Patrick Riley

Patrick Riley

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Patrick Riley (178?-1858)

Patrick Riley (also known as Johnson Riley) was an Irish carpenter from Dublin who was tried at Limerick in August 1812. He was sentenced to transportation for life and arrived in New South Wales on the convict transport The Three Bees in May 1814.

The names of Patrick Riley and William Temple are listed consecutively in the 1814 Muster as members of the same 'Gaol Gang', and later they were both recorded as absent (on two separate occasions) from the Lumber Yard in Sydney where they had been assigned. Riley was reassigned to the Lumber Yard in Newcastle. In 1816 he escaped but was recaptured and returned to Newcastle to complete his sentence.

In mid-January 1820 he appeared before Commissioner J.T. Bigge to give evidence regarding his knowledge of the different timbers available in the colony and their relative merits and uses. He remained in Newcastle until 1821 when he received a conditional pardon.

There is additional evidence to suggest that he may have stayed in the Newcastle region after this date: he may be the Patrick Riley of Aberglasslyn, near West Maitland, who died at Richardson Point, Meroo [Louisa Creek] on 22 July 1858.

Patrick Riley: Evidence

Given before the Bigge Committee of Inquiry, (undated) probably between 17 and 23 January, 1820.

Q. "How long have you been in this Settlement [i.e.Newcastle]?

Four years.

Q. During that time have you been employed as a Carpenter & have you become acquainted with the various woods procured in the neighboorhood?

I have been employed as a Carpenter, & have had a knowledge of all the woods procured here.

Q. What are the woods chiefly used?

Cedar & Rose wood, flooded Gum, Iron bark & spotted Gum, Pine, Beef wood, honey Suckle red & white, Tea Tree are the Principal woods that are used. Mangrove is likewise used for wheelwork, the felloes & stocks of wheels.

Q. Which of these woods do you think the most useful in house building?

Cedar for fittings, Pine for floorings, Gum Tree for roofing and Beef wood for Shingles.

Q. Do you consider that the wood of this settlement is superior in quality to that found near Sidney or in the District of Cumberland?

All the woods except the Stringy Bark are of better quality here than near Sidney. The rosewood I believe is nearly confined to this settlement.

Q. For what particular purposes is the rose wood adapted?

It is very good for fine furniture & for veneering, as well as for turning. Good Bed Posts are made of it.

Q. Are any of the woods you have mentioned well adapted for agricultural Implements, & carts?

The flooded Gum is well adapted for those purposes & comes nearer Ash than any thing else. The flooded Gum that Grows on rocky Land is much the toughest & best adapted for making farming utensils. That which grows on Lower Land is liable to heart & is short grained.

Q. Have you observed that the Trees in this part of the colony are as rotten in the heart as those found to the Southward?

A great proportion of the Large timber here is rotten at the heart except Iron Bark. The Large cedar Trees from three to Five Feet through are generally roten in the heart but those of Two to Two Feet & a half in Diameter are generally sound & the wood finer in the Grain. In the Large cedar Trees also, a Gum comes out in the working & leaves the wood Porous.

Q. Do you consider the Cedar of this country as fine as the Mahogany Imported into England?

By no means. Our best cedar Approaches near to the Honduras Mahogany.

Q. Do you find that the Timber of this country shrinks very much?

Very much, but I believe it is owing to being cut at Improper Seasons & not going through the Proper Process of Exposure to weather.

Q. Would you expose it in Log or Plank?

In Plank.

Q. What are the proper seasons for cutting wood in this Colony?

I think the months of May June & July are the most proper as they are the winter months here.

Q. Do you think that the wood of this colony is adapted for Purposes of Ship Building?

It is very Durable Timber & I think it is adapted to building Hulls of Ships. The Spars are likewise good but they are heavy.

Q. Are they as strong as Baltic Pine?

I consider that the spars made of the Flooded Gum are stronger than Baltic Pine.

Q. Is there a greater quantity of the Flooded Gum in this settlement?

A great Quantity on both sides of the River & of Trees that are from 40 to 90 Feet. They are very strait, & there are few Limbs upon them.

Q. Have they been much used in vessels that have been built & repaired here?

Very much used.

Q. What is the nature of the Pine wood?

It is very brittle, tho' close grained, & is well adapted for Floors. It shd. be sawn into Plank or Scantling or it is apt to rot.

Q.Is it of use in Ship Building?

None. It is too soft and short grained.

Q. Is there any wood in this Colony equal to the English oak?

I consider the Iron bark to be quite as Lasting as oak but much heavier. In other respects I think it as good tho' more difficult to be worked. The Blue gum also comes near the oak for its working & Durability & is about as heavy as oak.

Q. Do you conceive that the timber that is cut in the Settlement is allowed sufficient time to season before it is used?

It is not allowed sufficient time on account of the great consumption at Head Quarters.


Patrick Riley


Primary Sources
Bonwick Transcripts 
Box 5, pp 2272-8. [Mitchell Library, Sydney. ML Ref: Bigge Appendix, B.T. Box 5]
Census of New South Wales, November 1828. Edited by Malcolm R. Sainty and Keith A. Johnson. Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1980.
The Evidence to the Bigge Reports; New South Wales under Governor Macquarie. Selected and edited by John Ritchie. Melbourne: Heinemann, 1971. 2 vols. (See Volume 1 The Oral Evidence pp.112-114).
General Muster of New South Wales,1814. Edited by Carol J. Baxter. Sydney: Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record, 1987.
Maitland Mercury 7 August 1858.
Newcastle As A Convict Settlement: the evidence before J.T. Bigge in 1819-21. Edited by J.W.Turner. Newcastle: Newcastle Public Library, 1973 (see footnotes pp.167 - 168).
N.S.W. Colonial Secretary. Records. Out-Letters: Campbell to Wallis, 31 December, 1816.
N.S.W. Colonial Secretary. Register of Conditional Pardons. Vol.1, p.183.

Secondary Sources
Bateson, C. 
The Convict Ships: 1787-1868. Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson, 1969 [2nd edition].

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