Henry Dodd was the son of Ralph and Sarah Dodd and was baptised at Hodnet, Salop, on 1 September 1748. He was in later life a farm labourer for Governor Arthur Phillip on his Lyndhurst property in Hampshire, England, and travelled on the First Fleet as his personal servant (although shown on the ship's records as an able seaman). From a knowledge of his occupation and a description by David Collins it can be assumed that he was of stocky build, for Collins said of him that "his figure was calculated to make the idle and worthless shrink if he came near them."

Upon arrival in the Colony Governor Phillip found that other than his personal servant few were experienced in farming and so, on 1 February 1788, he sent Dodd ashore to superintend the convicts on farming duty – somewhere near the lower reaches of the present day Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

After the establishment of a settlement at Rose Hill a free settler, James Smith (who had travelled at first unbeknown to Governor Phillip on Lady Penrhyn, having been originally bound for India), was appointed in February 1789 as Assistant to the Commissary at Rose Hill with a view to overseeing the farming at that place. It was, however, rapidly evident that his age rendered Smith inadequate for the job and so in the following month he was replaced by Dodd.

By December 1790, Governor Phillip could report that Dodd and 100 convicts had reaped some 200 bushels of wheat, 60 bushels of barley and a small quantity of flax, Indian corn and oats — all of which was retained as seed. Some 200 acres of land had been cleared and was planted with approximately 55 acres sown with either wheat, barley or oats and 30 acres of maize. Four enclosures of 20 acres each were planned for holding cattle, with two having been erected already. In the centre of one such enclosure a hut was planned for a person who would be appointed to care for the cattle. The rest were employed sowing two bushels an acre or hoeing l6 roods of ground per day. There is some suggestion by Captain Watkin Tench that this progress was not as successful as might otherwise have been hoped for.

The enclosure of the cattle was important not merely to stop them straying or protect them from the aborigines but also to facilitate the collection of manure. Without this natural fertiliser the growth of crops was impeded. Yet even with these limitations Dodd still managed to grow a cabbage weighing 26lb for Christmas Dinner at Government House in 1789. But Dodd was more than a mere farmer — as important as that may have been in the early starvation years of the Colony. After he died, Governor Phillip wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, on 24 March 1791:

"I have now lost the only man, on whom I could depend for directing the labour of the Convicts, that is setting out their work and seeing that it was done. The person I now have to depend on James Smith, who had been recalled from retirement is a good farmer but something more than the farmer is wanting." or earlier on 4 March he wrote to the Home Secretary, Lord Grenville:

"But, sir, the directing the labour of the Convicts in cultivating a country such as this will seldom be done to any effort but by those who are immediately interested in the labour of those they have under their care. It required greater exertion and a closer attendance to the convicts to draw any great advantage from their labour than what every man, though willing, may be capable, and much more than the generality of men feel themselves bound to give for a salary of 40 or 50 pounds a year."

This leadership quality of Dodd has already been noted in respect of his physique. It was also, quite clearly, not a quiet strength which commanded respect but rather a physical and active use of authority. For instance, he was personally involved in the capture on 22 June 1788 of Edward Corbett who together with John Matthew Cox (alias ‘Banbury Jack’) had earlier escaped. Later on 21 January 1789 he gave evidence at the trial of John Russler for stealing two quarts of horse beans from the Governor's Farm. In his position at Rose Hill he was specifically given authority in October 1789 "to inflict corporal punishment on the convicts for idleness, rioting and other misdemeanours."

When Dodd died, on 28 January 1791, of "a decline", Collins wrote: "…. he had been ill for some time but his death was accelerated by exposing himself in his shirt for 3 or 4 hours during the night, in search after thieves who were plundering his garden . . . The services rendered to the public by this person were visible in the cultivation and improvements which appeared at the Settlement where he had the direction. He had acquired the ascendancy over the convicts, which he preserved without being hated by them; he knew how to proportion their labour to their ability, and, by an attentive and quiet demeanour, had gained the approbation and countenance of the different officers who had been on duty at Rose Hill."

His body was interred in a corner of a yard enclosed as a stock reserve, later to become St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. In his will, made a fortnight before his death, he appointed his widowed mother and his sister, Anne, as his executrices.

His is the oldest extant tombstone in the cemetery. It is a simple plain slab. It bespeaks solid reliability and trustworthiness. As much as any tombstone in the cemetery it is a symbol of the man which it commemorates.



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters