JOHN BEST (c1754-1839)

John Best was sentenced with John Tasker at the Old Bailey on 29 October 1783 to seven years transportation for theft of a pair of saddle bags, clothing, shoe buckles and other items from the Cross Keys, Wood Street, London. Best was taken by a captain of patrols coming down Kingsland Road, the stolen goods found in handkerchiefs and pockets. Best said they were his own things being taken to be washed, but the owner's name was on them. Tasker said they had been bought at the Blue Boar, Rosemary Lane, from people who frequented the place and often sold such things.

Both men were delivered on 30 March 1784 from Newgate to the Mercury transport. Tasker did not escape after the convict mutiny on board, but Best was captured at Torbay on 13 April by Helena before reaching shore, and held overnight in a small boat moored beside Helena. He was sent to Exeter, Devon for committal to gaol on the 16th. He was among the 66 escapers who were not tried, but remanded to their former orders by the Special Commission on 24 May.

On 28 June, Best went with a group of Mercury convicts to the Dunkirk hulk, age given as 30, where he was "troublesome at times". He was discharged to Friendship on 11 March 1787. On the voyage Lieutenant Ralph Clark gave him a glass of rum in December because he appeared to be very cold. He said Best was aged 27, with no trade and born in Middlesex.


On 4 March 1790, his seven year term almost completed, Best was sent to Norfolk Island by Sirius. At 1 July 1791 he was supporting two persons, at this date sharing with Grace Mattocks (Maddocks, Lady Juliana, age given as 28 on embarkation in 1789). A sow that produced a litter of nine on 5 September. Of a one acre allotment in Sydney Town he had cleared 73 rods and by 30 November he was a settler with a lease of 12 acres on Lot No. 65.

In 1793 Best was elected a member of the Norfolk Island Settlers Society and listed as a "clerke". Of his 12 acres only six were ploughable, but in October 1793 he had all six in cultivation. By the end of 1796 he was employed as a general government overseer and victualled as such. By 1801 he had leased an additional 18 acres. holding 147 acres and on 12 October he was appointed superintendent. This position he held until early in 1805, when he had 20 acres in cultivation, ten more in waste land, and owned 17 swine. In this year he was recorded with a wife but no children; through all these years he sold grain and meat to public stores, signing his name for receipt of payment.

In the early years of evacuation from Norfolk Island for VDL, Best decided to remain on the island. In 1811 his health had given out, and in January he was certified as subject to weak sight (one eye almost useless for several years) and incapable of continuing his duties. In April with Rebecca Chippenham (Chipman, Neptune 1790) his "housekeeper" and a child named Mary Wheeler (c1808) he was ordered to Port Jackson for recovery. He was recorded on Norfolk Island in August 1812. In 1814 he was a landholder in the Windsor district, granted 470 acres at Evan on 24 January 1817 and married Rebecca on 16 June at Castlereagh.

Around St Marys, grants north of the Great Western Road were allocated to Governor King's wife by an obliging Governor Bligh, and in return, Governor King granted Bligh's daughter, Mary Putland, land near Werrington. Grants to King's children were made by their father. The Kings sponsored the building of the Church of St Mary Magdalene, and the church became the nucleus of a small village when Sir Maurice O'Connell, who had married Mary Putland, put 400 ha of his wife's land up for sale in 1842.

Also north of the highway was John Harris's Shane's Park, and Phillip Parker King, son of the Governor and distinguished naval captain, was granted an additional 600 hectares north of Penrith in 1837 by Governor Bourke, close to his family's Dunheved estate. The house Werrington was also the nucleus of a large estate, owned by the Lethbridge family, relatives by marriage to the Kings, until the 1970s. South of the road, Samuel Marsden established his fine merino flock at Mamre, and a fine garden and orchard was established around the house.

Closer to Penrith, William Neate Chapman was granted 525 ha in 1804, and Daniel Woodriffe 400 ha. Neither lived on their grants. South of the road, John Best was granted 190 ha; this later became the Hornseywood Estate, but at first it prevented expansion of the town. Simeon Lord (400 ha) and John Single (97 ha) also held land south of the road. Even in 1835 Penrith could not have been expected to expand northwards, as Sarah McHenry was granted 40 ha there by Governor Bourke. This was subdivided much later, in 1885, as the Lemon Grove Estate.

Thus, both Penrith and St Marys were hemmed in by large estates for most of the nineteenth century, with the earliest attempt at subdivision being made at St Marys in the forties. As in the Mulgoa Valley, however, small farms would not have prospered away from the alluvial soils. Penrith had to await the coming of the railways and the boom of the eighties for serious attention to be given to breaking up these large estates into smaller holdings.

In 1828 (age given as 71) Best was recorded as holding 470 acres, with 30 cleared, and owning three horses and 20 cattle. He employed two time expired convicts, and a ticket of leave man as labourers. Rebecca had died on 31 August 1819 at the age of 48: it does not appear that Mary Wheeler was the child of the couple, though in January 1828 (then married to William Gray) she claimed John Best as her father in an unsuccessful petition to Governor Ralph Darling pleading distressed circumstances when her husband was sentenced to transportation to a penal settlement. Best, she said, was suffering from "infirmities and old age". On 6 March 1839 Best died at Windsor, a pauper, and was buried next day at St Matthew's, Windsor, his age given as 82. He seems to have suffered a drastic reduction in circumstances, having lost the assistance of his son-in-law William Gray.



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