Our Hodgetts Family Saga- The Second Fleet,Anniversary Day


Today, 230 years ago, on 28 June 1790 our ancestors, Thomas and Harriet Hodgetts arrived in Sydney on the Second Fleet.

Firstly, let us go back a few weeks previously.

1st June 1790.

The colony at Sydney Cove had been on shortened rations for some months. Little work had been done towards building accommodation for the expected arrival of convicts in the Second Fleet. Morale in the colony was low.

21st June 1790.

Much had happened in the colony in the space of three weeks, including the arrival of the convict transport the Lady Juliana with convict women and stores on 3rd June, and the store-ship Justinian on the 20th June with the much-needed stores for the colony. At long last, there was the expectation that everything could get back to normal in the colony. Most importantly the full weekly ration was ordered to be issued and the ‘drum sounded’ to recall convicts back to labour at 1 pm so the job of erecting accommodation for the newly arrived and expected convicts could get underway.

23rd June 1790.

Early in the morning, a sail was sighted at the look-out on the South Head, but the weather came in quickly and the ship was lost from sight as the gale-force winds pushed her out to sea.

It was not until two days later when the weather had cleared that the ship could finally be seen again as it slowly made its way through the heads. It was the Surprize, a convict transport under Nicholas Antis, who had sailed in company with the transports Neptune and Scarborough.

The scene on arrival of the Surprize was in direct contrast to the arrival of the Lady Juliana some three weeks before, whose female convicts had embarked in good health, having few deaths on the voyage.

The Surprize arrived with more than a hundred of the 218 male convicts on board ill, most with scurvy and dysentery. They were moved to the hospital as soon as possible. Tents had to be erected to take the overflow of the sick.

Later that day the signal flew at the South Head that further ships had been sighted.

These were the convict transports, Neptune and Scarborough, under Captains Trail and Marshall respectively. They too had been blown out to sea with the recent Winter gale.

They finally made their way through the heads and anchored off Garden Island.

The next day the ships warped into Sydney Cove to unload their cargo. The first priority was the human cargo.

Much has been written about the terrible conditions endured by all those who arrived on these ships and the horror of those who witnessed that arrival. Graphic details were given in letters and journals by marines, clergy, government officials, and even convicts.

Our ancestors, Thomas and Harriet Hodgetts arrived on those ships. Thomas as a convict on the Scarborough and Harriet as a free woman on the Neptune.

What was it like for them on the day of arrival?

It was cold, very cold. Everyone was wet, very wet, and had been for weeks. Everyone was hungry, very hungry. They had had little food for weeks and that was mostly hard mouldy ships-biscuits which had been made years before. Washed down with a little water if it was available.

Absolutely terrible! Right? How could this happen?  The masters of the ships had been heartless scoundrels and responsible for the carnage! Some 230 years later everyone knows this. Right?


The truth of the matter was that these ships were in trouble even before they sailed from Portsmouth on the 19th January 1790. The carnage was inevitable with many at fault, from politicians to Admiralty, contractors, government officials, marines, crew, and even the convicts themselves. The domino effect and even the weather conspired and moved towards what we might call the perfect storm.

It was a miracle that the ships arrived at all, although with only two-thirds of their human cargo alive, with many dying after their arrival.

How did Thomas and Harriet survive? What if, we, their descendants, were able to interview them. What would we ask them about the voyage? What might they tell us?


Our Hodgetts Family Saga – Harriet Hodgetts,1790, Sydney

In this blog, we are going to look at the third document for our Hodgetts family in Australia. It is also the first document for our Harriet Hodgetts. This was when she was a witness at the marriage of James Bird to Mary Dismon on 29 December 1790.

One could be forgiven to think in the early days of the convict colony, marriages only took place on Sundays after the obligatory service, but that was not so. The 29th December 1790 was a Wednesday.

Government House,1790,Sydney

My first reference to the above marriage was in John Cobley’s book, “Sydney Cove 1789-1790”.[1]

I followed up by finding the actual document references from the online Marriage Index on the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney at  https://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/ .

There were two references and I knew I needed to see both. Using these references I consulted the microfilms in the Archives Authority of New South Wales, (now State Records of New South Wales), Genealogical Kit 1988. Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1788-1855, AO Reel 5002.[2]

Although due to Copyright restrictions I could not print these out, I could make transcriptions. You will note these documents are not the same. One was from the Rev Richard Johnson’s Marriage Register, and the other the chronological list he sent to the Governor’s Office.

BIRD - DISMON,1790,Sydney,Marriage Transcription2

BIRD - DISMON,1790,Sydney,Marriage Transcription1

When researching I always go through the process of trying to answer a number of questions. In this case, I wanted to know- Why was the marriage on a Wednesday, and where was it? Who were James Bird and Mary Dismon? Who was John Hunter the other witness to the marriage? How did Harriet (Hodgetts) know these people?

After asking similar questions for the marriage of George Fry and Elena Sandwick, (See former blog Our Hodgetts Family Saga- Thomas Hodgetts,1790, Sydney), I now knew who Rev George Johnson was. I also knew that the marriage was likely to have been outside or in a tent as there was no church building. However, because it was on a weekday without the church crowd, it may have been a more private affair at or in George Johnson’s home. A wattle-and-daub hut near Government House in Sydney.

Although the banns for the marriage would have been called on three Sundays previously there was no requirement that the marriage must take place on a Sunday. Note it was high Summer and the days were long, so there was still plenty of light, late into the evening. Each of the parties would have had permission from their overseer to be out of their place of residence after sunset.

Now we look at the wedding party.

James Bird was transported on Alexander in the First Fleet. He had stolen in the company of others,1000 pounds of saltpeter from a warehouse, and was sentenced to 7 years transportation. It seems he was often in trouble with the authorities in the early years of his sentence, but I have found no mention of his name in records after his marriage. He signed the register so he could at least write his name. [3]

Mary Dismon was believed to have been born in Ireland. She was sentenced on 9 September 1789 at the Old Bailey with Mary Butler after an incident in the Convent Garden Markets. She was held in Newgate Prison until she was sent to the Neptune to be transported to NSW on the Second Fleet. It is believed she became friends with Harriet on board the ship and remained so in the colony. She signed the register with an X as her mark, so she possibly had no education.[4]

John Hunter had originally been sentenced to death at the Old Bailey in 1784 for theft. However, he was reprieved and sentenced to transportation for life. He was sent to the prison hulk Fortune at Portsmouth. He was placed on board the Scarborough in the Second Fleet, so it is likely that he may have been a friend of Thomas or at least known by him. He signed the register so he could at least write his name.[5]

Harriet (Hodgetts) is believed to have been born in Staffordshire in 1765 and to have arrived onboard the Neptune in the Second Fleet, as a free woman. She claimed to be the wife of the convict, Thomas Hodgetts, although we now know this was not true. There were other free women on the Neptune who claimed to be the wives of convicts too. There appears to be no document of arrival in the colony to support the claims of these women. However, there was a letter to Governor Phillip which noted that the offer of passage had been made to wives of convicts, and a few had taken up the offer. Phillip was instructed to give them the same rights to food and clothing as convict women.[6] Harriet and the other ‘wives’ claimed the ‘free’ status and the Neptune as the ship of arrival on all subsequent colonial musters.

Harriet signed the marriage register with an X as her mark, so she possibly had no education.

I found no other marriages where Harriet Hodgetts was a witness.

Copies of my share documents for this marriage can be found under the Resources and Examples Tab on this website. See BIRD-DISMON, 1790, Sydney, Marriage Transcription 1 and 2

[1]Sydney Cove 1789-1790, John Cobley,1963 (Reprint 1980), Sydney, Angus and Robertson,p225

[2]Guide to the State Archives of New South Wales: Information Leaflet No 35, Attorney General and Justice- Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages: Microfilms of copies Registers of Baptisms, Burials and Marriages 1787 – 1856, Sydney,1984. p 9, Reel 5002

[3] Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, Mollie Gillen, 1989, Sydney, Library of Australian History, p 35

[4] The Second Fleet:- Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, Michael Flynn,1993, Sydney, Library of Australian History, p244

[5] The Second Fleet:- Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, Michael Flynn,1993, Sydney, Library of Australian History, p350

[6]Sydney Cove 1789-1790, John Cobley,1963 (Reprint 1980), Sydney, Angus and Robertson,p225.

PS-  Richard Hodgetts mentioned this marriage in his book, “The Brave Old Pioneers 1788-1988.” This book is still available from Richard. If you wish to have contact details please leave request in comment box below. This is to protect Richard’s private email address being harvested by scammers.

Thomas Hodgetts, Second Fleeter- Identifying Our Ancestor

For many years several family historians researching and writing about the “Thomas Hodgetts” who was transported on the Second Fleet, have argued over his origins. All records we have been able to gather together stated he came from “Staffordshire, England”. However there are several “Thomas Hodgetts” born in Staffordshire about the same time. How can we identify our Thomas Hodgetts from the rest?

 Anyone who has followed any of my research and blogs will know I am a great believer in digging long and deep into the “Parish Chest Records”. From these we can get down to the local level not only of our ancestors, but all their friends and family too.

 Over time I sorted through all the surviving Parish Chest records of many, many parishes in Staffordshire, in my quest for Thomas Hodgetts.

 I was finally rewarded when I found the Examination Certificate of an Ann Hodgetts, when she applied for assistance, on 13 January 1790, to the Vestry of Wednesbury, Staffordshire.

 This parish meeting was made up of the Vicar, Parish Clerk, and Overseer of the Poor. Church Wardens might also attend. Their job was to administer the parish funds. They had the reputation of being very careful with parish funds, especially in difficult times as was the case in Wednesbury in the latter part of the 18th Century. Only those who had a very good case would get the needed assistance.

 In her examination, which was given under oath, Ann Hodgetts stated, among other things, that she had married Thomas Hodgetts some years before and she had three children, who were desperately in need of assistance. She gave their names and ages. She also stated that her husband had been ‘transported’ and she had no one to turn to for assistance.

She finally stated that she had not at any time applied to any other parish for assistance. This would suggest she did not approach St Mary’s, Whitechapel, London, for help as some have claimed.

 Having transcribed this document and gleaned several important clues, I could now move forward on my research into the origins of our Thomas Hodgetts.

 Meanwhile, on the very day that Ann Hodgetts had been examined at Wednesbury, Staffordshire, some 170 miles to the south, in Portsmouth on the coast of Hampshire, others waited. Several ships were anchored in the harbour waiting for the wretched winter gales to abate so they might sail.

These included the Justinian, Guardian, Surprise, Scarborough and Neptune. These five ships were to make up the Second Fleet bound for New South Wales.

 On board the Scarborough was our Thomas Hodgetts, who had lost his appeal not to be transported and to serve out his sentence in England.

 On board the Neptune was our Harriet, a free woman, who arrived on the shores of New South Wales several months later claiming to be the wife of “Thomas Hodgetts”. She certainly wasn’t Ann Hodgetts who had changed her name and was sailing towards a better life. Who was she, and how did she get a ‘free passage’ on the Neptune?

 On the 19th January 1790 the weather improved and the Fleet set sail for New South Wales.

 In recent blogs I have stated that I have begun to put together our Hodgetts family history.

Most family historians know that a family history is more than a list of names and dates. You need the story around these names, dates and events. However, it does not mean that you should fabricate a wonderful fictional story with no basis of historical and contextual truth just because you want your ancestors to be so. Nor should you thoughtlessly manipulate names and dates to fit this fictitious story.

 There are many, many published books and articles that suggest how to go about putting together an interesting family history based on facts and evidence. There are also on-line writing courses on that very subject. Just Google it. You will be surprised how much there is. You need to find that book or course that fits what you want to do.

 I have written and published many books on history and family history, but each one is different, and I try to approach each project with new eyes. At the same time there are basic things I need to think about when I start to write.

Time, place, circumstances, law, custom, mood, suspense, pace and ‘voice’ are some of the things I need to keep in mind. Indeed there is much to think about as I begin to put my words down on paper.

I know I will not find it an easy project, and there will be much frustration and editing, but I can but try.

Taking the above mentioned document of Ann Hodgett’s Settlement Examination, this is one way I might use it in the family story.

 Ann Hodgetts, the wife of Thomas Hodgetts, in desperate need, applied to the Wednesbury Parish for assistance for herself and her children on 13 January 1790. (Referenced Footnote)

Or perhaps this way.

Ann sat huddled in the icy tomb. She clutched her thin brown shawl around herself and stared down into the darkness, where her much-mended shoes should be. She couldn’t see them, nor could she feel her feet. Her shoes were wet with melted snow, and her feet had literally frozen into them. She was completely numb with cold and hunger.

 She had prayed long and fervently for many months, that this hour would not come.

Firstly to Mary, the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Mother to all mothers. In the beginning in the long warm days of summer Ann’s prayers had been answered, and she believed that she had been delivered from this terrible fate. In those days Ann had hope.

 However, as the barmy days gave way to chilling winds and long dark nights, it seemed the saintly Mother no longer listened to her supplications. When Ann knew Mary had deserted her, she then prayed even longer and harder to St Bartholomew, the patron Saint of this very church, and then to all the heavenly host, but to no avail. By now, Ann’s hope had faded away.

 Would she and her children now be sentenced to a terrible death, through no fault of their own?

 Suddenly the heavy door of the church creaked loudly, and a draught of chilling winds entered the inky darkness. A single candle spluttered into life and a shadowy figure glided down the nave to light the altar candles, one by one.

 Soon other shadowy figures entered and set up a trestle and chairs three parts of the way up the nave, below the pulpit, and in front of the choir stalls. This was some distance from where Ann sat, towards the rear of the church, in what had been in better days, the family pew.


Interior of St Bartholomew’s Church, Wednesbury prior to the alterations of 1827.(from: A History of Wednesbury, in the County of Stafford’ by JN Bagnall Published 1854, by William Parke, Wolverhampton.) Retrieved From <http://dp.genuki.uk/big/eng/STS/Wednesbury/StBartholomew/picture2> on 25 May 2017

The door opened a third time and in strode several portly figures, some with chains of office hanging from their necks, to be seated at the table. To sit in judgement for, and with God himself. For a full minute a foreboding stillness settled on the ancient stone church.

 Then one of the figures of judgement rose and bellowed into the darkness. “This Vestry is now in session. All ye seeking benefit, come forth!”

 Ann rose slowly and shuffled forward. Thus began the Settlement Examination of Ann Hodgetts. (Referenced footnote)

Or somewhere in between. I would value comments from Hodgett descendants, as I know there are a lot of you out there.