Tuesday, 28 January 2014

52 Ancestors #2 William Roberts

William Roberts is the second member of my family who travelled to Australia with the First Fleet aboard the Scarborough.
The book, A Rich Inheritance: William Roberts and Kezia Brown - their background and their family published c 1988, contains two volumes of research providing information about William Roberts and his family. Since then resources on the Internet have helped provide additional information.

William Roberts was born in Cornwall, England possibly in 1756. Family trees on Ancestry suggest that his father was John Roberts (1717-1792) while his mother was Jane Lugg (1727-1793). They were from St Keverne, Cornwall. The Cornwall OPC Database provides information about birth, death, marriage and other records in Cornwall. On 28 August 1757 a William Roberts (son of John and Jane Roberts) was baptised at St Keverne. On 1 July 1778 at Helston, Cornwall, William Roberts married Mary Russell (1757-1802). They had three children, Mary, William and Robert who was born after his father had been arrested.

In August 1786 a Launceston newspaper reported that at the Bodmin Assizes William Roberts was tried for stealing five and a half pound weight of yarn, the property of William Moffat of Launceston. William was sentenced to seven years transportation. He was a prisoner at the Bodmin Jail which had opened in 1779 so conditions were possibly not as bad as in some of the other gaols in the country. During the day the male prisoners were employed at tasks such as sawing wood, cutting and polishing grave stones or weaving on the prison looms.

On the 25 September 1786 William was transferred to the hulk, Dunkirk, anchored at Plymouth. Hulks were old ships used to house prisoners. During the day the convicts usually worked in chain gangs carrying out tasks such as dredging or working on the roads. At night the convicts slept in an over crowded area between the decks. William remained on the hulk until 21 March 1787 when he was transferred to the transport ship, Charlotte. Ten days later he was transferred to the transport ship, Scarborough. On 13 May 1787 the First Fleet left Plymouth and spent the next eight months travelling to New South Wales. Details of this arduous trip can be found in an earlier post on this blog First Fleet Voyage to Australia.They arrived in Sydney Harbour on 26 January 1788.

Almost two and a half years after his trial William arrived in this new colony on the other side of the world from his family in Cornwall, including a son he probably never saw. He now had to make a new life. Initially the convicts would have lived in tents and later wattle and daub huts. The climate was very different from home in Cornwall. Apart from anything else the seasons were back to front. Arriving in New South Wales in the middle of summer would provided a challenge to the convicts and soldiers in the new colony. The ships had brought provisions but it was necessary for crops to be planted to sustain the colony and herds of animals to be developed from those brought out on the ships. The land around the first settlement proved unsuitable for the growing of crops so it was necessary to look for better land that could be used for farming. There was a shortage of skilled labour among the convicts required to build the new settlement. So far no record has stated William's occupation in Cornwall but he may have possessed some carpentry skills as family stories suggest that he had worked in this field in his first years in the colony.

William's seven year sentence ended in August 1793. Convicts were allowed to remarry after seven years separation from their former spouse so on 14 August 1793 William married Kezia Brown, a convict who had arrived in New South Wales with the Second Fleet. They were married at St Phillip's Church in Sydney by the first clergyman in the colony, Richard Johnson. William and Kezia already had two children, William and Mary, and then added a further eight children to the family, Sarah, James, John, Robert, Maria, Harriett, Ann and Edward.

Like many of the convicts, William appears to have had little formal education - when he signed his will he signed it with his mark - however this was not a barrier to making a successful living in the colony. Once he was free, William became a farmer. On 8 January 1794 he received a grant of 30 acres of land near Sydney. In September 1800 he sold the land for sixty pounds. In 1796 William Roberts received, from Governor Hunter, a grant of 50 acres of land in the district of Mulgrave Place (near Windsor). Initially William rented some of this land to other settlers thus earning additional money to support his growing family and purchase additional land. In June 1809 William purchased 50 acres from Thomas Hobby. The land was known as Hobby's Farm. He later purchased additional land in the town of Windsor. By all accounts William made a success of farming. The General Muster of 1822, two years after his death, described Hobby Farm as comprising of 20 acres of wheat, 8 acres of maize, 6 acres of barley and half an acre of potatoes. Half an acre of the property was devoted to a garden and orchard. The rest of the land was pasture. At the time of the muster there were 40 cattle and 50 pigs.

William Roberts died on 14 February 1820 aged about 64. He was buried at St Matthew's Anglican Church Cemetery in Windsor.

He was my great (x4) grandfather.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

52 Ancestors #1 George Guest

Amy Johnson Crow decided to include in her blog, No Story Too Small, a blog post each week for a year about an individual ancestor and issued a challenge to other bloggers to do the same - 52 ancestors in 52 weeks.
I am a few weeks behind but Australia Day seems a good time to start a similar project. On 26 January 1788 ships of the First Fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour. Two of my ancestors were aboard those convict ships - George Guest on board the Alexander and William Roberts aboard the Scarborough. George Guest is the subject of the first post in this series.
 George Guest was born in Gloucestershire, England possibly on 31 March 1765. He was a labourer but his life changed dramatically when on the 24 October 1873, at the age of 18, he was arrested for stealing animals. At the Gloucestershire Lent Assizes on 24 March 1784 he was convicted for stealing, with force and arms, ten live pigs, goods and chattels of John Hathaway and a chestnut mare plus goods and chattels of Thomas Wills. Stealing livestock, particularly a horse, was considered a major crime resulting in the death sentence, however George received a reprieve with the sentence commuted to transportation to America. After the American War of Independence this was later changed to transportation to New South Wales.
In February 1787 George was transferred to the Alexander in Portsmouth Harbour. The ship left Portsmouth on 17 May 1787 for the eight month journey to New South Wales. Two hundred and eight male convicts were aboard the ship when it left Portsmouth. Charles Bateson in his book, Convict Ships 1787 to 1868, describes the experiences of the convicts on this long trip.

