Robert Knopwood

The year is 1808, and the people of Clarence Plains would like to get to know our first-ever Chaplain a little better – hello Reverend Robert Knopwood. Thanks for taking the time to answer a few of our questions – please tell us about:

Full name? Robert Knopwood (I’m the fourth Robert Knopwood in my family, which can get a bit confusing at family gatherings).

Nickname? Bobby

Age? I am 45 this year. (Robert went on to live to 75.)

Hobbies? I like to go “a-kangarooing”, and I also like to fish – I once caught 12 Crayfish in one outing. Really, fishing and hunting are more than hobbies, because we often get sick of, or run out of the rations that get sent from England. I also enjoy gardening and growing food.

Favourite Sport? I love to play cricket and love horse racing, but if I had to pick a favourite, I would say horse racing because of my great love for animals.

Favourite Food? I don’t think I could name a single food that I love the most, but I count it one of the joys of my position as Chaplain to be invited to dinner and to enjoy a good wine or two.

What brought you to Van Diemen’s Land? I was a naval Chaplain on a ship named the Calcutta that arrived in Australia in 1803. Or do you mean why did I come here? That’s a more complicated question, but let’s just say I had some debts, so a trip to a new land seemed like a good idea.

What did you think when you first arrived in Hobart? That is a tough question, but I do remember that I thought it was important to carry out my duty as a Chaplain, so I arranged the first church service in 1804.

Why did you and others give up on Risdon Cove? We liked the spot, but finding fresh water was hard and we could not make it work. So David Collins and I settled on Sullivan’s Cove on the western shore.

What is your favourite part of the Eastern Shore? I always like coming “to the east side” to explore, and a couple of years ago a friend and I came across the water to have a “very long walk” which included hiking up to the top of Mount Direction (near modern Risdon Brook Dam).

What is the future of Clarence Plains? For the last few years, it has been a great source of timber, charcoal and lime to help with all the building projects on the go in Hobart. I reckon its future will come from other natural resources like fishing and whaling, as well as the 400-acre Chaplains Glebe that I have recently marked out for farmland (which continued to be valuable farmland well into the 1900’s).

What do you make of the indigenous people? When we first arrived, they seemed to keep to themselves, but last year (1807), they were being “very troublesome to the men out a-kangarooing”. My manservant, Richardson, nearly lost his life after coming back from hunting and getting in a “battle” with a group of them. These battles are becoming more and more regular and Richardson even shot one in self-defence.*

How would you like to be remembered after you die? After I am gone, I hope to be thought of as “a steady and affectionate friend, a man of strict integrity and active benevolence, ever ready to relieve the distressed, and ameliorate the condition of the afflicted”. (This quote was written by a friend of Robert Knopwood on his monument, which is located to St Matthew’s Church in Rokeby).

*NOTE: One Community Together recognises the Mumurimina people as the traditional owners of Clarence Plains. We realise that their sovereignty was never honoured. The invasion of land, and conflict with settlers, is a sorry part of our history resulting in ongoing trauma for the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. We are committed to hearing the voice of our Aboriginal people and providing opportunity for truth telling, and we honour the resilience of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

Alexander, Alison. The Eastern Shore: A History of Clarence. 2003.
“Diary of Robert Knopwood, Van Diemen’s Land, 1805-1808.” Open Access Repository. Accessed February 23, 2022.
“Historic Heritage.” TACPLACI, Accessed February 23, 2022.
Hookey, Mabel. The Chaplain. Hobart, TAS: Fullers Bookshop, Hobart, 1970.
Knopwood, Robert. If they hear not… New Norfolk: St Matthew’s Anglican Church, 1982.
“The Reverend Robert Knopwood.” Tacplaci. Accessed February 23, 2022.
Tranmere-Clarence Plains Land & Coastcare Inc. and Wendy Andrew. Footprints: The People and Places of Early Clarence Plains and Rokeby. 2008.

The Shaping the Plains project is supported by the Clarence City Council Recovery Grant. Many thanks to Tim for the story.