FF JACOB BELLETT Convict ‘Scarborough’ (c1766-1815)


When telling the story of the Bellett family, it is probably a good idea to start with the Huguenots, a group of French Protestants with a history going back many hundreds of years to an era that existed well before the formation of the German Lutheran Church. The denomination may have evolved from the Protestants of Tours, who, it is said, met each evening with the mythical King Hugonet or Hugon.  It was the new church of the day and expanded rapidly as many people no longer wanted the Catholic faith.

Later on between 1562 and 1598 the Catholics and Huguenots fought each other with a lot of violence.  The Catholics had the support of the Spanish.  The Protestants had Henry of Navare who eventually claimed victory over the Catholics in France in 1572.  He named himself Henry 14th in 1594 and that was the end of the struggle for a while.

After the death of Henry, Cardinal Richelieu began to cause trouble.  He did some things that were unacceptable to the Huguenots and the fighting between the two churches started again with many killed.

So began the great migration of the Huguenots to countries such as England, North America, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and elsewhere.  Some sixty thousand Huguenots moved into Holland.  They were made welcome by the Dutch Government but unfortunately it was too great a number to be absorbed into the Dutch community.  To overcome the problem, 20 000 Huguenots were move to the Cape of Good Hope.  There are many Huguenots living in South Africa today.

For those Frenchmen who did not emigrate to another country, life became decidedly unpleasant.  The Protestants and Catholics had a very powerful and active dislike for each other which, in the end amounted to outright hostility, once again with the Catholics gaining the upper hand this time.  In 1685 the Catholic cardinals persuaded King Louis XIV to revoke every religion except the Catholic Church.

After the revocation it was estimated that about a further quarter of a million Huguenots left France for other countries as soon as they possibly could.

Enter the newlyweds, Thomas Bellette and his young wife Judith le Sauvage, who arrived in London in August 1687.  They made their reconnaissance at Threadneedle Street, London on 17th August the same year. Being Huguenots, they had decided to flee France and start a new life in London.  A sensible move considering the dreadful persecution that was taking place in France.  Many an edict was issued by King Louis XIV, all of which attempted to make life increasingly difficult for his Protestant subjects.

The laws and tactics used to attack the position of the Huguenots were similar to those used by Nazi Germany to attack the Jewish people in World War 2.The Huguenots were forbidden to be lawyers, doctors or midwives and they were not allowed any position in the King’s Government.  Their churches were demolished, schools were closed down and worst of all their children were taken away from them and sent to convents to be indoctrinated into the Catholic faith.  Imagine the relief Thomas and Judith must have felt when they arrived in London.

Three generations later, Jacob Bellette was born at Webs Square, Shoreditch and subsequently christened at the church of St Leonards.  The year was 1765 with Jacob’s birth date as recorded as 21-1-1765.

St Leonards is situated near the boundary of Shoreditch and Bethnel Green and has an interesting history. Another church has stood in its place dating from the thirteenth century until 1736 when destroyed by Fire.  It too had been called St Leonards.  Two hundred years later in 1944, the new church of 1736 was badly damaged by a flying bomb as were surrounding streets. It was repaired after the bombing and can be seen on the map of Shoreditch.  This church is famous for its thirteen distinctive bells. 

Considering the social conditions in England at the end of the eighteenth century, historians estimate that approximately 115 000 people were living from the proceeds of crime.   Not only that, the people of London consumed at least eight million gallons of gin annually.  It was estimated that there was a Gin House for every one hundred and eighty people.  Gin was made locally and was cheap to buy.

The police service was run mainly by the church with some help from other organisations assisting with police work.  The first government controlled police force commenced duty in 1829.  Robert Peel was mainly responsible for this initiative and the early policemen were known as Peelers.

It is estimated that more than seventy percent of children born in London died before the age of five.  The lower classes simply could not afford to keep their babies.  They developed a practice of abandoning their little ones on door steps of different places around the city in the hope that someone would take the child in and look after it.  England, in particular London, must surely have been one of the saddest places on earth.  The term Merry England hardly sees applicable.

To his great credit King George 2nd, with the help of some wealthy citizens opened some orphanages around the city of London. They introduced a system where baskets were placed at the entrances of the various institutions so that any mother could simply leave her baby in one of the baskets where by the child would be taken inside and cared for by the staff at the respective orphanages.

Children would be looked after until the age of six when they would, sadly, be turned out to look after themselves. British history sank to what is possibly its lowest moment when a six-year old boy was hung for stealing a handkerchief.

How fortunate was Jacob Bellett? Considering the above, both he and his siblings had been very well brought up by their parents.  The family did not have a lot of money but their mother and father were able to have the children educated by the French Sisters.  As they were part of the Huguenot society, it is not unreasonable to assume that Jacob would have been literate in French as well as English.

Jacob worked for a silk weaving company, Gearing Vaux and Taylor with his father.  On Christmas Day, 1784, at the age of nineteen, he was arrested for stealing a quantity of cloth on the evidence given to the police by the factory foreman, William Cole.

Three weeks later he was tried at the Old Bailey 12th January 1785 and found guilty.  He was sentenced to death but that was eventually commuted to seven years transportation beyond the seas. He was to sail on board the transport ‘Scarborough’, after some time spent on the prison hulks, ‘Ceres’ and ‘Censor’

Whether Jacob was guilty or not is highly debatable.  He was convicted on the word of his factory foreman who gave two different versions of events.  Firstly, William Cole gave a statement to the police which resulted in Jacob being arrested and three weeks later at the Old Bailey gave a totally different story altogether.  The sad part was that neither the judge, or the clerk of the court and more importantly, the police, questioned Cole about giving two different stories.

Being able to read and write English and almost certainly French, Jacob was, by the standards of the day, well educated.  On the other hand, Cole was illiterate.  It is likely the educated young man was an asset to the company and Cole saw him as a threat to his position and in order to get rid of him, concocted a story.  He had the temerity to take it to the police who acted upon it.  What a pity the judge, clerk of the court and police did not do their job and query the evidence given by Cole.

The First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay on 18 January 1788 and six days later on 26 January all ships had anchored in Port Jackson, the now chosen and superior site for settlement. Jacob remained in Sydney for the next two years

A colony had been set up on Norfolk Island early in 1788 so HMS Sirius was sent there in March 1790 transporting convicts, including Jacob Bellett, and much needed supplies. On 19 March 1790 Sirius was wrecked off Norfolk Island, some of the supplies never making it to shore. After the loss of the Sirius HMS Supply was now the only link between Port Jackson, Norfolk Island and the rest of the world. 

In January 1790 a Second Fleet of six ships had left England for Port Jackson. The fleet was stocked with provisions but also carried more convicts. The Surprize and the Justinian were sent to Norfolk Island in August 1790 which saved the colony of Norfolk Island from starvation. Aboard the Surprize was Ann Harper, future wife of Jacob Bellett. Ann was convicted in Bristol for receiving stolen goods and was transported aboard the Lady Juliana.

No record has been found of a marriage certificate but according to Phillip Gidley King's Journal, ‘Several of the Settlers requested my permission to marry some of the best-behaved female convicts; As the Rev. Mr Johnson, Chaplain to the Territory came here in the Atlantic, I requested him to marry them; Upwards of one Hundred Couples were married in the course of three Days. ’Reverend Richard Johnson visited Norfolk Island in November 1791.

Jacob’s sentence expired in December 1791 when he was listed as farming twelve acres in First Setters Vale, today known as Music Valley. He was living with his wife Ann who had been given a grant of thirty-nine acres next to Jacob’s grant and the two holdings were farmed as one.  Ann Harper was the only woman to be given a grant of land in her own right. Her sentence expired in 1796 and that year, with all the land officially theirs, the young couple decided to stay on Norfolk and make a go of living on the island rather than returning to England.

Later Jacob became a constable and apart from being seen as trustworthy by the authorities he was literate and that would have been a big plus for him when only a small percentage of settlers could read and write. Their farming efforts were successful, and seven children were born to them while on the island, from Elizabeth in 1792 to William in 1805.

A decision was made, however, to close the Norfolk Island settlement. Jacob and Ann Bellett and departed Norfolk Island in September 1808 aboard the City of Edinburgh to travel to Hobart. On arrival in Hobart Jacob was granted 45 acres at Queenborough and a further 40 acres at Gloucester, areas known today as Sandy Bay, Pittwater and Sorrell. They finished up doing quite well for themselves from their farming endeavours. In March 1812 Jacob and Ann had another son, George.

Jacob died suddenly in Hobart Town on 3 December 1813, aged 47, and was buried in wall set up in 1926 when the cemetery was refurbished as St David’s Park.Ann died at Sorell on 10 September 1842.

On 22 January 1814 the Sydney Gazette reported his death thus:

Died suddenly at Hobart Town on 2nd December ult., Mr Jacob Bellette, settler, formerly of Norfolk Island. A minute or two before his death he was in jocular conversation with some of his friends from whom he was in an instant snatched by the awful mandate of a supreme director, leaving behind him a wife and infant family in whose affection all who were acquainted with him must feelingly participate’.


The Fellowship of First Fleeters installed a FFF Plaque on Jacob Bellett’s Grave on 2nd November 1988.

Refer FFF Web Site:http://www.fellowshipfirstfleeters.org.au/graves.html

Under FFF Plaque 69 – Installed 2nd November 1988 for

FF JACOB BELLETT Convict‘Scarborough’ (c1766-1815)


Article contributed by #1379 Peter Bellette.



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