JOHN SMALL Charlotte and MARY PARKER Lady Penrhyn


John Small, born 1761 and a bit maker from Birmingham, at aged 19 joined the Plymouth Marine Corps. His description was ‘dark brown hair, five feet six inches tall, fair complexioned and with hazel eyes’. He embarked on HMS Lively sailing between New York and England with dispatches for the Admiralty. Lively lived up to her name and John travelled continually between England, New York, West Indies and the Caribbean sharing many adventures and mishaps during those travels with the most disastrous being the loss of the Lively when American prisoners held on board were able to take her over. As a result John finished up as a prisoner for at least four months in Havana Cuba but was exchanged for Spanish prisoners after peace was signed in 1783. He was discharged aged 22 years with 9 Pounds 16 shillings and 7 pence after quite an adventurous three years.


Now aged 24 - and like very many discharged marines unable to get work and running out of their severance pay - John turned to crime and was convicted with Stephen Davenport, Robert Ellwood and John Herbert. The offence was ‘feloniously assaulting James Burt in the King’s Highway, feloniously putting him in corporal fear and danger of his life and feloniously and violently taking from his person and against his will, one metal watch and tortoise shell case value 30 shillings, one pruning knife value 6 pence and five shillings his goods’. In other words Highway Robbery - a hanging offence. One of the offenders did actually hang, one set free and the other two transported. Royal Mercy was extended to John Small on condition of transportation for seven years possibly because of his services in the Royal Marines. He spent two years on the prison hulk Dunkirk before going aboard the Charlotte bound for NSW.


On arrival he was employed in the laboratory tent at Port Jackson with Thomas Chadwick and Joshua Peck. When Chadwick reported that the wine for the sick was getting low, Surgeon White had them refilled only to be woken at midnight by the sound of someone being violently ill out-side his tent. Peck was found ‘very much in liquor and un-able to stand’, Chadwick ‘staggering with intoxication’ and John Small in a ‘state of beastly drunkenness and unable to speak’. Dr Balmain eventually found that ‘someone’ had put a kettle under a hole in the wine cask. At the trial John claimed he had been prevailed upon by the others to drink – well, of course! The authorities found it difficult to establish the facts of the case as each of the accused claimed innocence and as none of the accused had been in any trouble on the way out the verdict was ‘acquitted, all and each of them’. However they were removed from the laboratory and employed in construction of a redoubt on the east side of Sydney Cove.


There are no records of how John Small met Mary Parker but this is her story. Mary was 27 and a Londoner when she was accused of stealing from her employer, who ran a laundry, two tablecloths valued at 5 shillings. She was held in New Prison Clerkenwell for 6 months before her trial and then sentenced to a further 6 months confinement. During this time she was employed as a prison nurse. On her release, and within a few weeks, Mary stole again from the same employer. This time she was in earnest and stole goods to the value of 112 shillings and 6 pence and was convicted of stealing but not of burglary. By comparison, John Small and his accomplices had to share a booty of only 35 shillings and 6 pence so Mary was in another class. She spent eight months in Newgate Prison, once again caring for the ill and dying, before embarking on the Lady Penrhyn to begin her seven years’ imprisonment.

With her good record on board and nursing experience it is possible that Mary was placed in the hospital at Port Jackson which could have been near to the laboratory tent where John Small was. The other strong possibility is that she was a servant at Government House. The 1788 Victualling List does not contain her name which could be an error, or a case of mistaken identity, or that she was employed at Government House and not recorded on the list because of this employment.


Mary and John were married on 12 October 1788 by Chaplain Richard Johnson probably under the ‘great tree’, the first place of worship for some time. The tree was located at what is now called Richard Johnson Square, at the corner of Hunter and Bligh Streets.

Their first two children were born in Sydney where they lived until at least 1791 and then probably in a hut in Parramatta for three years before John’s grant at Eastern Farms in 1794. John was now 33 and Mary 36. His grant was part of the second series of land grants at Eastern Farms at an annual Quit Rent of one shilling after the expiration of ten years and that any timber growing on or to grow hereafter was reserved for the Crown for Naval pur-poses. The present Devlin Street leading to the Ryde Bridge would run right through his 30 acre grant.

Like many others, John faced a formidable task. He had probably been supplied with a tent and a few primitive farming implements of rather doubtful quality. The couple at this stage had no sons and two small daughters. I can’t help mentioning here that Mary (as well as many other mothers) carried and bore their children during a time of a serious shortage of rations and in fact starvation. Her first two children, Rebecca and Mary, despite being born during these hard times lived to the ages of 94 and 88 years respectively. Five of Mary’s seven children lived into their late 80s and mid 90s - obviously a sturdy and resilient brood - and their subsequent large families mostly benefited from these genes and the healthy Australian climate. In fact the 1822 Bigge Report recorded that the currency children were seven inches taller than children of the same age in England.


