FIRST CONVICT FARMER
So reads the headstone of James RUSE who was born on 9 August 1759 and baptised at Lawhitton near Launceston in Cornwall. At the age of 19 he was married to Susannah Norcott aged 33, and two children, Elizabeth and Richard were born to them.
At the Assizes held at Bodmin on 29 July 1782 it is recorded:
“James Ruse For burgulariously breaking and entering the dwelling house of Thomas Olive about 1 in the Night and stealing thereout 2 Silver Watches value 5 pounds and other goods value 10s the Goods of the said Thomas Olive”.
“To be hanged: reprieved: to be transported to one of his Majesty’s settlements on the coast of Africa for the term of seven years”.
In 1785 James Ruse was sent to the Ceres hulk in the Thames in readiness to be sent to Africa but was transferred to the hulk Censor on 1 June 1786, and from there was sent to Portsmouth to embark on the Scarborough as part of the First Fleet.
When his term of transportation was ended in July 1789, Ruse requested a land grant made by Governor Phillip, claiming that he had been bred to the land. Governor Phillip, realising the importance of a colony “formed by farmers and emigrants who have been used to labour, and who reap the fruits of their own industry”, was keen to see if some of the more industrious Emancipists were able to become independent farmers. As only 23 free settlers migrated before 1800, Phillip was willing to grant Emancipists land and the use of tools in the hope that if their farms prospered they would become independent of government stores and even eventually sell their surplus crops back to the government stores.
James Ruse was granted one cleared acre, a shed and some bush land in November 1789 at Rose Hill (Parramatta). When Watkin Tench visited his farm one year later, Ruse had sown one and half acres in bearded wheat and half an acre in maize. As he had no animal manure he had burned the timber on his clearing and dug in the ashes which were rich in potash. Without horse or plough he hoed the ground thoroughly; “not like the
government farms, just scratched over, but properly done”, he told Tench. He turned the ground over to compost the grass and weeds, then turned the soil again before sowing. By February 1791 his wheat and maize was up resulting in a grant of 30 acres being recorded in March 1791, the first land grant made in Australia.
On 5 September 1790, James Ruse married Elizabeth Parry (or Perry) at Parramatta. The couple moved on to the 30 acre farm which became known as Experiment Farm. Ruse described his wife to Watkin Tench as industrious. By December 1791 they had 11 acres cultivated, mostly in maize, with a kitchen garden, four breeding sows, 30 fowls and they lived in a brick house. By August 1793 Ruse was able to sell 600 bushels of grain to the commissary for £150 pounds.
Ruse was briefly a Constable at the Hawkesbury in 1810, petitioned Governor Macquarie for confirmation of a 100 acre land grant, and made another sea voyage later in the same year. It appears James and his wife, Elizabeth were separated for many years during which time she maintained a strong identity and was supplying grain to stores in her own name. By 1822 they were back together again as Elizabeth is listed as wife of James Ruse. In 1838 she was described as 57, living with James, his age listed as 68, on a 4 acre farm at Lower Minto, where he worked as an overseer for Captain Richard Brooks. There they a horse and 3 cattle.
Elizabeth died in May 1836 and was buried at St John’s Cemetery, Campbelltown.
James Ruse converted to the Roman Catholic faith in 1835 and when he died in 1837 was buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Campbelltown. His headstone is believed to have been carved by Ruse himself.
honours the former convict James Ruse who grew of the earliest wheat crops in Australia at Parramatta in 1790.
He spent his last years near Campbelltown and was buried there. The first mill built in the Campbelltown district was constructed by Ruse and is still there.
Bateson, Charles The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Brown, Son & Ferguson, Glasgow, 1959
Cavanaugh, AK, The Return of the First Fleet Ships Geelong Historical Society Magazine Investigator 1993
Bradley, William, A Voyage to New South Wales, The Journal of Lieutenant William Bradley of HMS Sirius 1786-1792 Ure Smith Pty Ltd, 1969
Cobley, Dr John Sydney Cove 1788 The first year of the Settlement in Australia Holder & Stoughton, 1963
Collins, David An Account of The English Colony in New South Wales (originally published in 1798) Vol.1 Edited by Brian H Fletcher: Published in association with the Royal Australian Historical Society
Gillen, Mollie , The Founders of Australia – A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1989
King, Jonathan, The First Fleet The Convict Voyage that founded Australia 1787-88 The Macmillan Co of Aust Pty Ltd, 1982
White, John Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales with Biographical Introduction by Rev Rienits, Angus and Robertson, published in association with the Royal Historical Society, 1962
Picturesque Atlas of Australia, edited
by Andrew Garran: Illustrated under the supervision of Frederic B Schell,
assisted by Leading Colonial and American Artists (1886-1888)
© First Fleet Fellowship Victoria Inc 2011