William Whiting (Whiteing in indictment) was a convict who arrived in Australia in 1788 on the convict ship Alexander that was part of the First Fleet from England to Australia. This vessel (along with ten others) arrived in Botany Bay from the 18th to the 20th January 1788. All the ships then moved from Botany Bay to Port Jackson, now known as Sydney Harbour, on the 26.1.1788 and it was here that Captain Philip went ashore and raised the English flag proclaiming the land to be part of the colonies of Great Britain. This day is now called ‘Australia Day’. It is highly desirous now that you announce to the world that your ancestors were part of this journey but in the past things were very different as it was considered shameful and nobody spoke of it.


For stealing livestock (a wether sheep) with a value of ten shillings and the goods of a Thomas Pearce, Whiting was arrested on the 16.9.1774 at Almondsbury in Gloucestershire. He was tried, convicted and sentenced to death on the 23.8.1775. In December 1775 he was given a reprieve if he took transportation for seven years and so he boarded the Alexander on the 6.1.1787. For a few years the English government was looking around to settle their convicts elsewhere as their avenue to the colony in the Americas had been closed due and prior to the war in 1776. It was decided in late 1776 that the new land Captain Cook had discovered in 1770, would be a perfect choice so a decision was made to settle and, at the same time, transport the convicts overflowing the gaols to help settle the land by working as unpaid labour.


The First Fleet was the name given to the eleven ships that sailed from Portsmouth England on the 13th May 1787 with about 1,487 people, including 778 convicts (192 women and 586 men), to establish the first European colony in New South Wales. This fleet was led by Captain Arthur Phillip. The ships arrived at Botany Bay between 18th and 20th January 1788. HMS Supply arrived on 18th January, Alexander, Scarborough and Friendship on 19th January and the remaining ships the 20th January.


The exact number of people directly associated with the First Fleet will likely never be established as all accounts of the event vary slightly. A total of 1,420 people has been identified as embarking on the First Fleet in 1787 and 1,373 are believed to have landed at Sydney Cove in January 1788.


While the names of all crew members of Sirius and Supply are known, the six transports and three store ships may have carried as many as 110 more seamen than have been identified – no complete musters have survived for these ships. The total number of persons embarking on the First Fleet could, therefore, be approximately 1,530 with about 1,483 reaching Sydney Cove so the additional 100 people are constant.


Conditions on the journey varied with the weather and the latitude. With fine weather the convicts were allowed on deck and on 3rd June 1787 the fleet anchored at Santa Cruz at Tenerife. Here fresh water, vegetables, fruit and meat were taken on board for all concerned to make sure no scurvy became present. Phillip and the chief officers were entertained by the local governor, while one convict tried unsuccessfully to escape.


 The weather became increasingly hot and humid as the fleet sailed through the tropics. Vermin, such as rats, parasites, bedbugs, lice, cockroaches and fleas, tormented the convicts, officers and marines. Bilges became foul and the smell, especially below the closed hatches, was over-powering. On the Alexander several convicts fell sick and died. Tropical rainstorms meant that the convicts could not exercise on deck, and were kept below in the foul, cramped holds. On the female transports, promiscuity between the convicts and the crew and marines was rampant. In the doldrums, Phillip was forced to ration the water to three pints a day.


On 10th June they set sail to cross the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro, taking advantage of favourable trade winds and ocean currents, but this still took eight weeks. This was followed by a five and a half week voyage to the Cape of Good Hope – their last link with home.  On 12.11.1787 the Fleet set sail for Botany Bay which took nearly twelve  weeks to be completed.


There had been significant issues with the ship even before the Fleet sailed, and there was not a name more suited to an all-male convict transport vessel than the Alexander.  Built at Hull in 1783 with three masts and two decks with a quarter deck but no galleries or figure-head it was the largest transport vessel in the fleet. The Alexander was owned by Southwark master mariner William Walton whose company Walton & Co, decided there was money to be made transporting convicts to Botany Bay.  The transport was fitted out at Deptford under the supervision, firstly of Captain Stephen Teer, the Agent for Transports in the Thames, and later, of Lieutenant John Shortland, who on returning with troops from Halifax, was appointed naval agent in the First Fleet.  The first of the 192 male convicts who had been sent from the prison hulks at Woolwich moved to the Alexander on 6th January 1787. William Whiting was one of those prisoners.


William Bradley noted in his journal on the 4th January, orders were received at Woolwich for the convicts to be embarked on the Alexander but some of the convicts were in such a deplorable situation from disease they could not be received. In February 1787 Alexander came to anchor on the Mother Bank


With sickness aboard, all hands were employed washing and smoking the vessel between decks. They removed the convicts, whitewashed the ship before reloading the convicts but deaths still occurred before sailing.   During the voyage to Botany Bay sickness and mortality rates aboard the Alexander were the highest among the transports.


The Principal Surgeon of the new colony was John White, who had received his first warrant in the navy in 1780, and had charge of the medical arrangements during the voyage.  He embarked in the Charlotte and one of his three assistants, William Balmain, embarked in the Alexander, with the ship’s Master, Duncan Sinclair. 


The Agent for the Botany Bay transports John Shortland, arrived on board with his son, 2nd Mate Thomas George Shortland, and theother Shortland son John was 2nd Mate aboard Friendship. John snr and Thomas George returned to England on the outward voyage of Alexander.


The Log book of the Alexander shows the final days of their long voyage and on the 24th January 1788, it said: Two ships appeared in the offing with French colours that endeavoured to beat us into the bay, but could not. With the discovery of Sydney Cove as the preferred site for the new settlement, the entire fleet departed Botany Bay for Port Jackson.


Records confirm that William Whiting was on the Alexander and after he arrived in Sydney he went to work on the land to assist in commencing this convict settlement. At the time of this happening he was twenty-eight years of age and must have been wondering what in the world had made him steal a sheep to deserve all this!


We have already discussed how William came to Australia so we can now go back to his roots for a short while. William Whiting was born in Almondsbury Gloucestershire England C1760. As far as can be ascertained, his father was a Stephen Thomas Whiting (11.6.1725-4.4.1790) and his mother Sarah with no further information available. Stephen Whiting was born in Avening also in Gloucestershire. It can be established that William had a sister named Mary who married a James Speck on 26.12.1774. Stephen Whiting’s parents were John (1674) and Mary (1681) Whiting (nee Sanders) both born in Avening.

   For the first two years after his arrival at Sydney Cove William’s job was serving salt provisions from the stores. However, on the 29th December 1788 he was charged (with three others) for being up late and disturbing the peace and lost three weeks flour ration as punishment. There are no further records of his misbehaving before he was released in 1790.


When he left England for Australia he was serving a sentence of seven years of which he had already served three. The actual date of his release is unknown but we do know he was given permission to marry Mary Williams on the 28th June 1790. At the time convicts and ex-convicts were encouraged to marry and have children to increase the population of the settlement. The marriage took place at the original wattle and daub St Phillip’s Church, officiated by Chaplain Richard Johnson.


Mary Williams, also a First Fleeter, had arrived on the Lady Penrhyn and was some twenty years older than William. A needleworker and a native of Middlesex, she had been transported for seven years after an Old Bailey trial for stealing clothing to the value of twenty shillings. There were no children born to the couple. Mary Whiting’s burial is registered both at St Philip’s and at St John’s Parramatta as having taken place on 13 July 1801. Some researchers believe that her remains were interred in the Old Sydney Burial Ground.


By 12 May 1792 Whiting had settled on fifty acres at the Northern Boundary Farms and the grant was dated 10.7.1792.


By 1795 he and Mary Williams had parted ways and he was living with a Mary Smith with whom he had two daughters, Jane and Sarah. Mary Smith, also a convict, had arrived in the colony onboard the Pitt on 14 February 1792. No marriage is recorded for the couple.


By mid-1800 he was still on his grant with a woman and child, presumably Mary and Jane. Jane had been born in 1796 and Sarah two years later. Sarah lived just less than a year and is buried at Parramatta where a headstone records her passing. By then Whiting owned ten hogs and had sown twenty acres in wheat with eight more ready for planting maize.


In 1803 this land availability had nearly doubled in sowing for wheat and maize, assisted at the time by one free servant who was self-supporting.


On the 13 April 1805 he leased his land to a Samuel Hadlam(Haslam?) for two years at twelve pound a year.


By mid 1805 he was a self-employed Butcher, his licence having been granted to him on the 28.10.1804 (Sydney Gazette). He continued in this trade until his death on the 8th March 1808, the latter recorded at St Philips Church in Sydney where he is buried in the grounds of that church.


What we have then is a young man who, although apparently coming from a decent family, decided at around twenty-five years of age to steal one sheep and a few belongings of another man and ended up being sentenced to death, served some time in England and then given a reprieve and transported


As indicated above, when William Whiting died in 1808 in Parramatta Sydney he was not an old man, just forty-eight years of age. He left one de facto wife (Mary Smith) and a twelve year old daughter (Jane). There is no confirming death certificate for Mary but it is believed she died in 1810 or 1811 which would leave her daughter Jane all by herself at the age of fifteen or just under. It is through Jane and her marriage to Thomas Barrett in 1811 that the family line of descendant members of William Whiting can be traced.


[ED Note: This article has been researched and presented by #8469.1 Roddy Jordan on behalf of his wife Christine, descendant of FF William Whiting].




Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters