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William Douglas, convict and farmer





William Douglass (1763-1838) was born in Lincolnshire, England, the son of John Douglass and Jonas (Johanna). The Douglass' originally came from Colsterworth, England. He was baptised on Tuesday the 7th of June 1763 at St Martins, Church, Lincoln, England.

William Douglass was held for trial "for picking the pocket of John Brown of a silver watch at Hornecastle on Tuesday the 20th day of April 1785." He was tried found guilty and sentenced at Lincoln on Saturday the 9th of July 1785 to transportation for 7 years. He was held at the 'Justitia' hulk while awaiting transportation.

Transportation Document

Lincolnshire. To wit the Jurors for our Sovereign upon their oath present that William Douglass late of The parish of Lincoln on the ninth day in the reign of our Sovereign King George 111 and with force and arms at the parish of Lincoln aforesaid in the parts of the county aforesaid.

Charged by the oaths of John Brown and Robert Tasker with having picked the pocket of the said John Brown of one silver watch, his property on the 20th day of April last at Hornecastle, committed by Benjamin Bromhead, esq., April 21st. Then and there being feloniously did wrongfully act against the peace of our Sovereign George Crown and Dignity.

On the 6th of January 1787 William Douglass was delivered to the 'Alexander'. A three-masted, barque-built vessel, 'Alexander' weighed 452 tons. She was 114 feet long on the lower deck, with an extreme breadth of 31 feet at the beam and was of 452 85/94 tons burthen. Built in Hull, England, in 1783 the bark vessel 'Alexander' carried 213 male convicts, 37 marines, and approximately 30 seamen (officers included). She was the largest of the 11 ships in the First Fleet. Master Duncan Sinclair skippered her and the surgeon was William Balmain.

Sydney CoveThe 'Alexander' left Portsmouth, England on the 13th of May 1787. Teneriffe was the first port where the ships of the first fleet layed anchor on their journey to New South Wales. The Alexander dropped anchor on the 21st of January 1788 at Botany Bay. She was 251 days at sea on the voyage. Botany Bay proving unsuitable, she moved on to Sydney Cove. William Douglass was about twenty-five years of age when the 'Alexander' arrived at Sydney Cove on the 25th of January 1788.

On Saturday the 18th of December 1789, William Douglas, William Bradbury and Jeremiah Leary were charged with assaulting (they most likely deserved it) two seaman from the supply ship 'Braydon and Storey'. Magistrates, Captain Collins, Reverend Johnson and Mr Alt found the three men guilty. Both William's were committed to work in a convict gang, Leay (Leary) was reprimanded.

On Sunday 1st June 1788 Mary Groves and William Douglas were married, with the consent of Arthur Phillip, Governor,  by the colony's Chaplain Reverend Johnson, at St Phillip's Church of England, Sydney Cove, Port Jackson - William Rowe and Stephen Barnes witnessed their marriage which was one of the first June weddings in Australia.


Mary was also a convict.  Charged by the oath of Edward Copper with feloniously stealing one yellow canvas bag, thirteen guineas in gold and eight shillings and sixpence in silver, the property of the said Edward Cooper. Committed by Benjamin Bromhead, Esq. April 14th. Then and there being feloniously did wrongfully act against the peace of our Sovereign George Crown and Dignity.

Mary Groves was tried on Tuesday the 9th of July 1785 at Lincoln, she was charged with stealing "one yellow canvas bag containing 13 guineas and some silver, the property of Edward Cooper". Mary was found guilty and was sentenced to transportation for seven years. She had no occupation recorded.


The 'Prince of Wales' sailed from Portsmouth, England, with Mary Groves on board on Sunday the 13th of May 1787. She was about thirty years old when she arrived at Sydney Cove on Saturday the 25th of January 1788.

It is highly debatable how many children William Douglas and Mary Groves had; the number is hotly contested. The Hawkesbury Pioneer Register had named seven; they were George, John, Elizabeth b.1796, James b.1797, Thomas b.1804, William b.10th of June 1809 and Sarah b.1810. Described as "The Douglas Controversy" it appears totally unlikely that James, Thomas, William and Sarah were the offspring of Mary Groves and William Douglas.

Mary Groves and William Douglas had one daughter, Elizabeth, born on the 8th of February 1796; they had two sons, John born on the 9th of April 1793, he died and was buried in the grounds of St Phillip's Church of England, Sydney. The other son was Joseph (a twin to Elizabeth) born on the 8th of February 1796, both boys died in infancy.  Elizabeth married Daniel Jurd, founding the 'Jurd Dynasty'.

William and Mary Douglas were one of the first twenty-two pioneer farmers of the Hawkesbury Valley in an area known as "The Green Hills". A plaque in Governor Phillip Park at Windsor, with the words that were written by Lieutenant Governor Grose in April 1794, honour's those first settler families.

Mary was born about 1757 in Lincolnshire, England. Her Father was John Groves and her mother was Frances Ayscough. Mary's family came from Colsterworth, England. Several of the largest and most elaborate headstones of the Groves' family are located just outside the Church door in the Church graveyard.

Mary's time of death and place of burial are unknown, it could be assumed she died between 1797 and 1800. Mary might have been buried on their farm at the Hawkesbury? It is also possible and very likely that she was buried in the cemetery that existed where today Sydney Town Hall stands, that old cemetery extended into George Street. That early cemetery was first used in the 1790's and replaced because of Sydney's expansion in the 1840's; a new cemetery was opened on the site that Sydney Central Railway Station now occupies. It in turn was relocated to Botany and Rookwood (to make way for Central Railway Station) in the early 1900's. Unfortunately many thousands of headstones and grave sites of convicts and early settlers were lost in the re-use of early cemetery land.

William's 'housekeeper' Sarah Dailey (Daly) was living with William possibly from the time of Mary Groves' death in the late 1790's, or at the very least by 1801. Sarah who was a convict transported from Dublin, Ireland, also had a daughter named Elizabeth. William witnessed his stepdaughter Elizabeth's marriage to Thomas Jones at Sydney in 1807. Sarah Dailey was tried and convicted in Dublin Ireland and sentenced to transportation.

In the General Muster of 1806 Sarah is listed as William's housekeeper. In the Settlers Muster Book of 1801, Sarah's name is entered immediately after William's; Mary's name is absent, I assume she was already dead. It would not have been possible for Mary to return to England as has been suggested convicts were responsible for paying their own return journey.

Elizabeth Jones nee Dailey died at the age of 55 in 1845, which places her birth about 1791 - 1792 possibly on board the 'Kitty'. Elizabeth Jones had two children and named them William and Sarah after her mother and stepfather William Douglas.

In 1814 William Douglas was working and living in Sydney where he remained until 1828 showing up on records in 1814, in 1822 as a labourer, and 1825. Stock muster records show that he owned two horses in 1822, he used them for work about Sydney.

By 1822 William was living at his house in York Street, Sydney, with Eleanor Cathorne also known as Ellen Holden who arrived as a convict (7 years) on the sailing ship 'Canada' in 1810.

In 1826 William transferred ownership of his house and premises at 5 York Street, Sydney, to his son-in-law Daniel Jurd. With the condition that he and his housekeeper could live in the house rent-free. In 1828 William moved to Pitt Town where he traded as a butcher, and he was living with Daniel and Elizabeth Jurd and family. Two years prior to Daniel's death at Pitt Town in 1833 William joined his daughter Elizabeth and Daniel and their children on Daniel Jurd's farm at the Branch, on the Upper Macdonald River in the Macdonald Valley.

William Smith. Per 'Asia' 1820 who was tried in London, was on a list of convicts mustered in the employ of William Douglas of Sydney in 1823-25. William Douglas of Sydney gave testimony as to William Smith's character for a ticket of leave. William Smith was a servant from 17th of January 1821 to January 1825 of November 1825 William Smith was assigned as servant of William Douglass for four years and three months. On the 21st of November 1825 William Smith was a convict in the service of William Douglass of Sydney at the last two musters.

Gravestone for William DouglasWilliam died on Tuesday the 27th of November 1838 at St Albans, New South Wales, and was buried at the Old General Cemetery near St Albans, in the Macdonald Valley, New South Wales.

William Douglas(s) and Mary Groves' children are:

  • John Douglass, b. 9 Apr 1793 Hawkesbury, NSW, Australia. Died bef. 1798 Hawkesbury, NSW, Australia.

  • Elizabeth Douglas(s), b. 8 Feb 1796 Hawkesbury, NSW, Australia. Died 25 Jan 1877 St Albans, NSW, Australia. She married Daniel Jurd.

  • Joseph Douglass, b. 8 Feb 1796 Hawkesbury, NSW, Australia. Died 1796 Hawkesbury, NSW, Australia.

  • Notes:

    1.  a. Other researchers report that First Fleeters William DOUGLAS and Mary GROVES married in Sydney on 1 June 1788 and that their children included William George DOUGLAS or DOUGLASS, who, on 14 Nov 1814, had a daughter Mary Ann DOUGLASS with Mary Ann CROSS.

          b.  But this is contested by a source that states that Mary Ann Cross married William George Douglass (b. 1768) from the "Coromandel" in 1809 and that he was no relation to the 1788 William Douglass.

    2. Since preparing this article just two days ago (including the note above), I have received an essay on 'The Douglas Controversy', written by Carol Baxter.  The controversy centres around three fathers and two sons and raises the question of "who begat who". The three fathers were convicts who arrived in the colony in its early years: William Douglas on the Alexander in 1788, Thomas Douglas on the Canada in 1801 and William Douglas on the Coromandel in 1804. They were the only men in the colony with the surname Douglas who appear to have been fathering children prior to 1810.  The two sons were born in the colony prior to 1810, Thomas Douglas and William Douglas.  I may have to amend the above in the light of this essay contributed by Carol Baxter.


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