Thomas Berryman was a rebellious young rogue who grew, in time, into
a respected member of the society he’d been forced to join as a
Convict records give a comprehensive physical description: Tom was
short, only 5'2" (157 cm), with brown hair and blue eyes, with a scar
below the right elbow, a small wart on the back of the forefinger of his
left hand and a scar on his right knee cap.
Growing up uneducated and illiterate, he'd been in trouble with the
law early. In 1835, as a 16-year-old, Thomas, who earned what little
he could as a street hawker, was convicted at Southhampton Quarter
Sessions Assizes of housebreaking, and was sentenced to life
imprisonment. It wasn’t his first foray into a life of petty crime –
the court took into account a previous conviction that resulted in a
one-month jail sentence. On this subsequent occasion, it appears that
young Thomas was accompanying his father, Tom (senior) on a little bit
of housebreaking when they were caught.
Convict trial and convict hulk records show that Thomas Berryman Senior,
and Thomas Berryman Junior (or 'the Younger') were convicted and
sentenced together in Portsmouth in 1835, for "l.arceny of a dwelling
house greater than £5". They were both taken to the prison hulk Hardy,
moored in Portsmouth Harbour while they waited to be transported to New
Tom was kept on the Hardy until June, when he was transferred
to the England, for the voyage to Australia. Thomas Berryman Sen
was not so fortunate - he didn't survive in the often horrendous
conditions on the prison hulk, dying in April, less than four months
after his conviction.
On the England, young Tom earned a reputation as something of a
troublemaker. Even before the voyage started, he injured his arm in an
incident with another prisoner on the vessel taking them from the wharf
out to the England.
Once landed in Sydney, his record did not improve. At one stage, he was
sentenced to an extra six months in irons for robbery, and on another
occasion, one month on the treadmill for insolence. In between these and
other transgressions, Tom was held for nine months at Hyde Park Barracks
(a wing of which still exists as a convict museum near St. Mary’s
Cathedral in Sydney), until the robbery that led to his stint in irons
on a road gang.
(above) The treadmill at
Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney – a secondary punishment for recalcitrant
convicts. Eighteen- year-old Tom was sentenced to one month working
the treadmill for the crime of insolence. The treadmill has been
described by a writer of that time as "a very useful piece of
machinery for the purpose of correcting the tarnished morals of Botany
A painting c1838, shows convicts
with ‘a pinched and sallow look’, according
to historian Robert Hughes in his book, The Fatal Shore. Thomas was
sent to one such road gang in 1836.
Picture: National Library of
When his term on the road gang was up, he was assigned to a farm
belonging to the Fleming family on the river flats at Wilberforce in the
Macdonald Valley, near Wiseman's Ferry northwest of Sydney. In 1837, the
younger Fleming sons had branched out to establish their own properties
in the northwest of the state. In those early years, many of the
families from the Macdonald Valley developed pastoral links with the
area north of Tamworth, and it was not uncommon for new settlers along
the Gwydir River and to the west to have come from the Hawkesbury.
Twenty two-year-old John Fleming and his older brother Joseph took up a
run, known as Mungie Bundie, on the Gwydir river, 20 kilometres east of
Moree, and Thomas Berryman was sent there as a hut keeper. It was in
this capacity he was questioned about John Fleming's involvement in the
notorious Myall Creek massacre in April 1838[14b].
According to Roger Millis, in his book Waterloo Creek,
Berryman’s “equivocation and dissembling made [another witness] look
like a model of candour. He was nothing if not loyal to his absent
A more kindly interpretation is given by another historian:
The evidence of Thomas Berryman,
Fleming’s hutkeeper, reveals a man humble and ignorant, always
receiving visitors – “I believe all the stockmen about are in the
habit of calling here” – remembering exactly how they came and went
because these were central events in his life, but ignoring or
forgetting everything else.
Seven of the white men involved in the massacre of a group of
aborigines were hanged, but Fleming escaped. According to Millis,
"The ringleader of the exercise …. lived
his life out to the full without ever have to face the music. The
£50 reward for John Fleming was never lifted, but the man-hunt for
him was soon quietly abandoned. By 1840 he felt so sure of himself
as to get publicly married, giving his place of residence as
'Macdonald River', where he had apparently been hiding out with
sections of his spreading clan. In due course, he emerged completely
to claim his place in the sun, and for 24 years was a warden of St.
Johns Church at Wilberforce before dying a pillar of respectability
in 1894 at the age of 78, the blood of Myall Creek long washed from
his hands by piety."
While still a convict, Thomas met Catherine (“Kitty”) Stewart, a young
woman who came out from Ireland as a child. Kitty’s mother had
petitioned theIrish authorities to be allowed to join her husband, a
convict assigned to a farm in the Macdonald Valley, less than a
kilometre from the Fleming family property where Tom worked. Kitty and
Tom were married by special permission in 1844 in a small, now-vanished
Catholic Chapel at Leet’s Vale, near Wiseman’s Ferry, northwest of
Kitty and Tom had 10 children, two before Thomas officially gained his
freedom. In the
1850s, the Berrymans moved northwards to territory familiar to Tom
through his assignment to the Flemings, this time to the Bundarra area,
west of Armidale, where the family settled.
(left): Winscomb, a property near Bundarra,
where Thomas is thought to have worked in the 1850s.
In 1859, in a petition filed with the Legislative Assembly, Thomas
was listed as a freehold land-owner at Winscombe, Bundarra.Winscombeis
a large pastoral property, some 15 kilometres south of Bundarra, and
it's believed that Thomas may have worked on the property before
settling on a selection nearby. Alternatively, theWinscombeproperty
may have given its name to the general area. In records such as his
children's baptism and birth certificates, Thomas was variously
described as a stockkeeper, labourer, and farmer.
He died of a ‘sudden disease of the heart' (although there had been
speculation in the family there was something untoward with his death,
as he was reputed to be carrying a large sum of money which wasn’t
accounted for, at the time)
at Torryburn, near Armidale, in 1872 aged 54, and was buried in
English researcher, commissioned by Berryman descendant Jean
McDonnell, found an entry for the marriage of Thomas Berymen and
Esther Andrews at Alverstoke, Hampshire on May 16, 1818. Both signed
with an “X”.
 NSW Registrar of Births
Deaths & Marriages. NSW Birth Certificate. birth cert of
Archives. Convict Indent. Fiche no 714, page 132
Death Certificate. Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages
Records. NSW Registrar of BDM. V 1851/1422 68
Death Certificate. Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.