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Biography of William Rayner

by Beryl Whatson (E-mail: * Beryl Whatson)


William Rayner was born in Shoreditch, London on 14th february 1767, the son of William Rayner and Mary Taylor. They had married in 1760, and being Quakers had apprenticed their son to a fellow Quaker -- Samuel Selfe, a baker, who lived in the Parish of St. Ann, Soho. Living in this area, William became a member of the Westminster Meeting of The Friends, and it was this group which became concerned with William's conduct.

On 19th August 1784, the Meeting made note that William "... having been guilty of defrauding his Master and Mistress, for whih he has laboured with in private without the desire effect, this Meeting appoints Jos. Savoury & Josiah Messer to visit him thereon and make report." These good fellows went away hoping that William would "be more circumspect in future", as he had written to them expressing "remorse and good intentions". They continued to report on William over the next year, however, on 12th October 1786, he was again found to be guilty of "defrauding his Master and other Scandalous Practises" and was asked to appear at the next Meeting and explain his conduct.

William did not appear and in December, 1786, the last Minutes of the Meeting states that "Jos. Savoury reports copies of the Testimony of Denial against William Rayner have been delivered as directed", and William ceased to be a member of the Quaker Society.

Bad company abounded as much in those days as it does today, for on Wednesday, 25th October 1786, William was tried at the Justice Hall in the Old Bailey for "feloniously assaulting Thomas Rutt on the King's Highway on 13th October, and putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and feloniously taking from his person and against his will, a metal watch with a tortoise-sheel case, value 30 shillings, a stone seal set in metal, value 2p, a silk watch string, value 1p, and 4 halfpence, value 2p".

William was found guilty and sentenced to death, but he was humbly recommended to mercy by the Prosecutor and Jury, on account of his youth, resulting in the sentence being commuted to transportation for Life. It seems likely that William may have spent the next two years on board one of the hulks, for it wasn't until June 1790 that he arrived in Sydney with the Second Fleet, aboard the Scarborough. From there, he was sent to Norfolk Island in August aboard the Surprise.

Whilst living at Norfolk Island William "married" Elizabeth Goldsmith, a union which produced two sons. There is no record of this marriage and Elizabeth later ran away to Port Jackson with Robert Jones, by whom she had two daughters. All four children are entered in St. Phillips' baptismal register under the name of Jones. However, the boys eventually returned to live with William and took the surname of Rayner.

William appears to have gained his pardon about 1801 as he became a Private in the N.S.W. Corps on 23rd December, 1801, in Sydney. The Corps was later sent to Newcastle, and this is where William married Susannah Chapman in 1809, but again, there is no record of this marriage.

Susannah Chapman had arrived in Sydney on the Glatton on 11th March 1803, convicted with her brother, aged 9, of stealing a frock and a handkerchief, the property of Sarah Ward, a seven year old who had been weearing the clothes at the time. The ofence occurred in the parish of St. George, Southwark. (One wonders how she managed to get them off an unwilling seven year old!) Susannah's parents were unnamed but were described as "persons of indifferent character" who bought and sold old clothing. Susannah's brother, John, was sent to the reformatory of the Royal Philanthropic Society at Reigate. He absconded in 1809 and went to sea were, no doubt, he either made good or got into further trouble.

William and Susannah Rayner had two children while living at Newcastle, and then moved to Hobart where another five were born. In February 1826, Susannah was convicted in Hobart Town of striking a neighbour's child and was placed on a bond of 50 to keep the peace for six months.

William became a baker and miller, and is reported to have been responsible for the first meetings of the Society of Friends in Hobart Town in 1832-3. These meetings were held in his home in Barrack Street. He was readmitted to the Society together with his daughter, Isabella, who had been named after his sister in London. (This sister had also been turned out of the Quakers, the reason being "having had an illigetimate child to her own Scandal".)

William died at Hobart on 14th December 1850, and was buried in the Friends Burial Ground, Bellifont Street. He left 6 to the Society of Friends for the upkeep of their burial ground, and left his property to his wife Susannah Rayner. Susannah remained in Barrack Street and it was here on 12th March 1865, while smoking her pipe, that her clothing caught fire, resulting in her death 3 days later from the burns she suffered. A coroner's report concluded that she "accidentally casually and by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise".

To read the transcript of William's trial in 1786, and the inquest into Susannah's death in 1865 is to open up a wonderful view of a time long past. These ancestors on my husband's family tree will further come to life for me when I am able to visit Tasmania and the cemetery in which they lay.

Archives OFfice of New South Wales
Archives Office of Tasmania
Trial Papers of William Rayner
Acknowledgments to Jean McKenzie and Kerry Vance

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Updated 10-Aug-2003