FF JOHN RAMSAY Convict ‘Scarborough’ (c1762-1836)

According to his Certificate of Freedom, granted on 30 October 1824 John Ramsey’s native place was County Donegal, Ireland.A former seaman, late of Battersea, Ramsay was tried at the Surrey Lent Assizes which began at Kingston upon Thames on 24 Mar 1784. At the trial it was stated“...that John Ramsay late of the parish of Battersea in the county of Surrey Labourer and William Johnson late of the same…on the 16th day of November…with force and arms in the parish aforesaid…in the King’s Highway…upon William Edwards feloniously did make an assault and…him in corporal fear and danger of his life did put and…one pair of Silver Shoe Buckles of the value of 15s. one pair of Silver Knee Buckles of the value of 6s. one silk Handkerchief of the value of 3s. one linen Handkerchief of the value of 1s. two Muslin Stocks of the value of 2s. and two shillings of the proper silver coin of the realm of the goods and chattels of said William Edwards ...violently and feloniously did steal…”

They were found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, then reprieved to transportation to America for seven years, and sent to the hulks on 24 October 1785. John was aged 22 years. Following nearly two years on the hulk Justitia, John was dispatched by wagon on 24 February 1787 to Portsmouth to embark on the Scarborough three days later.

At Sydney Cove on Monday 24 March 1788 Ramsay was one of five witnesses at a quadruple wedding of First Fleet couples conducted by the chaplain Rev Richard Johnson. Over two years later, on Sunday 19 December 1790, at a triple wedding service at Rosehill John Ramsay married Mary Leary (Convict, Neptune, 1790), with Mary making her mark and John signing the register.Mary had been tried by the London Jury before Mr Baron Langham, indicted for stealing clothing to the value of over £28, the property of William Langham, found guilty and sentenced to transportation for seven years. She was held at Newgate until 12 November 1789, when she was embarked on the Neptune Transport


In November1789 the London Times noted that the ships bound for Botany Bay were planning to depart on 26 December. The Captains of the ships had received strict orders from the Secretary of State's Office to have everything on board by that time. It was noted on 10 December that the Neptune remained in Causand Bay awaiting further orders. The Second Fleet ships Neptune, Surprize and Scarborough and store ship Justinian sailed from England on 19 January 1790, six months after the departure of the Lady Juliana. The Neptune arrived in Port Jackson on 28 June 1790


Six couples, John and Mary Ramsay among them, were each granted 50 acres on 18 July 1791 at The Ponds (at Rydalmere, about 2 miles north east of Parramatta), and three other single convicts 30 acres.


A daughter Elizabeth was born to Mary Ramsay in September and baptised at St John’s Parramatta on 2 October 1791. Just on six months after settling on their grant, on 6 December 1791, John and Mary were visited by Watkin Tench who reported that ‘He deserves a good spot, for he is a civil, sober, industrious man. He has a well laid out little garden (3½ acres), in which I found he and his wife, busily at work. He praised her industry to me and said he had no doubt of succeeding. It is not often seen that sailors make good farmers; but this man I think bids fair to contradict that observation.’


Their second child, a son John, was born 25 August 1793 and baptised on 15 September 1793 at St John’s. The next year, on 1 April 1794, a further grant of 20 acres at The Ponds, called 'Betsey Farm' or ‘Ramsay’s wife farm’, was added to their holding. This adjoined Ramsay's Farm so John and Mary now had 70 acres.


A third child, a son John Thomas, was born on 4 August 1795 and baptised five weeks later, also at St Johns. He was about three months old when his father joined an expedition on 30 October to find a way over the Blue Mountains with Matthew Everingham and William Reed. This attempt was totally unknown until the finding in the 1980s of what has become known as the Everingham Letter Book.

On the journey they later reported that they had sighted two ‘chasms’, supposing that the Hawkesbury flowed through one and through the other, a stream they called the Macarthur River, (now called Bowens Creek) which they reasoned flowed into Port Stephens. They reached a point where they could see good country to the west but did not proceed any further as food supplies were running short. In fact, by the time they reached Parramatta, they had been without food for three days and Matthew’s shoes had worn out. That, he said, was worse than the lack of food. They had started out each carrying a knap-sack with 40lbs of supplies, plus ropes, other equipment and a gun.


Their hope of returning for a further attempt never eventuated. To help prevent the escape of convicts, the Government did not publicise the possibility of land to the west and discouraged exploration. Working from Matthew’s description of their journey, local experts have determined that they reached either Mt. Wilson, Mt. Tomah or Mt. Irvine. In any case, they were not more than one day’s trek from crossing the Blue Mountains when they turned back. This journey is described in one of several letters that have survived, from Matthew to his mentor Samuel Shepherd, the man he defrauded and that resulted in Matthew’s conviction and transportation.This was 18 years before Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth finally made their crossing in 1813.

Throughout the first decade of the new century John Ramsay’s name appears in newspaper reports, muster lists, court hearings, land and farm transactions, and community affairs. Some of these are outlined below.


In January 1800 he was the victim of an assault. Criminal Court records mention a case: ‘John Ramsay against Thomas Hodgetts, insulting language’. Ramsay told the court Hodgetts had insisted on his telling him if he, the complainant, was an Irishman or an Englishman then afterwards he would knock him down.

Three years later John was in court again, this time at the Parramatta bench. He was accused of murdering his servant who had disappeared. Reported in Sydney Gazette: the rumour was started by his neighbour, but several witnesses came forward and it appears that the servant left in an American ship to escape debts. The neighbour circulated a story about him which resulted in his brief wrongful imprisonment in 1804.At that time the Gazette went out of its way to speak of the ‘uniform propriety’ of his conduct ‘during a residence of fifteen years in the Colony’.

Ramsay was back in court on 28 September 1806, the Gazette detailing a theft from Ramsay: a mast, sail, and blanket were stolen from Ramsay, a settler at the Ponds. A convict, John McCannon, was sentenced to 100 lashes for the theft although Ramsay ‘spoke highly as to the prisoners conduct for 14 years’.

In civic activism John was one of the signatories to an 1800 petition from residents of The Ponds protesting at the high cost of living. Eight years later, on 1 January 1808, he signed the settlers' address supporting Governor Bligh, just 26 days before the latter was deposed in the Rum rebellion.

Muster records indicate that Ramsay was often involved in purchasing and selling various properties to get the best returns. In 1801 he acquired William Reid’s second 60 acre grant on the riverbank several kilometres to the south on the north shore of the Parramatta River called ‘Industry Farm’, with nearly 18 acres sown in wheat and 17 ready for maize. He also had 4 goats and 15 pigs. From here his sailing boat was used to take produce to market for him and his ex-marine neighbour Alexander Macdonald.


In 1802 at The Ponds he had 12 acres wheat, 20 acres maize to be planted, 20 pigs, 3 goats.

John also held at the same time a grant at Field of Mars. 25 cleared, 17½ in wheat, 12 maize to be planted, 60 acres held, 1 male goat, 3 females; 5 male pigs, 10 females, 30 bushels maize in hand. Recording, he and his family as 1 male off stores, wife and 3 children off stores, 3 servants.


In April 1804 Simeon Lord auctioned Ramsay’s original 50 acres (with 40 acres cleared) at The Ponds bringing a price of 37 guineas. Ramsay’s wife’s farm of 30 acres of standing timber was sold for 23 guineas. Joseph Holt, ex-convict Minerva) purchased both  farms for William Cox (Lieutenant NSW Corps Minerva), who had succeeded John Macarthur (Lieutenant NSW Corps Neptune) as paymaster for the NSW Corps and both these properties became part of Brush Farm.

The 1806 Muster listed the following: John Ramsay, Scarborough, FBS, Held by purchase 60 acres ex Reid at Field of Mars.-17 acres wheat, 16 maize, ¾ acre peas/beans, 4 acres potatoes, 4½ acres orchard, 17¾ acres pasture. (60 acres held) Stock: 7 male hogs, 8 female, 15 bushels barley in stock. Self, wife, and convict labourer off stores. Ramsay also had an acre of flax, whose value he would have known as a seaman, for ropes and sail cloth and the cultivation of which Governor King had encouraged.


On 23rd February 1806 Ramsay advertised his farm of 60 acres for sale at Field of Mars, in the Sydney Gazette, 20 acres in cultivation, several acres cleared. Movement of the property must have been slow as in April 1809 he once again tried to let his ‘farm and extensive orchard of fruit trees’. However, the following land transaction was listed in the same year: ‘Assignment from John Ramsay to Thomas Green, on a Farm at Field of Mars, to secure the sum of 40 pounds in 6 weeks from 22 July. The farm had 27 pigs, corn, potatoes, wheat and poultry’. Ramsay’s interests were widening that year as well. In January he was buying a horse,Capicis, from a William Evans for £44.10.0, and the next month he and James Squire had a Wine and Spirit Licence approved for the Field of Mars.

On 13 January 1810 John was sworn in as constable for Field of Mars, at the beginning of Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s reforming campaign after the Rum Rebellion. At the end of the year, Macquarie visited Ramsay’s Farm, Macdonald’s and others, and noted it was ‘prettily situated...on the banks of the river’. Two years later Ramsay was appointed Pound Keeper for the area

Sometime in the previous year, 1809, his daughter Elizabeth Ramsay, aged 18, married James O’Hara, who was born in Sydney in 1792. His father John O’Hara had been a convict arrival on the Neptune in 1790 and his mother Mary Jones, on the Mary Ann in 1791.The young couple, Elizabeth and James, had three children John (1809-1838), James (1812-1871) and Mary (1814-1891). In 1820 John’s daughter Elizabeth O’Hara died with her husband James issuing a Memorial of James O'Hara dated 1 Jun 1820, in which he states: ‘...memorialist is a freeborn subject of this colony, married a free subject of this colony (now deceased) by which he has three children...’


In March 1811 Mary Ramsay (formerly O’Leary) advertised her imminent departure for Europe in the Sydney Gazette. She was contemplating a return to England, as she and John had become so successful in their farming ventures. Sadly, Mary never made the voyage, dying, aged 41, on 7 February 1813 and was buried two days later in St John’s Cemetery Parramatta.


Earlier that year, on 4January 1813, Ramsay had subscribed to the cost of walling the St John’s burial ground. This work, according to family stories, was occasioned by another settler’s wife’s grave having been disturbed by Rev Samuel Marsden’s pigs, one of which the settler had shot.


Over the next two decades John Ramsay’s family seemed to receive more publicity than that of John’s land and farm activities, the latter a relocation to the Narrabeen area on Sydney’s northern beaches.


The 1814Muster showed: ‘John Ramsay, Scarborough, Landholder - although his residence was shown as Kissing Point. He supplied around 2000 pounds of fresh meat to Government Stores from a property at Long Reef on the southern side of Narrabeen Lagoon. In 1815, on 24 February, he sold his holding on the north shore of the Parramatta River called Industry Farm to Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur and it became incorporated into the Vineyard Estate. John advertised for a mare lost from his farm at Long Reef, on 14th October 1815, for ‘a considerable time since and warned that trespassing stock would be impounded.

Press mentions over the next three years mainly concerned family matters. In 1816 Ramsey, of Long Reef, stood surety for his son in law James O'Hara who had to appear at the Governor's Court for the non-payment of debt. The next year his son, John Ramsay, 'aged 24, free by birth in NSW', was a passenger on the ship Fame to Batavia and eventually to England. However the 'Fame' was wrecked in May in the Torres Strait.


There was a second marriage. Widower John Ramsay of Sydney married Mary /Mary Ann Armstrong, (Mary Ann 1816) of Parramatta Female Factory, 25 November 1817 at St Johns Church Parramatta, both signing with a cross in the register. Mary Ann died a year later, on 12 November 1818 at Sydney without children.

Land grants and transactions at Narrabeen dominated in 1818. A grant of 410 acres called Mount Ramsay between Narabang Lagoon and the sea, was given on condition that 45 acres be cultivated. John Ramsay supplied several thousand pounds of meat from this property, which was described as ‘the best run for cattle in the country’ with its streams of fresh water that never failed even in the driest season. The same year other transactions occurred when Alfred Thrupp’s300 acre farm at Long Reef was sold to a Matthew Bacon in July and then assigned to John Ramsay in September.

John wasted no time in ‘marrying’ a third time in 1818, his ‘bride’, no record found, being Elizabeth Moore who arrived in the colony on the Maria earlier that year. Elizabeth was described as a servant aged 38 years when convicted at Lancaster Assizes on 4 August 1817 of larceny, sentenced to 7 years transportation, and said to have been a Manxwoman. A previously healthy woman, she contracted typhoid on the voyage through nursing her messmate Elizabeth Hely. John and Elizabeth had two children, Elizabeth Harriet born on 27 December1819 at a residence on the corner of King and Kent Streets in Sydney and baptised at St Phillips on 15 July 1821, and John Thomas Ramsay b.1823. It seems that John and Elizabeth separated about 1825. Elizabeth Ramsay nee Moore died in 1832, and was buried on 18 June at Parramatta


In the 1820s John Ramsay’s name appears in several official and colonial records. The minute book of Antiquity Lodge (Australian Social Lodge No 260) shows the following entry for 12 August 1820:Member, Masonic Lodge: ‘John Ramsay, Tyler, late of No 1 Ireland’. He is also recorded as present on three other occasions in 1822 and 1823. This civilian lodge was formed in 1820.


