Stephen Martin 1746-1829 First Fleeter on Alexander

On 31st May 1780, in the busy port city of Bristol, John Sartain James made a sworn statement alleging that Stephen Martin and his brother William had stolen two chests of tea, valued at £60, from their employer William James, the informant’s father. The statement gives a detailed account of how the brothers, who had been hired as porters only the week before and were about to terminate their employment, removed the tea chests from William James’s warehouse in Jacob Street and took them to another warehouse where they disguised and covered the tea.  They then took the tea to a carrier, with directions for it to be forwarded to the Coach and Horses at Meecham (sic) near Newbury, Berkshire. (The Coach and Horses near Newbury is actually in Midgham and is still an operating pub.)


The naming of the brothers provides a valuable filter for searching Stephen Martin’s birth details.  According to his death record, First Fleeter Stephen Martin was born around 1748.  A search of English baptism records for that period yields brothers Stephen and William Martin baptised on 19th March 1746 and 6th August 1749, respectively, in the parish of St Enoder, Cornwall, sons of William and Elizabeth Martin.


At the Bristol Assizes of September 1780 the brothers were convicted of grand larceny for the theft of the tea.  They were each sentenced to one year’s imprisonment in Newgate Gaol and fined one shilling.  William died in Newgate of smallpox.


In 1783 Stephen reoffended.  Several witnesses claimed that Stephen stole a pair of boots and spurs, belonging to yeoman Henry Payne and valued at 10 shillings, from the Queen’s Head Inn in Bristol.  Stephen attempted to sell the boots in the Pithay, Bristol’s street of pawnbrokers, and was caught with the steel spurs in his pocket.  At around the same time he was charged with stealing from Elizabeth Yandell goods to the value of 40 shillings, reported in a contemporary journal to be a cane.


Stephen was tried and found guilty of these offences before a jury at the Bristol Easter Quarter Sessions, and was sentenced on 28th April 1783  “to be transported to America for seven years”.  The courts persisted with this form of sentencing despite the effective cessation of transportation to America in 1776. 


In response to the overcrowding in English prisons, the Hulks Act of 1776 had established the legal basis for incarcerating convicts on vessels in the Thames and other navigable rivers.  Stephen spent time in Newgate Gaol after his conviction in 1783 before being received on the Censor hulk in the Thames at some time in the following two years.  His time on the Censor was spent in brutal and degrading conditions, labouring during daylight hours on dredging and dock building at Woolwich.


Following Cabinet’s decision in August 1786 to resume transportation and send convicts to New South Wales, a series of  Orders in Council changed to New South Wales the destination of over 700 convicts previously sentenced to “America”, “Africa” or “Parts Beyond the Seas”.  It is not known how the convicts on these lists were selected.  Stephen was one of 184 convicts transferred from the Thames hulks to the convict ship Alexander on 6th January 1787.  The Alexander was the unhealthiest of the 11 ships comprising the First Fleet, with 16 dying of disease before the ship had even left Portsmouth and a further 15 dying on the eight month journey to Botany Bay.


The Supply was the first ship of the fleet to reach Botany Bay, arriving on 18th January 1788, followed by the Alexander, Scarborough and Friendship the day after.  The rest of the fleet arrived on 20th.  Finding Botany Bay inadequate as a site for settlement, Commander Phillip set off on 21st January with a small party in longboats to assess Port Jackson to the north, returning on 23rd.  His resulting decision to take the fleet to Port Jackson was given added impetus by the appearance at Botany Bay on 24th January of two French ships, the Boussole and the Astrolabe, under the command of the Comte de La Pérouse.   All 11 ships of Phillip’s fleet were anchored at Sydney Cove in Port Jackson by sunset on 26th January 1788.


Stephen spent just over two years at the struggling settlement of Port Jackson working as a farm labourer, first at Sydney Cove and then at Rose Hill (later renamed Parramatta).  He was flogged on two occasions during this period: in February 1789 Captain David Collins ordered 25 lashes for “neglect of his work”, and in November of the same year he received 50 lashes for the theft of shoes, buckles, bread and beef.  For this crime he was also required to pay two pounds of flour.


A new chapter in Stephen’s hitherto unfortunate life commenced with his relocation to Norfolk Island on the Sirius, arriving with 160 other convicts on 13th March 1790.  He would have witnessed the disastrous wreck of the Sirius on the reef off Sydney Bay several days later and joined the other convicts in efforts to retrieve supplies from the wrecked ship.  By this time Stephen was 44 years old and was to spend the next 18 years of his life on Norfolk Island.


At the time of his relocation Stephen had just about served his sentence, but the official papers with the lists of sentences had not been provided to Governor Phillip when he left Portsmouth, so there was no way of verifying convicts’ claims of having done their time. 


The Norfolk Island victualling records show that in February 1791 Stephen was subsisting on a Sydney town lot, sharing a government-provided sow with Richard Slaney and Elizabeth Baker, both Second Fleet convicts who had been transferred to Norfolk Island in 1790.  This arrangement of organising convicts into groups of three with a sow had been implemented for a period across the Norfolk Island convict population by Commandant Major Ross as a means of improving self-sufficiency and reducing the drain on government stores.


Another Second Fleet convict to arrive in Norfolk Island in 1790 was Hannah Pealing who had been transported to Port Jackson with about 230 other female convicts on the Lady Juliana, famously dubbed the “floating brothel”.  Hannah had been tried for theft at the age of 15 or 16 in December 1787 at the Old Bailey, receiving a sentence of transportation for seven years.  She was one of the many Lady Juliana convicts dispatched to Norfolk Island very soon after their arrival in Port Jackson.


Norfolk Island had no resident clergyman.  On a busy three-day visit to Norfolk Island in November 1791 the Reverend Richard Johnson, the First Fleet chaplain, formally married approximately 100 couples, including Stephen and Hannah.  Stephen was 45 years old and Hannah around 20. 


At about this time a number of time-expired convicts, including Stephen, were allowed to take up land on Norfolk Island.  In December 1791 Stephen was settled on a 12 acre lease (Lot 21) at Grenville Vale, east of Middlegate Road, and by 1793 he had cultivated nine acres and was selling grain to the government store.  The land is less than a kilometre from present-day Burnt Pine, Norfolk Island’s commercial district.  The land slopes down from Middlegate Road to a creek and enjoys pleasant ocean views.  Stephen’s two neighbours on Lots 20 and 22 were both fellow First Fleeters with seven year terms - William Blunt, who had been transported on the Scarborough, and Edward Risby who had been on the Alexander with Stephen.


On 12th November 1793 a daughter, Mary Ann, was born to Stephen and Hannah.


At some time after 1791 Stephen became a free man following the arrival of the sentencing records at Port Jackson and official confirmation that his seven year sentence had expired.  As a free man he eventually received the Middlegate Rd allotment as a grant.  In 1794 he was one of 26 farmers on Norfolk Island, and for a period of six months he employed William Clark, another First Fleeter (Scarborough) and former fellow prisoner on the Censor hulk.


By 1796  Stephen owned a house or hut valued at £15 and had acquired an additional 60 acres of land on Cascade stream from Thomas Chipp, a First Fleet marine (Friendship) who returned to Port Jackson in 1794.  It is not clear whether Stephen cultivated any of this land.


In October 1796 Hannah returned to Sydney on the schooner Francis.  The reasons for Hannah’s departure, when her daughter was not yet three years old, are unknown and sad to contemplate, but she was one of a significant number of Norfolk Island convicts in the late 1790s who chose to leave the island when their terms expired.  She died in Sydney on 17th August 1799 - before reaching the age of 30.  Stephen stayed on with his daughter until their evacuation in 1808, so it seems he was satisfied with the modest but productive farming life he had established.  By 1807 he held 15 acres, nine in maize and six in pasture, owned three hogs and held 80 bushels of maize in hand.


When Governor Bligh received instructions in 1806 to close down the Norfolk Island settlement, most residents were reluctant to leave.  They were given a choice between Port Dalrymple (north of Launceston) and Hobart Town, the settlement recently established on the Derwent in Van Diemen’s Land.  Stephen departed Norfolk Island as a third class settler with his daughter Mary Ann and 60 other residents aboard the Estramina on 15th May 1808, arriving in the Derwent on 7th June.  The Estramina was the fourth embarkation of the 554 Norfolk Island residents transferred to Hobart Town.  The arrival of these relocated Norfolk Islanders effectively doubled the population of the fledgling settlement to over 1,000.  A memorial in St David’s Park in Hobart lists all of the Norfolk Island residents relocated to the Derwent in 1807 and 1808, with asterisks next to the names of the 69 First Fleeters.


In preparation for the closure of the Norfolk Island settlement, Commandant Joseph Foveaux had devised a three-tier classification system in 1803 setting out the entitlements of relocated settlers.  As a third class settler Stephen was entitled to be victualled and clothed from the public stores for 12 months and to be allowed the labour of two convicts for 12 months.  He was also entitled to farming implements equivalent to those he had owned on Norfolk Island.


In 1811 Governor Lachlan Macquarie visited Hobart to identify suitable areas of land and establish arrangements for compensating Norfolk Island land holders who had, in the main, been relocated against their will.  On 20th September 1813 Stephen was granted 33 acres in the parish of Melville, with the grant document signed by Lachlan Macquarie.  The land, with an annual “quit rent” of one shilling, was bounded on the south by the Derwent River and was located between the present-day towns of Bridgewater and New Norfolk near Dromedary.


By the time Stephen was granted his 33 acres he was 67 years old,  possibly too old to feel an appetite for establishing a new farm, and little is known about his life in Van Diemen’s Land.  He became a grandfather when Mary Ann had four children with William Coventry, also a former convict (Hercules 1802) and resident of Norfolk Island.  Mary Ann’s first child was Margaret Coventry who married another convict, John Baker (Maria1 1820).  With the birth in 1825 of Mary Ann Baker, Stephen became a great-grandfather. (Mary Ann Baker is my great-great-great grandmother.)


Stephen died at Green Ponds near New Norfolk, his occupation recorded as farmer and his age as 81, which puts him among the oldest First Fleeters at the time of death.  He was buried at St Matthew’s Church, New Norfolk, on 29th October 1829 by the Reverend Hugh Robinson.  The church is Tasmania’s oldest and Reverend Robinson was its first rector from 1826 to 1832.


The burial ground of St Matthew’s has become separated from the church precinct and is now a historic cemetery in nearby Stephen Street.  During the 1990s the site was cleared of rubble and broken headstones, and it is now a pleasant grassed area with a single shady tree.  In the middle of the site there is a large memorial to a local family and a set of bronze plaques listing in alphabetical order the people buried at St Matthew’s from 1823 to 1883.  Stephen’s burial was among the earliest - the 27th in the parish.


Stephen Martin’s burial in this tranquil New Norfolk cemetery was the end of his eventful journey from felon to farmer, a journey that had taken him over four decades and 11,000 miles from the Queen’s Head in Bristol where he stole boots and spurs.



#8920 Kathleen Rutherford




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