The First Fleet Peat Family

Copyright Carol Baxter 2012
Prepared for Peat descendant Jeanette Bradley

The Peat Family in Australia

It was soon observed with satisfaction that several couples were announced for marriage; but on strictly scrutinizing into the motive, it was found in several instances to originate in an idea, that the married people would meet with various little comforts and privileges that were denied to those in a single state; and some, on not finding those expectations realised, repented, wished and actually applied to be restored to their former situations; so ignorant and thoughtless were they in general. It was however to be wished, that matrimonial connexions should be promoted among them; and none who applied were ever rejected, except when it was clearly understood that either of the parties had a wife or husband living at the time of their leaving England.
[Judge-Advocate David Collins, February 1788]

Charles Peat and Hannah Mullens were among the group of convicts who chose to be married soon after the Fleet’s arrival. It was a clear day with fresh gales and a temperature of 72 degrees when their wedding ceremony was performed on 22 February 1788 at Port Jackson.[50] The ceremony was witnessed by another Scarborough convict John Leary who had been married two days previously,[51] and a day prior to that, Charles Peat and Ann Mullens were themselves witnesses to the marriage of fellow Scarborough and Lady Penrhyn transportees, John Calleghan and Elizabeth Linnard.[52] It seems likely that all of these relationships were established after the Fleet’s arrival in Port Jackson.[53]

Five known children were born to Charles and Hannah over the following decade: Charles (1789), Nancy (1791), George (1794), Elizabeth (1797) and William (1799). The Peat children’s baptisms were all registered at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney, although their first two children were probably baptised in the open air. By the time their third child, George, was baptised, Rev. Johnson’s church made of "strong posts, wattle and plaster" had been completed. It was burnt down in 1798 "probably by one of those who had been compelled to attend, and who thus hoped to escape the infliction for the future".[54]

Colonial life

Faced with the formidable task of establishing a penal settlement in the untamed bush of Sydney Cove, Governor Phillip organised the male convicts into different gangs to undertake the necessary work. He evidently assigned Charles Peat to the task of overseeing the timber getters, who were also responsible for shingle splitting and saw milling.[55] Wrote A.J. Gray in Social Customs at Sydney Cove 1788-1789:

Most of the male convicts were organised in gangs to carry on five types of group work [including] timber getting … The work of the several gangs, except those involved in farming, was organised and controlled by convicts, selected as overseers … In the early days, the convict overseers may not have been effective superintendents in Phillip’s view. But it is fair to suggest that few, if any, of them had ever had experience as overseers, and that, in any case, some of them had little or no knowledge of the work they were superintending … It is not surprising that when Philip wrote to Lord Sydney, the several gangs did not appear to be accomplishing very much. Even if all the convicts had been willing to work, and it is quite clear that some of them weren’t, their output in the early days would have fallen short of what Phillip desired … [Yet] whether any of the “proper persons” Phillip had in mind would have managed the convicts more peacefully and efficiently than Charles Peate seems to have managed his timber-getters, is, of course, an open question.[56]

To have been appointed an overseer immediately upon the Fleet’s arrival at Port Jackson, indicates that Charles’ behaviour throughout the journey must have been considered superior to that of the majority of his fellow convicts. In addition, those in charge evidently judged him responsible enough to oversee a band of hardened criminals, a difficult task at the best of times.

As the settlement at Port Jackson was cleared and housing built, social customs started to develop albeit with a colonial flavour. On 19 July 1788:

Charles Peat invited Mrs Marshall and [John] Bazely to share some kangaroo meat with him for supper. Mrs Marshall was living apart from her husband, because he ill treated her so often. At 9 o’clock, Peat asked Bazely to see Mrs Marshall home and they left. Shortly after, Peat heard them call out. He went out and found that Marshall had a hold on his wife, and Bazely was trying to separate them. A brawl followed between Peat, Bazely and Marshall.[57]

Two days later the case came before the court:

Joseph Marshall and William Bell were accused by Charles Peat and John Bazely of molesting, assaulting and striking them on the 19th of July. Peat, Bazely, Marshall, Bell, George Clayton and Thomas Griffiths gave evidence. The accused were found guilty and sentenced to receive 50 lashes each “for making a riot at that time of the night”.[58]

Not surprisingly, in view of his manner and the positive reports of his behaviour at his two trials, Charles proved a dependable man in the early Sydney community. He was evidently given the responsibility of overseeing a gang of workers to which convict Thomas Stretch, accused of constant idleness and neglecting his work, was assigned on 16 February along with the punishment of 100 lashes.[59] Another convict was ordered to receive 50 lashes for insolence to Peat, the overseer, on 2 April 1789.[60]

On 7 August 1789, the decision was made to appoint a nightwatch and Charles Peat was the first name on the list eight men who were assigned to this duty. David Collins discusses the necessity for appointing this taskforce:

From the frequent commission of offences in this settlement and at Rose Hill [Parramatta], where scarcely a night passed but complaint was made on the following morning of a garden being robbed, or a house broken into, so favourable a report could not be given of the general conduct of the people. The frequency of these enormities had become so striking, that it appeared absolutely necessary to devise some plan which might put a stop to an evil that was every day increasing … [The] nightwatch [was] to be selected from among the convicts, with authority to secure all persons of that description who should be found straggling from the huts at improper hours.[61]

Charles was later described by his son as the “first chief constable in the colony”,[62] undoubtedly an inaccurate description although he does appear to have been in charge of the nightwatch. His actions as nightwatchman came into question three months later when he caused a soldier to be apprehended. One of the watchman reported that at 9pm on Saturday 7 November, Charles ordered the watchmen to take up every person, except officers and gentlemen, who were out of their quarters after that hour, especially in the Female Camp. At 9.30pm while doing his rounds, watchman Thomas Oldfield found private marine William Roberts at the Female Camp near the pigsty although he was showing “disposition to meddle with the [pigs]”. When they reached the watchhouse, Charles Peat ordered, as was stipulated under the regulations, that the marine be taken to the Town-Guard, and he was soon after delivered into the care of the Serjeant of the Guard.[63]

On the following day, Major Ross complained that the marine was not committing an unlawful act, therefore taking him into custody was an insult to the Corps. After the circumstances were examined, a clause was added to the regulations stating that in future soldiers were not to be taken into custody unless they were found in a riot or committing an unlawful act.[64]

Charles apparently continued to work as a watchman for the following few years, providing information against numerous wrongdoers. On 24 October 1789 he gave evidence against two prisoners who were accused of being up at 2am the previous night playing cards; the men were ordered to receive 50 lashes each.[65] On 4 February 1790 he was one of a trio of men who searched the hut of a man found carrying cabbages, and discovered potatoes, onions and slops; the prisoner was ordered to forfeit the slops.[66] Charles was among a group of men who testified against William Chaaf on 19 April 1790 for breaking into a dwelling house, and on 24 August 1790 against Hugh Low for stealing a sheep. Both men were found guilty and executed the following day.[67]

Charles also gave evidence against a group of men for being up at an “unreasonable hour” and creating a disturbance on 29 December 1790, and against Robert Forrester for drunkenness and insolence. The group of men lost some of their rations while Forrester was sentenced to work in a gang.[68] Interestingly, Charles later served as a witness to the marriage of Robert Forrester and Mary Frost on 19 October 1791.[69]

Hannah Peat also acted as a witness to marriage ceremonies in these early years. She was listed as serving in this role on 31 July 1790 for two marriages: those of Thomas Murphy and Mary Craig, and of Henry Palmer and Eleanor Kirvin.[70]

Charles’ continued to provide evidence to the magistrates, presumably as a result of his nightwatch duties. On 4 May 1791, he testified against Mary Whiting who was brought before the magistrates on charges of drunkenness and “falsely aspersing Mr Clark, the Deputy Commissioner’s character” two days previously. Despite denying any recollection of the events, Mary was found guilty and sentenced to 100 lashes, and then to “declare with what injustice and falsehood she accused Mr Clark of robbing the store”.[71] One hundred lashes was also the sentence given to William Watkins on 22 July 1791, against whom Charles testified on the charge that Watkins had been “detaining property in his possession that he knew to be stolen”.[72] On 27 January 1792, Charles gave evidence against a man named Branch for stealing a week’s provisions, the latter being sentenced to wear an iron collar for six months.[73] The only case in which Charles’ testimony did not lead to a guilty verdict was in October 1792, when he was among a group of people who testified against Richard Sutton for breaking and entering and stealing over £10 worth of goods. Judge-Advocate David Collins later remarked that “the prisoner, proving an alibi that was satisfactory to the court, was acquitted [as] … it was impossible to convict him … [but] the court and auditors were in their consciences persuaded that the prisoner had committed the burglary and theft”.[74]

Charles’ exemplary behaviour led him to receive the indulgence of a conditional pardon on 29 November 1792.[75] A conditional pardon meant that he was considered a free man while he remained in the colony, however if he returned to Britain he would be recaptured and retransported. His wife was probably the Hannah Mullens who was granted an absolute pardon on 29 June 1798,[76] allowing her the freedom to settle wherever she should choose.

