first of our ancestors to set foot in Australia was
William Williams, a 22 year old soldier, who probably could have done
without the honour since he arrived in irons on a convict transport in
1799. His crime was in the glamorous sounding category of “highway
robbery”, but in reality, it was a mugging using his soldier’s bayonet
as a weapon, violent enough for the judge at the Old Bailey in London
to sentence him to death - fortunately for us, a sentence commuted to
life in exile.
William was the first of six convicts in Joan Gaffey’s family tree to
be transported to Australia, but his was by far the most serious
sentence. The other five were all sentenced to “transportation beyond
the seas” for seven years for, in the main, crimes against property,
with one being transported after the abortive Irish rebellion of 1798.
A seventh ancestor was also sentenced to transportation to Australia
but he never made it that far - he died on a prison hulk in Portsmouth
Harbour in 1835 while waiting for the voyage to exile to get underway.
Our early ancestors were joined by one brave family, the Hancys, who
made the journey as free settlers in 1800, a mere 12 years after the
arrival of Captain Philip and the First Fleet, to take up a land grant
at Castle Hill in Sydney’s northwest.
These early convict ancestors all settled in the Windsor district on
the Hawkesbury River and intermarried with other convicts and a member
of the Hancy family. The Williams family, in the way of many
emancipists at the time, became respectable farmers. All were, to use
today’s phrase, “upwardly mobile”, and within two generations,
attempted to put their convict past behind them. William William’s
great grandson completed the transition by becoming a member of the
New South Wales parliament (although some might question whether or
not this is a big improvement).
After the convicts and the Hancys, among the next to arrive was an
Irish seamstress Ellen Quin, who married John Hyde, a English soldier
in Hobart in the 1840s. The Hydes had a daughter Mary Ellen born in
Melbourne at the height of the Victorian goldrushes. It’s probable
Private Hyde was at Eureka in 1854 with the 40th Regiment, battling
with diggers such as Felice Pobar, an ancestor of Peter Byrnes. John
and his family made the move to Sydney in 1860s, where he became a
jail warder, and daughter Mary Ellen married into the Williams family.
Two of the later convict arrivals feature, by marriage, in the other
side of Joan’s family, the Gaffeys from County Down in Ulster. Four
Gaffey brothers arrived in Australia as free settlers c1860 – and one
of them, Joan’s grandfather James, married the Australian-born
daughter of one of these later convicts (her grandfather was also a
The Gaffey branch of the family settled in the New England area of New
South Wales, until Joan’s father Tom made the move south to Sydney
during World War 1. There, he met and married Joan’s mother Stella
Williams, the great-granddaughter of that first convict William