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William Piggins 1800-1849

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William Piggins, a fellmonger or butcher aged 27, was convicted at Nottingham in 1827 of stealing sheep the previous autumn and transported to Australia as a prisoner. A contemporary news report stated:

In Nottingham Town Gaol, Boyfield Wormersley and Wm. Piggins, for stealing six sheep the property of Mr John Lufton, of Syston, Lincolnshire, on the 7th Nov. last, and driving them to Nottingham, where the prisoners lived as butchers, had sentence of death recorded against them.
Source: The Hull Packet and Original Weekly Commercial, Literary and General Advertiser (Hull, England), headline Assize Intelligence; Tuesday, March 27, 1827. Gale Document Number: BB3205910258.

The sentence of death was apparently commuted to transportation for life, and William was put aboard the convict ship John just a few months later, arriving at Port Jackson from London on November 25, 1827. The details on the 1827 convict indent are:

Age: 27 yrs / Education: can read and write / Religion: Protestant / s?: S / Family: —
Native Place: Lincolnshire / Trade or calling: Fellmonger;
Offence: Sheep Stealing / Where tried: Nottingham / When tried: 27th March 1827;
Sentence: Life / Former Convictions: None;
Height: 5ft 6 ins / Complexion: Ruddy fresh / Hair: brown / Eyes: dark brown;
How disposed of: Jessie Upton, Cornwallis / Remarks: none.

Other records in Australia specify that he had been born in 1800 at Spalding, Lincolnshire. The Piggins family had been fellmongers, tanners and butchers in that area for many years, and the baptism of William Long Piggin is recorded at Folkingham in 1800. In Australia, it was perhaps William's farm skills that ensured he spent very little time in confinement and was soon working in the Windsor, Cornwallis and Pitt Town area northwest of Sydney. He is mentioned in an early New South Wales Census (1828?) as: "Woolsorter to Wm Cox - Clarendon, Windsor." He obtained his ticket of leave in 1836.

A year or two later, he again narrowly escaped a violent death. The incident is recounted in the History of Wellington by Robert Porter (1909):

"It was in 1837 or 1838 that two notorious outlaws, Jacky-Jacky and Redcap, escapees from Bathurst gaol, were in the Wellington district. They had ... gone on to Murrumbidgerie to shoot a storekeeper there named Piggins. The day they got there, Mrs Piggins was in bed, just having been confined of an infant girl. Piggins either saw the outlaws coming or got some hint about it, and to hide himself went and lay down in the centre of a mob of cattle then in the yard. The outlaws went into the house and saw Mrs Piggins in bed with the child.

One of them must have had some kindness at the bottom of his heart, for he said, "Let her be, we won't touch her". After helping themselves to everything they wanted, the outlaws left. Mrs Piggins had two hundred pounds under her pillow. The little infant is still living and I am told is residing at Maryvale.

It is evident from this account that William had moved, presumably after his grant of leave and marriage, to the Wellington Valley area of inland New South Wales, possibly to the Cox farms there as a farm overseer. His marriage is documented in a permission to marry, the principal civil document of marriages at that time:

On 3 Oct 1836 at The Manse, Pitt Town, William PIGGINS married Mary Ann DAVIS. The ceremony performed by John Cleland, in the presence of M.D. Meares and Grace Cleland both of Pitt Town.

Barbara Hunt kindly pointed out in an E-mail in 2009 that Mary Ann had probably arrived in Australia aboard the Palambam, which carried 50 free girls from the Cork Foundling Hospital to Australia in 1831. One of these girls is recorded as Mary Davis, aged 14. On arrival, Mary was "appropriated" as a servant to the Reverend I. Dooker.

Another contemporary account describes William at this point as overseer to William Odell Raymond, who operated a store. Piggins is mentioned briefly in connection with a purchase of tea by the Reverend William Watson of the Church Missionary Society, who noted during a dispute that Raymond was considered an "enemy of the mission", presumably because of alcohol sales to the Aborigines by the Raymond store:

'I never spoke to Piggins in my life, except when you were with me, respecting the Paddock. ?Well if you did not speak to him, you most likely sent a note to him, for our natives say you got it from them.? I replied, No, I have not bought nor borrowed either from Mr Raymond or from Piggins. But if I had, I do not see that there would be any harm in it; for what could we do in the interior, if we did not accommodate each other.'

Piggins obtained a pardon on 1 July 1842 (number 43/252: see index to Convict Pardons, item 4/4442 Reel 780, P213), but was in fresh difficulties just a few months later, when his store at Wellington went bankrupt, as described in the New South Wales government gazette (1843-02-14):

In the Insolvent Estate of William Piggins, of Montefiores Town, Wellington, dealer. Whereas the Estate of William Piggins was, on the 9th day of February, 1843, placed under Sequestration in my hands, by order of His Honor Sir James Dowling, Knight, Chief Justice, I hereby appoint a Meeting of the Creditors of the said William Piggins to be holden at the Supreme Court House, Sydney, on Tuesday, the 28th day of February instant, to commence at 1.30, and end at 2, p.m., for proof of Debts, and election of a Trustee or Trustees, for the collection, administration, and distribution of the said Insolvent's Estate, and unless at the said meeting it be shewn that the goods and effects of the Insolvent exceed 100, the Commissioner will summarily proceed to rank the Debts which shall then be proved, and will direct the proceeds to be distributed by the Trustees accordingly. - Dated this 11th day of February, 1843. William H. Kerr, Chief Commissioner of Insolvent Estates.

This was also reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. William died at Wellington in 1849. The gravestone inscription and the death registration (number V18491212 34B/1849) reduce his age to 45. The cemetery transcription site describes him as a wool sorter of Burrandong. His wife, Mary Ann Piggin, remarried to William Thomas at Montefiores. Nyrelle Raines (below) believes William and Mary Ann's first-born, the infant being nursed during the outlaws' visit (described above) to the Piggins home, was her great-great-grandmother, Anne E, who had been born in 1837 (NSW birth registration V1837772 21/1837 (indexed as Piggin): father William Piggins, age 36, Ship John, arrival 1827, District Windsor TOL, mother Mary A Piggins). The couple's other children were William Wellington Piggins, born 1838 (perhaps identical with William W. Thomas who died 1898 in Newcastle, reg. number 6347/1898), and Mary Elizabeth Piggins, born 1840 (she married (1) Robert Fisher, 1858 and (2) Hobart Benjamin Johnson, 1870).

Acknowledgement

The above account is based partly on a 2001 compilation of information by researcher Nyrelle Raines about William on the AUS-PT-JACKSON-CONVICTS mailing list at Rootsweb.com, with added information from Barbara Hunt. For additional details, see the biographical summary dealing with William and the naming of Bushrangers Creek on the University of Newcastle's Wellington Valley Project website. William's transportation (and the June 1827 departure of his co-accused, Boyfield Wormersley) is listed with details from the indent on the Queensland State Library database of convicts.

Nyrelle Raines's informants mention two difficulties which now appear to have been resolved. One is an alleged error in a John index: "A John Piggins is listed as a passenger on the vessel John. It is believed that this 'John' is really 'William' and an error has been made, confused by the name of the ship John. No William Piggins is listed." The other is a note on one of the Permission to Marry transcripts: "No such person as Mary Ann Davis was a passenger on the Palambam in 1836." The Palambam only made one voyage to New South Wales, in 1831, so this appears to be an error in the date only. The date of the trial in Nottingham cited above must also be an error, as it exactly matches the date of publication of the Hull Packet, although that newspaper states "these assizes ended... on Monday afternoon week," presumably March 20, 1827.

Thanks are due too to Suzanne Jeanette Karakyriakos, who pointed out the William Watson papers.

© Jean-Baptiste Piggin 2000-2009
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