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James Hobbs (1792–1880)

by E. R. Pretyman

This article was published:

James Hobbs (1792-1880), explorer, was born on 8 April 1792 at Saltash, near Plymouth, Devon, England, the younger son of William and Ann Jane Hobbs. His father and brother were naval lieutenants and died on active service before James himself was enlisted at the age of 10. However, he embarked for New South Wales with his mother, whom Lord Hobart had advised to go, and his four sisters. They sailed in the Calcutta in William Collins's expedition in 1803. After reaching the River Derwent in Van Diemen's Land, young Hobbs, although described as settler, re-entered the navy when H.M.S. Buffalo arrived in November 1805. Drafted to the Porpoise in 1808, he was on board her with William Bligh, deposed governor of New South Wales. He sailed again to the Derwent in 1809 and angrily recorded the unjust flogging of Colonel Collins's son which Bligh ordered on his arrival.

Later leaving the Porpoise, Hobbs sailed for India. Misfortune attended his attempted entry into commerce and in 1822 he returned to settle in Van Diemen's Land. When Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell decided to seek a more detailed examination of the colony's coastline, Hobbs agreed to circumnavigate the island, holding instructions to locate ports, rivers, and land suitable for settlement and to report on a proposed breakwater at Macquarie Harbour. He left Hobart Town on 5 February 1824 with two well equipped open boats manned by twelve carefully chosen convicts. They met exceptionally bad weather, suffered serious food shortages and both boats were severely damaged. The larger one was replaced by the commandant at Macquarie Harbour, the other was repaired, and Hobbs completed the circumnavigation on 10 July. This was undoubtedly the most noteworthy event of his career. He was rewarded with a grant of land and on 16 November was appointed wharfinger at £300 a year. In July 1825 he married Mary Ann, eldest daughter of Joseph Hone, barrister-at-law. In 1826, with Thomas Scott, a surveyor, and Roberts, a miner, Hobbs reported on the transport of coal from South Cape and Adventure Bay. In 1840, since he found that his salary as wharfinger was insufficient for the upkeep of his family, he resigned; but attacks by Aboriginals and other troubles followed his attempts at farming and in 1846 he became insolvent. His property, Ravensdale, at Little Swanport was sold. He moved to Victoria in 1854 and obtained employment in the Trade and Customs Department. He retired in 1864 on a pension. He died on 29 January 1880 at St Kilda, well respected and acknowledged as a pioneer. His wife predeceased him in March 1869.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 1, 3-6
  • Hobart Town Gazette, Feb, July, Aug 1824, Oct 1826
  • Hobart Town Courier, 2 Dec 1842
  • Age (Melbourne), 31 Jan 1880
  • Calder papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

E. R. Pretyman, 'Hobbs, James (1792–1880)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 April, 1792
Plymouth, Devon, England


29 January, 1880 (aged 87)
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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