JOHN RYAN 1761-1800



John Bryant, aged 17, (occupation silkweaver) and Jonathon Darlington were indicted for feloniously stealing, on 10th January 1784, one woollen cloth coat, value 10s. and one man’s hat, value 3s. the property of Richard Price.


They were seen acting suspiciously in Basinghall Street opposite the White Bear, walking up and down several times, “ and I saw one point to the other to go into the house”, reported a witness who said he saw them go in.  They were tried before Mr. Justice Ashurst at Justice Hall in the Old Bailey.   Each to be transported for 7 years. [The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts p 243]  On 30 March both were sent to the Mercury transport (hulk) from Newgate.


Ryan (recorded as such henceforth) escaped at Torbay after the convict mutiny on the Mercury. There is no evidence that he was involved as a mutineer. He was retaken on 13 April, committed to gaol at Exeter, remanded to former orders on 24 May and sent to the Dunkirk hulk at the end of June, aged 19. He was  “ in general tolerably well behaved, but troublesome at times”.  He was discharged to the Friendship on 11 March 1787, then aged 20. [The Founders of Australia p320]   The name John Ryan has been accepted because of references in Ralph Clark’s Journal p.8.


The Friendship was one of the smaller ships being 276 tons.  Her master was Captain Francis Walton, Surgeon Thomas Arndell and Marines Captain James Meredith, Lieutenant Ralph Clark (whose journals have provided much information), Lieutenant William Faddy and First Mate Robert Laurance.  She carried 97 convicts, 76 males and 21 females.  The ships were infested with rats, cockroaches and other vermin.  William Faddy, who slept in a “small place”, spent Sunday morning of 22 July  in killing “above 100 bugs with oil and tar”  [Convict Ships p.102] If such were the conditions in the officers’ Quarters, how much worse must it have been in the overcrowded prisons?


Some of the women on the Friendship caused so much trouble that some were exchanged into the Charlotte while at Rio and later the lot transferred to Lady Penrhyn, Charlotte, and Prince of Wales to make way for livestock and fodder.  This was much to the relief of Clark who wrote “I am very glad of it, for they were a great trouble, much more so than the men.”


On January 26, as a result of Arthur Phillip’s wise selection of Sydney Cove as the site for the new settlement, the entire fleet went around to Port Jackson from Botany Bay.  Disaster was narrowly averted. In getting out of the narrow entrance to Botany Bay with the wind against them, the Prince of Wales and the Friendship fouled one another, and the latter lost her jib-boom.  Soon after the Charlotte ran foul of the Friendship frightening those on board, fearing being on the rocks and all gone to pieces in less than half an hour.


At Port Jackson, according to Ralph Clark’s Journal, on 27February 1788 John Ryan, along with Thomas Barrit, Henry Lovell and Josh Hall were tried in a Criminal court. “There Centance was read the charge being clearly proven of their Stealing Butter Pease and Pork .” John Ryan to receive 300 lashes the others “centance” of death.  Barrit was hung the same day; the others being fortunate to wait until the next day when the Governor pardoned them on the condition that they were banished.  John Ryan's irons were removed and he was dismissed to his work.


   In November 1788 he was accused of “feloniously and burglariously break and enter and steal a pair of trousers, two shirts, two aprons, one bedgown, one silk handkerchief and one pair of stockings” from Ann Warburton (Ann Daly). The charge was dismissed when Francis Fowkes, with whom he was sharing a hut, spoke up for his honesty.


In November 1789 John Ryan was reported as living near fellow convict Robert Sidaway  (Sedaway), who employed him to care for his house and to bring in water.

On 4March 1790 John Ryan was sent to Norfolk Island on the Sirius.  On 1 August 1790 Sarah Woolley was sent to Norfolk Island on the Surprize. They were later married by the Rev. Richard Johnson when he visited the island in November 1791.


Sarah Woolley was a second Fleet convict arriving on the Neptune on the 28 June 1790 in company with the Surprize and the Scarborough.  She was lucky to survive this voyage in which a total of 267 died, the Neptune losing 147 men and 11 women out of a total of 502.  

Aboard all three ships, but particularly the Neptune, the prisoners were treated with savage brutality. They were shamefully starved, kept heavily ironed, and except in inadequate numbers and at long intervals, refused access to the deck, by the master, the avaricious and unscrupulous Donald Trail.  There was no excuse for this callousness, as at no stage of the voyage was there any suspicion of mutiny. [The Convict Ships p128]


Sarah Woolley (1768?-1809) and Ann White were sentenced to seven years transportation  on 28th October 1789 at the Old Bailey Sessions for theft of a four yard piece of printed cotton valued  at 8 shillings from a city of London  linen draper’s shop.


They came into the shop fussing and quibbling over the price of a small piece of cotton asking one another which pattern they liked.  The shopman called out R.F. (a code warning of suspected shoplifters) to his employer in the back room.  The draper said in court that he sold it to them at cost in order to get rid of them; I did not like them.  As they left he noticed White had her hand in her right pocket and a bulge under her clothing near her hip.  He sent the assistant out after them and the bolt of cotton was found on the floor under White’s petticoats, dirty from the mud on her shoes from the wet street outside.

On 11November both women were sent from Newgate prison for embarkation on the Neptune transport. [The Second Fleet - Britain’s Grim Convict Armada of 1790 p.629]


John Ryan and Sarah Woolley were probably living together on Norfolk Island by February 1791 when each was issued with a pig under Major Ross’s scheme designed to encourage convicts to become self-sufficient.  The couple lived on a 10acre farm at Charlotte Field (Queenborough) Norfolk Island where a daughter Elizabeth was born in November 1792.  Ryan sailed for Sydney in March 1793, followed by Sarah and daughter Elizabeth in March 1794 aboard the Francis. They were granted 30 acres of land at Mulgrave Place on the 14th March 1794 by William Paterson.


Two more children were born; Mary on 1 February 1796 at Parramatta (my link with this couple) and John in 1798. Ryan was almost certainly the man of this name receiving a 30acre land grant on the banks of the Hawkesbury River in March 1795. In 1797, Governor Hunter made a grant to Sarah Ryan of 30 acres of land at Mulgrave Place on the Hawkesbury near Windsor. Their fourth child Sarah Ryan was born on November 1 1800.


By 1800 John Ryan had either died, with no record of his burial surviving, or left the colony.  In a list of Debtors to the Crown, June 1796 to January 26, 1808, he was listed as ”dead”.  This list of money owing to the Crown was made up for presentation to the Bigge Inquiry.  Most of the names on it were landholders from whom the small amount of debt could have been recovered had the government pursued the matter.


In that year, 1800, Sarah was listed as a landholder in her own right, a status usually accorded to widows.  She owned 7 hogs and had 14 acres sown in wheat and 5 in maize.  She was self-supporting, with 3 children maintained by government rations. By 1802 she was fully supporting her four children, owned 30 hogs, and had 20 acres sown in wheat, 10 bushels of wheat and 20 of maize in store.

In the 1806 muster, Sarah Woolley was shown as Sarah Ryan, free by servitude, wife to William Mason with three male and three female children.


On 12 April 1809, Sarah asked local businessman Henry Kable Senior to take her for a drive from Green Hills (Windsor) to Richmond for the sake of her health.  Accompanied by her eldest daughter Elizabeth they set off by the riverside road. The chaise struck a concealed stump near Mackellars Creek throwing Kable to the ground.  The women screamed, causing the horse to bolt throwing them as well. Sarah died in her daughter’s arms within half an hour. She was 41.


Her death was reported in the Sydney Gazette on 16 April 1809.

“A Coroner’s Inquest was taken at 5 o’clock the same evening, whose verdict was Accidental Death; after which the body was taken home, and interred on Thursday evening.  The funeral was numerously and respectably attended, many persons travelling from ten to twenty miles to pay this last tribute of respect to a departed much lamented friend, whose kindness of disposition and obliging manners have been the admiration of all who were acquainted with her; as a mother and wife her conduct was exemplary; and her loss will for ever be sincerely regretted by a disconsolate husband and family of six children.”


Fortunately for Sarah’s children, William Mason became their guardian, receiving grants in trust for them. It is thought he educated them himself, as there is a remarkable similarity in their handwriting and his own


#7228 Margaret Soward



The Founders of Australia – a biographical dictionary of the First Fleet by Mollie Gillen

The First Fleeters a comprehensive listing of convicts, marines, seamen, officers, wives, children and ships

Women of the 1790 Neptune

The Second Fleet Convicts – a comprehensive listing of convicts who sailed in HMS Guardian, Lady Juliana, Neptune, Scarborough and Surprise.

The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts by John Cobley

Journal and Letters of Lieutenant Ralph Clark 1787-1792

The Convict Ships1787-1868 by Charles Bateson

Sydney Cove 1788 – in the words of Australia’s First Settlers: the true story of a nation’s birth compiled by John Cobley



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters