FF James Sheers, Convict, Scarborough (1746-1838)


James, a Butcher by trade, was tried and convicted at the Old Bailey on 7th July 1784 for highway robery, assaulting Charles Wright on the King’s Highway, on the 2nd of July, and putting him in fear and danger of his life, and taking from his person and against his will, one watch, with the outside case made of shagreen, and an inside case made of base metal, value 40s. a metal chain, value 5s. one ring, value 5s. one seal value 1s. a metal key value 6d. and a metal hook value 6d. his property, he was sentenced to death.


Old Bailey Trial Transcription.
Reference Number: t17840707-12

672. JAMES SHIERS was indicted for feloniously assaulting Charles Wright on the King’s highway, on the 2nd of July, and putting him in fear and danger of his life, and feloniously taking from his person and against his will, one watch, with the outside case made of shagreen, and an inside case made of base metal, value 40 s. a metal chain, value 5 s. one ring, value 5 s. one seal value 1 s. a metal key, value 6 d. and a metal hook, value 6 d. his property .

I am clerk to a banker ; I was robbed on the morning of the 2d of July, at past two o’clock, in the Strand ; I was going from the city.
Court. To what place? - No determined place, on a walk.
What part of the Strand were you robbed? - About ten yards beyond the pavement; I perceived the prisoner, seemingly in company with another man, about two or three yards before he came upon me, they were coming towards the city, they met me, the prisoner came upon me with force by a jostle, and applied his hand to my watch pocket, and with a considerable degree of force tore it out of my pocket; my pocket being tight made me scarcely sensible of it.
Did he touch you otherwise than by jostling you? - He came just upon me, face to face, with a view as I judged to take away my recollection at the time.
Where did he hit you, or strike you? - He came quite upon my breast and made me go back, he came suddenly upon me, the force that he was obliged to apply to take my watch from me, the pocket being tight, suspended his arm above his head, I instantly catched him by the collar, and with my other hand endeavoured to regain my watch, at the same time one of the other witnesses came up and catched him by the collar, and endeavoured to regain my watch too, he still holding the watch at the full extent of his arm; I was in company with five more, four of which saw the watch in his possession; he endeavoured to drop the watch, a parcel of men and women came round him on the other side of me, by which means he conveyed away the watch.
Did he drop it? - Not to my knowledge.
Did you ever see your watch afterwards? - Never after it went out of his hand, but I saw it for some small space of time in his hand; I apprehended him, and conveyed him to custody with other assistance, I never lost my hold.
Prisoner. Ask him whether he was drunk or no? - I had been drinking moderately.
Court. Was you disguised? - No.

I was just behind the prosecutor, when I came up to him I saw the watch in the prisoner’s hand, by some means he conveyed it away; there were several girls of the town about him, and we took him to the watch-house.
Did you see him run against the prosecutor? - I was just behind, I could not distinguish, there was a kind of jostle, but I could not distinguish.
Court. Was the prosecutor drunk? - Not in the least, he had been drinking.
Prisoner. There was a mob all round, and they caught hold of me and a woman, and stripped us both naked, and said we had the watch. Please to look at this here.
(Holding out a paper.)
Court. You must read it yourself. - I cannot read, it is the state of the case, and how it happened, and every thing of the kind.
Court. You know your own story.

I was going to Smithfield market, about five o’clock, and these gentlemen was coming along drunk, and had three or four girls with them and two or three watchmen, and I came up to see what was the matter, and they took me; I had not so much as a stick to walk with.
Have you any witnesses to call to your character?
Prisoner. I was taken with such a disappointment, that the man would not let me send for my friends, I do not think I have a friend in the Court; it is a very hard case indeed.
Court to Jury. Gentlemen, this is a robbery in its nature somewhat similar to that committed by Richard Edwards on Captain Elphinstone , which you tried very lately.

GUILTY , Death .
Prosecutor. My Lord, if you consider him as a worthy object, I would wish to recommend him to mercy.
Tried by the first Middlesex Jury before Mr. Justice HEATH.

