Book Review – “The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet” by Mollie Gillen

For anyone researching ancestors that arrived in Australia as part of the First Fleet, this book is an indispensable tool.

In the foreward, the book’s contents are described as…

A valuable bibliography, an introduction containing a perceptive analysis of the background of the First Fleet, notes explaining the methodology that has been followed, and appendices that cast light on different groups of First Fleeters including the ‘phantoms’ – those men and women erroneously listed in earlier publications as having come.

Thais is a very important reference book, but the word ‘reference’ fails to do justice to what is a lively, vivid, colourful piece of writing that in addition to being original and highly informative is enjotable and readable.

Brian H. Fletcher – Bicentennial Professor of Australian History, The University of Sydney

The book was published back in 1988 after some 20 years of research on Gillen’s part. The bulk of its contents includes an alphabetical listing of approx 1500 people who sailed on the 11 ships that comprised the First Fleet. There are also abstracts of biographical data and a fascinating section that includes the signatures of 160 people, many of which were taken from the marriage register of St Phillip’s Church in Sydney, the oldest Parish in Australia together with the Parish of Parramatta, the first service being held on 3 Feb 1788 and the original church being built in 1793.

On a personal level, this has been a fantastic resource for me to use to research some of my First Fleet ancestors. Two of the most fascinating were men by the names of John Randall (also known as Reynolds) and John Martin. Most interesting to me initially was the fact that both men were described as “negro” and I was unaware of any connection that I had to any black ancestors. Interestingly, through marriage, subsequent years saw such a change in the appearance of the children that any connection to black ancestors was unrecognisable. Also of note is the fact that both Johns were related through marriage, with John Randall’s daughter Mary marrying John Martin in 1812 – an age gap between them of 36 years!

John Randall / Reynolds (c1764-?) – A black American sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing a steel watch chain. He arrived on the Alexander at the age of 24, mustered under the name Reynolds. Randall / Reynolds appeared to be relatively well-educated. He could read and write, he had musical talents including the ability to play the flute and tambourine and he was also a ‘crackshot’ with a gun. He married fellow convict Esther Harwood on 21 Feb 1788 in the first marriage in the Colony. Sadly, Esther died in 1789. John subsequently married Mary Butler on 5 Sep 1790. Mary was an Irish convict who arrived in 1790. They had four childen – Lydia (1791-1793), Frances (1792-1870), Mary (1793-1857) and John (1797-?). The final fate of John Randall is unknown. It is thought he may have relocated to Tasmania, where he was murdered, but this has been unable to be verified.

John Martin (c1757-1837) – John was described as “a negro” originally from Barbados, who was sentenced to 7 years transportation in 1782 for stealing a bundle of clothing. He was held on the Ceres until eventually arriving on the Alexander at the age of 31. He married fellow convict Ann Joy in 1792 and received a grant of 50 acres at the Northern Boundary Farms. John and Ann had no children and she died in 1806. John subsequently married Mary Randall, daughter of fellow convict John Randall, in 1812. There is some confusion over the number of children he and Mary had with Gillen’s book listing 5 children – John (1807-1855), Sophia (1809-1870), Frances (1811-1888), Henry (1813-1892), Hannah (1815-1871). However, other research suggests that there was also Richard (1818-1892), Frederick (1821-1903), Mary (1822-1870), Amelia (1826-1886), Harriett (1830-1882) and Nicholas (1832-1902). John also gained employment over the years as a constable and poundkeeper as well as maintaining his 50 acres and livestock. He was pensioned as a constable in 1828 at the age of 72. He died at Field of Mars in 1837 and is buried at St John’s Parramatta.

