William Boggis




Sometime during 1782 William Boggis was arrested with William Hubbard for stealing a bed sheet valued at three shillings. Boggis was recorded as being a sailor.  He was confined in cells at the House of Correction until both men were brought in chains to the Old Town Hall in the Market Place of Kingston-upon-Thames, County Surrey, to appear before the Court of Quarter Sessions in January 1783.  Both were found guilty and sentenced "to be publicly whipt of the cats tail between 12 and 2 on Saturday the 22nd February from the County Gaol to St Thomas' Hospital and discharged."


They were remanded to appear before the Surrey Summer Assizes on 24 March 1784 accused of a felony, a serious offence which carried the death penalty if the theft was accompanied by violence, intimidation or house-breaking; their death sentenced was commuted on 24 March 1784 to transportation to America for seven years. On 8 April 1785, aged 18, both men were transferred to the hulk Censor anchored at Woolwich. 


On 2 March 1787 Boggis and Hubbard were amongst 210 shackled prisoners loaded on wagons that travelled to Portsmouth; they were assigned to the ship Scarborough, one of the 11ships of the First Fleet.  On 6 March 1787 the two men were among 186 transportees, manacled in pairs, who crossed in lighters to be imprisoned in the hold of the Scarborough which Phillip had designated as an all-male ship to carry the most hardened criminals.  Boggis was 21 years of age at the time of the departure of the First Fleet from Portsmouth on 13 May 1787, by which time he had been incarcerated for more than 4 years.


Most convicts were in reasonable health when the 11 ships dropped anchor at Botany Bay.  Parties of convicts were immediately landed to cut grass for the livestock – not green and lush but dried brown by the hot summer sun.  As Botany Bay did not have a plentiful water supply Phillip explored north to Port Jackson where he found a fine harbour with flowing water.  He immediately gave orders that the Fleet relocate and , on Saturday 26 January 1788, Phillip and his officers landed at Sydney Cove and declared this land for England. At dawn the following day, convicts from the Scarborough were disembarked and began felling trees and dragging away logs; or pitching tents; or bringing up such store as were more immediately wanted.


On 2nd August 1788 Boggis was arrested for gambling for a knife and sentenced to “Fifty lashes on the bare back with … Nine Tails”.  Only a month later he was “accused by Lydia Munro of wanting to have connexion (sic) with her against her will”.  He was found guilty and sentenced to receive 100 lashes.  The Court met again on 20 September when Boggis convinced the magistrates that Lydia Munro was considered a prostitute by other convicts.  He was acquitted, a notation stating “Afterwards forgiven”.


To relieve the Colony’s food shortages, Governor Phillip had established a government farm at Rose Hill to grow fresh produce.  Boggis was sent there to work in the fields where he and other convicts were required to turn over one-tenth of an acre per day, tilling the soil with a hoe.  On 14 July 1789 he appeared before the Court at Rose Hill charged with the crime of entering a hut for which he received the sentence of 200 lashes.  He appeared again before the Court at Sydney Cove on 25 July charged with “… entering house … with the intent to commit a felony”.  Boggis was found guilty of “stealing … shirt – to receive one hundred lashes on his bare back, at Rose Hill – to work with an iron on his leg – to wear a label with the word Thief painted on it – and made fast on his cloathing [sic]”.  A further notation was made that, having received 200 lashes at Rose Hill, the Justices did not think it proper to impose any further punishment considering the time his labour would be lost to the public good.


Starvation in the Colony was imminent.  Phillip sent Captain Hunter to Cape Town for fresh supplies; the Sirius circumnavigated the globe and returned to Sydney on 9 May 1789 with a maximum cargo – the first supplies in 18 months. Within 6 months the situation at Sydney Cove was again critical – rations were so meager that people lacked the energy to work; clothes were in shreds, no one had shoes. 


Boggis appeared before the magistrate on Wednesday 7 October 1789, charged with stealing a jacket and comb.  He claimed that he did not commit the robbery, and that he was not out of his house that night.  A witness corroborated that Boggis “was with him from the close of the evening” and this was sufficient for William to be discharged.


To counter the starvation threatening the Colony Governor Phillip transferred as many convicts as possible in Sirius and Supply.  Early on Saturday 6 March 1790 the ships departed for the sub-colony on Norfolk Island where Philip Gidley King was Lieutenant-Governor.  Among the convicts on board was William Boggis.  By 13 March 1790 the Captains sighted the island but, because of inclement weather, moved the ships round to the more sheltered Cascade Bay, where all convicts were disembarked by 17 March.


