Joseph Trimby’s Story begins in Horningsham, Wiltshire, England in 1755 with a Richard Trimby and Christian Elliot. They were married by special licence. Their children James, Richard, Joseph and Benjamin (twins) and later another Benjamin were baptized at Horningsham.  Joseph’s twin brother, Benjamin, must have died in infancy. Why he took his mother’s maiden name is still a mystery.


The First Step of Trimby’s Travels. At Bristol on 24 November 1784 twenty-year-old Joseph Elliott, a gardener, was sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing a pocket book (it was empty!). A few days later he was received on Dunkirk hulk described as “tolerably decent and orderly”. Two years later he was transferred to Friendship to set sail for Botany Bay in May 1787. Over eight months later, in January 1788, Joseph Elliott stepped onto land at Port Jackson.


The Second Step of Trimby’s Travels. In May 1790 Joseph Elliott was accused of stealing 1¼ lbs potatoes worth two pence halfpenny from Mr Richard Johnson. He pleaded guilty but said in defence he had worked hard all day and was very hungry…punishment…300 lashes on his bare back with cat of nine tails, no flour ration for 6 months and to be chained for the same 6 months to two public delinquents at work on the roads. A few days later Captain Phillip allowed him his flour ration. Sometime at end of 1790 Joseph set sail again. He was sent to Norfolk Island.


The Third Step in Trimby’s Travels. Jas Elliott is recorded in December 1790 as shirking his duty —punishment 100 lashes (he could only take 73.) Again in May 1791 Jas Elliott was seriously injured from a falling tree.  1791 finds Joseph Elliott subsisting with Elizabeth Seiney on a Phillipsburg lot with 95 rods cleared, sharing a five-month-old sow.  By 1793 they were settled on 12 acres of Lot No 51. Elizabeth had arrived at Port Jackson in June 1790 and two months later was sent to Norfolk Island, so she was there before Joseph. From June 1794 onwards Joseph Elliott disappears and Joseph Trimby remains, possibly because he and Elizabeth then had son James to carry on the rightful name. In December 1796 Joseph and Elizabeth were leasing 60 acres and had 2 sons, James and Joseph.  

1805 records show Joseph Trimby as a second class settler with two sons without wife, 13 acres cleared owning 17 swine, signing with mark for grain sold to stores.  A more recently restored headstone reads Elizabeth Trumby and her 1 or 4 yr old son William.  This seems to be Elizabeth Trimby who died aged 30 years.  So Joseph had fathered three sons on Norfolk Island to Elizabeth. Years roll on. Joseph was on Norfolk Island for 22 years, 1790 to January 1813 (aged 26-48).


The Fourth Step of Trimby’s Travels. Joseph was evacuated from Norfolk Island to Norfolk Plains in Van Diemen’s Land Jan 1813.  His two sons and daughter-in-law travelled as adults on the same ship. James had married Mary Egan the previous year.

The Trimbys were among the first settlers at Norfolk Plains in Van Diemen’s Land with three farms on west bank of the South Esk River. There is little doubt that in the 1800s Van Diemen’s Land was correctly termed a bandit society. Even those in authority were often guilty of crimes. Once again Joseph was a loser. James was given a contract to supply fresh mutton to His Majesty’s Stores at Launceston. During one six-month period he did supply 1100 lbs of mutton.  But between them the Trimbys had only 200 acres whereas others had much larger holdings and could supply four times as much as Trimbys. James did what others did — resorted to stealing sheep — but he was caught, taken into custody, with his father and brother as accomplices. Now recorded in historical records in graphic detail, we read, “one famous case, Joseph Trimby and his two sons….That incorrigible family of sheep stealers, the Trimbys…. Their renowned sheep stealing activities. Those who laid the charges were not above the law themselves. However the Trimbys were guilty.

Once more Joseph lost his freedom. All three Trimbys were accused on 16 January 1818, and brought for trial in June to the place now called Sydney.


The Fifth Step of Trimby’s Travels began with the voyage from Van Diemen’s Land aboard Lady Nelson to Sydney for trial. Others were acquitted but the Trimbys were convicted and sentenced to 14 years at Newcastle the major colonial prison, a place for those who had transgressed, where convicts were employed as cedar getters, miners, lime burners, shingle splitters and carpenters.


The Sixth Step of Trimbys Travels began on 30 June 1818 sailing up the coast on board Lady Nelson from Sydney to Newcastle — that place first called Coal River, then King’s Town and now Newcastle. To the convicted it was no new---castle — they called it “the Hell of NSW’. 

Most of the 700 people were convicts with inadequate diet, shortage of clothes, and 10 hours daily work, 5 to 6 in summer and 4 to 8 in winter. They were made attend divine service, which was conducted by the military until a chaplain came in 1820. Joseph was now 54 years and labelled “reoffender”.  His two sons were now also convicts. The Trimbys worked as shingle splitters and carpenters.


Joseph spent his first six months of Newcastle convict life under Captain James Wallis who had improved things a little — starting building programs, exploring the valley, finding fertile land, starting farming programs, and allowing well-behaved prisoners to live in barracks and on farms. That farm area now called Wallis Plains was named after him. Ticket-of-Leave convicts were even allowed some farming land of their own. His humane rule earned personal commendation from Governor Macquarie. Captain Wallis left in December 1818, the year Governor Macquarie requested the name “Australia” be used. It was officially adopted in 1820.

After Captain Wallis left, the Trimbys survived five years under the notorious Major Morisset, the longest serving commandant of Newcastle. Yes, he did continue building and farming programs, but used strict rule and harsh punishment. He thought Captain Wallis too lenient and Morisset’s own religious beliefs and personal behavior upset the Chaplain.


After Morisset, the Trimbys experienced some life under Captain Allman. He had been born in Ireland (later died in Yass NSW) and was a sound, kindly considerate man, who respected people. He was given some land in Hunter Valley and bought more at Wallis Plains which he called “Rathluba”. But he was a failure both as farmer and family financier. 


Like all convicts, Joseph would have worn ordinary clothes at first, then calico ”slops”, black & yellow for chain gangs— then around 1820 the broad arrow that English symbol representing “owned by the Government”. In summary, Joseph and his sons had six months in Newcastle under Captain Wallis, five years under Major Morisset and some time under Captain Allman. They were Early Novocastrians indeed!

In 1823 the Trimbys requested permission to return to their VDL property. The request was ignored – no reply.  In that year Tasmania became a separate colony so had interest in the Trimbys’ request.

The 1823 records show two Josephs as part of a group farming 11 farms in Wallis Plains.


The Seventh Step of Trimby’s Travels was from Newcastle to Wallis Plains. The road wasn’t built until 1824 and a regular boat service didn’t start until 1824 so presumably it was dray/walking all the way. In 1825 Joseph, now 60, is recorded farming on 10 acres with two sons employed by Captain Allman. Dated January 1825, a document sent by the Commandant to the Governor describes Joseph as “well behaved”.


On 12 April 1825 a certificate of Good Conduct was transmitted by the Commandant to Colonial Secretary re the Trimbys and supported by the Chaplain. Joseph is described as an honest, industrious, sober character not guilty of any crime or misdemeanor since coming to Newcastle. A few weeks later a Ticket of Leave was granted.  Finally some reward for Joseph. Register of Ticket of Leave describes him as … a native of Wiltshire, carpenter by trade, 5' 4½" tall, sallow complexion, brown to grey hair, dark eyes. – Joseph Junior a shingle splitter, 5' 7" height, dark brown hair, dark eyes.  No personal description for James.

Wallis Plains became “home” for Joseph. 1828 census shows Joseph Trimby farmer TOL under Captain Allman, with 2 sons, 30 acres, 10 cleared, 10 cultivated and horses, cattle, sheep and other. In March that same year, James the eldest son died. His father Joseph buried him in their family land at “Lochend” as there was no cemetery land at that time. Seven years later November 1835 Joseph applied for warrant to have his son’s body moved to consecrated land –“the Glebe cemetery”– on 28 November 1835. The headstone still exists and shows the original death date, 10 March 1828. Who paid for and worded the headstone which still survives? Was it Captain Allman?


 In 1831 Trimbys were granted Pardon through Allman’s influence. Allman must have been  “Friend to Joseph Trimby”.  Because of the Pardon Joseph Jnr and Hannah now permitted to legally marry. They did so in the Schoolhouse at Maitland and register reads ..both free.. Joseph and Hannah already had 2 children James and Mary Ann, and after their legal marriage another son, John.

Seven months after his son’s reburial, having completed 72 years of life existence and travelling many journeys mostly by ship. First Fleeter Joseph died, was buried 25 June 1836 at Maitland. St Peter’s Burial register reads 

                                          Trimby Joseph  Free/ Arrived in one of the first ships.

We now close the saga of “ Trimby’s Travels” regretting the seven years unjust conviction that became 47 years punishment from 1784-1831 (plus 5 years pardon) all because of an empty pouch/wallet.  Joseph served his full time in every way.


Sr Andrea Myers



Copyright Fellowship of First Fleeters