Thomas Martin: The Ripples of a Revolution

By Ben Vine

Supported by a Create NSW Arts and Cultural Grant – Old Parramattans & St. John’s First Fleeters


Emanuel Leutze, Washington crossing the Delaware
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware [on 25 December 1776], (1851). Credit: Gift of John Stewart Kennedy, 1897. (CC0 1.0). Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
We know, of course, that the American Revolution gave birth to the modern United States of America and laid the foundation for its dominant role in the modern age. But what is less appreciated is how the Revolution transformed the lives of people across the world in the eighteenth century. Take, for example, the London weaver and convict, Thomas Martin. Like most working-class people and convicts of this era, we have only a few records of Thomas Martin’s life. Much of what we know of him comes from a period of little more than six months between November 1783 and June 1784; a period in which his life was thrown into upheaval by the fallout from the American Revolutionary War. In November 1783, Martin committed a crime that resulted in a sentence of transportation, and saw him caught up in the British government’s attempt to surreptitiously restart the American convict trade. The failure of this scheme then led to the forced migration of Martin and hundreds of others to Kamay (Botany Bay) via the First Fleet.[1]

‘He would never do the like again’

We do not know when or where Thomas Martin originated, only that in 1783, he was residing in London, where he committed his crime.[2] According to Watkin Tench in 1791, Martin was a weaver by occupation. As he was located in London, he was in all likeliness a silk weaver, an industry that employed thousands of people in and around the East End neighbourhood of Spitalfields.[3] Considering the crime he committed on 8 November 1783, we can reasonably assume that Martin was on the wrong side of the significant wealth divide among London’s silk weavers. While around 500 master weavers prospered in a trade that provided fine garments for the wealthy and genteel, most journeyman weavers suffered from underemployment. Wages were still good, as they were protected by the so-called Spitalfield Acts, which also banned silk imports, but there were simply too many weavers and not enough work.[4]

WilliamHOGARTH-Thefellowp-Ff109196
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. Thomas Martin’s story aligns somewhat with that of ‘Tom Idle’ a fictitious silk weaver of Spitalfields depicted in William Hogarth, “Plate 1: The Fellow ‘Prentices at their Looms,” Industry and Idleness series (1747), etching and engraving, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Hogarth entirely blames the silk weaver’s lack of success on laziness rather than acknowledging any unfavourable economic conditions or an overabundance of weavers. In plate 1 the two protagonists are introduced: both are “‘prentices” on equal terms with their master, and doing the same work. Beyond this framework, the two characters display their respective traits: Francis is busy at work with his loom and shuttle, with his copy of “The Prentice’s Guide” at his feet and various wholesome literature tacked up on the wall behind him such as “The London Prentice” and (portentously) “Whitington Ld Mayor.” Tom Idle, however, leans snoring against his still loom, probably as a result of a huge mug labelled “Spittle Fields” sitting on his loom. A clay pipe is wedged into the handle and a cat is busy interfering with the shuttle. Tacked to the post that he is sleeping against is the story of transported convict Moll Flanders; his “Prentice’s Guide” is also lying on the ground, but in a filthy and shredded state. To the right their master, with a thick stick in his hand, looks disappointedly at Thomas. The imagery surrounding the frame of the painting foreshadows the very different future courses of the two apprentices: To the left, representing Idle’s future, a whip, fetters and a rope; to the right, over Goodchild, a ceremonial mace, sword of state and golden chain.

In 1783, the struggles of poor weavers were shared more broadly among London’s populace due to an economic downturn. Here marks the first time Martin’s life intersected with the American Revolution. Britain went to war with thirteen of its North American colonies in 1775 in a conflict that stretched for eight years. By November 1783, the war was all but over, with the peace treaty agreed between the newly independent United States of America and Britain and only awaiting formal ratification.[5] This was not simply a political disaster for Britain; it was also bad news for Britain’s ordinary citizens as, like other imperial wars before it, the end of the American Revolutionary War contributed to poorer economic conditions and a sharp increase in unemployment. A slowdown in business was worsened by the return home of many soldiers, swelling the ranks of the jobless.[6] As Sir Stephen Theodore Janssen, 4th Baronet, who served as Lord Mayor of London in the 1750s, had once sadly noted, ‘At the conclusion of a war, we turn adrift so many thousand Men, great Numbers fall heedlessly to thieving as soon as their pockets are empty.’[7] The same proved true of the Revolutionary War.

Like most others who ended up on the First Fleet, Thomas Martin’s crime was perhaps a response to worsening poverty. Whereas some convicts had accomplices and targeted homes they believed could provide a good bounty, Martin’s crime appears to have been impulsive and opportunistic.[8] The transcript of his trial at the Old Bailey tells us that on 8 November 1783, Martin entered the house of a William Wells, Esq., located in New Street, Spring Garden, near Charing Cross, right in the heart of London.

New Street, Spring Garden, near Charing Cross, 1746 John Rocque Map
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. The scene of Thomas Martin’s crime, ‘New Street, Spring Garden, near Charing Cross,’ can be seen just beneath the centre of this segment of the map. Detail from John Rocque and John Pine, A Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster, and borough of Southwark, (1746). View the interactive 1746 map and modern GoogleMap via Locating London’s Past (www.locatinglondon.org, version 1.0), accessed 22 May 2020. Courtesy of MOLA/MOTCO.

He does not appear to have broken into the building, but rather spotted an open door and walked in, evading the attention of the cook and the housekeeper—but not, fatefully, the attention of a lamplighter who saw him walk into the premises. Martin walked into the housekeeper’s room and, after ransacking it in an attempt to find something worth stealing, went off with just a silk handkerchief.[9] At the very moment he was leaving, however, William Wells’s butler, Kenneth M’Clough, arrived home. M’Clough had been alerted by the lamplighter that there may be a thief in the house. Martin’s excuse, offered at the time of the crime and repeated at his trial, was that he had been sent on an errand by an unnamed gentleman to see a Mr. Butler (one wonders whether he thought of the name simply because he was talking to the house’s butler), but apparently did not know what house on New Street to find him on, so had started knocking at doors. In the course of his interrogation from M’Clough, the missing silk handkerchief dropped out of Martin’s coat. Martin’s response showed he was no hardened criminal; according to M’Clough’s testimony, ‘He began to cry, and said he never touched any thing, and then he said he would never do the like again if I would let him go.’[10] With no witnesses to support him, Martin was unsurprisingly found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation.[11]

New Street, Spring Garden, 1881
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. New Street, Spring Gardens, near Charing Cross, depicted around a century after Thomas Martin committed his crime there. “Plate 40: New Street and Spring Garden Terrace,” in G. H. Gater and F. R. Hiorns (eds.), Survey of London: Volume 20, St Martin-in-The-Fields, Pt III: Trafalgar Square and Neighbourhood, (London, 1940), p. 40. Courtesy of British History Online. Spring Gardens, Gater and Hiorns write, was ‘a fashionable quarter inhabited mainly by politicians and civil servants.’ One of the elite families that had a town house in New Street in this period was the Penn family, at No. 10. Thomas Penn and John Penn happened to be the son and grandson of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Though the Penn family’s status was much greater than that of Thomas Martin’s they, too, were not immune to the ripple effects of the American Revolution: it brought the Penn family’s control of Pennsylvania to an end when their 24 million acres were confiscated by the Pennsylvania Legislature. At the time of Thomas Martin’s crime, Thomas Penn had already died (in 1775) and John Penn was living in Philadelphia, but would ultimately return to New Street. See Hoke P. Kimball and Bruce Henson, Governor’s Houses and State Houses of British Colonial America, 1607–1783, (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2017).

The Secret Scheme

Yet Martin’s punishment was also to be affected by the end of the American Revolutionary War, as he was caught up in a furtive scheme to restart the American convict trade. It was a scheme that twice failed spectacularly. Throughout the eighteenth century, Britain had sent around 50,000 convicts to its American colonies, a means of social control that got individuals of supposedly poor character off the streets of British cities and prevented overuse of the hangman’s noose.[12] With the commencement of war in April 1775, the convict trade was abruptly halted. How, then, was Britain to deal with the crime wave that swept London and much of the countryside in the early 1780s?

Magna Britannia - Her Colonies Reduced
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. The Colonies Reduced, by unidentified artist (c. 1767). Credit: Bequest of Charles Allen Munn, 1924. (CC0 1.0). Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. This 1767 cartoon was published in Great Britain and was possibly created by Benjamin Franklin, who was in England representing the American colonists’ claims at the time and reportedly arranged to have the image printed on cards that he distributed to members of Parliament. Showing ‘Magna Britannia’ contemplating her reduced empire while surrounded by her amputated limbs, which are marked Virg- (Virginia), Pennsyl- (Pennsylvania), New York, and New Eng- (New England), her torso leaning against a globe, it warned Britain of the consequences of alienating the American colonies by enforcing the Stamp Act. When the Revolutionary War did eventually begin less than a decade later, the warning proved very accurate. In losing her American colonies, Britannia also lost a place to send her convicted criminals under sentence of transportation—a ripple effect that led to overcrowding in British gaols, the rise of the hulk system, and a desperate search for a new colonial outpost.

By 1783, the Thames contained a number of hulks housing hundreds of prisoners, where conditions were so poor between 1776–1779, the mortality rate approached one in four.[13] Others were crowding the prisons and country gaols. To slow the rate of crowding, King George III and his ministers became less willing to give clemency to those sentenced to death.[14] Attempts to send convicts to Africa to serve as soldiers in trading posts proved disastrous, as most died of tropical diseases or deserted their posts.[15] Word of this scheme, and the disasters it led to, would soon have great significance in the life of Thomas Martin.

Convicts at Work near Woolwich
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. The prison hulk system was yet another ripple of the American Revolution. The Justitia, pictured here, was a 260 ton prison hulk that had been originally moored in the Thames when the American War of Independence put a stop to the transportation of criminals to the former colonies. Prisoners under sentence of transportation were incarcerated on board such decommissioned ships for months or even years while awaiting deportation, and laboured on the shore by day. The Justitia belonged to the shipowner Duncan Campbell, the Government contractor who organised the prison-hulk system at that time. Campbell was subsequently involved in shipping the ‘First Fleet’ convicts to the penal colony of New South Wales. View of the Justitia Hulk, with the Convicts at Work, near Woolwich. New Newgate Calendar or Malefactor’s Register, (Woolwich: 1777). © National Maritime Museum Collections.

Led by Lord Frederick North (forever to be known as the Prime Minister who ‘lost America’) and Charles Fox, the short-lived government of 1783 believed that an attempt to restart the convict trade with America was their best option of dealing with this worsening crisis.[16] The importation of convicts had long been unpopular with the colonies, and it was expected that the growth in anti-British sentiment in America would lead to strong opposition to its recommencement, despite how profitable it had been for some merchants. North and Fox hired a London merchant named George Moore to plan the voyages. Moore made a deal with a Maryland merchant named George Salmon to receive the convicts and sell them as indentured servants. Assuming that openly attempting to import convicts would incite outrage in America, as precautionary measures, Moore and Salmon changed the name of the vessel they were using from the George to the Swift, lied about who was on board, and claimed their final destination was Nova Scotia—still a British colony—rather than Baltimore, Maryland.[17]

Disaster quickly struck after the Swift left London in late August 1783. The convicts heard a rumour they were going to Africa and mutinied, forcing the ship back into Portsmouth on the English south coast.[18] While the ship did eventually make it to Baltimore on Christmas Eve, 1783 with around one hundred convicts still on board, Salmon had significant trouble actually selling the convicts as indentured servants due to a harsh winter lowering demand for labour. What was worse, Maryland authorities and citizens had heard word of the scheme and were indeed outraged. Salmon had found the scheme such a burden that he asked Moore to ‘send no more,’ but it was too late: Moore had already planned a second shipment on the Mercury.[19] On board, with 178 others, was Thomas Martin.

Mutiny on the Mercury

The Mercury (also known as the Duke of Tuscany, as Moore again changed a ship’s name to obscure its activities) set sail in April 1784.[20] The voyage of the Mercury proved to be even more disastrous than that of the Swift. Once again, with the final destination unknown to most on board, a rumour spread among the convicts that the ship was bound for Africa.[21] This rumour may well have been encouraged by the presence on board of convicts that had escaped the Swift during its mutiny, as well as a man named Thomas Limpus. Limpus had in fact been sent to an African trading outpost and escaped back to London before being recaptured.[22] Whether due to this rumour, or simply a desire not to leave Britain, on 8 April the convicts revolted.

Newspaper accounts at the time depict a well-planned rebellion. One account claimed that, in advance of the Mercury’s voyage, ‘some accomplices’ of the convicts ‘went and hired themselves as Seamen to work the Ship.’[23] A number of the convicts, meanwhile, had managed to hide small spring saws beneath their clothes and used these and nitric acid to remove their shackles.[24] The night of the mutiny, five of their allies among the crewmen ‘took Possession of all the crew (only 19 in number) and let up the Convicts to join them.’[25] After a ‘bloody and short resistance’ the convicts took control of the ship; they spared the life of the captain, but did, according to one newspaper, rob him ‘of all the property he had on board.’[26] The mutineers also reportedly chose to ‘revenge themselves on such of their fellow prisoners as would not join them in insurrection’ by throwing most of the other prisoners’ clothes into the sea—suggesting that Martin’s decision to join the mutiny was perhaps, in the short term, a wise one.[27] For the next six days, the mutineers took command of the ship and, revelling in their sudden freedom after months or years in dirty and crowded prisons, ‘stove the wine…drank immoderately…and committed every possible depradation [sic].’[28] They appear to have had no plan beyond taking the ship. In fact, so little apparent concern did they have for their own well-being, (or, perhaps, simply so drunk on freedom and wine that rational thought was beyond them), they threw the ship’s supplies of bread overboard.[29]

On 13 April 1784, having encountered bad weather, the ship sailed back to Torbay on England’s south coast. Many convicts, male and female, quickly fled the ship.[30] However, the captain and surgeon also escaped and quickly warned locals of who had been on board. The HMS Helena happened to be in the area and helped local authorities round up many of the escaped criminals. The vast majority of the convicts were not threatening. Few of the escapees ‘made it further than the nearest pub.’[31] Some 66 convicts made it off the Mercury, but were ‘retaken on board of a Fishing Smack, before they reached Land’ by the crew of the Helena.[32]

Thomas Martin did at least make it to shore, but by 16 April was confined to Exeter gaol alongside ninety of his fellow ‘desperadoes.’[33] He was among 24 men sentenced to death at a Special Commission at the Castle of Exeter on 24 May 1784.[34] Only men who actually made it to shore were put on trial here, as the judge ruled that those who did not get that far could not be said to have been ‘at large within the kingdom.’[35]

Rongemont Castle, Exeter
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. The Castle of Exeter, also known as “Rougemont Castle,” was where the Special Commission was held and Thomas Martin was sentenced to death for his role in the mutiny on the Mercury. The castle was built into Roman city walls on the highest part of the city of Exeter around 1068 CE, and came to be known as “Rougemont Castle” as a result of the red volcanic rock used to construct its original buildings and upon which it stood. Its early Norman gate house, pictured here, is one of the remaining features of the original castle. Rongemont [sic] Castle, Devonshire, by unidentified artist, (ca. late 18th c). CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Being sentenced to death would perhaps lead one to conclude that Martin had been a ringleader in the mutiny, but a local newspaper covering the Special Commission indicates otherwise. The report suggests that these death sentences were unsatisfying, as ‘there is reason to fear that the ringleaders will escape justice, while those who were unfortunate enough to get on shore, though perhaps their original crimes bore no comparison, are sentenced to an ignominious death.’[36] The ‘ringleaders’ the reporter had in mind were those convicts who were not quickly captured, many of whom terrorised the countryside through April and May. These men, one reporter warned, were ‘armed, and from the desperate and daring temper of many of them, it is greatly to be feared, that they will commit some acts of violence.’[37] Reports in early May noted that, as feared, around a dozen of the convicts had ‘terrified the country people wherever they go,’ and had ‘plundered’ homes of money and provisions.[38] Another report stated that two of the convicts were arrested ‘in attempting to rob two farmers as they were going home from market.’[39] Three prisoners were arrested near Bath ‘on suspicion of being highwaymen’ after one of their number, named Michael Andrews, shot two men during an argument over several women, who the newspaper account implied were prostitutes.[40] Some of the escaped mutineers remained dangerous even after being arrested. A convict named Edward Parrott, for example, was the ‘Ringleader’ of a riot that broke out when the recaptured convicts were being conveyed from Newgate to Woolwich, during which ‘three or four of the Convicts mutinied, and were shot by the Military on the River before they could be quelled.’[41] It seems much more likely that these men had planned and executed the mutiny than someone like Thomas Martin. Martin’s entirely unplanned original crime, and his later response to getting in trouble in New South Wales, indicates he probably lacked the planning skills necessary to lead a rebellion. It is more likely he simply seized an opportunity to taste freedom when it arrived, just as he had seized the opportunity presented by an open door in the heart of London six months earlier.

On 10 June 1784, a letter from Exeter stated that those sentenced to death for the mutiny, including Martin, had been ‘respited, till the Opinion of the twelve Judges can be taken on a Point of Law which has occurred.’[42] Ultimately, Martin and the others sentenced to death at Exeter were granted a royal pardon on the condition of once again being transported.[43] They would not, however, go on board the Mercury, which sailed again in June with fifty-eight of its original passengers still on board, and new measures to make it ‘impossible for [the convicts] to escape without great negligence of the officers.’[44] Those convicts were ‘not to be let out upon the deck as formerly,’ with vague plans made to ensure they received fresh air. There would also be a party of marines on board, and any convict who caused trouble would be ‘chain[ed] down to the ship.’[45] These measures successfully prevented another rebellion, but the Mercury was ultimately prevented from landing in America, and Britain’s attempt to restart the convict trade with the newly independent United States was abandoned.[46]

Instead, Martin and his fellow Mercury mutineers were sent to the Dunkirk, a one-time naval vessel moored in Plymouth. Many of the convicts who were to go on the First Fleet spent time on the Dunkirk and experienced its unique horrors. Like other prison hulks in Britain at this time, the Dunkirk was crowded and dirty. In addition, the ship was increasingly host to female convicts, including some who had been on board the Mercury. An observer noted that ‘as soon as Mr Cowdry [the overseer] leaves the ship, the officer, serjeant & the whole Guard has recourse to the women…[it is] too shocking to describe.’[47] The guards used the hulk to gamble, and as a brothel—what role the convicts played in these activities is unknown. Martin was reportedly ‘sometimes troublesome’ on board the hulk, but what precisely this referred to amidst the litany of abuses and excesses found on the Dunkirk is impossible to say.[48]

Dunkirk (1754)
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. The 1750 plan showing the body plan (scale 1:48), sheer lines, and the longitudinal half-breadth for Dunkirk (1754), a 60-gun, fourth-rate, two-decker. The navy ship was decommissioned in 1782 and converted to a prison hulk, moored at Plymouth. Many of the convicts who would go on to be transported with the First Fleet were held on the Dunkirk for months and even years before being transported—Thomas Martin was one of them. Joshua Allin, Dunkirk (1754), (Navy Office, 18 July 1750). © National Maritime Museum Collections.

What we do know is that on 5 November 1784, the prisoners on the Dunkirk attempted to use the cover of Guy Fawkes Day celebrations to escape. The authorities quickly crushed the plan, nevertheless it led to increased anxiety about the prospect of keeping the prisoners on board the ship for much longer. There were even brief, secret plans to transport the convicts to Africa, but these were abandoned. One can only imagine the outcome of such a scheme would have been further uproar and rebellion from the convicts.[49] In the end, it would not be until 1787 that a plan to transport convicts to a new colony at Kamay (Botany Bay) would come together, and Thomas Martin would finally get off the Dunkirk. On 11 March 1787, he was transferred to the Charlotte (1788) and two months later, on 13 May, the First Fleet set sail.

Overcoming ‘Ignorance’

Martin next appears in the historical record in July 1791, when he was granted thirty acres at Marrong (Prospect), Dharug Country.[52] Here, Martin was to face a struggle he shared with a number of other convicts from urban areas: he had absolutely no experience of agriculture and did not know what to do with his land. After six months on the land, he had only cultivated 1.5 acres.[53] On 24 February 1792, botanist and surveyor David Burton reported to Governor Arthur Phillip that Martin was ‘a person entirely ignorant respecting agriculture.’[54] Burton also claimed Martin and his neighbours ‘have complained that their ground is band [sic], and will produce nothing. I have carefully examined into it, and I find it to proceed from [their inadequacy]…and not from sterility in the soil.’[55] Burton was dismissive of Martin’s complaints, without accounting for how exactly people from urban areas were supposed to gain knowledge of agriculture in the absence of any instruction.

In December 1791, Watkin Tench provided a rather more sympathetic portrayal of the struggles of Martin and his neighbours. In Tench’s view, the residents had simply been dropped on this land and left to fend for themselves. Moreover, they had been obliged to build their own houses, three quarters of which Tench described as ‘wretched hovels.’[56] While they had been provided with grain, they had not been provided with pigs as promised. If any residents got sick, they had no choice but to take care of each other, which proved difficult due to the demands of establishing the farms.

View of Part of the Town of Parramatta
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. “Around Parramatta the eucalypt trees reached a hundred feet…while the undergrowth was a tangle of bushes armed with hidden prickles. Areas of open vegetation might appear to be grassy sward on which stock could graze, in actuality it was clumps of razor-sharp spear grass that hid snakes with venom potent enough to kill a pig in minutes. Even when the huge trees were felled, the stumps were too unyielding to be grubbed out and their extensive root system bound the soil into an uncompromising mass. Civil officials…had the advantage of convict labour to clear their acres and plant their crops, while emancipated convicts had only their bare hands. There were dim prospects that a man with no experience of rural labour could wrest a viable farm out of this blighted wilderness,” writes Cassandra Pybus in Black Founders, (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2006), p.124. The ‘unyielding stumps’ Pybus mentioned are clearly visible in John Eyre, View of Part of the Town of Parramatta, in New South Wales. Taken from the North Side of the River, SV1B/Parr/10 / FL15892747, State Library of New South Wales.

Furthermore, the presence of the settlers caused conflict with Dharug People in the area, who responded by burning down one of the settlers’ houses. Tench wrote at length of the low morale of the convicts-turned-farmers, and gave a very different appraisal of the soil from David Burton:

With all these people I conversed and inspected their labours. Some I found tranquil and determined to persevere, provided encouragement should be given. Others were in a state of despondency, and predicted that they should starve unless the period of eighteen months during which they are to be clothed and fed, should be extended to three years. Their cultivation is yet in its infancy, and therefore opinions should not be hastily formed of what it may arrive at, with moderate skill and industry. They have at present little in the ground besides maize, and that looks not very promising. Some small patches of wheat which I saw are miserable indeed. The greatest part of the land I think but indifferent, being light and stoney [sic]. Of the thirteen farms ten are unprovided with water; and at some of them they are obliged to fetch this necessary article from the distance of a mile and a half. All the settlers complain sadly of being frequently robbed by the runaway convicts, who plunder them incessantly.[57]

In spite of his ongoing struggle with the Prospect Hill property, on 24 June 1792, Martin married Mary Ann Hugo at Parramatta, Burramattagal Country.[58] Mary had arrived in the colony as a convict per Pitt in February.[59] Their first child, a daughter named Elizabeth Martin, was baptised at St. John’s, Parramatta, on 30 October 1797 and, by 1806, the couple were recorded as having two daughters and a son.[60]

Though we have little knowledge of the remaining three decades of his life, Martin does appear to have ultimately overcome these obstacles and learnt something about agriculture. Despite giving up on the property at Marrong (Prospect), having sold it by 1800 to a D. D. Franklyn, on 1 January 1798, he received a 50-acre land grant at Toongabbie, Toogagal Country, where he lived for the remainder of his life.[61]

*          *          *

Having survived the misery of post-war London, a raucous mutiny, and the squalor of the Dunkirk, and having clung to life during the first years of the New South Wales colony, Thomas Martin slipped back into historical obscurity. He died in September 1822, with his given age as 70, and was buried in the parish of St. John’s, Parramatta in Burramattagal Country on the 26th of that month.[62] We do not know if he appreciated how much his life had been transformed by events in America, a country we can only assume he never visited. In this, he was far from alone. Britain’s loss of its American colonies, and then its establishment of the Colony of New South Wales, was a pivotal moment in the transition from the ‘First’ British Empire,’ centred in North America, to the ‘Second’ British Empire that dominated the nineteenth century. All of the settlers of New South Wales, and the First Peoples of the lands that came to be known collectively as ‘Australia,’ were affected by this transition and, thus, caught up in the ripples of the American Revolution. Thomas Martin’s experience on the Mercury was a curious and largely forgotten part of a major shift in the global order.

Its Companion
CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE. This c. 1767 cartoon, a “companion” to Colonies Reduced, depicts the start of the major shift in the global order caused by the American Revolution which, ultimately, led to the establishment of the British penal colony “New South Wales.” Lord Bute, while stabbing Britannia, lifts her skirt, exposing her buttocks to two men, one with a sword, the other with a cat-o’-nine-tails; a snake strikes at her knees. She has her spear aimed at America, a young Native woman, and has caught hold of her feathered skirt; America flees into the outstretched arms of a Frenchman who has both sword and pistol poised to defend her. Behind the mêlée a Dutchman makes off with a ship. The cartoonist blames the British government policies for alienating the American colonies. The Colonies Reduced: Its Companion, by unidentified artist (c. 1767). Credit: Bequest of Charles Allen Munn, 1924. (CC0 1.0). Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

CITE THIS

Ben Vine, “Thomas Martin: The Ripples of a Revolution,” St. John’s Cemetery Project, (2020), https://stjohnscemeteryproject.org/bio/thomas-martin, accessed [insert current date]


References

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

  • Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale Universdity Press, 2016).
  • Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts (North Ryde, NSW: Halstead Press, 1970).
  • Roger Ekirch, “Great Britain’s Secret Convict Trade to America, 1783–1784,” The American Historical Review, 89, No. 5, (Dec, 1984): 1285–1291.
  • Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).
  • Michael A. Flynn, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1993).
  • Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989).
  • Harold Koch and Luise Hercus (eds.), Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and Re-naming the Australian Landscape(Canberra: ANU E Press, 2009), https://books.google.com.au/books?id=HyHh-OrnRGoC&lpg=PR1&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed 2 March 2020.
  • John Marriott, Beyond the Tower: A History of East London, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2011).
  • Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750–1804, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016).
  • Ben Vine, “Ann Smith: A Plunderer in the War Against Want,” John’s Cemetery Project, (2019), https://stjohnscemeteryproject.org/bio/ann-smith/, accessed 17 January 2020.
  • Peter Whiteley, Lord North: The Prime Minister who Lost America, (London: Hambledon Press, 1996).

NOTES

[1] See Michaela Ann Cameron, “Name-Calling: A Dual Naming Policy,” St. John’s Cemetery Project, (2020), adapted from “Name-Calling: Notes on Terminology,” in Michaela Ann Cameron (Ph.D. Diss.), “Stealing the Turtle’s Voice: A Dual History of Western and Algonquian-Iroquoian Soundways from Creation to Re-creation,” (Sydney: Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney, 2018), pp. 25–35, http://bit.ly/stealingturtle, accessed 2 March 2020. See also Harold Koch and Luise Hercus (eds.), Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and Re-naming the Australian Landscape(Canberra: ANU E Press, 2009), https://books.google.com.au/books?id=HyHh-OrnRGoC&lpg=PR1&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed 2 March 2020.

[2] Based on his recorded age at death, Thomas Martin would have been born around 1752. However, other primary sources indicate he may have been born as late as 1764. “Burial of THOMAS MARTIN, 26 September 1822,” Parish Burial Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia. The burial register is often incorrect on ages. The claim for Martin to be born around 1764 is based on the admission and discharge records of a London workhouse, which in November 1772 showed a Thomas Martin, aged 7, being admitted with his mother and brother. See: London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records, Westminster, St. Marylebone, 1768–1835, Reference Number: P89/MRY1/622, (London Metropolitan Archives, London, England). Due to Martin’s relatively common name, we cannot be sure it is the same Thomas Martin, though the impoverished conditions and location in London align with what we know of the Thomas Martin who sailed with the First Fleet.

[3] Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson,(Sydney: University of Sydney Library, 1998), http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozlit/pdf/p00044.pdf, accessed 2 March 2020; John Marriott, Beyond the Tower: A History of East London, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2011), pp. 54–5.

[4] John Marriott, Beyond the Tower: A History of East London, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2011), pp. 54–5; Zara Anishanslin, Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale Universdity Press, 2016), pp. 136–7.

[5] Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750–1804, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2016), pp. 307–8.

[6] A. Roger Ekirch, “Great Britain’s Secret Convict Trade to America, 1783–1784,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 89, No. 5, (Dec, 1984): 1286.

[7] A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 13.

[8] See, for example, Ann Smith, in Ben Vine, “Ann Smith: A Plunderer in the War Against Want,” St. John’s Cemetery Project, (2019), https://stjohnscemeteryproject.org/bio/ann-smith/, accessed 17 January 2020.

[9] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 10 December 1783, trial of THOMAS MARTIN (t17831210-45), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17831210-45, accessed 17 January 2020.

[10] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 10 December 1783, trial of THOMAS MARTIN (t17831210-45), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17831210-45, accessed 17 January 2020.

[11] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 10 December 1783, trial of THOMAS MARTIN (t17831210-45), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17831210-45, accessed 17 January 2020. The charges against Martin seem somewhat unfair. He was charged with stealing not just the handkerchief, but also seventeen towels, two petticoats, and a linen apron, none of which he had actually attempted to steal from the premises but merely moved.

[12] A. Roger Ekirch, Bound for America: The Transportation of British Convicts to the Colonies, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 1, 19–20.

[13] A. Roger Ekirch, “Great Britain’s Secret Convict Trade to America, 1783–1784,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 89, No. 5, (Dec, 1984): 1286.

[14] A. Roger Ekirch, “Great Britain’s Secret Convict Trade to America, 1783–1784,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 89, No. 5, (Dec, 1984): 1285–6.

[15] Michael A. Flynn, The Second Fleet: Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1993), p. 11–12.

[16] See, for example, Peter Whiteley, Lord North: The Prime Minister who Lost America, (London: Hambledon Press, 1996).

[17] A. Roger Ekirch, “Great Britain’s Secret Convict Trade to America, 1783–1784,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 89, No. 5, (Dec, 1984): 1285–8.

[18] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 255–6.

[19] A. Roger Ekirch, “Great Britain’s Secret Convict Trade to America, 1783–1784,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 89, No. 5, (Dec, 1984): 1288–9.

[20] See for example, the reference to the Duke of Tuscany in the trial of Charles Peat, another Mercury mutineer: Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 7 July 1784, trial of CHARLES PEAT (t17840707-6), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17840707-6, accessed 17 January 2020. Martin had been transferred on board Mercury on 30 March, see Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p. 240.

[21] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 259. The trial of Charles Peat, another convict on board Mercury, demonstrates the lengths Moore and Salmon had gone to hide the purpose of the voyage. The ship’s steward, George Holt, claimed to have no knowledge of the scheme to unload the convicts at Baltimore, Maryland, only that this was the first stop on a strange, circuitous trip that would see the ship also go to Honduras, then Virginia, and only then Nova Scotia. See Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 8.0), 7 July 1784, trial of CHARLES PEAT (t17840707-6), https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?div=t17840707-6, accessed 17 January 2020.

[22] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 258–9.

[23] “Extract of a Letter from Exeter, April 15,” Reading Mercury, Monday 26 April 1784, p. 2, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[24] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 260.

[25] “Extract of a Letter from Exeter, April 15,” Reading Mercury, Monday 26 April 1784, p. 2, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[26] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 260; “No title,” Leeds Intelligencer, Tuesday 11 May 1784, p. 2, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[27] “No title,” Leeds Intelligencer, Tuesday 11 May 1784, p. 2, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[28] “Extract of a letter from Exeter, April 21,” Hereford Journal, Thursday 6 May 1784, p. 1, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[29] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 259–61.

[30] “Extract of a Letter from Exeter, April 21,” Derby Mercury, Thursday 29 April 1784, p. 2, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020. Contemporary accounts offered conflicting evidence on how many convicts escaped the Mercury, and where they were recaptured.

[31] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 261.

[32] “No title, [On Monday last His Majesty’s Special Commission was opened at Exeter…],” The Oxford Journal, Saturday 29 May 1784, p. 3, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020; The Western Flying Post or Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, Monday 31 May 1784, p. 3 cited in John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, (North Ryde, NSW: Halstead Press, 1970), p. xiii.

[33] John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, (North Ryde, NSW: Halstead Press, 1970), p. 183; “Thursday’s Post. (By Express.), London, Tuesday May 4,” Derby Mercury, Thursday 29 April 1784, p. 4, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[34] John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, (North Ryde, NSW: Halstead Press, 1970), p. 17.

[35] As Martin was among those who received a death sentence for the mutiny, we know he had made it to shore based on this newspaper report on the Special Commission at Exeter in “No title,” The Oxford Journal, Saturday 29 May 1784, p. 3, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020, which outlines the criteria for trial and sentencing. For the direct quotation see The Western Flying Post or Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury, Monday 31 May 1784, p. 3 cited in John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, (North Ryde, NSW: Halstead Press, 1970), p. xiii.

[36] John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, (North Ryde, NSW: Halstead Press, 1970), p. xiii.

[37] “No title [Upwards of 20 of the convicts escaped from the transport were taken on the 14th inst. at Exeter]…,” Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 23 April 1784, p. 2, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[38] “No title [Letters from Exeter mention…,]” Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, Thursday 6 May 1784, p. 2, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[39] “No title [A letter from Ashburton, in Devonshire…],” Reading Mercury, Monday 10 May 1784, p. 3, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[40] “Extract of a Letter from Bath, May 4,” Chelmsford Chronicle, Friday 14 May 1784, p. 4, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[41] “No title [On Wednesday Edward Parrott, a Convict escaped…],” Northampton Mercury, Monday 14 June 1784, p. 3, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[42] “Extract of a Letter from Exeter, June 10,” Derby Mercury, Thursday 17 June 1784, p. 1, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[43] John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, (North Ryde, NSW: Halstead Press, 1970), p. 17

[44] “Plymouth, June 2,” Hampshire Chronicle, Monday 7 June 1784, p. 3, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020; Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 265.

[45] “Plymouth, June 2,” Hampshire Chronicle, Monday 7 June 1784, p. 3, The British Newspaper Archive (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/), accessed 17 January 2020.

[46] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 265–74.

[47] Mollie Gillen, “His Majesty’s Mercy: The Circumstances of the First Fleet,” The Push, 29 (1991): 95, quoted in Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 263.

[48] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia,: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p. 240.

[49] Emma Christopher, A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain’s Convicts after the American Revolution, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 263–4.

[50] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia,: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p. 240. See Michaela Ann Cameron, “Name-Calling: A Dual Naming Policy,” St. John’s Cemetery Project, (2020), adapted from “Name-Calling: Notes on Terminology,” in Michaela Ann Cameron (Ph.D. Diss.), “Stealing the Turtle’s Voice: A Dual History of Western and Algonquian-Iroquoian Soundways from Creation to Re-creation,” (Sydney: Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney, 2018), pp. 25–35, http://bit.ly/stealingturtle, accessed 2 March 2020. See also Harold Koch and Luise Hercus (eds.), Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and Re-naming the Australian Landscape(Canberra: ANU E Press, 2009), https://books.google.com.au/books?id=HyHh-OrnRGoC&lpg=PR1&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed 2 March 2020.

[51] Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p. 240.

[52] New South Wales Government, Register of Land Grants and Leases, Series: NRS 13836; Item: 7/445; Reel: 2560, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia). Val Attenbrow lists two variant spellings of the Aboriginal placename for the location Europeans named ‘Prospect Hill,’ including Mar-rong and Marrarong. See entry 32g in “Table 1.1: Aboriginal placenames around Port Jackson and Botany Bay from historical sources,” in Harold Koch and Luise Hercus (eds.), Aboriginal Placenames: Naming and Re-naming the Australian Landscape(Canberra: ANU E Press, 2009), p. 35, https://books.google.com.au/books?id=HyHh-OrnRGoC&lpg=PR1&pg=PR1#v=onepage&q&f=false, accessed 14 March 2020. See Michaela Ann Cameron, “Name-Calling: A Dual Naming Policy,” St. John’s Cemetery Project, (2020), adapted from “Name-Calling: Notes on Terminology,” in Michaela Ann Cameron (Ph.D. Diss.), “Stealing the Turtle’s Voice: A Dual History of Western and Algonquian-Iroquoian Soundways from Creation to Re-creation,” (Sydney: Department of History, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney, 2018), pp. 25–35, http://bit.ly/stealingturtle, accessed 2 March 2020.

[53] Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson,(Sydney: University of Sydney Library, 1998), http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozlit/pdf/p00044.pdf, accessed 2 March 2020.

[54] David Burton, “Enclosure: [David Burton to Arthur Phillip, Parramatta, 24 February 1792],” in Alexander Britton (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. I, Part 2.—PHILLIP, 1783–1792, (Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1892), p. 599.

[55] David Burton, “Enclosure: [David Burton to Arthur Phillip, Parramatta, 24 February 1792],” in Alexander Britton (ed.), Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. I, Part 2.—PHILLIP, 1783–1792, (Sydney: Charles Potter, Government Printer, 1892), p. 599.

[56] Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson,(Sydney: University of Sydney Library, 1998), http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozlit/pdf/p00044.pdf, accessed 2 March 2020.

[57] Watkin Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson,(Sydney: University of Sydney Library, 1998), http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/ozlit/pdf/p00044.pdf, accessed 2 March 2020.

[58] “Marriage of THOMAS MARTIN and MARY ANN HUGO, 24 June 1792,” Parish Marriage Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia.

[59] Home Office: Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania, HO10, Pieces 1–4, 6–18, 28–30, (The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England).

[60] “Baptism of ELIZTH MARTIN, 21 January 1798,” Parish Baptism Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia. Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p. 240. It would seem the son is Thomas Martin Jr., (1799–1877), but the second daughter’s identity is unclear. While some amateur genealogists have identified a Margaret Martin born to Thomas and Mary Ann in 1822, this is unlikely, as Mary Ann would have been around 61 years old at the time Margaret was born.

[61] New South Wales Government, New South Wales, Various Land Records: Colonial Secretary: List of all Grants and Leases 1788–1809, Series: NRS 1213; Reel: 1999, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia). No further information has been found about D. D. Franklyn. Certificates of Freedom were introduced in 1810. Martin had only had a seven year sentence, so he was already an emancipist, but he was issued a certificate as proof of his status on 5 February 1811. New South Wales Government, Butts of Certificates of Freedom, Series: NRS 1165, 1166, 1167, 12208, 12210; Reels: 601, 602, 604, 982–1027; No. 181 / 680, (State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales).

[62] “Burial of THOMAS MARTIN, 26 September 1822,” Parish Burial Registers, Textual Records, St. John’s Anglican Church Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia. There is currently no headstone recorded for him in Judith Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St. John’s, (Parramatta: Parramatta and District Historical Society, 1991). This absence may be because he never had a headstone in St. John’s Cemetery, as many people did forego the considerable expense of providing a headstone for their loved one in this era if it was beyond their means. It may be that he did have one in the cemetery, but it did not survive before headstone inscriptions started to be made. Alternatively, he may not have been buried in the cemetery itself, but somewhere else in the parish of St. John’s, Parramatta.

© Copyright 2020 Ben Vine