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4 Comments

Filed under Australian history, Convicts, New South Wales history, Pioneers, Queensland history, Research tools, Tasmanian history, Victorian history

4 responses to “Book Review – “The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet” by Mollie Gillen

  1. Lyn Barnes

    JOHN RANDALL AND ESTHER HOWARD HAD ONE CHILD ,FRANCES ..!,HER BIRTH IS REGISTERED IN 1789. ESTHER DIED EITHER IN CHILD BIRTH OR SOON AFTER,IN 1789.AFTER ESTHER DIED ,JOHN RE MARRIED MARY BUTLER ,THEY HAD 3 CHILDREN ,LYDIA,MARY AND JOHN.THIS FAMILY HISTORY HAS BEEN TRACED BY THE MARTIN FAMILIES. IT HAS BEEN PROVEN THAT JOHN RANDALL WAS NOT THE JOHN RANDALL MURDERED IN TASMANIA.PROOF OF OUR JOHN RANDALL’S DEATH IS 1822.HIS 2 DAUGHTERS FROM A THIRD RELATIONSHIP WERE PLACED IN THE NATIVE INSTITUTE IN 1823 ,BECAUSE THEIR MOTHER FANNY COULD NOT LOOK AFTER THEM ,HE HAD 2 MORE SONS ALSO AND THEY DROWNED IN A BOATING ACCIDENT.THE BOOK CALLED [THE BLACK FOUNDERS] BY CASSANDRA PYBUS.HAS THE CORRECT INFORMATION ABOUT JOHN RANDALL,JOHN MARTIN AND THE OTHER 9 AFRICAN/AMERICAN ‘S THAT SAILED TO AUSTRALIA ON THE FIRST FLEET.also JOHN RANDALL PLAYED THE FLUTE AND TAMBOUR ,WHICH IS A DRUM NOT A TAMBOURINE.JOHN RANDALL SAILED TO FIJI IN 1814 ON THE SHIP [THE NEW CAMPBELL MACQUARIE ] UNDER RICHARD SIDDINS,THE SHIP RETURNED IN EARLY 1815.[[JOHN RANDALL HAD PREVIOUSLY SOLD HIS LAND AT PARRAMATTA TO JOESEPH HOLT ,AND PURCHASED LAND AT KISSING POINT AND THEN WORKED FOR ROBERT CAMPBELL JUNIOR FOR A FEW YEARS AFTER HE WAS DISCHARGED FROM THE N.S.W.CORPS IN 1810 ]] HE SOLD UP EVERYTHING AT KISSING POINT IN EARLY 1814 BEFORE SAILING TO FIJI.
    For any more information contact me ..I can give you information on the family history and family lines of the Martin’s and Randall’s.or just type in Randall and Martin first Fleeters and you will find what you are looking for.
    senrab09@bigpond.com

    • Thanks very much for all that information Lyn.

      I have heard of the Cassandra Pybus book previously and it’s one I keep meaning to track down and read. It sounds like it sheds a lot of light on John Randall.

      I’m on a bit of a break from my research at the moment as I am studying and just don’t have enough hours in the day right now.

      If you don’t mind I will contact you in the future when I get back into my research as it sounds like you have a lot of very useful information.

      Thanks

      Rachel

      • Lyn Barnes

        Thanks for the reply Rachel. I also have [The Founders of Australia by Mollie Gillen] which I purchased before ”The Black Founders” I also have ”A Rum Story ” The adventures of Joseph Holt and his 13 years in Australia,1800 to 1812,”,Edited by Peter O’Shaughnessy”. He new our John Randall and purchased his land in 1810 as I mentioned earlier, and this is all written in Holt’s Memoir’s of Australia.It is the Biographical notes in Holt’s book that tells of Randall selling up and sailing to Fiji in 1814,So I researched that ,and found out the correct details of that trip.I don’t think any body has come across this information about Randalls trip to Fiji.I have never seen it before I purchased Holt’s book. I also have the correct information about the other 6 Martin children,not mentioned in Mollie Gillen’s Book.
        Once again thanks for the reply, I have just retired so I now have more time to put all of my research in order.
        Lyn

  2. Lyn Barnes

    Correction Holt purchased the land in 1800 not 1810 as I just wrote. Lyn.

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