In 1787 Nathaniel Lucas was transported on the Scarborough and Olivia Gascoigne on the Lady Penrhyn. After arriving in Sydney Cove in January 1788 they were part of the handpicked contingent that was sent in March that same year, to settle Norfolk Island.

Eleven of their thirteen children were born on the island including their fourth child (and first son) William. William Lucas married Sarah, the daughter of First Fleeter James Squire who had arrived in 1788 on Charlotte. William Lucas and Sarah Squire were my Great Grandmother Maud Lucas’s great-grandparents.

Prisoners in Paradise, a 2009 book by Trevor Lagström puts their history into a very accessible nutshell. He has written that theirs “….is one of the most compelling love stories of any age. Their love survived the most primitive conditions in a strange new land - to which these young people had been transported for alleged offences which would not even reach trial stage in today’s society.”


Olivia Gascoigne was born in 1761 into an aristocratic Yorkshire family. Her father was the High Sheriff of Yorkshire and the family home was the largest castle in England, Wentworth Castle. She was related to the Wentworths through her mother Sarah Vernon Wentworth, these Wentworths being the same family as that of D’Arcy Wentworth who had a distinguished career in the Australian colonies and whose son William Wentworth was the famous statesman and explorer. Olivia was also related to the Dukes of Argyle, Clarence and Cumberland both through legitimate and clandestine associations.

How would a young lady of privileged birth end up in the British courts and ultimately be sentenced to hang for her crime? Well, much has been written about daughters of upper class families who rebelled against being paraded on the marriage market in order to be judged by eligible suitors on their excellent needlework, genteel manners and the size of their dowries. It would seem that Olivia enjoyed more exciting adventures – one of which was being in the company of a group of young men when they robbed at gunpoint, one Edward Griffith. Despite not being accused of holding the pistol or personally profiting from the robbery, she was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Whether it was the result of representations by one or other of her influential relatives is unknown, but she received the royal prerogative of mercy by the King. Her sentence was commuted to seven years transportation.


Nathaniel Lucas, son of a builder, was born in 1764 in Surrey. Although not wealthy the family would have been comfortably off as were trades folk of the time. Nathaniel was a skilled carpenter, boat builder and millwright. At the age of 20, employed by a builder in London, he was living in rooms at a public house in Holborn. He kept to himself, and was not a patron of the public bar, which irritated the publican’s wife. There was a confrontation about this and she demanded payment of his rent earlier than had been agreed. He refused, and the next morning found himself awakened by a police constable, the publican and a neighbour, who on searching his ‘unlockable’ room found an apron, a towel, a shawl and six muslin caps belonging to the neighbours daughter stuffed under the mattress. He was accused of the theft of items to the value of 2 pounds and sentenced to 7 years transportation.

The voyage has been well documented so we will move forward to Port Jackson and the imperative to establish a colony on Norfolk Island. Lt Gidley King had been instructed by Governor Phillip to …“make choice of both sexes whose characters stand fairest and whose skills would be of most use”. King sailed with 9 male and 6 female convicts - and sailors and marines making up the party to 23 persons. This new venture was not compulsory – the women had been offered the choice of joining the Norfolk settlement.  King listed the advantages over staying in Port Jackson and the prospect of family life was offered as Phillip had said that – “if any partiality or reciprocal affection should take place…they might marry.”


Within a few weeks of their arrival on the island, Nat and Olivia were married in a civil ceremony. The Lucases seemed to have lived their life on Norfolk with a quiet and industrious dignity. Neither Olivia nor Nathaniel has any punishments recorded against them in the official journals.

While on Norfolk Island Nathaniel was responsible for building many of the settler’s homes, administrative buildings and other infrastructure. After his sentence expired he acquired two land grants. He was also a constable and had the water supply contract. He acquired more land by taking over grants which had been abandoned by less successful farmers. But tragedy struck the couple 15August 1792.

In order to facilitate clearing his land, he lit some huge old pines in the vicinity of his newly built house. He was horrified when a freak wind gust caused one tree to fall directly onto the house, completely demolishing it. Olivia, two-year old twins Mary and Sarah, and baby William were inside. The twins were killed instantly and Olivia sustained life-threatening injuries. William (from whom I am descended) who was being nursed by his mother miraculously escaped injury. Mary and Sarah were laid to rest in the original burial ground at Emily Bay.


A plaque near what is believed to be the twins’ burial place was placed there by Lucas/Gascoigne descendants in 2002. Olivia slowly recovered but it is said that she subsequently always walked with a limp. The incident was recorded by Lt Gov King in his daily Journal. In 1796 Nathaniel wrote his first letter home and in this it is very apparent that even four years after the event, he was still greatly affected by the tragedy. The letter was written to his father but was never delivered and is now held in the Mitchell Library.

Eight years later in 1804, King, who by that time was Governor of New South Wales, invited Nathaniel to Sydney Cove to erect a windmill for the Government on a site on Church Hill, and added that Nathaniel could erect one for himself on another site in the Government Domain. The windmills were prefabricated on Norfolk Island and brought across on HMS Investigator. The mills he constructed were of the unusual post-type, that is; the upper unit holding the propellers rotates on a post, with their direction being determined by sails placed like rudders. Wind-powered bores today act on the same principal. Prior to that mills were directioned by calculation and mechanical means. Nathaniel and his sons were later to build more windmills elsewhere in the colony. In 1805, after Olivia and the children had also moved to Sydney, Nathaniel leased the Domain mill to Henry Kable, hence it being recorded today as Kable’s Post Mill. It appears that the Lucas family resided at Church Hill, where amongst many activities, it operated the Government Mill. John Macarthur lived next door. (Number 1 York Street marks the site today).


The land on which St Phillip’s Anglican Church now stands was once owned by Nathaniel Lucas.

Nathaniel’s transfer in 1804 had coincided with the death of the Colony’s Superintendent of Carpenters, James Bloodworth. Nathaniel took up this position. The structures known as the Mint Building (formerly the Rum Hospital) and the parsonages at Parramatta and Liverpool were amongst his work. The Rum Hospital got its name from the concession granted to its builders for the importation and sale of liquor in the Colony. After Nathaniel constructed the Hospital he was probably paid in cash from the proceeds of the liquor sales, however he did participate in the sale of liquor as in 1809 he was granted a liquor licence and he built an outlet at Church Hill, patriotically called the Trafalgar Hotel.


By 1810 Nathaniel had been established as a successful tradesman and a sound businessman. He exchanged the post mill in the Domain for a lease of land at Liverpool. His son William took over the Trafalgar Hotel. At Liverpool he re-established the family and began grazing and wheat growing. He did, of course, continue to engage in building activities and it seems that the family helped him with the farming.


In 1812 his son William married Sarah Squire, the daughter of James Squire and in 1816 William and Sarah moved to Longford, near present-day Launceston where they secured a one-hundred-acre grant. Sarah grew hops, wheat and barley and William following a similar pattern of enterprise as his father, ventured into building work with his brother Nathaniel and, at times his other brother, John. The wheat and barley were shipped to Sydney. It was ground in Nathaniel’s mill and the barley and hops went to the Squire brewery.

Between 1815 and 1817 Nathaniel had many Government building contracts, one of which was for the construction of St Luke’s Church at Liverpool. The architect for the project was Francis Greenway. Nathaniel and Greenway clashed violently and frequently. It is said that while Governor Macquarie was laying the foundation stone of St Luke’s, Nathaniel and Greenway were quarrelling so loudly that the Governor’s speech was all but drowned out.  A few weeks after this, Nathaniel’s body was discovered in the mud beside the Georges River by his son who had been searching for him after he had left for Parramatta six days before and never arrived. Olivia was convinced that Greenway had murdered him, but the circumstances of Nat’s death will probably never be truly known. There is no record of an inquest having been held.


Francis Greenway accused Nathaniel of being an alcoholic. However, a contemporary record is held to exist saying, that Nathaniel previously a teetotaller, was suffering from a disease of the mouth and enduring severe and intolerable pain. Some say he had cancer of the face or a severe from of neuralgia. (His son Nathaniel Jnr’s death certificate states that he had cancer of the face. It could also been a manifestation of the hereditary blood disorder, Haemacromatosis, that recurs in Lucas descendants to this day.) It is very likely, then, that Nathaniel was using rum as an analgesic.


For Olivia a saga had ended. During her seventeen years on Norfolk Island she diligently performed the often arduous and tedious tasks demanded of convict women – washing, gardening, sweeping, sewing, cooking  and so on, as well as labouring on the family’s land and bearing thirteen children. And subsequently for 25 years in NSW and Van Diemen’s Land she helped run the family farms and businesses, but Olivia’s contribution remained unrecorded, and her 1830 death certificate describes her profession as ‘wife of Mr Nathaniel Lucas’.


After settling Nathaniel’s affairs Olivia lived in Launceston where in 1824 she was granted land in her own right. But it was at that time that the Lucas empire began to unravel. William and Nathaniel Jnr’s fine self-built barque, Olivia, was wrecked near Twofold Bay with its cargo of Lucas grain; and William and John’s building business in Sydney collapsed. William died in suspicious circumstances on Sydney Harbour – his body was never found. Olivia lost everything because in going guarantor for her sons all her effects went under the hammer to pay the family debts.


Glenda Miskelly, December 2009

#7643, Descendant <>


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