James Jordan – Part II

I have written about James Jordan’s early life and first transportation here.  This is the second part of his story.

Transported again

On 19 February 1791, the prisoners from Dublin’s Newgate prison destined for Botany Bay were taken to the North Wall and put aboard the two tenders commissioned to take them to Cork for embarkation on the Queen.

Nearly two months later, on 11 April, James boarded the vessel that was to take him from his native country a second time. According to the paperwork, James was one of 133 men, 22 women and four children destined for New South Wales. However, when the indents followed – eight years later! – they listed 159 adults and noted that three men had died and a woman escaped before the vessel left port.

A list of prisoners includes ‘James Jordan (alias Sheridan)’, gives his age as 25, date and place of conviction as March 1789 in Dublin and sentence of seven years.

The Queen was the first convict ship to sail directly to Australia from Ireland and was one of eleven ships that made up the Third Fleet. She sailed from Cobh, or the Cove of Cork, on 16 April 1791[1] and her 165-day passage was broken only by a brief call for supplies at False Bay, Cape of Good Hope.

The Queen arrived in Sydney Cove on 26 September 1791, the same day as the English transport, Active. Despite their all too familiar acquaintance with hunger, the public and officials at Sydney Cove were shocked at the condition of these new convict arrivals. A naval officer wrote that many on the Queen, ‘… were Skeletons, apparently with a human skin drawn over the bones, no particular disease, but dying for want of sustenance’.[2]

On landing, the convicts complained that they had been deprived of their full rations and an official enquiry was held. James Jordan was among the convicts who gave evidence on 17 October 1791. Witnesses provided damning reports of the short weighing of rations and bullying by those in charge, problems that were evident while the Queen still lay at harbour in Cork. When James was called, he deposed that he

… noticed that the ration used at times be larger than at others; that he has at times been in the steward room when provisions were issuing and had seen Mr Stott [the Second Mate], when the bread has been serving, take one or two handfuls from the scale and then put the remainder into the bag without seeing whether it was weight …[3]

While the claims were accepted, Governor Phillip, acting on the judge’s recommendations, found that it was impossible to apportion blame and no action was taken against those in charge. He nevertheless wrote that most of the convicts of the Third Fleet were ‘… so emaciated, so worn away by long confinement or want of food, or from both these causes, that it will be long before they recover their strength and which many of them will never recover …’. Indeed, within nine months of the Queen’s arrival, it was reported that only fifty of the men were still alive.[4]


According to Barbara Hall, many of the Queen’s convicts were put to work at the government farm at Toongabbie, not far from Rose Hill (or Parramatta). Between 1792 and 1793 there were some 900 men and 260 women working the fields.[5] On 9 January 1792, James was described as a watchman in a record of trial in which he gave evidence against a prisoner charged with stealing potatoes from the superintendent’s garden. James and the prisoner had met ‘on the road between Parramatta and the near settlement.’ The accused was found guilty and received a hundred lashes.[6] Eighteen cases were heard at Parramatta on that day – fifteen cases resulted in sentences totaling 1950 lashes![7]

The convicts at Toongabbie worked from 5 am till 10 am, rested until 2 pm and then worked until sunset. Work included felling trees, digging out stumps, turning the ground with spades and hoes, raising grain, looking after the stock of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens as well as building infrastructure.[8]

Prejudice against the Irish was early apparent. While the Queen arrivals were not convicted of political crimes in the numbers evident in later transports, they nevertheless aroused suspicion, communicating in their own tongue and bound together, so it seemed, by secret oaths and compacts.[9] In November 1791, a group of twenty Irish men and a pregnant woman set off from Parramatta with a week’s provisions, tomahawks and knives, through the strange bush of acacias and melaleucas, headed for China! While they were quickly recaptured ‘in a state of deplorable wretchedness, naked and nearly worn out with hunger’ the escapade was not the last of its kind.

Hunter described the Irish as insolent, refractory, turbulent and dissatisfied with their situation in the colony. The convicts of the Queen at Parramatta were the first to organise a public protest when, in December 1791, they gathered outside government house at Parramatta to protest for the return of a daily, rather than weekly, issue of rations.[10]

In 1792, New Ground at Toongabbie became the first location for the secondary punishment of convicts who committed crimes in the colony.[11] Those convicted of theft were not only flogged but sent to Toongabbie to work under superintendent Thomas Daveney who was described as a hard taskmaster and severe in his punishments. He drove his convicts relentlessly through his overseers, often chosen from the toughest and most brutal convicts.[12]


A Western View of Toongabbie, William Lowry (courtesy Trove)

Norfolk Island

According to Alma Ranson, James Jordan arrived on Norfolk Island on 26 August 1792, having sailed on board the Atlantic.[13] Unfortunately I have not tracked down any information that explains why he moved from Toongabbie to Norfolk Island. There are few references in the records to James’ time on Norfolk Island so presumably he spent a law-abiding life establishing himself in the fledgling colony.

The records reveal that he received government rations until the end of 1795 and that he was granted a Conditional Pardon just over a year later, on 1 February 1797. In August 1801 he was granted a Ticket of Leave.

It seems that within a few months of his arrival, James was in a relationship with Mary Butler, a convict from the Second Fleet’s Lady Juliana. Mary already had a child, William, to First Fleet convict, William Saltmarsh, before bearing five children to James Jordan.

James and Mary’s first child, Richard, was born in 1794 and their last, John, fourteen years later, around 1809. In between there were Catherine, my GGGG Grandmother, born about 1800; James Junior, 1802; and Thomas, about 1807.

I will write Mary’s story another time. Sadly, it seems that she died when her children were still young, around 1812.

Various records tell us that James owned land on Norfolk Island, that he was a successful farmer and that he piloted the ship, Porpoise, on the eight-day journey to and from Sydney Town. James sold some of his surplus wheat to the government store. By 1810 he owned twelve acres of land, all in maize, as well as two cows, seven ewes, two male and six female goats, 45 male and five female hogs. His store held eighty bushels of wheat and 2000 of maize. Two years later he had fourteen acres in wheat and eight in maize and his menagerie comprised one male and three female horned cattle, twenty male and twenty-five female sheep, ten male and fourteen female swine; a male and two females goats.

On 18 February 1813, James Jordan and four children embarked on the Minstrel for Port Dalrymple, as part of the arrangements to close the first settlement on Norfolk Island.   James’s eldest son, Richard, now independent, was also on board, as was Mary’s first child, William Saltmarsh. The Minstrel arrived at George Town in April after first calling in to Sydney to offload military personnel. A few days prior to the Jordan’s departure from Norfolk Island, Catherine Jordan’s future husband, James Davey, had sailed aboard the Lady Nelson. His story provides a bit more background on the arrangements made to establish the Norfolk Plains settlement.

The settlers removed from Norfolk Island were entitled to a package of goods compensating them for the land and belongings they had left behind. A list compiled by Commandant Crane on Norfolk Island shows that James was entitled to receive twelve full grown wethers, 29 full grown ewes, a half grown wether and two half grown ewes, two cows, one cow in calf, one ox and one calf. A later list adds nine acres (213 bushels), 6 acres (171 bushels), 4 stools, 1 table, 1 chest. These were valued at two pounds and sixteen shillings, an amount that was paid at Port Dalrymple.

Van Diemen’s Land

By 1819 James Jordan was living at Port Dalrymple on 90 acres of land, growing eighteen acres of wheat. He had 72 acres of pasture, nine cattle and a hundred sheep, thirteen swine and grain in hand. The 1819 muster also indicates that James was living with a wife and three children. Was he in a new relationship? Was this a mistake? Or is the presumption of Mary’s death on Norfolk Island incorrect? Unfortunately the records are unlikely to resolve these questions.

The 1820 muster indicates that James was living with and supporting his three children and two crown servants, or convicts.

In 1828 James Jordan and George Radford, both of Norfolk Plains, were fined 50/- each for retailing spirits without a license. James had six gallons of rum condemned and George lost forty of wine. According to the report in the Hobart Town Courier, the supplies were found in their respective homes.[14] Another local, Thomas Faro was fined with purchasing spirits from James, an unlicensed victualler. A fortnight later a lengthy letter from Thomas is published in the same newsletter explaining the circumstances of his visit to James’ house and proclaiming his innocence. He certainly seems to have been convicted on flimsy evidence![15] In any event, I think this incident relates to James’ son James Jnr. It is unusual that the paper did not make this clear because they generally differentiated between father and son. However, a later article relating to son John’s insolvency suggests that it was John’s brother James who was fined for supplying liquor without a license.[16]

In February 1830 James’s farm was advertised for sale:

A farm containing 65 acres, 45 of which are in the highest state of cultivation and drained with two large drains, situated at Norfolk Plains. Bound on one side by a four rail fence of Mrs Smith, on the front by a five rail fence of Mr W Saltmarsh, on the back by a three rail fence of Lt Dyball, a paddock containing four acres fenced with a three rail fence. A neat weatherboard house in excellent repair containing six good sized rooms, a garden of half an acre, well stocked with choice fruit trees and vegetables, 60 rods of fencing would enclose the whole farm. Further particulars may be known by applying to Mr James Jordan on the farm or to Mr J Solomon at Launceston. 4 Feb 1830.[17]

James died a decade later, on 4 February 1840. The Cornwall Chronicle reported:

Mr James Jordan, aged 84 (at the residence of his son, Mr Richard Jordan at Talisker.) one of the last surviving Norfolk Island settlers. He gradually sank to rest from a general decay of nature, and his remains were interred at Norfolk Plains, alongside those of his daughter (Mrs Davey) whose decease was announced in this journal on the 15th of December last.[18]

James was buried two days later at the Anglican Church cemetery at Longford.

[Updated 5 June 2016]

Online resources

James Jordan on my Ancestry Tree

Journeys to Van Diemen’s Land


[1] Bob Reece, ‘Irish Anticipations of Botany Bay’, Eighteenth Century Ireland, Vol 12 (1997), p 135, accessed via JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30071389

[2] Keith Johnson and Michael Flynn, ‘Convicts of the Queen’, in Reece, Bob, Exiles from Erin: Convict Lives in Ireland and Australia, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1991

[3] Barbara Hall, The Irish Vanguard, Sydney: Barbara Hall, 2009, p70. Note that the relevant records refer to James as James Juda.

[4] Thomas Keneally, The Commonwealth of Thieves, The Sydney Experiment, Sydney: Random House, 2005, p402

[5] Barbara Hall, p xvii

[6] Barbara Hall, p71

[7] Jack Egan, Buried Alive, Sydney 1788-92, Sydney, Allen and Unwin, 1999, p280

[8] ‘Toongabbie Government Farm Archaeological Site’, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, accessed 1 May 2016, http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5061406

[9] Thomas Keneally, The Commonwealth of Thieves, The Sydney Experiment, Sydney: Random House, 2005, p380

[10] Thomas Keneally, p 383

[11] Grace Karskens, The Colony, A history of Early Sydney, Crows Nest, Allen and Unwin, 2009

[12] ‘Toongabbie Government Farm Archaeological Site’, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, accessed 1 May 2016, http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=5061406

[13] Alma Ranson, The Jordans of the Three Isles, Paper Beach, Tasmania, 1993, p7.

[14] ‘COUNTRY POST.’, The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), 6 December, p. 2, viewed 26 March, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4219213

[15] ‘Classified Advertising.’, The Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), 20 December, p. 4, viewed 26 March, 2015, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article4218976

[16] 1837 ‘Advertising’, The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880), 11 November, p. 4. , viewed 05 Jun 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article65954011

[17] Alma Ranson, The Jordans of the Three Isles, Paper Beach, Tasmania, 1993, p9.

[18] 1840 ‘Family Notices’, The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880), 8 February, p. 2. , viewed 05 Jun 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article66015327