The Hall family's story is a tale of survival and resilience in the face of adversity, beginning with their crimes in England and Ireland and their subsequent transportation to the penal colony of New South Wales. Benjamin Hall Sr., the father of the notorious Australian bushranger Ben Hall, was a 'Ticket of Freedom' convict born in Bristol, England. He was transported to New South Wales for stealing goods exceeding the value of one shilling. His life in England was marked by criminal activities, including robbery and petty theft, eventually leading to his transportation.
Ben Hall, the notorious Australian bushranger, was born in May 1837 at Maitland, New South Wales (NSW). Ben was the fourth child of Benjamin Hall, a 'Ticket of Freedom' convict, and the fifth child of Eliza Hall nee Somers, a convict who was to achieve her freedom in 1849. The family story of Ben Hall begins with his English father Benjamin Hall and his Irish mother Eliza Somers transported during the foundation period of the penal colony of New South Wales. (Convict transport to NSW was between 1788-1850. Transport to Australia ended in WA in 1867.) Ben Hall's parents were each sentenced to seven years of penal servitude and consequently were transported to NSW for stealing goods exceeding the value of one shilling. Benjamin Hall Sr. was Christened on 26th May 1805 at Bedminster, Bristol, England.
Gaol Registers, 1807-1879.
Gaol Registers, 1807-1879.
Open in New Tab.
Benjamin Hall's trajectory into a life shadowed by criminality was marked early on. Court documents from 1824 chronicle his initial entanglement with the law, which concluded with an acquittal on robbery charges in March of that year. The legal notation 'No Bill' was inscribed in the records, signifying that the evidence against him was insufficient to warrant a trial, granting him a temporary reprieve from the grasp of the judicial system.
This period of freedom was fleeting, however. By July of the same year, Benjamin was once again ensnared in the legal net, this time resulting in a five-month incarceration for another robbery. This stint behind bars did little to deter him from the crooked path he had begun to tread.
In April 1825, not long after his release, Benjamin was again in the clutches of the law, accused of theft. Fortune seemed to favor him once more, as he was acquitted of these charges, narrowly escaping further punishment. But the respite was brief; within two months, he was back in the familiar confines of a police cell, facing yet another theft charge. This pattern of repeated arrests and court appearances painted a grim picture of Benjamin Hall's life, one marred by persistent criminal endeavours. (See Registries right.)
|Benjamin Hall arrests September 1823 and 1824 confinement of five months.|
Somerset, England, Gaol Registers, 1807-1879. Note employment.
Gaol Registers, 1807-1879.
However, the gravity of their offence went beyond simple theft — they were accused of housebreaking, a serious criminal act that carried much heavier penalties. Their collective trial took place on July 11th, 1825. For Benjamin, this event marked the end of his criminal ventures on English soil, as the repercussions of the case bore far-reaching implications.
Gaol Registers, 1807-1879.
Upon the conclusion of the trial, Benjamin Hall and Samuel Frappell were found guilty of their theft charges, while Sarah Jones and Ellen Weyland were absolved of their crimes. In the official documents of 1825, Hall's physical appearance was detailed for record: standing at 5 feet 6 inches tall, he had a sallow complexion, brown hair, and grey eyes. Notably, he had distinguishing features such as a tattoo 'SJ' on his right arm — likely a tribute to Sarah Jones, who was presumably his girlfriend at the time — and a prominent scar on the back of his left hand. Furthermore, there were two visible cut marks on his head, specifically over his left ear.
This description marked a noticeable departure from his earlier portrayal in 1823, where he was simply referred to as "stout made," an indication of his solid and somewhat rotund stature, particularly around the waist. Benjamin's evolution, both in terms of his physical appearance and his legal transgressions, marked a significant turning point in his life. The tattoo and scars spoke to personal relationships and experiences, while the guilty verdict set him on an irreversible path.
Gaol Registers, 1807-1879.
|Hulk 'Ganymede', 1825.|
Following a guilty verdict, Benjamin Hall was sentenced to seven years of transportation to New South Wales. This was a consequence of the times — a solution implemented by the British government to address the country's growing crime epidemic. England's crime problem had become so severe that Captain Cook's discovery of New Holland in 1770 was repurposed as a penal colony. Joseph Banks, an officer on Cook's voyage, had initially intended to colonise the land as a safe haven for British Loyalist following the war of independence in America, but as crime increased, the land became a place to send convicts, many of whom had been convicted of minor offenses.
Benjamin Hall's life was dramatically altered by this sentence. Upon his sentencing, he was first taken to the prison hulk 'Ganymede', moored at Woolwich in July 1825. Soon after, he was transferred to another hulk, the 'Justitia', alongside his mate Samuel Frappell. However, the pair didn't remain together for long — due to his 'bad conduct', Hall was moved to the 'Dromedary' on November 9, 1825. From there, evidence points to his being sent to Bermuda to work on naval fortifications and a dry dock then under construction.
In Bermuda, Hall's sentence took on a new dimension. The dock and fortifications were integral to England's maritime operations, and they were largely constructed by convicts like Hall. It was a harsh life — thousands of miles away from home, serving out a sentence that, for many, felt like an eternity. For Benjamin Hall, this was just the beginning of his life as a convict, a life that would later become intertwined with the story of a young, burgeoning nation on the other side of the world.
|Prison Hulk Justitia 9th Sept 1825|
Departing the 'Justitia', Benjamin Hall found himself bound for Bermuda on the supply ship 'Dromedary' on December 12, 1825. Records indicate that just a few weeks later, on December 28th, the ship embarked carrying Hall and 100 other convicts. Upon reaching Bermuda, the 'Dromedary' was repurposed as a prison hulk.
Benjamin Hall's presence on the 'Dromedary' and its subsequent voyage aligns with the record of his behavior from the 'Justitia', implying that his frequent relocations were a consequence of his bad conduct. This period in Hall's life marked a harsh transition from a petty criminal in England to a convict serving his sentence abroad — a period that molded him into a notorious figure in Australia's early history.
Despite a brief stint in Bermuda, which concluded upon the completion of the dry-dock, Hall was sent back to England. Records suggest that he was transferred to the 'York', a prison hulk docked at Gosport, Portsmouth. However, Hall's disruptive conduct persisted, signalling that his time in England was nearing its end.
Eventually, he was moved to the convict transport ship 'Midas' anchored at Portsmouth. Meanwhile, Samuel Frappell, Hall's accomplice who also received a sentence of seven years transportation, spent his confinement on the hulk 'Discovery' at Deptford. Interestingly, this was the very same ship Captain Cook had used for his second voyage to the South Seas and as a support vessel for his third voyage.
Early records imply that Frappell may have been relocated to Tasmania, with traces of him living there in 1827. However, after this, his existence fades into obscurity, mirroring the elusive nature of many transported convicts' lives. (See Justitia ledger above centre.)
|The UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books|
for Hulk 'York' 1826
The link below gives a description of a Prison Hulk moored on the Thames. Although it was set in 1862, the narrative would still relate to the life on board for Ben Hall's father and his pre-transportation in 1826.
|'Convicts on their way|
to Port Jackson'.
(litho) by Richard Caton
In September 1826, the 'London Morning Post' reported that a guard from the 39th Regiment was ordered to board the 'Midas' at Portsmouth. Under the command of Lieutenant George Meares Bowen, the guard comprised of 30 rank-and-file soldiers. Bowen and his officers were each paid £95 to cover the expenses of their passage and clothes.
It was a common practice for ship captains to offer officers a discount on food and wine during the voyage, often to the tune of £50. Such practices were part of the intricate arrangements surrounding convict transportation during this period of British history. Many ships were contracted whereby Captains would supplement their income by selling goods on arrival in Port Jackson.
After enduring 15 months of confinement and hard labor, Benjamin Hall finally boarded the convict ship 'Midas' on October 2, 1826. With its capacity of 430 tons, the 'Midas' was owned and commanded by Captain James Baigrie. The ship's medical officer, Doctor James Morice, also held the post of Superintendent.
Upon boarding, Hall became one among the ship's 148 convicts, which included James Tucker. As the ship prepared for its voyage, a daily routine was put into place for the convicts. Then, two weeks later, the long-anticipated order came: the 'Midas' was to set sail for New South Wales. Departing from Portsmouth on October 16, 1826, the ship moved into the English Channel and then the Atlantic Ocean, its impressive sails guiding it southwards.
James Tucker offered a unique perspective on life aboard the 'Midas' as it embarked on its journey. In his work, 'Adventures of Ralph Rashleigh, A Penal Exile in Australia', he detailed the experience in rich detail, shedding light on the shipboard routine, the conditions, and the shared experience of the convicts.
After a grueling voyage spanning 122 days and marred by the loss of three lives, the 'Midas' finally reached its destination. The evening of February 14, 1827, saw a dramatic entrance at the Port Jackson heads, where the ship narrowly avoided a collision with the pilot boat. However, the 'Midas' made it to the harbor unscathed.
The ship's arrival was subsequently reported in 'The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser'. The news of its landing, along with the arrival of Benjamin Hall and the rest of the convicts, marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another in the penal colony of New South Wales.
Days after anchoring in the harbour, the 'Midas' released her captive passengers into their new world. On February 19th, 1827, a convict muster took place on board, overseen by the Colonial Secretary, Alexander McLeay. The muster, or 'Indent', included crucial details about the newly arrived convicts, encapsulating a snapshot of their past lives.
Among the documented information were their names, ages, educational background, religious beliefs, family status, marital status, place of birth, occupation, nature of their offence, date and place of trial, previous convictions, and even their physical descriptions. The Indent also contained information about the convict's designated assignments upon their arrival in New South Wales.
Benjamin Hall, stepping onto the soil of Sydney Cove for the first time on March 1, 1827, found himself marched to Hyde Park Barracks - the heart of the penal colony and the starting point of his life in the antipodes.
|Hyde Park Barracks; Painting by Wayne Hagg ©|
|A.B. Spark property holding's at Maitland|
on Hunter River, coloured green. c. 1833.
|A.B. Spark's lower|
George Street, No.11 premises
which were attached to
The Sydney Arms Hotel.
Fortune seemed to favor Benjamin Hall during his early days in the penal colony. His stay within the confines of Hyde Park Barracks was short-lived due to his previous experience as a groom. An occupation much in demand among the colonial pastoralists, as it signified a handy all-rounder. Despite his pre-arrival occupation as a Skinner/Butcher, which he would later revert to upon gaining his 'Ticket of Freedom', Hall's skills as a groom found him an assignment rather quickly.
He was assigned to the service of Mr Alexander Brodie Spark (Sparke), a man of significant property. Spark owned 'Radfordslea', a 2000-acre estate in the fertile Hunter Valley, along with 'Fallbrook', a vast 4000-acre farm along the Hunter River. In addition to these holdings, Spark also held a nine-acre grant in Sydney at Woolloomooloo. It appears that Hall initially remained in Sydney, at Spark's George Street premises, and possibly at other Spark properties along the Cooks River, a river that meanders northwest to Chullora before veering southwest to enter Botany Bay at Kyeemagh, beside Kingsford Smith Airport.
During this period, while in Sydney, Hall found himself in trouble with the law once again. On August 16, 1827, he was charged with 'Privately Stealing' or 'Stealing from his Master'. Following nine days in custody, Hall was acquitted. Whether this incident tainted Hall's record, which had already been classified as 'Very Bad' during his time on the prison hulks, is unclear. Regardless, shortly after this event, Hall was dispatched to the Hunter Region, perhaps as a precautionary measure or punishment against further mischief in the heart of the colony. (See image below.)
|Benjamin Hall Charged with Stealing 1827, Acquitted. Note; George Handcock was hanged in December 1827 for the theft of 40 shillings.|
|Packet Ship on|
Hunter River c. 1827.
|A.B. Spark c. 1830.|
Upon arrival at Green Hills, it is believed that Benjamin Hall commenced the next leg of his journey. He was directed to the barracks in Maitland, a little over an hour's march away. There, he received both directions and rations for his onward journey to 'Radfordslea', roughly an eighteen-mile trek. 'Radfordslea' was a sprawling, yet undeveloped 2000-acre property situated near Black Creek, close to the confluence of the River Hunter. Managed by an overseer, the property was bounded on the north by the river, while an extensive Church Reserve lay to its east. The property's postal address fell under Castle Forbes, notorious for being owned by the infamous and brutal James Mudie.
Mudie, a former Marine officer and later bankrupt entrepreneur, was best known for his ill-fated scheme to sell medallions commemorating the Napoleonic heroes. This venture led to nearly £10,000 in losses, propelling Mudie and his book-selling firm partners into bankruptcy. Despite this downfall, Mudie managed to secure his passage to New South Wales in 1822 through connections with Sir Charles Forbes and the Colonial Office, bringing his three daughters and a step-daughter with him. This infamous medallion affair earned Mudie the nickname, 'The Major'.
In New South Wales, Mudie quickly developed a reputation for his brutal treatment of convicts, which not only made him notorious but also a source of embarrassment for the Governor. Among his preferred punishments was one particularly harsh method, which was often remarked upon:
|Census of 1828. Castle Forbes|
was the postal address
Benjamin's age was 23 yrs.
|NSW Government Gazette|
30th June 1832.
One could also speculate that after serving Spark for over four years, Benjamin might have been reassigned or lent to the notoriously harsh James Mudie at Castle Forbes. If Hall did work at Castle Forbes, he could have been subject to the strict discipline enforced there and decided to flee. Regardless of the circumstances, Benjamin's brief taste of freedom marked a crucial milestone in his life journey.
Benjamin Hall's 'Ticket of Freedom' was far more than a mere piece of paper; it was a symbol of newfound autonomy after years of grueling servitude. It signified the dawn of a fresh chapter, one free of restrictions, and the opportunity to finally seek remunerated employment. For many ex-convicts like Hall, this ticket laid the foundation for their ascendancy to Australia's emerging elite. Yet for Benjamin, his immediate ambition was much simpler: the ticket was a passport to Sydney and a gateway to matrimonial bliss.
By the end of August 1832, Benjamin journeyed through the old Bulga trail, known today as the Putty Road between Singleton and Windsor, and arrived in the Parramatta district. Before long, he found employment in Stonequarry, Picton, and crossed paths with a spirited young Irish woman named Eliza Somers.
Eliza, Benjamin's future wife, was born in 1807 in Dublin, Ireland, as an illegitimate child to Timothy Kelly and Elizabeth Somers. With no records of her parents' marriage or her own birth certificate, her early years remain an enigma. However, her life took a sharp turn at the age of 20 when she was charged with larceny at 'The Four Courts' in Dublin City.
It's probable that Eliza had been quietly involved in petty thievery before her arrest, living with her widowed sister Catherine Delany and helping support her niece or nephew. Fate didn't spare Catherine either, who was arrested for shoplifting and subsequently transported to New South Wales, arriving on board the 'Forth II' along with 120 other Irish female convicts in October 1830 and her child. In her dealings with Dublin's constabulary, Eliza used either her father's surname, Kelly, or her mother's, Somers, as circumstances dictated.
|The Tenements Dublin.|
Eliza was reared amidst the squalor of Dublin's most impoverished tenements, where children often battled hunger and clothing was a luxury. Education was an exception rather than a norm, resulting in Eliza's illiteracy. The deprived conditions turned these children into foot soldiers of crime, forming the first modern gangs. Their reality mirrored the fictional world of Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist', as they mastered the craft of pick-pocketing, petty theft, and shoplifting.
A rare glimpse into Eliza's childhood environment comes from a census conducted in 1798 by Reverend William Whitelaw and his team. Intent on ascertaining Dublin's true population, they braved the blistering summer heat to inspect every nook and corner of these decrepit tenements. From cellars to lofts, they tallied the countless souls eking out an existence amidst abject conditions.
The tenements overflowed with unimaginable filth and stench, forming an overwhelming tableau of human despair. Reverend Whitelaw's first encounter with the tenants left a lasting imprint on him, as he observed firsthand the harsh realities of their hopeless existence.
Born into this environment, Eliza was confronted early on with the harsh realities of poverty, including hunger and disease. As a young girl, she contracted smallpox, a rampant illness at the close of the 18th century, which claimed the lives of approximately 400,000 Europeans each year. The disease was merciless, with a fatality rate between 20 to 60%, a number that surged to over 80% among children.
Remarkably, Eliza survived this dreaded disease, but it did not leave her unscathed. Her encounter with smallpox left its indelible mark in the form of deep, disfiguring scars strewn across her face, a common aftermath due to the illness's blistering effect on the skin.
Despite these challenges, it remains unclear whether Eliza managed to secure any form of employment in Dublin, as she had no formal training or recognised trade. Her early life remains shrouded in uncertainty, her story shaped more by the city's harsh streets than any written record.
Eliza Somers' struggles with the law soon intensified. Following a brief period of escape from imprisonment, she was apprehended in 1827 for her second offense of theft. This crime led to a sentence of 12 months in Newgate Prison, Dublin, an institution notorious for its appalling conditions. Overcrowding was rampant, and the facility was plagued by severe sanitation issues.
Undeterred by her experience in Newgate, Eliza soon found herself in legal trouble again after her release. In 1829, she was caught stealing a handkerchief and gloves. Much like her future husband, Benjamin Hall, this incident carried severe repercussions for Eliza. This time, she was sentenced to seven years of transportation to New South Wales.
Following her conviction, Eliza was transferred from Dublin to Cork, a journey of around 160 miles to the south. In Cork, she was held in the city prison as she awaited her impending journey to the other side of the world.
|Warrants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for Eliza Somers 1829|
|Eliza Somers supply of clothing for the voyage was dismal.|
Note Mary Henry, who died during the voyage.
|Cork Harbour, Eliza's last|
Look at Ireland.
They embarked on their voyage from Cork Harbour on the 10th of September, 1829, departing for Port Jackson. As the 'Asia 1' (5) sailed past the heads of Cork Harbour, Mr Alexander Nisbett, the Naval Surgeon for the voyage, meticulously maintained a medical journal, recording the daunting challenges these female convicts faced as they embarked on their strenuous journey to Port Jackson.
|Women convicts quarters|
The diseases which prevailed to any extent will be seen on reference to have been fever and dysentery, few cases of other diseases occurring except what may be expected in such a society. Dysentery was the disease which proved the most severe and which two cases proceeded to a fatal conclusion. The fever proved much more manageable and in general, yielded readily to the means employed. This difference may be attributed partly.
This state of things continued into our leaving the southern tropic where instead of the fine weather mostly found in those latitudes we had gales of wind with rainy weather which confined all the convicts below for a week at one time. Those women who were compelled to be on decks such as cooks and monitors to take their provisions etc. below had to be supplied with blankets, jackets and petticoats. For the sake of cleanliness and ventilation, the convicts were never allowed to be below during the day except when the weather was unfavourable. The prison doors were always opened in the morning, and the upper deck was washed and dried, and every person allowed free access until after breakfast when they were all sent on deck where they remained until dinner. After dinner, they again came on deck and remained until being mustered down below for the night usually half an hour before sunset. Windsails were kept constantly in use down each hatchway. Within the tropics the women were almost constantly on deck, awnings being spread. By means of the work put on board by the recommendation of the ladies committee the minds of the convicts were kept pretty well employed and towards the close of the voyage when this source was expended, the ship was very well found in jute the converting of which into oakum was found to be an excellent employment.
After 125 days at sea, the 'Asia 1' (5) triumphantly sailed into Port Jackson on January 13th, 1830. The journey had claimed only two lives — Rose Maguire, taken by dysentery, and Mary Henry, felled by erysipelas. As the ship dropped its anchor in Port Jackson, a third convict, Mary Burn, succumbed. Upon arrival in the penal colony, all newcomers, including Eliza, underwent a medical examination followed by a muster held on board by the Colonial Secretary.
During this muster, the details provided in the 'Muster of the Indents' were cross-checked. Eliza was described as standing at a height of 5 ft 3 in, bearing a ruddy complexion punctuated by pockmarks and freckles, adorned with hazel eyes and crowned with dark brown hair. She embodied the image of a quintessential Irish lass. Her occupational description was a rather nondescript 'All Work'.
As the 197 women disembarked, they were met by a throng of men, who flocked to Sydney Cove for a glimpse of this rare commodity, women, in a town where the gender ratio was skewed with eight men to every woman. For the vast majority of male denizens, this influx of women, however slight, signaled a marginal improvement in their marriage prospects within the new colony.
|Eliza Somers indent 1830.|
Eliza Somers was promptly transported to Hyde Park Barracks. After a 13-day period of acclimating to her new surroundings, she began her new role as a domestic servant on January 26th, 1830. Her employer was Mr Reuben Chapman, an ironmonger with a shop located in lower Pitt St, Sydney. Eliza's place of employment and residence was at the Chapman household on Harrington St, Sydney, in today's Circular Quay.In the week following Eliza's arrival to this new frontier, 'The Sydney Monitor' published an account on February 3rd, 1830. The article illuminated the conditions under which Eliza and the other women arrived, bearing in mind that Eliza's only attire was a single gown. The report seemingly contradicts the ship surgeon's initial assessment of the state of the women;
Born in 1812 in Dublin, Thomas Wade found himself in the colony after receiving a life sentence for house robbery. At the tender age of 16, he faced trial at 'The Four Courts' in Dublin City on July 3rd, 1828. His journey mirrored that of Eliza's, as both were Irish convicts shipped off to a new land as punishment for their criminal activities.
Characterised by a stature of 5 feet 4 inches, a ruddy complexion, dark brown hair, and piercing blue eyes, Thomas Wade was a mere 17 years old when he arrived at Sydney Cove aboard the 'Fergusson.' A muster, held by Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay on March 28th, 1829, marked his arrival in the new world.
Just like any other transportation journey, Wade's voyage on the 'Fergusson' was not without its trials and tribulations. Life-threatening diseases were the bane of these voyages, but due to the diligence and expertise of ship surgeons, fatalities were often kept to a minimum despite the gruelling conditions.
In an account of the voyage on the 'Fergusson,' Naval Surgeon Charles Cameron detailed some of the successes in their fight against prevalent diseases, testifying to the efficiency of the remedies employed on board. He wrote of the commendable resilience of the convicts and the tireless efforts of the ship's medical personnel in preserving as many lives as possible under such trying circumstances.
|Thomas Wade's Indent|
Upon returning to the Chapmans, Eliza's behavior continued to try their patience. In August of that year, after seven months of service, she was relinquished by her master and sent back to the Female Factory as a second-class prisoner for another month. It was during this turbulent period that Eliza discovered she was pregnant. The child's father was Thomas Wade, the man with whom she had found a semblance of solace amidst their shared plight.
Following her month-long confinement, Eliza returned to the Chapman household one last time, a pregnant woman navigating an unforgiving landscape, with the promise of motherhood on the horizon.
|Anne Gordan, Matron|
of Female Factory,
Despite prevailing assumptions, evidence suggests that Reuben Chapman was far from a benevolent employer. Described as a combative man, he reached his limit with Eliza and returned her to the Parramatta Female Factory on 28th September 1830, as her services were no longer required. The belief that Chapman supported Eliza, even covering the medical costs of her impending childbirth, does not hold water.
Being sent back to the Female Factory as a first-class inmate indicated that Chapman had absolved himself of his obligations towards Eliza. According to the existing statute, if a servant was returned by a magistrate—as in Eliza's case—this would lift any financial responsibility from the employer.
|Female Factory, 2018.|
|Ration distribution for Female Convicts and their Children at Parramatta.|
2nd Class (Probationary) - Those returned from assignment because of bad behaviour and those being promoted from 3rd class or demoted from 1st class. They were employed at the same work as the 1st Class but could not be assigned to private service. Females who became pregnant while in service were included in the 2nd Class.
3rd Class- These women were kept at hard labour such as breaking stones. They may have been deprived of tea and sugar, may have been placarded or had their heads shaved.
The above list is of Eliza's misdemeanours,
which contributed to Eliza's continuous return to Parramatta
and eventual dismissal from the Chapman's.
In the bustling settlement of Sydney, Thomas Wade's familiarity with the territory served as a crucial resource for Eliza as she navigated her new surroundings. Their lodgings at the Chapmans and the Baxters, both in close proximity to each other, provided ample opportunities for secret encounters.
These clandestine meetings eventually led to the birth of their son, Thomas Wade, on the 24th of April, 1831. However, the notion that Thomas Wade, a convict sentenced to life, could abscond from his servitude to the respectable Baxter family without facing severe consequences is rather far-fetched. Indeed, on the 1st of December, Thomas found himself imprisoned on the Sydney Harbour Hulk Phoenix, only to be released at the month's end - likely a penalty linked to Eliza's tumultuous behavior.
Historical records fall short of revealing the emotional ties that may have existed between Eliza and Thomas. Speculation from some sources, lacking robust research, suggests that Thomas Wade was somewhat of a rogue, abandoning Eliza upon learning of her pregnancy. However, it's crucial to consider the legal constraints of the era; it would have been nearly impossible for two convicts to wed without the Governor's special permission. Thus, their union was seemingly doomed from the outset.
|Fr. John Joseph Thierry|
At St Mary's Catholic Church, Eliza christened their newborn, Thomas Wade, on May 6, 1831. Father John Joseph Thierry, a native of County Cork, born in 1791, officiated the ceremony. Father Thierry catered to the spiritual needs of approximately 10,000 Catholics in Sydney (he would pass away in Balmain in 1864). The christening likely included Thomas Wade, and Eliza's sister, Catherine Delany, who had also come to the colony as a convict.
Catherine arrived in the colony with her only child onboard the 'Forth II', captained by James Robertson, with Surgeon Superintendent Joseph Cook providing medical oversight. Anchoring on October 12, 1830, the ship had transported Catherine from Dublin, where she had been sentenced to seven years for shoplifting. Upon arrival, Catherine was assigned to Mr. Bettington, a shipwright who had a shop at Cockle Bay. (site of the Darling Harbour complex today).
|Warrants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland for Catherine Delany 1830|
|Catherine Delany's Indent. Note her sister Eliza Somers. (Summers)|
Catherine Delany would find solace in the colony, marrying John Wynn, a 'Ticket of Leave' holder, on June 29, 1836, in Parramatta. She earned her 'Certificate of Freedom' just under a year later, on June 24, 1837. Catherine and John settled in Maitland, where, coincidentally, Eliza and Benjamin Hall would also set up home. It was in Maitland, most likely at Catherine's residence, that Ben Hall was born in May 1837. Unfortunately, Catherine's life was cut short, and she passed away in Maitland in 1847. The fate of the child she brought with her to the colony remains unknown.
By the close of 1831, Eliza's interactions with Thomas Wade were not documented. The significant distance between the Parramatta Female Factory and Sydney Cove made any chance meetings improbable. On the other hand, Thomas Wade saw some improvement in his circumstances. In May 1841, he was granted a 'Ticket of Leave' which was later superseded when he received a 'Conditional Pardon' from the Governor of NSW, Charles Fitzroy, in 1847.
Wade's later life is somewhat obscured by time. However, records show that he married a widow, Bridget Hilton, aged 39, in 1857 at Port Macquarie. Wade's profession at the time was listed as a Sawyer. While there is no record of him ever reuniting with his son, Thomas, it is known that Wade lived in Port Macquarie, NSW from 1841 or earlier. His death was registered in 1866 in Walcha, NSW, a town located about 90 miles from Murrurundi via Tamworth, an intriguing geographical coincidence.
|Thomas Wade, 1st February 1848.|
After returning to the Female Factory on October 4th, 1830, Eliza Somers carried her pregnancy in the relative comfort of the facility as a First Class inmate. On April 24th, 1831, she gave birth to her son, Thomas, and continued living at the Female Factory until she was reassigned. Eliza's next position was with Mr William Panton, a free settler who had arrived on the 'Andromeda' in 1822. Although Eliza and her baby Thomas stayed with the Pantons for less than a year, this assignment proved fortuitous.
While working for the Pantons, Eliza made the acquaintance of Benjamin Hall in June 1832. Recently arrived from the Hunter Valley, Benjamin was employed at Stonequarry, working on the Panton/Chisholm estate established in 1824. He had been granted a 'Ticket of Leave' and his farming experience would have been sought after.
Benjamin's journey from the Hunter Valley to Sydney ended with him securing a position with Panton, possibly facilitated by his former master, A.B. Spark. Both Spark and Panton were members of the Agricultural and Horticultural Society at Parramatta, both originating from the same region of Scotland. This connection likely worked to Benjamin's advantage, as securing employment in 1832, as today, often relied not only on one's skills and experiences, but also on who one knew. A solid reference from A.B. Spark would have been a significant boost. Benjamin Hall began his work at Stonequarry in the early days of September 1832. The Pantons were well-established landowners in the area, as evidenced by their inclusion in the list of persons liable to serve as jurors in the District of Liverpool. (See Below)
|Panton, Stonequarry, NSW.|
At Stonequarry, Eliza found herself employed as a domestic servant under the supervision of Mrs Panton, who was herself a mother of an infant child. Stonequarry, also known as the Cowpastures in the 1820s and '30s, was located roughly in the area between today's Camden and Picton. The land acquired by the Pantons was commonly known as the 'Forest of Bumbalo' or 'Bomballowa'. This land would later become the town of Picton, officially gazetted in 1841.
|The King's Stores.|
By 1826, Panton was attempting to venture into wine production, planting a large vineyard and renaming his property 'Montpellier', after the renowned wine-making district in France. However, by the end of July 1833, Panton found himself in financial difficulties due to speculative investments, a situation he had also encountered in 1831 but managed to navigate.
By 1835, Panton's financial difficulties had escalated, and he was declared insolvent. 'Montpellier' was eventually sold for £1,100 in early 1836 to mitigate his losses.
Meanwhile, Eliza's relationship with Benjamin Hall had intensified, and by the end of September 1832, she was again pregnant. On 13th May 1833, Eliza, then seven months pregnant, was listed in the NSW Government Gazette as having absconded from Panton's employment. Her escape may have been a calculated act to ensure that, as a pregnant woman, she could return to the Female Factory in First class and relieve the financially struggling Pantons of her associated costs.
Following her capture, Eliza, now seven months pregnant with her second child, was returned to the Female Factory instead of being sent back to the Pantons. She did not face prosecution for absconding. She gave birth to her second child, a girl named Mary, in early July 1833, and both Eliza and her two children remained in the Female Factory for some time. Benjamin, a free man, was able to visit them regularly, despite the 30-mile distance from the Stonequarry district to Parramatta.
|NSW Government Gazette, May 1833. Eliza absconds from Panton.|
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser would have likely included a notice or report regarding the growing issue of assigned female servants being returned to the Female Factory shortly after assignment. This notice underscored a need for reforms in the way convicts were treated and managed, leading to new conditions for return and changes in policies.
|Parramatta Female Factory, 1826.|
Augustus Earle (1793-1838)
Courtesy National Library.
They may have also drawn attention to the benefits of keeping convict women in assigned households, including the economic value of their labor, the potential for rehabilitation and social integration, and the reduced burden on the Female Factory and the penal system. The changes might also have extended to women who had completed their sentences but were struggling to transition to independent life, offering them support and resources to prevent them from falling back into criminal behavior.
This time is required to enable the Principal Superintendent of Convicts and Committee to make arrangements for the transfer of the Female to another service without being sent to the Factory. The Committee take this opportunity of asserting their readiness, at all times, to assign any Female in the Factory, not under a Colonial sentence of imprisonment, to persons of good moral character; and if the supply of those Women, whose conduct offers a fair chance of their becoming useful servants, should at any time be unequal to the demand, the Committee would willingly assign those, of whose conduct it would, at the same time, be their duty to make an unfavourable report.
The fact that Eliza, a Catholic, married Benjamin, a Protestant, in a Protestant church might be indicative of a few things. It might be reflective of the societal norms or practical constraints of the time, which might have made it more acceptable or convenient for them to marry in a Protestant church. It could also suggest that religious differences were not a significant barrier for them, either due to personal beliefs or the pressing practical circumstances of their situation.
The Reverend Samuel Marsden, who officiated their wedding, was a prominent figure in the early colonial history of New South Wales and was known for his work as a magistrate and his involvement with the Church Missionary Society. He was sometimes called the "Flogging Parson" due to his reputed severity in sentencing convicts. His role in their wedding might suggest that he had some connection or familiarity with Benjamin and Eliza, or it could simply be a reflection of his prominent role in the community at that time.
The fact that Governor Sir Richard Bourke gave consent for their marriage indicates that Benjamin and Eliza would have had to petition for permission to marry, given Eliza's convict status. This was a common requirement in the colonies at the time, where convicts were required to obtain permission from the Governor or other authorities before they could marry.
Overall, this marriage between Benjamin and Eliza seems to represent a turning point in Eliza's life. With Benjamin's support, she was able to stabilise her situation and avoid further problems with the law, and their marriage seems to have been a step towards a more settled and stable life for both of them and their children.
|NSW Government Gazette, January 1834, absconding from Barker's.|
|Application to Marry|
|Marriage Certificate of Eliza Somers and Benjamin Hall, Benjamin|
signed his name whereas Eliza made her mark X. Benjamin is recorded F, as Free
and Eliza, B, as Bonded.
|St John's Parramatta|
The discrepancy between Benjamin Hall's stated age at his marriage and his real birth year could be due to a few factors. It's possible that Hall was not entirely sure of his birth year and gave an estimate. It could also be that he intentionally reported a different age for personal or legal reasons.
It's also interesting that Eliza was unable to sign her own name, which highlights that she was illiterate or had very limited education. This was not uncommon for women of her socioeconomic status and convict background during this time period.
While in Parramatta Benjamin Hall made the acquaintance of one Thomas Simon a carter and publican where Hall gained employment.
The fact that Thomas Simon was a witness at their wedding is also noteworthy. Given his status as an ex-convict who had earned a Ticket of Leave, it's possible that Simon was a friend to Hall.
|Thomas Simon, advertisement|
The relationship between Thomas Simon and Benjamin Hall demonstrates the importance of social networks in the early colonial period in Australia. As a carrier and later a publican, Simon would have been well connected in the Parramatta-Windsor district. His association with Benjamin Hall likely offered Hall significant opportunities, both in terms of employment and monetary support to Eliza and the children.
Moreover, Hall's later return to the Hunter Region, a familiar territory for him, was facilitated by these connections
The fact that the Simons were witnesses at Hall's wedding also indicates a close friendship and mutual respect between the two men. This camaraderie could have been born out of shared experiences as ex-convicts and the challenges they faced in building new lives for themselves.
Windsor, NSW, with its fertile lands and proximity to Parramatta, seems to have been the ideal location for Benjamin and Eliza to start their new chapter. Its reputation as the food basket of Sydney, owing to the fertile flood plains around the Hawkesbury River, would have offered ample opportunities for Benjamin to use his farming experience.
|Government House, Windsor,|
However, the formation of benevolent asylums by compassionate and well-off citizens would have provided some relief to those in need. These asylums played a crucial role in offering support to destitute individuals, especially those who were unable to work due to old age, illness, or disability. Such institutions were early precursors to modern non governmental social welfare systems, providing food, clothing, shelter, and sometimes medical care to those in need.
Despite the challenging socio-economic conditions, Benjamin and Eliza seemed determined to build a life for their family in Windsor. Their story underscores the resilience and tenacity of many early Australian settlers, who overcame adversity to carve out a life in a new land.
The expansion of the 'Hawkesbury Benevolent Society' in catering to the poor led them have a cattle farm at the Liverpool Plains. It indicates the growing prosperity and scale of their operations. This move, however, evidently brought them into conflict with other powerful entities, such as the Australian Agricultural Company, indicating the complexities and challenges of land and resource management during this period.
The shift in leadership of Benevolent Society farm at the Liverpool Plains from John Gaggin to Edward Nowland, who became the superintendent of the new 'Mooki' cattle station, also suggests a time of change and adaptation for the society. It's interesting to see the connections between these individuals and later figures such as Billy Dargin, the future police blacktracker, which provides a sense of continuity and progression through this historical narrative.
In terms of the broader context, the history of the 'Hawkesbury Benevolent Society' offers a fascinating insight into early charitable efforts in colonial Australia, as well as the intersections of social welfare, agriculture, and the colonial expansion into the interior.
Despite the hardships and challenges they faced, these early settlers and ex-convicts, managed to build lives and communities in this new and often harsh landscape. Benjamin in 1846 gave the following statement.
During those trespass cases, evidence, s
The above statements create the hypothesis that Benjamin Hall did not take a position of employment with Samuel Clift before 1837/38, as has been espoused over the years and that in 1835, Benjamin Hall commenced work with the 'Hawkesbury Benevolent Society' of Windsor to remove their cattle from Windsor to the Liverpool Plains under the direction of John Gaggin. It is also revealed during the court proceedings, where it was stated that John Gaggin was present at the Liverpool Plains;
John Gaggin property,
Castle Forbes. c. 1829.