And MARGARET DARNELL Convict Prince of Wales


Owen Cavanough joined HMS Sirius on 23 March 1787 in Gosport, Hampshire, England as an able seaman. Born in Gosport in June of 1762 to parents Owen and Grace Cavender Owen was now aged 25 and had recently been discharged from the Portsmouth guard ship Ganges. Sirius, formerly HMS Berwick, had been converted to a sixth-rater at the cost estimated by Deptford Yard surveyors at £ 7,072.

Before sailing from the Motherbank the condition of the convicts aboard Alexander gave some cause for concern. The ship had begun to embark convicts in early January and by the 11th of the month 184 men were on board, some so ill they were “unable to help themselves.” Commander Phillip protested to Under Secretary Evan Nepean but his entreaty fell on deaf ears. Nothing was done. Two lighters from Portsmouth dockyards were engaged by Phillip to convey the Alexander’s prisoners to the hulk Essex while the ship was “cleaned, white washed, smoked and sponged with Oil of Tar.”

Some of the seamen had now been in employ for more than seven months, during which time they had only received lesser River Pay and one month’s advance. More money was needed to fit themselves out for such a long voyage but it was in the Masters’ interests to withhold pay, obliging the men to purchase necessaries during the voyage at an exorbitant rate. Phillip backed the Masters. The men walked off the ships. Those who did not wish to lose their pay and employ were soon obliged to return. The Masters held the upper hand. On the evening of 12 May Sirius made signal to weigh anchor in an at-tempt to get down channel to St Helens. The wind shifted and for some reason several vessels were not getting under way. Sirius abandoned the attempt. Lieutenant King rowed out to the recalcitrant vessels to discuss their problems. The delay was found to be due to the crews’ intoxicated state rather than nautical causes.


Aboard convict transport Prince of Wales sat a female convict whose life would later become entwined with Owen’s. Margaret Darnell, born in Dublin, Ireland about 1767, was tried by the First Middlesex Jury before Mr Baron Hotham at Justice Hall in the Old Bailey at the sessions commencing Wednesday 18 April 1787. Margaret was indicted for “stealing, on the 30th day of March last, one dozen of dessert knives and forks, value six shillings the property of James White.” Mr White, owner of the ironmonger and cutler shop in Holborn near Chancery Lane, had become suspicious “that she does not want any-thing” although Margaret was there ostensibly to buy nails. Margaret took flight, the shop assistant in pursuit. Margaret’s cloak was pulled off to reveal the stolen goods. Margaret was found guilty of stealing but not privily and sentenced to transportation for seven years.


Margaret embarked at Portsmouth on the 30th of April 1787, along with 100 other female and one male convict, on the Prince of Wales. The convicts were to be confined below decks for quite some time before the fleet was victualled and ready for sea. John Mason was master of the Prince of Wales, a vessel of 333 tons. By 13 May the laden ship was at anchor in the Thames her convicts having been initially assembled at Spithead on 17 March.

The previous day the Hyaena under Captain Michael de Courcey RN had sailed down the Thames to anchor nearby. The Hyaena was to provide protection from Spanish marauders until the Fleet was clear of the Scilly Isles.


So it was that two diverse lives, those of Owen and Margaret, were to be brought together in a distant land. As day-break tinted the Thames fog a light rose, Sirius and Prince of Wales passed through The Needles bound for Teneriffe. A straggling fleet of decrepit vessels, all owned by separate commercial interests, was undertaking a journey that few thought had any chance of success.

The actual voyage of the Fleet is well documented elsewhere so will not be included in this shortened account. On arrival at Sydney Cove marines and convicts set up tents, built huts and unloaded their two years provisions. Margaret and the other female convicts remained on board.


It has been said that Owen was the first to step ashore but this seems unlikely. In June of 1827 the Supreme Court of NSW heard the testimony of First Fleeter James Ruse who disputed Colonel Johnston’s claim to be the first ashore. Ruse had carried Johnston on his back from boat to shore hence was the first to set foot in the colony. The Court upheld Ruse’s claim (Sydney Gazette 20 June 1827).

