Vignettes from the Life and Times of my First Fleet ancestors, William Parish and Phebe Norton


William Parish, alias Potter (b.1751) may have been an unemployed seaman, but on 27 September 1784 he became a highwayman. William was tried by the London Jury before Mr Recorder at Justice Hall in the Old Bailey at the sessions, which began on Wednesday 20 October 1784.

It is fascinating to note that at this time the law had not yet devised a system of Crown Prosecutors acting for the State and by that means preventing vindictive prosecutions. In 1784 and beyond prosecution was very much a personal affair!

William was indicted for feloniously assaulting William Stent on the King’s highway, on the 27th of September 1784, with a certain offensive weapon, called a pistol, with intent to steal the monies of the said William Stent .

WILLIAM STENT (Prosecutor) sworn.

I am a shoemaker, I live at Pimlico.

On the 27th of September, I was going up the Five Fields, Chelsea, I met the prisoner about the midway, on the road; it is a bye road; he had a pistol, as I think, on each side his waistcoat; I think he took it from within his waistcoat, he said your life or your money, you buggerer, or I will blow your bloody brains out; he put the pistol to my throat, I immediately put my hands into my pocket, with intent to take my money out, but instead of giving him the money, I hit him a large blow on his head, I cut at his pistol, then he snapped it at me; I hit him in the belly, and then I laid hold of the pistol, a scuffle ensued, he said he was very much hurt, and he would resign to me; I immediately let him get upon his legs, and he ran away directly, I jumped over the bank after him, and I never lost sight of him till I got hold of him again; he said for God’s sake, give me a good licking, and let me go; I got assistance, and took him to Bow-street. The pistol is loaded with six slugs, and here is the charge in this paper.


A young man and me were coming from Chelsea to London; we heard the prosecutor cry out murder! We made over the fence and ran away to the fields, and found the prosecutor and the prisoner struggling together. We secured the prisoner.


Deposed to the very same effect.


I was coming from Chelsea, I had just done selling my things, and I kicked a pistol before me, and the prosecutor asked me what I had there, and I did not chuse to shew him; I pulled it out to shew him, and then he swore I was going to rob him. If you will please to put my trial off till to-morrow morning, I can have gentlemen to my character.

Court to Johnson. What did the prosecutor tell you was the matter at the time? – He said he demanded his money or his life.

William’s defence was a bit porous, and it is no surprise that his plea for a character referee went as unheeded. This plea may or may not have indicated that his was a first offence. However, it is interesting to note that in modern times a judge calls for character references before passing sentence. Mr Recorder had no such compunction. A guilty verdict of felonious assault resulted promptly in a sentence of transportation for seven years.

William served some of the sentence on shore in England. Then, on 19 March 1785, aged 34, he was ordered to be transported to Africa. Early in April 1785 he was received onto Ceres hulk on the Thames, into the charge of Mr Duncan Campbell, overseer of the convicts on that great river. 

It is of course a matter of record that the scheme of transportation to Africa was abandoned in favour of the establishment of a colony in NSW. And so after nearly two years on the hulks, it came about that on 6 January 1787 William was delivered to Alexander to join 194 other male convicts under the command of Duncan Sinclair, en route to Botany Bay.

Phebe Norton, alias Jones, alias Knight (b. 1761) had been for nine weeks an “engaged servant” to James Milne, for whom she had earlier been working for two months as a charwoman. In fact she was not only a servant but also a housekeeper. When he returned home in the evening of 20 August 1786, Milne found several household items missing.

Phebe was tried at the First Middlesex Jury before Mr Justice Heath, in the Old Bailey at the Sessions which began on 25 October, 1786, She was indicted for feloniously stealing one tablespoon, three teaspoons, one counterpane, three sheets, a coat, a satin waistcoat, a table cloth, two check curtains and a pair of leather gloves — total value 34.5 shillings— the property of James Milne.


I am a servant to Thomas Page, a pawnbroker, No. 32, St. Martin’s-lane; I perfectly remember the prisoner coming to our house; I have frequently seen her at our house, pledging things; it was in August last; I cannot mention the day; she pledged a coat, a counterpane, and a variety of other articles; they are in my possession; and she said they were her own.

What did she pledge them for? – I cannot say exactly the sum; I had no reason to suspect her at that time; I have nothing more to say; I am very sure she is the same person; she pledged them in the name of Mary Jones; she told me she lived in Bedford-bury.


I know the prisoner perfectly; she was my servant; she was nine weeks my engaged servant; but prior to that she was two months an assistant as charwoman; she was then in the name of Knight, but upon the examination before the Magistrate, she said her name was Phebe Norton; I am a single man; and the prisoner did not only assist as a servant, but as a house-keeper; I am out six hours in the day, and while I am out the servants may turn the house inside out; the prisoner ran away the 21st of August last; after she was gone I missed the property from the different parts of the house; I found these things again in the possession of Thomas Page that evening; there is not a mark on any thing; they are such things as I lost.

When you saw the prisoner did you charge her with taking these things? – Yes.

Did you tell her it would be better for her? – No, I never spoke to her; when I was before the Magistrate, the Magistrate asked her what she had to say for herself, and her answer was, it is all right what my master has said.


My Lord, my master has never paid me any wages, if my master had ever paid me my wages, I meant to have redeemed them; here is the bill; my master sent for the bill; he owed my being a servant very near ten weeks, and for being a charwoman very near two months.


Her predecessor was indisposed, and she wanted an assistant to go through the minutiae of the house; she sent me in a bill from Newgate for ten weeks wages; but she had two pair of slippers from a shoemaker’s; and she asked me for five shillings, which I gave her, to buy some things.


I owe the prosecutor twelve shillings.


Did the goods all come at once, or at two or three times pawning? – They did not come at once; they were pawned at different times, from June to August last.

Despite the very real inconvenience and injustice of not being paid for her work, Phebe of the double alias was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for seven years. In this case, there is some interest in the fact that the prisoner had a position of trust followed by a clear motive for her actions. In so many trials of the times we are left in ignorance of the motivations of the convicted. 

But none of this saved her. And so it transpired that on the same day as William boarded Alexander, Phebe, at 26, was delivered to Lady Penrhyn, to join 100 other female convicts under the command of Master William Sever.



It is not recorded whether Phebe was placed on the Thames hulks between October 1786 and January 1787, but it is romantic to suppose that she was, and that she first met William on 6 January, or during a work detail or on some other pursuit over the period before their joint embarkation on Phillip’s fleet. There may subsequently have been opportunities for a glance or an appraisal in Tenerife, in Rio de Janeiro or whenever the two ships came within hailing distance, but an incident involving Phebe while at anchorage at Capetown may well have attracted William’s attention.

As reported by Surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth, “Phebe Norton, A convict on board us fell from the head (the toilet seat at the bow of the ship), into the Sea, it was a remarkable calm day, therefore before she had time to go down, two men jump’d overboard & saved her by hauling her into the pinnace which was fasten’d at the stern.”

Lady Penrhyn was the worst sailing ship in the Fleet, and Alexander was the dirtiest and most disease ridden, but under the brilliant leadership of the Commodore Captain Arthur Phillip they bore my ancestors safely to New Holland.

Whether or not Phebe and William had met before, they almost certainly found each other at Port Jackson on 6 February, when the female convicts were at last disembarked to join the men ashore. An infamous night of revelry was reported.

Sunday 10 February brought the first church service attended by a mixed congregation of men and women. The crew of Sirius attended, and the Chaplain, the Reverend Richard Johnson, officiated the first three baptisms and five marriages in the colony.

Wednesday 13 February was an auspicious day. Governor Phillip took the Oath of Abjuration before Judge Advocate, David Collins, as well as the Oath of Assurance. On this same day Phebe and William, along with six other couples took the oath of allegiance to one another in the sacrament of holy wedlock! William signed the marriage certificate as William Potter, one at least of his chosen aliases. Phebe signed with a cross, her name being written by Chaplains’s Clerk, Samuel Barnes.

The witnesses were Elizabeth Needham and William Snallam. Elizabeth and William were married four days later and William Potter (Parish) was a witness. All wedding parties to that time had been convicts, but Elizabeth upon emancipation and the death of Snallam was to become by 1824 a highly enterprising and competent business woman in the colony.  William and Phebe had a harder course to row.



In due course convicts began to serve out their time, as measured from the date of sentence, although the granting of emancipation was made difficult for Phillip because records of trials had not accompanied him on the outward voyage.

 In 1791 the Governor called together the colony’s emancipated convicts and informed them that those who wished to become landed settlers would receive every encouragement. Those who did not desire this were to “labour for their own provisions”, and were told that no obstacle would be placed in their way if they wished to return to England. The majority opted to return, but of those who elected to stay the Governor chose nine emancipatees who were granted land at Prospect on 18 July. Among the number were those early adapters, William and Phebe.

The land grants curved around Prospect Hill, where the soil was derived from the weathered basalt cap and richer than the sandstone-derived soils of the Cumberland Plain. William’s grant was Lot 43, 60 acres in total, fifty for being married to Phebe and an extra ten for son Charles, born on 6 September, 1789. His rent was 1 shilling per year commencing after 10 years. 

