John Herbert: From Felon to Farmer

By Penny Edwell

SUPPORTED BY A PARRAMATTA CITY COUNCIL COMMUNITY GRANT – ST. JOHN’S FIRST FLEETERS

In August 1786, Home Secretary Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, sent a letter to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury advising that the establishment of a settlement at Botany Bay had been authorised by the king. This act was one of many in a chain of events that brought about the voyage of the First Fleet and aimed to bring relief to the gaols and prison hulks of England and Wales, which were overcrowded with prisoners.[1] John Herbert was one such prisoner.

1stviscountsydney

A c.1790 mezzotint engraving of Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney (1732–1800) by John Young after a c.1785 portrait painting by Gilbert Stuart, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra via Wikimedia Commons.

A Felonious and Violent Crime

John Herbert had been languishing in the prison hulk Dunkirk in Plymouth since January 1786.[2] The year before 26 year old Herbert, along with three accomplices, Stephen Davenport, Robert Ellwood and John Small, was charged with ‘feloniously and violently’ stealing a watch and tortoise shell case, a pruning fork and five shillings in money from innkeeper James Burt and his wife at Plymouth.[3] For committing the crime of highway robbery all four were sentenced to death at Exeter on 14 March 1785,[4] but on 5 April Herbert and Small’s death sentences were commuted to seven years transportation.[5] Robert Ellwood’s appeal was dismissed and he was hanged, perhaps because he had played a more violent role in the crime or simply to serve as a warning to the others. Davenport, however, who appears to have been the eldest of the four and a former long-serving corporal in the marines, was pardoned.[6]

The end of the American War of Independence in 1783 saw the navy reduce its numbers drastically so that by 1785 many newly unemployed men were turning to crime to support themselves.[7] While little is known of John Herbert’s life before his conviction, the fact that his accomplices were all former marines indicates it is likely that Herbert served in a similar capacity and, therefore, shared their lack of employment opportunities in peacetime. Ellwood, for example, had served on HMS Europe and there is good reason to believe Herbert did too. As a marine, therefore, Herbert encountered a man who would come to play a significant role in his future life as a convict.

A Servant of Arthur Phillip

It is likely Herbert served on HMS Europe as one of Arthur Phillip’s servants up to May 1784.[8] Phillip, the future Captain of the First Fleet and first Governor of New South Wales, had been given command of Europe, a 64-gun line-of-battle-ship, in December 1782 and sailed from England one month later as part of a squadron led by Commodore Robert Kingsmill against Spanish America.[9] Plans were in place for the expedition to eventually proceed to the East Indies to provide reinforcement against French and Dutch threats inflamed by the war with the American colonies, however an armistice was concluded before Europe saw action and the vessel returned to England in April 1784.[10] Included among the ship’s complement of some 600 men during this expedition was a captain’s servant listed under the name of ‘Herbert.’[11] The impression of a seal on John Herbert’s will appears to indicate the word ‘Europe,’ and is perhaps an allusion to his service on this ship.[12]

The Journey to Botany Bay

On 11 March 1787 Herbert was transferred to the First Fleet transport Charlotte along with Small and other convicts from Dunkirk.[13] Several days later, on the morning of 13 May 1787, Charlotte sailed from England in company with the five other transports, three storeships and two naval vessels that comprised Captain Arthur Phillip’s First Fleet.[14]

Among those on board Charlotte for the journey was the colony’s chief surgeon John White who observed that every effort was made to keep the vessel clean and its occupants healthy. Aside from an outbreak of dysentery late in the voyage, White noted that the crew and convicts on board Charlotte enjoyed ‘uncommon good health’ on the arduous passage.[15] Despite being noted as ‘troublesome at times’ while imprisoned on Dunkirk,[16] John Herbert does not appear to have been punished for misbehaviour during the voyage, and on 26 January 1788 Charlotte and her convict cargo anchored in Sydney Cove.

At Sydney Cove on 2 April, Herbert married Deborah Ellam, a First Fleet convict transported on the Prince of Wales.[17] The ceremony was officiated by the colony’s chaplain Reverend Richard Johnson, and witnessed by fellow convicts Mary Gamble/Gable (arrived on Lady Penrhyn) and Thomas Acres (a convict of Charlotte).[18]

A Serious Squabble

NPG D2097; David Collins by Anthony Cardon, after  John Thomas Barber Beaumont (John Thomas Barber)

David Collins by Anthony Cardon, after John Thomas Barber Beaumont (John Thomas Barber) stipple engraving, published 1804 NPG D2097 © National Portrait Gallery, London

Early into their marriage an incident occurred between the Herberts that was brought before the colony’s Judge Advocate David Collins. On 4 December 1788, John Herbert arrived home to find that his wife was not there, but at a neighbour’s residence. During her absence pigs had accessed the garden and destroyed his plants, and in the ensuing argument the couple traded blows. Upon her return home, Herbert related that, 

he heard her say that she would go and blow her Gentleman up; that he [then] told her if she attempted to do so he would beat her; that she provoked him very much with her Tongue; that he then struck her; that she struck him again; this continued for some time; that she went away and left him; that she was absent all Night…[19]

The following day Deborah brought John before the Judge Advocate on a charge of beating her without just cause. Collins, however, ordered that Deborah ‘receive 25 lashes and return to her husband.’[20] This verdict was delivered during an anxious period for the young colony, where resources were scarce and the first of several reductions in rations had occurred barely two months earlier.[21] The loss of a garden in these circumstances was significant.

From Convict to Settler

Despite the discord in the first year of their marriage and the challenging circumstances that had brought them together, the Herberts went on to have a prosperous marriage, establishing themselves as successful settlers in the region of Parramatta, Sydney’s second settlement. The couple had eight children: Benjamin (b.1789), William (b.1791), Joseph (b.1795), John (b.1797), Charles (b.1800), Thomas (b.1802 and died the same year), James (b.1803) and Susannah (b.1805).[22] All of the Herbert children were baptised at St John’s Cathedral, Parramatta and all aside from Thomas survived until adulthood. By the late twentieth century the family founded by John and Deborah Herbert encompassed some 4,000 descendants.[23]

In early 1792 John Herbert and his family were settled on 70 acres at Prospect Hill, near Parramatta, at a farm he named ‘Pender’[24] and within eight years Herbert was in a position to support himself. Although his wife and five children remained on government stores during this time,[25] it marked an important stage in Herbert’s developing prosperity. By 1806 JohnDeborah, and their seven surviving children were completely off stores in addition to supporting one convict and one employed freeman.[26]

The Nile of the Colony

In 1806 John Herbert turned his attention to the fertile land of the Hawkesbury, known as the ‘Nile of the Colony’ due to its rich soils.[27] Following in the footsteps of many other First Fleeters turned settlers, including James Ruse, Jane McManus and her husband, Herbert bought a farm of 80 acres there from Gilbert Goodlit that came to be known as ‘Puddledock.’ We know the Herberts kept cattle on the property, because in 1809 John Herbert placed a notice in the Sydney Gazette, appealing for the return of at least 5 horned cattle that had strayed from Puddledock.[28]

john-herberts-stray-cattle-1809

Classified Advertising,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Sunday 24 September 1809, p.1

The property remained in the Herbert family until 1943, and ‘Puddledock Cottage,’ the ‘Herbert Family Homestead’ built by one of Herbert’s sons (probably James) can still be seen to this day.[29]

A New Mrs Herbert

In June 1819 Deborah Herbert died at the age of 52.[30] John remarried soon after, taking convict Ann Dudley (Friendship 1818) as his wife on 21 October 1819.[31] Ann had been sentenced to seven years transportation for the crime of stealing five and a half yards of lace, and had arrived in the colony several months earlier.[32] The following year on 7 October their only child was born, Henry John. He was baptised at St. John’s Cathedral, Parramatta on 29 April 1821.[33]

In the years following his second marriage, John Herbert’s farms were increasingly productive and he became a frequent supplier of meat and grain to Government stores.[34] In 1822 he owned six horses, four horned cattle and 16 hogs.[35] Herbert’s prosperity extended to his children and by the 1820s the property in the Hawkesbury had been divided amongst his sons,[36] while his Prospect farm was in the hands of his eldest son, Benjamin.[37] A fine issued in 1827 to either John Herbert or his son of the same name for ‘driving his cart with two horses furiously through the town’ of Parramatta appears to be the only blight on his record during this period.[38]

police-report-john-herbert-1827

Police Reports: Parramatta,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 24 February 1827, p.3

John Herbert’s Final Resting Place

In 1828, Herbert was listed in the Census as a ‘dealer’ or shopkeeper in Parramatta where his age was given as 85, but is likely to have been closer to 68.[39] He died on 1 April 1832 and was buried beside his first wife, Deborah, at St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta on 4 April.[40] His will, drafted in July 1829, outlines his substantial holdings, and confirms Herbert’s successful path from felon to farmer. His 70-acre farm at Prospect was left to his seven children from his marriage to Deborah, each receiving ten acres. His youngest son Henry, of his second marriage, received two horses, ‘Whitefoot’ and ‘Creamy,’ together with two carts and their equipment. John’s surviving wife Ann retained his Parramatta property which consisted of a third of an acre with two houses and ‘out offices’ at 39 Campbell Street.[41]

Twenty years earlier, in acknowledgement perhaps of his future resting place, John Herbert had contributed five shillings to a public fund for work to be undertaken to protect the cemetery — a patch of land that had previously been in use as a stock ground.[42] The first burial had taken place in 1790, and, at the time of the public fund in 1812, the growing cemetery was in need of a ditch for drainage and a wall to protect the grounds from wandering stock. The total cost of the work was 82 pounds, four shillings and seven pence, of which the Government contributed twelve pounds while the remainder of the money was financed through public donations. That John Herbert was one of the contributors to the fund is indicative of his increased stature in the community, as his name appears on a list of 88 contributors in company with a number of prominent locals including inn-keeper and settler Thomas Barber, Reverend Samuel Marsden, Richard Rouse, landowner and religious leader Rowland Hassall and Elizabeth McArthur.[43] Three of John Herbert’s sons were also buried within the walls of St John’s Cemetery: baby Thomas in 1802, Charles only a few months after his father in June 1832, and Benjamin in 1866.[44]

Despite his success as a survivor of the early convict settlement, John Herbert’s tombstone rather modestly reads ‘If I had faults, who is without’ — a nod, perhaps, to his humble beginnings on Australian shores and his transition from First Fleet convict to a pioneer of the Parramatta region.[45]

john-herbert-grave

John Herbert’s grave in Section 3 Row F No. 14 at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. Photo: Penny Edwell (2015)

CITE THIS

Penny Edwell, “John Herbert: From Felon to Farmer,” St. John’s Cemetery Project, (2016) https://stjohnscemeteryparramatta.org/bio/john-herbert/ accessed [insert current date]

References

Alison Bashford & Stuart Macintyre (eds), The Cambridge History of Australia, Vol.1, Indigenous and Colonial Australia, (Port Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Arthur Chapman, First Fleeters, John Herbert and Deborah Ellam: their lives and the descent of the Bamford, Bates and Kay families, (Ainslie, ACT: A. Chapman, 1987)

Joyce Cowell & Roderick Best, Where First Fleeters Lie: compiled from the records of the Fellowship of First Fleeters, (Sydney: Fellowship of First Fleeters, 1990)

Judith Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St John’s, (Parramatta: Parramatta and District Historical Society, 1991)

Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989)

Cecil Herbert, First Fleeter John Herbert: his life and times, (Gunnedah, NSW: C. Herbert, 1988)

Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy, (Richmond, VIC: Hardie Grant Books, 2013)

Watkin Tench, A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay With an Account of New South Wales, its Productions, Inhabitants, (London: J. Debrett, 1789)

John White, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales: With Sixty-Five Plates of NonDescript Animals, Birds, Lizards, Serpents, Curious Cones of Trees and Other Natural Productions, (London: J Debrett, 1790)

Trove (http://trove.nla.gov.au/)

NOTES

[1] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.xv

[2] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[3] Joyce Cowell & Roderick Best, Where First Fleeters Lie: compiled from the records of the Fellowship of First Fleeters, (Sydney: Fellowship of First Fleeters, 1990), p.29; Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[4] Home Office, Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania, HO10; Piece: 6, (Kew, Surrey, England, The National Archives of the UK).

[5] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[6] Cecil Herbert, First Fleeter John Herbert: his life and times, (Gunnedah, NSW: C. Herbert, 1988), p.5

[7] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.xxi

[8] Cecil Herbert, First Fleeter John Herbert: his life and times, (Gunnedah, NSW: C. Herbert, 1988), p.6

[9] Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy, (Richmond, VIC: Hardie Grant Books, 2013), p.95

[10] Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy, (Richmond, VIC: Hardie Grant Books, 2013), p.108

[11] Michael Pembroke, Arthur Phillip: Sailor, Mercenary, Governor, Spy, (Richmond, VIC: Hardie Grant Books, 2013), p.98

[12] Cecil Herbert, First Fleeter John Herbert: his life and times, (Gunnedah, NSW: C. Herbert, 1988), p.87

[13] Home Office, Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania, HO10; Piece: 1/2, (Kew, Surrey, England, The National Archives of the UK); Cecil Herbert, First Fleeter John Herbert: his life and times, (Gunnedah, NSW: C. Herbert, 1988), p.12

[14] Watkin Tench, “Chapter II,” A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay With an Account of New South Wales, its Productions, Inhabitants, (London: J. Debrett, 1789), p.5

[15] John White, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales: With Sixty-Five Plates of NonDescript Animals, Birds, Lizards, Serpents, Curious Cones of Trees and Other Natural Productions, (London: J Debrett, 1790), pp.29-30

[16] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[17] Arthur Chapman, First Fleeters, John Herbert and Deborah Ellam: their lives and the descent of the Bamford, Bates and Kay families, (Ainslie, ACT: A. Chapman, 1987), p.3

[18] Joyce Cowell & Roderick Best, Where First Fleeters Lie: compiled from the records of the Fellowship of First Fleeters, (Sydney: Fellowship of First Fleeters, 1990), p.29

[19] Original minutes of proceedings, ADNSW ref COB 17 page 114, reproduced in: Arthur Chapman, First Fleeters, John Herbert and Deborah Ellam: their lives and the descent of the Bamford, Bates and Kay families, (Ainslie, ACT: A. Chapman, 1987), p.3

[20] Joyce Cowell & Roderick Best, Where First Fleeters Lie: compiled from the records of the Fellowship of First Fleeters, (Sydney: Fellowship of First Fleeters, 1990), p.29

[21] John Cobley, Sydney Cove 1788, (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1963), p.vii

[22] Deborah Herbert, Australia and New Zealand, Find a Grave Index, (1800-Current), accessed 23 October 2015

[23] Cecil Herbert, First Fleeter John Herbert: his life and times, (Gunnedah, NSW: C. Herbert, 1988), p.78

[24] Joyce Cowell & Roderick Best, Where First Fleeters Lie: compiled from the records of the Fellowship of First Fleeters, (Sydney: Fellowship of First Fleeters, 1990), p.30

[25] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[26] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[27] Alison Bashford & Stuart Macintyre (eds), The Cambridge History of Australia, Vol.1, Indigenous and Colonial Australia, (Port Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2015), p.97

[28] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Sunday 24 September 1809, p.1 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article627828

[29] GML Heritage, “Appendix A: Archaeological Management Plan, Draft Report,Penrith Lakes Scheme: Puddledock Archaeology Handbook, (Redfern: GML Heritage, September 2008), p.2

[30] Recorded in the St. John’s parish burial register as “Deborah Kellam Herbert, aged 52 of the parish of Parramatta, was buried June 26th 1819.” Parish Burial Registers, Textual records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia; Judith Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St. John’s, (Parramatta: Parramatta and District Historical Society, 1991), p.163

[31] Parish Marriage Registers, Textual records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia; Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[32] Northampton Mercury, Saturday, 24 August 1816; p.4, Issue 24. (British Library Newspapers, Part III: 1741-1950.

[33] Parish Baptism Registers, Textual records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.

[34]Deputy Commissary General’s Office,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Saturday 7 March 1818, p.2

[35] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[36] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p.172

[37] Cecil Herbert, First Fleeter John Herbert: his life and times, (Gunnedah, NSW: C. Herbert, 1988), p.82

[38]Police Reports: Parramatta,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Saturday 24 February 1827, p.3

[39] Indeed, the copy of the 1828 Census Householders’ Returns that bears ‘his mark: X’ and was witnessed by constable John Brown contradicts the other two census records for 1828 by recording his age as 65. New South Wales Government, 1828 Census: Householders’ Returns [Population and Statistics, Musters and Census Records, Census, Colonial Secretary and 1828 Census: Householders’ Returns [Population and Statistics, Musters and Census Records, Census, Colonial Secretary], Series 1273, Reels 2551-2552, 2506-2507, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia)

[40] Parish Burial Registers, Textual records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia; Judith Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St. John’s, (Parramatta: Parramatta and District Historical Society, 1991), p.163

[41] Probate number 661, series 1, quoted in Arthur Chapman, First Fleeters, John Herbert and Deborah Ellam: their lives and the descent of the Bamford, Bates and Kay families, (Ainslie, ACT: A. Chapman, 1987), p.5. Bridge-builder and master stonemason David Lennox’s house and workshop “Lennox House” is located at what is now 39 Campbell St, Parramatta. However, it is unclear if the Lennox House site is the same location as the Herbert property, (quoted in Herbert’s will as being 39-41 Campbell St), as the street was renumbered at some stage. According to the State Heritage Register, “Lennox House” used to be 4 Campbell Street. See NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, “Lennox House,” State Heritage Register, accessed 8 November 2016.

[42]List of Subscribers for Inclosing the Burial Ground at Parramatta,” The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803 – 1842), Saturday 4 January 1812, p.1

[43] Annette Burns and Lynda Reid, The Barbers: A Parramatta Family, (Victoria: Aristoc Press, 1996), p.52

[44] Benjamin Herbert died on 2 June 1866, and Charles Herbert on 26 June 1832, Australia and New Zealand, Find a Grave Index, (1800-Current), accessed 26 October 2015

[45] On 12 March 1978 a ceremony was conducted at St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta where plaques were laid in honour of John and Deborah Herbert along with five other members of the First Fleet. Joyce Cowell & Roderick Best, Where First Fleeters Lie: compiled from the records of the Fellowship of First Fleeters, (Sydney, Fellowship of First Fleeters, 1990), p.17

© Copyright 2016 Penny Edwell