John Robley (1765-1840): Cumberland to Tasmania

The Robley family migrating to Tasmania can be traced directly to Carlisle, when Thomas Robley was christened on 25/4/1706 to John Robley. Thomas in turn married Margaret Hewetson* on 10/2/1734 at Heskett in the Forest. A son Thomas was born to them on 22/5/1736. He married Elizabeth Irwin on 24/1/1761 at St Cuthbert's, Carlisle. A son John was born to them on 31/10/1765. He followed the trade of a blacksmith.

In 1788 John moved to London, and on the 25/1/1789 he was drinking with two men at the Red Lion Hotel in Shoreditch and the Crispin Inn in Grubb Street. Together, they went to a house at 13, Little Arthur Street which was occupied by Richard and Sarah Parliament. They were employed by the owner, John Turner a widower, to care for his 4 year old daughter, Sarah.

John Robley, and the other two, gained entry to the house by forcing a lower window, but when they heard someone coming down the stairs they fled, taking a bundle of clothing with them some of which was the property of the child, Sarah.

They were shortly afterwards arrested by two Bow Street Runners, namely, James Makeshift and James Armstrong. One of the offenders escaped and the other offered his testimony against Robley in exchange for immunity.

Robley admitted being with the other two, but claimed he was walking down the street in front of them, and was not aware they had forced a window and was not aware that the articles they thrust into his hands were stolen. Two witnesses, including his landlord, gave evidence on his behalf but he was convicted and sentenced to death.

Robley spent the next 6 months in Newdegate prison awaiting execution, but on the 9/9/1789 he was among 100 prisoners taken before the Old Bailey and offered life transportation to Botany Bay. Robley accepted the offer, and was kept in custody until 10/11/1789, when he was placed aboard the Scarborough with 259 other prisoners who were to be transported, clothed and fed for approximately $35 per head and formed part of the 2nd Fleet. Eighty five convicts died on this voyage.

In New South Wales on the 11/10/1791 Robley married Jemima Wasker @ Wilson, who had been transported in the Nary Anne in the 3rd Fleet, after having been convicted on a charge of receiving, in the Old Bailey, on the 24/2/1790 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. Two children were born to them:-

John Robley worked as a blacksmith in Sydney but in 1798 the family were sent to Norfolk Island. Jemima had apparently continued to act as a receiver of stolen goods, and when George Mitton was arrested she offered to give evidence against him in exchange for immunity. Mitton was convicted and executed, but the presiding judge recorded that Jemima had been given immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony, but in his opinion she was deeply implicated as a receiver and in fact instigated the thefts. It is apparent that this was the reason that the family were sent to Norfolk Island.

By 1805 John Robley was overseer of blacksmiths and had 10 acres of farm land. His daughter, Elizabeth at 14 years of age, married Michael Massie Robinson, a lawyer under sentence on Norfolk Island. Robinson had been sentenced to death, over some of his writings, in February 1796 and was transported to Botany Bay on the Barwell in 1798. During the voyage he made friends with Richard Dore who was appointed as Deputy Judge Advocate after Collins . On arrival at Botany Bay, Dore appointed Robinson his secretary. Robinson was given a conditional pardon. After Dore died in office Richard Atkins was appointed as Judge Advocate. Atkins knew little about the law and he appointed Robinson as his secretary. Robinson found that he could forge Atkin's signature but was again pardoned. By 1805 he had run out of chances, and was finally sent to Norfolk Island to serve his sentence.

In December 1807 John Robley,his wife Jemima, and son George, together with two servants, departed Norfolk Island on the Porpoise for Van Diemens Land. They arrived in the Derwent on the 17/1/1808 with 180 settlers and John was given a land grant at Bagdad comprising 44 acres adjoining a land grant of 53 acres given to his son George.

He later had a house in Collins Street, Hobart which he sold to the post master, James Mitchell who was the foster father of Anne Adams who married George Robley on 10/10/1815. Ann was the daughter of William Merrit @ Adams, who was transported in the 3rd Fleet and who spent main of his sentence on Norfolk Island. History does not record his fate after he was sentenced on a charge of incest.

John and Jemima had premises at Kangaroo Point (Bellerive) and a farm at Muddy Plains (Sandford) where it is recorded that Reverend Robert Knopwood would visit and hold church services, in Robley's barn, which he described as draughty.

Jemima died at Kangaroo Point on 1/4/1837 and John died at Kangaroo Point on 18/2/1840.

George and Anne only had one child, William Michael Robley christened on 26/5/1824. Nothing further is recorded on the boy.

Between then and 1832, George borrowed equivalent to $600 from a Richard Brownlow using his wife's house in Macquarie Street as security. He disappeared, and was presumed dead,but later turned up at Port Cygnet where he had a common law wife Sarah, possibly Sarah Franks. He had settled there sometime about 1829 and 1835 and had a ship repair yard and a blacksmiths shop. The fact that he appears to be settled in the area before history records that Nichols was the first settler does not bode well in some areas.

George and Sarah had three daughters:-

  1. Elizabeth (1829) who married James Sayers and later moved to Victoria.They had 3 children, George Henry (1847), Eliza (1853), and James (1857).
  2. Sophia (1834) who married John Blades in 1855.
  3. Ellen (1835) married George Pregnell in 1856. They had 2 children, John Charles (1859) and Sarah (1857).

James Sayers was transported to Van Diemens Land in 1841 for 4 years after he was convicted of stealing mutton.

John Blades was sentenced in 1845 to life transportation of a charge of highway robbery. He was initially transported to Norfolk Island in 1846 and Van Diemens Land in 1847.

John and Sophia had the following family.

  1. Mary Jane (1856)married Thomas Higgins 1872
  2. Elizabeth Sarah (1857) married William Bowman 1878.
  3. John (1858). Died.
  4. Mary Ann (1859) married Robert Cracknell 1/10/1879.
  5. Esther (1862) married Oliver Jones 1886.
  6. John George (1864), married Annie Dowdell in 1883.
  7. Unnamed male (1869).
  8. Unnamed male (1871).
  9. Sophia (1874).
  10. Frederick (1875).
  11. William Frederick (1875) ( twin)
  12. Walter Albert (1877).

Mary Jane Blades married Thomas Higgins in 1872. Their family:

  1. Sarah Ann (1873). Died 1874.
  2. Isabella Francis (1875).
  3. Grace Ann (1877).
  4. Mary Ann (1878).
  5. Maud Emily (1880).
  6. George Edward (1882).
  7. Sarah Ann (1884).
  8. Martha (1886).
  9. Hilda May (1892)

Thomas Higgins, at 18 years, had been transported in 1843 on a conviction of stealing 5/-. He did have a prior conviction for stealing a handkerchief.

Maud Emily Higgins married Joseph James Priest in 1900. Priest was the son of Joseph and Margaret Priest (Knaggs) and was born at Avoca in 1865.

Knaggs had been transported to Van Diemens Land, at 26 years of age, after having been convicted in the Dublin Court on a charge of stealing 2/-. She had been married with 2 children. Her maiden name was Langford. Joseph Priest had been to Van Diemens Land after having been convicted of machine breaking, during the riots in Buckinghamshire in 1830. He had been married with 5 children. Margaret Priest née Knaggs died in 1866, and Priest died in 1883. During a census in 1852 his first wife described herself as a widow.

Anne Robley continued to live in Hobart and died a pauper on 20/4/1878 aged 86 years.

Sarah Robley died at Port Cygnet on 14/11/1870 aged 73 years.

George Robley died at Port Cygnet on 234/1/1873 aged 78 years.

John Robley appears to be a distant cousin of Christopher James Robley, also a blacksmith, who was transported to Botany Bay on the Indian, in 1810, on a charge of housebreaking. He married Mary Cummings of Scotland in Sydney on 22/4/1816. Their family:-

Christopher Robley died in Sydney in 1838. His wife died in Sydney in 1839.

Copyright Trevor C. Hoodless, July 2003

Note.*Thomas Robley and Margaret Hewetson were the first Robleys to farm at Scarrowmanwick, Kirkoswald. Thomas moved there from Woodhouse, Wreay where he was brought up. His parents were John Robley and Ann Dixon.