William and Sarah Stubbs, and the Coromandel: remembering, 220 years later

It is 220 years ago today (13 June) since the East India ship Coromandel arrived in the Colony of New South Wales. The ship was captained by Master Alex Stirling and the welfare of all on board was the responsibility of the Ship’s Surgeon, Charles Throsby. The Coromandel had been built in India in 1793 and was owned by Reeve and Green.

In late 1801, the Coromandel was chartered by the Commissioners of Transport in London for the purpose of transporting male convicts, along with a group of free settlers, to the Colony. Also chartered at the same time, for the same purpose, was the ship Perseus, whose Captain was John Davison, with the Ship’s Surgeon being W.S. Fielding.

A painting of the Coromandel

Both ships set out from Portsmouth on 8 February 1802, but it was a false start; after a delay of some days because of the weather, they sailed through the Spithead and into the English Channel on 12 February.

On board the Coromandel were 138 male convicts; 20 civilians provided by the Commissioner to serve as the guards of the prisoners; and a number of free settlers, with their families. On board the Perseus were 114 male convicts; 16 civilians provided by the Commissioner to serve as the guards of the prisoners; and another group of free settlers.

80 of the convicts that sailed on the Coromandel had been held on convict hulks at Gravesend, near the mouth of the River Thames, in terrible conditions. The remainder of the convicted men from various English prisons had been brought to Portsmouth to join the ship.

Six of the free settlers on the Coromandel were married men and with children: James and Jane Davison, with two sons; George Hall and Mary Smith, with one daughter and three sons; John Howe and Frances Ward, with two daughters; Andrew Johnston and Mary Beard, with five sons; William Stubbs and Sarah Wingate, with a son and two daughters; and John Turnbull and Ann Warr, with two sons and two daughters. Also on board were James Mein and his wife Susannah Skene (but without their two children) and Andrew Mein, unmarried.

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During the voyage that they undertook to the Colony, all three Stubbs children, as well as a number of other passengers, contracted scarlet fever. Sadly, both Andrew Mein and the youngest Johnston child, Alexander, died of scarlet fever during the voyage.

These men had decided to accept an offer from the English government, set out in a document of January 1798, which George Hall had acquired while living in London. It reads as follows:

We whose names are undersigned acknowledge that, at our own request, we offered ourselves as settlers to go out to N.S.W. with our families on the following terms:

To have our passage found and our families victualled by the Government during the voyage. On our arrival in the Colony we have a grant of 100 acres of land at Port Jackson, or fifty acres at Norfolk Island.

To be victualled and clothed free from the Public Stores for a term of twelve months after being put in possession of our allotments, and to be allowed the labour of two prisoners maintained by the Government for the same term.

After which term we and our families are to be no further expense to the Crown. Likewise we have the same proportion of stock, such grain and agricultural tools as have been furnished to other settlers, together with such other assistance as the Governor need judge proper to afford us.

Outfit for men: 1 jacket, 1 shirt, pair of trousers, pair of shoes, 1 hat.
ditto for women: 1 Jacket, 1 petticoat, 1 shift, pair shoes, 1 cap, 1 handkerchief, Children as above on stores.

In a character reference for William Stubbs, which he brought with him on the journey, five men who knew him certified that he was “a man of honest deportment, of a quiet and industrious disposition and well affected to the excellent constitution of our country”.

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The Coromandel departed Portsmouth on 8th February 1802 and arrived in Port Jackson on 13 June 1802. It is said that this was the fastest time for this voyage between 1788 and 1819; it is also noteworthy that the Coromandel was the first convict ship to sail direct to Port Jackson without landing anywhere en route. The Perseus did not arrive in Port Jackson until 4 August 1802.

On 9 August 1802, Philip Gidley King, the third Governor of the Colony, wrote to the Transport Commissioners to inform them that:

The healthy state in which the Coromandel and Perseus arrived requires my particularly pointing out the masters of those ships to your notice. It appears by the log books, surgeon’s diaries and the unanimous voice of every person on board those ships of the utmost kindness to the convicts.

King continued with his positive appraisal of these ships’ journeys:

This, with the proper application of the comforts Government had so liberally provided for them and the good state of health all the people were in, induced the master of the Coromandel to proceed without stopping at any port. He arrived here in four months and one day, bringing every person in a state of high health, and fit for immediate labour; and although it appears that the Perseus necessarily stopped at Rio and the Cape, yet the convicts were in as good condition as those on board the Coromandel; nor can I omit the great pleasure felt by myself and the other visiting officers at the grateful thanks expressed by the prisoners and passengers for the kind attention and care they had received from the masters and surgeons.

