Nathaniel Lucas – a Convict

convictsheetNathaniel Lucas is believed to have been born in Leatherhead to parents John Lucas and Mary Bradford in 1764 although there is some uncertainty as to his birthplace.  When he was twenty two he was tried at the Old Bailey on 7th July 1784 for ‘feloniously stealing’ clothing with a value of 40 shillings. He was listed as a carpenter. Despite protesting his innocence the unrepresented man was found guilty and sentenced to transportation for seven years.  This was in the period when transportation to America was no longer possible following the American War of Independence and prisoners were kept in squalid conditions in Newgate Gaol and rotting prison hulks on the Thames. After spending some three years in these conditions he was transported to Australia with the ‘first fleet’ on the ship Scarborough before being hand-picked to settle on Norfolk Island

firstfleet‘First Fleet’ was the name given to the eleven ships which sailed from Great Britain in May 1787 with about 1,487 people, including 778 convicts (192 women and 586 men) to establish the first European colony in Australia, in New South Wales. The fleet was led by Captain (later Admiral) Arthur Phillip and reached Botany Bay between 18th and 20th January 1788. HMS Supply arrived on 18th January followed by The Alexander, Scarborough and Friendship on the following day and the remaining ships the next day.

After the ‘first fleet’ arrived at Port Jackson in January 1788 the captain ordered a lieutenant to lead a party of fifteen convicts (9 men and 6 women) and seven free men to take control of Norfolk Island and prepare for its commercial development. Lucas was aboard the HMS Supply, which arrived at Norfolk on March 6, 1788. On board the ship he had met Olivia Gascoigne (born 1763, died 12 Jun 1830) and he married her in 1791 on Norfolk Island.  They had thirteen children two of which were twins (Sarah and Mary) who were killed when only two years old by a large pine tree falling on their house.

In 1791 Nathaniel received a grant of fifteen acres and in 1793 purchased another sixty acres from Charles Heritage, a former marine. Lucas farmed this land and the venture proved fruitful, for in August 1802 he sold wheat, maize and pork worth £450 to the government stores on the island. In May 1802 Lucas was appointed Master Carpenter, at Norfolk Island.

Lucas returned with his family to Sydney in April 1805 in the ship Investigator which carried materials for a government windmill which Lucas was to erect in Sydney and he was allowed to carry materials for another windmill for himself.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of June 1805 relate how ‘An excellent Post Mill, the first that has been erected in the settlement is now completed by Nathaniel Lucas, behind Back Row East. It was undertaken and finished within the space of six weeks; has been for several weeks at work, is capable of grinding, with a sufficiency of wind, upwards of six bushels per hour, which was last week accomplished for 12 hours successively.’

In 1808 Nathaniel was appointed superintendent of carpenters in Sydney and held this position until his retirement in 1814. In 1810 Nathaniel was on the list of persons holding civil and military employment in Sydney and settlements adjacent as ‘Superintendent of Carpenters’.

From 1810 until his death, Nathaniel appears on numerous Colonial Secretary documents. The majority of these documents refer to Nathaniel surveying land or property and constructing or repairing various structures.  One of these was a second Post Windmill this time behind the Battery at Dawes Point. The price of grinding wheat into flour was fifteen pence per bushel if bought and taken away by the owners of the wheat or eighteen pence per bushel if bought and taken away by the owners of the Mill (a bushel is eight gallons).

Nathaniel became increasingly addicted to alcohol.  Although retired he was involved in the building of St Luke’s Church in Liverpool, a suburb of Sydney. Francis Greenway the designer alleged that ‘Lucas was much addicted to the bottle and that he was using very poor stone at the church’.

In 1918 the dead body of Nathaniel was found left by the tide close to Moore Bridge in Liverpool.  It was reported that ‘the unhappy catastrophe appears to have proceeded from his own act owing to a mental derangement.  He had been six days absent from his family on a pretext of going to Parramatta but his long absence connected with other circumstances that gave rise to apprehension naturally induced his sons to go in quest of him, the result of which was that he was found dead by one of his own sons.’

It has been said that up to 40% of the current population of Australia are descendents of convicts most of which were transported there for very minor offences.  Just as in the case of Nathaniel many took part in the major growth of the country.  In those days committing a minor crime led to seven years transportation – for a major crime it was the gallows, for a theft of 40 shillings a prisoner was fortunate to escape the gallows.  Only a small proportion of those transported ever returned to this country building a better life for themselves in Australia.

Martin Warwick

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