Seldom have the known details of a person been so concentrated on a single issue in this case, man's earliest invention, the wheel.

Some 90 pounds of metal, in this case lead, were stolen from the home of a widow, Ann Blake, rented from one Robert Altridge by a labourer from the Parish of St Mary, Lambeth. As the lead was valued at 10 shillings the 22-year-old thief, Hugh Hughes, was convicted and sentenced on 16 February 1785 at the Southwark Quarter Sessions to seven years transportation.


Of these seven years the first two were spent restrained on hulk Justinian, beached on the Thames at Woolwich. From the hulk he would have been employed "in raising gravel for masking on Woolwich Shoals, in wheeling the same for the purpose of making considerably higher the surface of all the ground contiguous to the Proof and Practice Butts which they have created and are now repairing, in filling up large ditches, scraping and cleaning cannon, sawing of timber for the laboratory, and in other occasional work in the Warren at Woolwich under the direction of the Board of Ordinances."

In May 1787 from this hulk together with 211 male convicts he was transferred to Alexander on which he traveled to Botany Bay.

Having arrived, Hughes again came before the Court. On 4 November 1789 stole from the Government (according to the evidence of Thomas Daveny, William Holland and John Bazley) the frame of a wheelbarrow. He was found guilty and sentenced by Judge-Advocate Collins and Captain Hunter to fifty lashes on the following Saturday.


Rose Hill was Hughes next move where on l6 January 1791 he married a Second Fleet convict, 29-year-old Mary Steward. The church register describes him as Robert Hugh Hughes. (A Robert Hughes had earlier been buried on the 27 August 1790.)

Soon Hughes obtained a town-lot grant on the north-western corner of the intersection of Church and Argyle Streets, Parramatta. There he built a house and a workshop from whence he plied his trade as a wheelwright. It is possible that from this site he made the Colony's first wheel or vehicle.

In 1800 Hughes's wife, Mary, aged 38 years died leaving no known children. With the death of his wife Hughes was assigned a recently arrived female servant, Mary Underhill. She had arrived as one of about 20 female convicts with the new Governor, Philip Gidley King, aboard Speedy. At the Old Bailey in February 1798 she had been sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing bedding and other like effects from a lodging-house at 133 Great Saffron Hill and then pawning some of the goods. She was 24 years old.


Though no record of any marriage can be found, Mary Underhill is recorded in various musters, the 1828 Census, and on her death certificate, as Mary Hughes. In 1803 Mary's son, Hugh Hughes (or sometimes Hugh James Hughes), was born Hughes's only known child.

Hughes continued as a wheelwright in Parramatta until his death in 1830 at the age of 66. The church register indicates that he was buried on 3 January 1830 although this contradicts his tombstone. He is buried next to his first wife.


Some 23 years later at Argyle Street, Parramatta, his second wife died and, although her grave is now unknown, she too is buried in St John's, Parramatta.

In his father's lifetime, in July 1824, Hugh Hughes Jnr, married Elizabeth, daughter of emancipists Thomas and Esther Ashby, who conducted a bootmaking and saddlery business in Church Street North, Parramatta. Hugh Hughes Jnr continued his father's trade as a wheelwright as well as conducting other commercial activities such as holding the licence for the Golden Lion hotel in Church Street. Hugh Hughes Jnr had eight children and became, to quote the newspapers of the day, the head of "a very well-known Parramatta family."



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters