Eather Family History - Thomas Eather 1764-1827
When the first HEATHER's had settled at Chislehurst, the civil war had been raging in England, with Charles I and the Royalists battling against Cromwell and the Roundheads. By the time the fourth Robert Heather died in 1780, a hundred and forty years had passed. The Commonwealth had come and gone. The restoration which followed had seen the return of the Stuarts who in turn gave way to the House of Hanover. Wars had been fought in Europe and America and the American war of independence was currently in progress. Times had changed and people tended to travel more.
Thomas HEATHER reached adulthood and found employment as a labourer at Chilsehurst, the birthplace of three of his forefathers.
We do not know when or where Robert & Thomas's mother Elizabeth died, but if she was alive in 1787 she must have been appalled by the events which overtook the family. Younger son Thomas, then twenty three years of age and working at Chislehurst, was arrested in October 1787 & held in goal to answer a charge of having robbed a man of money and possessions. Five months later, on 17 March 1788, when the home circuit held it's next sitting at Maidstone, Thomas HEATHER appeared before the judge & jury. He defended himself as well as he was able without the assistance of any legal adviser, but was found guilty of the charges of having robbed one George COTTON of a silver watch and fifty shillings in a field near the Kings highway. He was sentenced to be hanged. On 18 April 1788 the Justices of the Assizes at Whitehall in London reviewed the sentences of the Home Circuit, and Thomas HEATHER was one of those who had their death sentences commuted to fourteen years transportation to a penal settlement beyond the seas.
Thomas spent the first two years of his sentence in goals in England. The first 14 months were probably spent in goal at Maidstone, where most Kent convicts were confined.
In May 1789, Thomas was moved from Maidstone goal to one of the hulks on the Thames river near Gravesend. These hulks were derelict ships tied up in the river to house prisoners who toiled in the nearby dockyards. About mid November, he was transferred to the ship NEPTUNE , the transport ship aboard which he was to make the voyage to New South Wales.
The ship "Neptune" was a vessel of 792 tons which had been built on the Thames in 1779. It was a three-masted, square rigged wooden ship, and was twice as large as any previous convict transport. On 14 November 1789, it left it's anchorage at Longreach and moved down the Thames to Gravesend. Three days later, with it's consignment of convicts on board it sailed for The Downs, the roadstead about five miles North-East of Dover. The part of the ship set up as the Convict's prison was the Orlop deck, the lowest on the vessel, well below waterline, so they had no portholes, no view of the outside world, and very poor ventilation.
There were four rows of one-storey high cabins, each about four feet square, two rows being on each side of the ship from the mainmast forwards, and two shorter rows amidships. Into these cabins no fewer than 424 male and 78 female convicts were crowded.
The appalling conditions under which these convicts were forced to live can be better appreciated when it is remembered that, immediately they had come on board, all convicts had been placed in leg-irons and these were not removed throughout the entire voyage. Into each of these tiny cabins were crowded four to six persons, chained in pairs.
Chained below, Thomas HEATHER would not have been able to take in the scenery as the ship "Neptune" had moved out of the Thames and come to anchor at The Downs, there to spend four days while stores and equipment were taken of board. Then anchors were weighed and the vessel left for Plymouth, a slow voyage which took six days after the ship overshot that port and the error wasn't detected until she was off The Lizard, from where a retreat was made back up The Channel. At Plymouth a series of disputes arose, involving the military, the contractors and the captain of the ship "Neptune". Amongst the military was Captain John MACARTHUR who was on his way out to the Colony for duty there. Accompanying him was his wife, Elizabeth, who kept a diary of events during the voyage. A feature of the dispute was a formal duel between MACARTHUR and Captain GILBERT of the ship "Neptune". As a result of the duel Captain GILBERT was replaced by Captain TRAILL, of whom Mrs MACARTHUR wrote prophetically that "His character was of a much blacker dye than was even in Mr GILBERT's nature to exhibit".
The ship "Neptune" stayed at Plymouth until 10 December and then sailed back along the coast to Portsmouth where it anchored in Stoke's Bay on the 13th. There she met up with two other vessels of the Second Fleet, the "Surprize" and the "Scarborough". The convicts endured the cold weather for twenty-four days before the West winds abated and allowed her to sail on 5 January 1790. She anchored at Spithead until the 8th, but then the winds proved "Faithless" and the vessel arrived back at Mother Bank on the 15th.
At last, on Sunday 17 January 1790, more than two months after leaving The Thames, the ship "Neptune" left Portsmouth and moved down the English Channel. In chains below, Thomas HEATHER would not have had the opportunity to gaze for one last time upon the land of his birth. The voyage was really under way and the convicts became well aware of this fact two days later when they crossed the Bay of Biscay. The sea was so rough that Mrs MACARTHUR recorded in her diary, "It could not be persuaded that the ship could possibly long resist the violence of the sea which was mountain high".
After a month or so the MACARTHUR's succeeded in being transferred to the ship "Scarborough" after they had had a series of disputes withe John's superior, Captain NEPEAN. Captain TRAILL might have been relieved to see them go. The voyage was nothing new to Donald TRAILL. He had been First Mate on the ship "Lady Penrhyn", one of the transports of the First Fleet. Apparently he had learned a few tricks from his earlier experiences.
