Where did come from and Where did he Go?
I have tried in vain to find William Dring in England and to also find out what happened to him after 1795 when he returned to Sydney Cove with his family from Norfolk Island. It all remains a mystery and my interpretations of the available evidence remain only speculation.
My research for William in England has been long but extremely interesting. We know that our William was a Mariner and therefore the coastal sea ports or canal villages are the expected places to find his birth. Hull, a seaport town of York and is the town he is reputed to have been born in but I have been unable to find the birth of a William Dring in 1767 in Hull.
My first piece of evidence came to light about 2 years ago when I found a bastardy case in 1773 between Frances Thompson, William Perrot and Nicholas Dring with William Perrot named as the Father (QSF/259/C/8). On enquiring with the UK National Archives I was informed that there is neither record of the gender of the child nor any christening record so my first excitement soon turned to uncertainty but my thoughts on this evidence continued to speculate on a possible scenario.
According to this document, William Perrot was the Manservant of Nicholas Dring. I found a marriage and the birth of 3 children for a William Perrot in Nottinghamshire. Is it the same William Perrot? I don't know. If it is him how did he come to be in Hull? Perhaps he left his family to find work, had a liaison with Frances who lived nearby in Meaux, but when she fell pregnant he left and returned to his family?
Then did Nicholas bring Frances and the child into his care and give the child his name? A possibility but there is no proof. There is no record of a marriage of Nicholas Dring to anyone let alone a Frances Thompson. Nicholas was a Brick maker and had 6 apprentices in the 1780s and 90s. If this child was our William did he then run away to sea to escape a lifetime of brick making, maybe? Another scenario is that he grew up in the workhouses of Hull escaping to sea as a very young lad.
My research continued. Another William Dring born in Hull in 1760 - too early I believe and besides he appears to have married in 1781 to Sara Speed with children born from 1781 to 1791 so he was crossed off my list. There were 3 other Marriages of a William Dring between 1781 and 1806. William Dring of Arnold Nottinghamshire, born in 1760 was a Yeoman not a Mariner and also a most unlikely candidate for a convict.
I have however, found two possibilities one fits the bill more so than the other. William Dring of Granby, a town where produce was taken via the river to Hull and therefore giving rise to this William Dring gaining some seamanship experience. But he was born in 1770 which makes him a little young to have gained the seamanship that our William appears to have had so there is not a strong case for him as our William. On the other hand, William Dring of South Shields born on 28th December, 1767 is a stronger possibility. He is the right age and South Shields is a seaport about 40 miles north of Hull where Whalers left for the North Sea, Iceland and Greenland and Merchant trading ships left for Spain and Scandinavia. Many or these ships would return to Hull before returning to South Shields. The sailors would leave the ships south of Hull and then work their way around the city to try to escape the Impress Gangs who were always on the look out for men with sailing experience.
My greatest concern has been that William would have had to be very young when he first went to sea in order to have then gained the seamanship he appeared to have had at the tender age of 17 when arrested. My guess is that he went to sea as a cabin boy possibly as young as 10 or 12 years of age living the perils of the sea and gaining knowledge and experience over the next 5 to 7 years.
In 1785/6 after Williams arrest a Captain Taylor wrote a letter for clemency I dare say that this was because he was a valuable member of his crew and when his letter was unsuccessful he then employed the local Member of Parliament William Chaytor to also write to the courts pleading a case for clemency but this too was refused and Williams fate was sealed. He was to be transported to New South Wales in 1787.
His arrest and the items stolen are well documented and anyone knowing the story may be aware that there were three groups of men, all sailors through whose hands these clothes filtered. The court records state that items stolen belonged to Joseph Mitchinson and Morris Wall but there are other records from other magistrates which also state that two other sailors Thomas Topping and James Walker also sailors, stole them from James and Morris but they had put to sea with no charges laid.
So whats the story? A scenario could be that the clothes may have been nobodys true property but handed between the sailors to wear when they went ashore so that they did not look like Seaman and did not run the risk of being picked up by the impress gangs. Thomas and James had 'borrowed' them whilst on shore leave and given them back after going back out to sea. Joseph Mitchinson and Morris Wall were going ashore and may have wanted to use them but William Dring and Joseph Robinson took them preventing this Joseph charged them with theft and we know the rest.
We know that William and Joseph were sentenced for 7 years and were both sent to Norfolk Island where William was a Coxswain and Joseph a Sawyer. William and Ann's return to Sydney Cove in 1794 with children Ann 2 years of age and Elizabeth 2 months old.
Ann died in 1795 when she was only 3 years old. We do not know how. William's son Charles was born on the 20th August 1796 and baptised on 18th September 1796, However records on both these children have not survived so only speculation remains on the cause of their deaths.
Can we therefore suggest that perhaps, in despair William might have blamed Ann for both deaths? Did he beat her? We know he did this on Norfolk Island when he found her in the company of the NSW Corps Soldier Charles Windsor. Then from 1796 onwards with their daughter and son dead and perhaps Ann's interest in Thomas Huxley had begun, causing William more grief and he left!
Phillip Gidley King became ill and returned to England in October 1796 and I am of the opinion that William left with him. What evidence do I have for this? Only that King was supportive of William during some of the more difficult times on Norfolk Island. William was a skilled and experienced Mariner. King trusted his skills stating in his diaries that William was a 'very useful man' and also 'a man of general good character.' Is this enough evidence to provide an incentive for William to leave the Colony with King? Yes, I believe so especially as it was soon after the death of his son.
So where did he go, if he did go back with King, obviously back to England in the first instance but did he stay there? Well who knows but I have found a number of marriages from 1797 to 1806 of a number of William Drings. Was one of them our William, maybe? I have also found criminal charges, in 1815 (imprisonment) 1819 (imprisonment), 1827(acquittal), 1828 (acquittal), and 1829(imprisonment) for a William Dring. Is this our William? After all he did have a penchant for trouble whilst here in New South Wales and Norfolk Island! This is a pattern that could be enough to speculate that it is him, but who knows, maybe, maybe not.
If it was, did he go to sea in the hope of escaping his life of trouble? If so then he may have been the William Dring who is said to have drowned off Tahiti from the 'Will Watch'. However,I have also found a death of a William Dring Labourer in 1845 in Durham Yorkshire. Given that this is where William Dring I believe could be our William was born, he may have end up going home after all.
In conclusion, my interpretations of the above evidence is all speculation however, is there enough evidence for it to be more than this? I will let my readers be the judge and would love to know what you think and if anyone reading this has a William Dring in their family who may fit the description of events above I would love to hear from you.