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After disembarking, William Stubbs took his family to the Hawkesbury River region, about 45 miles northwest of the small settlement known as Sydney. He took up a grant of 100 acres at Crescent Reach. The other freemen and their families also travelled to this area, where they had each been given grants of land in the region known as Portland Head. The land granted to Stubbs was, unbeknownst to him, liable to flooding.

In time, the men from the Coromandel would join with others settled in the region to erect a chapel where they could gather to worship in accordance with their Reformed faith. That church building (erected in 1809) still exists; it lays claim to being the oldest Christian church still standing in Australia, and the first non-conformist church built in the Colony. The name chosen for the church, Ebenezer, means “God is our help”.

Ebenezer Uniting (formerly Presbyterian) Church

See https://www.ebenezerchurch.org.au

But before this, and after the Stubbs family had arrived at their land grant and William had cleared his land and planting crops, the Stubbs farm and home was raided by people of the the local Aboriginal clan four times in 12 months. It is thought, now, that a cave on a neighbouring property was a sacred site for the local Aboriginal people. At the time, this would not have been known by Stubbs or by those granting the land to him.

Relations between blacks and whites at this time, early in the development of the British colony, were, understandably, very tense; after all, the British families had been given grants to settle the area which had been the country of the Dharug people for millennia.

A local history website notes that “The river, which they [the Dharug] called Derrubbin, was a focal point as a source of food, i.e. fish, eels, water birds, and mussels, and transport, in their bark canoes. Yams, a staple food, grew along the banks of the river. On the sandstone platforms they engraved images of animals and mythological figures and in the rock shelters they displayed their ochre and charcoal art. The Hawkesbury was also a source of stones for axes and pebbles for making barbs, points and scrapers.” See http://westernsydneylibraries.nsw.gov.au/hawkesbury/history.html

In the early years of the Colony, in June 1789, Lieutenant Watkin Tench had sailed up the Hawkesbury River with Captain Arthur Phillip. Tench observed that “Natives were found on the banks in several parts, many of whom were labouring under the smallpox”. Smallpox, introduced by the British settlers, would prove to be a major factor in drastically reducing the Aboriginal population; one estimate is that amongst the Dharug people, up to 70% of the population died in the outbreak of 1789. See https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/smallpox-epidemic

An engraving of British officers visiting an Aboriginal woman in 1789
(from the collection of the National Library of Australia)

Another way of disrupting the Aboriginal population came from the settlers erecting houses and building fences on the land granted to them, and planting crops and running animals on their newly-established farms. In this way, British settlers interfered with the traditional lifestyle of the local people—whether unwittingly, or intentionally. And by fencing off part of the land that was so important to the culture and spirituality and lifestyle of the Dharug people, Stubbs and his fellow settlers had confronted the central element of Aboriginal culture: the land. “Aboriginal people feel a belonging to land rather than ownership of it. They respect it and refer to it as their mother.”

See https://www.cumberland.nsw.gov.au/history-and-land

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The scene was set for a conflict, between the longstanding traditional custodians of the land, respecting the land as their Mother, and the newly-arrived colonists, eager to replicate the best of life that they had known in the Mother Country. In this place, as in countless places across the continent, as British colonists settled on the land, they were regarded by those long- present as invaders, taking away the close knit connection between people and country.

It is said that 16 white settlers were murdered by the Dharug people during the early period of white settlement on the land around the Hawkesbury river. The number of Dharug people killed in these battles is not known. Certainly, by April 1805, Governor King had warned that “the natives … have in an unprovoked and inexcusable manner lately committed the most brutal murder on some defenceless settlers”. He instructed that if approached by the indigenous inhabitants, “the settlers are required to assist each other in repelling those visitors”. Relations had become antagonistic and brittle.

The Hawkesbury a river, a drawing by William Bradley
(from his journal A Voyage to New South Wales,
c.1802, Mitchell Library)

It is reported that on 28 May 1805, the Stubbs house was plundered of all its contents by Dharug people. The next day, William crossed the river in a canoe; it capsized, he struggled to swim to the bank, but was unable to do so. His eight-year old son, William, witnessed the drowning.

Because all the food in the house had been taken in the raid on the house, William’s wife, Sarah, had travelled to Parramatta to obtain provisions for the family. On her return, she discovered that she was now a widow with four small children to raise—William, Sarah, and Elizabeth, who were each born in England; and Keturah, who had been born in the Colony at Portland Head, just two months earlier, on 31 March 1804.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of Sunday 2 Jun 1805 reported the sequence of events of these two days in great detail (see the extract below).

Sarah Stubbs was initially dependent on the goodwill and support of friends. With a young family to raise, however, it is no surprise that she soon would marry again. Her second husband was James Painter, a carpenter who had travelled to the Colony on the Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet. They had no children.

