John Randall, was an African slave of Captain John Randall of Stonington, Connecticut, United States of America. When he later joined the NSW Corps he gave his place of birth as New Haven, Connecticut. The first certain record for him is his conviction at Manchester Quarter Sessions, England, in April 1785. It is surmised that, because of his later career, he might have sought his freedom through being recruited as a musician to a British regiment and then travelled with that regiment to England in around 1783. Following his sentence for 7 years for stealing a watch chain, he was gaoled on the Ceres Hulk and then transported to Botany Bay aboard the Alexander in the First Fleet. [1]

Randall was described as “about six feet high, well made and straight.” [2]

Randall (then aged about 24) firstly married Esther Howard (then aged 38) in February 1788 but she died in October 1789. He then had a daughter Frances who was born before 1792 by an unknown mother. Then in September 1790 he married for a second time, to Mary Butler. Mary was Irish and had been convicted of stealing beans at Covent Garden in London.[3] John and Mary were one of 5 couples all married on the one day with the same witnesses at St Johns, Parramatta. They had two children who survived: Mary (born 1793) and John T (b 1797). Their mother Mary died on 29 July 1802.

 Following Mary’s death Randall had a de facto wife, Fanny, by whom he had 4 children. Of these four children, the two boys died in an accident in 1816. In 1822 Fanny asked that the two girls be admitted to the Parramatta Native Institution as she was a widow. The Native Institution was, needless to say, for Aboriginal children which (unless Fanny was Aboriginal) these children were not. Of the two girls, Eliza (b 1814) was rejected as being too old. Ann (b 1817) was admitted and was still there when the Institution closed in 1829. When admitted in 1823, it was recorded that she “spelled and sewed well” even though she suffered ophthalmia. On the closure of the Institution she was fostered by the Rev Robert Cartwright who fostered all 10 of the children remaining. However he had to return Ann to her mother (Fanny) “because of the injury sustained by the Aboriginal children from witnessing [her] vicious conduct.” [4]

Randall was a game keeper for the commanding officer of the NSW Corps and continued in this role following the expiration of his sentence in 1792 until he joined the NSW Corps in 1801. On 15 October 1793 four men with blackened faces broke into his Northern Boundaries farm and beat up his two convict labourers. They escaped without stealing anything. This property (of 60 acres [5]) had been granted to him when he finished his sentence. He was not there at the time of the home invasion and presumably did not live there because of his duties as game keeper. [6] He sold this land (to General Joseph Holt) when Randall joined the Corps.

 Living near Government House, whether Sydney or Parramatta is unclear but certainly as part of his employment to the commanding officer, he was caught stealing glasses and other items from Government House in 1799. The Governor, John Hunter, did not press the charges and so they were dismissed. In 1800 he sued Kit Murphy for the return of a pound of tea that she alleged he had given to her as an inducement to have sex. [7]

At the time he joined the Corps he was noted for playing the flute and tambour (a type of drum). In 1801 he was part of the Regimental band that played every morning on the parade ground at present day Wynyard.

Upon discharge in April 1810 from the Corps, Randall lived on a small holding at Kissing Point. He then moved with Fanny and their children to Pittwater in 1815. As noted above Fanny claimed him to be dead in 1822.

In 1811 Mary’s eldest half-sister, Frances, married John Aitken. Aitken was of African descent who arrived free on the Marquis Cornwallis in 1796. Some family members have stated that Aitken came from Jamaica. [8] As late as 1929 grandsons of Frances and Aitken were described as “dark skinned, aquiline features with fuzzy iron-grey hair.” [9] He was a carpenter by trade.  He had rented a farm at Northern Boundary by at least 1803.

Aitken served in the Parramatta Loyal Association between 1803-05 as a private. Aitken received his first grant of 30 acres of land in 1821. The grant is roughly bounded by current day Taylor Street, Aitken and Hill Roads, West Pennant Hills. Aitken Road is named after this family and later became known as “Dixie Land” in reference to the African slaves of the southern United States [10].

Frances and Aitken had at least 8 children: Maria (1809-1887) married Samuel Pateman (1815-1899); Mary Anne (1811-1817); John (1813-1883) married Mary Holland Cronin. One of their sons, William Joseph Aitken, married Hannah Bellamy and farmed land opposite Pennant Hills Hotel which he called ‘Hillside’ however the locals called it ‘Blackacres’ [11] and it was as ‘Blackacres’ that it was subdivided and the local rifle range established. [12]; James (b 1814); William (1816-1869) married Mary Ann Doyle (1816-1918). He was a local timber getter. [13]; Esther (1818-1911) married Moses Fonseed and secondly Roger Hurst; Frances (b 1824) and Mary Ann (b 1835)

After Frances was born in 1824 Frances and Aitken separated as he placed an advertisement saying that he would not be responsible for her debts. [14] Aitken died around 1840 and Frances then married William Brown. Frances and Brown had seven children together. She died 26 October 1870 aged 78 years and was buried in Balmain Cemetery, Leichhardt. [15]

By 1807 Mary (then aged 14) had her first child to her father’s friend, John Martin (then aged 61). They married in 1812. Martin was an African seaman from the American colonies who came to England and was sentenced at the Old Bailey, London, for 7 years transportation. He was convicted for the theft of a number of items of clothing. Initially held in Newgate in 1782 he was placed on the Den Keyser for transportation to the island of Goree off the coast of modern day Ghana. He was removed from this ship as he had typhus and was returned to Newgate. Like Randall he was then held on the Ceres hulk (in his case from 1785) before also travelling on the Alexander to Botany Bay as part of the First Fleet. [16]

In the first winter following his arrival in 1788 Martin was flogged with 25 lashes for lighting a fire inside his hut to keep warm – despite orders to the contrary for fear of the huts being burnt down. In 1789 Martin spoke out at being kept as a convict because no records of his original sentence had been sent to the Colony and when he (correctly) claimed that his sentence had expired. Martin married Ann Toy in August 1792. Martin signed the marriage register with his name. [17]

 When the expiration of his sentence was recognised, he received a grant of 50 acres in November 1792. This grant was next to that of Randall. In 1798 he was the last of the original settlers at what was now called The Ponds but clearly he was having a difficult existence. He was struggling on his farm. His family remained on the Government Stores. He was described as “a sober industrious man, yet very poor.” By 1806 he was a more successful farmer and had also been appointed as a constable but then in that same year his first wife died. They had no known children. [18]

In the year following the death of his first wife, Mary and Martin had their first child. There were eventually 11 children registered to Mary and Martin, although he only acknowledged the first five in his will. They married in St Johns Church Parramatta on 12 July 1812.

Their children were: John (1807-1885) married Jane Swindon; Sophia (1809-1870) married firstly John Hackett and secondly George Naylor; Frances (b 1811) married Thomas Corncrake; Henry (1813-1894) married Mary Ingraham;  Hannah (1815-1871) married Peter Coups. They had at least 14 children and this family gave their name to Coups Creek in Fox Valley across which the Comenarra Parkway passes. They were squatting on this land from at least the early 1850s and had a peach orchard there in 1857. A descendant has claimed that this isolated peach orchard was used to produce illicit distilling. [19]; Richard (1818-1892) married Mary A Cohen; Frederick (1821-1903) married Mary Ann Bowerman and secondly Martha Sedgewick and thirdly Charlotte Corns; Mary Ann (1822-1870) married George Bowerman; Amelia (1824-1886) married firstly Frank Spencer and secondly Richard Bowerman. Amelia’s daughter Martha (by Frank Spencer) married James Bellamy Snr. Amelia’s daughter Susannah (by Richard Bowerman) married James Bellamy Jnr. [20]; Harriet (1830-1883) and  Nicholas (1832-1902) married Mary Ann Segwick.

Martin died in December 1837 at the stated age of 88 – although other records would indicate that he might only have been 82. He was buried in an unmarked grave in St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. In his will (dated 12 days before he died and which he signed with a X) he described his property as Pennant Hills Road, Field Of Mars.

 His entire estate (apart from the farm) was valued at 25 pounds from which he left his widow a shilling. His neighbours, Isaac Mobbs and Richard Partridge, were his executors. In 1850 he was still remembered and described as “an old and faithful district constable.” [21] His home still stands at 204 Pennant Hills Road Oatlands. [22]

In 1847 a survey of the Field of Mars Common by J J Galloway shows that Mary had  lived as a widow (who had 12 children – although only 11 are known) somewhere in the vicinity of modern day York Street and Copeland Road, Beecroft since at least 1844. [23] In 1850 the 70 year old widow, attempted to dismount from a cart in Kissing Point Road while it was still moving and she was “not being altogether sober.” She severely injured her leg when it went between the spokes of the wheel. The next day, 72 year old William Hawkins was travelling in the same cart to Kissing Point and was also “a little the worse of liquor,’ when he did the same thing and damaged his leg in the spokes. [24]

Mary died 27 September 1857 and is buried in St Johns Cemetery Parramatta, in the same grave as her daughter Harriet. [25]


[1] C Pybus, Black Founders (UNSW Press, Kensington, 2006) p 186 

[2] M Gillen The Founders of Australia (Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1989) p298

[3] M Flynn The Second Fleet (Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1993) p 187

[4] J Brook and JL Kohen, The Parramatta Native Institution and the Black Town: A History (UNSW Press, Kensington, 1991) pp 224-5

[5] Randall received a grant of 60 acres and Martin only 50 acres implying Randall had a child which would have entitled him to an extra 10 acres. The child may have been Frances. 

[6] C Pybus, Black Founders (UNSW Press, Kensington, 2006) p 129

[7] C Pybus, Black Founders (UNSW Press, Kensington, 2006) p 140

[8] G Millhouse The Settlers of West Pennant Hills Valley 1799 onwards (Hills District Historical Society, Castle Hill, 1987) p35

[9] Sunday Truth 27 October 1929 quoted in G Millhouse The Settlers of West Pennant Hills Valley 1799 onwards (Hills District Historical Society, Castle Hill, 1987) p35

[10] The earliest recorded usage of ‘Dixie Land’ or ‘Dixie Lane’ that has so far been found was in 1896: Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate December 1896 quoted in G Millhouse The Settlers of West Pennant Hills Valley 1799 onwards (Hills District Historical Society, Castle Hill, 1987) p33; R Fairall The Afro-Australians: The Randall/Martin Families and the First Fleet, Sydney 1788 accessed 08 July 2015

[11] G Millhouse The Settlers of West Pennant Hills Valley 1799 onwards (Hills District Historical Society, Castle Hill, 1987) p 39

[12] see elsewhere on this web site: Activities-Sporting-Shooting

[13] J Kohen, The Darug and their Neighbours (Darug Link, Blacktown, 1993) p103; G Millhouse The Settlers of West Pennant Hills Valley 1799 onwards (Hills District Historical Society, Castle Hill, 1987) p36

[14] Sydney Gazette 26 April 1824

[15] G Millhouse The Settlers of West Pennant Hills Valley 1799 onwards (Hills District Historical Society, Castle Hill, 1987) p36

[16] C Pybus, Black Founders (UNSW Press, Kensington, 2006) p59

[17] M Flynn The Second Fleet (Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1993) p 576

[18] M Gillen The Founders of Australia (Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1989) p 239

[19] J Brown as recorded in Peter Coups, Hannah Martin and Coups Creek Fox Valley accessed 8 July 2015

[20] Hornsby Shire Historical Society Pioneers of Hornsby Shire 1788-1906 (Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1979) p 93

[21] Sydney Morning Herald 31 August 1850 p 6

[22] R Withington Dispatched Downunder (Fellowship of First Fleeters, Woolloomooloo, 2013) p 92

[23] T Patrick, J Symes and A Tink In search of the Pennant Hills (Pennant Hills Local Studies Group, Kenthurst, 2007) p 162; Hornsby Shire Historical Society Pioneers of Hornsby Shire 1788-1906 (Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1979) p 49

[24] Sydney Morning Herald 31 August 1850 p 6

[25] J Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St Johns (Parramatta and District Historical Society, Parramatta, 1991) p 134

Note: Please contact Rod Best, the contributor, on with queries or extra information



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