The  First Fleeter Andrew Fishburn arrived in Australia in 1788 and died aged 36 in 1796, which means he was only  in the colony for eight years, so this report is extended to include further generations. It covers Andrew’s life pre 1788 (although knowledge is rather limited), his voyage and arrival, his Norfolk experience and the brief period after Norfolk Island. Andrew’s wife Sarah Donnelley’s story is included as is their son’s William Henry Fishburn . 


Andrew was born about 1760 in Whitby, North Yorkshire, England.  The Fishburns were an important part of that seafaring community.  The family of Fishburn was mentioned in Captain James Cook’s story written by Richard Hough.  Cook had sailed a ship built by the Fishburns around the world –Endeavour (formerly Earl of Pembroke).  Because Cook was impressed by the quality of Endeavour, when he needed boats for a second voyage, he requested the Fishburns design and build two more ships for the journey.


The Fishburns also built the storeship Fishburn which was part of the First Fleet.

Apart from his name there is as yet no proved familial link between Andrew and the Fishburn shipbuilders of Whitby. However the research continues.


Andrew was a Private in the 35th Portsmouth Company before 1788 and was one of 212 marines who departed England on 13th May, 1787.  There were only 7 carpenters on the First Fleet.  Andrew was listed as an ordinary carpenter.  This description was complimentary when compared to the description of others as ‘indifferent carpenters’ or worse still as ’tolerable sawyer’.

Some cited records indicate that Andrew may have begun the journey aboard the Friendship, carrying 76 male and 221 female convicts.  When the fleet arrived at Cape Town there were two problems confronting it (apart from the weather). The flagship, Sirius, was needing some repairwork, and as this was the last port of call on the journey to Australia, stores and livestock needed to be obtained and housed in pens especially constructed on some vessels for the animals taken on board. It is believed that Andrew was working with the other carpenters to complete these tasks. 


David Hill in his book 1788 states that Captain Phillip was given permission, before leaving England, to split the fleet if necessary. One week after leaving Cape Town Phillip decided to allow the faster ships to go ahead in order to prepare the colony for the arrival of the remainder of the fleet and find the best place to land.  Arthur Phillip transferred to Supply, and along with the faster ships Friendship, Alexander and Scarborough went ahead taking with them the carpenters and convicts with carpentry or gardening skills.  Things did not go to plan and the trio only arrived the day before the main fleet.  Andrew Fishburn was on Alexander on arrival at Botany Bay. 


At the new colony being established at Sydney Cove Andrew worked on a barracks for one of the crew and when that was completed he used his skills on the Commanding Officer’s home and the marine barracks.  He was attached to the Company of John Shea at Port Jackson and from September 1788 to the end of 1789 he received extra pay for his work as a carpenter.


When supplies were running dangerously low in Sydney, Governor Phillip dispatched more convict settlers on the Sirius and Supply to the already established settlement under Major Ross on Norfolk Island together with a sufficient number of marines for guard duty there.  So on 4th March, 1790 Andrew, as part of this contingent, arrived on Norfolk Island.  Although disaster struck and Sirius was lost on the reef trying for landfall in bad weather there was no loss of life, and most of the livestock and stores delivered ashore intact.


The settlers on the Island had been able to produce some food, but stores often needed to be sent from Sydney to complement their diet.  Strict rationing was enforced on both marines and convicts.  The marines were particularly disgruntled as not only were they reduced to three quarters of what they had previously received but they alleged the convicts were better off than they were.  The convicts grew vegetables and the marines had to buy them and pay for them with flour.


On 9th April, 1791 Andrew was mentioned by Major Ross in a daily report to Governor Phillip as having taken part in a raid on a store where flour was taken.  Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark was Quartermaster General and Keeper of Public Stores on Norfolk Island at the time.  He had become known as an intolerant character, delighting in meting out harsh punishment on the Island.  Clark wanted to hang the culprits, naming Andrew as a ringleader, but fortunately did not have the authority to do so.  He was not happy when Major Ross was ‘lenient’ with the officers.


Andrew Fishburn left Norfolk Island for Port Jackson on 23rd April, 1791, and upon arrival worked as a carpenter on the ship Gorgon. In 1791 the marines company as such was disbanded and a new company was raised to add to the New South Wales Corps.  Andrew offered himself, and in 1792 became a private in Captain Shea’s Company – The Marine Garrison for the New South Wales Settlement.

Andrew and Sarah Donnelly were married at St. Phillip’s Church of England, York St., Sydney on 24th May, 1794, with Rev Samuel Marsden officiating.


Six months after their marriage, Andrew was allocated a land grant by Francis Grose, Lieutenant Governor. It reads: ‘to Andrew Fishburn, his heirs and assigns, 25 acres, to be known as ‘Fishburn Hill’ in the district of Petersham Hill. This was later named Liberty Plains and then became Croydon.  The grant is situated in Parramatta Road, Burwood and is marked on the Concord Parish map in the name of Brackering.  The grant mentioned ‘rent one shilling a year, commencing after five years’. Another NSW Corps member, Joseph Eades also received 25 acres at Petersham Hill and this was adjacent to Andrew’s lot.  These two grants were sold to James Bloodworth prior to a conveyance being made by them.  Both Eades and Andrew died intestate and insolvent.


An indenture dated 16th May, 1810 between James John Grant and James Wilshire says Andrew Fishburn and James Eades both sold their grants of 25 acres to James Bloodworth.  Bloodworth had since died and had made Sarah Bellamy sole administrator.  She produced the papers for the two grants and by court order disposed of them to liquidate the debts to Bloodworth. The properties (the farms of James Grant and James Wilshire) were sold together for 50 pounds.