At some stage during the year 1792, Charles apparently ceased being employed as a nightwatchman. As there was a nine-month gap between his court appearances - from January to October - he probably left his position during that period although it is possible that he remained a nightwatchman until after receiving his freedom. Evidence that he was attempting to generate other sources of income is found in the reference to the commissariat’s purchase of a “full grown sow in pig” from Charles Peat on 26 November 1792 for £5.5.0.[77] Presumably he had turned to animal husbandry and perhaps even to agricultural production on leased land.

On 5 September 1795, Charles acquired his own grant of land: 90 acres in the area then known as the Eastern Farms[78] (now the district of Ryde) because it comprised the most easterly cultivation area with reference to established centre of agriculture at Parramatta.[79] Charles’ farm appears to have been situated between Gladesville and Putney, in the area now known as Tennyson.[80]

Although heavily timbered, the Eastern Farms was arable land however no land link existed with Sydney so the early settlers and their belongings had to be taken there by boat. In fact, so many creek-crossings had to be bridged that it was to be years before more than a bridle-track connected Sydney with Parramatta. The Eastern farm settlers depended entirely upon boats for any communication with Sydney.[81] Farming was hard work at that time, particularly for those from the cities of Britain who had little if any experience:

The farms at this time were cultivated by hoe. The land had been cleared by cutting down the trees and leaving the stumps. The ground was then turned over with a hoe and wheat seed was scattered and hoed in. The number of stumps and the scarcity of bullocks or horses precluded the use of the plough. Harvest took place in December when the wheat was reaped, bound up into sheaves, then carried by men to a stack or barn. It was thrashed with a flail and marketed ... Wheat and maize were the chief crops grown ... The houses at this time were of very poor standard. One observer ... wrote: "The walls are wattled and plastered with clay, the roof thatched, the floor frequently nothing more than the bare ground. They generally consist of two rooms."[82]

During his years at the Eastern Farms, Charles appeared before the criminal courts in the role of prosecutor. On 9 October 1797 he accused Robert Williams of assaulting and robbing him on 21 September however Williams was acquitted of the charge.[83] On 14 July 1798 he charged Frances Morton with theft of a bill worth £5, however the case was remanded until the 21st when she was committed for trial at the Criminal Court. Her case was heard on 26 July when she was found guilty and sentenced to death but the Governor recommended mercy - not surprising considering that she was reported as being “very near the time of her delivery” a couple of months later.[84]

Charles presumably farmed his land for three or four years as he still held the title in March 1798 when he signed a statement of grievances from the Eastern Farm settlers.[85] The colonist’s catalogue of complaints - “ye source of our misfortunes and what has almost entailed upon us beggary” - was poured out in a petition to Governor Hunter.[86] Philip Geeves in A Place of Pioneers summarised the situation:

Tobacco, sugar, tea, clothing and spirits were prohibitively expensive, not through scarcity but because “the colony is now infested with dealers, pedlars and extortioners … the engines of destruction”. The prices demanded for common articles were certainly extortionate … Coarse calico returned the trader a profit of 360%; spirits bought wholesale at from 5 to 10 shillings a gallon were decanted and resold at 15 shillings a bottle!

The settlers knew perfectly well who the profiteers were – officers, who should have been attending to the military defence of the colony, and those in league with them … “it’s well known there is not one amongst them brought a penny to the colony, and in the course of two or three years they can mount a saddle horse, ride out to a farm and reckon three or four hundred of goats which they call their property”. That was the genesis of some colonial fortunes but the settlers who had nothing to trade, except the produce of their land or the land itself, fared miserably.[87]

Many of the early grantees ultimately gave up the battle and sold their land, including Charles Peat. His land was divided into two portions with 60 acres passing to William Raven, and 30 acres to First Fleeter William Tyrrell.[88] These men were later given grants for their respective portions of the land,[89] suggesting that Charles’ original grant will not be shown on the earliest maps for the area. Of William Raven’s land, Philip Geeves wrote:

William Raven, captain and part owner of the ship Britannia, acquired 100 acres nearby [to Charles Peat] with access by water. [He] was merely one of the colourful characters in Sydney at that time … [and] later extended his holdings by purchase, his 285 acres being made a consolidated grant in November 1799. They included 60 acres originally owned by Charles Peat in addition to “the second point to the east of Kissing Point”. Thus Raven’s estate sprawled across the appendage of land terminating at Raven Point between Morrison’s Bay and Glade’s Bay. The southern portion was ultimately subdivided as the Tennyson Estate. Buffalo Creek, draining the high ground above Captain William Raven’s grant, probably commemorates H.M.S. Buffalo, a ship well known in contemporary Sydney and one in which two of the district’s landholders, Captain Raven and Captain Kent, both sailed.[90]


Interestingly, the Buffalo was the ship on which Charles was later to leave the colony. Governor King’s list of 1802 recording convicts who had received conditional emancipations, noted Charles as having “gone to England”.[91] Mollie Gillen in The Founders of Australia explains his absence:

On 12 October 1800, Peat took ship for England on Buffalo, signing on as able seaman aged 40. He ran from Buffalo at Portsmouth on 9 September 1801. There is no record of a son going with him, but the boy was probably victualled from his father’s stores.[92]

As William Raven had commanded the Buffalo during its voyage to Sydney in 1799 before passing the command to Captain Kent who returned with the ship in 1800, it is possible that Charles approached Captain Raven in his effort to secure a passage.

The circumstances surrounding Charles’ departure from the colony are curious. He had not been granted an absolute pardon, so in leaving the colony he was technically illegally at large. Yet he managed to leave New South Wales on a vessel carrying the departing Governor, John Hunter. Moreover, he did not maintain a low profile when back in England, but had the audacity to apply for a return passage to New South Wales, describing himself as a late sergeant of the marines:

In July 1802 Peat requested permission to return with his son to NSW in a rather plausible and pretentious letter, saying he had “sail’d with his Excellency Governor Philip to settle the Colony of N.S. Wales and served under him as cheif of the working parties and after on the establishment of the civil police as chief Constable of the district of Sydney”. He had then, he wrote, served in the same capacity under successive governors, “and under … His Excellency John Hunter, Esqr… with whom I came to England in order to receive a small legacy.” Governor Hunter, “Col. Collins, Adml Philip … have respectively authorised me to use their names”.[93]

Despite this claim, Gillen’s research indicates that the names of neither Charles Peat nor his son appear on the muster list for crew or supernumeries, nor is there any record of service in the marines at any time.[94] These circumstances may forever remain inexplicable.

Approval for the Peat’s return passage to New South Wales was granted, with Under Secretary Sullivan writing to Governor King on 5 August 1802:

Lord Hobart has directed me to transmit the … names and avocations of the Persons … granted permission to proceed to New South Wales as settlers in His Majesty’s Ship Glatton, and I am to request that upon their arrival in the settlement the usual ration of provisions may be issued to them as well as such grants of land made to them as have been heretofore allowed to persons of a similar description … Sergeant Peate with whose Services and fidelity you are I conclude not unacquainted, has also Lord Hobart’s permission to return to the colony with his son as a settler.[95]

However Charles and his son did not arrive on board the Glatton, “being left behind” according to a return letter dated 9 May 1803.[96] This letter in fact crossed paths with another letter written by Under Secretary Sullivan to Governor King dated 5 April 1803 which provided permission for Sergeant Charles Peat and his son – among other settlers - to sail to the colony on board the Calcutta.[97] The Calcutta was heading to Port Phillip Bay where a new settlement was to be established, and the settlers were to be given the option of either remaining at Port Phillip or going on to Sydney.[98] As Port Phillip ultimately proved unsuitable for settlement at this time, the settlers and convicts were relocated to the Derwent River in Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania] early in 1804. However Charles Peat’s movements at this time are uncertain. As he was not recorded in the NSW General Muster for 1806 it is possible that he had not returned to NSW by this time.

Meanwhile, Charles’ wife had remained in the colony and was described as a leaseholder in Sydney in 1802 with one goat.[99] Although no details of family members were included in the muster, a return for 1801 had also described her as a leaseholder and indicated that her family comprised four people who were all “off the stores”,[100] indicating that they was self-supporting. These four people would have been Ann herself, and her children, Nancy/Ann, George and William. She does not appear to have re-established her relationship with Charles Peat prior to 1806 as she was living with Abraham Gordon when the General Muster was taken in that year. Third Fleet convict Abraham Gordon had arrived on the transport Matilda in 1791 and was self-employed as a stonemason in 1806.[101] Residing with Hannah and Abraham were two male children,[102] presumably her sons George and William.

Hannah’s daughter Ann[103] was not listed in the 1806 Muster and was possibly in service at that time. Her marriage in 1810 provides the first reference to the reappearance of Charles Peat[104] in the colony, as Charles served as a witness to Ann’s wedding to James Webb on 3 September 1810.[105]

Four months later, in January 1811, Charles was advertising for crew for the colonial schooner Estramina, which had been plying between the various settlements on the eastern coast of Australia and Tasmania from 1805 until early 1810:[106]


The nature of Charles’ involvement with the Estramina is uncertain. He perhaps had some financial participation, although it is also possible that he was merely acting as a hiring agent for the owners. Some researchers have speculated that Charles was serving on board this vessel, and that he was at sea when the General Muster was taken a couple of months later,[107] a reasonable speculation although it is also possible that Charles had sailed as a passenger or supercargo.[108]

A year later, Charles was participating in another shipping venture. On 4 February 1812, Charles Peat and blacksmith Richard Harding[109] provided sureties of £50 each and James Webb £500 in a contract made between the three men and the Naval Office. The contract described James Webb as a boat builder and the sole owner of the sloop William and Ann, while Charles was listed as a dealer residing at the Rocks in Sydney. In signing this contract the men were agreeing to a number of stipulations including not taking any person out of the colony or bringing any person into the colony without the Governor’s consent, an important regulation for a penal settlement.[110] The William and Ann apparently sailed to Hobart soon afterwards.[111]

Despite signing this agreement, Charles decided to leave the colony a few months later. Charles and Hannah had apparently had a reconciliation, as Hannah was probably the “Mrs Susannah Peat” who departed the colony with Charles Peat in June 1812 or thereabouts. On 23 May 1812, the Sydney Gazette included the following notice:[112]


The Peat family presumably left soon afterwards as no later references in colonial records have been located for Charles, his wife Hannah, or their son William. Gillen in The Founders of Australia speculates that Charles had become disillusioned, and she adds that “he is believed to have gone to India where he died on 1 June 1813 at Calcutta”.[113] Other Peat biographies report that Charles wife died on 14 May 1822 in West Bengal, India, although this has not been confirmed to date.[113a]

Shipping records support the suggestion that the Peat family had travelled to India at this time. An analysis of shipping arrivals reveals that only two vessels had arrived at Port Jackson prior to 23 May (enabling Charles to agree a passage with the ship’s master) and sailed within the following few weeks for distant shores.[114] These were the Calcutta-registered brigs Eagle and Margaret which both arrived early in May from Calcutta and departed around 20 June 1812, the Eagle for Tasmania then Calcutta, and the Margaret for Newcastle then Calcutta.[115]

Gillen’s conclusion that Charles had become disillusioned with the colony is reasonable, particularly given the wording of the newspaper notice. However it is also possible that the family’s decision to leave the colony was prompted by medical requirements or even for business purposes. Charles had been recorded as a dealer a few months previously, his son-in-law was involved in ships and shipping, the colony required goods from overseas, and a significant proportion of the cargo arriving in Sydney was shipped from Calcutta. Perhaps Charles’ unexpected demise terminated these plans.

Confirmation that the Peat family almost certainly did relocate to India is found in later references to Charles and Hannah’s children, George and Ann. In 1816 George inserted a notice in the newspaper reporting that he was departing the colony on a vessel that was sailing to India,[116] while Ann did the same four years later, declaring specifically that she was “proceeding to India by the first opportunity”.[117] Ann does not appear to have had a happy marriage, as her husband inserted a notice in the newspaper in 1815 stating that “all persons are hereby cautioned against giving credit on account of James Webb of Cockle Bay, to his wife Ann Webb”.[118] As a husband was responsible for his wife’s debts, this notice raises the possibility that Ann and James had separated by this time. No further references to Ann have been found after her newspaper notice in 1820 suggesting that she left the colony soon afterwards, however her husband remained in Sydney. James Webb evidently maintained a strong relationship with her brother, George Peat, the only Peat sibling to have remained in the colony.[119]

Although no other colonial references have been found for George’s brother William, unconfirmed family stories indicate that he settled at Bombay. Peat researcher P.J. Scott wrote of Charles Peat and his son William:

If Charles Peat ever sailed on [the Estramina], he could have made many voyages to different parts of the colony. His youngest son, William, who was apprenticed to the sea, may have accompanied him on occasion … William apparently left New South Wales with his parents in 1812. For many years he was a seafaring man, rising to the rank of Captain. Later he became Government Pilot at Bombay, where he settled down and subsequently died.[120]