Thomas Wilson – convict ancestor

After my previous slightly light-hearted post about Thomas Wilson ( an-odd-fellow ), I thought I should tell his real story, his transportation to Sydney in the Lady Nugent in 1835 and his later role in the Mona Vale Outrages.

The Lady Nugent on the high seas. Pencil drawing by George Richard Hilliard, 1840 (4).

The Lady Nugent on the high seas. Pencil drawing by George Richard Hilliard, 1840 (4).

Thomas Wilson was born in 1815 in Maidstone, Kent. He was the son of Thomas Wilson (1776-1839) and Nancy Nelson (d. 1837). It is thought that he was a skinner and poulterer (1). At the age of 21, he was found guilty of robbery and assault and sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia.

The trial Of Thomas Wilson and three others took place on 17 October 1833, at the Montgomery Quarter Sessions, Montgomeryshire, Central Wales. Thomas Wilson (aged 21 years), Elizabeth Jones (aged 24), Sarah Gaine (aged 19) and Timothy Partridge (aged 24) were indicted for the assault of Edward Swift with intent to rob him. The following summary is taken from the trial records (2).

Edward  Swift, a glazier from Llanfyllin, gave evidence that he was returning home from the Llanrhaiadr Fair about 11 o’clock on the night of 24 July 1833 when he came across two men with short jackets and two women, one with a white bonnet. He walked on about a 100 yards, and one of the men struck him on the back of his neck with a stick. Then the four rushed at him and tried to get at his pockets, intending to rob him. He held his hands over his pockets and cried murder three times then the robbers ran away.

Swift said he turned back to see if he could find anyone else to protect him, and found two women and two men, who he told about the attack. They returned to the scene of the attack and he sat down. About 10 minutes later, the four attackers came and passed him heading towards Llanfyllin. He followed them at a distance and when they got to Llanfyllin, called the peace officers and they were locked up in the Lock-up House. When he checked his pockets, he found five shillings missing.

Three of the people who came to his aid, Margaret Edwards, Jane Evans, and Richard Edwards, gave evidence saying they had heard the cries of murder and confirmed the rest of Swift’s story, though none of them had seen the actual attack.

The four defendants then made statements as follows (this is verbatim from the transcript):

  • The said Elizabeth Jones states “ ? “.   Signed “X” the mark of Elizabeth Jones.
  • The said Sarah Gaine stated “ I never till I saw him sitting on the road ?  ?  1, 2 miles from Llanfyllin on the night in questions”. Signed “X” the mark of Sarah Gaine.
  • The said Timothy Partridge said “I have nothing more to say more than that I saw the prosecutor about 2 miles from Llanfyllin as the women state”. The mark of “X” Timothy Partridge.
  • The said Thomas Wilson saith “I have nothing else to say, than that I saw the prosecutor about 2 miles from Llanfyllin sitting with the witnesses”. The mark of “X” Thomas Wilson.

The jury found that the defendants had assaulted Edward Swift with the intention to take his monies, goods and chattels against his will. They were all sentenced to transportation for the term of seven years. Thomas Wilson left for Australia on the Lady Nugent on 4 December 1834 with 285 other males. The Lady Nugent sailed from Sheerness (a port in the Thames River, London) and arrived in Sydney on 9 April 1835. The voyage took 126 days and two men died during the voyage.

According to the convict records, he was 5 feet 4¾ inches tall, with ruddy and freckled complexion, brown hair and grey eyes, his eyebrows partially meeting (1). Among various marks and scars, he had (presumably tattooed) a sun, half moon, seven stars and a crucifix inside his lower left arm. When he arrived in Sydney in 1835, Wilson was sent to Prospect and assigned to William Lawson, one of the three explorers who crossed the Blue Mountains (1).