Margaret stood among the women as they disembarked on a stormy Wednesday 6 February 1788. It was a day of frequent thunder squalls, the wind was from the west-north-west, the temperature was 70 degrees F, and the barometer 29.48. A good description of the women’s disembarkation may be read in the journal of Bowes Smyth.

Lt Clark's account of the day was of a more material nature. "All the officers dined with him on a cold collation; but the mutton which had been killed yesterday morning was full of maggots. Nothing will keep 24 hours in this country, I find."


Before long Margaret came to the attention of Marine Private Charles Green and a liaison in March of 1788 resulted in a pregnancy. Owen and the other seamen from Sirius were given Garden Island on which to grow vegetables. Food supplies were critically low, crops planted withered and died in the salt air. A second supply vessel from England did not arrive. Governor Philip knew his colonists would surely starve if he did not procure outside aid.

On 2 October 1788 Owen sailed with Sirius to the Cape of Good Hope via Cape Horn to get flour and other sup-plies. The voyage took seven months and six days.

At Port Jackson Margaret bore an illegitimate son, Charles, on 22 December 1788. Baby Charles took his mother’s surname of Darling. Private Green, of Captain-Lieutenant Watkin Tench’s Company, was court-martialled in Sydney on 20 February 1789 for consorting with female convicts and sentenced to 100 lashes. Sirius arrived back in Sydney Cove on 6 May 1789, Captain John Hunter experiencing great difficulty obtaining supplies from the Boers. The food crisis was not at an end.


Lt James Cook had passed and named Norfolk Island on the 10th of October 1774, reporting “spruce pines which grow in abundance and to a vast size.” Captain Arthur Philip was instructed by letter to “send a small establishment thither (Norfolk Island) to secure the same to us and prevent it being occupied by subjects of any other European Power.” The settlement of Norfolk Island commenced with the departure of HMS Supply, under the command of Lt Lidgbird Ball, from Port Jackson on the 15th of February 1788. Twenty three persons were aboard including Commandant Lt. Philip Gidley King, eight free men, nine male convicts and six females. A second party was soon to follow. Starvation was stalking the mainland settlers and it was hoped Norfolk would provide better opportunities for agriculture and hence survival of both settlements.


Margaret clutched baby Charles, now fourteen months old, as they boarded Sirius on 4 March 1790, part of a complement of 101 convict men, 65 women and 23 children bound for Norfolk Island. Lt Governor Major Robert Ross and a Company of 31 Marines, four wives and one child were also aboard, travelling to take over command from Governor King. Owen Cavanough was among the ship’s crew, the expedition being bound eventually for China to take on urgent supplies.

Contrary winds prevented unloading at Sydney Bay (King’s Town/ Kingston) so Sirius disembarked most of the passengers at the Cascade landing place on the north-east coast. Few supplies could be unloaded over the great surf-lashed black rocks. Settlers and convicts from Sydney Bay helped the passengers scale the steep walking path to the top of the cliffs from whence they walked along the dirt track, winding through dense forest, to the main settlement. When Sirius finally sailed around to Kingston the seas were still high and she was wrecked on the reef. There was no loss of life for the crew and those still on board but some essential supplies could not be saved.


On Norfolk Island Margaret’s weekly rations of 4 ½ lbs flour, 2 ¼ lbs beef, 1 ½ lbs pork, 4 ounces of butter and 2 pints peas (dried or pease meal) were halved, as were everyone’s rations. Starvation in the settlement was averted by the seasonal arrival of the Birds of Providence, a brown shear-water, which nested at sunset each day on Mt Pitt. Owen along with the other marines, seamen and convicts collected eggs and slaughtered 2,000 -3,000 birds each night to provision the stores.

