Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Denis McCarty (?–1820)

by E. R. Pretyman

This article was published:

Denis McCarty (d.1820), farmer, was convicted at Wexford, Ireland, and arrived in Sydney in February 1800 in the Friendship. The ship carried no convict indents or records from Ireland, but most of the prisoners were captured rebels. McCarty was sent to Van Diemen's Land for disobedience in August 1803. In April 1808 he was appointed constable at New Norfolk where he built the first house. In June 1810 he was pardoned. On 30 November 1811 he presented an address of welcome to Governor Lachlan Macquarie at Hobart Town on behalf of the New Norfolk residents. The governor had previously referred to the 'hearty rural and honest welcome' he had received when he and his wife had stayed for a night at McCarty's comfortable farm house.

Birch Grove Farm had grown from the five acres (2 ha) granted in 1808. From 1810 McCarty had been sending potatoes and other produce to Sydney and meantime had been appointed superintendent of stock. But he was not without his troubles. John Ingle prosecuted him in January 1813, but as the proceedings were irregular the matter was dropped. Macquarie thought him 'too heavily engaged in private concerns' to be allowed to go back to his post as superintendent, but he did so, and at the end of the year Provost-Marshal William Gore appointed McCarty as his deputy in Hobart as well. In 1814 he was arrested for smuggling, found guilty and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment in Sydney, but soon after he arrived there in July 1814 he threatened to prosecute Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Davey and other magistrates for trespass, stealing and false arrest. In February 1815 Ellis Bent told Macquarie that the warrant committing McCarty was irregular and, since bushrangers had attacked his farm in his absence and stolen property worth £546 during the previous October, Macquarie used these losses as an excuse to remit the rest of the sentence. McCarty returned at once in his newly-purchased schooner Geordy, and when the bandits attacked the farm again in April and May he was there to resist them.

In November 1815 he sailed to explore the south-west coast, where the Geordy was wrecked. McCarty returned to the west coast in the Sophia next year, and at Macquarie Harbour found a safe channel through its treacherous entrance, explored it, discovered coal on its northern shore and brought pine from the Gordon River.

In June 1817 he was again in Sydney under arrest, this time to stand trial on a charge of assaulting M. J. Whitaker. Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell told Macquarie that McCarty was 'one of the most turbulent and insubordinate Men in the Settlement'. McCarty admitted the assault, apologized for his 'outrageous conduct' and so persuaded Whitaker to withdraw the prosecution.

After he returned to Van Diemen's Land in May 1818 he undertook to build a road, complete with bridges, from Hobart to New Norfolk, in return for 2000 acres (809 ha) of land. In June 1819 he reported that it had been completed, but when inspection showed that it was in a very bad state and Sorell refused payment, McCarty suggested that the government had made the contract really to compensate him for his losses from the bushrangers in 1814.

Early in 1820 his Birch Grove Farm was advertised for sale, possibly because he needed money but more probably because of some domestic tangle. On 25 March 1820 he was drowned, and rumours of foul play followed. The Hobart Town Gazette reported that 'he had been many years in the settlement, was of a speculative turn, had been the owner of three vessels, had acquired considerable landed and other property'. This was probably true, but the further claim that 'he was much respected at New Norfolk where he had chiefly resided' seems to have been exaggerated. His widow married Thomas Lascelles who had harassed McCarty in the past and soon dissipated the estate.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 3, vols 1-3: L. Macquarie, Journals of His Tours in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, 1810-1822 (Syd, 1956)
  • Sydney Gazette, 28 Aug 1803, 23 Dec 1815, Aug 1817
  • Van Diemen's Land Gazette, Apr 1814
  • Hobart Town Gazette, June 1816, Mar 1820, R. Knopwood diaries (Royal Society of Tasmania and State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

E. R. Pretyman, 'McCarty, Denis (?–1820)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • McCarthy, Denis

25 March, 1820
Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: 7 years