William and his partner in crime Joseph Robinson were arrested and tried in Kingston-upon-Hull in 7th October 1784.


They stole 2 pairs of trousers, 1 pair of red leather boots, 3 blue and white shirts, and six bottles of brandy. Further research has found the following further items to be added to the list, one canvas bag, two pairs of yarn stockings, one pair of worsted stockings, 3 empty glass bottles and 4 books.


The four books were, The Seamans Complete Daily Assistant by John Hamilton-Moor, Complete Treastise of Practical Navigation by Archibald Patoun, New Pocket Companion for Oxford a Guide through the University, and a Common Pray Book and were the property of Joseph Mitchinson.(1)

They were also accused of stealing two jackets, one pair of drawers, one pair of trousers and a knife the goods of Morris Wall.(2) One pair of boots the goods of James Walker and a brown jacket the goods of Thomas Topping. All of these men were sailors.


According to Mollie Gillen, the goods had also passed through the hands of two other sailors James Walker and Thomas Topping but they were not charged as they had left the port escaping out to sea.

Further research found in court documents, showed that James Walker was to have appeared as a prosecuting witness.(3) He did not appear and forfeited his 20 pound surety.


Two letters were written for clemency, one by William Chaytor, Member of Parliament of North Yorkshire to Lord Sydney (5). He stated that he was writing on the persuasion of his constituents in Hedon (Williams family), that William was born to the sea and Captain Taylor being of good character would employ him for the term of his sentence. (7) William Chaytor also states in his letter of clemency that William claimed that two other persons were equally concerned with him in the Felony and that both had escaped(4) As mentioned above.


The letter from Lord Sydney to the Justices of the Peace at Kingston-upon-Hull, who had tried William, asked for an account of the case against William asking how far he may be an object of the Royal Mercy.(6) An answer was not forthcoming. A third letter by Mayor Etherington of Hull was against mercy and proclaims him to be a man of general bad character (9). (This I would like to research further.)

Williams sentence of transportation beyond the seas for 7 years was upheld.



William was immediately sent to Hull Gaol and from there he was transferred by order of King George III and carried out by Lord Sydney to the Hulk, Ceres, on the 15th April,1785. (11)


On the 7th of December 1786 an order was sent that a list be made of all convicts imprisoned on any of the hulks be sent to the Commissioner with names, crime and date of conviction. (8)


William was transferred to the Alexander on 6th January 1787 and sailed for Botany Bay on the 13th May 1787 arriving in January 1788. Perhaps he would have helped unload the ships and erect tents.


In October 1788 he left for Norfolk Island on the Golden Grove. Here he had an uneasy time, bucking the system. He received three dozen lashes for absenting himself from the settlement without permission.


On March 22nd 1790 he volunteered to swim out to the wreck of the Sirius and jettison livestock and stores but he and his fellow volunteer found casks of rum and decided to help themselves to as much as they could, before being found, and whether purposely or by accident set two fires on the deck. James Arscott of the NSW Corp swam out and persuaded them to come ashore, and for his trouble William received six weeks in the guard house with further time in irons within his own hut.


On the 15th May 1791 he was in strife again after stealing potatoes from gardens with Charles McLaughlin and Henry Barnet and for this they were sent to Nepean Island for 6 weeks with 2 weeks rations.


Captain Clark of the NSW Corp called William the greatest rascal living. He must have been a very strong character as Mollie Gillen states `all three were brought back in June, and one very ill, Dring remained under confinement.

By the end of 1792 William seems to have settled down and was selling grain to the stores. It appears he was literate as he was able to sign a receipt for payment of his grain. Being a mariner it is interesting that he had learned to grow food but I suspect this may have been more the doing of Ann Forbes whom he had married in November 1791. A daughter Ann had been born by the end of 1792.


In December 1793 in the words of Phillip Gidley King William had become a well behaved and very useful freeman.

Things changed however, after the arrival of the soldiers of the NSW Corp, who began enticing the women of both convicts and emancipist, away from their men. We must remember that most of the relationships were not love matches but arranged marriages through assignment, this appears to have been the case with Ann and William as they were married in a mass ceremony presided over by Reverend Johnson.

It has been suggested in various books, that some convict men did not regard their marriages within the colony to be legal and binding. There is no evidence however, to suggest that William felt this way as he fought with Charles Windsor, a private of the NSW Corp, over Ann. Ann had been found in the company of Windsor on more than one occasion, between October and December 1793. William was fined 20 shillings for hitting both Ann and Charles.


Phillip Gidley King blamed Charles Windsor and his fellow Corp soldiers, Cardell, Baker and Downey for starting the rebellion on 26th December 1793 and it was after this rebellion that a group of Corp soldiers including Charles Windsor and Downey were court-martialed and returned to Sydney in February 1794.


William, Ann and their two daughters Ann and Elizabeth returned to Sydney Cove on the Daeldus in November 1794. Why they returned is a mystery. Their daughter Ann died in January 1795 and a son Charles born in August 1796 who unfortunately i believed to have died in infancy as there is no 'proof of life' thereafter. It is presumed that William was still in the colony at this time.


Charles Windsor married in 1802 and remained in the Colony until the NSW Corp disbanded in 1810. I have considered as a hypothesis that baby Charles was his son but this assumption is only made on the fact that Ann named him Charles and not William. I wonder if this was the cause of the break down of the marriage.


There is no further information about William after this arrival time. He is presumed to have either died or to have left the colony by 1798.

A growing number of whaling ships were sailing to and from Sydney by 1795. It is possible that he may have joined the crew of one of them.


There is also the death of a William Dring off the Will Watch in 1845. For this to have been him he would have been 78 years old. I believe too old to still be at sea.  There is also another William Dring aged 29 in our Gaol records in 1836.(10)  I have not been able to prove or disprove that this is the William Dring from the Will Watch there is not enough evidence for a conclusion to be made.


This is an ongoing project for me with much work still to be done.


Further Information:- Inlcuded 10th January 2016


After much research and much still to do I have included here a short explanation of the direction my research is taking.


What made William steal when he had a job with a career path, a family with comfortable wealth and position? Was he framed or as he stated persuaded by the sailors who had escaped? So why did he plead guilty? I believe, int eh hope for clemency.  Also the biggest question of all - have we got the correct family.  These are all questions for which I am trying to discover the answers.


We know when he arrived, that he went to Norfolk Island but what we don't know is where his went. This is another task I have set for myself.


My hypothesis is that he escaped the colony in about 1795/6. Maybe the men of the NSW Corps, who had caused him grief on Norfolk Island continued their threats on his life. They may have also been successful in killing him but if not then he found work on one of the many ships coming and going from Sydney Cove.


In 1790/91 Watkin Tench writes in his “Settlement at Port Jackson” chapter 18 ‘Observation on the Convicts’ that “several men whose terms of transportation had expired, and against who no legal impediment existed to prevent their departure have been permitted to enter in merchant ships wanting hands”.


Whilst he disappeared some five of six years later it is a a possible assumption that he may have returned to England. I have found marriages of a William Dring in Yorkshire in 1799 ad 1806. However, William Dring is a very common name at this time in Yorkshire.


There are also many court appearances and acquittals of a William Dring during the 1820's. Of course for the reasons mentioned above these may not be him. There is also the death of a William Dring off the Will Watch in 1845. I have the probate packet of this William Dring. There is no proof that his is our William as there is nothing in the probate packet that confirms it one way or the other.


One thing I do not believe is that William died in the colony. Why, you may ask? Well if the NSW Corp soldiers killed him then there would I believe be mention of it in the Colony documents unless of course they got away with it unnoticed. I also might suggest that his daughter Elizabeth called her son born in 1811 William and I wonder if she had some contact with him.  There has been suggested that there was a death of a William Dring in the colony in 1854 but there are no records to substantiate this.


Why did he leave?   Ann named her son Charles, not William. The NSW Corp soldier who had enticed Ann away whilst on Norfolk Island was Charles Windsor. Yes there is a possibility that he may have been Charles's father but Charles Windsor married in 1802 and then left the Colony in 1810 when the NSW Corp was returned to England. If Charles was his son would he have not married Ann when she became available after William was out of the way? So we can, I believe, safely say that Ann was perhaps a mere dalliance for Charles but she obviously loved him or she would not have named her son after him. I believe that it is possible that William left before or soon after Charles was born.





(1) Hull History Centre Archives No. CQB/60/44

(2) Ibid; CQB/60/45

(3) Ibid; CQB/60/19

(4) Letter of clemency written by William Chaytor Member of Parliament for North Yorkshire, Hull History Centre Archives No CQB/6/52b

(5) Ibid.

(6) Hull History Centre Archives No. CQB/61/52a

(7) Ibid; CQB/6/52b

(8) Ibid; CQB/61/51c

(9) National Archives of the UK Item reference HO 47/5/73

(10) Colonial gaol records - Colonial Secretaries Records.

(11) UK Archives England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935 HO/47


Submitted by Lynne McDonald #7709

Descendant of FF William Dring.

January 2017.



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters