FREDERICK MEREDITH

 

In Family History, by Clayton Talbot, Frederick Meredith’s birth is recorded as 5 October 1763 at Durham, Ludlow, Shropshire, England.

When he signed on to Sirius, however, he nominated as his birthplace, Denham which is close to Harefield.  That was home to numerous bakers, probably because there was a water wheel there on a fast flowing river that drove a flour mill. The significance is that later in Australia he called one of his properties Harefield so it may be that he learnt his trade as a baker in the village of Harefield and cherished the memory.

 

Apart from that, little is known of his first 23 years except that he was apparently educated to a level that would permit him to accept responsibility as a small business manager.  His later roles as a gardener and baker would suggest that he did grow up in a farming community and learnt those skills as a young man.

When he signed on to Scarborough on 2 May 1777 as steward to Captain Marshall, it seems that he was much more than a personal servant.  There were only four others on the ship, all navigation officers, who were on higher pay rates.

 

His position it seems was similar to that of purser, these days responsible for the business and finances of the ship.

Only a few days after joining the ship’s company  the First Fleet left on that epic voyage from Portsmouth to the other side of the world. 

Scarborough was only six years old, 11 ft long and 30 ft beam and displaced a mere 400 tons.  Into that capsule were squeezed the 208 male convicts, 30 crew and 50 marines.  Below deck there were three sections, one forward and another aft for cargo and the middle section for the 208 convicts in claustrophobic conditions with a mere 4’5” headroom.

Scarborough was barque rigged with fore, main and mizzen masts, the fore mast and the 25’ bowsprit carrying three foresails.  Square sails were rigged on each mast with staysails between them and a fore and aft sail on the mizzen below the topsail,  With the other ten ships of the First Fleet she left Portsmouth on 13 May 1787 and sailed her well known journey to Botany Bay. 

 

Leaving Cape Town, their destination, Botany Bay, they would make use of the prevailing westerlies that came to be known for their force and the latitudes in which they prevailed as the Roaring Forties.

After the arrival at Sydney Cove there is no record of what Frederick was doing until 23 February, but he was probably still part of Scarborough’s crew.  But then life for him took a new and distinctly unpleasant turn.

 

On that day he appeared before the magistrates charged with having given rum to a convict in exchange for what was called a ‘squirrel, probably a possum.  Governor Phillip was determined to maintain control and had expressly forbidden anyone to give liquor to the convicts for fear they would cause trouble under its influence.  Frederick was found guilty and sentenced to 100 lashes with the dreaded cat.

From the journal of the surgeon Arthur Bowes-Smith, it is clear that young Fred was only doing what Captain Marshall had told him to do. Marshall apparently regretting his role in the matter, and with some other gentlemen petitioned Governor Phillip for leniency and the sentence was reduced to 50 lashes.

Understandably, close relation between captain and steward seems to have come to an end because the next we hear of him was that he was supervising work on the colony’s gardens on the island that eventually became the naval establishment—Garden Island.

 

Apparently Fred’s skill as a farmer were recognised and he was put to work to help feed the colony.  Today he is best known for his time on the island and for the graffiti he left for posterity on a rock where he carved ‘FM 1788’  It is now protected and revered as a memorial to Australia’s first white graffitist!

Frederick’s other skill was to be employed  as baker on Sirius.  Now he is in the Royal Navy and he would sail with Sirius until her disastrous wreck on Norfolk Island.  She made several trips to Norfolk Island for stores to supplement the dwindling food in the colony but eventually stores were so low as to require severe rationing.  Something more had to be done so on 2 October Sirius was dispatched to Cape Town for stores.

 

In his book The First Fleet, Rob Mundle provides  a graphic description of this hazardous voyage in a chapter entitled The Mercy Mission.  Within 48 hours of departure, the weather had turned for the worst, causing Captain Hunter a good deal of concern. His journal reveals the basis of his dilemma: ‘the carpenter reported that the ship, which had been hitherto tight, now made water’.  This was bad news indeed as the crew were not in good health having been restricted to a poor diet for months and were not likely to be able to cope with constantly having to pump bilge water.  The carpenter discovered that the leak was due to what we now call electrolysis cause by galvanised bolts being in contact with the copper sheathing of the hull.  What were they to do?  Turn back for repairs or press on ?`

Only because of the urgency of the mission to get life saving stores back to the settlement, Captain Hunter decided to press on east around Cape Horn and on another 2 000 miles to Cape Town.  The leaks continued and the crew’s health worsened so that only 12 men were available to stand watch out of the usual 20.  Two died of scurvy before Cape Town was sighted.

When Sirius arrived the epic voyage was the talk of the seafaring community … the east coast of Van Diemens Land to Cape Town, through the Roaring Forties, past threatening icebergs all without stopping in 91 days! The sick were landed and provided with a healing diet of fruit and vegetables while the ship was repaired and stores and stock animals were procured.

Eventually Sirius, loaded with as much as could be crammed into every space, left to sail east eventually rounding Van Diemens Land and north along the east coast to Sydney. She arrived on 20 February 1789.

 

That too was a tumultuous voyage! As they approached Van Diemens Land after five days without a navigational fix because of the weather, they almost ran on to the rocky coast with huge seas crashing in with a fury that would have reduced the ship to matchwood.  Then they found themselves embayed, causing them to tack again and again, just to stay away from the rocks.  Captain Hunter saw an act of God when the wind changed enough for them to get out to sea, around South Cape and on up the east coast to Port Jackson.

Sirius now, in just under 5 months, circumnavigated the Southern Ocean using the prevailing westerly winds as sailing ships always did, loaded stores and live stock and undergone essential repairs.  Captain Hunter’s decision to take the longer but safer route was right.  Punching into those westerlies would have been nigh impossible and in the ship’s weakened state, almost certainly disastrous.

Sirius arrived back in Sydney town just in time to avoid starvation in the colony and we can count on Fred the baker as the one who helped feed the crew on that crucial voyage.

Sirius made other trips to Norfolk Island for supplies until her last fatal voyage when she was wrecked on 19 March 1790.  That left Fred alone stranded with the rest of the crew without a ship.

Sirius and Supply had been dispatched to the island with nearly 200 convicts and 70 other passengers and stores on 3 March 1890. Leaving Sydney Harbour in heavy weather and narrowly missing being wrecked on North Head they  arrived eight days later.  They discharged the passengers and convicts on the north side of the island in Cascade Bay but then sailed round to the southern side to unload the stores in Sydney Bay.  On 19 March she started unloading stores on a pleasant day but had to move away from the surf.  She made sail with a light off shore breeze that fell away.  Then the surf took hold and drove her on to the beach where she holed.  The wreck was hopeless but the crew and others worked to salvage as many of the stores as possible before she broke up.  Without their ship and most of their personal possessions, the crew were stranded.  They were offered accommodation in the marines barracks but elected to build shacks on the beach until they could be repatriated.

HMS Supply brought them back to Sydney where they waited for a ship to repatriate them back to England.  On the orders of Governor Phillip, Supply, under the command of Lieutenant Ball went to Batavia for supplies and to charter a ship for the Sirius crew.  Eventually, a year later, they embarked on Waaksanhyed which had been chartered by Lieutenant Ball of Supply.  Both ships had left from Batavia 27 March 1791 ; Supply for Norfolk Island and Waaksanheyd for Sydney with much needed supplies.

 

With 85 officers and crew of Sirius as well as Frederick, Waaksanheyd left Sydney intending to sail west around van Diemens Land, but ran into foul weather.  Instead, she turned north to sail via Papua and New Guinea and Batavia where she arrived 27 September 1791, six months after leaving Sydney.

 

After two months in Batavia she sailed via Cape of Good Hope arriving in England in April 1792, a year from Sydney and over two years since the wreck!

Fred would have been paid off by the navy, probably a substantial sum.  There was no record of what they thought of those two years, but as Naval personnel, they would have been accumulating their pay!

With the northern winter approaching and memories of warm sunny Australian weather, it is not surprising that our man booked a passage on a ship bound for Sydney and left 8 August 1792, arriving in Sydney five months later on 16 January 1793.  Thus, in 1973, the Meredith Descendant Group met at South Head to commemorate the two hundredth anniversary of his arrival on Bellona as a settler, free to establish himself in a new country.  The passenger list included seventeen convict women and five free settlers, some with their families.  Fred was one and another was Thomas Rose of Rose Farm, a professional farmer. Among the women were Ann Case and Sarah Mason of whom we will hear more later.

 

It would appear that early in the voyage, perhaps on a balmy moon light night in the calm tropical waters, Fred and Ann enjoyed some intimacy for on 10 May 1793 they became the proud parents of Amelia.  Sadly, as so often happened, she did not thrive and died a year later.

 

Did Fred pay attention to Sarah Mason on the voyage?  We will never know but she eventually had five children to him, including one after they married.

Some time before the wreck of the Sirius while in Sydney, our Mr Meredith, according to Court documents relating to the wreck, was living with a convict girl, Mary Allein on Brickfield Hill.  That resulted in a second daughter, Charlotte, 9 May 1790. Again she did not do well, dying just two years later.

Back in Australia, along with the other free settlers on Bellona, Fred was allotted land at Liberty Plains.  There he met up with another convict girl, Mary Kirk. We know nothing of the romance, if such it was, but on 24 April 1794 he became the father of a third daughter, another Charlotte. Was it third time lucky? Well this Charlotte lived to 5 May 1852, almost 58 years.

No further records are found of these three single mothers. We can only hope they found good partnerships and lived full lives.

Liberty Plains was apparently in the near west because Meredith’s land grant was 50 acres at Homebush.  It is dated 7 February 1793  The other immigrant passengers on Bellona were given grants in the same general area.  As well as Fred, two related Webbs, Thomas Rose and family and Edward Powell were the first free white settlers in Australia.

With a new sense of freedom, Liberty Plains must have seemed like an appropriate name for the area.  Meredith received another grant in the vicinity of Rhodes where the current railway station is.

The romantic liaisons continued in this new phase of his life, now eight years after the Bellona.  Sarah Mason gave him his first son, Frederick, on 17 March 1801.  Born 1776, she was now 25.  One wonders whether Sarah and Fred had met on Bellona.  Did Sarah see what was going on between Fred and the teenage Ann Case and decide that Fred was her kind of man?

Sarah had been transported for fourteen years for receiving stolen goods.  The thief received just seven.  Eighteenth century justice?  After seven years, Sarah had been awarded a ticket of leave making her in effect, a free woman by the time Frederick was born.  Together they went on to have five more children, Sophia 1803, Elizabeth 1805, William 1807, Ann 1811 and Eleanor 1813.  Eleanor, from whom my family descends, was the only one born after Frederick and Sarah were married at St. Philips Church on 26 February 1811.  Eleanor was 79 when she died 20 February 1893.                                                                               

 

Eleanor married John Burrows four months short of her 15th birthday and by the age of 28 had borne him seven children; or was it six?  She may well have had number 7 by her de facto Frederick Robert Ferrier.

Burrows had lied about his age when he married her and had abused Eleanor until she had had enough. She went into hiding with Ferrier with whom she had another eight children, the last being Victoria, born 16 November 1860 when

Her progeny includes some notable families including the Packers, Myers, judges, politicians, numerous professional people and my family.

Frederick Meredith, now the settled land holder in 1809 acquired more property, a parcel of 120 acres in Punchbowl area on the Georges River where an incident occurred that

Eleanor was 47. Her progeny includes some notable families, the Packers, the Myers, judges, politicians, numerous professional people and of course my family.

Frederick Meredith, now the settled land holder, acquired in 1809 more property, a parcel of 120 acres in the Punchbowl area on the Georges River. An incident occurred there that opened new opportunities for him.

 

The Sydney Gazette of 1 October 1809 recorded: ‘On Tuesday last a number of natives assembled about the farm of Mr Bond at Georges River and behaved in an outrageous manner.  They manifested an inclination to plunder but were prevented by the determination that was shown them by resistance.  They threw several spears, one of which grazed the ear of Mr Frederick Meredith who assisted in the defence of the place which it was at length found necessary to abandon.  Tedbury is said to have been one of the assailants …’

Frederick’s courageous role in the defence of Mr Bond’s farm might have been a factor in his appointment as constable as shown in the Sydney Gazette of 29 December 1810.  He is assigned official clothing and victuals to be drawn from His Majesty’s Stores.

Nine years earlier he had been subscribed to the rules and orders of the Sydney Loyal Association, set up by Governor Hunter.  It was an armed guard set up to deal with a perceived threat by seditious Irish convicts.  Frederick volunteered as an armed policeman and was in fact involved a few years later in the Vinegar Hill rising. 

On 4 March 1804, 233 convicts led by Philip Cunningham, escaped from a farm intent on capturing ships to sail to Ireland.  Martial law was set up in New South Wales and colonial forces hunted them until they were rounded up on a hillock that was nicknamed Vinegar Hill.  Under a flag of truce, Cunningham was arrested and the armed forces quickly crushed the revolt.

Of the nearly 300 rebels, 15 were killed, 9 executed, 7 received 200 to 500 lashes while others were sent to the Coal River Gang and the dreaded Newcastle coal mines.  Cunningham was court-marshalled and hung.

 

There was no repetition of Vinegar Hill.  That was the only convict uprising, perhaps due to the severe retribution of the leaders.  Who would ever attempt another such attack on the colonial forces?

Together with his additional land grants following his role in the defence of Mr Bond’s farm and now his enhanced reputation as a member of the Sydney Loyal Association Frederick apparently had the confidence to marry Sarah Mason and this he did on 26 February 1811.  In 1813 he sold his Punchbowl farm and from then on his life is dominated by his police work.

Thirteen years later in 1826 he is twice mentioned in the Sydney Gazette.  First in connection with his offering a 20 pound reward for a Sarah Webb and then 27 December 1826, as follows: ‘Whereas two bushrangers were apprehended on Monday last near Liverpool and the following articles suspected of being stolen found with them, are still unclaimed.  Any persons having lost  such property have the opportunity of identifying the same : 1 pistol; 1 drab beaver hat; 2 knives; 1 razor; 1 tomahawk; 1 sunglass. 1 small iron pot; quantity of English soap. - Frederick Meredith, Chief Constable.

Earlier that year, on16 March 1826 the Governor had been pleased to approve in the District of Liverpool Mr Frederick Meredith to be Chief Constable — a position he held until retirement.

Sarah died 1 August 1832 and was buried in St Luke’s Church Cemetery, Liverpool.

Frederick married Mary Ann Day 19 February 1833 at St Luke’s Liverpool.  Just over three years later he died, 26 June 1836 aged 73 and was buried with Sarah at St Luke’s where the headstone commemorates them both:

It is with pride our family looks back on the significant life of our First Fleet ancestor.  We value the contribution he made to the fledgling colony.

 

David Swinfield

 

 

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