Peat of Peats Ferry

Copyright Carol Baxter 2012
Prepared for Peat descendant Jeanette Bradley

George Peat (1794-1870)

George Peat was born on 8 February 1794 at Sydney, the third of five children born to First Fleet convicts, Charles Peat and Hannah Mullens (see First Fleet Peat Family). He was nearly two months old when baptised on 30 March 1794 in the newly erected church of St Phillip’s, Sydney.[1]

Although his infancy was spent in Sydney, George’s family moved soon afterwards to the area now known as Tennyson in the district of Ryde, where his father had been granted a 90-acre block of land. When George was around 5 or 6, his family’s land was sold and his father and elder brother sailed for England, leaving the other children alone with their mother in Sydney.[2] By 1806 George and his younger brother William were residing in the home of their mother’s partner, stonemason and ex-convict Abraham Gordon.[3]

Between 1806 and 1810,[4] George was apprenticed to merchant and trader Garnham Blaxcell.[5] Another Buffalo connection,[6] Blaxcell had arrived in Sydney as a purser on the ship’s 1802 voyage and quickly won favour with Governor King. He was appointed to several official positions and received a large grant of land however he was more interested in commerce than farming. By the time George obtained his apprenticeship, Blaxcell was one of Sydney’s richest merchants and was owner or part-owner of a number of small trading vessels. However his financial situation began to deteriorate in 1809 and he was in dire straits in 1817 when he died at Batavia, having secretly left the colony before debt collection charges were brought against him.[7]

George’s apprenticeship was evidently in the field of ship construction as he later described himself as a ship carpenter or shipwright.[8] He perhaps learnt his trade while working on Blaxcell’s vessels. George possibly also learnt to read and write during this period as later records reveal his literacy.[9]

In March 1810, George was one of a number of witnesses called before Garnham Blaxcell who was serving as the coroner in an inquest into the death of a child named William Piper. George’s statement recorded that he was:

… an apprentice to Mr Blaxcell [and that] himself with three other boys went after dinner into the Water to bathe; that the deceased William Piper was at that time sitting forward in a small boat near the Wharf and he asked him to get out which the child refused; that about 2 minutes afterwards he heard some people calling out the child was drowned, on which he and the other boys immediately came on shore and saw the dead body.[10]

Ten years later, references were made to George Peat in another inquest although he was not called upon to provide evidence. After Henry Sheffery’s death on 28 August 1820, witness Alexander Ikin reported:

I was going down Church hill yesterday about 20 minutes past four PM. I saw the deceased coming round the corner of Cumberland Street which leads out of Church Hill. I saw him take a stagger as if he were drunk & he fell down on the flat of his back. As he fell he struck his head very hard against the ground. I went up to him and am of opinion he was perfectly sober but extremely ill. He said he could not get up. A young man named George Peat lifted him up & set him up against the paling. He put his hand to his head and said he should be better [shortly]. We then left him. About half an hour afterwards, I came back and saw him dead.[11]

George had long since completed his apprenticeship by this time, presumably having done so by 1814 when he described himself as a carpenter in the General Muster.[12] He was probably working either at the Government Dockyard or for a private enterprise, however it is also possible that he had begun building boats for his own purposes. Presumably with boatbuilding in mind, George had acquired land fronting Cockle Bay [now Darling Harbour] around the year 1813[13] although he was not officially granted the land until 1839.[14] Covering some 31 perches in area (approximately 860m2), this land ran between Kent Street and Cockle Bay[15] and was to serve as George’s residence for many years. 

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By early 1814 George had established a relationship with convict Elizabeth Tutton.[16] Born around the year 1793,[17] Elizabeth was only in her mid-teens when sentenced to seven years’ transportation at the Quarter Sessions in Somerset, England on 9 January 1809.[18] She was one of 122 female convicts who travelled to Australia on board the transport Canada, sailing from England on 23 March 1810, calling at Rio de Janeiro along the way, and arriving in Sydney on 8 September 1810.[19]

Upon arrival, most female convicts were chosen by officials, members of the military or settlers to work as servants in their households, however Elizabeth’s employer at this time has not been determined. She was possibly assigned to Daniel O’Connor[20] with whom she had a son John[21] born on 11 January 1813 in Sydney and baptised at St Philips on 19 February 1813.[22] Whether it was a long-term relationship or had merely resulted in her pregnancy is not known, however it was apparently over by late 1813. The child possibly did not survive infancy as he does not appear to have been accounted for when the General Muster was taken late in 1814.[23]

In October 1814, George and Elizabeth’s eldest son George was born in Sydney,[24] and was apparently the child listed as residing with the couple when the Muster was taken a month later.[25] Another child, Charles (1817),[26] had been born by the time they were married four years later. Their wedding ceremony was performed by William Cowper on 20 April 1818 at St Philip’s, Sydney, with George signing the register in full and Elizabeth signing with her mark.[27] The witnesses included fellow colonial-born shipwright William Fielder (who was a year younger than George), and his wife Mary Ann (nee Dalton) who had arrived free with her parents on board the Experiment in 1804.[28]

On 4 May 1816 the Sydney Gazette included a notice announcing that George was about to depart the colony on the Campbell Macquarie and that all claims against him were to be presented.[29] This brig had arrived from Calcutta a month previously carrying a cargo of general merchandise, and was to sail for Calcutta via Batavia on 20/25 May carrying spars, coals and casks.[30]

It had not proved possible to determine if George took Elizabeth and their son George with him on their voyage to India. Elizabeth was free to leave the country at this time, her sentence having expired a few months previously, however the evidence suggesting that she travelled with George is both circumstantial and equivocal. Technically, if Elizabeth was leaving the country, her details should have been included in the claims notice as she was unmarried and therefore responsible for her own debts, however co-habiting “husbands” in the early colony appear to have been considered responsible for their partner’s debts so Elizabeth’s omission from the claims notice cannot be used as confirmation of her continued residence in the colony. The fact that their son George was baptised on the day following the publication of the claims notice could suggest that they were getting their affairs in order prior to their departure, which included bestowing upon their son the spiritual safety of a baptism ceremony prior to the dangers of a lengthy journey.[31]

If George’s journey was for business purposes or perhaps to assist in getting his parents’ affairs in order, it is likely that he chose to leave his “wife” and son at home, both for safety reasons and to reduce costs, in which case he was almost certainly back in Sydney by December 1816 or January 1817 when his second son was conceived. If a longer journey occurred, then George almost certainly took his family with him and conceived his second child during their sojourn overseas, returning prior to that son’s death in October 1817.[32] However, whatever the circumstances surrounding George’s trip to India, he had evidently returned to Sydney by the latter half of 1817 with an interest in exploring new income-generating opportunities.