James was sent to Newgate Prison to await his hanging at Tyburn, the prosecutor had recommended him for mercy, and on 19th March 1785 the sentence was remitted on condition of transportation to Africa for life. On 5th April 1785, he was sent to the hulk ‘Ceres’, a former East Indiaman that was moored at Woolwich on the Thames, it had been established as a prison hulk in March 1785 to hold convicts from Newgate, pending transportation to Africa. The accommodation was basic and overcrowded, the convicts were shackled together and slept two to a plank bed with a single blanket to cover them. The expense of maintaining them was offset by putting them to work dredging the Thames and building embankments. Problems with transportation to the African continent meant that James would be sent on the first fleet to the new Penal Colony of New South Wales. James remained on the ‘Ceres’ until ordered to Portsmouth on 24th February1787 to board his transportation vessel.

Left England on 13th May 1787.
Ship:- the ‘Scarborough’ sailed with 208 male convicts on board, there were no reported deaths during the voyage.
Arrived on 26th January 1788.

There are variants of his name in the records – Shiers, Shears or Sheers; the only record of his actual signature is that on his marriage record1 where he used the spelling ‘Sheers’.


James married convict Mary Smith (‘Lady Penrhyn’ 1788) on 21st February 1788 at Sydney Cove.at St Phillips Sydney by permission of His Excellency Arthur Phillip.

On 4th March 1790 James & Mary were sent to Norfolk Island on the ‘Sirius’, embarking on  5 March 1790, disembarking at Cascade Norfolk Island on 14 March 1790.

James was a butcher on Norfolk Island.

Mary and James Sheers separated some time before Mary's passing on 9 December 1792. She was marked as dead 27 December 1792 Norfolk Island, leaving James to care for their infant daughter Mary (Ann), who was born on Norfolk Island on August 4 1791.


James went on to have 2 children with convict Elizabeth Wishaw,(Convict Lady Juliana) on Norfolk Island who had arrived aboard the Surprize in August 1790.Elizabeth adopted James’s first child Mary (Ann) as her own. Elizabeth Wishaw had two children with James Sheers on Norfolk Island, James(1794) and Mary (1795).

On 23 March 1796 James received an Absolute Pardon from the Governor of New South Wales and in 1797 he was granted 60 acres of land.


Elizabeth Wishaw died on Norfolk Island sometime between 1800 and 1802

James Sheers is listed as the landholder of 60 acres of land being Lot 12. This lot was originally granted in procession by Edward Abbott (Marine Lieutenant Scarborough 2), who had transferred this to John Howell (Marine, Charlotte) in February 1792 and granted in March 1796. James Sheers sold this land to Thomas Fowles(Convict Atlantic)on 14 January 1800. He remained on Norfolk Island as he was recorded living there in 1811.

James lived with Mary Wilson, (Convict Prince of Wales ), she arrived on Norfolk Island aboard HMS Sirius in March 1790. Mary was the widow of John Owles (Convict Alexander), who died on Norfolk Island in 1806 also ex HMS Sirius March 1790. James Sheers and Mary Wilson remained on Norfolk Island returning to Sydney abroad the Kangaroo in February 1814

Mary Sheers nee Wilson, died 15th August 1816 Sydney, aged 85 years, buried 17th August 1816 Old Sydney Burial Ground Sydney


In 1821 the New South Wales Muster shows James Sheers working at Bringelly for Captain Piper (Free Settler Pitt 1792). Piper was the husband of James’ daughter Mary Ann.


James died 17 December 1838 ‘Alloway Bank’, the home of his son-in-law Capt Piper at Bathurst, buried Holy Trinity Cemetery Bathurst.

His death notice appeared in the Sydney Herald, 28 December 1838 stating an age of 103 years and five months:Death: At Allowaybank, on the 17th instant, Mr. James Sheers, at the advanced age of one hundred and three years and five months; he retained all his faculties till within three days of his decease.

The Fellowship of First Fleeters installed a FFF Plaque on James Sheers/Shiers’s Grave on 7th June 1992.

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

Under FFF Plaque 86 – Installed 7th June 1992for

FF JAMES SHEERS/ShiersConvict‘Scarborough’

Written By Phil Hands on 6th August, 2017


-The Founders of Australia by Mollie Gillen p253

-Dispatched Down Under by Ron Withington p284 to 287

-The Second Fleet by Michael Flynn p236

-Convict Recordshttps://convictrecords.com.au/convicts/sheers/james/134669

-The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Ref: Reference Number: t17840707-12

-Trove Newspapershttps://trove.nla.gov.au/



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters