| Born on:
29 Sep 2003
Updated: 29 Oct 2005
Sergeant NSW Corps Australia
Submission from Marion Starr
Date: 29 September 2003
Area: New South Wales
(Biography from Murder,
Mayhem & Misdemeanours: Early Settlers at the Cowpasture River
NSW 1810 - 1830,
published by Marion Starr, Sydney 2002)
The village of
Alton Barnes in Wiltshire England is probably best known for its
white horse cut into the chalk downs and crop circles. It was also
the home of Robert Higgins who was baptized at the medieval church
of St Marys on 8 February 1762, the son of Robert and Elizabeth.
life is unknown but on 3 February 1791 at Forton Barracks,
Portsmouth he joined the newly formed New South Wales Corps. Several
months later in April he was one of the soldiers shipped on the
convict transport the Queen that carried the first shipment
of Irish convicts to Australia. The Queen was one of the
eleven ships of the Third Fleet that left England early in 1791 and
arrived in Sydney Cove on 26 September. By then there were 273
members of the regiment in the colony. The NSW Corps was recruited
in 1789 to replace the marines who had arrived with the First Fleet
in 1788, and who objected to supervising convicts and being part of
the civil administration. However this was to be the new regiments
primary role. They supervised the convicts on public works and in
public agriculture, and guarded them when in transit throughout the
colony. They also provided the guards for Government House, the
Court House and the Commissariat Stores, and were lookouts at Sydney
Heads for incoming vessels. The officers served as district
magistrates, jurors and public servants. The commanding officer of
the regiment was second only to the Governor and was given the title
of Lieutenant Governor.
The NSW Corps has
often been the subject of controversy because of the position of
power attained by many of the officers. They controlled trade in the
colony, particularly the supply of rum, and used the profits to buy
up land. The NSW Corps was an essential and very influential force
in the new colony. Some were undoubtedly opportunists but the
majority of the soldiers have been described as ordinary wage
earners unable to find employment who were generally recruited from
poor rural and urban labourers. In 1802 Governor King wrote to the
Colonial Secretary in London:
It is my duty
to inform you that the utmost order and regularity has uniformly
prevailed among the non - commissioned officers and privates of
the New South Wales Corps.
Because of an acute
shortage of currency in the colony, soldiers’ wages were usually
paid in goods but the officers were paid directly into their
accounts in London. The remaining group of the NSW Corps arrived in
Sydney Cove on 14 February 1792 on the Pitt with Major Grose.
Lydia Farrell was one of the 48 female convicts landed from the
Pitt, and she was assigned to Robert. In 1792 Robert was
promoted to sergeant and on 25 January 1793 they sailed for Norfolk
Island on board the Kitty.
With the arrival of
more convicts from Sydney Cove, Norfolk soon became a labour camp
and by the early 1790s the settlement’s main purpose was to
provide food for the colony. Maize, wheat, potatoes, cabbage,
timber, flax and fruit were all successful crops in the rich soil
and semi - tropical climate of the island. However the pine trees
were found to be unsuitable timber for masts as they were too
brittle. While on Norfolk Island, Robert Higgins was made a Sergeant
Major and was involved in the playhouse that was started by some of
the convicts and free settlers. By the end of 1794 King was so
disillusioned by the ineffectiveness of the NSW Corps that he
ordered them all to return to Sydney Cove. On 6 November 1794,
Robert and Lydia departed from Norfolk Island on the Daedalus.
When Robert Higgins
and Lydia Farrell returned to Sydney at the end of 1794, the colony
consisted of less than 5000 people. In 1795 their first child Mary,
was born at Sydney.
still at Parramatta in 1806 and 1807. The records of soldiers in the
NSW Corps in 1808 list Robert as being 46 years of age; five feet
seven inches tall with a dark complexion, hazel eyes; dark brown
hair and a thin face. In 1808 Robert, Lydia and their family were
living at 21 Spring Row, Sydney and the same year Robert sold the
house to Lydia for five shillings. This was probably to prevent the
house being seized by the bailiff due to a debt.
