1791: Elizabeth Pulley and an uneven fourth year.

We left Elizabeth and Anthony last year at Parramatta with exciting news of the arrival of the Dutch snow, Waaksamheyd, with its cargo of flour, rice and salt.

Although the Waaksamheyd’s load of provisions was not quite what it should have been, it supplemented the colony’s better than expected yield of wheat and barley in January, and the colony was able to remain on full rations.  Then in mid January Edward Dodd, the superintendent of convicts at Rose Hill, died.  This was a bitter blow to Phillip who had considered Dodd to be ‘the only person in this settlement equal to that charge’ (i.e. directing the convict’s labour).  According to Judge-Advocate Collins his funeral service was attended by all the free people and convicts at Rose Hill, which would probably have included Elizabeth, Anthony and Robert.

Drought, lack of provisions and Anthony ‘buys’ some shoes

The summer was severe.  There had been no real rain since the previous June and by January the drought was causing difficulties.  In February the temperature soared to over one hundred degrees farenheight (c. 38°C).  There was a bat infestation at Sydney Cove/Warrane and at Rose Hill birds and bats were seen to drop out of trees, or in mid-flight, dying in the heat.  The scrub fires lit by the local Dharug people made the heat oppressive.  The smaller streams around Rose Hill and Sydney Cove/Warrane dried up, although the brook and spring at Rose Hill maintained enough water to supply the settlement there. 

Once again the local Indigenous people were starving and began to attack settlers for food.  The settlement retaliated and a local Indigenous man, who was well-known, was shot and later died. 

The convicts were looking tired and half-starved.  Their stealing of provisions and the ripening Indian corn and vegetables, especially at Rose Hill, became more frequent.  By March when Anthony was charged with possession of stolen shoes, the severity of punishment had increased to iron collars of seven pounds, linked together with chains.  Fortunately Anthony only received twenty-five lashes as he claimed to have bought the shoes from a friend and theft could not be proven. 

April saw a return to reduced rations and Phillip was determined to encourage as many people as he could to become self-supporting in an attempt to ease the reliance on public stores.  Already in March he had placed three more civilians on their own farms near Rose Hill, just north of the brook, and in April two ex-seamen were settled nearby. 

Land grants begin in earnest

When the first ships of the Third Fleet appeared Phillip went out to Rose Hill in person to hurry the process along.  As the Third Fleet convicts and soldiers of the NSW corps were being landed from their transports in Sydney Cove/Warrane, Phillip was granting tracks of land to convicts whose sentences had expired at Rose Hill, now renamed Parramatta[1].  He placed them in two areas west and north-east of the settlement, (re)named Prospect Hill and The Ponds.  One lot of grants were given in June/July, and a second in August/September.

The Ponds/Dundas Valley

In a way the granting of land was also a delaying tactic as most of the ex-convicts, like the marines, seamen and officers, wanted to return to England. However England did not want the ex-convicts back and pressured Phillip to discourage them.  Those who were now ‘free’ felt they were no longer compelled to work and were beginning to cause problems. 

So Phillip gave the ex-convicts a choice, either continue to labour for the government for provisions as they had been doing, or become settlers.  As settlers they were to work on their own land while receiving provisions and free medical assistance for the first twelve to eighteen months.  If they still wanted to return to England after that time they would get no assistance from the government and would have to negotiate their return passage directly with the ships masters. [2]  In addition, if they chose not to work on the land they had been given they would lose it.

Mary is born

John Summers, a friend and workmate of Anthony, was offered and accepted a grant of land at The Ponds.  Anthony, whose sentence was not yet completed, continued to labour as a bricklayer at Parramatta where Elizabeth gave birth to their second child.  Mary Rope was baptised at Parramatta on 31st July.  It was also during this month that relations between the local Dharug and other clans and the settlers began to unravel again.

Indigenous-British relations

Interaction between the Aboriginal groups and the British had, by this time, settled down into a cycle of peaceful co-existence followed by individual and small group conflict.  Most of the conflict was caused by the encroachment of settlers on Aboriginal land and food sources and by the convicts continually stealing their equipment.  Indigenous retaliation would usually involve attacking lone convicts in the woods or taking settlement food and stores.  They had also realised that by coming into the settlements and befriending those in authority it would lead to a sharing of food and provisions.  So Aboriginal people became frequent visitors to the towns, treating them as an extension of their home, which, as there had been no Treaty or formal agreement between the two cultures, it was.

At Parramatta a trade of fish for bread and salted meat had been proceeding quite peacefully for some months.  The trade was led by Ballederry, who was well-known and liked by the settlers.  Ballederry sometimes stayed over with Governor Phillip and, along with Colbee, had accompanied some officers on an expedition northwest of Parramatta in April.[3]  However during June some convicts destroyed Ballederry’s canoe.  Although three of the culprits were caught and punished, Ballederry retaliated a few days later by spearing a convict which, of course, was his cultural norm.  As this sort of payback was not acceptable to the English orders went out to arrest or kill him.[4]

Ballederry was now a wanted man and he went into hiding.  The peaceful trade between the two cultures at Parramatta ceased.  Every now and again during the rest of the year Ballederry would send word asking if the Governor was still angry with him.  Then in December he became ill with fever.  The surgeon examined him, Phillip invited him to go to the hospital for treatment, and their former friendship was resumed.[5]

In spite of singular incidents like these settler-Indigenous interaction seemed to continue as an uneasy truce.  For example, at Sydney Cove/Warrane in August a large group of First Peoples called in and stayed overnight on the way to and from a ceremony at Botany Bay/Kamay.  In the same month Bennelong’s wife arrived to birth her baby.  Others would come in and stay overnight, or for food, or to visit the hospital for assistance.  There are also records of some deciding to accompany their English friends to Norfolk Island during this period, and of English being lost in the woods and being escorted back by some of the local Indigenous people.

At Parramatta the unease was fuelled by the establishment of the satellite farms. In July a large group of the Aboriginal clans had appeared at Prospect Hill and after being fired on set fire to a hut.  Phillip responded by sending a small troop of soldiers to guard this outlying post, and another to the Ponds.  His original idea had been to establish equal blocks of crown land in between each settler, but now he could see it was a mistake.  He began to offer the crown land to other convicts, and encouraged them to clear it as quickly as possible. 

Perhaps Elizabeth and Anthony, whose term was near its end, were among those who profited by this decision for by the end of the year the family was settled at the Ponds.  Yet Anthony was still not considered ‘free’ and probably continued to work as a bricklayer in town.  If so in October he would have gathered with all the other convicts as part of the general muster to welcome Barrington, the new superintendent.  He would also have been later visited by him at the brickworks.  During leisure hours Anthony, as were others in a similar situation, was under instruction to cultivate his own land and by December they had one acre under cultivation, probably of maize or corn.


Meanwhile the push to find alternative settlement sites continued, further motivated by the long drought, which meant that the identification of alternative fresh water sources was a priority[6] . Expeditions recommenced from Parramatta.  One expedition revisited northwest, confirming that the Nepean and Hawkesbury/Dyarubbin was the one river and finally breaking through to the mountains in the west. 

Another expedition moved south from Parramatta, and along the Georges River which was shared by many clans north, south, east and west along the river.  Bays to the south of Sydney Cove/Warrane, in Dharawal-Dhurga country and which were (re)named Jervis Bay and Matilda Bay, were discovered by some of ships of the Third Fleet.  These ships were whalers and as soon as their human cargo had landed they made good use of the bays as anchorage points from which to track and fish the whales.  Their hunts were not as successful as they had hoped, but Phillip saw the potential for a future industry and wrote to England with the news.

abscondments continue

At the end of March a group of convicts, some of whose terms had expired, had absconded at night in a boat well-stocked with food, provisions and tools.  It was led by the Governor’s fisherman and had been planned over many months.[7]  The Governor immediately placed size limits on the boats being built and carefully monitored all night work.

Then in November a group of twenty male Irish convicts and one female, who had arrived on the Third Fleet, absconded from Parramatta into the woods heading for China.  Gradually they were found lost and starving and were brought back, only to abscond again almost immediately.  Phillip once again gathered all the new arrivals together and warned them they would be shot in future and would suffer instant death for robbing the stores, as he had heard of their plot to do so.  Yet by December thirty-eight convict men were missing in the woods and plundering the stores at night.  There was even a report of two men assaulting another man on the newly completed Parramatta Road.  And the stealing of boats continued spasmodically.

departure of Third Fleet ships

During the last months of the year the Third Fleet began to depart with those ex-convicts, officers and marines who had elected to return to England.  The departees included Major Ross, and Lt. Clark who had both returned from their duty in Norfolk Island, and Captain Watkins Tench, whose journal is an invaluable resource.  All had arrived with the First Fleet and, like many others who still had to remain, were suffering the effects of the long absence from home and the deprivations experienced since arrival.

Not many were sorry to see Ross go.  As Judge-Advocate Collins wrote, ‘It is the Prayer of every one in this Colony, that he may not stay two Days in it, when he returns’ (ie. from Norfolk).  Nevertheless Ross still managed to engage in a duel during the week before departure.  Lt. Clark, Elizabeth’s ‘foe’ on the Friendship, had acquired a lover, Mary Branham, with whom he had a daughter, Ann Alicia, while at Norfolk Island. Mary, Ann and another of Mary’s children arrived in Sydney with him and apparently accompanied him back to England.[8]

life goes on

The Third Fleet’s departure left a gap.  The Fleet’s arrival from July to October had offered many diversions.  People living at Sydney Cove/Warrane would go to the shore to greet the ships and to inquire after friends and news from home.  Others would sort through the luxury goods the ship masters had brought with them for sale at the usual inflated prices. A few from the Aboriginal community would wander down to watch. 

Newcomers, such as Mr. and Mrs McArthur, Superintendent Barrington, Rev. James Bain, chaplain of the NSW corps, as well as officer’s wives, would be entertained at dinners, picnics and excursions along the river, or at Parramatta.  By mid December all the ships had gone, including the Supply from the First Fleet and, as Judge-Advocate Collins wrote, everything settled ‘back to a dull uniformity’.

Rations had been reduced again in December making it a lean Christmas.  So a gift of a pound of flour was given to each woman, which Elizabeth would no doubt have appreciated.  The season was also celebrated with a divine service at Parramatta, probably where a temporary shelter had been built for that purpose, and the robbing of the marine store of twenty-two gallons of spirits at night[9]

Then on the last day of the year convicts gathered in front of Government House Parramatta to protest the reduction in rationing and the daily, rather than weekly, distribution of food.[10]  The protest was led by the newly arrived convicts from Irish gaols.[11]  As Judge-Advocate Collins wrote, there was a ‘spirit of resistance and villainy lately imported by the newcomers’.

© A. Maie, 2021

[1] Phillip had renamed Rose Hill, Parramatta as part of the Kings Birthday celebrations on 4th June.  Parramatta was the name the local Aboriginal people gave to the area, thought to mean ‘the place where eels lie down’ or ‘the head of the river’.

[2] England did finally support Phillip’s requests and allowed ex-convicts to return.

[3] The expedition was an unsuccessful attempt to find the junction of the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers (originally called Dyarubbin).  As on previous occasions, Aboriginal People were not comfortable outside their own locale and could not wait to return home.  Although they openly greeted the Bu-ru-be-ton-gal people, who lived around the Hawkesbury/Dyarubbin river and seemed friendly, both groups spoke different dialects and were nervous of each other.  Privately Ballederry described them as ‘enemies’ and in one instance burnt one of their shelters.

[4] The unevenness of British attitudes towards and punishment of other British and First Peoples regarding such infringements has to be noted.  The men who retaliated and killed the local Indigenous man do not seem to have been hunted down.

[5] In spite of Phillip’s friendship with and respect for, many of the First Peoples, he was under pressure from England to procure ‘specimens’.  In a letter which accompanied the many specimens of flora and fauna he sent home in December he wrote of the difficulty of procuring Aboriginal heads as ‘the Natives burn their dead: no European has yet seen the ceremony’.  He was hopeful, however, that Bennilong, who Phillip described as very intelligent, would accompany him in person when he eventually returned home. The practice of collecting human trophies was rife at the time.  From a 21st century perspective it is, or should be, repugnant.  According Aboriginal remains repatriation the practice continued to the late 1940’s with 1990 marking the “year of the first ever repatriation from the UK”.

[6] The tank stream in Sydney Cove/Warrane had gradually silted and the water level was very low.  During 1791 effort was put into clearing, widening and deepening it.  Palings on the bank were erected to keep out the stock and in November stonemasons were ordered to cut tanks out of the rock for reservoirs.

[7] Some were actually seen by one of the officers one year later at the Cape of Good Hope from where they returned to England to face the courts for their abscondment.

[8] So much for the ‘damned whores’ and desperately missing his beloved wife, Alicia, and son.  He did, interestingly, name the baby Ann Alicia after his wife.

[9] Spirits, such as Rum and Porter, were in limited supply for everyone and had always caused problems among the convicts and marines.  A fresh supply had arrived with the Third Fleet but Phillip had stopped it being landed until guards could be put into place to secure it once on shore.

[10] Convicts had been bartering their weekly ration for spirits.  By mid-week they were starving, and began to steal.  So Phillip decided to try and reduce, or control, the problem with daily hand-outs instead.

[11] As usual the newly arrived convicts did not think they should have to work for food; preferring to abscond and/or steal.


Australia Day, Welcome to Country, Loving Country and sand talk.

Australia Day is looming on the horizon again and a feeling of unease is rising, including in someone like me whose ancestors arrived on the First Fleet and who has researched and is very aware of how that arrival impacted on the First Peoples. [1] However I am not the only one who experiences this inner conflict and sense of disconnect.

I recently read Australia Day written by Stan Grant, a well-known journalist who has worked overseas and is of Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi descent.  Yet Stan Grant also has Irish heritage.  In Australia Day he explores and analyses this mix and conflict, “Those of us who identify as Indigenous, as First Peoples, we too grapple with our whiteness”, and what it means in relation to the dating of Australia’s major national celebration. He explores and debates identity politics and mixed ancestry while being confronted by real problems and results of systemic racism and the white gaze. It is a complex and interesting journey, part of which led him, almost by accident in 2015 after writing an article for The Guardian in response to the incessant booing of Adam Goodes over a number of years as well as other instances, to become a public spokesperson for Indigenous rights – The Racism Debate .

I have also recently read Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton, who is a highly respected first Associate Provost at the University of Melbourne with a lifetime of Indigenous rights activism and is a respected advocate and voice for Indigenous Australia.  The subtitle reads “An introduction to our First peoples for young Australians” yet I found it suitable for anyone.  It gives an extensive background to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, the history of colonial impact and growing activism, and some of the current leaders and icons.   It is a great introduction to the usually hidden parts of Australian history and should be in every school and community library.

Then there is Loving Country by Bruce Pascoe and Vicky Shukuroglou.  If ever you want to fall in love with Australia, this is the book to read.  It takes you on a tour around Australia from an Indigenous perspective, resting at places of significance along the way to listen to stories about the land, its First peoples, wildlife and importance.  The stories are beautifully told.  Suggestions are also made of Indigenous tours and guides if there is a desire to know more.  Of course it is impossible to avoid having to confront stories of the destruction which past and current practices are having on these sacred sites, the land itself and the sea, so there is also at times a deep sense of loss.  As Bruce says in relation to landuse since colonization, “Australians have been spending agricultural capital built by Aboriginal land care and that capital is all but gone, as if a wayward child had surrendered the family fortune to gambling and decadence”.  His challenge is that “all this beauty and soul satisfaction has a price” and there is a tax to be paid for our lifestyle. “It seems most Australians realise that the time has come to care for the planet and its history”.

I read Tyson Yunkaporta’s sand talk: How Indigenous Thanking Can Save the World in 2020 when a friend loaned me a copy.  This year I bought my own copy as I realised it was important to reference the book here, and I needed to reread to gain a deeper understanding of the content.  Although I am not yet finished the second read, here is a brief introduction.

Through yarns with ‘diverse peoples’ and his own thoughts and understanding Tyson presents Indigenous patterns of thinking, being and doing as a lens to view and critique contemporary systems.  As he is quick to point out ‘Indigenous’ is used as a catch-all phrase, as it is in the English language, for many diverse peoples all of whom may have fragments and related parts of a larger meta-story, which starts with parts of the interrelated songlines in Australia.  He begins with the challenge of the crisis of our age which is a result of humans thinking that they know better than nature.  The challenge and invitation of the book is for ‘us-two’ to walk and yarn with him and others to gain ‘understandings needed in the co-creation of sustainable systems’ (p.18) and, as I understand it, see what might emerge.

[1] I have explored the unease around and background to Australia Day in more detail in Australia Day: conflicts and alternatives.