Fairfield City Open Libraries: Heritage Blog

Biographies of Male Orphan School Staff

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Edward Gray

In 1817 Edward Gray came to Australia from England as a free settler aboard the Lord Melville. In 1818 he was appointed Overseer of the Orphan School Farm.

“The members heard with much pleasure, from the Minutes of the Local Committee that an engagement had been entered into with Edward Gray the Overseer, for the recovery of Strayed Cattle, at the rate of two Cows for every ten, not calculating any under one year old.”

On 17 December 1820 Edward and his wife Emma had their first child, Charlotte Emma. Gray was in charge of the cattle on the land and also responsible for the School building and a number of apprentices working on the farm. Gray continued working at the Orphan School Farm until 1825, then left to settle on his land grant of 600 Acres at Sutton Forest. He named his property Spring Hill where he later became the inn Keeper of The Black Horse. Edward died on 25 June 1868. His gravestone apparently read: ‘Edward Gray, Gun maker, aged 83, parents unknown, born in UK per Lord Melville 1815, unknown whether he had children.’

Descendant: Nicole Kelly, Wishart, QLD (great, great, great granddaughter)    Researcher: Russell Kelly

William Sadler

William was a convict assigned to the Male Orphan School between 1819 and 1832.82 There, he met Mary Lillis (Lillace), whom he married in 1823 and together, they had a son named Richard. Mary had a son from a previous relationship, named James Lillis, who had come with Mary to New South Wales from England, and was admitted to the School in 1822.

Descendant & researcher: Lesley Cash, Charmhaven, NSW (great, great, great, great grandaughter)

Isaac Simpkins

Isaac Simpkins was born about 1779, probably in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1824 Isaac stood trial at the High Court in Edinburgh, charged with housebreaking in Albany Street, Edinburgh.84 Isaac had five children and was reported to be a good man, but was sentenced to 14 years transportation to Sydney.

He sailed on the Minstrel on 17 April 1825 and arrived in Sydney on 22 August 1825.85 That year, he was included in a list of convicts being forwarded to Liverpool for distribution and assignment to the Male Orphan School. Simpkins was a gentleman’s servant or valet so may have been a servant to the Master of the School at the time, Edward Sweetman. In 1827, the Sydney Gazette mentioned his appointment to the police force, and in 1838 he received his certificate of freedom. In 1847 Isaac Simpkins married Margaret Hays or Hayes. Isaac died in Bathurst in 1851 at the age of 72.

Descendant & researcher: David Mackay Millan, London, UK (great, great, great grandson)

Edward Sweetman

Edward Sweetman and his wife Sarah came from Isle of Wight, England, and were sent out by Lord Bathurst in London for Sarah to be Mistress of the Female Orphan School at Parramatta. Sarah Sweetman was to receive a salary of £100 and her husband would receive £50 for managing the household, farm and garden.

They sailed on the convict transport Albion with their three daughters, and arrived in the colony at the end of 1823. Both immediately fell ill and spent the year at the school ‘languishing under their confinement to their room’.

For a change of air, Governor Brisbane transferred them to the Male Orphan School Farm in early 1825. Sweetman resigned from the Male Orphan School post in March 1825 due to the illness of he and his wife.

“During nearly the whole of the time… our health was such as to incapacitate us from the performance of the arduous duties it involved…. my own health has been so indifferent as to prevent that attention to its Interest…”

Sarah died from her illness in July and Edward in August 1825. They were buried in the cemetery at Liverpool. Their three children thus became orphans, less than three years after they arrived in the colony to administer the Orphan Schools.

Descendant & researcher: Margaret Hatfield, Normanhurst, NSW (great, great, great granddaughter)

James Busby

untitled-design-5Born in Edinburgh on 7 February 1801, James Busby studied viticulture in France and arrived in the colony with his parents on 24 February 1824. He was the son of John Busby who built bores that provided early Sydney with its much needed water supply. Soon after their arrival, James was appointed to teach agriculture and wine making to the boys at the Male Orphan School, and to run the school farm, and the age of only 24. Although not the first to plant vines and make wine in the colony, Busby was a pioneer in colonial viticulture, being called the prophet of Australian viticulture. Among other publications, Busby wrote A Treatise on the Culture of the Vine and the Art of Wine Making, published in Sydney in 1825.

The first wine made at the Male Orphan School was tasted by Busby in March 1830 and he considered it to be excellent. In 1826, when the Clergy and School Lands Corporation took over management of the School, Busby’s agreement of £100 per year and one third of the farm produce, was considered too favourable to Busby, and he was dismissed from the position. Under the later management of Richard Sadleir, the School continued to produced wine. Ten gallons of the 1829-30 vintage were given to Busby, which he took to London in 1831, where it was pronounced very promising. At that time Busby toured vineyards in France and Spain, where he collected hundreds of vine specimens, which he donated to the colonial government who shipped them to the colony. Many of the vines were planted in the Botanic Gardens in Sydney and made available to wine makers, while 365 others were planted at ‘Kirkton’ in the Hunter valley. From 1833 Busby lived in Auckland New Zealand and returned to England where he died in 1871.

Descendants: Busby family, Sydney, NSW and NZ

Reverend Robert Cartwright

Born in 1771 in Wellington, Shropshire, Reverend Robert Cartwright was curate at Bradford for fourteen years, when visited by Samuel Marsden, who told him of the need for chaplains in New South Wales. With some reluctance, Cartwright consented and sailed for Sydney with his family, arriving with the Reverend and Mrs Marsden on the convict ship Ann on 27 February 1810. He was appointed to the Hawkesbury and the new town of Windsor became the centre of his chaplaincy. He remained there with his wife and children until December 1819, when he was transferred to Liverpool. Cartwright was an early advocate of Governor Macquarie’s measures to protect Aborigines and for reserves for Aboriginal settlement.

During this post at Liverpool he became Master of the Male Orphan School, where he lived in the Master’s Residence with his wife Mary Boardman, whom he had married in England in 1796, and their eleven children. Cartwright remained Master between 1825 and January 1829 during which he won the commendation of the Archdeacon Scott. He resigned from his position due to ill health, but secured the position for his son-in law Richard Sadleir, who had married his daughter Anne. He remained as Chaplain for Liverpool until 1836, when he was posted to St James Church, Sydney and in 1838 moved to Collector (Gunning) where he remained until his death on 14 December 1856. He was buried in Liverpool Cemetery near St Luke’s Church, Liverpool.

Descendants: Martin Carney, Stanmore,

Robert Cooper

Robert Cooper was born in 1760 in Newbold, Derbyshire to George Cooper and Faith Stephenson. In 1781 he married a Hannah (Susannah) Martin, but in 1783 he was drafted into the British Army, and his regiment was sent to fight the French in the West Indies during the Napoleonic Wars, never to see his wife again. Cooper also served on Grenada and St Kitts, and in 1796 he returned to Plymouth. In 1798 Robert married Ellen (anonymous) and they had a daughter they named Ann. Robert was then posted at Cornwall, then on prison ships. In 1806 Robert transferred to the New South Wales Corps. He then transferred to the 73rd Regiment and in autumn 1809 he travelled to Sydney on Ann 2, with his wife Ellen and their three children.

Robert’s discharge certificate describes him as 5 foot 6 ½ inches, with light brown eyes and a fair complexion. Robert and his family arrived at Sydney Cove on Tuesday 27 February aboard the Ann 2 in 1810. Cooper was part of a detachment of the Royal Veterans who set up headquarters at Parramatta in 1814. The Veterans were disbanded in 1823, but it appears Cooper stayed living in the area. In 1820 he wrote a petition on behalf of the son of Ann Thomas for admission to the Orphan School, but the child was reported to have a father-in-law and mother alive and therefore not an object for the Male Orphan School. In 1824 he was working as a blacksmith/whitesmith at the Male Orphan School, where he worked until 1826 and was transferred to Liverpool. During work at the school he was probably involved in teaching the blacksmithing trade to the boys. Robert Cooper later settled in Wollombi, NSW, and died in 1837.

Descendant & researcher: Ralph Hawkins, Thornleigh, NSW (great, great, great, great grandson)

Lieutenant Richard Sadleir RN

Richard Sadleir was born on 6 May 1794 in Cork, Ireland. The British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar inspired Richard to join the navy, which he did in 1808 at the age of 13. He spent many years on the British naval ships and spent time at Portsmouth, Spitzbergen, Halifax in Newfoundland. In 1819 he was awarded the rank of Lieutenant. He was eventually transferred back to England and then to Ireland and became involved with helping Irish families to migrate to Canada. Inspired by W.C. Wentworth’s writings, he migrated to Australia, sailing on the Thames, and arrived on 11 April 1826. In 1829 Sadleir took the post of Master of the Male Orphan School, and was paid £150 per annum. and remained at the school until its closure in 1850. At the same time he took the post of catechist to the Liverpool Parish. On 12 December 1830, Richard Sadleir and Anne Cartwright, the daughter of Reverend Robert Cartwright, were married by her father in St Luke’s Church, Liverpool. Anne gave birth to their children in the Master’s residence, including Mary (1831), Robert (1833), Matthew (1836) and George(1835) and Richard(1838).

When the Male Orphan School was closed in 1850, Sadleir worked at Liverpool as a road surveyor and engineer, and in 1853 he was made Justice of the Peace and Magistrate. He then became Secretary to the Benevolent Society, Sydney and was a long-standing committee member of the Bethel Association. He purchased land near Liverpool in 1864 and lived in the original Warwick Farm house,  where Anne died in 1870. In later life he moved regularly and was involved in many community organisations. He became Liverpool’s first mayor in 1872. Richard died at Liverpool on 6 March 1889, in his 96th year. He is buried with his father in law, Rev Robert Cartwright, and wife Anne in the Pioneer Cemetery, Liverpool.

Descendants: John Sadleir, Glebe, NSW;

[Exerpt taken from ‘…vicious and rebellious’?: Life at the Male Orphan School, 1819-1850 by Fiona Starr & Rebecca Wheller, pp. 19-22]



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