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John Small

My 3rd great grandfather

John Small was tried at the Devon Lent Assizes, held at Exeter Castle on Monday 14th March 1785 for feloniously assaulting James Burt in the Kings Highway, feloniously putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life, and feloniously and violently taking from his person and against his will in the said Highway, one metal watch and tortoiseshell case value 30s, one pruning knife value 6d and five shillings his goods. He was found guilty and sentenced to 7 years transportation.

At this time there was a population explosion in England and no room in the goals for criminals. Sentencing therefore for those pronounced guilty appears to be confined to death or 7 or 14 years transportation. The American Revolution meant that no more convicts could be sent there and therefore it was decided to establish a penal colony in the land discovered by Captain James Cook. The Government hired 6 ships to transport the convicts, 3 supply ships provisioned to keep the 564 male and 192 female convicts, 550 officers, marines and crew. Together with two Naval vessels their Marine guards (some with families) and a few civil officers, they set out on 16 March 1787 for the "land beyond the seas". Calling in at Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town to replenish fresh supplies they arrived in Botany Bay between 18th and 20th January 1788. Finding this area unsuitable to settle because of lack of a reliable water source and poor sandy soil, the fleet moved around into Sydney Cove, raising the flag on 26th January 1788. John had served as a marine prior to his conviction and would have handled the long voyage better than most.



Thus this motley group, few of whom had any skills in farming or construction, became the "Founders of a Nation". They had very little building material and a very limited supply of poor quality tools, making the erection of permanent shelter given the hard wood of the local trees slow and difficult.

By July 1788, all the ships except the naval vessels 'Syrius' and 'Supply' had left and the settlement was isolated. Due to the failure of early crops officers, men and convicts were all on strict rations. By the beginning of 1790 all settlers were near starvation and in rags, no spare clothing having been supplied.

When a ship was sighted on 3rd June 1790 hopes arose that new supplies had arrived. It proved however, when this ship the 'Lady Juliana' anchored on 6th June that 225 female convicts were on board. The supply ship the 'Guardian' which had set out at the same time had sunk in the southern ocean.

By July 1788 John is recorded as working at the hospital. During this month he was in trouble for being found drunk on the job having drunk red wine that had been stolen from the hospital, but was excused as it was considered that he had been coerced into drinking by his work mates.

On 12th October 1788 he married Mary Parker who was also working at the hospital as a nurse's aid. Their first child Rebecca was born in September 1789. Their second child Mary was also born in Sydney at the end of 1791. The couple then lived for a time in a hut at Parramatta before John received his grant at Eastern Farms in 1794. Starting their new life in a tent John appears to have been a successful farmer and by the 1802 muster he had 10 of his 30 acres under wheat, 10 under maize, 1 acre of orchard and garden and 12 acres of pasture. He had 2 sheep and 19 hogs with 4 bushels of wheat and 14 bushels of maize in hand. By this muster he had 7 children and one convict assigned to him and the family were no longer victualled by the government. After Rebecca and Mary, John (my 2nd great grandfather) was born October 1794, William December 1796, Thomas July 1799, Sarah April 1804 and Samuel Sarah’s twin.


John was appointed District Constable in 1809. Farm work suffered due to this job and production fell. He applied for a second grand in April 1809 but surrendered this in January 1810. Mary Small drowned tragically in April 1824. John retired on 1st December 1825 after 17 years of service and received a pension of £9 2s 6d per annum. He sold his grant to his son Thomas in 1828. He probably lived with one of his children until his death on 2nd October 1850. Originally buried at St. Anne’s Ryde his grave was moved to Field of Mars because of road widening. He was the last known survivor of those male convicts who landed in the First Fleet. John and Mary despite their handicapped beginnings are the forebears of a huge family of many thousands of Australians of whom I am proud to belong.

Submitted by : Jean Macleay, Member WFHG, 17 February 2012

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