Their eight neighbours were:

William Butler, seaman (Scarborough) and Jane Forbes (Lady Juliana) farming in partnership with George Lisk, watchmaker (Scarborough) and de facto Irish convict, Rose Burke.

James Castle, husbandman (Scarborough)

Samuel Griffiths, butcher (Alexander) and Elizabeth Hamilton (Mary Ann)

John Herbert, seaman, (Charlotte) and Deborah Ellam (Prince of Wales), not out of his time, initially.

Joseph Morley, silk dyer,  (Friendship) and Mary Gosling (Lady Juliana)

John Nichols, gardener (Scarborough)

Edward Pugh, carpenter (Friendship) and Hannah Smith (Charlotte).

William (now Parish again), along with his neighbours, was provided with a hatchet, a tomahawk, two hoes, a spade and a shovel. Crosscut saws were available on a share basis. He received grain to plant in the first year and was promised two sows, which apparently were never delivered. He was obliged to build his own house, but the family was fed and clothed from the government store for 18 months. The practice of agriculture and husbandry in the settlement was continuous from this time.

In December 1791 Watkin Tench visited Prospect and wrote a report on progress over the first six months. I am pleased to note that among his 12 peers at that time, a group that included former weavers, a husbandmen, carpenters, a watchmaker, a silk dyer, a gardener and a butcher, the seaman, William Parish, at ‘Parish Farm’ had the most land under cultivation (23/4 acres). However overall Tench was pretty unimpressed by the rough dwellings and the state of the crops, while the farmers complained of water shortage and theft by runaway convicts who plundered them incessantly.



The original plan of land grants had included and area of Crown Bushland, or driftways, separating each farm. These areas provided cover for large groups of aboriginal warriors to congregate and cause alarm, if not disturbance. The Governor eventually posted guards at the settlement while he arranged for the driftways to be cleared.

Foremost among the aboriginal leaders was Pemulwuy, a resistance leader and scourge of the colony of NSW as it spread inland from Sydney Cove. A member of the Bidjigal tribe, whose territory stretched from the Botany Bay southside to Bankstown, Pemulwuy’s war began in December 1790 when aged about 30 he ambushed and speared Governor Phillip’s convict game shooter John McEntire. He attacked Prospect Hill in 1794. In 1797 he led the Eora people against the British at Parramatta. He was severely injured and captured, but escaped after a few days to return to his people. He continued to raise havoc until he was shot and killed in 1802 and his head was taken to England. His death spelt the end of much of the fighting. In the opinion of the then Governor King: “Altho’ a terrible pest to the colony, he was a brave and independent character” and “an active, daring leader” of his people.

As a result of the many initial hardships the total area of land sown at Prospect was only 95.25 acres by October 1792.



On New Years Day 1792, a second son, William, was born at Rose Hill (later Parramatta). Eight days later, on 9 January, William senior was charged in a Magistrates Court case before David Collins and the Reverend Richard Johnson with “behaving insolently and with much abuse to Mr Thomas Arndell, Assistant Surgeon at Parramatta, with threatening the Life of the said Mr Thomas Arndell, and with Insolence and Abuse to Mr Thomas Clarke, the Superintendent on Sunday 1st and Tuesday 3rd of the instant January, “

Dr Arndell told the magistrates that the initial incident had taken place in the Parramatta storehouse on 1 January (probably while Parish was collecting his rations there). Arndell told Parish his wife, Phebe, should come in to Parramatta to have their new baby christened. Parish replied that she was very ill.

Arndell suggested that he visit her and if she was ill he might have her sent to the hospital at Parramatta. Parish said that “she should not come to such a lousy place”. On this and another occasions Parish became involved in arguments with Arndell about rations he felt he and his wife were entitled to. A second argument at the Parramatta dispensary also involved Superintendent Thomas Clarke, who said he had beaten Parish with a stick, claiming the former convict had been brandishing an axe shouting that he was a free man and “if ever I catch you on my ground at Prospect Hill I’ll kick you off of it!” – while promising to complain to Captain Nepean about being struck by the superintendent. Parish admitted to the magistrates that he had abused Dr Arndell but claimed he had only raised his axe to ward off blows from Clarke’s stick, “When passion gets the better of me I don’t know what I’m doing.” he said. Judge Advocate David Collins sentenced him to receive 100 lashes “there not being any other Mode of punishing a Person of his Description & of so properly checking that spirit of Disobedience & want of Subordination which appears in his Conduct.”

