his own abilities while at the same time denigrating and belittling the efforts of everyone else. This was particularly so regarding his superiors and the cause of his dismissal from nearly all his previous employment.
Surveyor-General Power gave Kentish the challenging contract to find a more acceptable route along the North West Coast to Emu Bay (Burnie). From the Meander River crossing (now Deloraine), Surveyor Kentish was to find a new track through unexplored territory midway between Mount Roland and the coastline. Kentish signed this contract on the understanding “that whatever plans I might make for the Government should be drawn by my own hand from actual measurement made by myself.”
Who was Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish?
Born 1797 in Winchester, England, Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish was the son of a well-to-do naval surgeon who served in the Franco-American war. After his mother died, it seems he was raised by an elder sister which may help explain his paranoia. Kentish trained under an eminent surveyor and civil engineer gaining experience in conveyancing and soliciting property bills through Parliament.
In 1822 at age 25 he committed himself to a very ambitious task of creating a large detailed map of the whole Hampshire County to be published as ‘Kentish’s Great Map of Hampshire’. Unfortunately failing to raise sufficient finance, on 10 April 1824 he was declared bankrupt.
On 7 Feb 1826 Nathaniel Kentish (29) married Anna Maria Judd (21) and the following year was made Lecturer of Surveying, Military Map-making & Civil Engineering at the Royal Military College at Sandhurst, England. Retrenched two years later, in August 1829 Kentish was appointed Assistant Surveyor for NSW under the great Australian explorer and current Survey-General Thomas Mitchell.
With his wife Anna Maria and young son Henry (2), they sailed aboard the 446-ton convict- carrier Dunvegan Castle arriving in Sydney on 29 March 1830, following a ten day stop-over at Hobart Town. Kentish established his family in a fine residence in Pennant St, Parramatta overlooking the water, where Anna enjoyed playing the piano she had bought out from England. While at Parramatta, Kentish had his main work steed stolen from his paddock, their female servant absconded, his young son Henry died, but a daughter Emelia Valentina Sweeper Kentish was born on 14 February 1832.
Kentish was made Surveyor of Roads and Bridges constructing part of the Great Western Road over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst with nearly 1000 convicts under his supervision. Once he became the victim of a highway robbery when four young Irish escapees rushed at him and pulled him from his horse. They struck him over the head with a piece of wood, dragged him into the bushes where they stripped him of his clothes and stole all his belongings. Kentish later identified two of his convict assailants as Henry Cook & Richard Long, both of whom were sentenced to death and were hung from the gallows in the main jail. As well as surveying, Kentish began to involve himself in public life – lecturing, debating and writing about contentious colonial issues.
As a result of constant disagreements and an indiscreet letter full of accusations against Surveyor-General Mitchell, early in 1833 Kentish was arbitrarily dismissed by the Governor of NSW. Only in the Colony a couple of years, the cantankerous Kentish had already taken a number of people to court for libel, always choosing to act as his own legal advocate by representing himself.
Stranded at a Lonely Whaling Station.
Following Kentish’s dismissal, he and his family moved from Parramatta into one of the finest homes on Hyde Park Corner, Sydney, where he began to engage in his real passion- writing poetry, producing articles for pamphlets and publishing a couple of semi-weekly newspapers.
His first newspaper he very unwisely called The Surveyor-General.
After another daughter Marie Elizabeth Woolls Kentish was born on 28 July 1833, the family decided to return to England for a 12-15 months visit. With only one other passenger, Nathaniel & Anna Kentish, their two small daughters, one a new born baby, left Sydney on the 308 ton brig Sarah to sail eastward around Cape Horn to England. When Kentish saw the crew manning the pumps, he began questioning the seaworthiness of the boat. After serious arguments with the drunken captain, Kentish and his very young family, were off loaded at a lonely whaling station on the South Island of New Zealand. It took Kentish five months to get his family back to Sydney. They eventually arrived aboard the 141-ton brig Hind which was bringing 120 tons of whale oil and 15 tons of whale bones. To pass the time while stranded, Kentish commenced writing several books including one describing his present perilous predicament called Christian Fortitude under Trials and Disappointments. But as always, his first love was poetry and the long poem he composed called The Voyage, contained well over 2000 lines. Once Mrs Anna Kentish became panic-stricken when she saw one hundred Maoris in canoes enter their lonely bay and begin rowing towards them.
Back in Sydney at the end of February 1834 the family took up residency at the Colonnade in Bridge St, quite close to where Kentish opened his office at 10 Bridge St. Conceited, confident and creative, Kentish possessed both the gift of the gab and the ability to be a prolific author and pamphleteer. Over the next six years (1834-1839) in Sydney, Kentish continued to publish various periodicals. His main one this time was the ‘Sydney Times’ a four-page semi-weekly which reached a circulation of 1371 easily outstripping his four competitive newspapers. Kentish later claimed ‘it had the largest circulation in the Southern Hemisphere’. However, his verbose poetry appears to have had little appeal to no one other than himself. He continued giving public lectures on current political issues such as the economy, immigration, transportation, capital punishment and ‘the state of the Colony’, but his boastful and narcissistic style of writing and speaking always attracted loads of ridicule, criticism and hostility. During the following six years up until 1839, he continued to instigate numerous libel suits against his many critics including most of editors of rival newspapers. But it was bankruptcy that finally forced him to move on. While in Sydney, Nathaniel & Anna had their last three children. All were boys, only one of them survived, another Henry Kentish born in 1835 but always called Harry.
To Adelaide & Van Diemen’s Land
In February 1839, Kentish obtained a position as Assistant Surveyor-General of South Australia under new arrival Captain Charles Sturt, who would become another famous Australian explorer. At this point in time his wife Anna Kentish chose to take their three surviving children back to England. Along with her servant they left Sydney aboard the 716-ton ship Alfred on 17 March 1839.
Kentish moved to Adelaide and shortly afterward was invited by Governor Gawler to the Queen’s birthday celebration in Government House. Kentish lasted barely 12 months in that senior position before again being dismissed. He set himself up in Rundle St, Adelaide as a private land surveyor, real estate agent, investment adviser and wholesaler. Several more books followed, one of which was a book of poems he dedicated to Governor Gawler. Another was a colonial opera containing 13 songs; a third was a discussion on South Australia and its economy.
In 1841 Kentish applied for the position of Private Secretary to the Governor but failed to get it. Disappointed, Nathaniel Lipscomb Kentish visited Van Diemen’s Land, where recently arrived Surveyor-General Robert Power was pleased to appoint him to task of surveying a new road along our North west Coast to Emu Bay. It was Robert Power’s socialite sister Marguerite who became the Countess of Blessington and a popular author, while maintaining a close relationship with Lord Byron whom she first met in Genoa, Italy. Power allocated a servant to his new surveyor but a few weeks later, after finding him drinking and neglecting his duties, Kentish had him sent for a month to the House of Correction in Launceston.