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From Tharston to Australia

The Life and Voyage of William Hunt of Tharston, Norfolk 1828 - 1890

by Phil Buzzard & Nigel Peacock

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William and Catherine Hunt - c.1875

In these webpages are details of the life of William Hunt. If anyone has any further information about this man or his family in Norfolk or in Australia please make contact.

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Family tree from William Hunt (Tharston) to Phil Buzzard (Australia)

Introduction by Phil Buzzard

William Hunt was my great-great-grandfather born in Tharston, Norfolk, England in the July of 1828.

William surfaces as a 17 year old when he appears at the Norfolk Assize Court on the 22nd of July 1845, one of many appearances at the courts. Investigations are still proceeding into other possibly family members (including his father and brothers) who may have also been before the courts.

William’s life was, as for many people in England at the time, a difficult one in trying to survive as an agricultural labourer, as it was for his father and brothers. The crimes he committed were various but larceny (theft) was his main pre-occupation although over the years he was also charged with burglary and poaching.

These crimes were his undoing and at the apparent age of 24 years (actual age 21 years), in April 1850, he was sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing 3 geese and a gander, and for 2 of his previous felonies. On sentencing he was transferred to the Norfolk County Gaol before being sent to Wakefield Prison, West Yorkshire. He was then sent to Portland Prison in Dorset in March 1851, there to await his transportation.

At the time, he could have ended up on one of the hulk ships converted to prisons off the coast of England but William was “fortunate” to have been sent to Portland where conditions were better than on the hulks. The hulks were ships that had served their useful lives as merchant ships or naval ships and then were converted to floating prisons. As the prisons on land were filled, the hulks expanded the capacity of the justice system to incarcerate those found guilty of crimes. Prisoners on the hulks, according to a medical journal of John Bower, Surgeon aboard the “Pyrenees” in 1853, had a “pale and waxy look” whereas land-based prisoners were much healthier with a “ruddy and florid” look.

Leaving Portland in January 1853, aboard the convict ship “Pyrenees”, William was transported to Australia’s Swan River Colony. The journey took 3½ months, in which time, William became ill with fever onboard ship but survived to land in Fremantle.

Surgeon Bower’s journal records “The greater part of the prisoners were disembarked by the 6th May: the others waited on board, for a passage in a vessel shortly expected, until the 16th May and the 2nd June on which date all that remained were sent ashore“.

Little is known of his life from this point until he marries Catherine Murphy in the Catholic Church, under special license (William Protestant, Catherine Catholic) in Toodyay, Western Australia, on 3rd December 1855. What is known is that he was granted a Ticket of Leave (TOL) on 1st July 1854 and therefore was allowed to work. His type of work around this time is being investigated but like many TOL men, he was probably employed in the construction of civic buildings and roads for the Town of Toodyay or as a labourer on a farm.

William probably worked from the Convict Depot at Toodyay and was granted a conditional pardon for his crimes in July 1854. Conditional meant he would not be able to return to England.

William and Catherine gave birth to their first child Anna in Bolgart, approximately 38km north of Toodyay, in 1856. The Benedictine Community, who William was associated with till his death, had a farm at Wyening, near Bolgart. The family is next found at New Norcia, where William and Catherine, have 4 more children, James Patrick in 1858, Maria in 1859, Mary Ann in 1861 and Margaret Adelaide in 1864. Mary Ann died in 1875, aged 14 years and was buried in New Norcia.

From 1866 to 1873 William is documented as digging wells for the Benedictine Community. When not well digging he was employed on general farm work in the area.

William is baptized into the Roman Catholic Church in 1878 by a priest of the Order of St. Benedict at New Norcia. In 1880 he took up a lease of 50 acres of land, 8 mile north west of New Norcia and called the holding “Norfolk Farm“.

William died after a “protracted illness” on Monday the 7th of July 1890 after receiving the final rites from Father Coll. The two major newspapers in the State, together with the Catholic newspaper the Record, carried notices of his death. He was buried at the New Norcia Cemetery, Western Australia.

“Deceased has left a widow and numerous family” – one descendant is me, Philip John Buzzard, his great great grandson.

In Loving Memory
William Hunt of V. P. W.A.
Who Died 7th July 1890
Aged 59 Ys
[V. P. W.A. refers to Victoria Plains, Western Australia]

© Nigel Peacock & Phil Buzzard 2021/22
Last updated: 23 Jan 2022