Category Archives: Convicts

Joseph Eyles

Another interesting character in my family tree is Joseph Eyles, a convict who came to have a very successful life in Australia.

Joseph was born on the 1st December 1773 in Marlborough, England. He was the son of Sir Joesph Eyles (1743-1840) and Mary Dudley (1744-1840). In October 1796, Joseph was committed to stand trial for the theft of 40lbs of lead. In January 1797 he was found guilty and was sent to the prison hulk The Fortune, where he spent two and a half long years before being transferred to the ship Canada for transportation to Australia. He finally arrived in Australia in 1801 . In 1805 he was assigned to the whaling ship King George and by 1807 he was free by servitude.

Joseph had married Elizabeth Dixon (1784-1811) in Parramatta on the 6th November 1804. Unfortunately Elizabeth died in 1811 at the age of 27.

On the 4th February 1815, Joseph married Elizabeth Smith (1785-1854). Elizabeth was also a convict, who was sentenced to transportation for stealing a gown and arrived in Sydney in October 1811 on the ship Friends. Interestingly, it appears that the name ‘Smith’ was an alias used by Elizabeth and her real surname was actually either Trebble or Trible. Elizabeth had a daughter, Anne (1802-1853), from a previous relationship.

Joseph and Elizabeth had six children together – Joseph (1812-1865), John (1814-1878), Mary Ann (1816-1890), William (1818-1859), James (1820-1907) and Elizabeth (1824-1898).

In 1810, Joseph was living with Elizabeth and her daughter Anne on land in Field of Mars – 6ha of land leased from John Macarthur. That land was on Marsden Rd almost opposite Mobbs Lane and on it, Joseph planted a peach orchard. In 1821, John Macarthur gave up all his properties in the Pennant Hills district in exchange for land in the Cowpastures (Camden). By this time, five of the Eyles children had been born.

In 1822, Joseph asked Governor Brisbane to grant him the land on which he was living in exchange for 20ha that he been granted by Governor Macquarie to the north of his peach orchard. The 1822 Muster lists Joseph’s farm as comprising of 6 acres of wheat, 6 acres of corn, 2.5 acres of oats, 1 acre of potatoes and a 1 acre orchard. He also had a horse and 16 hogs.

Joseph’s request for more land was not finally settled until 1832 although Joseph had built a much grander house and planted more peaches on his original orchard.

In the meantime, in January 1828, Joseph was made a Constable at Parramatta. That appointment provided him with an income (3/15/- per half-year) and government rations, also obtainable half-yearly.

Of Joseph’s sons, Joseph Jnr moved to the Richmond River in northern NSW where he supplied goods and services to the cedar cutters. John moved to Ballina, William remained in the Carlingford district, as did James who became a pillar of the Wesleyan Church (now Uniting Church) on Marsden Rd. That church was established in 1825. James built a fine house on Marsden Rd. That house, still standing, was named “Caskie Ben” after a parish near Aberdeen in Scotland.

Joseph died on the 26th June 1856 in Dundas and was buried at All Saints Cemetery in Parramatta along with his wife Elizabeth and her daughter Ann.

Eyles Family Grave

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Solomon Wiseman and the history of Wisemans Ferry

An interesting character from my family tree is a man named Solomon Wiseman, an English convict who made a very successful life for himself here in New South Wales.

Solomon was born on the 16th April 1777 in Cobham, Kent. Wiseman was a merchant who also worked for the British Government carrying spies across the English Channel to France. In 1805 he was  convicted at the Old Bailey of stealing 704 lbs of brazil wood. He was sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted to transportation for life to Australia.

Along with his wife Jane (nee Middleton, whom he married in 1799) and their two children William (1801-1831) and Richard (1806-1856), Solomon arrived in Sydney aboard the Alexander on the 20th August 1806.

Solomon was fortunate to be granted conditional liberty, which essentially meant that he was free to serve out his sentence under the supervision of his wife. In 1810 he was granted a Ticket of Leave and in 1812 he was given an Absolute Pardon. He then started an extremely successful business empire as a merchant which included shipping coal from Newcastle, wheat from the Hawkesbury region and timber from the Shoalhaven region. In 1811 he had launched his sloop the Hawkesbury Packet which he used to bring cedar from Port Stephens.

In 1817 he was granted 100 acres on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in Lower Portland Head, which became known as Wisemans Ferry. In 1823 he was granted a further 200 acres here. On this land he built an inn known as the Sign of the Packet in 1821 and in 1826 he built an elaborate family home known as Cobham Hall (now the Wisemans Inn Hotel).

The following is taken from the monument to Solomon at Wisemans Ferry (courtesy of Hawkesbury on the Net)…

In the early 1820’s Wiseman shrewdly discovered the government’s intentions to build the colony’s first road between Sydney and the Hunter Valley near his land grant. Wiseman took it upon himself to convince the authorities that a route through his land was the best. With success for Wiseman the road building commenced in 1826 with two road gangs being located on either side of the Hawkesbury River at Wisemans Ferry . In 1827 Solomon Wiseman received the lucrative contract to supply all provisions to these gangs, and later that year the licence to operate a ferry to transport people and stock across the river. The original ferry crossing was 2km downstream from its present crossing, but was moved in 1829 when the Devine’s Hill ascent was chosen as the new route for the Great North Road. The current ferry crossing is the oldest in Australia’s history.

Solomon and Jane had four more children after their arrival in Australia – John (1809-1855), Thomas (1811-1855), Mary (1813-1872) and Sarah (1816-1902).

Jane died at the age of 51 on the 20th July 1821 at Portland Head after a long illness.

