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The Blackheath Connection©

By Dan Byrnes


To my father, Daniel Hilton Byrnes (d.1976), of an Irish background,
who never knew any of this,
partly as he had only had two years' education in New South Wales;
and to my son Joel, who will know a very great deal more.

In terms of maritime history, (as distinct from penal history), how and why was eastern Australia settled as a British convict colony?


In 1959, Charles Bateson, author of The Convict Ships wrote, (p. 2):


"Its (Australia's) colonisation was the rich reward garnered from (James) Cook's voyagings, but its settlement was not effected in the tradition and spirit which had inspired the great navigator. The circumstances of the founding of Australia are divorced entirely from those of its discovery and exploration by Cook. The mainspring was very different, and in the conditions of the day, and the state of man's thoughts and outlook at the time, it was perhaps inevitable that it should be so. Never in history were a country's beginnings laid by such unhappy and unenthusiastic pioneers as the seven hundred and fifty-nine convicts of Australia's first fleet and the thousands of prisoners who followed them into an unwanted exile."


I fully agree with Bateson here, and wonder, why so few other writers have approached their research on the "founding" of European Australia in the light of Bateson's remarks? This book, intended as an encouragement to new research on this "divorce" in the spirit of maritime endeavour, is based on examination of many original documents, is an explanation of Bateson's remarks. It is, I believe, a vindication of them in terms of maritime history. Throughout, I have tried to provide extra information allowing us to see greater continuity in merchants' careers between 1700 and 1900.


This book arose from an interruption to a wider research project on the history of the transportation of British convicts between 1718-1867, with a view to re-organising information on merchants, mostly based in London, who were involved in the maritime history contexts. That project, in turn, was based on a reading of the Letterbooks of Duncan Campbell (1726-1803), the overseer of the Thames prison hulks from 1776 almost till his death.


The London prison hulks can be regarded as a staging ground for the transportation of British convicts to Australia, at least till the year of Campbell's death, and in this sense, alone, Campbell deserves attention. The use of the hulks has been much loathed as a part of the history of the River Thames. This loathsomeness represents an ugly and difficult part of the history of the first European settlement of Australia that should be well understood, because of the role of that ugliness in a wider context - the story of how, from 1786-1788, a new continent came to the awareness of the rest of the world.


Duncan Campbell's Letterbooks reside at the Mitchell Library, Sydney, overly neglected. Quite apart from Campbell's role as an overseer of prison hulks, his role as a merchant was interesting, because to understand his life, one must become more familiar with a vastly entertaining city, the London of his day.


Campbell's Letterbooks are certainly not "literary" productions, they are often prosaic, but I had taken 250-odd letters and examined them in detail, as well as taking an overview of his family history, his business correspondence, and tracing various commercial and other connections. With such work, I was often unaware of whether a connection might lead somewhere interesting or not, but in any case, learning more of London was always entertaining.


Visiting London in 1989, I happened to know that Campbell had "some land" at Blackheath, London. It was not clear whether he owned such land outright, or rented or leased it, but checking on the matter was how, in consultation with Neil Rhind, The Blackheath Connection was uncovered. This became an interruption to other work on other aspects of history.


In 1989, Neil Rhind was secretary of The Blackheath Preservation Trust. As such, he had inherited a great deal of information about his suburb's history. My interpretation of Blackheath's history for the period 1780-1803 was quite different to Mr. Rhind's, because what amounted to my list of convict contractors - men letting their ships for charter to government for the purpose of transporting prisoners to Australia - happened to form part of his list of, simply, men who had once lived at Blackheath. Neil Rhind and I merged our lists of names, but what became the solution to my research problems became problematical for a Londoner, which makes Neil Rhind's generosity in sharing information even more conspicuous.


How it happened that so many men who had had such connection to the early European history of Australia, and New Zealand, the wider Pacific, were forgotten, when they were active only a little over two centuries ago in a vibrant European city, remains a problem, even, an embarrassment. Quite simply, these men and their families should not have been forgotten.


Suffice to say, delving further into The Blackheath Connection entailed even more research. Despite its research orientation, this book will, I hope, be self-explanatory, so the introduction can best be used to refer to matters of theory-in-history.


This book also presents new or revised findings from 11-14 sets of original documents, or other near-primary documents, which have never been fully assessed by historians. These documents include:


(1) The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks; ([1])


(2) The Samuel Enderby Book; ([2])


(3) Chamberlayn's Report; ([3])


(4) Diary of Rev. Thomas Haweis of the London Missionary Society, ML; ([4])


(5) Genealogical listings for Enderby, St Barbe, Macaulay, Gregory, Prinsep, Wigram, and other convict contractors noted in Bateson, The Convict Contractors. ([5]) And also on Betham as relatives of William Bligh;


(6) Wills and genealogy of John St Barbe (1742-1816), Duncan Campbell (1726-1803) and Samuel Enderby Snr. (1720-1797);


(7) Relevant listings in Lloyd's Register(s) of Shipping as found at Sydney or London, as either printed material, or microfiche of originals;


(8) London aldermen's REPs; ([6])


(9) Membership Book, RSA. (In 1787, The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, The Adelphi) Also known as The Premium Society; ([7])


(10) The Journal of Alderman George Mackenzie Macaulay (1750-1803); ([8])

I am indebted to London researcher Gillian Hughes for tracking down this long-lost material.


(11) Blackheath/Lewisham Renterwarden Book; ([9])


(12) Shelton's Contracts 1786-1829 (PRO); ([10])


(13) The Letters of Shelton's nephew, John Clark 1829-1834 (PRO); ([11])


(14) Lists of the British Creditors, circa 1786; ([12])


(15) Sundry original documents, microfilmed, Treasury Board documents, T1, etc., (Sometimes also referred to as AJCP material);


(16) Testimony of army supply contractor Alexander Davison (PRO); ([13])


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As a writer, I am not a devotee of theory of any kind, and as a historian, I remain unaware of any theory advising how to replace new players in a story often told as history, and how to meld any new presentations with any formerly useful theory. There is, however, a theoretical matter which Australian historians refer to as The Botany Bay Debate. This debate has been stirred-and-stirring since the mid-1960s, if not earlier, back to the 1880s. The debate is much concerned with how and why Britain established a colony, as she did, at Sydney, with an official date for the First Fleet landing of convicts on Australian soil being 26 January, 1788. Which date, 26 January, becomes Australia Day, significant in the national civic calendar.


Historians pursuing The Botany Bay Debate can acceptably adopt three basic positions on how and why Britain made her colony at Sydney, New South Wales, or, New Holland.


(1) to establish a convict colony, only;


(2) to establish a colony, albeit a convict colony, as part of a wider attempt to gain Imperial hegemony in a new region, the Pacific;


(3) to establish a colony, albeit a convict colony, in order to expand trade in a new region.


Of course, discussion of any of these three basic positions tends to overlap, and if Britain was to merely settle a convict colony, or, gain Imperial hegemony, or, expand trade, the role of shipping in the accomplishment of any sets of goals should be examined. Before 1989, my research and earlier-published articles had tended anyway to emphasise a role for shipping.


Even by 1989, I had been considering that The Botany Bay Debate was sterile, producing conclusions that did not stretch far enough into what became Australia's future. There seems little point in a debate which does relatively little to explain what happened after a given timeframe, and even less point where this might apply to a continent settled by Europeans so relatively recently in world history. But as to theory, my conclusion is that Britain's colony at Sydney was a convict colony only, and it was not established, it was not intended to be, a useful base for wider Imperialistic purposes, nor a trade base.


Here, to come to any theoretical conclusion might be satisfying, but finding a role for shipping, or the owners of shipping, remains unsatisfying as long as readers of history remain unaware of The Blackheath Connection. The Botany Bay Debate has been conducted without use of an overview of maritime history, and this becomes a matter which affects New Zealand history as well as Australian "convict history". In fact, to 1999, historians still lack a continental or regional overview of Australasian maritime history, when in fact, that history is part of the wider history of the Pacific region, from the Antarctic to the Bering Strait, from Sydney to Chile and California.


My contention then is that, as a set of information, The Blackheath Connection is an ideal start point for the development of any regional overview of maritime history. This includes, the history of the exploration of the Pacific since Magellan's day, since the day Balboa first laid eyes on the Pacific from a mount on the Isthmus of Darien, or, the area near today's Panama Canal.


The history of Pacific exploration is a wide topic, but because of Britain's success in a new region from the 1770s, such history tends to collapse into the story of convict transportation following Cook's explorations. In literary terms, there is a slight fuzziness in the treatment of Britain's success here, a fuzziness translating itself into the overlapping of the three basic positions we can adopt within the terms of The Botany Bay Debate. Here, remaining unsatisfied with the debate itself, I have had to refocus some perspectives. What seems necessary is to best explain how European Australia developed after a convict colony had been planted successfully.


The men letting their shipping to government for purposes of transporting convicts are usually known as convict contractors, and Australians have tended to give them a bad press, since convict transportation was accompanied with brutality. My question has been, did these convict contractors, as businessmen, as managers of shipping, have any role in the development of business, that is, capitalism, in Australia? If they did have any such roles, then their roles should find a place in any wider overview of regional history - an overview we still lack.


Here, the finding is that yes, convict contractors did have a role, but one needs a very wide canvas in order to research and write on such history. Here, the period between 1780-1803, when Duncan Campbell died, is crucial, since if any trends were set up, they might have persisted in Australian life, as de Tocqueville suggested...


... nations "all bear some marks of their origin, and the circumstances which accompanied their birth and contributed to their rise, affect the whole term of their being".


As noted above, the convict contractors have had a bad press. The problem for the maritime historian treating them is redefine them as businessmen, without revising their bad press, so that they are better understood within their new context, The Blackheath Connection.


It becomes simple. The men termed convict contractors in this book, especially for the period to 1795, should be regarded not merely as convict contractors, but as government contractors - businessmen used to supplying military and naval forces while Britain was on a war footing. Before the close of the American War of Independence with the Treaty of Paris, 1783, some of the shipping managers mentioned in this book had been contractors assisting Britain's war effort. That is, they were known to be loyal, they had experienced staff, good reputations as servants of their king, or his government - and reputations as businessmen who could accomplish their aims efficiently. They had skills, they could attract the services of skilled ships captains, they knew the requirements of getting a ship to her destination and home safely, they knew how to liase with military and naval administration and with fighting men often working under conditions of stress and hardship.


Of the residents of Blackheath amongst them, it has been a loss to Pacific history that we have not known that they lived so close together. Blackheath now seems to have been an area where a great deal of information about the Pacific - maps, opinions, plans, hopes - was gathered. Or rather, concentrated.


Because this was not known, Australasians and their neighbours have known too little about particular areas of London, about Lloyd's of London as ship insurers, about London aldermen who had opinions about getting rid of convicts, about the East India Company, about whaling history, about how government accomplished its purposes.


Between 1800 and 1850, several shipping contractors helping Britain get rid of its convicts were notable London businessmen. One, John William Buckle, lived near Blackheath, at Hither Green. Another, Duncan Dunbar, was probably a member of the Blackheath Golf Club. Relatively little is known about them as businessmen, as shipping managers, as Londoners. That is, their connections to Australasian history - or, to the Australian trade - are still not fully assessed. Their connections with convict transportation have not provided historians of any persuasion with motives to assess their careers, despite the fact that they might have been interested in ships to Western Australia, to Sydney, to New Zealand, during any one year.


Here, some facts emerge and provoke the development of new perspectives. In terms of African, Indian, European or Asian history, Australia is a newly-settled country. Treatments of merchant involvement in convict transportation has served to bury a great deal of commercial history, as much as reveal it. Historians have not yet recognised this, let alone worked to solve any historical problems arising.


This remark may or may not interest non-historians, but the remark is made partly to emphasise that Australasian historians have misinterpreted London and its businessmen. I have written The Blackheath Connection to solve the problems arising, in the hope that once a more useful picture of London is developed, many different writers in the Australasian region, not only historians, will be prompted to think again.


The plain fact of Anglo-Pacific maritime history is that many sea-roads lead to Blackheath. The fact that this took over two centuries to become plain seems no good advertisement for theory-in-history. As the reader will find, this book attacks the legend of William Bligh and the Mutiny on the Bounty head on. As writer, I will rest content if, in literary terms, the Bounty legend is replaced even partially with a more accurate picture of the London which sent Bligh into the Pacific, via the information which comprises The Blackheath Connection.


