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LUCY LANE C1773-1845
Lucy Lane was a young Englishwoman who arrived in Sydney as a free person on 27 May 1797, aboard the convict transport Britannia. It was a nighmarish voyage as the ship’s master believed Irish convicts he was transporting were planning to mutiny, and he meted out a total of 7,900 lashes to the suspects. Six convicts died as a result of their punishment. Lucy accompanied Thomas Sherland, a private in the 102nd Regiment, also known as the NSW Corps, and later as the Rurn Corps. During the voyage, in the Bay of Biscay, Lucy gave birth to Mary Lane Sherland, probably on 28 December 1796. Both Lucy and Mary survived the dreadful voyage and lived long lives. (Some records show that Lucy travelled aboard the Ganges, but this is incorrect as she named Britannia as the ship she arrived on for the 1828 census). Nothing certain is known about Lucy’s origins, but based on information given at her death, she was born about 1773. No record has been found to show Lucy married Thomas Sherland, but their daughter Mary claimed in a letter she wrote in 1851, that they were married in England about 18 January 1796.
Lucy’s and Thomas Sherland’s relationship must not have been a happy one as they separated less than a year after arriving in Sydney, and Lucy entered a de facto relationship with Private John Rousseau, also of the 102nd Regiment. They were later married at St. Philip’s Church, Sydney, by the Rev. Samuel Marsden. Rev. Marsden’s notes give the date of the wedding as 29 July 1798, but the church register shows the date as 23 July. Lucy gave birth to a son John on 19 February 1799, and a second son, William, on 30 May 1801.
In early March 1802, John Rousseau was detached to serve at Norfolk Island, and Lucy and the two boys accompanied him. However, Lucy and the boys left the island on 1 May 1802, probably because of the appalling conditions, and returned to Sydney. Some 7 months later John Rousseau departed the island, on 26 November 1802.
Back in Sydney, Anthony was born on 23 June 1803, followed by the birth of Peter on 13 January 1805. In early 1806 Lucy had another son, Thomas, who died in infancy on 4 May 1806. The 1805-6 Muster shows Lucy as the wife of John Rousseau and the mother of four children.
Lucy’s second relationship also ended in disharmony when she and Rousseau separated. John Rousseau was transferred to India in April 1806 and he took their eldest son John, then aged 7, with him. Referring to the event in a letter written many years later, Mary wrote that Rousseau stole John. From this and other statements Mary made in her letters, it appears the separation must have been quite acrimonious.
Now left alone with a young daughter and three infant sons to care for, Lucy began a de facto relationship with James Knell but she had not heard the last of John Rousseau. In the previously mentioned 1851 letter, Mary wrote that Rousseau returned to Sydney with his son John about 1808 and “…contrived to steal who is Matthew and Anthony with Lawrence…”, (ie. His other 3 sons, whose names had been changed). It is not entirely clear from Mary’s letter, but it appears Rousseau may have been successful in taking all his sons back to India, as she wrote, “When John returned to Sydney his Mother (ie. Lucy) could not get him to stop in Sydney and did all (in) her power to get his brothers with him”.
It appears that in India, Rousseau changed William’s and Peter’s names to Matthew and Lawrence. Further evidence that Rousseau took at least John, William and Peter back to India is given when Mary wrote in the same letter, “As to the cause of their names being changed I can say nothing as that was in Calcutta”. Rousseau may have also changed Anthony’s name to Joseph, as in 1824 Mary wrote a letter which began “My Dear Brother”, addressed to Joseph Sharling. (One of the several names by which Thomas Sherland was known).
From the above, and Mary’s letters, an unexplained contradiction emerges. It seems logical that John Rousseau would have insisted on his sons using Rousseau as their surname, but this does not appear to have been the case, as Mary addressed letters to at least two of them using the name Sharling. Following John’s death she wrote to his widow addressing it to Mrs. Mary Sharling. It is also odd that Mary referred to her father as Sharling and not Sherland. From their baptism records there is no doubt that John, William, Anthony and Peter Rousseau were half-brothers, but in letters written by Mary to John, and later John’s widow, it is apparent that Mary believed John to be a full brother. In 1847 she wrote, “I must say I feel very uneasy at my brother John not writing to me and thinking me not his Sister. I can only say my Mother was his mother and my Father was his father…”. Although not clearly stated it also appears she may have believed the other three boys were also full brothers. One possible explanation for her to have held this false belief is that following a bitter separation from Rousseau, and untimately losing custody of her sons, Lucy may have wanted to repudiate her marriage, and hence told Mary that Thomas Sherland was the boy’s father. This is somewhat supported by the fact that in one of her letter Mary referred to John Rousseau as “Mr. R” rather than her step-father. Lucy’s relationship with James Knell began about 1807, the year before John Rousseau returned to Sydney. James Knell was a transported convict serving a 7 year sentence which expired in 1808, and in early 1811 he was issued with his Certificate of Emancipation. Lucy and James lived in the Richmond area in the 1814 Muster James was described as a landowner. In 1816 he was granted 50 acres (20.2 ha) at North Richmond, and a short time later a cow from the government herd.
Three children were born to Lucy and James, James (junior) on 23 October 1810, Jane on 24 March 1812, and Agnes on 9 July 1815. The children were baptised together on 25 February 1824 at St. Matthew’s Church, Windsor. The baptism register shows their father’s names as Neil, and in later life the children also used Neil.
The family continued to live on their farm at North Richmond and were there at the time of the 1820 Muster. However, the fortunes of the family took a dramatic turn in October that year when James confronted a Charles Leary and accused him of trespassing on his land to cut peach trees, and challenged him to a fist fight. The fight took place on 16 October 1820, and although being soundly beaten James refused to give in. As a result of injuries he sustained in the fight James died on 19 October. Charles Leary was tried and found guily of manslaughter and received a 6 months gaol sentence.
Once again Lucy, now aged 47, was left alone with a young family to care for. However, she did not remain alone for long, as she married William Waldron at St. Peter’s, Richmond, on 15 January 1821. Lucy used her maiden name, which she may have done to conceal the fact that she was already married, or as a further denial of her marriage to John Rousseau. Waldron was over 20 years younger than Lucy.
William Waldron, an Irishman serving a life sentence, arrived in Sydney aboard the convict transport Three Bees in 1814. He had been granted a Ticket of Leave in 1819, and as a convict he had to request the Governor’s permission to marry. William was a witness of James Knell’s fatal fight and was a principal witness at the subsequent inquest. At a time when men far outnumbered women in the colony William was obviously quick to press his suit with Lucy, and was probably greatly relieved to receive his proposal, as it meant support for herself and her children.
Lucy and William remained in the Richmond district for only a few years and by the time of the 1828 census were living at William Ogilvie’s private town Merton located near Denman, but which no longer exists. William gave his occupation as constable for the census records. In 1833 he obtained a ticket-of-leave for the district of Darlington, described as being on the north bank of the Hunter River, (north of Singleton.) Later, in 1835 he was granted a ticket-of-leave for the Invermein (the original name of Scone) district. Other than these official records nothing more is known of William’s and Lucy’s movements or whereabouts. At some stage Lucy moved to Singleton where she died on 1 September 1845, and was buried there. The last twenty-five years of Lucy’s life are virtually unrecorded, but it is hoped they were more peaceful than the previous twenty-five.
In 1811 Lucy’s daughter Mary Lane Sherland aged only 14, married Benjamin Singleton, the founder of the town of Singleton. Agnes Neal was even younger when she married Benjamin’s brother, Joseph, in 1829, aged only 13. She remarried in 1842 to John Green, and again in 1854 to Andrew Canavan. Jane Neal was 16 when she married John Dunn in 1828. In contrast to his sisters’ early marriages, James Neal waited until he was 32 before marrying Sarah Jones in 1843. James became a successful hotelier and part owner of a rich gold mine at upper Bingara. From surviving letters of Mary Lane Singleton we can learn just a few details about her halfbrother John Rousseau regarding his life in India. He lived in Calcutta and was married to a woman identified only as Mary, and had a family. Anthony also lived in Calcutta and he and Jophn appear to have worked for the East India Company where John may have been a pilot. John died prior to 1851. Nothing more is known about Lucy’s sons that she bore and lost to John Rousseau.
Note: Many spelling variations of the surnames of Thomas Sherland, John Rousseau and James Knell have been found in official records and other documents. This would have been due to poor educational standards, differing writing styles, and written interpretation of greatly varying accents. Variations found:- Sherland – Sherling, Shirling, Sharland, Thearland (possibly a misspelling of Shearland); Rousseau – Rossan, Russan, Russean, Rawssan, Ruceau; Knell – Nell, Neil, Neal.
Acknowledgement. Some details regarding John Rousseau and James Knell were taken from “James Knell – A Stubborn Man” by Graham Johnson. Quotations from Mary Lane Singleton’s letters are from “And Another Reapeth” by Kath Mahaffey. Richard Smith