Solomon married Sophia Warner (nee Williams) on the 1st November 1826 at Wilberforce. Sophia was the widow of one of his employees. They stayed married until his death on the 28th November 1838. He was buried at his property with first wife Jane and later reinterred at the Church  of St Mary Magdalene. Sadly, his vault was broken into and his coffin vandalised. What was left of Solomon was then buried at the cemetery at Wisemans Ferry. Sophia returned to England in 1841 and died in London in 1870.

Portrait of Solomon Wiseman

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St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta

I have to admit that I have a particular fascination with historical cemeteries. Nothing macabre mind you, I just have a special appreciation for their place in history and the unique opportunities that they offer for historical research.

One cemetery that is a particular favourite of mine is St John’s Cemetery at Parramatta in Sydney’s west.  St John’s is actually the oldest cemetery in Australia, established in 1790, and it includes the graves of many of our First Fleeters and early pioneers, including a number of my ancestors…

  • Isaac Augustus Mobbs (1851-1938)
  • Edith Mary Mobbs (nee Crabbe) (1852-1946)
  • Mary Ann Tunks (1824-1824)
  • Sarah Tomlinson (nee Lester) (abt 1780-1837)
  • Mary Martin (nee Randall) (1793-1857)
  • John Martin (1757-1837)
  • Mary Ann Bowerman (nee Martin) (1822-1870)
  • George Best (1758-1836)
  • Martha Best (nee Chamberlain) (1778-1833)
  • George Best (1801-1823)
  • Sarah Pye (nee Best) (1809-1882)
  • William Best (1816-1902)
  • Susan Best (nee Gilbert) (1822-1865)
  • Hannah Carter (nee Best) (1851-1927)
  • Gwendoline Best (1888-1897)
  • Robert Roy Best (1886-1904)
  • Vera Best (1882-1913)
  • Robert Holt Best (1856-1933)
  • Emily Jane Best (nee Luke) (1856-1935)
  • Hilary Susan Best (1884-1950)

And probably many more to add. I still have quite a lot of research to do and will visit again on my next trip to Sydney.

St John’s is located right on the edge of the Parramatta CBD. It is quite a strange experience visiting the cemetery as it is surrounded by tall apartment blocks and retail buildings. It is well worth a wander around and certainly isn’t the same bushwhacking experience as visiting St Paul’s at nearby Carlingford. While doing some research today, I also found a link to ghost tours of St John’s operated by Past Times Tours – http://www.paranormalaustralia.com/tours/tourbones.html.

St John's Cemetery, Parramatta

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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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The Mobbs Mob…

One of the most interesting discoveries I made while researching my ancestry was my connection to a man named William Mobbs, an industrious convict who was my great great great great great grandfather.

William was born in London in 1763, the son on Isaac Mobbs (1731-1794) and Mary Ireland (1740-unknown). William married Ann Grover (1761-1850) in 1790 and they proceeded to have three children while living in London – William Jnr (1791-1851), Ann (1795-1867) and George (1796-1821).

In 1796 William was committed to stand trial at Newgate on the charge of stealing salt petre, a crime he committed in conjunction with his brother-in-law William Batman (1765-1833), father of John Batman, founder of Melbourne.

William was found guilty and sentenced to 7 years transportation and after a year in prison he left England on the Barwell, arriving in Sydney in May 1798. His wife Ann and their three children followed William as free settlers, arriving aboard the Earl Cornwallis in 1801. William and Ann then had another son John (1802-1828).

William was quite a model convict and displayed some talent for horticulture.

An early diary by Mrs Felton Matthews commented that…

” Old Mobbs was among the first convicts who arrived in the country and was for years employed in the government garden, from whence he obtained a cutting from the first orange tree brought from Rio: this tree he showed with pride as being the parent of his whole orchard, either by cuttings, layers or seedlings…He was the first possessor of peaches” (from Book of Sydney Suburbs by Pollon p51).

William was emancipated in 1803 and concentrated on the acquisition of land. His first formal grant was 30 acres in the Field of Mars in 1802 although documents suggest he owned land in present day Carlingford from 1798. 26 acres were cleared with 11.5 under wheat & maize. He also had 44 sheep, 19 horned cattle, 12 goats and 2 pigs.

In 1820 he applied for more land & received another 300 acres which he used for cattle grazing. By 1823 he had another 80 acres for the propogation of fruit trees. By 1825 the Sydney Gazette declared that William Mobbs of Pennant Hills “has one of the finest crops of wheat ever beheld in the colony”. The 1828 muster credits him with 907 acres and he was widely known for the best apples & oranges in the colony.

William Mobbs died in 1839 and was buried in St Johns Cemetery in Parramatta.

His widow Ann “of Orange Orchard” remarried but was buried next to her first husband following her death in 1850.

In the main, their children followed their father’s rural interests. Son William Jnr was identified in the 1828 Muster Books as a farmer with 300 acres, while brother Isaac had 200 acres. John was a gardener & fruiterer who died young at age 26. Ann married three times and died in 1867 at age 74.

The Mobbs land together with other orchards in the area including those owned by Cox, Spurway & Neil, were effected in the 1860s  by an insect attack with diseased trees having to be destroyed. A second environmental disaster soon followed and exacerbated the farmers. Severe drought set in & it was another 7 yrs before the orchards operated effectively. However, the orchards & larger land holdings were subdivided for residential development, notably after the first subdivision in 1883 & the Carlingford railway extension in 1902.

William Mobbs Jnr & wife Maria Mobbs (nee Grono)

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