This hope has something to do with a view that writers should be visionaries. It has been said since the 1930s, that the settlement of Sydney as a convict colony was an aftermath of the American Revolution. This is quite so, but London's shipping managers helping make it true have been greatly under-estimated. One result of this is that in terms of Pacific history, the normal, day-to-day visions of London's shipping managers who were interested in the Pacific, have been under-estimated. Their interests in many matters, in problems of Crime and Punishment, in colonisation, in what by the 1830s became known as pauper resettlement, in trade, in religion, have been misconstrued by the people of the Pacific - and their Asian neighbours.


The people of the Pacific also includes citizens of the United States of America, and The Blackheath Connection, I hope, will make plainer to Americans, just how Britain's various settlements in Australasia were an aftermath of the American Revolution. Making this plainer means invoking the presence of Thomas Jefferson. One of the most difficult aspects of researching this book was living for years with the knowledge that Duncan Campbell, overseer of the Thames prison hulks, the "influential West India merchant" who helped William Bligh to command of HMAV Bounty, had once argued in futile ways with Jefferson in London, in 1786. Only one Australian historian had put notice of that meeting in print - K. M. Dallas, in Trading Posts or Penal Colonies: The Commercial Significance of Cook's New Holland Route to the Pacific. (Hobart, Fuller's Bookshop, 1969.) Very few Australian writers took notice. Why not, is very hard to say.


It is meanwhile true, that the European settlement of Australasia is a direct outcome of the American Revolution. In terms of de Tocqueville's remark noted above, one might say today, that by virtue of their births, Australia and New Zealand need great and powerful friends, perhaps Britain, perhaps the United States. The Blackheath Connection, I hope, will also make plainer why this is so, at least until such time as it is understood, which aftermaths of the American Revolution need to be examined more closely.


In the light of the length of my list of acknowledgements, and I remain grateful to all who have helped over many years, it should be stressed that I am solely responsible for any final conclusions and emphases. Dan Byrnes, Armidale, March-April, 2000


[Finis Introduction]


This file words 3906

[1] The Duncan Campbell Letterbooks [from 1766] Duncan Campbell, Letterbooks ML. A3225-A3230: See notes of WDC. Duncan Campbell Letterbooks, (ML) which are held as: A3225 ML Vol. 1. of Business Letter Books March 1772- October 1776; A3226 ML Vol. 2 of Business Letter Books 13 December, 1776- 21 September, 1779; A3227 ML Vol. 3 of Business Letter Books 30 September, 1779- 9 March, 1782; A3228 ML Vol. 4 of Business Letter Books 15 March, 1782- 6 April, 1785; A3229 Vol. 5 of Business Letter Books 1 December 1784 - 17 June, 1788; A3230 ML Vol. 6 of Business Letter Books 20 June, 1788 - 31 December, 1794. ML A3232, Small Notebook, "Notes of Campbell's Correspondence by WDC, Vols. A to F." Duncan Campbell's Private Letterbooks are held as ML A3231.

[2] The Samuel Enderby Book, Whaling Documents 1775-1790. (Originals held at the Pennsylvania Historical Society, 1300 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA. USA. Canberra, Australian National Library, Petherick Collection of Manuscripts, Ms 1701. Used by permission).

[3] Chamberlayn's Report, Treasury Board Papers, T1/720ff. [This contains lists of the magistrates/justices handling documentation of the First Fleet convicts, Chamberlayn being Solicitor to the Treasury.] Copies of such papers are held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

[4] Rev. Thomas Haweis, London Missionary Society: The Haweis Diary, Vol. 1, 1773-1796. ML. B1176.

[5] As found in Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry. Three Vols., Edn 18. London, Burke's Peerage Ltd., 1972.

[6] Corporation of City of London Archives. Index to Corporation Records c. 1786. Index to Repertories. [Copy, Corporation of the City of London, Guildhall Building, London. Rep. 190, 1785-1786. Rep. 191, 1786-1787. Rep. 190, p. 23: Aldermen Sanderson, Skinner, Brook Watson, and William Curtis regarding Destitution, 26 October, 1785, to December 1785, of victuals to poor prisoners in the Borough Compter, actually distributed July 1785 to 21 September, 1785. Geoffrey Ingleton, True Patriots All, Or News From Early Australia As Told In A Collection Of Broadsides. Sydney. 1952., reproduces the statistics-laden March 1786 petition from London aldermen to the King on the resumption of transportation. The original draft petition is held at the City of London Record Office, Guildhall Building, as part of Rep. 190. The CLRO "Reps" (Repertories, the records on Aldermen's meetings and matters relating) are separately and extensively indexed by subject category. The indexes form a separate and often-illuminating set of concentrated, subsidiary information revealing how aldermens' affairs were linked to matters of prisoner management.

[7] Manuscript, Subscription Register, Royal Society ACC - of the Society of Arts, 1773-1802 [The Premium Society]. Copy, RSA Library, 8 John Adam St., The Adelphi, London. (I am indebted to Mr. John Goddard, then RSA librarian, for checking these original ledgers.)

[8] George Mackenzie Macaulay, [original diary] Occurrences and Observations, Journal 1796-98. Add: 25,038. Copy, British Library. Letters to W. Hastings, 1792. 1795. 29,172. f.461. 29174, f.5.

[9] On landholdings generally in Lewisham and Blackheath: The Lewisham Land Tax Records, Lewisham Local History Centre, London (PT86/527/7-9ff; PT86/527/12; PT80/409/2). I am greatly indebted to Mr. Carl Harrison of the Lewisham Local History Centre, who keeps the documentation indicating who had paid rent - mostly to the Earl of Dartmouth - for land at Blackheath. See also, for Lewisham, The Surveyor's Rate Book and Book of Accounts, A58/7/1. The Renterwarden's Accounts Book, Parish of Lewisham, A58/7/2, also lists many merchant names discussed. The Lewisham Local History Centre occupies the former residence of the banker Francis Baring, The Manor House, Old Road, Lewisham, London.

[10] Thomas Shelton, Accounts, or, Shelton's Contracts, PRO, AO 3/291. [For a commentary, see Byrnes, 'The Blackheath Connection', p. 95, Note 155, cited below]

[11] On John Clark: [original document, Guildhall, London] Relating to the Thomas Shelton contracts. In CLRO [London], Index to Catalog is a peculiar entry, Transp. 209D, Account of John Clark, Clerk of the Peace etc., relating to convicts transported to NSW or the islands adjacent, 13 July 1829 - 8 December 1840, 1 Vol. Accounts for making lists, drawing up contracts, etc. This volume was deposited by Mr. H. Collingridge, PRO, 9 June, 1955 with the CLRO.

[12] The British Creditors: List of Debts due by the Citizens of the United States of America to the Merchants and Traders of Great Britain contracted previous to the year 1776 with Interest on the same to the 1st January 1790. [one page is marked, Recd 30th Novemr 1791] A list presented in appendices here has been transcribed from a photocopy of the original in the Melville Papers, William Clements Library, University of Michigan. I am grateful to Professor Alan Atkinson, History Dept., UNE, for forwarding me a copy of this original document.

[13] On Alexander Davison, supplier to the early Sydney colony, noted in Historical Records of New South Wales, variously: Alexander Davison, T1/3651, PRO [London] In a box, Mr. Alex Davison's Account 15019/26 of document. Bundle, 1809 to 1812. Early in 1795, Davison was engaged and employed by Oliver Delancey, then His Majesty's barracks master-general, as an agent for the supply of stores for the use of His Majesty's barracks in Great Britain, Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney. Between 25 December, 1794 to 10 November, 1804, Davison had handled about 1,323,748 for supplying coal, timber, bedding, furniture, utensils, candles, clothing, etc. to the forces. For coal he chiefly dealt with the well-known London shipowner, Henley, who was a coal-dealer by cargoes, and whose dealings were mentioned to have been very extensive in the four counties bordering the river Thames below London Bridge, in the out-ports, and in the islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney. Another coal dealer was Mr. Wood. By 17 June, 1812, Davison became obliged to defend himself against accusations he had cheated the government of up to 42,000. Davison also attributed some possible problems to the fact that he had a staff of 300.

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Dan Byrnes,
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145 Marsh Street,
Armidale NSW 2351, Australia.
Phone: 61 (0267) 715 243

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