Crew members of Sirius were sent to Cascade Bay to start a new settlement, later called Phillipsburg, and remained stranded until the 12th of February 1791 when the Dutch chartered vessel Waaksamheid gave them an opportunity to return to England.


Cascade Bay became the centre of the flax industry and also produced grapes, bananas, citrus fruit and sugar cane. Owen chose to stay, was discharged, and had settled on 60 acres (Lot 42) at Cascade Stream, Phillipsburg by 16 May 1791. Cavanough’s Farm was situated on the west side of the great cascade stream and bounded on the south side by Stanley Farm.

Owen and Margaret married on Norfolk Island by Rev. Richard Johnson, Chaplain to the Colony, on Saturday 5 November 1791 Johnson was on his way home to England from Sydney on board Atlantic, and was under orders from Governor Phillip to call at Norfolk Island to marry those wishing to do so and to baptise the children.

Surpliced and gowned, in front of the whole community of about one thousand persons, including convicts, settlers, marines and officers Reverend Richard Johnson conducted a massed marrying and christening service. About 100 children stood staring at the bright display, colours brilliant with parrot feathers, listening to words they couldn’t understand.

A son, named Owen for his father and paternal grandfather, was born on 28 May 1792. Sadly this child died on 2 May 1794, just short of his second birth-day, and is buried on Norfolk Island. It is unknown whether little Owen was buried on the Cascades farm or in the cemetery at Kingston where many of the early gravestones have been lost to the inroads of the waves. At the time of little Owen’s death Margaret was again five months pregnant with her third child, conceived with Owen in December of 1793.

Owen had cultivated 15 of his 50 ploughable acres by 15 October 1793. On 10 March 1794 Owen penned his name to a memorial beseeching Lt Francis Grose to reconsider his edict that no arms be borne in the Colony. Settlers on Norfolk Island had been set upon and robbed. Fearing for their safety and property the settlers wished to have their guns restored to them for the protection of themselves and their families.


Ex-convict Daniel Daniels was hired to work for Owen for twelve months in May 1794. In June Owen is recorded as living with Margaret Darnell and her son Charles Green. Daughter Grace was born on the 28th of September 1794. First son Charles was now a sturdy lad approaching his sixth birthday. This same month marine Charles Green made an attempt to gain custody of his son. After a hearing by the Governor, Margaret was allowed to keep little Charles until age seven. No further attempts are recorded as being made by Green to get his son and Charles grew up in the care of Margaret and Owen.

In July 1796 Owen, Margaret and their two children left Norfolk Island for Port Jackson aboard Francis, having sold their land. Margaret was again three months pregnant, the child conceived in April. By 1804 Norfolk Island was in decline and plans were made to transfer the population to Van Diemen’s Land. In February 1814 the brig Kangaroo took off the last of the men and provisions. After 26 years the island was again uninhabited – the only reminder of hardship, suffering and death the mounds in the cemetery. All the buildings were burnt to the ground.


Second daughter, Elizabeth, was born to Owen and Margaret in the Hawkesbury on the 4th of January 1797 and baptised in St Philip’s Church of England in Sydney on the 22nd of April. Owen was granted 60 acres of land on May 1st 1797 with rent of 1/- per year due after five years but had been farming at Bardenerang Creek on the Pitt Town Bottoms since mid 1796.

The journey from Windsor to Sydney by water to sell crops took about a week depending on the weather. Owen obtained a small boat in which to take his produce to market. However this venture almost cost him his life. In October of 1797, 14 convicts escaped by sea to an island in the south, which they reached and landed upon in a very distressed state after being wrecked. They saved enough from the wreckage to build a smaller boat, which seven of them stole, leaving the remaining seven convicts marooned. The runaway convict absconders sailed north to Broken Bay and on the 1st of January 1798, captured Owen and his boat off Mullet Is-land and a smaller boat containing 60 bushels of wheat and sundry other items along with its owner, John Jones, on the 2nd of the same month. Both boats along with their owners were taken out to sea. Owen probably thought, that at 36 years of age, having travelled to the other side of the world, that this would be the end of him. This was not to be Owen’s fate, however. Owen, John Jones and an absconder, who had second thoughts about the wisdom of the venture, were placed in a rowboat, set adrift and eventually reached the safety of shore on 10 January. The absconders surrendered in March, two were hanged, and Owen’s boat returned. On the 8th of November 1798, one of the escapees by the name of Patrick Clarke, was tried for stealing from and kidnapping Owen Cavanough and John Jones. He was found guilty as an accessory but not as a principal and was sentenced to fourteen years servitude as a convict in New South Wales, but was recommended to the mercy of the Governor. The court dissolved at 2 p.m. Was Patrick Clarke the escapee set adrift with Owen and John Jones…???..One wonders…???