In 1837, Thomas Wilson was assigned to William George, who had become the tenant of Long Reef Farm in 1835 or 1836.  He was involved in an incident reported in the Sydney Gazette on 22 January 1839, the drowning of Long Harry (5, 6). A group of three men including Thomas Wilson and Henry Joyce, known as “Long Harry”, landed from a boat at North Harbour and set out to walk the nine miles to Pitt Water. After about seven miles, they noticed that Long Harry was missing but assumed he had stayed behind and continued. The other convict assigned to Long Reef Farm, Michael Comerford, noticed the body of a man floating in Dee Why Creek the next morning, and discovered that it was Joyce.

At the inquest, Thomas Wilson gave evidence that the deceased had lagged behind the cart about two miles from the farm and was not seen again. He said the deceased was very drunk, and fell several times on the journey.  Comerford gave evidence that the left eye and nose of the body were black and the face disfigured and swollen, and at the place where he was missed there was a bridge and a log across the creek. The surgeon certified that the body was too decomposed to determine cause of death, but from the evidence he thought it likely the death was from drowning, and the jury returned that verdict.

Wilson received his ticket of leave on 29 May 1839 and was “allowed to remain in the District of Pitt Water” (7). This ticket of leave was early, a little less than 6 years after his sentencing. He was living at Pitt Water with another single male at the time of the 1841 census.

He entered a de facto relationship with Priscilla Sarah Conduit (also spelled Cundit on various documents) around 1842 or 1843 and over the next 30 years they had 13 children. Priscilla Sarah Conduit, sometimes known as Priscilla and sometimes as Sarah, was born on 6 June 1824 in Durnford, Wiltshire, England. At the age of 16, she arrived in Sydney as a bounty immigrant on the ship Royal Consort on 8 November 1840 (1). She was then aged 16.

Their first child, Mary Jane, was born around 1843 and married James Tobin in 1861. She was followed by my great-great grandmother Emily, born in 1845 and married James Warren in 1870. Then came ten more children before the last, Edgar Rock, was born in 1873. Thomas and Sarah married in 1870, suggesting that before 1870 it was a de facto marriage.

Thomas Wilson and William Mildwater purchased a block of land as tenants in common on 15 December 1853 (5). This was Lot 33 at Curl Curl Creek (now Manly Creek), for which they paid £80 for 80 acres.  This block of land ran from the Creek up to what is now Wyadra Avenue, Curl Curl. Based on current average land values in Manly today, that land would be worth around $300 million. The deed of grant was issued on 13 February 1855 and Wilson lived on this land until around 1869.

Location of land grants in Manly (5)

Location of land grants in Manly (5)

From sometime around 1867-1869 until 1872, the Wilsons were tenants of “Mona Vale” (5).  “Mona Vale” was 700 acres of land granted to Robert Campbell Junior (1789-1851) by Governor Macquarie in 1813 at Bongin Bongin. The farm was first called “Kilmain” and was not called Mona Vale until the late 1850s. Campbell sold the land to his horse-racing friend D’Arcy Wentworth in 1822. On Wentworth’s death in 1827, he left the land to his infant daughter Katherine Wentworth, but it was managed by his son William Charles Wentworth (1790-1872).  William Charles Wentworth was one of the other three explorers to first cross the Blue Mountains. The name Mona Vale later became the name of the district, and the original Bongin Bongin now only remains as the name of a bay in Mona Vale. The land is located in Mona Vale between Bongin Bongin Bay and the southernmost end of Pittwater (see the map below).

Location of land grants in Pittwater and Mona Vale

Location of land grants in Pittwater and Mona Vale

A series of robberies, cattle theft, accidental death and even murder occurred in the district beween1849 and 1870. The name Mona Vale first appears about 1858 and these events were referred to as the Mona Vale outrages (8).

The Mona Vale Outrages

…”Beautiful and interesting as the country is from Manly Beach to Broken Bay, one feature presents itself of an unpleasant character, and that is the apparent decay of the farms – it is evident that a large quantity of land was under cultivation at one time in this district, “ruthless ruin” seems, however, to have seized on what a few years ago must have been an animated scene. The land now lies fallow, and save for the feeding of a few cattle, and sustaining about fifty people, is of no use whatever in contributing its quota to the general welfare. No doubt, the comparative difficulty of communication with the city by land has something to do with this state of things, but it is impossible not to believe that the chief cause of this inertia is to be found in the bad reputation of the district for agrarian outrages. The history of the Mona Vale case reveals a condition of society, within a few miles of Sydney, that might well deter persons from settling there; and though the arm of the law fell on some of the evil-doers in that locality, there is now too much reason to fear that similar outrages will again disturb the district , as, only a few weeks ago, Mr Wilson found a valuable bull of his, and a heifer belonging to another person, grazing on his land, both dead, having been shot evidently by design. This is a serious matter to the owner, but it is still more serious to the community in the demoralisation likely to ensue from these villainous practices. It is the duty of the authorities at once to take steps as may ensure protection for honest and hard working men, who with the responsibilities of large families to support and educate, are striving hard to do so, and are willing cheerfully to contend with climatic variations, and other disadvantages, but cannot stand against the treachery of scoundrels who stealthily destroy the means by which they live. A reward for the discovery of the offenders and the presence of a well mounted policeman in the district would probably lead to good results; and above all, in case of conviction, a punishment that shall remove them from the district for some years.”

Sydney Morning Herald, 22 March 1867.

Three years later, on 4 August 1870, Wilson saw John Farrell III driving some of Wilson’s cattle towards Farrell’s farm. A three-year old heifer who was within six weeks of calving was missed. The police arrested Farrell and charged him with having a portion of a stolen carcass in his possession. While at the trial at the Central Criminal Court on 11 November 1870, Wilson received the terrible news that his daughter Blanche, aged 2 years and 2 months, had drowned at Mona Vale in a shallow pool about 18 inches deep. Farrell was sentenced to three years imprisonment with hard labour at Parramatta gaol, but was transferred to the Port Macquarie penal settlement.

While Thomas Wilson was at “Mona Vale”, he let his farm at North Manly to Charles Brady, a silk grower, and his wife. Brady did not keep up rent payments, and in June 1870, Wilson sold Brady’s furniture, silkworms etc. When Brady saw that the silkworms were being destroyed, he protested to Wilson, who agreed to leave them in return for payment of £1. Brady also agreed to make up the rent, and Wilson agreed to return the furniture for the price he had paid for it. Later disagreement over this led to court cases in 1872 and the court held that the goods belonged to Wilson. A perjury case brought by Brady against Wilson was dismissed (9).

On 4 June 1872, Thomas and Sarah Wilson bought 40 acres of land at Little Mackerel Beach for £60 from Joseph Starr, mariner. The property was in Sarah’s name, with her son-in-law, James Tobin of Manly Beach, as trustee.  Little Mackerel Beach is an alternate name for Currawong Beach, just north of Coasters Retreat on the western shore of Pittwater, opposite Palm Beach (see previous map).

On 5 January 1876, a number of Manly citizens gathered in public to discuss the formation of a municipality. As a result of this meeting, 63 signatures – thirteen more than were required under the Municipalities Act of 1867 – were appended to a petition  – one of these was Thomas Wilson (8). A year later in 1877, Wilson and Mildwater offered the western half of their North Manly property for sale. It was described as follows (10):

“Manly Beach – Valuable block of land, in all about forty acres on the North Bank of Curl Curl Lagoon, and 1½ miles from the Pier at Manly, being the western half of Mildwater’s and Wilson’s grant, adjoining Wheeler’s 100 acre grant. It has been in cultivation, was formerly fenced, and otherwise improved. The greater portion of the land is rich alluvial soil, in every respect admirably adapted for Market Gardens, and the elevated parts are suitable as good Building Sites.

The attention of Capitalists, Speculators, Builders and others is directed to the sale, as it is now but seldom that such a large block of land, within such easy distance of the steamers’ wharf at Manly is offered in one lot.”

It was probably around this time, if not before, that Wilson and his family moved to live at Little Mackerel Beach.  In June 1880, Thomas and his son Thomas both signed a petition for the establishment of a school at Church Point (11). () The annex to the application states (12),

“We, the undersigned, Parents (or Guardians) of Children residing within the undermentioned distances from the site of the proposed Public School at Pittwater hereby undertake that our Children, whose names are inserted below, shall attend the said School.” The signatures included the following:

Picture2

Thomas lived at Church Point very close to the Methodist church in which the school was to be established.  The Wesleyan (Methodist) Church was built in 1872 on the point where Pittwater Road now meets McCarrs Creek Road, overlooking Pittwater. The weatherboard church was quite a prominent landmark and over time, the locality became known as Church Point.

The Methodist Church at Church Point 1872-1932 (photo taken early 1900s, (13)).

The Methodist Church at Church Point 1872-1932 (photo taken early 1900s, (13)).

In October 1880, Thomas sent his youngest son, Edgar Rock, aged 7, to the school just established at Church Point. Edgar Rock attended school with his nieces and nephews, the children of his brother Thomas, who lived at Church Point, and of his sister Nancy, who lived at Bayview.

On 10 November 1890, Thomas died in North Sydney at the age of 65. Sarah lived for another 25 years, and died on 14 May 1915 at the age of 90 at 29 Willoughby Street, North Sydney. She was buried in the Baptist section of the Gore Hill Cemetery.

In 1870, Thomas’s second daughter, Emily, my great-great-grandmother, married the descendant of another convict transported to Australia. But that is another story for another time.

References

  1. Kirkpatrick Family Archives. Accessed 28 August 2016 at http://www.genealogy.kirkpatrickaustralian.com/archives/getperson.php?personID=I4757&tree=TKA
  2. Records of Montgomery Quarter Sessions, Michaelmas 1833. Sir Powys County, Archifdy’r Sir: County Archives Office, Kent, England.
  3. England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, Ancestry.com (searched 31 August 2016).
  4. Hilliard, George Richard: The Lady Nugent on the high seas. Pencil drawing, 1840. Ref. No: A-113-016 National Library of New Zealand (http://mp.natlib.govt.nz/detail/?id=9850).
  5. Champion S, Champion G (2013). Profiles of the Pioneers in Manly, Warringah and Pittwater. Killarney Heights NSW. Available at Manly Council website manly.nsw.gov.au/DownloadDocument.ashx?DocumentID=8046
  6. Sydney Gazette, “Death by Drowning”, 22 Jan 1839.
  7. Thomas Wilson Ticket of Leave. State Records, New South Wales: SRNSW: CGS 12202, 39/879; reel 933 Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
  8. Manly Biographical Dictionary (MBD) http://www.manly.nsw.gov.au/library/local-studies-collection/people-of-manly/
  9. Sydney Morning Herald. 12 June and 17 June, 1872.
  10. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Oct 1877.
  11. Peter Altona, Sue Gould (2012). The Schools at Church Point. Church Point History, Places, People & Activities. https://pittwaterhistory.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/120502-the-schools.pdf
  12. Correspondence No.19180 dated 18.8.1880, State Records NSW.
  13. Peter Altona, Sue Gould (2011). The Church. Church Point History, Places, People & Activities.  https://pittwaterhistory.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/111128-the-church_d10a.pdf
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2 thoughts on “Thomas Wilson – convict ancestor

  1. Colin, First class reporting and a most engaging family history account ; I am surprised at how comprehensive and detailed it is . As you know I am related to the Teasdale side of your family , Teasdale marrying into my paternal Matthews line but finding the latter very challenging to follow past William Matthews 1819-1871 ( GG grandfather )

    • Thanks Andrew. I can’t claim all the credit, the document on the pioneers of Manly was a huge source of info. Good luck with your research. I’ve found it difficult to trace most ancestors before around 1800. There are plenty of family trees with various claims, but mostly there is no proof, just connecting dots based on names and dates being coincident. But there were an awful lot of people in England with the same name for most of the common ones. Regards, Colin.

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