Each of Sarah’s children married at St Matthew’s Church of England in Windsor. William and Elizabeth were married on the same day in 1819, and Keturah two years later in 1821. On 12 August 1822, Sarah married Thomas Yarwood, a convict from a Cheshire, who had been transported to the Colony on the Indefatigable in 1814. Elizabeth’s husband, Jeremiah Sullivan, was also a convict, transported from Cork City, Ireland, on the Three Bees in 1814. William and Keturah married children of convicts.

All four Stubbs children had children of their own, producing 33 grandchildren for Sarah, although five died in childhood, and six were born after Sarah’s death in December 1838. Son-in-law Thomas Woods (Yarwood) had died the year before her, in August 1837; it is saidthat he died at the hands of the Dharug clan in yet another raid that ended badly for the freed-convict-became-landholder.

The line of descent from William and Sarah continued through Sarah and Thomas Yarwood, who changed his surname to Woods; then through their son, William James Woods (1833–1915), who married Annie Keenan (1837–1913); their daughter, Ada Sarah Woods (1861–1941), who married William Owen Newbury (1850–1915); and on to their daughter, Mabel Newbury (1901–1998), who married Fred Lowe (1889–1971).

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Descendants of Sarah Stubbs and Thomas Woods (Yarwood)
at the 2015 Stubbs Family Reunion at Ebenezer Church

Information about the annual Stubbs reunion at Ebenezer Church is at https://freepages.rootsweb.com/~stubbs1802/genealogy/

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ACCIDENTAL DEATH.

On Wednesday se’nnight Wm. Stubbs, a settler on the River Hawkesbury, was unfortunately drowned in crossing that river in a canoe ; a second person was accompanying him, and when in about the center the vehicle unexpectedly upset, and the above unfortunate man depending on his ability to swim on shore, advised his companion not to quit the boat, as it would be sure to drift, on the banks. He did so, and saved his life and Mr. Stubbs, after very nearly gaining the shore, unfortunately became entangled among a cluster of reeds, from which unable to extricate himself, it was his fate to perish in the presence of one of his children, who witnessed the melancholy disaster from the bank.

The accident is the more afflicting, as the deceased leaves a widow and large family to deplore his untimely fate ; the circumstances that led to which still heighten the calamity. The house was the day before surrounded by natives, at whose appearance Mrs. Stubbs being excessively alarmed, she fled towards the river side, and would have precipitated herself into the stream, had she not been prevented by assurances from one of the natives that she or her infants should not be harmed.

They afterwards gutted the house of its whole contents, and retreated with the plunder, and as soon as the deceased was made acquainted with what had happened, were closely pursued towards the Mountains, but in vain, as no single article of the property was recovered. As not a requisite to comfort remained to the family, Mrs. Stubbs set out that night for Parramatta, in order to procure a few requisites more immediately wanting ; and during her absence the unfortunate event of her husband’s death took place.

In addition to the lamentable circumstances that tend to multiply embarrassment upon the above unfortunate family, we have feelingly to mention, that within the space of twelve months they have been four times bitterly distressed by hostile natives, who have at either time stripped them of domestic comforts or “swept their fields before them.”

The poor child who sadly witnessed the dying struggles of an unfortunate parent is a fine boy, nearly eight years old; and eldest of four helpless Orphans in the dispensation of the Divine Will left to deplore a father’s loss. For poignant affliction, happy for the unfortunate, Heaven still provides by bestowing its bounties upon some among the many, who by the most delightful application give testimony, that all Mankind are not insensible of what they owe to Providence, and when distress like this presents her claim to sensibility, generously step forward to discharge the debt.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Sunday 2 Jun 1805, Page 2.

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Sources:

https://www.freesettlerorfelon.com/convict_ship_coromandel_1802.htm

https://www.freesettlerorfelon.com/convict_ship_perseus_1802.htm

https://australianroyalty.net.au/tree/purnellmccord.ged/individual/I52434/William-Stubbs

The Story of William Stubbs and Sarah Wingate, a Coromandel 1802 Family (vol. 1)

The Children of William Stubbs and Sarah Wingate, a Coromandel 1802 Family (vol. 2)

Author: John T Squires

My name is John Squires. I live in the Australian Capital Territory. I have been an active participant in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) since it was formed in 1977, and was ordained as a Minister of the Word in this church in 1980. I have served in rural, regional, and urban congregations and as a Presbytery Resource Minister and Intentional Interim Minister. For two decades I taught Biblical Studies at a theological college and most recently I was Director of Education and Formation and Principal of the Perth Theological Hall. I've studied the scriptures in depth; I hold a number of degrees, including a PhD in early Christian literature. I am committed to providing the best opportunities for education within the church, so that people can hold to an informed faith, which is how the UCA Basis of Union describes it. This blog is one contribution to that ongoing task.

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