Australia Day pilgrimage to First Fleeter’s grave

Historian and author Reg Watson, right, at the grave of Betty
King at Magra, with his grand-daughter Gracie.

THE life of a New Norfolk woman believed to be the last surviving First Fleeter was remembered by two visitors to her final resting place at Magra last weekend.

Author Reg A. Watson and his grand-daughter Gracie Ryan visited the Back River Chapel on Australia Day last Sunday to pay homage to Betty King who is regarded as the first European woman to set foot in Australia as part of the First Fleet in January 1788, and then the last of the First Fleeters to die nearly 70 years later.

A headstone in the Methodist Church’s Back River Chapel graveyard on Lawitta Rd, Magra, notes that Mrs King was buried “near this spot”. Geophysical testing several years ago discovered there is a burial right at that spot, although the identity of the remains is unknown. News of her death was published in The Hobart Town Daily Courier on August 7, 1856.

News of Betty King’s death published on August 7, 1856.

Mr Watson has researched and written about Mrs King for decades and the Australia Day visit was to honour her memory and endurance. He and his grand-daughter laid a bush posy on her grave, although it was not the first time he has done so.

“Her story is one of fortitude,” Mr Watson said.  “She arrived on January 26, 1788, at Sydney as a convict.  Later she was sent to Norfolk Island where she met Samuel King, a marine. Betty – then Elizabeth Thackeray with various spellings of her surname – after gaining her freedom came with Samuel and settled at Kings Rocks at Back River, Magra. Nothing remains of the property today.”

Mr Watson said he has always been surprised that more is not made of the fact such a significant person rests in Tasmania. “Gracie’s and my tribute to her was to recognise her importance in establishing this nation of ours. Against all odds and with horrific hardship they not only survived, but prospered. It is important that young people like Gracie know their history. Here’s to Betty and all like her,” he said.

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