By the 17
July 1809 he was living at High Street, Sydney (now George Street)
in the vicinity of Bridge Street. He was leasing a small block of
land at an annual rent of five shillings. Early maps show a number
of soldiers’ houses in this area. The settlement was clustered
around the cove that was intersected by the Tank Stream and tidal
mud flats that reached as far as Bridge Street. The stream, so named
because of the three tanks that were built into the sandstone banks
to conserve water, divided the settlement for convicts and military
on the western bank, and government officials on the eastern bank.
The bridge, which was later to become a street, connected the two
sides of the settlement. A broad cross section of people lived on
the slopes of The Rocks near the military barracks. These were
labourers, tradesmen, merchants and publicans. On the 27 January
1809 Higgins was reduced in rank to a private, and on 15 September
he was placed in a debtor’s prison.
Higgins was forced
to forego his land grant and served four months in gaol being
released on 19 January 1810, just after the arrival of Governor
Lachlan Macquarie. On 24 March 1810 Robert was transferred to the 73rd.
Highland Regiment, which had arrived with Macquarie. This transfer
was to a special invalid and veteran company of about 100 men who
were no longer fit for active service but were assigned to light
duties. As part of his social reforms Macquarie encouraged formal
marriages and on 9 July 1810, at 10 am, William Cowper married Lydia
and Robert at St Phillip’s Church, Sydney. By then they had four
children, Mary, Elizabeth, John and Sarah. It was one of the first
marriages in the new church that was completed that year. The
witnesses were John Hobbs, who was also a sergeant in the NSW Corps
and his wife Eleanor.
Robert was granted
50 acres of land in August 1812 on the eastern bank of the Nepean
River. This land was bordered by the grants of two other retired
sergeants, Thomas Trotter and Edward Johnson and he was assigned a
convict, Thomas Seymour (Admiral Gambier 1811). Seymour later
married Mary Higgins and their descendents were early pioneers in
the Burragorang Valley.
In 1814 the Higgins
family were living on their small farm on the banks of the Nepean.
Early in 1818 the Sydney Gazette announced the sale of
Higgins’ farm. Robert was in debt and part of his land and all his
farming tools were sold to George Crossley. He was even forced to
sell his old draughthorse. By 1823 Higgins had leased ten acres of
his remaining land to a Jewish ex-convict called Elijah Stephens. By
then most of the land along the river had been cleared for
cultivation and the principal crop was wheat with maize as a
secondary crop. The wheat was sold and the maize was to sustain the
settlers and their pigs, which were a source of income. Vegetables,
particularly potatoes, and fruit trees were also cultivated.
Droughts in the late 1820s forced the sale of most of the farms to
On 30 August 1823 Lydia died at
Camden. She was buried at St Luke’s Church at Liverpool NSW.
Robert Higgins lived for another twenty years at Camden where he
died on 8 March 1843 and was buried at St Peter’s Church,
Off Site Links to Robert Higgins and New South Wales Corp
Early Settlers at the Cowpasture
River New South Wales 1810 - 1830
Based on early court records from Cawdor, Liverpool, Camden and
Campbelltown, this book is an entertaining collection
of 25 short stories about the lives of many of the ex-convict
characters who lived at the Cowpasture River in the 1820s, with
tales of theft, bushranging, arson, brawling and even murder.
Stealing pigs and cattle were common pastimes and the sly grog shops
did a roaring trade in illicit rum sales.
biographies as well as maps of land grants & a convict trail.
includes Robert (1762 - 1843), Lydia (1757 -1823), Mary (1795 -
1867), Elizabeth (1797 -1827), John (1799 - 1847), Sarah (1801 -
1870) and their spouses.
Marion Starr firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost: AUS $35 +
The above information is reproduced here with the permission of ,the
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EMAIL: Michael James
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