Ellen Wainwright

Our First Fleet Connection
is the story of Ellen Wainwright, compiled by her descendant Lawrence Kauffman who gleaned the information from the historical record entitled Her Blood in Our Veins, as researched and recorded by Irene Donald also a descendant of Ellen Wainwright. 

To begin we need to go back to the year 1770 when Ellen Wainwright was born and to the year 1787 when at 17 years of age she was tried and found guilty of having stolen a scarlet woollen cloak, a blue stuffed quilted petticoat, and a black silk hat.  The penalty for this crime was banishment to the colonies for a period of seven years.  From the records it appears that Ellen Wainwright also used an alias Esther Eccles.  Many years later Ellen’s daughter Mary Ann claims that her mother spoke very little about the Old Country, however she felt that her mother did not steal the goods at all, she felt that Mr Standen gave her mother the articles, but when the return on his investment was not what he expected he cried thief.  Of course of this we will never be sure.

Following her trial Ellen was taken from Lancaster to Portsmouth and together with 48 other women was put aboard the transport ship Prince of Wales.  On the 13 May 1787, together with the transport ships Alexander, Scarborough, Friendship, Charlotte and the Lady Penrhyn, all forming part of the First Fleet, sailed from England bound for Sydney Cove arriving on the 26 January 1788, eight months and one week after leaving England.  A total of 568 male and 191 female convicts were in this the First Fleet.

From the day the first trees were felled and the first tents erected on the shores of Sydney Cove in 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip realised that sooner or later his greatest problem would be to feed the 1000 or so people, bond and free who were in charge.  The ships of the First Fleet had brought food for two years, and Phillip had been assured that well before this ran out more would be on its way.  In any case the new Colony need never go short, for with unlimited land and plenty of convict labour it should be self-supporting in two or three years at the most.  At least that was the theory.

The truth was rather different as much of the food brought out was of poor quality.  The flour was weevil ridden, the salt meat shrivelled in time so that what should have been a days ration amounted to no more than a few mouthfuls.  Most of the colonies livestock died or strayed during the first few months.  The convicts knew nothing of farming.

And what of Ellen?  The younger and more attractive of the convict women were taken under the protection of the Officers, Corps and Sailors.  Ellen’s protector was James Wilson a Sailor on the Sirius.  Ellen’s first child Mary Ann Wainwright or Wilson was born on the 24 May 1789 at Sydney Cove.

The melancholy loss of HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island 19 March 1790, George Raper

The melancholy loss of HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island 19 March 1790, George Raper

By early 1790 the food position at Sydney Cove was critical, with enough food in store to last only till the end of May, on the other hand reports received from Lieutenant Philip King indicated that prospects at Norfolk Island were good, the soil was rich and the harvests bountiful.  After consulting with his officers, Governor Phillip decided to divide his people as a way of easing the situation at Sydney, and on 6 March 1790 the HMS Sirius sailed for Norfolk Island.  Ellen and her baby Mary Ann were on board together with other convicts.  Unfortunately the Sirius ran aground on a reef off Norfolk Island and was a total wreck.  When the crew and the convicts from the wreck of the Sirius landed at Norfolk Island the population increased to approximately 400 people.  This also meant that James Wilson could have been the father of Henry (Ellen’s second child) who, at the time of his birth, was listed as father unknown.  Henry was born on Norfolk Island on 25 August 1791, however as the sailors from the Sirius were sent back to Sydney in January 1791 it is likely that James Wilson was never aware of Henry’s birth.  It must be remembered that no evidence has been found to prove that James Wilson was the father, only assumptions.  Ellen remained on Norfolk Island at this point of time, and on the 9 April 1792 her eldest daughter Mary Ann Wilson died.  Records verify that Mary Ann was buried (believed drowned) in the Cemetery on Norfolk Island as Mary Ann Wainwright.

After the death of Mary Ann Wilson/Wainwright, her child by the sailor and the birth of Henry, Ellen had another child listed father unknown who was named Mary Ann after the child who died.  This child Mary Ann Wainwright was born on 14 January 1795.  Ellen and her two babies were sent back to Sydney Cove on the transport ship Supply on 3 November 1795 to give evidence in a court case.  Ellen and Mary Ann returned to Norfolk Island in the transport ship Reliance on the 18 January 1796.  No record could be found of what happened to Henry.  The names given to Ellen during this period include – Heather, Esther, Ellen, Elleanor, Eleanor – Wainwright, Mainwright, Wynwright and Eccles.

Leaving Ellen for the moment we turn to Thomas Gay/Guy who was later to become Ellen’s husband.  Thomas Guy was found guilty of highway robbery.  An extract from the Gloucester Journal was found guilty of highway robbery.  An extract from the Gloucester Journal printed on Monday 14 June 1784 read as follows – On Saturday last Thomas Guy was committed to our castle for robbery on the highway near Bristol, John Barnes, from he took two guineas in gold, 43 shillings in silver, and a silver watch.  Thomas was sentenced to death, which was commuted to transportation and was originally listed to be sent to South Africa, however the penal colony there was not proceeded with and Australia was chosen instead.  Thomas arrived on the Matilda as part of the Third Fleet.

From his recorded death in 1842 when he was aged 83 years, we assume that his birth was around 1759.  As Gloucester was the Assize town, it does not mean that Thomas came from Gloucester.  Thomas met Ellen on Norfolk Island and from there a relationship was formed.  We find that Thomas was a relatively old man at 32 years when he arrived at Norfolk Island, how did he attract a young women like Ellen?  Did his status come from being a highway man, sentenced to death?  Was he more settled in in ways?  More likely to become a good provider for Ellen and her children?  We shall never know.

From this relationship records show that Ellen gave birth to three more daughters born on Norfolk Island, Ann on 28 February 1800, Elizabeth on 13 November 1803 and Frances on 13 June 1805.  The family remained on Norfolk Island until 1808 and by that time they were second class citizens with a 2 storey house, (18 x 11ft) and 3 log out houses, valued at £40 pounds near Cascade Falls.  Their land of 31 acres was sown with wheat, barley, potatoes and pasture.  Ellen and Thomas Guy with the three children embarked on board the City of Edinburgh to the Derwent on 3 September 1808.  As compensation for the land owned on Norfolk Island Thomas was given land at New Norfolk.  There is no record showing whether Mary Ann, Ellen’s third daughter went to New Norfolk with the family, but records show that she married Irish convict Dennis McCarty at New Norfolk on 8 December 1811.  Mary Ann and Dennis both died in Geelong Victoria.


New Norfolk Tasmania in Autumn (Wikipedia)
New Norfolk Tasmania in Autumn (Wikipedia)

Ellen Wainwright and Thomas Guy were finally married on the 24 May 1812 by the Reverend Robert Knopwood in the presence of Dennis McCarty and William Peck. 

Thomas was appointed a Constable in the same year and in 1815 was reported in the Historical Records of Australia for his part in the chase of a band of bushrangers who were terrorising New Norfolk in 1815.

Ellen died from Natural Causes at Black River, New Norfolk on 8 November 1839, age given as 72.  Thomas was 83 years old when he died on 10 August 1842; he was buried near the Black River Methodist Chapel at Magra New Norfolk.

Compiled by Lawrence Kauffman 1997

Ellen Wainwright alias Esther Eccles was tried at the Preston Quarter Session Lancaster in January 1787 for stealing one woollen cloak, 1 petticoat, 1 silk hat being the property of William Standen.

James Williams, the father of Ellen’s first child Mary Ann, was a 22 year old Able Seaman from Philadelphia who joined the Sirius on 23 March 1787.  He ran from the ship on 14 February 1789, when Sirius was at the Cape of Good Hope for provisions.


Further Reading:
Cobley, John, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, Angus & Robertson, 1970
Donald, Irene, Her Blood in our Veins, The Story of Ellen Wainwright (Alias Esther Eccles), self published,1992
Gillen, Mollie , The Founders of Australia – A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1989

© First Fleet Fellowship Victoria Inc 2014