Historical records indicate clearly that he deliberately starved the convicts on the ship "Neptune" so that he could draw extra rations for himself, and in addition, enrich himself by disposing of surplus rations on the foreign market at ports of call. One convict wrote later to his parents, "we were chained two and two together and confined in the hold during the whole course of our long voyage, without as much as one refreshing breeze to fan our langous cheeks. In this melancholy situation we were scarcely allowed a sufficient quantity of victuals to keep us alive, and scarcely any water".
Sickness was prevalent right from the beginning of the voyage. Heavily ironed and without adequate access to fresh air and sunlight; inadequately fed and without sufficient bedding for warmth at night, the convicts soon began to succumb to the ordeal of their conditions. By the time the ordeal of the cold weather was over they found that they were faced with another which was just as trying - the heat and humidity of the tropics as the ship "Neptune" crossed the Equator and continued south down the coast of Africa. By the time The Cape of Good Hope was reached after 87 days, no fewer than 46 of the convicts had died. Anchoring in False Bay at Capetown on 14 April, the ship "Neptune" stayed for fifteen days, taking on board food, water, a large number of cattle, sheep and pigs, and also twelve convicts from the ill-fated ship "Guardian".
The HMS "Guardian" had been dispatched with supplies for the infant colony of New South Wales in response to an urgent plea sent home by Governor PHILIP with the last returning vessel of the First Fleet. Unfortunately, after the ship "Guardian" had left Capetown on its voyage eastwards, the skipper, Lieutenant RIOU, had taken it too far to the south in his quest for the Roaring Forties, and the ship had run into an iceberg. Two months later RIOU had brought his crippled vessel back into the port at Capetown. The mishap had played a large part in the food shortages which Sydney Town suffered in 1790.
After its stay at Capetown, the ship "Neptune" departed on 29 April to commence its run across to Van Diemen's Land. The existence of the strait we now know as Bass Strait was unknown at that time, so all vessels heading out to Sydney Town via Cape of Good Hope sailed around the south of Van Diemen's Land. More deaths occurred amongst the convicts on board during this leg of the voyage, and while the ship "Neptune" beat its way up the east coast of New South Wales. By the time the ship made its way up Sydney Harbour and dropped anchor in Sydney Cove on 28 June 1790, it had built up the worst record of all convict ships of all time. In all it had lost 147 male and 11 female convicts, and upon its arrival landed 269 others who were sick.
Into Sydney Cove on the same day as the ship "Neptune" arrived, came also the ship "Scarborough". The ship "Surprize" had arrived two days previously. Fortunately the convicts on those ships had fared much better than had the unfortunate souls on the ship "Neptune". The arrival of the Second Fleet was a source of interest for those already in the colony, and many were attracted to the shore to take in the scene. What they observed as the prisoners disembarked was a shocking spectacle. Great numbers of those who came off the ship "Neptune" were not able to walk, or even move a hand of foot. These were slung over the ship's side in the same manner as a box would be slung over. Some fainted as soon as they came out into the open air. Some dropped dead on the deck, while others died in the boat before they reached the shore. Once on the shore some could not stand or walk, or even stir themselves. Some were lead by others and some crept upon hands and knees. All were shockingly filthy, with their heads, bodies, clothes and blankets full of filth and lice.
Somewhere amongst those who came ashore was Thomas HEATHER. It was a scene which he undoubtedly remembered for the remainder of his life. Whether he was one of the sick we do not know, but if he was he soon recovered. He had arrived in a settlement which was so short of food that the hours of public work had recently been shortened, and even the soldiers had pleaded loss of strength. Amongst those who witnessed the shocking spectacle down at the shore that day was Governor PHILIP himself. Not surprisingly, he ordered that an inquiry be held into the conditions on the ship "Neptune".
Thomas HEATHER arrived in the colony when the settlement at Sydney was 2 years old. A second settlement was also being developed on a tract of land at the head of the harbour, and ground prepared for sowing corn. The farm so established became known as Rose Hill. By June 1790 Rose Hill had a population of 200, and in the following month a town was laid out there under the Governors instructions. During that first year that Thomas spent in the colony, many convicts were transferred from Sydney to Rose Hill. It is most likely that Thomas was one of those at the new town before 1790 was out.
The following, is a letter published in the London Morning Chronicle on the 4 August 1791 from a female convict at Sydney Cove, dated 24 July 1790.
"Oh! If you had but seen the shocking sight of the poor creatures that came out in the three ships it would make your heart bleed.
They were almost dead, very few could stand, and they were obliged to fling them as you would goods, and hoist them out of the ships, they were so feeble; and they died ten or twelve a day when they first landed.
The Governor was very angry, and scolded the captains a great deal, and, I heard, intended to write to London about it, for I heard him say it was murdering them. It, to be sure, was a melancholy sight.."
Convict Women on the Neptune
Ships of the Second Fleet
A History of THE EATHER FAMILY:
Thomas EATHER and Elizabeth LEE
by John St PIERRE
for the EATHER Family history committee.
The Women of Botany Bay, by Portia Robinson
Australia's Second Fleet - 1790 by Jenny French
The children of Thomas and Elizabeth LEE :-
1. Ann EATHER 1793 1865
2. Robert EATHER 1795 1881
3. Charlotte EATHER 1797 1862
4. Charles EATHER 1800 1891
5' Thomas EATHER 1800 1886
6. John EATHER 1804 1888
7. Rachel EATHER 1807 1875
8. James EATHER 1811 1899