John was apparently a reasonably successful farmer. In the 1802 muster he now had five children, ten of his 30 acres under wheat and maize and kept 10 goats; however the family was still being rationed from Government Stores. Four years later he had 7 acres under wheat, 10 under maize, one acre of orchard and garden and 12 acres in pasture. He also had sheep and hogs and wheat and maize in hand.

John was 45 in 1806 and in just twelve years his family now consisted of seven children and an assigned convict – none of whom was victualled by the Government. Mary had delivered twins in 1804 and a segment from the Sydney Gazette stated ‘The good woman is as well as can possibly be hoped and must doubtless be considered an estimable treasure to her husband whom she happily complimented with the exact same number scarcely eleven months before’. The first set of twins obviously did not survive and the second set was the last children born to the family.

In 1809 and now aged 48 years, John was appointed a Constable later to be a District Constable. Three of his sons were now 14, 12 and 7 and an asset to the running of the farm with the assistance of an assigned convict. His older daughters had married well to much older and established men and were no longer dependent on their father.


John applied for a second land grant when the farm was no longer capable of producing as it should. Governor Patterson granted him acreage in the present Fairfield area however Lachlan Macquarie, when he became Governor, called in all grants by Patterson who apparently mismanaged their administration. John reapplied with a letter to Governor Macquarie stating that he had been in the colony upwards of twenty years, had a large family which he had supported by extreme industry and that his current land was nearly exhausted by constant tillage. He did eventually receive a second grant at Fairfield two years later but it is not known if John actually ever occupied this second grant. There is, however, a document dated ten years later transferring the land to another.

John’s appointment as District Con-stable came with quite a few responsibilities and claimed a lot of his time and energy. As a result, the farm suffered from this as well as being over cultivated. He now received payment for his services from the military purse and also some rations and clothing.


The 1814 muster (John was now 53 and Mary 56) showed that John, Mary and the twins were on stores. By 1820 all the Small children were married with the exception of 16 year old Samuel. Their son Thomas Small had married Priscilla Devlin and he continued to cultivate the farm possibly on some form of leasing arrangement. James Devlin (Thomas Small’s stepson) subsequently acquired the land from Thomas through a family re-arrangement of property in 1828. James Devlin starting building Ryde House (later to be named Willandra) in 1841 from the proceeds of the sale of town lots that were part of the original land grant.


Tragedy struck the family in 1824 when Mary died by drowning in the property’s deep well. Her sons, John and William, went to collect water from the well and found two shoes and a woman’s cap floating on the surface which they feared were their mother’s. After frantic unsuccessful searching of the property a long pole was used to investigate the contents of the well. Mary was brought to the surface but sadly she was lifeless. Because there were no witnesses there was an inquest which concluded that Mary ‘accidently, casually and by misfortune came to her death and not otherwise’. Her son William’s statement at the inquest said that his mother had at times appeared childish but he had supposed it to be infirmity of old age and that his parents were ’as sociable yesterday as ever’- a statement I found quite touching.


Mary was 66 at the time of her death and was said to have been buried on the family property there being no churchyard for her to be buried in and no resident chaplain in the district. A grave was discovered 112 years after Mary’s death by the Main Roads Department during road improvements in Devlin Street. It was believed to be Mary’s grave and the remains were re-interred at the Field of Mars and a memorial tablet erected by her descendants in 1979.

Very soon after Mary’s death John, now 64, retired from his position after 17 years’ service and received a pension of two pounds two shillings and sixpence per annum with an extra 6d for each leap year. John probably lived with his son Samuel for a time and then later with son William who settled on a property in Bridge Street, Ryde called Williamsdale still accessed via Smalls Road. The family home of that name still stands in very much its original condition occupied by Alan Small with three other Smalls living on adjoining properties.

John died at Kissing Point aged almost 89 years and was buried in St Anne’s Church, Ryde. His remains are still there but his tombstone was rescued and moved to the Field of Mars, thanks to Doug Small. The family then installed a vandal-proof headstone on John’s grave at St Anne’s as well as for son William and his wife Charlotte Melville. It has been recorded that of all the convicts who landed at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788, he was one of the last known survivors.


John and Mary’s children mostly married into local families, to the children of both free settlers and convicts and also into some families much higher in the social structure of the day. As well as Smalls Road many of the streets in Ryde bear the names of families into which the Smalls married.

John lived to see all but two of his 74 grandchildren born and would have been proud if he had known that in 1888 ‘every third person you meet between Gladesville and Ryde is named ‘Small’, the family being real ‘sons of the soil’ and dearly loving the birthplace of their forefathers’.

John and Mary were not entrepreneurs, wealthy land holders, explorers or prominent citizens but they were well respected in the area and some of their descendants have been very prominent and well known in Australia and overseas. At the last count there are now over 25,000 of us recorded and I’m very glad to be one of them.


Submitted by #7599 Judith Newell Descendant

References: p viii, The Small Family in Australia 1788-1988, pub, John & Mary Small Descendants Association Inc, 1988.


Charlotte     Lady Penrhyn


Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters