Thomas Daveny, also known as Thomas Daveney, was baptised 25 July 1760 at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England, his parents being Martha Willet and James Daveny who had married 16 October 1758 at High Wycombe.

Thomas Daveny was an able seaman on HMS Sirius in the First Fleet. He joined the crew on 30 December 1786, aged 27. After the fleet arrived in New South Wales in 1788, he was appointed superintendent of artificers.

 Thomas made his will on 10 March 1791: beneficiaries were his ‘beloved sisters Sarah, Martha, Ann and Susanah Daveny late of High Wycombe in the county of Bucks’. The will was witnessed by Captain John Hunter and purser John Palmer. He was appointed superintendent of convicts at Toongabbie in April 1791.

On 17 July 1791 he married convict Catherine Hounsum (Second Fleet, Lady Juliana) at Parramatta. Thomas signed ‘Thomas Daveny’ in the register with a clear and confident signature. Thomas and Catherine's son Thomas was born in November 1791, but died two weeks later. He was buried 25 November and his headstone is in St John's Cemetery, Parramatta. The death of her baby may have affected Catherine's mind (Judge-Advocate David Collins later described her as becoming ‘deranged in her intellects’). There is no record of their having other children. The death of his son may have affected Thomas as well. He was a heavy drinker, possibly made worse from the moral compromise he had to face when having to force the men to work under harsh conditions.

Captain Watkin Tench wrote that 200 acres of forest at Toongabbie had been cleared in six weeks, the convicts working thirty days during that time. On 5 December 1791, Thomas Daveny was visited by Tench. Daveny told him that as it was too late to plant maize on the newly cleared ground, he would plant turnips ‘which would help to meliorate and prepare it for next year’. He said that of the five hundred men employed there, forty of them ‘are either sick, and removed to the hospital, or are run away in the woods’.

Daveny said that each labourer was expected to work seven rods daily, ‘it was eight; but on their representing to the governor that it was beyond their strength to execute, he took off one’ - this demonstrated that the convicts were able to communicate with Governor Phillip. Tench wrote that ‘thirteen large huts ... contain all the people there. To every hut are appointed two men, as hut-keepers, whose only employment is to watch the huts in working hours, to prevent them from being robbed. This has somewhat prevented depredations, and those endless complaints of the convicts, that they could not work, because they had nothing to eat, their allowance being stolen. - The working hours at this season (summer) are from five o'clock in the morning until ten; rest from ten to two; return to work at two, and continue till sunset. This surely cannot be called very severe toil: but on the other hand must be remembered the inadequacy of a ration of salt provisions, with few vegetables, and unassisted by any liquor but water’.

Punishments for stealing food were severe, with Judge-Advocate David Collins and the bench of magistrates sentencing miscreants to floggings of 100 lashes or more. In January 1792 Judge-Advocate David Collins, Reverend Mr Johnson, and Mr Alt, the surveyor-general were sitting on the bench when John Davis was charged with stealing corn from the Government farm and a melon from Thomas Daveny's garden. Davis was sentenced to 100 lashes for stealing, and another convict 100 lashes for suppressing evidence.

By the end of 1792, 700 acres were cleared at Toongabbie: over 500 planted with maize, seventeen with wheat, and fourteen with barley. Governor Phillip was pleased with superintendent Thomas Daveny's work at Toongabbie and in October 1792 wrote to London that he was ‘a most useful man’ and asked for permission to grant to Daveny ‘a greater quantity of land than he is empowered to grant to the non-commissioned officers, and some of the land to be cleared for him at the public expense’. Phillip left soon after writing the letter, and Major Grose became Lieutenant-Governor at the end of December. He appointed John Macarthur director of public works at Parramatta and Toongabbi. However, two years later, in 1794 the colony still relied on imported food. Thomas Daveny wrote to a friend in England:

‘On the 8th of March, at eleven o'clock in the morning, the last ounce of animal food then in store was actually issued to all ranks and descriptions of people alike, and nothing but absolute famine stared us in the face; the labour of the convicts was remitted, and everyone seemed to despond, when, in the evening of the same day, the William arrived from London, and a ship from Bengal, loaded with provisions.’

One morning in April 1794 the watchmen (‘constables’) who were tasked with guarding the cornfields drove off about twelve ‘natives’ who were raiding the corn, but a greater number, about twenty, returned in the evening, and began filling their bags. When the constables endeavoured to drive them away, ‘they turned on them, threw some spears’, and were pursued by the watchmen who killed two or three of them. The watchmen had probably overextended their roles in pursuing them, and it is not known how Daveny  reacted to their behaviour. In a macabre postscript the watchmen bought back one of the heads of the Aboriginal warriors, apparently because their stories of being raided had been doubted previously.

Thomas Daveny had received a land grant of 100 acres at Toongabbie, registered in April 1794. He wrote in his letter on 1 July:

‘This place is situated eighteen miles inland from Sydney Cove. I thank God we live at present in a state of ease and tranquillity, having a plentiful supply of every necessary from England, the East Indies, and America. ... At present everything bears the appearance of plenty, there being about 2,000 acres of wheat. I am now a farmer in my own right, having a grant of 100 acres of fine land well-watered and in good cultivation. I have 100 head of fine goats, and am hopeful by Christmas to have both horses, cows and sheep. I have this season returned to His Majesty's stores 1514 bushels of Indian corn at 5s. per bushel, and have now upwards of 1000 bushels on the farm, in order to pay for men's labour in building a dwelling house, barns, out-houses, etc. I have likewise purchased a farm called Egleton's containing sixty acres of land, felled and cleared, for which I paid sixty guineas and am going to sow the whole with millet. Upwards of 4,000 acres of land being cleared, thunder and lightning are by no means as violent as before. There are nearly 300 convicts whose term of transportation is expired, and who live by their labour. I have six of these men employed on my farm at taskwork, who earn from 18s. to a guinea per week, so that no settler is at loss for men to perform his work. I am well persuaded that trade will soon be established between America, Batavia, Bengal, and the Cape of Good Hope, as this place will at all times take off the entire cargoes of provisions and liquors. Goats thrive better than sheep here and fetch seven to ten pounds each’.

Daveny had to appear in court on 25 October 1794 when William Joyce the Chief Watchman at Toongabbie tried to sue him for damages when Joyce’s jaw was broken, during a fracas triggered by a brawl with John Love a private in the NSW Corps. Daveny had intervened on behalf of the Corps. Joyce and Daveny ‘entered into a compromise’ out of court. 

About 1795 Daveny was dismissed from his position as superintendent. The only reason for this is in a footnote in a list of superintendents: ‘Thomas Daveney has been removed from his situation for drunken and irregular behaviour, and on suspicion of having stolen the wheat belonging to Government.’ David Collins wrote in his book, that he ‘had been suspected of having improperly and tyrannically abused the confidence which he had enjoyed under Governor Phillip’.

The positive outlook in the previous year's letter was now replaced by despondency, as Daveny went on a drinking binge. As it happens, Judge-Advocate Collins became involved as a witness to Daveny's plight. Collins wrote;

‘[His] conduct was represented to the lieutenant-governor in such a light, that he dismissed him from his situation, and he retired to a farm which he had at Toongabbie. He had been always addicted to the use of spirituous liquors; but be now applied himself more closely to them, to drown the recollection of his disgrace. In this vice he continued until the 3rd of May last, on which day he came to Sydney in a state of insanity. He went to the house of a friend in the town, determined, it seemed, to destroy himself; for he there drank, unknown to the people of the house, as fast as he could swallow, nearly half a gallon of Cape brandy. He fell directly upon the floor of the room he was in (which happened to be of brick) where the people, thinking nothing worse than intoxication had ailed him, suffered him to lie for ten or twelve hours; in consequence he was seized with a violent inflammation which broke out on the arm, and that part of the body which lay next to the ground; to this, after suppuration had taken place, and several operations had been performed to remove the pus, a mortification succeeded, and at last carried him off on the 3rd of July. A few hours before his death he requested to see the judge-advocate [Collins], to whom he declared, that it had been told him that he had been suspected of having improperly and tyrannically abused the confidence which he had enjoyed under Governor Phillip; but that he could safely declare as he was shortly to appear the last tribunal, that nothing lay on his conscience which would make the last moments in this life painful’.

Thomas Daveny was buried at St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta on 11 July 1795. There is no surviving gravestone, and he is probably buried near his son Thomas’s grave which is next to the grave of Superintendent Henry Dodd (HMS Sirius, First Fleet).

After he died, Daveny's ‘flock of goats, consisting of eighty-six males and females, [was] sold by public auction for three hundred and fifty-seven pounds fifteen shillings’. Collins wrote that Daveny's widow Catherine ‘had for several years been deranged in her intellects’. However, Catherine continued to run the farm after her husband's death, and four years later Collins gave her as an example of a successful Parramatta farmer in 1799, with fifty acres in wheat and twenty-three in maize.

As superintendent of convicts at Toongabbie, Thomas Daveny had a difficult job to do at a time when food was short, and land had to be cleared and planted as quickly as possible. An educated man, his letter shows that he had compassion when he allowed his convict labourers to stop working when the last of the meat stores had been used early in 1794. He was proud of his achievements in the production of agriculture both at the Government land and his own farm at Toongabbie. Governor Phillip had been pleased with Thomas Daveny and had told him he would get approval from London to clear some of his land ‘at the public expense’. Phillip left soon after making this request and it is not known if it was granted. He was accused of stealing wheat from the Government Farm - was it a misunderstanding stemming from Daveny's perceived special privilege? David Collins showed some sympathy towards Daveny after his drinking bout and resultant infection which eventually killed him. In his book, Collins wrote in detail about Daveny's death and his death-bed assertion that he had done no wrong.

Written by #Friend 194, Heather Stevens, who states: My ancestor, John O’Hara/ O’Harra, a Second Fleet convict (Neptune 1790) was a witness at the trial of John Davis in 1792. In 1797 Catherine Daveny was a witness to the marriage of John O’Hara and Third Fleet convict Mary Jones (Mary Ann 1791). Thomas and Catherine Daveny’s baby Thomas is buried near John O’Hara’s grave in St John’s Cemetery, Parramatta.

Sources can be seen at: WikiTree contributors, "Thomas Daveny (c. 1760 - 1795)", manager Heather Stevens, WikiTree, (accessed September 2020)




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