My 1st cousin five times removed, John James Russell, born in Dublin in 1804, was a surgeon in the British Army. He had a considerable role in the early history of Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land.

When he joined up, on 28 July 1825, Russell was first assigned as a hospital assistant to Staff, not posted to a regiment. From December 1825 to September 1826 he was stationed in Jamaica. On 25 April 1826 he was appointed Assistant Surgeon of the 77th (East Middlesex) Regiment of Foot, transferring the following year to Assistant Surgeon of the 63rd (West Suffolk) Regiment of Foot. From December 1826 to April 1828 he accompanied his regiment in a deployment to Portugal.

From 1828 the 63rd had begun to provide escort and garrison services in the Australian convict colonies of New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land. Leaving Dublin on 16 November 1828, on 26 March 1829 Assistant Surgeon Dr Russell of the 63rd Regiment arrived in Sydney on the ‘Ferguson‘ with a detachment of his regiment and 214 convicts.

By 1830 Russell had moved to Launceston. When he left after a year with new orders the local paper newspaper (Launceston Advertiser (Tas.), Monday 23 August 1830, page 2.), evidently sorry to see him go, wrote:

"Render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's." 
We have lost a man whose place in Launceston will not be easily filled up, one who has been justly designated the ' Friend of JUSTICE AND HUMANITY.' While we render the tribute of praise to Dr. John RUSSELL of the 63rd Regiment, which is merely his due, we are convinced that we speak not only our own sentiments, but those of the public also. That gentleman has endeared himself to high and low in our community, and it is upon good authority we state, that the poor and the miserable have blessed him as he passed them by— we ourselves well know that many have reason so to do. 
We wish Dr. Russell every success in that part of the Island to which he has been called; or wherever else it may please Providence to place him— it will always give us great pleasure to hear of his well-doing and well-being.

Russell’s new role was as first Commandant of a penal settlement to be established on a peninsular, difficult of access, fifty miles from Hobart. Lieutenant Richard Fry of the 63rd had originally been appointed Superintendent of the new settlement, but became ill and was unable to take up the post. Russell was appointed in his place.

He landed there on 22 September 1830, commanded to construct a timber mill, a “sawing station” to replace an earlier mill at Birch’s Bay, twenty-five miles south of Hobart. Fifty prisoners were selected, with an officer and fifteen soldiers of the 63rd Regiment detached to accompanied them. Russell’s powers included those of Magistrate for the new settlement. At his suggestion it was named Port Arthur, after the Tasmanian Governor.

Under Russell’s management, huts were built and timber-getting operations established. After considerable difficulties with supplies, the settlement was judged to be both a convenient and easily secured location, a better alternative to the penal settlement on Maria Island. Russell acquired a reputation as a humane Commandant and a competent manager of convicts. In July 1831 he was replaced by Captain John Mahon.

Port Arthur Van Diemen’s Land by John Russell inscribed in pencil on verso ‘Drawn from nature Settlement commenced Septr 1830 by order of H.E. Lt. Govr Arthur’. Image in the collection of Libraries Tasmania

In 1831 the Hobart-Town Almanack described Port Arthur as one of three penal settlements (report transcribed in the Hobart Town Courier (Tas.), Saturday 15 January 1831):

3. Port Arthur. This new settlement on Tasman's Peninsula, named after his Excellency the Lieut. Governor, promises to be of considerable advantage to the colony. The formation of the establishment commenced in Sept. 1830, under the direction of Mr. Russell, Assistant Surgeon of the 63rd. regiment, and it is now in active progress.

It is intended for the reception of convicts from Macquarie Harbour who have conducted themselves well during a portion of their sentence at that Penal Settlement, or in some instances from the chain-gangs as a progressive step towards the greater indulgence of re-admitting them amongst the community at large. They are to be principally employed in felling and drawing the fine timber with which that part of the country abounds. 

But another most important object of the settlement, and probably that which is likely to prove of the greatest ultimate benefit to the colony, is the instruction of boys in the trades, chiefly that of sawyers. They are to be sent down to the settlement immediately after their arrival on Hobart-town, and placed under the charge of persons competent to teach them. Already a number of boys from amongst the late arrivals have been sent there, and are now receiving instruction.

Thus, instead as heretofore, of being spread through the country, where they only learnt vices and irregularities, and formed connexions which eventually led in many instances to their ruin, they are taught habits of industry and it is to be hoped will become capable of rendering essential service to the public, and of afterwards earning for themselves a reputable livelihood. 

Port Arthur, one of the finest harbours in Van Diemen's Land, is about 55 miles from Hobart-town. Its entrance (lat. 43 degrees 13 minutes S. long, 148 degrees E.) is just half way between Cape Pillar and Cape Raoul, on the southern coast of Tasman's Peninsula. 

These two remarkable Capes have a grand appearance on approaching the harbour. The former consists of basaltic columns, built up as it were to an enormous height, and from the regularity with which they are raised or piled, would almost seem to have been effected by human hands.

The latter, Cape Raoul, so called from the pilot of the Research, or Basalts of the same material, has the singular appearance of a stupendous Gothic ruin, projecting abruptly into the ocean, with its massy pillars, rising up in the manner of minarets or turrets, with the tremendous waves, dashing against its dark and ragged walls below. 

The coast between these two Capes, (10 miles asunder) falls back so as to form a bay, of a crescentic shape, termed by the French as 'Mainjon baie'. Its sides are all rugged and inaccessible. 

At the middle of this crescent, the passage of the harbour opens. It is about a mile wide, and runs up in a N. N. west direction for 4 miles and a half. At the distance of 3 and a half miles up, it expands to the westward to form a large bay, the safest part of the harbour.

The water is deep on both sides close to the shores. The western head is formed by a hill of between 4 and 5 hundred feet in height with a clear round top and perpendicular sides towards the sea. The eastern by a bold rocky point, surmounted by a conical hill 800 feet high, with another still loftier behind it. From this point the east to shore runs up in nearly a straight unbroken line to the end of the harbour. It also is formed by a perpendicular wall of Basaltic columns and ironstone rock, with a long line of hills above them sloping bushland, having the appearance of an immense battery or embankment. These hills are covered lightly with trees of a stunted growth. There are 3 or 4 rocky gullies and fresh water streams on this side, where landing may be effected when the wind is an easterly.

The left or western side of the channel presents a very different aspect. Its rocky line is broken by bays and sandy beaches. There is also an open plain with an undulating surface covered with heath and small shrubs, and backed by a lofty range of hills which run directly up from Cape Raoul towards the N. and S. and a branch range across the centre of the peninsula. This meets the line of hills on the eastern side, and thus completely surrounds the port.

On sailing up the harbour, within the clear hill at the western head, is seen a small sandy beach where the surf is generally too great to allow of boats landing. Half a mile higher up, and beyond an inner rocky head is Safety Cove, a fine large bay with a sandy beach, into which vessels often run for shelter from the stormy winds and heavy seas so frequent upon this coast. It is open to the south-east, but by lying well round into the south-west corner of the cove, a ship may be sheltered from a south-east wind. Sailing past Safety Cove, on the left, there is a range of perpendicular rocks, a mile and a half in length, which runs along a tongue of land, (all that separates the channel from the bay inside), and close to the point of this tongue is a small and picturesque island. Here the harbour expands or rather doubles round the tongue of land and forms a beautiful bay or basin in which a large fleet might ride at anchor undisturbed by any wind. And from hence, looking directly across the bay, is first seen the point upon which the settlement is now forming, lying half a mile due west from the island.

There are besides, three smaller bays from the main sheet of water, which afford excellent anchorage. 

The settlement is prettily situated on the sloping side of a point, which is the southern boundary of the inlet, and stands out into the large bay. The buildings front to the north. There are already up, a military barrack with a neat cottage for the officers, a store and substantial huts for the prisoners, and all the necessary buildings are in progress and number of sawyers at work.

The country around presents one unvaried prospect of thickly timbered hills, they are scrubby and stony. The soil, though not so bad, yet is so stony that it would never repay the trouble of clearing for the purposes of cultivation. There are a few patches of clear swampy ground. The scrub in many places renders the country impassable, and in all parts extremely difficult to travel over.

The timber, which is the matter of first consideration as relates to the new settlement is of fine quality, particularly on that range of hills already mentioned running both north and south. It principally consists of stringy bark and gum trees, growing to a very large size, both on the sides of the hills and in the valleys. But in addition to these, the banks of the streams which run along the vales are thickly planted with other trees of a most useful description. 

There is no part of the colony which can afford a greater variety or quantity of excellent fish than Port Arthur. The delicious trumpeter is in plenty, sea trout, perch, skate and sting ray, the two last may be easily speared or harpooned on the flats; rock-cod, flat-heads and cray-fish are all in abundance. Besides the numerous streams which flow into the port abound with the small but delicate mountain trout and fresh water lobster.

A sketch of Port Arthur in 1833. Image retrieved from Port Arthur Historic Site: History timeline

Port Arthur at first had a reputation for strict discipline, but with comparatively little use of chains and corporal punishment. A stricter regime, for which the penal colony became infamous, was introduced later.

Russell continued to be deployed on special projects. He helped to set up Point Puer Establishment for Boys at Port Arthur to isolate younger from older inmates and “to train them in some useful trade and to reform them so that they would be useful citizens”. In May 1833 he became apothecary to the General Hospital at Hobart. In September he was appointed to conduct inspections of hospitals in Launceston and George Town.

At the end of 1833 the 63rd regiment was deployed to India, and in 1834 was stationed at Fort St George, in Madras. In 1836 Russell transferred to the 73rd Regiment of Foot. He served in North America from 29 July 1839 to July 1841. In June 1841 he was promoted to be Surgeon of the 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot.

On 9 September 1843, in Saint Michael, Limerick, John James Russell married Mary Baldwin Drew. They had one child, Hugh Percy Russell, born on 14 June 1846 at the regimental barracks in Salford, Lancashire, now part of Manchester.

On 24 April 1849 Mary Russell died at sea on the troop ship ‘Apollo‘ off the coast of Spain. A few week’s later John James Russell died in Ireland.

The Clare Journal, and Ennis Advertiser of 6 August 1849 reported:

At Cherry Lodge, near Killarney, John J. Russell, Esq., M. D., Surgeon of H.M.'s 36th Regt. - but a few weeks surviving his beloved wife.

The three-year-old orphan Hugh Russell seems later to have become an officer in the Royal Artillery. He did not marry and left no children.

There is a connection between John James Russell and another member of my family, Daniel Michael Paul Cudmore (1811–1891), my third great-grandfather.

One of Cudmore’s obituary notices remarks that he emigrated to Tasmania on the recommendation of his ‘cousin’, Surgeon Russell, of the 63rd Regiment. Daniel’s mother was Sarah Jane nee Russell, daughter of Francis Russell and Sarah Russell nee Cashell. I don’t know who John James Russell’s parents were nor am I certain how he and Cudmore were related; I have assumed they were first cousins.


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