The 17th of June 1799 saw the birth of Owen Jnr. Margaret and Owen now had four dependent children: Charles (10), Grace (4), Elizabeth (2) and a new baby. Private Charles Green died on the 2nd of September 1799 and was interred in the Devonshire Street cemetery ending the threat of Margaret’s losing custody of Charles Jnr. In January 1800 Owen petitioned Governor Hunter to be allowed to purchase goods from the Thynne and the Minerva cargoes recently arrived from England.

By mid 1800 Owen owned three hogs, had two acres sown in wheat and eight acres ready for planting in maize. Government Stores supplemented the family’s food supply. Financial burdens became just one of many of life’s hardships for Owen, which ultimately necessitated his raising loans against security of his crops and farms in 1800 and later again in the years 1817 and 1825 to name just a few occasions.

Margaret’s sixth child, Richard was delivered on the 7th of March 1802. This year Owen had 15 of the 30 acres sown in wheat, barley and maize. Fourteen bushels of maize were in storage. The family along with their free servant, John Anderson, were now independent of Government Stores, however Owen was still obliged to provide 14 bushels of maize and 12 bushels of wheat to the store for communal use.

Land holdings expanded. Owen was a proven successful farmer. On the 19th of April 1803 Owen was granted 100 acres at Mulgrave Place “on the left bank of Swallow Rock Reach” by Philip Gidley King with a rental of 5/- per year after five years. This would appear to relate to the Ebenezer land.


This parcel of land adjoined Coromandel settler and cousin to the Turnbulls, James Davison, and was a reward for Owen’s and Margaret’s industry.

Owen bought a boat, the Union, built by James Webb, in 1804 by which he carried grain to Sydney. This year Owen had 24 acres sown in grain and three in vegetables and garden. He owned 21 hogs and employed convicts to help him. Margaret was again pregnant. Seventh child James was born on the 18th of July 1804 at Lower Portland Head. There were now six surviving children to provide for.

On 14 August 1806 the officers, civil and military settlers of the Colony along with the free inhabitants tendered a written congratulatory missive to the new naval governor William Bligh. The address was signed by George Johns-ton for the military, Richard Atkins for the civil servants and John Macarthur for the free settlers. Macarthur’s gall in representing the free men of the Hawkesbury rankled as for years he had been one of the monopolisers of trade, inflating prices and making life more difficult for the Hawkesburyites.


Owen and many other settlers decided to make their own welcome, choosing John Bowman, Williams Cummings, George Crossley, Matthew Gibbons and Thomas Matcham Pitt to represent Hawkesbury interests and express indignation at the infringement of their rights and privileges. Pen and ink passed from hand to hand as 244 Hawkesbury settlers signed or added their marks. In Sydney 135 free residents also drew up an address, equally determined that Macarthur would not represent them. The Hawkesbury residents also drew up a bill of rights asking Bligh to restore freedom of trade, allow commodities to be bought and sold in a fair open market and to prevent the monopolisation and extortion currently being practised. The two disastrous floods of February and March 1806 had largely destroyed the Hawkesbury grain crops affecting the whole colony. Acute shortages saw the price of bread rise to 4/6 for a 2lb loaf in Sydney town. Many families in the Windsor district had no bread in their homes for months as they could not afford to pay the asking price.

Bligh toured the Hawkesbury acquainting himself with the settlers and their troubles. Government cattle were slaughtered for the needy and Bligh promised to purchase all excess wheat for the Government stores at 10/- per bushel. By demonstrating such zealous concern for the settlers Bligh became highly respected in the Hawkesbury.

Early in 1807 Bligh became not only a champion of the settlers but also a neighbour and fellow farmer with his purchase of 170 acres at Pitt Town from Thomas Taylor for £950. Bligh later extended his holdings by another 110 acres and established a large dairy herd, employing 20-30 local men. Owen and Margaret’s final child, George, completed the family with his birth on the 5th of July 1807.

The 1st of January 1808, saw a signed address of loyalty by some 150 of the principal inhabitants of New South Wales presented to Governor William Bligh, and amongst those signatories stating their support was that of Owen Cavanough.


On the 1st of September 1808 Margaret sold “a piece of ground and garden” in Pitt Row, Sydney to a Mr Ryan for twenty pounds.

The same year, on the 26th of September 1808, a meeting was held and the Portland Head Society was formed for the propagation of Christian Knowledge and Education of Youth. It was decided to build a Church and School-house, as for the past five years worship had been held in the open air under a tree opposite the present church site or at the homes of Dr. Thomas Arndell and Owen Cavanough.

The land on which this Church was to be built was donated as a gift of four acres by Owen Cavanough from his 100 acre land grant and would be situated on his southern boundary. This became the Presbyterian Church [later the Uniting Church] at Ebenezer, and is regarded today as the oldest church building in Australia in continuous use. Plans for the chapel-school got under way. A contract was let for 3,000 ft of timber at 20s. a 100 ft to be paid for in storage wheat at the rate of 10s. a bushel or live pigs at 9d. or fresh pork at 1s. a lb. The group also accepted a tender for building a stone wall at 8s. a sq. yard.


Having left his seafaring years far behind him, farming was to be Owen’s main form of occupation, although it is understood that he did work as a stockman for a short period in 1809. Throughout his lifetime in early New South Wales, he had many land grants and bought and sold his farms with a fair amount of regularity.

July of 1810 brought a good harvest to the Hawkesbury but the threat of flood still instilled fear of starvation as the region remained the significant provider of stores for the fledgling colony

It would seem that Owen later resided at Cattai (Caddai) as a transfer of land was made to Elizabeth Giles of ‘all that farm & premises situate at Cadi together with the crops now growing and also all stock on said farm. Consideration £80’. This transfer was dated 1 September 1810 and refers to Owen as ‘of Cadi’. In just three months time land settlement was to be regulated after a tour of the area by Governor Macquarie.


On December 6, 1810, Governor Lachlan Macquarie named five new towns - the Macquarie Towns of Windsor, Richmond, Castlereagh, Pitt Town, and Wilberforce. In a Government and General Order of 15 December 1810, the sites were formally designated. The Acting Surveyor marked out allotments so that settlers could commence ‘with the least possible delay the business of erecting houses and removing thither’. Dwellings were to be of brick or weather-board, to have brick chimneys and shingled roof . No abode was to be less than 3 metres high. A dwelling plan was to be lodged with the watch district constable.

Writing to Macquarie, Owen sought a land grant for his stepson Charles Green.

Owen and other members of the Ebenezer congregation formed the Windsor Charitable Institution in 1819 to assist each other in times of drought, flood and plague. In 1820 Owen sold his grant of land at Portland Head. This area, named for the Duke of Portland as a high rock bluff was said to resemble his head. It was renamed Ebenezer in 1887. Grace Turnbull was again with child. Baby Ann was delivered on 1 December 1820 and was to be Grace’s last.


The 1822 census lists Owen and Margaret’s sons Owen Jnr (22), Richard (20), John (18) and George (15) as land-holders and farmers at Windsor each in their own right. Owen has 13 acres of wheat, 10 of maize, one of barley and half an acre of potatoes sown. Half an acre is given over to a garden and orchard. Twenty five of Owen’s 80 acres are cleared and planted. Forty five hogs grunt in their sty. Seventy bushels of maize is held to guard against the ever-present threat of starvation should the crops fail or be inundated.

On the 17th of November 1824 Owen and Margaret celebrated the marriage of Owen Jnr to Cecilia Collins. The nuptials took place in St Matthew’s Church of England at Windsor. Celia, as she was known, was the daughter of Thomas Collins and Elizabeth Huxley, being born on 6 April 1810 at Lower Portland Head. Celia’s grandfather, Thomas Huxley, was also a First Fleeter farming at Flat Rock Reach, just beyond Paradise Point, downriver towards Wiseman’s Ferry.


Margaret proved to be a good mother to all of her children; she died on Wednesday 24 September 1834, one month short of her 68th birthday and was buried at St. Thomas’ Anglican burial ground at Sackville Reach on Saturday 27 September with the Rev. Matthew D Meares M.A. officiating. Owen and Margaret were about six weeks short of celebrating their 43rd wedding anniversary. Margaret had out-lived three children; Owen (1792-1794), Grace (1794-1828) and possibly Elizabeth (1797-? 1828) who is rumoured to have died in India.

At present it is unknown if Margaret’s eldest son Charles Green was still living or his whereabouts. Margaret had cradled 14 grandchildren: Mary Ann, Ralph, John, Elizabeth and Ann Turnbull (Grace and Ralph’s children); James, Margaret and Matilda Cavanough (Owen and Celia’s children); Richard, Grace and William Cavanough (Richard and Ann’s children); Elizabeth, Sophia and George Cavanough (James and Esther’s family). The peaceful sleeping face of a great-granddaughter in Elizabeth Dunstan had also been gazed on before life’s end.

Although Margaret had passed from this life her spirit lived on as new members continued to be added to the family. Owen and Celia had another child on the way. When daughter number three was born on 21 December 1834 at Lower Portland head she was named Elizabeth Celia.


At the age of 79 years, the amazing life of Owen Cavanough came to a tragic end on the evening of Saturday 27 November 1841, when at dusk he went to pick some tobacco leaf for two of his sons, Richard and James, to use in their recently developed tanning business. The tobacco leaf was growing in a stream off Wheeny Creek which ran past Owen’s property. The mighty Hawkesbury, Colo and Little Wheeny were all still in flood that year [1841] and it appears Owen, who was still quite an active man despite suffering some disability and aided by a walking stick, may have fallen in and was accidentally drowned. Thus ended one very interesting life.

An inquest was held into Owen’s death in Windsor on 26 November 1841 with a verdict of accidental death handed down by the Coroner. Although a former seaman, it is unknown whether Owen could swim or not and in view of his age and disability he probably did not have enough strength to do so.

Owen was buried in the Wesleyan Churchyard at Sackville Reach. Owen and Margaret’s headstones were later re-sited at Ebenezer Presbyterian (Uniting) Church, in Coromandel Road in Section 3 MA, Row 3, No2.


The little cemetery on the quiet river bank did not lapse into obscurity after Margaret and Owen’s deaths. Family members continued to add to the number of early settlers interred there. Despite the absence of a church proper the congregation remained strong, eventually saving sufficient funds to build a strong stone church on a new site where the foundation stone was laid in January 1870


Note: (i) This article, now concluded above, has been edited for the website from the 2013 second edition of ‘Owen Cavanough & Margaret Dowling, First Fleet Settlers of Norfolk Island and the Hawkesbury.’

The new edition was published by the Owen Cavanough Historical Society from the original text by author Peter M Pitts with compilation and editing by Sandra J Woods and has been contributed to Founders and the Fellowship website by members #7262 Alan and Sandra Woods.

(ii) Full references available from the book itself and also from the Owen Cavanough Historical Society.



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters