John Palmer (1760–1833)

John Palmer is one of seventeen First Fleeters with memorials buried in St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. A member of the British Royal Navy, John Palmer served in the American Revolutionary War, during which he became a prisoner of war. In Australia, he is best known for being the purser on the First Fleet flagship the HMS Sirius (1788). In his colonial life, John Palmer was a justice of the peace, a large landowner, and a committee member of the Female Orphan School at Parramatta. He is buried with his brother CHRISTOPHER PALMER, who is also one of the seventeen First Fleeters with memorials at the cemetery.


  • Colloquial: “Little Jack”
  • Formal: John Palmer Esq.
  • Namesake: John Palmer Public School at 85 The Ponds Boulevard, The Ponds, which opened in 2008.


  • Born: 1760 in England
  • Entered the navy: c. 1768
  • Became a prisoner of war: American Revolutionary War, 11 September 1781
  • Married Susannah Stilwell: 1783
  • Birth of son, George Thomas Palmer: April 1784
  • Birth of son, John Westwick Palmer: c.1786 (died in infancy)
  • Joined the HMS Sirius as purser: 10 January 1787
  • Birth of son, Henry Westwick Palmer: c.1787 (died in infancy)
  • Sailed with the First Fleet per HMS Sirius: 13 May 1787
  • Arrived at Port Jackson: 26 January 1788
  • Appointed Commissary: 2 June 1791
  • Returned to England per Britannia: September 1796
  • Birth of son, John Palmer Jnr: 1798
  • Returned to New South Wales per Porpoise: November 1800
  • Granted 100 acres (40 ha) of land: February 1793, at the head of Garden Island Cove, then known as Palmer’s Cove where he established Woolloomooloo Farm
  • Birth of son, Edwin Palmer: 1801
  • Death of son, Edwin Palmer: 1802
  • Birth of daughter, Sophia Susannah Palmer: 1803
  • Became committee member of Female Orphan School: 1803 – 1824
  • On trial for sedition: 18 March 1809. Found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment in Sydney Gaol
  • Died: 27 September 1833 at Waddon
  • Buried: 1 October 1833 at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta

Burial Location

  • Section 1, Row N, No. 14 at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta


  • Spouse of Susannah Stilwell
  • Parent of George Thomas Palmer
  • Parent of John Westwick Palmer (died in infancy, in England)
  • Parent of Henry Westwick Palmer (died in infancy, in England)
  • Parent of John Palmer Jnr
  • Parent of Edwin Palmer
  • Parent of Sophia Susannah Palmer


  • Baker
  • Benefactor (general)
  • Purser
  • Commissary
  • Defence forces personnel (British)
  • Farmer
  • Flour miller
  • Magistrate
  • Sealer
  • Shipowner


  • Captain’s servant, British Royal Navy
  • Seaman, British Royal Navy
  • Purser on HMS Sirius (1788)
  • Commissary
  • Magistrate
  • Committee member of The Female Orphan School, Parramatta


  • Owned Woolloomooloo Farm, Palmer’s Cove (at the head of present-day Garden Island Cove). It was one of the colony’s first permanent residences.
  • A 300 acre (121 ha) Hawkesbury Farm
  • George: a small colonial-built craft used for sealing in Bass Strait
  • John: a small colonial-built craft used for sealing in Bass Strait
  • Edwin: a small craft that regularly travelled the Hawkesbury River and along the coast with grain, timber and coals.
  • A windmill, on the margin of the Domain
  • A bakery, near the present-day Sydney Conservatorium of Music

Related Content

John Palmer: The Purser, The P.O.W. (2016)

By Ben Vine

Abstract: John Palmer’s life was closely tied up with the waxing fortunes of the British Empire in the late eighteenth century. His experience as both a British POW and a member of the NSW elite reveals the connections between the American Revolution and the settlement of NSW, but also how the shaping of narratives of America’s founding limits our knowledge of those connections. more>>

Christopher Palmer: Perils of a Purser (2019)

By David Morgan

Abstract: Christopher Palmer arrived in New South Wales as a civilian in 1788, accompanying his brother John Palmer (1760–1833), purser of HMS Sirius. Christopher soon began his own naval career, returning to England and serving on a series of ships, also becoming a purser. But he would be dogged by ill health while being pursued for decades by the Crown over a claimed debt, spending his last years cared for by his brother. more>>



Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

  • Judith Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St. John’s, (Parramatta, NSW: Parramatta and District Historical Society, 1991), p. 78.
  • Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), pp. 272–73.
  • Margaret Steven, “Palmer, John (1760–1833),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 4 January 2019.


# Event: American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)

# First Fleet

# Came Free

# Ship: HMS Sirius (1788)

# Ship: Porpoise (1800)

# Burial year: 1833

# Grave: marked