Of good convict stock

John Edward (Jack) Payne was of pure convict stock.  He was not a kind or a gentle man.

John Edward Payne

John Edward (Jack) Payne (1866 – 1956)

Perhaps that wasn’t surprising, given who his forebears were.  They must surely have been scarred by their experiences in prison, on convict ships and in a harsh, unfamiliar new country.

Who were these people and what did they do to get themselves transported?

Jack’s father, Big John Payne, was the son of a convict father and a mother whose parents were convicts.

John Payne 001

“Big” John Payne      (1843-1910)

John’s father, Edward Payne, was born about 1802 and baptised in the town of Stockbury

Edward Payne

Edward Payne         (c1802-1880)

in Kent, England.  He was tried for sheep stealing at the Lent Assizes in Kent in 1824, was convicted and sentenced to death.  At some point his sentence was commuted to life and he arrived in the colony of New South Wales on 1 July 1824 on the ship Minerva.  He received a conditional pardon in 1841 at which time he was described as 5 feet 4 ¾ inches in height, of a sallow complexion, with light hair and blue eyes.


There would have been some familiar faces in New South Wales when Edward arrived.  His father John Payne (c1774-probably 1820), brothers Thomas Payne (c1797-?) and Richard Payne (1800-1868) had arrived on the convict ship Malabar in 1819 and brother Stephen Payne (c1798-1870) on the Eliza in 1822.  Edward’s father most likely died before Edward’s arrival.  I don’t know how often or even whether Edward saw Thomas in Australia but Stephen and Richard were living in the same area as Edward in their later years once they had all served their sentences.  John Payne Snr, having served six months in prison in 1817, was then tried along with Thomas and Richard Payne in Kent in 1819.  All were sentenced to 7 years. From a newspaper of the time:

Committed to St. Augustine’s Gaol….John Payne (sic), Thomas Payne, and John Payne, the elder, charged on the oath of William White, (an accomplice, admitted an evidence for the Crown,) and others, with having on the night of the 3d instant, broken open the poultry-house of William Twopeny, esq. at Tunstal, and stealing a quantity of poultry there from.

Stephen Payne had been tried for larceny in 1818.

William Safleet and Stephen Payne charged with stealing, at Stockbury, divers hogs, property of Richard and James Hudson.

Why did this family keep stealing livestock?  To eat or to sell?

In 1853 John Payne Snr’s nephew, Robert Roberts and his wife Maria arrived in New South Wales as free settlers aboard the Malvina Vidal.  Robert’s brother, William J Roberts, also came to Australia as a free settler.  Were they encouraged to emigrate by letters from their now free, landowning cousins?

Ann Payne (nee Hanratty) 001

Ann Hanratty (1823-1913)

Edward was the only one of the brothers to marry. He married the fourteen-year-old Ann Hanratty in 1837.  Ann’s parents, Patrick Hanratty and Sarah Primer (nee Stephen(s)) in 1821. Patrick was born around 1778 in Drogheda, County Louth in Ireland. He was tried in 1800 in Louth, convicted of stealing flax worth 3 or 4 shillings and received a 7 year sentence.  A petition was raised on his behalf, offering that he could join the military instead but to no avail. He arrived in New South Wales on the Atlas in 1802.  The poor man lost a leg as a result of another convict attempting medical treatment which he was not qualified to perform.  Patrick settled with his family in Parramatta once he had his pardon.

Sarah Stephen(s) was from the greater Manchester area and was convicted in January 1816 in Lancaster.  She arrived on the Lord Melville in February 1817.  She had been tried along with a number of others, her part in the crime was receiving stolen goods. Sarah seems to have been one of the poor, driven to crime to survive.  In 1813, she and two of her children were removed from the parish in which they were living to their home parish, a practice which relieved the non-native parish of having to provide poor relief.  At that time, Sarah’s husband John was absent from the family. He seems to have returned because Sarah brought her infant daughter, Matilda, with her on the voyage to Australia.

1813 removal Primer

Removal order 1813

So, Ann Hanratty and Edward Payne’s son, John Payne, married Mary Ann Sophia Merrick. Mary Ann’s mother, Maria Wood, was the daughter of convicts Charles Wood and Ann Walford.  Mary Ann’s father, Edward Merrick, was the son of convicts Joseph Merrick and Mary Elizabeth Russell.