Gales then forced the ships to retreat to safety several miles off shore until the flag at Kingston signaled the all-clear to land.  Unloading commenced and by mid morning the Supply was unloaded.   The Sirius then moved in and the crew loaded boats with cargo and the oarsmen rowed to shore.  A strong riptide and blustery winds suddenly threatened the ship; Captain Hunter maneuvered frantically but the Sirius was driven stern-first on the jagged reef.  All accessible provisions were removed from the hold and secured to the gundeck for discharge onto the tenders; provisions were hauled along a hawser; casks, bedding, sea chests, boxes and anything salvageable were jettisoned to float across the reef ahead of the heavy surf.  Unloading continued until 28 March when a huge swell threatened to break up the ship.  All available convicts, including Boggis, were kept busy gathering the flotsam that littered the beach, spreading it out in the warm sun and transferring the dried goods to the Store Yard.


Among the orders from Governor Phillip delivered to Lieutenant-Governor King was his recall to Sydney in order to carry reports to England with a desperate plea for urgent dispatch of store ships.  Phillip appointed Major Ross as Lieutenant-Governor during King’s absence. 


Unknown to Phillip, drought had struck Norfolk Island.  With the population increased to 498, they had only enough provisions for 14 weeks, even at half rations.  Ross imposed severe food rationing; anyone caught stealing food would be sentenced to death.  Salvation came with the arrival of the migratory “mutton birds” that nested on Mount Pitt.  Late each afternoon a large party went up the mountainside to collect eggs and capture the birds as they returned to their nesting burrows. 



Three hungry months dragged by in Sydney before the flag at South Head was raised signaling the arrival of a ship – it was the Lady Juliana – not the long-awaited storeship, but a transport of female prisoners.  A convict disembarking from the Lady Juliana on 11 June 1790 was Elizabeth Smith.  She had been tried at Old Bailey Sessions, Middlesex Assizes on 11 July 1787 and sentenced to 7 years transportation for the theft of a watch, a pair of stone knee buckles, a silk handkerchief and a crown piece.  Elizabeth Smith was held in Newgate Gaol until 12 March 1789 when she boarded the Lady Juliana in irons, riveted not locked – her age was recorded as 39.


On 20 June the Justinian sailed into Sydney laden entirely with provisions and everyone went on full rations.  Six days later the first of the Second Fleet ships, Surprize, entered the harbour, only days ahead of the Neptune and Scarborough.  Many prisoners were either ill, had died of starvation, ill-treatment or disease. The sudden increased populous brought an urgent need of housing so Phillip ordered the transfer of most of the women convicts from the Lady Juliana onto the Surprize.  Elizabeth Smith was one of 157 women and 37 male convicts who sailed on 1 August 1790 for Norfolk Island.  


Within a month William Boggis and Elizabeth Smith were working in close proximity, he with the convicts clearing ground and planting Indian corn, while she was among the women who were pulling up the blight-stricken corn and replanting, or picking off  plagues of caterpillars, digging and carting potatoes, or establishing the flax business.


When his 7 year term expired in March 1791 Boggis had been given a 10 acre grant of land overlooking Ball’s Bay.  It was a difficult block as only 2 acres were level, a small portion of which was cleared, but with the benefit of a road kept in good repair for emergency boat landings.  By 1 July 1791 he had two acres and 120 rods cleared for cultivation and had been given a piglet to rear. 


Elizabeth Smith was assigned to housekeep and work for William.  A daughter to born to them on 3 February 1792 also named Elizabeth.  By October 1793 they had cultivated seven acres, of which only four ploughed easily.  The remaining three acres were steep and suitable only for animal forage.  By 2 November that year the family was “independent of Government Stores for animal food.” 


Lieutenant King returned to Norfolk Island in November 1791 to be reinstated as Lieutenant-Governor.  William was one of a group of settlers who made recommendations to King concerning prices for their produce, the nature of fines and the means of increasing production; also on 29 September 1793 William was 38th of 90 signatories to a resolution regarding de facto relationships of a year or more which held that, on the death of a male member, the woman was to be considered a widow and entitled to benefit from a settlers’ fund – they recommended that widows of settlers should receive aid in the form of payment of fares to Europe or America. 


Lieutenant-Governor King was a benign and thoughtful leader.  He provided a school to educate children and train them to be useful citizens and founded an orphan school for the protection of young girls who had lost or been neglected by their parents.  Late in 1795 King became dangerously ill, recovering sufficiently to return to Sydney and thence to England to regain his health.  Administration of the Island was left under the command of Lieutenant-Governor Foveaux and officers of the New South Wales Corps.


The second Governor of NSW, Captain John Hunter, confirmed William’s land grant on 31 December 1796 and from that date William had to pay a high annual quit rent of 10 shillings, probably because he was among a list of settlers who indicated having enough credit to leave the Island. 


In the summer of 1797-8 the wheat crop failed and the community relied on crops stored from previous years.  Because of food shortages Elizabeth and her child were back “on stores” and dependent on the Government.   Drought gripped the Island again in 1799; the maize crop failed; the flocks of mutton birds had been decimated and did not return on their annual migration.  Ill health plagued the population.   


Prosperity dissipated and hence the depressed state of life on the Island convincing William that he should pay for a passage to Sydney on one of the government vessels that visited the Island.  In 1794, William’s previous occupation is recorded as “Sailor” (3) so once back in Sydney, he may have joined the crews of British and American whaling ships that intermittently used Port Jackson as a depot and called at the Island for wood, water, and provisions (if they could be spared).  Shipmasters and mates were willing to take on any able-bodied man as an extra hand, without asking questions.  They were not obliged to pay wages to stowaways and could compel them to work, putting them in irons if they refused or became unruly.


In the “List of Residents of Norfolk Island 1788-1814” (4) William is listed as leaving the Island in October 1796, though the notation indicates “after dated noted”.  Sometime between the years of 1797 and 1801, William left Norfolk Island, knowing he was leaving his family unprovided for and dependent on the authorities for their survival.  On his desertion William’s farm did not become the property of his abandoned family but reverted to the Government for re-granting to Luke Normington (5) and back-dated to 1796– if the Island records are correct (recordings were sporadic and confusing). Mother and daughter had to leave the farm and, according to government ruling, school-aged daughter, Elizabeth, was now regarded as an orphan and therefore eligible to enter the Island Orphanage.  Her name was not in the island records when they recommenced in 1802, by which time she was a pupil at the Female Orphan School in Sydney.


William is listed with William Hubbard as being back in Sydney and located on “Rented Land on the Northern Boundary”(6).  The last record of William Boggis was in the “Colonial Register of Arms”, which listed him as being in possession of a gun and living at Brickfield Hill in April 1802. Registered guns were issued to capable settlers to supplement Government Stores by hunting the plentiful kangaroos and wallabies that roamed the outskirts of Sydney.  After this date William disappears without a trace.  


After this date William disappears, but his family lives on through his daughter, Elizabeth.  



By Gillian Doyle, descendant.


Extracts from the book:

Where Honour Guides the Prow by Elisabeth Curtis (deceased) & Gillian Doyle, 1988 ©

Now a rare book, limited copies are available from:

Gillian Doyle               Contact by email:  gdoyle2851@gmail.com




Extra sources:

 (1)  On page 2, Treasury Papers AJCP Reel T1/636 Reel 3550 – an account of expenses in conducting convicts from Woolwich to Portsmouth by Townsend & Sing.

Web:  http://www.heavenandhelltogether.com/?q=node/247

(2)    Page 535 entry entitled Smith, Elizabeth (c1749-1820), The Second Fleet – Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, by Michael Flynn, reprinted 1993.

(3)  “Previous Occupations of Norfolk Island Residents (as recorded 1794 for 83 People). Page 60, of The Forgotten Generation of Norfolk Island and Van Diemens Land by Reg Wright.

(4)  Page 191 of  Raymond Nobb’s Norfolk Island and its first settlement 1788-1814), based on the references quoted on page 190.  The reference also notes that William was married.

(5) Page 68, Table 7, Proprietors of Allotments at Norfolk Island 1796, Lot 15, 10 acres, occupier Luke Normington, compiled from the sources quoted on the back endpaper of The Forgotten Generation of Norfolk Island and Van Diemens Land, by Reg Wright

(6) Muster of 1800-1802 (List 6: "list of persons" c1801).



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