We have already seen from his first trial that William had a pretty rough tongue, but thank goodness he had no pistol this time! William’s seven-year sentence had expired a few weeks before this charge. The case illustrates the plight of recently emancipated convicts who remained subject to strict discipline and limited civil rights in the colony.  His attempt to assert his new status as a free property holder was met with a harsh response. The case was heard against a background of increasing tension in the colony, with worsening food shortages and malnutrition following the influx in 1791 of 2,000 convicts from the Third Fleet. News was also spreading of the French Revolution and the stir caused in Britain by the publication of the first part of Tom Paine’s Rights of Man.



On 22 January, 1794, a third son James Norton, my direct ancestor, was born at Parramatta. By 1794 Prospect was considered the most fertile of the new settlements. David Collins proudly reported that “Prospect Hill proved to be most productive, some grounds there returned 30 bushels for one”.

William, Phebe and family pressed on, but in November 1795 they were robbed by three runaway convicts who cleaned them out, the servant beaten, goods taken and stock killed. The escapees were caught and hung. Debts seem to have mounted. In 1798 William is listed as owing Trace 2 pounds 14 shillings plus 4 shillings costs and he was ordered to pay within 14 days. By 1800 William had sold his 60 acres to John Nichols, who became a successful landowner and gardener in the region. The family returned to Sydney. William had not lasted long enough on the land to begin paying rent!



 However the memory of William and Phebe’s occupation remains. In 2003, after rezoning, a new housing suburb was created at Prospect Hill, on land earlier dedicated to quarrying, a WWII US Army camp and a CSIRO Research facility. It is named Pemulwuy (!), the accepted version of a name with more spellings on record than the boulders on the Hill. The suburb contains the Delphin subdivision of Nelsons Ridge, and the Stockland subdivision of Lakewood. It rests across the site of Governor Phillip’s 1792 land grants.

Nelsons Ridge was developed in a joint venture between Boral Limited and Delphin Lend Lease. Delphin itself is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lend Lease Corporation. It was with this company that I worked for 9 years until 1979, among other roles as a director of Lend Lease Homes. Another curious happenstance!

William’s land was square in shape, situated just west of the present intersection of Greystanes Road and Old Prospect Road, the extension of which is called Butu Wargun Drive. Part of the holding is now the public open space of Driftway Reserve, and includes the children’s play area of Nelson Park. If you take Watkin Tench Drive from Greystanes Road in Nelsons Ridge and turn right into Driftway Drive, at the first roundabout another right turn will bring you into Parish Street, and a few metres down the street you will cross William Lane! William Parish (off stores) would also be heartened to know that on his eastern boundary there is now a substantial Woolworths development and a Community Centre. Furthermore, a classy housing display village has been erected in Parish Street. Other streets in Pemulwuy thus far opened up (in 2008), honour others of the first thirteen 1791 landholders, John Silverthorne, Edward Pugh, William Butler, John Nichols, Samuel Griffiths, George Lisk, and Joseph Morley, But a Parish St appears nowhere else in the Greater Sydney region.



Lakewood subdivision holds particular interest to me in its recognition of William and Phebe. The subdivision, upon completion, will extend from the M4 south to Butu Wargun Drive and from Greystanes Road west to Clunies Ross Street. Girraween Creek runs north through the middle of Lakewood and is approximately 1 km long. It contains two lakes, a small upstream  pondage, with a much larger storage immediately downstream. There is a preserved bushland area (or riparian corridor) on either side of the Creek which varies between 30m and 250m in width. This corridor will be protected into the future, and will embrace a 1.6km Heritage Circuit Trail to celebrate the historical and natural history of the Prospect Hill area. The path is 80% complete in February 2008. The corridor covers the original land grants to George Lisk, William Butler, John Nichols and of course to William Parish, and one of a series of brass plaques along the Heritage Trail recognises these pioneers. 

The 3m-wide trail can be travelled by bicycle as well as on foot. The other plaques along the way explain the role of the lakes in filtering the runoff from the subdivisions, depict the aboriginal heritage and archeology, explore the native vegetation, describe the quarrying and railway activities of past times and highlight the bushland regeneration and reconstruction. More than 350,000 native plants, struck from seed collected in the area have been planted to a strict Vegetation Management Plan. In fact the Plan has won an award for Environment from the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects NSW in 2005.

Fundamental to the activity of the Fellowship, is the identification of the last resting place of First Fleeters and recording of the sites by the installation of a plaque. I am still hoping that one day we shall carry out this service for William and Phebe. In the meantime I can take enormous satisfaction in the fact that the community of Pemulwuy will remember them and their peers at the point of their freedom and the pinnacle of their ambition, in this sensitive, enduring and beautiful native parkland.



 It is possible that William had left Lot 43 with sufficient funds from his sale to Nichols to avoid becoming a common labourer. In the 1802 muster he and Phebe are shown as still resident in Sydney.

William, being a seaman, and restless, did return to his earlier vocation for a period, working his way back to England, without his family, in 1802. The ship is unknown, as there are simply no records of musters on ships returning to England during this period.

He next appears in the company of someone who knew him quite well, (David Collins, of the Oath of assurance and the Thomas Arndell Affair!), when he traveled from England in company with that gentleman in 1803 to establish a settlement at Port Phillip Bay.

On board Calcutta with Collins, Captain Woodriff and the 308 male convicts were two of the civil officers for the settlement, the Reverend Robert Knopwood and the assistant surgeon William l’Anson. The other civil officers for the settlement travelled on the expedition’s store ship, Ocean, together with the free settlers and their families. The civil officers with Captain Mertho included the Surgeon Matthew Bowden, Second Assistant Surgeon William Hopley, Surveyor George Prideaux Harris, Deputy Commissary Leonard Fosbrook, Mineralogist Adolarius William Henry Humphrey, Superintendent and Agriculturist Thomas Clark, Superintendent William Patterson, and two Overseers of Convicts, John Ingle and none other than William Parish. It would appear that he was recommended by Governor King in a letter to Collins, and Lord Hobart fixed his salary at 25 pounds per annum. Well, who better to supervise convicts on sea and land than a man of William’s background, experience and vocabulary?

Calcutta and Ocean left Spithead on 24 April 1803 but stopped in at St Helens on the following day. This delay, according to the convict Fawkner, was due to the fair haired and petite twenty-three-year-old Hannah Powers, who had convinced Collins and presumably Captain Woodriff to let her retrieve her pet poodle and bring it on board. Hannah in fact became Collins’ mistress, a move that provided her husband Mathew Powers with freedoms and liberties not provided to other convicts. He was able to move freely around the ship and was able to purchase stock whilst on route to Port Phillip. Perhaps disturbed by this moral turpitude in high places, the winds again shifted unfavourably and it wasn’t until 28 April that the two ships departed the English Channel.

The first port of call for the two ships was Santa Cruz, Teneriffe, where they arrived on 16 May, and remained at anchor for four days before continuing on. It had taken Calcutta and Ocean 22 days after leaving Spithead to reach Teneriffe. The convicts were not allowed off the ship at any of the ports of call, a situation which would not have made William’s job any easier.

At about midday on 9 June Calcutta crossed the Equator. However, it wasn’t until the next day on 10 June that the ship’s company enjoyed the entertainment of equatorial celebrations. The voyagers had survived just 44 days of a trip that would last 168 in total. William Parish, an old hand, had crossed the Line for the third time!

On June 29 1803 Calcutta arrived at Rio de Janeiro. The weather had been more pleasant but after 40 days of sailing a port call was more than welcome. The voyagers remained at the port for nearly three weeks while the boat was re-supplied and made ready for the stormy weather ahead. Enchardos, a small Island in the Bay about two miles from town, was leased for 1/- per day. The convict wives according to Knopwood, and the ‘women’ according to Lt. Tuckey, were landed on the Island to do the washing.

Both ships set sail from Rio on 20 July 1803 and that after just two days Ocean lost sight of Calcutta in a gale and thereafter for the rest of the trip they did not sight any vessel. Captain Woodriff had instructed Captain Mertho that if the ships were separated Ocean should not land at the Cape of Good Hope for fear of a hostile reception. For this reason they were unable to call into this Port.

Calcutta encountered bad weather and gales for much of the trip but the diaries and ship log mentioned also that they observed many whales. Their next concern was the Cape of Good Hope and as Calcutta rounded the Cape on 12 August, they prepared all their guns for action but rather than meeting with hostility at Simons Bay they received a welcome reception. The following day they saluted the battery with 11 guns, which was returned with an equal number.

They departed the town on 23 August having completed their re-supply and purchases of livestock and seed. The weather continued to be stormy. The melancholy gloom that set in after their departure from the last point of civilisation could only have been worsened with the punishment of the convict, Thomas Fitzgerald. He was given 36 lashes on 10 September for theft. Three privates were also punished with lashes for drunkenness, misbehaviour and theft. HMS Calcutta sailed into Port Phillip Harbour on Sunday 9 October 1803 two days after the anxiously waiting Ocean.



William had completed a second emigration, this time wielding not wearing chains. However Port Phillip was not his destiny, He was to stay there only four uncertain months.

Lady Nelson was under the command of Lieut. Simmons, with Jorgen Jorgenson as first mate when she set sail from Port Phillip for the Derwent on 30 January 1804 with the free settlers aboard. Ocean set sail with her but was soon left behind her carrying Overseers Ingle and Parish, 200 prisoners, their wives and children and a guard of 25 marines, Lieut. Edward Lord, and the civil establishment. Altogether with the crew, the number of people on board Ocean was close to 300. So overloaded was the ship that one third of the convicts were rostered on the deck at all times. Though Captain Mertho estimated that the voyage would take less than a week it took 16 days due to ill-winds and bad weather. This resulted in severe food shortages. The precooked food for the trip ran out after only four days. There were no facilities to cook for the number of people on board and so the convicts fared very poorly indeed. More privation for William Parish!

The expedition finally reached Frederick Henry Bay on 11 February 1804, but the weather again was unfavourable for reaching up river and they were forced to wait a further four days before joining Lady Nelson in Risdon Cove.

At 10 am on 16 February Lady Nelson fired an eleven-gun salute as Collins went ashore to inspect the camp. Bowen, who had not expected Collins arrival, was away at the time. He had taken some prisoners and a soldier to Sydney Town to be tried for attempted theft, but there was also a suggestion that he was seeking from Governor King, permission to rejoin the navy.

 In Bowen’s absence Lt Moore formally greeted Collins. After a quick appraisal of the Risdon Cove settlement Collins was disappointed. Governor King’s decision to send Bowen to establish a settlement on the Derwent was to pre-empt any French intentions to settle Van Diemen’s Land. Bowen had arrived at the end of winter on 11 September 1803 when the grassy woodlands at Risdon had to twenty-three year old Bowen’s untrained eye matched an Englishman’s ideal of parkland. By February there had been no rain at Risdon for more than four months, the creek was dry and the landscape parched.

Collins immediately gave instructions to Surveyor George Prideaux Harris to find a more suitable site for his settlement to be named Hobart Town. The surveyor, after only a very short investigation, reported back to Collins that he had found a very promising site on a cove across the river. It had a permanent stream and was located at the foot of ‘Table Mountain’ renamed later Mount Wellington. Collins declared himself happy with the choice and ordered that the tents, which had already been pitched at Risdon, be removed and erected at Sullivan’s Cove on Monday 20 February 1804.

And so ancestor William Parish participated in his fifth “first” settlement in New Holland — Botany Bay, Sydney Cove, Prospect, Port Phillip, and Sullivan’s Cove, Hobart. It is doubtful if any individual, other than David Collins himself shared this distinction. He had also travelled with a young John Pascoe Fawkner, the ultimate founder of Melbourne, and as convict overseer, had Fawkner’s father, also John, in his charge. William had missed his sixth first settlement, William Paterson’s arrival at George Town in 1804.

William evidently found Hobart Town very much to his liking. And after all he had spent 17 years with and around David Collins, and had travelled from England and Port Phillip with Knopwood, and other men who were the key office holders at Hobart. And he had a responsible job. It was time to collect the family and emigrate from Sydney to Van Diemen’s Land.

William was on Ocean when it left Hobart bound for Sydney on 9 August, 1804.



Within six months William returned to Van Diemen’s Land and to Hobart to acquire a dwelling, taking Phebe and his family with him on Sophia arriving on 5 February, 1805. This was the real beginning of my family’s association with Tasmania!

Governor King also sent 26 female convicts with him, and appointed him overseer at New Town, north of Hobart. Robert Knopwood records in his diary that, on 26 February 1805, “At 11 by request of the Lt Govnr I went to New Town where I examined Wm Parish etc. The Lt Gov came to the farm with me.” They were in all probability visiting William to see how he was faring in his new role. And it is further evidence that William was well known to David Collins. William remained in this role at least until December 1805.

On 1 January, 1806 William received a land grant of 70 acres on the eastern shore of the Derwent, at the head of what is now known as Geilston Bay. It was rectangular and intersected what is now known as Geilston Creek. His neighbour to the west was Michael Mansfield. This time there is no plaque or park to these pioneers, simply a tired water course emptying into the Bay via a mess of boats. Upstream of the area are playing fields. In the 1940s the entire area was an apple orchard.

The grant seems to be in return for his services as convict overseer. The rent was 2 shillings per year commencing after five years. In October 1806 William is recorded as having his acreage under cultivation of wheat, barley and garden, with one bull, three female sheep, one male goat and two female goats. William, Phebe, one child (probably James who was only 12) and a convict were victualled by the Government.

On 14 July 1807 William is recorded as having five acres in wheat, two acres in barley, two acres fallow and one-tenth of an acre in garden. He had two cows, one bull calf, one cow calf, five ewes, three ewe lambs and one female goat, William, his wife and child were still being victualled by the Government.  Things were not going badly, but they were about to get worse!



After just two years occupancy on his land, in February 1808, he was once more robbed, this time by the bushrangers Lemon and Brown. They even took his boots. Richard Lemon and his cohorts, Irishmen, John Brown and Richard Scanlon were violent outcasts.   Their crimes included the murders of three privates from the New South Wales Corps, John Curry, Robert Grindelstone and James Daniels. Scanlon and Brown would often converse in Gaelic, which Lemon couldn’t understand.   He was so infuriated that one day, while Brown was hunting, he shot Scanlon and hung his corpse by the heels from a tree. 

The settlements at Port Dalrymple and Hobart were by 1808 in full dread of Lemon and Brown. Lieutenant-Governor William Patterson, in the north, offered a bounty of £50 for their capture. Lieutenant-Governor David Collins’ general orders of 11 February asked the population of Hobart to be ready to apprehend the outlaws, to not go into the woods alone and that no boats, except government boats, were to cross the Derwent until Lemon and Brown were captured or killed.

The bushrangers were to meet a violent end.  On 1 March 1808 emancipated settlers Michael Mansfield, (William’s neighbour on the Derwent) James Duff and John Jones (all of whom had travelled under William as convicts on the voyage to Port Philip in 1803) overpowered them. Lemon resisted and was shot dead. Brown was captured and forced to carry Lemon’s head to Hobart where it was exhibited on a stake. Brown was then sent overland under an armed escort, commanded by Lieutenant Breedon, to York Town on the Tamar River, leaving on 4 March. Brown confessed to many of his crimes including acts of barbarity against the aborigines. Mansfield, Jones and Duff shared the £50 reward.

The embargo on boat movements at the Derwent was lifted on 1 March 1808, and a search party under Sergeant Brumby was recalled. Brown was sent to Sydney on Porpoise, which arrived on 26 May 1808. He was tried on 30 May, found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, his body to be dissected and the remains hung in chains on a small island in Sydney Cove. This occurred on 31 May 1808 after Brown repeatedly requested the spectators to beseech the Divine Mercy on his behalf. These were indeed barbarous times!

Despite his criminal ways, Richard Lemon is immortalised by various landmarks near Oatlands in Tasmania, including Lemon Springs and Lemon Hill.   His silhouette in steel plate can be found high on a hill.



In March 1810, David Collins died suddenly. William had lost a mentor.

In the 1811 Muster Phebe was shown alone in Hobart, but William most likely was elsewhere in the colony.

But the farming life once again proved too much of a trial for the family and after more than six years of ownership, on 27 July 1812 William reassigned his 70 acres for an undisclosed sum to Andrew Geils. The transfer was witnessed by John Clark, John Campbell and John Conliffe. This time he had exceeded his rent-free time allocation, but only by a bare seven months.

Geils had arrived in Sydney in July 1811 in charge of the guard in the convict transport Providence. He brought with him his wife Mary, née Noble, and six children. In February 1812 Macquarie had appointed him the third of a series of commandants who administered the Hobart Town settlement after the death of David Collins. Geils, despite a seesaw career and private life in both Hobart and Sydney was for a time an aspirant to succeed Davey as Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land. He held until 1818 substantial lands on the Derwent and of course the area of his holdings (and that transferred to him by William) became known as Geilston Bay.



By 25 September, 1812, having sold the holding at Geilston Bay, William was living in a house in Hobart, probably again as a Convict Overseer, with wife Phebe, sons James and Charles and a Charles Clark, who was a convict labourer. A local sergeant recorded statements taken after a robbery by three soldiers, Poney, Gorrie and Connors with transportee and bushranger, James McCabe, which occurred on that night:

Parish house, three quarters of a mile from Hobart Town, probably in Newtown) was attacked between 9 and 10 o’clock at night on 25/9/1812. William Parish saw Thomas Connor and Jos. Poney once before 25 Sept. Parish swears to Thos Connors being one of those who broke into his home but cannot swear to the persons of the other two soldiers.

Mrs Parish swears to the persons of the three robbers having been in the house on the night of 25 Sept and robbing and assaulting her. Connor was the only one of the three who struck her.

James Parish swears to the person of Joseph Poney as one of the robbers who attacked his father’s house on 25 Sept 1812.

Charles Parish cannot identify any of the prisoners.

Charles Clark cannot swear to the persons of the men who committed the robbery excepting McCabe’s.

The clothes taken from Parish’s house were found in the barracks occupied by Connors and Gorrie by Sergeant Toane.

Phebe lost three to four pints of blood during the attack. Bushranger McCabe late boasted that he had “killed and slaughtered and beat him (William Parish) with an old musket til he bent like an old iron hoop.” William in fact sustained chest injuries.

Subsequently McCabe was captured by James Carrett and Thomas Tombs at Oyster Bay along with associates John Townshend and Peter Geary.

In 1813 the three desperados were placed on trial before the Court of Criminal Jurisdiction in Sydney. Charles Clark appeared as a witness, as did Phebe, who identified thirty-seven stolen muslin and chintz gowns, as well as thirteen petticoats and twenty balls of cotton. McCabe, Townshend and Geary were executed.

These events may well have been the trigger for the return of William and Phebe to a living in Sydney, as they were both domiciled there in 1814.



In 1803 Governor Hunter had ordered a fort to be built on the site of Windmill Hill to defend the colony from rebellious convicts and possible French attack. In 1804 work had begun on a citadel called Fort Phillip. The fort was never fully completed and never fired a single shot in anger. The eastern ramparts now remain and maps of the time show a row of housing below these walls, probably along the park which itself is adjacent to the Sydney Harbour Bridge approaches. It is possible that this was the site of the home of Phebe and William in 1816, as the following Enquiry at the Coroners Inquests on 13 August suggests:

Hannah Pleasant rose early to make bread, heard groans, saw man, asked him to go home if he was drunk as it was light enough to see, told Sentinel at Fort Philip – suggested he come and warm himself – identified him as the same person because of his red cap.

Edward Timon, private in the XX Regiment said between 12 and 2 am 13th inst. Being on his post as sentinel of Fort St Philip – heard man groan – went to see who it was – man lying on his side, clapping the ground, talking of his mother and sister. Man never stirred again.

Mrs Phebe Parish – Free woman, Sworn deposes and saith that from between 9 o’clock in the evening on the 12th instant until 3 o’clock this morning the 13th August she heard a continual noise near her home, but would not open her door. About daylight this deponent opened her door and at about 6 or 8 yards from the door she saw a man lying. She went up to him and looked at him, saw his eyes open, put her hand on him and found it cold. Deponent then went to the Sentinel and said here is a dead man: but does not know whether the deceased is the person she heard in the night or that the deceased person was in the same state he now lays. Signed Phebe Parish X. After 28 years in New Holland Phebe had not mastered her letters!

It appears that William was not available to consult, comfort or confront the drunk or dying man. He may have been elsewhere, or ill and incapacitated.



William died just six months later, on 11 February, 1817. He was 66.  His funeral took place in St Philips Church, conducted by The Reverend William Cowper and he was buried in the Old Sydney Burial Ground on 12 February 1817.  This burial ground was closed by Governor Macquarie in February 1820, and was exhumed in 1869 to make way for the Sydney Town Hall.

Before construction of the Town Hall commenced, any remains that had not already been relocated, were exhumed from Town Hall Cemetery and re-interred in Rookwood, then known as Haslams Creek. Like so many other First Fleeters buried there, neither his grave nor his headstone were ever identified.

Phebe died on 18 October 1820 also aged 66.  Married as Potter, she was buried as Parish, the funeral again being conducted by The Reverend William Cowper.

Phebe was interred in the new burial ground, which had been consecrated on 27 January, 1820. This was the Sandhills Cemetery lying south of the Brickfields from which it was separated by a valley known today as Belmore Park and the Haymarket. But it was not to be her last resting place.

By 1901 the cemetery area was needed for the construction of Central Railway Station. The headstones and the remains of some 2,285 persons were moved to another old cemetery on the shores of Botany Bay. This cemetery was dedicated in 1888 as Bunnerong Cemetery but is now known as Botany Cemetery. Phebe’s remains were re-interred there, as were those of many other First Fleeters, such as James Squire, William Tyrell, Thomas Prior, Mary Marshall, Frances Mintz (nee Davis), John Nicholls, Robert Watson, Isaac Archer and Sarah Archer (nee Burdo). 

In time, the area containing the old graves became derelict. The inscriptions were weathered away by the salt air and many of the stones, after falling to the ground, were broken up and scattered. So, in 1976, the Botany Cemetery Trust decided to create a Pioneer Memorial Park within the precincts of the cemetery adjacent to Bunnerong Road. All the stones were collected and moved. Many fragmented and illegible ones were discarded. There were 746 stones in reasonable condition and these were erected in uniform rows around a memorial block. The headstone of John Trace was the only First Fleeter stone to survive.

So William and Phebe, after so many adventures together, through a quirk of fate found their bodily remains set apart, one at Rookwood via the Town Hall, the centre of Sydney, and the other back on the shores of Botany Bay.


William & Phebe had the following three children:

Charles                 b.1789

William                b. 1792

James                   (1794- 1864)


Ron Withington, September 2009

#5527, Descendant

Also FFF members:

Rachel Ann Audigé, Manon Ella Audigé, Kaye Frances Preece

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