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William Davis
2nd Fleet Convict, NSW Corpsman and Farmer
15 Sept 1765, Kilburnie, Scotland - 18 May 1823, Liverpool, NSW
1998-2000 Researched and written by Scott Brown, Great x 4 Grandson of William Dav

On 26 October 1786 William Davis, a 23 year old from Kilburnie, Kirkcudbright Scotland, was brought before the Second Middlesex Jury. He was charged with highway robbery in the company of William Rayner. The robbery was committed at Islington, along the city road where Davis and Rayner held a couple at bay. The victims wife ran away screaming and the men rifled their victims pockets and got away with a metal watch and two pence. Davis and Rayner shared a room in Vine Street, near St Martin's in the Field church and a broken case knife and pistol shaped stick were found when the rooms were searched. The two men, who were under surveillance by constables, were arrested when they tried to pawn a watch, and committed to the new prison at Clerkenwell. Both men were sentenced to death on 26 October 1786, with a recommendation for mercy.

William Davis languished in Newgate Gaol for nearly three years before again being brought before the bench, in September 1789.  Appearing at the Old Bailey, William was offered the King’s Pardon on the condition that he accept transportation for life to the colony of New South Wales. He refused the pardon, stating that ‘death is more welcome to me than this pardon’. William was brought before the bench a second time that day and was again offered the King’s Pardon, being told that, should he refuse the clemency of the crown, he would be ordered for immediate execution upon the closing of the Sessions. He again refused to accept the Pardon and was ordered back to the cells.

On 28 October 1789 William Davis was, for the third and final time, presented to the bench of the Old Bailey. He was once again offered the King’s Pardon on condition of transportation to the colonies, but this time he accepted the pardon. Barely three months later William departed England from Portsmouth harbour, never to return to his homeland.

William Davis’ journey to Australia was the most harrowing time of his life. The Scarborough, on which he sailed, was a part of the infamous Second Fleet to New South Wales. The ship's contractors- Camden, Calvert and King - had previously been involved in the transportation of slaves to the America’s, and the treatment the convicts received on the voyage was barbaric. The convicts on these ships had to endure overcrowding as a result of the contractors making room for profitable cargo. They had been underfed to save money and they had been too closely confined because of fears of misbehaviour.

The conditions aboard these ships were gloomy, dank and unsanitary, with diseases such as scurvy and dysentery running unchecked. Starvation, abuse and neglect, however, were to take the heaviest toll of the prisoners chained below decks. Due to a reported mutiny attempt the convicts on the Scarborough were mostly confined, being chained together below decks for almost the entire 160 day voyage. This ship had recorded 85 convict deaths during the first leg of the journey, between Portsmouth and the Cape of Good Hope. For the entire journey the Scarborough recorded a convict death ratio of one death for every 3.5 embarked. The conditions William Davis had endured on the Second Fleet had a lasting effect on his health.

Upon their arrival at Port Jackson the majority of the convicts on the Second Fleet were that ill they were unable to speak, walk or even get to their feet. Those that were not carried ashore were barely able to crawl. Instead of receiving 1017 able-bodied persons, the numbers despatched from Portsmouth, the colony was now faced with caring for 759 starved, abused and near to death individuals at a time when famine was prevailing. Arthur Phillip, the Governor of New South Wales, made the decision to spread the burden between Port Jackson and the Norfolk Island settlement. Two Hundred and Four convicts were despatched to Norfolk Island on the Surprize and the Justinian, arriving there on 7 August 1790. William Davis was one of these convicts sent on to Norfolk Island and, whilst en route to the island from Port Jackson, he married Jane Reed on 30 July 1790.

Jane Reed arrived in NSW on the Lady Juliana in 1790. William Davis, and his spouse Jane, next came to notice when, on 16 November 1792, Jane gave birth to a daughter, Mary, and again when their second child, Euphemia, was born on 12 December 1795. It would appear that William served most of his convict time in relative obscurity, because the next time he is mentioned in the records is when he is recruited, on 1 May 1800, into the New South Wales Corp by Captain Thomas Rowley, Acting Commandant of Norfolk Island.

On his enlistment papers William Davis is shown as being Conditionally Pardoned by Governor Hunter, this civil status is also given in the 1800-02 Muster. He was described as being aged 39.9 years, five foot seven and a half inches in height from Kirkcudbright, Galoway, Scotland, of a fair complexion with grey eyes, dark hair and a round visage.   In the ten years William was a member of the NSW Corps he served with five companies.

His initial posting was in Captain George Johnston’s Company, from May to September 1800. He then transferred to the Company of Captain John Macarthur, where he served until 24 March 1801. His next transfer was to the command of Captain Thomas Rowley, his recruiting officer, where he served until May 1802. William was, by this time serving in Sydney, having left Norfolk Island shortly after his enlistment. The Colonial Secretary’s Papers refer to 10 acres of land at Norfolk Island that, on 27 October 1800, were turned over by Wm Moulton, from William Davis to Samuel Hussey - it would appear that William had no intention of returning to the Island. It was also at this time that the process of closing down Norfolk Island colony had begun although it would take another 13 years before all the residents had been relocated to either Port Jackson or Van Diemens Land.

The fate of William’s spouse Jane is unknown as she disappears from the records after the birth of Euphemia, who appears to have remained on Norfolk Island after William had gone to Sydney. Euphemia is listed in the February 1805 Victualling Muster of Norfolk Island with her mother’s maiden name. In these records a wife was recognised by her name on arrival in the Colony, and a child also took the mother’s name, so Euphemia was listed as Reid rather than Davis in the 1805 Muster. The next record of Euphemia is when, in June 1813, she married a Samuel Franklin at Parramatta. Her father and his second spouse, Emma Bourke, were present at the wedding. The child Mary was later adopted out and became known as Charlotte BISHOP. She married three times and had eight children

William entered a relationship with Emma Amelia (Amy) Vernon (nee Berks) in either 1805 or 1806. The General Muster for these years show Amy Burkes (one of her aliases) as being with William Davis at Parramatta. Amy is described as holding a Ticket of Leave and having arrived on the Nile. Amy is listed on the Alphabetical List of Convicts on Transports: 1788-1800 as Emma Burks alias Vernon, convicted at Stafford on 13 August 1800 and sentenced to Transportation for Life.William and Emma’s first child, William was born on 27 November 1806 and baptised at St. Luke’s Church at Liverpool, their second child, Jane (my Great-Great-Great Grandmother) was born on 4 February 1810 - just under three months before William’s discharge from the New South Wales Corps.

William was discharged from the New South Wales Corps on 24 April 1810, on the casualty list, after having served in five companies, under seven different Captains. During his time in the New South Wales Corps William had been involved in one of the pivotal Irish events in the Colony, the Castle Hill uprising, which was an armed revolt of up to 300 rebellious Irish convicts. At the time of the uprising, 5 March 1804, he was stationed at Castle Hill and there is a strong likelihood that he was one of the Corps members imprisoned by the convicts shortly after their breakout.

The first indication that William Davis’ health had been permanently affected by the conditions on the Second Fleet was when, in December 1801, he was listed on the Corps pay books as having been off duty due to illness. His military records show that he had regular bouts of ill health including September 1804, February to June in 1807, 184 days sick in quarters between June and December 1807, December 1807 to March 1808 sick as well as having 31 days leave up to 24 January 1809. William was granted a Service pension on 25 May 1810.

In March of 1811 William was on the list of men discharged from the 102nd Regiment who were to receive land at Airds. There is no record, however, of him taking up land at this time, although he and his wife were listed as Landholders at Liverpool in the 1814 Colonial Muster. William married Emma Bourke at St. John’s Parramatta on 6 September 1811, after five or six years in a common-law relationship. William and Emma’s third and final child, Sarah was born on 4 February 1814.

William took up a grant of 80 acres of land at Airds in June 1816, the first of two identified Land Grants. It is possible that this was the grant referred to in the Colonial Secretary’s Papers of 1811. William’s second grant of Land was received in 1818. He was on the list of persons for whom Land Grants were ready that was issued by the Colonial Secretary’s Office on 24 January 1818. This grant was for 120 acres at Airds, although some distance from his original 80 acre grant, approximately two and a half kilometres to the North-East. Davis overcame the difficulty of tending two separate acreages by renting out most of his original grant . In 1822 an Edmund Burke and John Voyle were renting 50 acres from William. Emma Davis, William’s second wife, died on 1 July 1818, less than seven months after the couple had received their second grant of Land.

Nine months earlier, on the other side of the world, a young labourer, William Matthews, and his friend and accomplice Charles Baker, stole a pair of boots and two shawls from a William Sanders of Cartwright Street, Westminster. Both Matthews and Baker were arrested on 17 November 1817, three days after the theft, by Policeman James Bly. The two offenders were indicted at the Old Bailey on 11 December 1817, and following the sworn testimony of witnesses Susan Saunders, Rebecca Porter and Officer Bly they were found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation for the theft of goods valued at 11 shillings. It would be another eleven months before nineteen year old William Matthews, the future son-in-law of William Davis, arrived in the Colony of New South Wales on the Morley. On 17 November 1818 Matthews was forwarded from Sydney to Bringelly, with others from the Morley, for assignment. He was eventually assigned to the employ of Henry Wrensford at Airds, the same region in which William Davis and his family were living.

William Davis remarried on 24 July 1819, to ex-convict Ann Daniels. She had been transported, with a fourteen year sentence, in 1796, arriving in the colony on the Wanstead in 1814. Ann had served her full sentence by the time she married William Davis. William and Ann had no children and William died on 18 May 1823, less than four years after their marriage.

From the time of his arrival 33 years earlier as a near to death transportee, William Davis had secured a reasonably comfortable life for his children. His Last Will and Testament included bequeaths of 200 acres of land to his eldest son William, livestock consisting of cattle, pigs and sows to be equally divided among his surviving children. He also allowed for an allowance of 70 pounds every six months to be paid to his surviving wife on the condition that she remain on the farm with the children. Should she live away from the children she was to receive just 10 pound per annum. An insight into the character of William Davis can be glimpsed in his will, where he bequeathed ‘Dicky my favourite horse to my son William for the use of my family as long as he shall be of service’.

William Davis Jr. married a Mary Whittaker in 1824 and remained on the family farm. Jane Davis married, at the age of 15, James Kingsbury, a freed convict. Sarah, William’s third child to Emma Burks, died in October 1828. As confirmation of William’s three marriages, the T.D. Mutch index lists Davies, William, Scarborough 2, as having had three wives - 1) Jane Reed, July 30 1790, 2) Emma Bourke, September 6 1811, 3) Ann Daniels, July 24 1819.

In the same year that Jane Davis married James Kingsbury, 1825, Donald McInnes and his wife Margaret (nee Anderson) have a child in Brakish-Strath-Skye in northern Scotland. The McInnes’, including the child Mary, emigrated to Australia in 1828. Mary McInnes would eventually marry John Carpenter.

John Carpenter, a seventeen year old Straw Bleacher from Bath in England, was brought before the courts at Bristol on 16 October 1827. Facing a charge of stealing handkerchiefs, John is found guilty and sentenced to fourteen years transportation. He leaves England in the C. Harcourt, arriving in the Colony of New South Wales in 1828. John’s occupation, straw bleaching - where a person cleans, washes and bleaches (by sunlight) straw for the purposes of millinery, mattress and furniture making - was in little demand in the colony in 1828 and, upon his arrival, he was assigned to the employment of William Bradley, at Hindson on the Goulburn Plains, where he worked as a hut keeper.

Jane Kingsbury, the daughter of William Davis, separated from her husband James less than nine years after their marriage and, by 1834, was in a common-law marriage with William Matthews. At this time William and Jane were living at Minto, where he was working as a farm labourer. Not having had any children to Kingsbury it was not long before Jane started a family with William, their first child, William Matthews Jr., was born on 8 May 1835. William and Jane would eventually have nine children, 4 boys and 5 girls, with the last one, Jane, being born in 1848. Their third child, Thomas, born on 16 November 1837 would eventually move the family to Adelong, in the northern foothills of the Monaro Plains.

William Matthews continued working as a farm labourer in and around Minto until about 1843, when he became a farmer in his own right at Mt. Pleasant, near Campbelltown. He was listed as a tenant farmer in 1848 when Jane, his youngest child was born. Tenant farming was becoming a more common practice in the colony by this time, especially in areas of large freehold estates with ready access to Sydney’s markets. These large estates were easily subdivided and rented out.

Meanwhile, John Carpenter, having completed his sentence by 1842, was living in Narellan, not far from William Matthews and his family who, at this time, were living at Elderslie - just south of Narellan. On 26 December 1842 John married the Scottish born Mary McInnes and, for the next five years continued working as a groom and coachman at nearby Airds. Their first child, Mary Anne was born on 3 September 1843. John was farming in the Picton area by 1850. John and Mary Carpenter had a further eight children, with Jane Rebecca being the last, born in 1864.

In October 1848 Jane Kingsbury, the daughter of Second Fleet convict William Davis, died in childbirth at Menangle, but baby Jane Matthews survived. This left her common-law husband, William Matthews to raise their nine children, the eldest one being only thirteen years old and the youngest being the newborn Jane. It was this tragic event that initially brought the Matthews and Carpenter families close together. John and Mary Carpenter, being near neighbours to Matthews, were willing to assist William with the children in any way that they could.

The relationship between the Matthews and Carpenter families was further strengthened when in 1859, less than eleven years after his mother’s death, Thomas Matthews, William’s son, married Mary Anne Carpenter, the eldest child of John and Mary, in the Church of Scotland at Campbelltown. Mary Anne was only fifteen when she married Thomas Matthews and required parental permission in order for the marriage to proceed Thomas was twenty-two years old and was self-employed as a carrier. Mary Anne would initially accompany her husband on his longer journeys, at least until their first child was born. Their first child, Mary Jane, was born while they were on one such trip, delivering a load of supplies to the Adelong goldfields.

The first discovery of gold at Adelong was reported by Reverend B Clarke in 1841, but it was not until almost 1852 that the rush to Adelong began. Adelong, at the time of the Matthews’ first visit, was a boom town with a population of approximately 20,000 people. There was a tent city on the hills just north of the town centre that housed greater than 1,000 miners and their families. Thomas and Mary Anne were so impressed with the town and surrounding countryside that they resolved to move their families there as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

Two years after Thomas and Mary Anne Matthews had been to Adelong Mary Anne’s father, John Carpenter, died. After a trip to Sydney in June 1864 John was late heading for home. Having had a bit to drink in the Inns at Sydney he decided to break his journey and sleep by the side of the road. The next morning, 19 June 1864, he was found dead where he had gone to sleep, at Jarvisfield near Picton. The Coroner’s verdict on the cause of death was Exposure, which is understandable - it was winter. Three and a half years after John’s death his widow, Mary, married Thomas Maloney - a shepherd from Young in Central New South Wales. Mary moved to Young with her three youngest children. Shortly after this Thomas Matthews moved his young family to Adelong. He was soon followed a number of his siblings as well as William Matthew’s and some of his children.

Thomas Matthews had taken up a selection of land at Adelong by 1872 and was making a living growing cereal crops and raising livestock. He is alternately described as a Selector, Farmer and Grazier on subsequent baptism records of his Adelong-born children. Thomas and Mary Anne Matthews had a total of fourteen children over a period of twenty-six years, the last being born in 1888. Their fourth child, Sarah Alice Matthews - born 7 December 1868, was my Great-Grandmother.

Thomas Matthew’s father, William, died at Adelong on 22 May 1886 after a decline over the previous twelve months into a state of senility. On 26 March 1887 the Matthews family again comes to notice when the Town and Country Journal reports that on 23 March there was:

A fire at Thomas Matthews’. He lost a quantity of barley and
some costly farm machinery, besides a large, new, shed in which
they were stored. The origin of the fire is not known, but is supposed
to be the work of an incendiary.

The arsonist, obviously not satisfied with the damage he had caused, struck again barely a week later. The same paper reported in its May 7th issue that ‘some person set fire to a large stack of straw belonging to Mr Thos. Matthews on 3 May.’ This seems to have satisfied him as no further fires were reported, even though no arrest was made.  The next time the Matthews’ come to the attention of the newspapers is when, in June 1890, the Sydney Mail reported the death of 8 year old George Matthews, Thomas and Mary Anne’s tenth child. As the paper reports ‘he was out with other lads shooting birds. The gun caught when Matthews (George) was getting through a fence and the whole charge lodged in his neck.’

Sarah Alice Matthews, Thomas and Mary Anne’s fourth child, married my Great-Grandfather William Henry Smith on 26 June 1887. Mary Maloney (previously Carpenter nee McInnes), the widow of John Carpenter, died at Newington Asylum in Sydney in 1904. Thomas Matthews died in 1912 and his wife Mary Anne (nee Carpenter) died nineteen years later, in 1931. There are still branches of the family living in and around Adelong. William and Sarah Smith’s great-grandson, the author of this article, was born in Adelong.

This family story was written by Scott Brown as part fulfillment of the requirements for the Associate Diploma in Local, Family and Applied History.

Further details of the families in this story can be found at 'Convicts, Characters and Cads'

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Last modified: May 20, 2006