John Webster

John Webster

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John Webster (1798 - 1842)

John Nehemiah Webster was born in London to Joseph and Ann Webster on 9 April 1798 and baptised (along with his sister Caroline [b. 1796]) at St. Clement Danes, the Strand, on 6 July 1800. There are no details of his early years.

In 1820 he was transported to New South Wales for a period of 14 years "for having in his possession forged and counterfeit Bank notes, knowing them to be forged". He was also indicted "for disposing of and putting away forged Bank notes, knowing them to be forged" but was found 'not guilty' of this latter charge. Webster's conviction was with 14 other people (12 men and 2 women) at the Old Bailey in London on 29 October 1819. He sailed from Falmouth in April 1820 on board the convict transport Mangles and arrived in the colony on 7 August 1820, aged 22 years. At least three other of his co-accused were transported to New South Wales on the same vessel: John Hewson, George Williamson, and Isaac Titterton.

John Webster was described in the Convict Indents as 5 ft 3 1/2 inches in height, with a fair/ruddy complexion, brown hair, hazel-coloured eyes, and skilled as a "carver and gilder".

Webster's skills must have attracted almost immediate attention, for when he applied for a conditional pardon in November 1821 he claimed that he had been employed ever since his arrival in the colony as a "Carver at Government House". Macquarie, not surprisingly, granted his request for a pardon on 28 November - at the same time that he rewarded a number of other convicts whose skills and labour he had used in the latter days of his administration.

The General Muster for 1822 lists Webster without an occupation but states that "he lodges at C. Booth, Sydney"; while in the1828 Census of New South Wales his profession is listed as a "Carver & Guilder", residing at Castlereagh Street, Sydney.

Also listed as living in the same house at this time was Jane Jones (formerly Stilwell), who was employed as a housekeeper, together with three of her children, Jane (aged 8), William (aged 6) [from her marriage to John Stilwell, former steward to Sir John Jamison, and publican of George Street, Sydney, who had now left the colony], and Joseph (aged 2) [son of John Webster]; as well as Ann Wall, a lodger (aged 17) and two men employed by Webster: Henry Allway, a shoemaker (aged 33), and William Hallis, also a shoemaker (aged 76).

Webster married Jane Jones on 30 March 1832 - a second son, John, had been born to the couple on 29 April 1828; two more sons were born soon afterwards, Leonard (also spelt Lenard) on 4 March 1829, and Jeremiah, in April 1831.

Afterwards, Webster and his family moved to Goulburn where he appears to have changed his occupation to that of a butcher. Two daughters , Sarah and Rebecca, were born in Goulburn (on 21 September 1832, and 27 September 1834) though they, and their brothers Jeremiah and Joseph, were not baptised until 1846 and 1845, respectively, by the first Presbyterian minister in the Goulburn region, Reverend William Hamilton. By contrast, Leonard was baptised in the Roman Catholic faith at Hartley, NSW, on 4 November 1847, by Father Thomas Slattery; Leonard's 24 year-old half-brother, William Stilwell, was also baptised at the same time.

In c.1839 Webster purchased a suburban allotment of 20 acres of land near Goulburn from Isaac Moses for £100.00. Soon afterwards he sold 10 acres, but after clearing part of the remaining 10 acres Webster discovered that part of this land [approx. three and a half acres] was about to become alienated following the surveying of the line of a new public road between Goulburn and Marulan [referred to in the documentation as the 'South Western Road' - it would later become part of the Hume Highway from Sydney to Goulburn]. In 1841, Webster sought compensation from Governor Gipps of an additional (adjoining) allotment of land for his loss. In this petition Webster stressed his contribution to the Colony and his need to provide for his large family:

"I have been twenty years a free subject of this Collony, [sic] have three Boys and two Girls at home to provide for, and four boys and girls useful to society in other parts of the Colony."

However, he was bitterly disappointed by the official refusal to consider his claim. A letter expressing his frustration and anger survives in the NSW Colonial Secretary Papers. It was written on 21 January 1842 (immediately prior to his death) and as well as making another appeal for consideration of his claim indicates that his recent health had been poor:

"I have been confined to my bed these four months by an affection [sic] of the heart but I must confess that the perusal of your letter of the 13 inst. had near made my heart quit its place at once or burst..."

John Webster died in February 1842, aged 44; though, unfortunately, his Burial Certificate, from the Goulburn Presbyterian Church, fails to provide an exact date of death. The Certificate records that he was buried on 28 February 1842 by the Reverend J. Walters. Traditionally there has been some confusion concerning the place of his death: the Index (NSW Burials V1842 - No.792 [Vol. 103]) lists Campbellfield, Melbourne (Victoria) as his burial place, but all the other evidence points to Goulburn, NSW. Clearly, there has been a later clerical error and the 'Webster' entry has been incorrectly inserted into the Victorian record group.

His widow, Jane, remained in Goulburn until her death on 24 April 1868, aged 74. One daughter, Sarah, married Charles Thomas Edwards on 22 May 1854; Jeremiah was apprenticed as a saddler and pursued this trade at least until 1867, when he was listed in the Post Office Directory for the County of Argyle as a saddler in Grafton Street, Goulburn. Joseph Nehemiah Webster, who had been born at Kissing Point on 30 September 1826 was apprenticed to an apothecary and pursued this profession until at least 1858; afterwards he became a miner, though his accidental death on 15 June 1885 (near Orange) was caused by a tree falling on him.

There are still many descendants of John and Jane Webster located throughout the Central West of New South Wales, and Queensland.

John Webster: Conditional Paradon

"The humble memorial of John Webster respectfully states, 
That Memorialist was convicted at the Old Bailey in October 1819 for 14 years - and arrived here in the Mangles - Coghill, Master, in August 1820. 
That Memorialist has ever since been Employed, as a Carver, at Govt House, and has studied to conduct himself with strict Propriety. 
Under these Circumstances Memorialist humbly implores Your Excellency will kindly indulge him with a Conditional Pardon, before Your Excellency leaves the Colony -
And Memorialist as in Duty bound and in Gratitude will ever pray.
John Webster"

Transcript of Conditional Pardon for John Webster

(Colonial Office: Petition #3211 (1821) p.97

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Primary Sources
Convicts: Bound Indents, 1820 - 1821. 
[4/4004 AO Fiche 644 p.503]. Archives Authority of NSW. 
Census of New South Wales, November 1828.
Edited by Malcolm R. Sainty and Keith A. Johnson. 
Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1980.
Goulburn Presbyterian Church: Burial Records
Uniting Church Records & Historical Society [North Parramatta, NSW]
N.S.W. Colonial Secretary.
Register of Conditional Pardons. [Petition #3211 (1821) p.97].
Colonial Secretary Letters re Land 1826-1856.
Reel 1196 2/8002. Letters: 24 August 1841, 41/7718; 21 January 1842, 42/748. 
Old Bailey Session Papers. Trial 29 October 1819.
(3 December 1817 - 30 November 1819: Trial No. 1415) [Mitchell Library: FM4/7169]. 
NSW Burials V1842 - No.792 [Vol. 103].

Secondary Sources
Bickersteth, Julian. "The Three Macquarie Chairs." Australiana. Vol.14 Pt. 1, February 1992, pp.11-14. 
Hook, Elizabeth. Journey to a New Life: the story of the ships 'Emu' in 1812 and 'Broxbornebury' in 1814, including Crew, Female Convicts and Free Passengers on board. Minto, NSW: Privately Printed, 2000.
See entry: 'Jane Jones (c.1795-1868)' pp. 80-81 for details regarding John Nehemiah Webster. 
Watson, Ann. "The Macquarie Chair - a well-travelled piece of history." Craft Australia. Spring 1984, Issue 3, pp.69-71. 
Personal Communications
With particular thanks to Elizabeth Hook [Queensland-NSW] (July 1998 - August 2005) for additional documentation and advice; and Bev Cox [Queensland] (June 1998).

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