More than four years after his arrest George arrived in New South Wales. It is difficult to imagine the shock that the convicts and soldiers must have felt arriving at what was to be their new home which had no settlement as they knew it but was just bush. The vegetation was very different from that in England with plants that they had never seen before. The Aboriginal people living near the harbour lived a very different lifestyle from Europeans. The animals and birds were strange and they had arrived in the middle of an Australian summer. Still the convicts would have had little time to think about their surroundings as shelters had to be erected and a source of fresh water located. Gradually the settlement evolved.

On 7 January 1790 George Guest travelled with a number of other convicts aboard the Supply to the new settlement at Norfolk Island. This first settlement, established in February 1788, on the island was an experiment to try and establish crops to supply the main colony at Port Jackson. Twenty-three people made up the original settlers including 15 convicts. They all had trades that may be useful in the new settlement. During the week the convicts worked for the government but on Saturdays they were allowed to clear land and plant their own vegetables. As well as planting crops  the men built huts for the new settlement. Fishing supplied a regular source of food. However there were problems including plagues of rats, ground worms and grubs as well as weevils in the wheat seed and parrots feasting on newly planted crops.

When George arrived on Norfolk Island the population had grown to 150. The ships, Sirius and Supply then brought another 200 convicts plus supplies. but unfortunately the Sirius hit a reef  and every effort was made to rescue as many of the supplies as possible. Martial law was declared and rations were halved. The colony was saved by the arrival of flocks of shearwaters that could be used as meat as well as provide eggs. With supplies of food scarce severe floggings were the punishment for anyone caught stealing food.Consequently when the Supply returned to the island on 7 August 1790 with plenty of provisions as well as another group of convicts it was a welcome sight. Mary Bateman was one of the convicts aboard the ship.

George Guest and Mary Bateman were soon living together. When the Rev Richard Johnson visited the island from Port Jackson in 1791 he performed a number of marriages and baptisms. On 9 November 1791 he married George and Mary. Between 1792 and 1804 George and Mary had five children - Sarah, George, John, Mary and William. (As not all records of births and deaths have survived there may have been other children.) We do know that Mary died on the island aged one year.

Until 1793 George was still a convict. He was reported to have been flogged on several occasions for telling a lie to Major Ross, for 'neglect of duty' and for employing convicts without permission. Despite these setbacks he started to build a life for his family on the island. After receiving his pardon he continued to receive rations until 1794. In 1796 he was granted 14 acres of land and was then able to supply the government with maize and pork. He gradually increased his acreage and purchased purchased sheep. He is reputed to have acquired 250 acres of land and built his flock to 600 ewes and 342 wethers by 1805. Life on Norfolk Island was not easy and the settlers faced many challenges. A number of books have been written about this period of history on Norfolk Island - Convicts and Commandants of Norfolk Island 1788-1855 by Margaret Hazzard being one of them. However George continued to acquire land and was considered by Major Foveaux to be a most industrious settler.

When the first Norfolk Island settlement was to be closed, George and his family were offered land in Van Diemen's Land as compensation for loss of property in the island. In September 1805 George and his family left Norfolk Island. George was now 40 and most of the rest of his life was spent arguing with authorities about his entitlement. Records show that he frequently sailed to Sydney from Hobart and back to put his case for what he considered he was owed. In January 1806 he was granted 24 acres at Macquarie Point but he considered he was entitled to a further 400 acres.

When Governor Bligh travelled to Hobart in July 1809 after being ousted from Sydney, George Guest was listed as one of the men in Hobart who provided fresh provisions for the Governor on board his ship on the Derwent. In Van Diemen's Land George once again acquired property though disputes about transactions continued. One of his properties was the Seven Star Inn in Campbell Street, Hobart which he owned until his death.

As the signature of George Guest shows, like many of the convicts, he could not write his name when he came to the colony. However lack of education did not stop him from becoming a successful, if disgruntled, land owner and businessman. One suspects that George may not have been an easy man to live with. Life was not necessarily easy in the new colonies and each of the locations that he moved to was newly established. When his family moved to Van Diemen's Land in 1805 the initial settlement at Hobart Town had only been established for a year. With each move the family would need to start over again and face the challenges of a new settlement. George Guest died in Hobart on 23 March 1841 aged 75. He was buried at St David's Cemetery.

George Guest was my great (x4) grandfather.

Web Link:
First Fleet Fellowship Victoria - George Guest

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Historical currency values

Recently I was asked if I knew where to locate information on converting a sum of currency in the past to today's prices.

A Google search for 'historical money value comparison' provided a number of sites with currency converters to locate a comparison of money values over the years.

There is a variety of methods for calculating the comparisons of currency values over time but the websites below provide a guide, particularly for the UK and Australia.

The UK
National Archives Currency Converter  provides a calculator for comparing UK prices up to 2005.

Measuring Wealth provides five ways to calculate the relative value of the UK Pound amount from 1270 until today.

UK Inflation Calendar  provides a guide to the value of money from 1900 with prices today.

Historical Value of Money in the UK Two tables providing possible values.

How Much is it Worth provides a calculator for Australian currency from 1850 until today. It is based on the Retail Price Index produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Historical Currency Conversions The calculator allows the conversion of the buying power of US and British currency into current American dollars.

Current Value of Old Money provides a collection of tools and online resources on this topic. The data was collected by the University of Exeter.

How Much Is That? on Economic History Association website.