BORN ON NORFOLK ISLAND
With Arthur Phillip’s instructions to found a colony in New South Wales were orders to also settle Norfolk Island as soon as possible. Consequently on 15 February 1788, less than a month after arriving in Botany Bay, Phillip sent a party of 23 led by Lt King to island in the little ship Supply. Among 9 male convicts in these first settlers were John Mortimer, his son Noah and son-in-law Edward Westlake. Noah, his father John and his brother-in-law Edward Westlake were indicted in Exeter for sheep stealing in 1786. (Edward Westlake was the husband of Elizabeth Mortimer.) They had been transported on the Charlotte as part of the First Fleet. John Mortimer was baptised in Chagford, Devon in February 1733. He married and had several children. When convicted Noah was 28, married to Ann, and had two sons, Thomas 6, and Edward 4. In 1789 he got permission for them to join him in Australia but they did not take up the offer (Schaffer). Although Edward Westlake had a good reputation as a hard working farmer Noah ‘continued to be one of the more notorious thieves’ on the Island. Also among the convicts were Nathaniel Lucas, and the woman he would later marry Olivia Gascoigne, and John Rice who had been convicted with Susannah Mortimer.
When the party landed there was no cleared land yet soon trees had been cleared crops planted and a supply of fish organised. The rigours experienced can be imagined yet when King left two years later a thriving colony had been established and Philip sent a detachment of Marines and another 120 male and 70 female convicts to expand this valuable source of food for Sydney. The Sirius, that carried the new settlers was wrecked before all their supplies could be unloaded and the new arrivals were forced to camp near the beach. Among the new arrivals were Frances Williams John Cropper, Mary Cottle and Mary Tuck.
Frances Williams was born in Wibnant, Whitford Parish, in Flintshire, Wales about 1762. [She may have been the daughter of Morgan Williams and Dorothy Wright who was born in Hawarden, about 6 miles from Mold)] Frances first appeared before the courts in 1783 in Mold accused of stealing clothing and cloth valued at 1 pound 17 shillings and 5 pence belonging to Moses Griffith a painter of Whitford. Apprehended by the ferry at Parkgate in County Chester, Frances was found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to 7 years transportation. She languished in the Flint Goal until ordered to the Prince of Wales docked at Portsmouth. It was a 334 ton transport, one of the six convict transports to sail in 1787 as part of the First Fleet bound for Botany Bay. In May the eleven vessels set sail down the channel bound for the new colony. Their voyage took nearly 8 months
Christine Williams describes the circumstances
Frances stole from Moses Griffith who was employed as artist by Thomas Pennant the Lord of the Manor (and writer, antiquary, traveller, etc etc). Info on both on Digital Mirror at National Library of Wales. Thomas Pennant of course was also the local magistrate and sent her to Flint Gaol to await trial.
At the time of the burglary Frances seems to have been living in Liverpool. She came over by boat from Parkgate to Flint and then via Holywell she made her way home to Wibnant where she told Pennant she was born and sometimes lived. She was accused of breaking into the house of Moses Griffith on the night of 1 to 2 August 1783.
Moses Griffiths, artist, was employed by Thomas Pennant, lord of the manor, (Bychton was his estate at Whitford) as one of the illustrators of his many books. He was a naturalist and antiquary and wrote about travel and local history. Griffiths's illustrations from Pennant's "History of the Parish of Whiteford and Holywell" can be seen via NLW website www.llgc.org.uk. That and Pennant's 'Tour in Wales" can be read via www.archive.org. Also on the Great Sessions databases at NLW you can find the record of Frances's trial, but no detail.
She was accused of breaking a window to gain entry to the house, and of stealing a lot of clothing, linen, some crockery and a plate of butter. The list is very long. When the burglary was discovered the next morning it was reported to Thomas Pennant as employer, estate owner and, of course, Justice of the Peace. Pennant sent his butler after the burglar. He went to Bagillt and from there to Parkgate. He checked all the boats and on the third one which came over the River Dee (Frances would probably have had to walk while he had horsepower from Pennant, I imagine) he found Frances, wearing some of the stolen goods and with the rest in a bundle at her feet. He took her back to Pennant.
In the meantime one of the servants had found a hat in a meadow - Dole Bychton (sic). Frances, while in Holywell the day before, had met an acquaintance from Wibnant. This woman made a deposition before Pennant swearing that the hat found in the meadow had been worn by Frances when she saw her. The butler was another deponent, as were the Griffithses and servants. Frances was sent to Flint Gaol to await the next Great Sessions at Mold. According to "Old Flint" by John A. Timothy this would have been the House of Correction in Church Street, probably built in the 16th century, he says, where conditions were appalling.
Frances was tried at the next Flintshire Great Sessions at Mold in September. Thomas Pennant appears on the list of the 13 Justices of the Peace who formed the Grand Jury there. She pleaded not guilty, but was found guilty. "Judgement that she be taken to a Place of Execution and there be hanged by the neck untill she be dead." She was taken back to gaol to await execution. Prisons then were not designed for long-term stays and conditons were very poor - so bad that the JPs at that Great Sessions wrote a letter stating: "that the same now is in a very ruinous state, very insufficient, inconvenient and too small for the Prisoners confined therein and that the same ought forthwith to be repaired enlarged and made commodious and that the Inhabitants of the County of Flint having immemorially from time to time repaired the ???(same?) ought now to repair amend and enlarge the same." (NLW)
She spent three and a half years in Flint Gaol. Up until August 1784 at least she remained under sentence of death. At that time she was pardoned "on Condition of being Transported beyond the Seas for Seven Years" (NLW) which in practice meant life. In March 1787 she was taken from Flint to Portsmouth, in irons, escorted by two men. In April she left on the "Prince of Wales" (!) as part of the First Fleet. I believe she was one of only two women from Wales on that first fleet, and certainly the only one from North Wales.
On the ship she formed a relationship with a marine, Private Robert Ryan, and soon after arriving in New South Wales their daughter Sarah was born. Smee says this was in 1789. Ryan was born in Armagh in 1756 or 1757 was 5 feet 5 inches tall with gray eyes and a swarthy complexion. He was illiterate.
The social mores of Norfolk Island were established as soon as the pioneers arrives.
“The Commandant lost no time in taking to himself a mistress, choosing an ex-dressmaker named Ann Inett who, for stealing a few clothes, had been sentenced to death by hanging, but reprieved and given seven years transportation. Encouraged by King's example, Edward Garth, a young man who had also had his death sentence reprieved, paired off with Susannah Gough, an ex-prostitute, while Nathaniel Lucas, a carpenter, settled down with 25-years-old Olivia Gasgoin whose crime was rather more serious than the others - `stealing with force and arms'. In a very short time, all three ladies were pregnant and a new generation was beginning, a people whose origins were in the South Pacific.
On the 8th of January, 1789, Ann Inett presented Commandant King with the settlement's first child, which he proudly named ‘Norfolk’.”
This pattern of informal liaisons important part to play in the story of Frances Williams and her children. Frances, Robert Ryan and Sarah were a family. A party of Marines were guards on the Sirius and it seems likely that Robert Ryan was one of them. As Sarah Ryan was then still a baby Frances would have brought her to the Island.
Robert Ryan was discharged from the Marines in January 1792, and with a grant of 60 acres at Queenborough and became a settler. Frances’ second child was Elizabeth probably born in 1791. However Smee records her birth on Norfolk Island in July 1794.
In 1794 Ryan was supporting Frances and two children - presumably Sarah and Elizabeth. However on 20 August 1793 Frances had given birth to another girl, Jane. She may have been one of the two.
In 1794 Ryan decided to give up farming and re-enlst in the Army. The sentences of Frances and John Cropper expired. The Ryan family and John Cropper boarded the Daedalus to return to Sydney. Copper intended to return to England but his plans were thwarted by another shipwreck. He returned to the Island in January 1796.
Robert Ryan returned to the Island on HMS Supply with his 102nd Regiment (formerly the NSW Corps) in either October 1795 or March 1796. He was accompanied by Frances Williams and their three children. Their last child, James was born on 10 December 1796.
By 1799 Ryan had been transferred to Port Jackson and served in John McArthur. In 1800 his service was recognised by with a grant of 120 acres on the north shore of Sydney Harbour now known as Kiribilli.
One source says Robert Ryan gave up farming and returned to Sydney where he re-enlisted, this time in the NSW Corps. He returned to the Island with his Regiment in 1795 and stayed there until 1804. Another says Ryan left around 1800. and was granted a substantial acreage of waterfront land at Kirribilli. Almost immediately he sold at least some of the land to Charles Grimes and by 1802 was back on Norfolk Island for about two years.
Frances Williams seems to have died on Norfolk Island about 1801;(Gillen) her children were then 12 (Sarah), 10 (Elizabeth), 8 (Jane) and James 5. The children were orphans, (certainly after Ryan left in 1804) but the Island community was close and foster parents were apparently readily found. [Sarah and Elizabeth apparently went to Sydney about this time possibly with their father.]
Smee says Sarah and Elizabeth were in Sydney in 1807.
Frances Williams and John Cropper had arrived together on the Sirius and when their sentences were completed returned to Sydney together on 6 November 1794 on the Daedalus. Cropper planned to return to England but Frances apparently stayed for a while arriving back on Norfolk Island on the Supply on 3 April 1796. Elizabeth was probably then 5 but may have been only 3 months old. As Elizabeth is not on a later muster perhaps Frances took her baby back to Sydney on the Daedalus. and left her there. Or maybe Elizabeth went to Sydney with Robert Ryan. Although Frances also spent some time back in Sydney she also returned to the Island and she had two more children, Jane, born 20 August 1793 and James born 10 December 1796. The social arrangements referred to earlier make it difficult to be certain who was the father of these two.
Robert Ryan’s unit of 102nd Regiment, his unit was commanded by the notorious Anthony Fenn-Kemp. On 12 May 1810 Fenn-Kemp boarded HMS Domedary with Col. Patterson and Private Ryan to return to England for the court martial of their commanding officer over the Rum Rebellion against William Bligh. On 4 September in the following year he was judged to be 'being worn out & unfit for further service' and discharged at the Richmond Barracks on Guernsey after 30 years service. His reward was 28 days pay ‘to carry him home.’ That suggests he may have died in Armagh.
John Cropper and his wife the former Mary Tuck, ex Lady Juliana cared for Jane. By 1796 he had also returned to the Island from Sydney and bought 10 acres of land. He was associated with the Orphan School and arranged for Frances’ children to be baptised in 1804. Jane, then 11, was afterwards known as Jane Cropper and John Cropper was recorded as her father.
When James was baptised on the same day as his sister no father was recorded. But after Robert Ryan left Noah Mortimer seems to have been accepted as James’ father.
The British Government’s decision in 1807 to close the settlement on Norfolk Island and evacuate the settlers forced further changes in the life of Frances Williams’ children. In all 554 adults and children descended upon Governor David Collins’ fledgling settlement in Tasmania.