JAMES WILLIAMS - First Fleeter Welsh Marine, HMS Sirius
James WILLIAMS was born about 1760 and was reported to be from the town of Denbigh in North Wales. In 1774 he was indentured to Daniel Roberts, Edge Tool Maker in Wrexham, County Denbighshire. An edge tool maker was a specialist type of blacksmith who made knives and agricultural implements such as scythes. He was described in 1808 as 5ft 8in tall, with a long dark complexioned face, black hair, and hazel eyes.
James enlisted as a private Marine with the 23rd Portsmouth Company on 16 March 1782 and saw military service in the East Indies between 1783 and 1785. He signed up to serve with the First Fleet on 24 February 1787. Many of the Marines were former tradesmen.
There are 9 First Fleeters recorded as being born in Wales. Two were Marines, James WILLIAMS and Thomas PHILLIPS. Thomas returned to England in 1792.
James arrived in Port Jackson aboard HMS Sirius. The Fleet was moved to a small cove which Captain Arthur Phillip, Commander of the First Fleet, named Sydney Cove in honour of Lord Sydney, the Secretary of State for the Home Office. The settlement itself later became known as Sydney Town.
Five Marines, including James, all of whom had arrived on the HMS Sirius, were sent to Norfolk Island aboard the Golden Grove on 2 October 1788. This First Fleet store ship was carrying supplies, provisions, clothing and other implements. Among those travelling to Norfolk Island were 32 convicts.
James returned to Port Jackson aboard HMS Supply in February 1791 with the crew of the HMS Sirius. The crew had been stranded when the ship was wrecked off Norfolk Island on 19 March 1790. On 12 March 1791 he was discharged from the ship’s books to the NSW Corps. This regiment was formed in England in June 1789 as a permanent unit to relieve the New South Wales Marine Corps who had accompanied the First Fleet to Australia. The regiment began arriving as guards on the Second Fleet in 1790. The officers of the Corps were able to use their position and wealth to buy all the imported rum and then exchange it for goods and labour at very favourable rates, thus earning the Corps the nickname "The Rum Corps".
Deciding to return to Norfolk Island as a settler James returned aboard the Atlantic on 26 October 1791. He took possession of a 60 acre land grant at Cascade Streams, Phillipsburg. The exact location is unknown as James left Norfolk Island before the land grant was official. On Norfolk Island was Rachael WATKINS. On 17 March 1785 she was convicted of breaking and entering, sentenced to 7 years transportation to America but the newly formed United States refused to accept further convicts. On 6 December 1785 orders were issued in London for the establishment of a penal colony in New South Wales. Rachael appears on the indents for the First Fleet ship the Prince of Wales but remained in Hereford gaol until 1789 when she was put aboard the Second Fleet ship Neptune. She arrived in Port Jackson on 27 June 1790. Two months later, in August 1790, Rachael was sent to Norfolk Island aboard the Surprize.
Note (i): No record has been found of a marriage certificate but Lieutenant Philip Gidley King wrote in his journal: “Several of the Settlers, requested my permission to marry some of the best behaved Female Convict.” “As the Rev. Mr Johnson, Chaplain to the Territory came here in the Atlantic, I requested him to marry them; Upwards of one Hundred Couples were married in the course of three Days.” They were married in November 1791. James and Rachael’s daughter, Susannah, was born in 1792.
James left Norfolk Island again aboard the Atlantic in September 1792 for Port Jackson where he reenlisted in the NSW Corps. In September 1792 Captain David Collins, who was both the Secretary to the Governor and the Judge Advocate, wrote: “On board of the Atlantic came sixty-two persons from Norfolk Island, among whom were several whose terms of transportation had expired; thirteen offenders; and nine of the marine settlers, who had given up the hoe and the spade, returned to this place to embrace once more a life to which they certainly were, from long habit, better adapted than to that of independent settlers. They gave up their estates, and came here to enter as soldiers in the New South Wales corps.”
He found himself on Norfolk Island for a third time aboard the Kitty in January 1793 with the NSW Corps. James and Rachael had another daughter, Ann, who was born on June 17 1794.
James returned to Port Jackson on October 1794 with the NSW Corps and served in Major Johnston's 102 Regiment of Foot until 1810 when the NSW Corps was recalled to England. James was transferred to the Colonial Veteran Company on 25 March 1810.
Rachael left Norfolk Island with her two children Susannah and Ann in early 1796 to join James in Port Jackson. Her 1785 sentence had expired on 17 March 1792. She was given her Certificate of Freedom on 10 March 1810.
The family settled in Sydney. Another daughter, Sarah, was born to the couple in about 1798 and a son, Michael, in about 1802. Although it is believed they married on Norfolk Island, in 1806 Rachael is recorded as living with James WILLIAMS and is referred to as a concubine. Her four children are referred to as natural which means the parents were not married. In 1803 James sold their house at 28 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, to Mary LEWIS. In 1814 Rachael WATKINS, free, wife of a Sydney Veteran, was on stores, had one child on stores and two children off stores. Ann had married Thomas HOWARD on 5 October 1811. He was a convict who had arrived on the Indian on 16 December 1810. Thomas was 18 years older than Ann and was a widower, his wife in England having died in 1802. Thomas worked as a blacksmith.
Note (ii): James died while he was on guard duty at South Head 16 March 1820. It was noted in the burial register for St Phillip’s, Sydney, that James was 70 when he died but other records support his age being around 60. He was buried in Devonshire Street Cemetery. The Devonshire Street Cemetery was consecrated in January 1820 but the first burial took place the previous year. He was re-interred in Botany Cemetery in 1901.
(Note iii, pic): Soldier of the Royal New South Wales Veteran Regiment whose main role was to serve at fixed guard posts, supervision of convicts and some government duties.
In 1822 Rachael and her son Michael went to live in Port Macquarie with her daughter Sarah whose husband, Stephen PARTRIDGE, was Superintendent of Convicts there. By 1828 Rachael had returned to Sydney where she was working in Botany for manufacturer Simeon LORD. She died on 10 February 1840 at the age of about 80, recorded as 98 in the burial register for St Phillip’s, Sydney. She was buried in Devonshire Street Cemetery before being reinterred in Botany cemetery in 1901.
Sources from the internet:
(iii) Melancholy loss of HMS Sirius on Norfolk Island - National Library of Australia nla.pc-an 21511971-vjpe
Judith O’Shea – Member 8563 - May 2018
© Arthur Phillip Chapter of Fellowship of First Fleeters 2019-