Charles Wood was born around 1765 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire.  He was tried on 9 July 1796, (for fracturing the skull of Jane Goodman, demanding money of her and threatening her life in case of refusal), convicted and arrived in May 1798 on the Barwell.

Ann Walford was also from Worcester, born  around 1784. She was tried at the Worcester Quarter Sessions on 11 April 1809 for stealing a pair of sheets (the property of Mr Hardman) and a shift (the property of Samuel Pitt), convicted and sentenced to transportation for 7 years.  Was she a laundress to have access to the linen of two different people? She arrived on 10 September 1810 on the Canada

Edward Merrick was born around 1760 in England. He was perhaps the son of John Merrick and Susannah who was baptised in 1763 at St James Clerkenwell.  Edward was tried on 2 April 1788 at the Old Bailey in London.

EDWARD MERRICK and GEORGE WOODWARD were indicted for stealing, on the 26th of March last, two pounds weight of tea, value 7 s. seven loaves of refined sugar, value 30 s. twenty pounds weight of moist sugar, value 10 s. three pounds weight of rice, value 1 s. a pound of pepper, value 2 s. the property of John Victual. A second Count for stealing the same, the property of John Roys. EDWARD MERRICK, GUILTY. Transported for seven years. GEORGE WOODWARD, NOT GUILTY. Tried by the first Middlesex Jury before Mr. Justice ASHURST.7 years, arrived June 1790

Other records describe how the goods listed above were actually on a wagon.  Edward and George were caught when they “parked” the wagon outside an inn. Edward arrived in New South Wales in 1790 aboard the Surprise, one of the ships of the Second Fleet. He eventually became a landholder and police constable in the Richmond district of New South Wales.

His wife, Mary Elizabeth Russell, came on  one of the Third Fleet ships, the Mary Ann, arriving on 9 July 1791, having been sentenced to 7 years transportation.  She was also tried at the Old Bailey so was perhaps from the London area.  She was born around 1764.

MARY RUSSELL was indicted for feloniously stealing, one hank of silk, value 10 s. the property of John Dye and Edward Harvey , privily in their shop .

JOHN DYE sworn.

I live at No. 38, St. Martin’s Le Grand , I am a man’s mercer and trimming maker , in partnership with E. Hervey; about seven weeks since I first saw the prisoner, she brought a pattern of sewing silk, and said her father used a good deal, and would be a good customer; she came six or eight times a week, a boy served her, and on packing up the paper, we found a considerable decrease in the quantity; this was a fortnight before; from that time we kept our silk weighed and marked, on purpose to detect her if possible, having a strong suspicion; we shewed her a paper containing ten heads, and each head weighing about eight ounces; Thomas Waters served her, who usually did serve her; I went out to see which way she went; when she came out the witness Waters followed her: Mr. Haywood was in the shop, he is not here; he took her back into the shop, I followed her; she sat herself on a stool nigh the counter, and on moving her from thence, we discovered a head of silk dropt on the ground; we sent for a constable immediately, and took her before Sir Sampson Wright’s: she said, dear Sir, how can you say so; she did not desire me to shew her any favour.


The prisoner came into the shop, we shewed her one paper of raven grey silk; about six pounds in ten different heads, and about eight ounces in each; she purchased three hanks out of three different heads; I had examined that paper just before she was in, and I missed one head, which is eight ounces; I followed her out and brought her to the shop; she sat down on a stool; I sent for a constable, when he came, I was going to remove her into the middle of the shop to examine her, and there was a hank of silk on the floor by the stool; I counted the silk and missed a head before I went out; I did not see her take it; I will swear that hank of silk was not on the floor when she was brought back.


I did not meddle with or touch it.

The prisoner called one witness who gave her a good character.


Of stealing, but not privily .

Transported for seven years .

Tried by the first Middlesex Jury before Mr. Baron PERRYN.

Merrick gravestone

The tombstone of Edward Merrick and Mary Elizabeth Merrick (nee Russell)

I often wonder what drove them all to crime.  Sarah Primer seems to have been in pretty desperate circumstances, Edward and John Payne seem to have come from a family of career criminals. None of them were wealthy or were political prisoners.  The Industrial Revolution was in full swing and the cities were full of people who had come from the country seeking work.  There weren’t enough jobs and conditions in the cities were miserable. Those who did have jobs were underpaid and often working in unsafe conditions. This is not to excuse the choices they made but they certainly paid for those choices.  I wonder whether they pined for home and family or decided to make the best of what fate had dealt them.

Big John Payne

John Payne wasn’t called “Big John Payne” for nothing.

“Big” John Payne (1843-1910)

The man was 24 stone in the old money which is roughly equivalent to 152kg.  He had a special bathtub made for himself because he didn’t fit in any regular one.  I believe it is in the Upper Clarence Historical Society’s museum.

John Paynes bathtub

John Payne’s bathtub

John was born and grew up in the Hunter Valley where his ex-convict father and child-of-ex-convicts mother had been granted land.  Their house still stands near Wollombi at Payne’s Crossing.

He married Mary Ann Sophia Merrick, the granddaughter of four convicts when he was 21 and after a few years and two children they set off north in search of greener pastures or adventure.  Over the next decade and a bit they lived in different towns in New South Wales.  Mary Ann Sophia died in 1885 in her late forties of a mystery condition, recorded as “tetere grave” on her death certificate.

In the next stage of John’s life he moved to the northern rivers area of New South Wales, ran the Australian Hotel in Drake for a while and then opened his own hotel on the Tooloom goldfields in 1894.

The Tooloom Hotel with John Payne at the far left on the verandah

The Tooloom Hotel with John Payne at the far left on the verandah

Because John was such a big man, he could rest his arms on each side of the hallways as he walked through the building.

A hallway in the building which was once the Tooloom Hotel

A hallway in the building which was once the Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel

He also had interests in a number of goldmines and claims.  The best known of these ventures was the “Rise and Shine Gold Mining Company”. Family stories say that he and his son, Jack, salted the mine so that its wealth appeared greater than it actually was to attract investors.

In 1889 John returned to the Hunter Valley to marry Mary Eliza Macfarlane and brought her north with him.  There were no children of this marriage.

John Payne's grave

John Payne’s grave

Big John died in 1910 and is buried at Flagstone near Tooloom.

His widow ran the hotel for another ten years or so before she retired.

Mary Eliza Payne's send off from the Tooloom Hotel

Mary Eliza Payne’s send off from the Tooloom Hotel









People say that John’s ghost haunts the old Tooloom Hotel, now a private residence.  The more prosaic explanation is that it is the cedar which the walls are made out of creaking as the temperature changes.


Perhaps the reason my great-grandfather, Jack Payne, was so strict with his daughters when it came to keeping company with young men, was what had happened to his sister, Katey Ann. In 1884, 16-year-old Katey Ann took strychnine when her parents refused to consent to her marriage to one Henry Tee. Stories passed down through the family indicated that two sisters had committed suicide but I have found no evidence of this.

Payne Family Bible

Payne Family Bible

However I don’t know what became of the next sister in the family, Laura Suzette Payne .  She seemed to vanish from the face of the earth.  In 1885 at the ripe old age of 14, she married William O’Connor.  Perhaps Laura’s parents didn’t want to risk losing another daughter so consented to the marriage. Perhaps Laura was pregnant.  Laura’s mother, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Merrick) died in June 1885, the same year Laura married and the year after Katey Ann died. Laura might have been feeling a bit confused when she agreed to marry William O’Connor.

William O’Connor died of opium poisoning in the Moree hospital in 1900 but I have not managed to find any trace of Laura after her marriage.  The two were obviously not living together at the time of Henry’s death.

Death William O'Connor


There was also a story that Laura may have joined a travelling circus or performing troupe but I have found no evidence of that either.  Family stories can be a bit unreliable.

I’ve disproved at least three passed-down-through-the-generations family stories since I started genealogy research.  I’ve also uncovered a member of parliament, two bigamists and an ancestor who was convicted of conspiracy.  Oh and then there are the seven convicts.


Gold is running in my veins

The mists rose slowly out of the valleys, as first the Clarence, and then its tributary, the Timbarra or Rocky River, were discovered by the cedar-getters and squatters.  While the squatters were still busy establishing their empires, the magic cry of “Gold, gold!”, echoed down the valleys, and almost overnight the scene changed.  Mining camps and townships sprang up on lonely parts of the runs, and roads became alive with hopeful diggers.  This is the scene of our story. (Wilkinson, 1980)

"On the Timbarra" by Tom Roberts from the NSW Art Gallery

“On the Timbarra” by Tom Roberts from the NSW Art Gallery

My mother was born in northern New South Wales.  The various branches of her family tree met there because the country began to open up for timber-getting, farming and grazing in the 1830s as settlement gradually spread away from the areas first settled by the British around what is now Sydney.  Then in 1857 gold was discovered at Boonoo Boonoo (pronounced Bunna Bunnoo by the locals) and in 1858 at Timbarra, in 1859 at Tooloom and Pretty Gully.  The early history of the area is covered in Isabel Wilkinson’s brilliantly detailed but sadly unindexed book, “Forgotten Country” published in 1980.  More recently (2009) Brett Stubbs has published “The Gold Digger’s Arms.  Pubs of the Upper Clarence River district, New South Wales”, a useful and interesting read about (unsurprisingly) pubs, their owners and lessees and their local area history.

Payne ancestors

Mum’s Payne ancestors were convicts who received land grants in the Hunter region once they had served their sentences.

"Big" John Payne (1843-1910)

“Big” John Payne (1843-1910)

John Payne and his wife, Mary Ann Sophia (nee Merrick) left the Hunter around 1870 and worked their way through New South Wales with children born in Inverell in 1871, Tingha in 1874, Pallamallawa in 1876 and 1878, Bininguy in 1880 and Narrabri in 1884.

Mary Ann Sophia died in Narrabri in 1885.  Their oldest son, John Edward (Jack) was settled in the Upper Clarence by the time of his marriage in 1889.  Gold was still being discovered and in fact there was a new boom in the early 1890s.  The Paynes capitalised on this boom by opening the Tooloom Hotel in 1894.

Tooloom Hotel

Tooloom Hotel, 1910 or earlier

“It was said that ‘neither money nor brains have been spared’ in the building of the hotel there; ‘a building quite fit for [Tenterfield] stands up quite grandly over the Tooloom River, and the hospitality to be found there is indiputable’.” (Stubbs, 2009, p.27)

Wherever the Payne family was living in 1889, it was obviously not the spacious establishment of the Tooloom Hotel for the story goes that when “Big” John Payne (so called because he weighed 23 stone) married for the second time in September 1889 and brought his new bride home, his son and daughter-in-law, married only two months themselves, were required to vacate the only double bed in the house.

Smith and Merchant ancestors

There are some mysteries surrounding George Smith but he was born in Buckinghamshire and arrived in Australia in 1857, maybe in the wake of the gold rush. He married Eliza Jane Merchant whose family switched from laying railways in England to digging for gold on the other side of the world.  Their daughter, Mary Ann (Annie), married Jack Payne.

McLean and Mulcahy ancestors

Donald McLean and his wife Ann Matheson arrived in Australia in 1837.  The highland clearances and economic changes in Scotland had impacted their families on Skye and in Inverness and the newly married couple joined the wave of immigration to Australia, America and Canada.  Their daughter, Mary, married John Mulcahy the son of Irish immigrants who had also travelled north from the Hunter region.  Farming opportunities and gold brought these families to the north of the colony.

The branches meet

The Tooloom gold diggings was the place where in 1893 a 17-year-old Hugh Mulcahy (son of John Mulcahy and Mary McLean) heard the news that Jack Payne’s wife, Annie (nee Smith), had given birth to a daughter.  No doubt he congratulated the proud father but can’t have known that he would one day marry that daughter. The 35-year-old Hugh married the 18-year-old Ettie in 1911, and they were my grandparents.

Hugh and Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy and family, 1949

Hugh and Ettie (Payne) Mulcahy and family, 1949