Andrew died at Parramatta on Saturday 23rd July, 1796 aged 36.  He was buried two days later at St. John’s, Parramatta, but we are unable to find his grave.

As mentioned, Andrew married Sarah Donnelly in 1794.  She was also known as Sarah Williams as she had come to Australia as a convict, single and pregnant.  A daughter Ann was born on 21st December, 1791 in Sydney. The father was named as Alexander Williams, although nothing is known of him. In 1792 she changed her name to Williams.


Sarah and Andrew had two children, Andrew born in 1793 and William born on 28th July, 1795.  Ann was also living with them.  Family members have been unable to find out what happened to Andrew.

Sarah was born at Gosport about 1765.  Her trial was held on 18th May, 1789 at Winchester, Bridewell, England.  She was found guilty of stealing three pieces of ribbon from the shop of Ann Everett and Rebecca Grant, and was sentenced to 7 years transportation to NSW.


With Andrew’s death, Sarah was a widow with two, possibly three, children to care for, four  year old Ann, one year old William and possibly Andrew junior. Sarah met George Melon (Mellin/Millen) and had the first of their five children on 17th September, 1797.  They eventually married on 25th May, 1810.


Later in her life, in 1830, Sarah had an unfortunate experience.  While acting as midwife to a Mrs Slaney, the baby died, and Sarah was indicted for the slaying of a male child at Windsor on 26th September.  She was found not guilty and discharged by proclamation after a caution by the Judge in all future cases.  The doctor gave his opinion that the child met its death from bleeding, in consequence of the umbilical cord being negligently tied.


Sarah died on 15th August 1849 reputedly at the age of 90.  In reality, she may have been closer to 85.

William Henry Fishburn, the younger son of Andrew and Sarah was baptised at St. Phillip’s Church of England on 6th August, 1795.  He was their only known child to survive to adulthood and was one of the colony’s original Currency lads. It appears William spent his childhood around Parramatta and Windsor with his mother, elder half sister Ann (who was now known as Ann Fishburn) and his younger half siblings – George, Mary, Sarah and Edward Millin.


According to the 1810 Muster, William was by now apprenticed to a big landholder, G. J. Palmer, at Windsor.  He was still employed by Palmer in 1814 when the Muster of that year showed a young convict girl, Mary Harlow, as being a servant at the same establishment.  Mary Harlow gave birth to a daughter, also called Mary, on 21st September, 1815 and when the child was baptised at Windsor, William Fishburn was named as the father.  Mary Harlow married a Joseph Huff six months later but the record of the baby’s death has not survived.


Rev. Samuel Marsden had married William’s parents, and he also married William and Catherine Ash on 8th July, 1816 at St. John’s Church of England, Parramatta. William and Catherine spent the early part of their marriage at Windsor where the first two children were born.  They had thirteen children in all, the eldest being Elizabeth Fishburn, the ancestor of the contributor of this story


Sixty acres of land were granted to William on 13th January, 1818 at Castle Hill by Governor Lachlan Macquarie.  The area is located west of the Old Northern Road, where Fishburn Crescent and Parsonage Road are located today. It appears they did not reside at the farm until the birth of their third child, Eleanor, in 1820.


On 3rd September, 1821, a letter was sent from the Court magistracy at Parramatta by Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur, a nephew of the wool producer John Macarthur, to the Colonial Secretary, Frederick Goulburn recommending: ‘William Fishburn, a free man and landholder at Castle Hill to act as Constable for the District of Castle Hill and Pennant Hills in lieu of John Rogan – dismissed from that situation for drunken conduct and neglect of duty’.  The recommendation was accepted and five days later the appointment was confirmed in the Sydney Gazette.  The previous constable, John Rogan, was the father of Jane who was to later marry William and Catherine’s eldest son, William.


In his early farming life, William supplied wheat to the Government in 1822.  In 1823 and 1824 he applied for a further grant, as the land was ‘insufficient’ (1823) and ‘extremely bad’ (1824).  He was unsuccessful on both occasions.


William’s resignation from the position of District Constable was announced in the Sydney Gazette on 18th August, 1825.


According to the first census taken in NSW in November, 1828 William was then aged 33, born in the colony, a protestant living at Baulkham Hills and was a publican.  His family was listed as Catherine, 32 years old and incorrectly stated as having been born in the colony.  The children, all born in the colony and protestants, were: Elizabeth 11, William Jnr. 8, Ellen 7, Andrew 6, John 4, Sarah 2 and Ann 9 months.  At the time William had 60 acres, 20 cleared 20 cultivated, 2 horses and 2 head of cattle.


William and Catherine had five other children besides the 8 mentioned in the 1828 census.  The youngest was George born in 1838.  Eight months after George’s birth, Catherine died (14th February, 1839) and then three weeks later baby George died.  They were both buried at the Devonshire Street Cemetery with Catherine’s father, Christopher Ash.  When Central Railway was built on the site in 1901, their headstones were moved to Botany Cemetery but have not survived the elements of time.


Four years after Catherine’s death, William (with eight unmarried children) married Elizabeth Bean (nee Bradley), the widow of William Bean.  Elizabeth also had 8 children. The Beans, Bradleys and Fishburns had been neighbours for many years.


After 27 years of marriage to William, Elizabeth died on 20th October, 1870 and was buried at St. Paul’s Church of England, opposite their Castle Hill farm.  She was 74.  William died 18 months later after suffering a heart attack.  He was buried next to Elizabeth.  He left 10 children and 73 grandchildren.



Contributor: #7407 Margaret Morelli



This biographical account has been compiled from information in Fishburn Family newsletters and personal contact with descendant researchers.

Two books were also used: ‘In Their Footsteps’ by Shirley Sanderson, and Captain James Cook, a Biography by Richard Hough.




Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters