William Roberts was born c.1755, in or near Cornwall. It is believed that he was tried at Bodmin, the Assizes for the County of Cornwall, charged with feloniously stealing five pound and half weight of yarn, property of Wm. Moffatt of Launceston (a Cornish town) as reported in a local newspaper. The Sherbourne and Yeovil Mercury in August 1786.


William was secured in the Bodmin Gaol on the outskirts of the town until he was transferred to the hulks. William was known to be on the hulk Dunkirk, moored in Plymouth Harbour, on 25 September 1786. He remained there until ll March 1787 when he was transferred to a convict transport bound for Botany Bay. William's name appears next in the Ross Returns, where he is shown as being aboard the convict transport Charlotte as at 21 March 1787. William's name also appears in the Richard's Returns as being aboard the convict transport Scarborough as at 31 March 1787. It would appear that after being transferred from the prison hulk Dunkirk that he was placed initially on board the Charlotte and then transferred to the Scarborough.


William would have first set foot on the soil of Sydney Cove on 27 or 28 January 1788 and for the next two years experienced true struggle.

His first home was a tent, shortly afterwards replaced by a wattle and daub hut. So bad was the food shortage that strict rationing was enforced. Food stealing was a real problem and one that Governor Phillip was strict in policing. John Cobley in his book Sydney Cove 1788, has in his entry for Wednesday, 30 July 1788 the following- "About midday, William John Roberts was sitting in his hut at the brick kilns with Tom Stretch. Patrick Gray came in for a short time. After he had gone, Roberts could not find his pork. They chased Gray, who denied the theft, but offered Roberts the value of the pork in flour if he would not complain. Roberts refused and said he must be punished. Roberts took hold of Gray, who drew a knife from his pocket, and then made off into the woods." Roberts was certainly unforgiving with regard to Patrick Gray, and when convicted of the accused crime the punishment was severe.


John Cobley in his entry for 2 August 1788 relates that in return for stealing one and a half pounds of pork, the property of William John Roberts, Patrick Gray was " to receive 500 lashes, to repay 1 and a half Ibs of pork, and to work for six months in heavy irons, at such place as there may be the heaviest labour."


It is believed that William was amongst those early settlers who possessed some valuable carpentry skills and through this gained responsibility and respect.


Kezia Brown, convict, arrived on Neptune. At the age of twenty Kezia was sharing her life with William Roberts. On 4 September 1791 their first child, a son named William was baptised in Sydney. A second child, Mary, was born on 15 June 1793, and two months later William and "Kezziah Browne" were married at St. Phillip's Church Sydney, by the colony's first minister, Richard Johnson.


1793 was an important year for William Roberts. In this year his seven-year sentence expired and also, if he had been previously married in England, he became eligible to remarry. As William married exactly seven years after sentence it indicates that he had a reason for waiting.


A grant was made on 8 January 1794 to William Roberts of 30 acres of land located "between the ground rented as a brickfield without the town of Sydney and the east end of the land allotted for the maintenance of a school master." This grant is supported by a newspaper cutting dated 21 June 1933 which lists amongst the recollections of John Lusby that a Crown grant was made to William Roberts on 8 January 1794 on the provision that he lived on the land. This land was sold on 16th September 1800 to John Boxley for the sum of sixty pounds. Interestingly the article goes on to state that as late as 1842 the land was still known as Roberts Farm. So it could be that while William and Kezia were in Sydney town this particular land was home.


In 1796 William Roberts, further described as "a convict whose sentence is expired", was granted 50 acres of land "in the district of Mulgrave Place". That is the beginning of the Roberts' link with the Windsor area. William and Kezia did not always run this land-holding themselves. On 15th April 1800 an agreement was made between William Roberts and Edward Simms whereby "Roberts let to Simms 10? acres of land". Further to this on 1 May 1800 William Roberts let to William Strong "30 acres of land parcel of 50 acres granted by Governor Hunter in Mulgrave Place for 3 years in cons. (consideration) of two pounds per acre. Half of the years rent to be paid in wheat and the other half in corn season."


It is certain that whether it was from the sale of the Sydney land or the leasing of the Windsor property William had money enough for the purchase of fifty acres of land from Thomas Hobby. This was to form the core of the property that was to remain in the Roberts family until 1955 almost 150 years, and it became the real home of William and Kezia Roberts and the generations of their family after them.


At the time Hobby Farm was purchased, all but two of the couple's children had been born. Whilst living in Sydney, William (bap. 4.9.1791), Mary (b. 15.6.1793) and Sarah (b. 15.6.1795) were born, and after buying the first Windsor landholding James (b. 28.7.1798), John (b. circa 1801), Robert (b. 2.3.1803), Maria (b.Oct.1805), Harriet (circa 1807) and Ann (b. 25.12.1809) joined the family. Only five months after Hobby Farm was purchased Ann was born on 20 November 1809 and four years later the family was completed with the birth of Edward on 3 April 1813.


William built up Hobby Farm to the extent that it was quite a valuable holding and one which was to sustain a large family. He was also affluent enough to purchase a building plot "in the town of Windsor adjoining Richard Hollands containing 32 rods".


Kezia's greatest hardship came on 14 February 1820 when William died at the age of 65 years. Kezia was to spend the next 34 years of her life as a widow. She remained at Mulgrave Place for many years, the family property being run by her sons in the name of her youngest child, Edward Roberts who had inherited the farm.


The General Muster of 1822 shows that in that year "Kesiah Roberts" had a total of 50 acres, comprising 20 acres in wheat, 8 under maize, 6 of barley, half an acre of potatoes, half an acre of garden and orchard and the balance cleared. She had 40 horned cattle, 50 hogs and had 100 bushels of maize on hand. The 1829 Census reveals that the Roberts family was assisted by one assigned convict named James Magrath. In the latter part of her life it is believed that Kezia lived with her son John at his home in Lennox Street, Richmond, but certainly Kezia spent all her life in the Windsor district.


William and Kezia are buried at St. Matthew's Churchyard, Windsor.


Jennifer Anderson



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters