John Norris 1803-1864
After their marriage, Rachel EATHER and John Norris became farmers on a small farm of ten acres close by the farm of John's parents at Cornwallis. It was land which had been granted originally to a man named GRIMES, and which John was leasing. At the time of the land and stock muster in 1825, the had all of the ten acres cleared, and had 7 acres sown with wheat and 3 with maize. They had 30 pigs. Their first child, Maria, was born in 1824 when Rachel was about 17. Four years later, when the 1828 census was held, they were living at Cornwallis and were farming ten acres of land, probably the same farm as they had been leasing in 1825. All of the land was under cultivation. They now owned two horses, but no cattle. They still had only one child, Maria, who was four. Nearby, John's parents still had their farm of 50 acres. Of this, 45 acres were cultivated and they had 4 horses and fifteen cattle. Richard's age was recorded as 52 and Mary's as 39. Nine of their twelve children were living at home with them. Their second son, Thomas, was also married and farming nearby, while their third son, Richard, was 20 and working away from home.
A month after the census was taken, Rachel gave birth to their second child, Harriett, on 15 December, 1828 She was baptised at Windsor on 10 February 1829 by the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. In 1932 their first son, Michael John, was born. No record of his baptism has been located. In the autumn of the following year, when Michael John was still a babe in arms, there occurred an event which was to cause a major disruption to the lives of his parents, and which shattered the tranquillity of the lives of their many relatives and friends. The police arrived at John and Rachel's farm; found them in possession of some meat which the police believed to have been from a stolen calf, and arrested John on the charge of cattle stealing. Also arrested that day on charges connected with the same offence, were two of their neighbours, Robert FORRESTER and Jane METCALF. News of the incident spread rapidly through the district and aroused a good deal of gossip and consternation. The trial was held on 25 April 1833 before the Chief Justice, Judge DOWLING. It was alleged that a calf had been stolen from one, Thomas CORBET, and had been slaughtered for meat. John NORRIS was said to have been found in possession of some of the meat. The three accused were found guilty and were remanded for sentence. Alarmed by the situation in which her son had been placed and fearful of the outcome, John's mother, Mary NORRIS, on 5 May 1833, wrote a petition to the Chief Justices, imploring his 'humane interference' upon behalf of her son. John evidently felt that his lawyer had not presented his defence satisfactorily at his trial, and he had a petition prepared on his behalf on 27 May and forwarded to the Chief Justice. His petition was supported by a number of statements by prominent Hawkesbury citizens, including one from Thomas CORBET, the man from who the calf had been stolen. The month of June passed with Rachel and her relatives and friends in state of apprehension as to what effect the petitions might have. On 1 July 1833 to Executive Council met and the petitions were laid before its members, Judges DOWLING and BURTON.
The petition of Mary NORRIS read:-
"To His Honour, Mr Justice DOWLING the Humble Petition of Mary NORRIS Humbly showeth That the Petitioner is the Mother of John NORRIS who was tried and convicted on 25 Ultimo before Your Honor, for Cattle Stealing and remanded for sentence. That Petitioner since her arrival in the Colony has always maintained a respectable Character, now thirty years, and has reared a large family in the paths of virtue and morality and no blemish attached to any of them until the present unfortunate affair, which have thrown them into deep affliction. Petitioner therefore humbly implores Your Honor's humane interference for her son, who is yet to receive sentence, and that Your Honor condescend to inform Petitioner what steps she should persue (sic) in this unfortunate affair. And Petitioner will ever pray.
Sydney, 5th May 1833.
The petition of John NORRIS was a longer document. It read:-
" To His Honor Judge DOWLING Chief Justice of New South Wales The Humble Petition of John NORRIS most respectfully sheweth - That Petitioner was tried for Cattle Stealing on Saturday and found Guilty. That your Petitioner on the day of his trial had three witnesses to prove his innocence but thru' the neglect of his Lawyer they were not called upon - in consequence of which he was found guilty. That the Witnesses your Petitioner has (the benefit of whose testimony he was deprived of) could have Certified upon Oath that the Meat found in his house was sent as a present from the House of the Forresters, without his knowing that it was unlawfully come by, as it was the Custom to make such presents one amongst another - That your Petitioner is a married man and has a Wife and three small children which he is obliged to support by his industry which if they were deprived of Petitioner they would not be able to support themselves. That Petitioner was born in this country and was never before brought to trial for any offence which the accompanying testimonials as to character can certify. That your Petitioner most humbly begs your Honor will be kindly pleased to take his case into your humane consideration to remember that he has a family, dependent upon him, to consider the character that he has formerly bore - to dwell upon the respectable testimonials of Persons that has known him so long and that you will be pleased by the power that is invested in you to use your interference in his behalf with his Excellency the Governor, that he in the humane exercise of his power will be as lenient and show as much mercy to petitioner as circumstances will permit. And Petitioner as is duty bound will ever Pray -
John NORRIS Petitioner"
Accompanying this petition were the following six testimonials:-
" I certify to their Honors the Judges that John NORRIS has been known to me from his infancy. His Father came to the Colony in 1800 with myself and they have always lived in this district. Prior to this conviction I have never heard anything against them. The Father has accumulated some property and I am utterly at a loss to account for him stealing Meat when it is so cheap and the young man in the enjoyment of his health to work and maintain his family.
Wm COX JP 27th May 1833, J BRABYN, Thomas DARGLE"
"I beg leave to certify to their Honourable the Judges of the Colony that I have known the Family of the Petitioner for upwards of twenty years, and that the Crime he has been found guilty of is the first I have ever heard him accused of. I therefore beg leave to recommend him, for the favourable consideration of their Honors, for the most lenient sentence the crime will admit of. John HOWE Coroner Windsor 27th May 1833 George LODER"
"I certify that I have known John NORRIS upwards of four years and that he has never been charged with any offence except the one for which he has lately been tried. S. North JP Supt. of Police Windsor 26th may 1833"
" I certify that I have known John NORRIS upwards of Six years and that he has never been charged with any offence what ever. Benjamin HODSON Chief Constable Windsor"
" I do certify that I have known John NORRIS from his infancy and always considered a sober honest industrious character Patrick BYRNE Thomas CORBET Chief prosecutor"
" I do certify that it does not appear to me that John NORRIS had any part in stealing my Calf that he is convicted for. Given under my hand. Thomas CORBET Witness: Thomas LYNCH"
" I certify that I believe the foregoing statements to be correct. John COBCROFT Jnr District Constable Wilberforce"
The members of the Executive Council studied the petitions that had been laid before them and made decision with regard to them. Soon afterwards they handed down the sentences for which the three accused had been remanded.
The following report appeared in the newspaper, "The Sydney Morning Herald", in its issue that day: " LAW INTELLIGENCE Civil side - The Chief Justice and Judges DOWLING and BURTON took their seats in Banco this morning, when the following persons were put to the bar, and received the judgement of the court Robert FORRESTER and John NORRIS, for Cattle Stealing, Death recorded, and Jane METCALF for receiving part of the meat known to have been stolen, to be imprisoned in the third class of the factory for 12 months". Whatever hopes that Rachel had nourished that the petitions might have had some effect upon the judges were dashed by the announcement of this verdict. Despair engulfed her with the realisation that, within the brief passage of days, her husband could go to the gallows. The cloud was soon lifted. Within a short time John NORRIS's sentence was commuted to 7 years penal servitude in Van Diemen's Land. This verdict, coming after the period of great anxiety and trauma which Rachel had suffered while she had waited for the outcome of her husband's trial and then his sentence, would have been greeted with some feelings of relief, although tempered with the firm belief that fate had dealt him an injustice. For a few weeks John was held in the Sydney Gaol. Then he was transferred to the hulk "Phoenix" in Sydney Harbour, pending his transportation. From there he was transferred to the "Medway", and on it made the voyage from Sydney to Hobart, where he arrived in October 1833. This was a new experience for him, but one which he would have enjoyed much more under different circumstances. His convict indent described him as 31 years of age, over 5'9" tall, with fresh complexion, light brown hair and grey eyes. He was married with three children; his wife Rachel being at Windsor. He stated, "I expect her by the first ship." John was evidently aware that his wife intended to join him in Van Diemen's Land as soon as possible. Early in the following month Rachel bid a sad farewell to her mother; her sisters and brothers and John's relatives, and travelled to Sydney. On 8 November 1833 the vessel "Sir John Rae Ried" under Captain HAIG departed from Sydney Harbour for Hobart. One of the passengers on board was Mrs Rachel NORRIS. Presumably she had her three children with her. The youngest, Michael John, was scarcely a year old. By the middle of November John and his family were reunited and they set up house in Hobart. John had been allocated to 'Public Works' in or near the town. On 27 September 1834 a daughter was born to Rachel at Hobart and named Elizabeth. John's period of penal servitude was whittled away gradually by the passage of time. In 1835 he was still on Public Works. Time probably passed slowly for Elizabeth, who undoubtedly missed the familiar sights of her Hawkesbury surroundings and the familiar faces of loved ones. On 17 July 1837 another son was born and named Thomas. Two more long years passed and on 3 November 1839, after Rachel had been in Hobart for almost six years, a daughter Rachel, was born to her. She and John now had six thriving children. In 1840 John NORRIS completed his sentence and was granted his freedom. The family returned to Sydney by ship in late July or early August and were soon residing once more at Cornwallis. Excitement would have prevailed as they were greeted by their relatives after an absence of nearly seven years. On 23 August 1840 infant Rachel was baptised at Windsor, and a week later daughter Elizabeth and son Thomas were baptised. One sad feature of their homecoming was that John's father was not there to greet them. In 1838, as a grey-haired old man of over sixty years, he had been found guilty of some transgression of the law, and transported once again. Forty years had passed since his former conviction. He made his last will on 15 March 1838, and was transported soon afterwards to Norfolk Island. He was there when John and his family returned from Van Diemen's Land, and they were destined never to see him again, as he died on Norfolk Island on 19 February 1843 and was laid to rest in the cemetery down by the beach at Kingston. Rachel found some changes amongst her relatives too upon her return. Her brothers-in-law, Joseph ONUS and Robert WILLIAMS, were both dead, and her sister Ann was remarried to William SHARP. Her brother James was married and living at Richmond. For a few months John and Rachel resided at Cornwallis and then, on 3 October 1840, John bought 60 acres of land at Kurrajong from Roger CORNER. The family had taken up residence on their new farm by early in 1841. The house into which they moved was a simple dwelling of timber construction. It was a home that twelve year-old daughter Harriet was to know for only a few short months. On 10 October 1841, that year, she died and was buried in the Churchyard of the Roman Catholic Church at Windsor. Her mother, Rachel was pregnant again at that time and five months later, on 17 March 1842, was safely delivered of another daughter who was named Ann. Born at Kurrajong, she was christened in the Roman Catholic Church at Windsor. On 30 January 1843 Rachel and John celebrated the first of their family weddings. On that day their eldest daughter, Maria, aged eighteen, was married to Patrick DUNN of North Richmond. Before the year was out they became grandparents when Maria's daughter, Elizabeth Letitia, was born on 1 October. During the 1840's Rachel and John continued to add to their family. Another daughter, Rebecca, was born at Kurrajong on 30 June 1844 and was later baptised at the Roman Catholic Church at Windsor. She was followed in 1846 by a third son, Stephen, who was also born at Kurrajong. John added to his farming activities by the purchase on 5 April 1851 of 30 acres of land at Kurrajong from Francis BEDDEK. On 7 March 1852, nearly six years after the birth of son Stephen, Rachel gave birth to her tenth and last child. She was 44 years old. The new baby, her seventh daughter, was named Susannah and was baptised on 28 July that year at the Roman Catholic Church at Kurrajong. Throughout the 1850's John persevered with his farming activities on his land at Kurrajong. In 1853 he turned fifty. In 1854 there were two mare weddings in the family. On 26 May eldest son, Michael John, at the age of 21, married Jane COLBRAN, a young English lass who lived on a nearby farm at Kurrajong. The young couple soon settled on a farm of their own in the same district. Six months later, on 2 November 1854, Michael's sister Elizabeth, age 20 years, married Cornelius McMAHON, son of another Kurrajong family. They also settled at Kurrajong and there raised a large family. During the winter of 1855, fifteen year-old daughter Rachel married John COLBRAN, a brother of her sister-in-law Jane. By the end of the decade there were ten Norris grand-children. In the winter of 1860 Rachel's mother died at the venerable age of nearly ninety. Her funeral at St Matthew's Church at Windsor, saw the gathering of numerous relatives and friends who had come to pay their respects for one who had been amongst the pioneer settlers in the Valley, and whom most had known for all of their lives. It was an occasion that Rachel would have remembered vividly in the years that followed. Two more family weddings were celebrated within the next two years. On 30 October 1861, Rachel and John's second son, Thomas, age 24 years, was married at North Richmond to Catherine LONDON, seventeen year-old daughter of a neighbouring farmer, William LONDON and his wife, Dinah (nee RILEY). Seven months later, on 27 May 1862, twenty year-old Ann, the fifth NORRIS daughter, was married to Henry GREEN, a twenty-four year-old farmer who had been born in the Richmond district. In November 1862 Rachel's sister Charlotte died. It was the first death amongst her siblings and undoubtedly Rachel felt the loss deeply. As they had both lived within a few miles of Richmond, the sisters had seen a great deal of each other over the years, ever since Rachel had returned from Tasmania and had moved to the farm at Kurrajong. On 26 January 1863 there was another bereavement in the family when John's elderly mother, Mary NORRIS, died after two decades of widowhood. Mary had retained ownership of the old family farm at Cornwallis which had been granted originally to Jane EZZY. In her will, she bequeathed it to her son John. He and Rachel continued to live at Kurrajong and worked their farm there. Whether John leased the Cornwallis farm or endeavoured to run it as well, is not known. He had had possession of it for less than two years when tragedy struck again, suddenly and unexpectedly. John was proceeding along the road at nearby Sally's Bottom, when he fell from his loaded cart and was crushed as a wheel passed over him. He died instantly. Rachel and her family were thrown into a state of grief as news of the accident spread throughout the community. John had reached the age of 61, but could have enjoyed many more years to see his grandchildren increasing in number and growing to adulthood. Widowhood had been thrust upon Rachel at the age of 56. A large crowd of relatives and friends gathered at St Matthew's, Roman Catholic Church at Windsor a day or two later to pay their last respects as John's body was laid to rest. Rachel inherited the family farm at Kurrajong. The Cornwallis farm, which John had inherited only the previous year, was sold for 65 and the proceeds shared amongst Rachel and her children. Further sadness followed for Rachel, when her eldest sister, Ann SHARP, died on 7 April 1865. Rachel was from then on the only EATHER daughter still living. The 1860's saw the beginning of an exodus of some of the NORRIS children from the Hawkesbury district to the western plains beyond the Blue Mountains. The first to go may have been Rachel's sixth daughter Rebecca. Early in 1865 at the age of 20, Rebecca was married at North Richmond to John COOK, the son of Isaac Cook, who had lived for many years in the Hawkesbury district. Within a few months of their marriage, Rebecca and John packed their family possessions and their farm equipment and proceeded over the ranges to the district of Spring Creek near the town of Orange. There they made their home on 120 acres of land that John had purchased, and began farming. Other members of Rachel's family soon followed and eventually Rachel decided to follow them. Just when she left her Kurrajong home for the last time has not been determined, but she spent her final years in the Orange district and died at Spring Creek on 3 August 1875 age 67 years. All of her children, with the exception of the eldest two of her daughters, survived her. Nearly fifty grandchildren had been born by then, and many more were added to the total in the years that followed.