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Rachael Watkins

Rachael WATKINS was born in 1759/60 (approx.) in Hereford, Herefordshire. In August 1784 at Hereford, she was charged with breaking and entering four different properties, viz. the home of Ceppas BIGGS at Kent near Hentland parish on 23 August 1784, in the company of Susan MANNOCKS (10 linen caps, 4 linen shifts, 3 linen aprons, 1 woollen cloak, 1 pair of cotton gloves, 3 linen handkerchiefs, 1 silk handkerchief and 1 woollen apron); the home of Charles AUSTIN, at Bridstow parish on 23 August 1784, in the company of Susan MANNOCKS; the home of Mary PHILLIPS at Wormbridge parish on 26 August 1784 (1 stuff gown and 1 linen handkerchief); and the home of Humphrey ROGERS at Allensmore parish on 27 August 1784 (1 pair of stays; 1 linen gown, 1 silk and cotton handkerchief). She was convicted on 17 March 1785 at Hereford Assizes, in Hereford. She was handed over to William NOURSE and John DURKIN, Justices of the Peace, for supervision until the court order was carried out. She was sentenced to seven years transportation. Originally she was to be transported to America but this was later changed to Australia as transportation to America had ceased. Her name appears on the indents for the "Prince of Wales" in the First Fleet but she didn't embark on this ship as it is likely that she was either about to give birth or had just given birth to her son William. She remained in Hereford Gaol until 1789 when she was sent with three other women to London where she was put upon the "Neptune" in the infamous Second Fleet. It is not known what happened to her son William. Perhaps he was sent to his father.

She migrated from Portsmouth, Hampshire to Port Jackson, Sydney, NSW on 28 June 1790. Rachael was transported to Australia on board the "Neptune" which was the largest ship (809 Tons) in the Second Fleet. It left Portsmouth on 17 - 19 January 1790 (reported dates conflict) and then made a stop at the Cape of Good Hope for sixteen days before eventually arriving in Sydney. The Neptune was one of the six ships which comprised the Second Fleet also known as the Convict Death Fleet. The prisoners on these ships were treated with extreme brutality. The death rate on the Neptune was one death to every 3.1 convicts embarked.


On 28 July 1790 she resided in Norfolk Island, Australia. About a month after arriving in Sydney, Rachael was one of 194 male and female convicts placed on board the "Surprize" and transferred to Norfolk Island. In 1791 she owned property in Charlotte Field at Queensborough, Norfolk Island. She was described as an energetic and independent woman. It was probably this energy and enthusiasm which saw her be one of only four Second Fleet women to be granted land (the others being Elizabeth DOUGLASS, Catherine HEYLAND and Mary TUCK). She was allowed this piece of land under Major GROSE's plan to encourage convicts to support themselves independently. In February 1791 a government sow was issued to her and she shared it with First Fleet convicts Jeremiah LEARY and Joseph PAGET. All three were probably required to do some government work but were allowed time to care for their vegetables and maize. By 1 July 1791 she had cleared 47 rods of her land.

She married James WILLIAMS in 1791 on Norfolk Island. It was on the island that James and Rachael met. They were probably married on the island in a group marriage ceremony performed by Rev Richard JOHNSON that is reported to have occurred, the details of which were never forwarded for registration. Her sentence expired in March 1792.

From 1794 to 1803 (approx.) Rachael and James WILLIAMS were co-resident at 28 Cumberland St in The Rocks, NSW. Rachael and James were on Norfolk Island until c.1794 when they and their two children Susannah and Ann returned to Sydney. James had earlier acquired the Sydney house but sold it in 1803 and the family moved to another nearby residence. Researcher Mike V. has observed that "Being a member of the Corps, James and his family would have had certain privileges and opportunities that were beyond the average family".

She was granted her Certificate of Freedom on 9 January 1810 . The issuing of her certificate was noted in the Sydney Gazette on 16 Jun 1810. In 1822 she resided in Port Macquarie, NSW. She sailed for Newcastle on the "Elizabeth Henrietta" and on to Port Macquarie with her son Michael to live with her daughter Sarah, wife of Stephen PARTRIDGE, the Superintendant of Convicts there. The Colonial Secretary's Index, 1788 - 1825 lists an application by Stephen PARTRIDGE on 29 June 1822 to have Michael WILLIAMS sent to Port Macquarie and on 11 July 1822 there is correspondence re Rachael's passage to Port Macquarie. By 1828 she had returned to Sydney and was living in the Botany area. It's not known when she returned.

In 1828 she was a labourer in Botany, NSW. Rachael and several of her children are known to have worked at Botany for the manufacturer Simeon LORD who in 1826 told Governor DARLING that he had employed twenty convicts for 'upwards of twenty years' in tanning and currying leather and in manufacturing hats, cloth, blankets, soap and candles. The exact nature of her duties is not known.


Rachael died (aged 80) on 10 February 1840 at the Parish of St Lawrence in Botany . 1,2 She was buried on 12 February 1840 in the Elizabeth St Burial Ground in Sydney.

Researcher Mike V. records a marriage for Rachael WATKINS (b. c.1759 at presumably Hereford) to William WATKINS in 1781 in Newport, Monmouth, England ?? with one child William WATKINS (b.1789 Hereford, England). No sources have been quoted to support this claim but if it is correct then four years before her conviction Rachael was married and then had a son and her actual birthname is not WATKINS. Another researcher "Kevin and June" suggests a marriage to William WATKINS and previous to him one to Aaron DAVIS. Again sources are unknown.

There was a teenager, William WATKINS transferred to Norfolk Island's Adult Victualling List in December 1795 and it's possible that this was Rachael's son, although if Mike V is correct on William's birthdate, he would only have been 6 years old; hardly a teenager. There is also an 1806 NSW Muster entry for William WATKINS, came free per "Neptune" (the convict transport Rachael was on) who was working as a self-employed pieman. Again if Mike V is correct, William would have been 17 at this time.

James was certainly the father of the youngest child (Michael) and is believed to have fathered all of Rachael's children. No document linking the couple in the 1790s is known to have been found. Surviving documents from 1791 suggest that Rachael was unattached that year. August 1791 would have been the time of conception for Susannah.

James WILLIAMS and Rachael WATKINS had the following children :

Susannah WILLIAMS (1792-1842)
Ann WILLIAMS (1794-1855)
Sarah WILLIAMS (1796-1830)
Michael WILLIAMS (c.1802-1858)

Submitted by : John Owen, Member WFHG, 10 Apr 2008; Updated 10 Sep 2010

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