Today we introduce Len Langan as a guest author with Think Tasmania. We’re very pleased he found us, and is keen to make a contribution to the website. Len has a great deal of knowledge to share, and is passionate about history and tourism. The website’s founders are quick to acknowledge that they’re not experts in every category covered by Think Tasmania; so in order to provide readers with a variety of topics and different writing styles, we say… welcome Len.

Fleet - Port Arthur

Port Arthur historic convict settlement (photo by Dan Fellow)

To give you some idea of what to expect from Len, we’re publishing this article about religion, convicts and early times in the new colony. We know it’s not specifically about Tasmania, but don’t worry… we’re not about to waver off-topic! We’re confident Len will share more articles with us in the future, including similar information that is totally relevant to our island state. We’ve selected photos taken in Tasmania by Dan Fellow to accompany Len’s article.

Our Heritage: From the First Fleet

by Len Langan

The Reverend Richard Johnson is known as the Anglican clergyman who joined the first fleet on its voyage to New South Wales and to be the minister of religion on the east coast of this colony for many years. It is untrue that no provision was made for the spiritual needs on board the fleet of eleven vessels in the initial planning. William Wilberforce and the Rev. John Newton had obtained Prime Minister Pitt’s approval to appoint Johnson many months before the fleet set sail; possibly in October of 1786. It did not cater for the Roman Catholics who numbered at least 300 and the request to permit the Priest Thomas Walshe to join the voyage at his own expense, was curtly refused. In fact totally ignored.

Fleet - Buckland Church

Buckland Church (photo by Dan Fellow)

Wilberforce in one of his lighter moods nicknamed Johnson “The Bishop of Botany Bay” but the young graduate of Magdalen, Cambridge was undaunted in his faith and application. With great determination he made sure that he carried enough bibles, prayer books and Testaments to serve the entire fleet and an astonishing library of over 4,000 suitable books. History records the terrors of the eight and a half months voyage and his new bride Mary, no doubt suffered great consternation as to their future, whilst her husband conducted services for Worship, Communion, Christening, the Churching of Women and Burials. They had been married by the Archbishop of Canterbury before the fleet set sail because the question had arisen could he legally marry himself in the new colony as the only ordained priest there, if he wanted later to take a wife.

Fleet - Graveyard Sunset, Cressy

Graveyard sunset: Cressy Tasmania (photo by Dan Fellow)

Reverend Richard Johnson: Cultivation, Crops and Convicts

Once on shore his burdens did not ease. He received little support from Governor Phillip and could not, and not for want of trying, obtain the funds from the government purse to build a church. In desperation he eventually built it at his own expense (67 pounds, 13 shillings and two pence halfpenny, perhaps, 67 pounds, twelve shillings and eleven pence halfpenny) only to have it burnt down by convicts who objected to compulsory church going a few years later. One legend states that he was never compensated for this expense whilst another claims that he was. In time he was granted land and proved himself to be a very successful farmer. Perhaps he really did establish the first orange orchards here and therefore our fruit industry, but he should be honoured as a great example of Christian ministry in our nation growing his melons, pumpkins and tending the cultivation of human brotherhood under the banner of Christ in a young turbulent, unjust and unforgiving society.

Fleet - Longford Church

Church: Longford Tasmania (photo by Dan Fellow)

We should acknowledge him as a better and worthier man that the Reverend Samuel Marsden for he sought less in personal material gain and gave more; acknowledging that posterity is rarely either accurate or just. Marsden respected him but we do not know what Johnson thought of him and perhaps we never will.

Len Langan lives in Longford with his wife Jill. They are both passionate about Tasmanian heritage and tourism and things that can be done in this industry. Len writes about Tasmanian history  for both The Courier in Longford and the magazine Sagacity,  and works with Virtuosi taking music to rural areas.