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James Wright

My 4th great grandfather

Poor old James Wright was sentenced to death, twice! The second time with fatal consequences. He was no scallywag and appears to have had good and Christian motives for his actions.

He was born in 1786, in Surrey, became a Coach Maker by trade and worked for V. Faunder.

On 14th May 1809 he was tried at Old Bailey for stealing two horses, the saddle and bridle on one and post chaise harness on the other. These horses were left outside the barber’s shop, not tethered, by William Girdler, post boy to William Smart. James Wright admitted that he had taken the horses and a gentleman he had never seen before persuaded him to ride one horse and he the other. The gentleman then put James up for the night and in the morning James had the horses re-shod. At this point William Girdler came along and James ran away but was apprehended by Girdler and the blacksmith. James was found guilty of stealing and sentenced to death. This sentence was commuted to transportation and he was on the 'Indian' when it sailed on 18th July 1810. At the time of the ship’s arrival on 16th July 1810, James is described as being 23 years old, 5' 5 ˝" tall with sandy hair and hazel eyes.

James obtained permission to marry Mary Hartley in 1816. Mary Turnbull who had arrived free as a child with her family on the 'Coromandel', and had married Joseph Hartley at St. Matthews, Windsor in 1813. There is no record of a death of a Joseph Hartley of likely age until 1876 so he either moved out of the state or they divorced. In any event James was given permission to marry Mary and they did so, again at St. Matthews Windsor in 1816.


James and Mary lived on the Hawkesbury and had three children. These children were not baptised until 13 February 1825. This is eight days after their father murdered their mother and there is little doubt that they would have been in the care of their grandparents, the Turnbulls. This strict Methodist family would have seen the absence of baptism as a serious oversight and seen to its correction immediately. The residence of the Wright family at that time is shown as 'Second branch of the Hawkesbury', now known as the Colo River. There is no record of a land grant for James Wright so perhaps he was a tenant farmer

On page 3 of Thursday 2 June 1825 'The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser' reports as follows :
MURDER. FRIDAY, MAY 27. – James Wright was indicted for the wilful murder of his wife, Mary Ann Wright, in the district of the Hawkesbury, on the 5th of February last. It appeared in evidence, that the improper conduct of the deceased had been a constant source of disquiet to the unfortunate man; and was eventually the cause of his committing the dreadful act, for which he stood his trial. He confessed to the Magistrate, after he was apprehended, that having had reason to suspect the deceased of an adulterous intercourse with a man named Cavanagh, he spoke to her on the subject, when she told him that – "he knew she had been common, both before and since he married her, and that she would be so to any man she pleased". With the unguarded impulse of the moment, he seized an axe which was at hand, and committed the dreadful act, which deprived the wretched victim of existence. He declared, that he had no desire to escape from justice, and only absconded for the purpose of gaining time to pray to God for forgiveness. He was described by William Cox, Esq. a Magistrate at Windsor, who had known him for some years, to have been a quiet industrious man, somewhat irritable in temper, and of quick and sensitive feelings. No defence being set up, the Jury returned a verdict, without retiring, of guilty. Sentenced to die on Monday; on which day the unhappy but penitent man expiated his direful offence by the untimely forfeiture of his life. May such awful exits be attended with lasting benefits to that society which crime has thus ignominiously deprived another member!".

Mary Wright was buried on 11th February 1825 at the age of 28 years, at Wilberforce Cemetery amongst her family the Turnbulls. Poor old James who was only 39 at the time he was hanged would have been disposed of by prison authorities.

There is a further story to be told of this family. Young Jane Wright married William Douglass at the age of 15 years. They had 10 children one of whom was my great great grandmother. William, who was 22 when they married, died in 1877 in hospital in Maitland. Jane was a widow for 21 years before she died in Callan Park Mental Asylum of senile dementia at the age of 81 years.

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

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