As to his farm activities: The Sydney Herald (9.1.1823) listed ‘wheat received at the station at Sydney, Commissariat Office: John Ramsay Long Reef 60 bushels’. Others at Long Reef were James Miller 200, Robt. Simpson 400 bushels. Just a few weeks later there was an advertisement published: Sale of Mount Ramsay. The Bank of NSW v Ramsay: A FARM, containing 400 Acres of Land, in the District of North Harbour bounded on the south side by Cossar's Farm, & a continued s line of 32 chains; on the west and north sides, by a n line to Narra-bang Lagoon; & by that Lagoon, & on the e side by the sea.


On 13 October 1824, some 33 years after it really should have been his, John was granted his Certificate of Freedom: John Ramsay Scarborough (1) 1788. Where convicted Kingston 24 March 1784 seven years. Native Place Co Donegal. Calling: seaman age 73 5' 6 1/2" ruddy, grey hair, Hazel (inflamed)


John’s increasing age made it difficult for him to care for his two young children. On 17 January 1825 his daughter Elizabeth Harriet, aged 7, was admitted into the Female Orphan School, and was there in the 1828 Census. In February 1830 his daughter Elizabeth now 11, left the orphanage and was apprenticed to Thomas Farrell. Then (according to her reminiscences) she and her father moved to Seven Hills where they lived at an orchard (this would probably be early in 1831 when the O'Hara family were arrested for harbouring bushrangers. They would have needed help with their farms at Seven Hills and Little Dural).


In the colony’s first census, in 1828, the listing read: John Ramsay, 77, free by servitude, Scarborough, 1788, 7 years, Protestant, gardener, Mr Thomas Charles Farnell, Kissing Point. The next year, on 29 April, a petition to the Male Orphan School was received from John Ramsay stating that he had arrived in the colony in the year 1788 and at seventy eight years of age was now in the service of Mr Thomas Charles Farrell of Kissing Point and at his advanced years was very infirm in health, 'Your Memorialist has a son John Thomas Ramsay near seven years of age, and he having no mother to look after his Morals, (neither any home save trespassing upon a few of my acquaintances'. John reported that his son John Thomas had been baptised privately when in danger of death and an infant by the Rev’d Mr Therry. The petition has the added notation: ‘John Ramsay is in service to Mr T C Farrell at Kissing Point - has a wife living - but an abandoned woman living with another man - has a little girl about 8 years of age in the Female Orphan Institution

The Sydney Gazette of 14 February 1833 ran this public notice: ‘Caution. My Daughter, Elizabeth Harriet Ramsay, aged about 13 years, having been enticed to leave my House clandestinely; all Persons are hereby cautioned and prohibited from harbouring her, as they will be prosecuted to the utmost rigour of the law. JOHN RAMSAY. Dooral, Castle-hill, 12th February, 1833.’ She must have made her way home as on 22 Sep 1834 John Ramsay of Mangrove Creek, was a witness to his15 year-old daughter's marriage to ex-convict 40 year-old John White, (Fame). They had no children.


Elizabeth would leave John White, who died in 1840, and she had a de-facto relationship at 17, with Richard Hibbs who was the son of First Fleeter Peter Hibbs and his wife Mary Pardoe. There were two children. After Richard’s death in 1839, Elizabeth aged 21, married Roger Wallbankin 1840,. They had seven children, four sons and three daughters. Elizabeth Wallbank died in 1914 aged 95 years.

John Ramsay was admitted into the Benevolent Asylum in Sydney on 20 October 1835, 'he being destitute & greatly reduced by jaundice’. He died at the Asylum a few months later, on 20 January 1836, noted as 'John Ramsey aged 85'but he was more likely nearer 73. His burial on 21 Jan 1836 from St Phillips by Rev William Cowper would have been at Devonshire Street Cemetery, which was closed in 1901 when Central Railway was built.


Compiled by John Boyd 2020.


-The Founders of Australia by Mollie Gillen pp 297-298

-The Second Fleet by Michael Flynn pp 398-399

-Sydney Cove 1788 to 1800 in 5 Volumes by John Cobley

-Convict Records:convictrecords.com.au/convicts/ramsay/john/133095

-A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet by Carol Baxter

- The Everingham Letterbook / letters of a First Fleet convict by Matthew Everingham, Appendix 4 m. - edited by Valerie Ross.

- Wikitree contributors, "John Ramsey AKA Ramsay (c.1751 - 1836)", Wikitree, www.wikitree.com/wiki/Ramsey-1539 - Profile managers Kerrie Christian and Heather Stevens'? 



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