Robert Higgins and Lydia Farrell
Robert Higgins was born on February 8, 1762, in Wiltshire, England. Robert was a member of the 102nd Foot Regiment who enlisted in the NSW Corps in England on February 3rd, 1791. He had previously been a member of the British Army in a Dragoons regiment. The 102nd Regiment was under the command of Major Grose and was dispatched to New South Wales to relieve the marines who had arrived with previous convict transports and had objected to the role of supervision of the convicts in the colony.
Robert, having been promoted to the rank of Sergeant, arrived on September 26, 1791, on board the “Queen” which had sailed with 133 male and 22 female convicts, as part of the Third Fleet. The “Queen” was the first vessel to carry Irish convicts to Botany Bay. It left Cork at the beginning of April and the 6-month voyage was a fairly long one.
The 102nd regiment’s role was to supervise the convicts on public works and in public agriculture and whilst they were in transit in the colony. They also acted as guards at Government House, the Court House and the Commissariat Stores and they also acted as lookouts at Sydney Heads, watching for incoming vessels.
Following a tortuous 212-day voyage from Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight, Major Grose arrived in the colony on the “Pitt” on February 14, 1792. Also on the “Pitt”, among the 49 female convicts, was Lydia Farrell who was immediately assigned to Robert Higgins, who was promoted to Corporal on 14 Apr 1792.
The “Pitt”, on its only voyage to the colony, was dangerously overcrowded and food and other supplies on board were limited. Tropical heat and severe storms, extended periods in which the ship was becalmed, outbreaks of scurvy among the convicts and a fatal tropical fever that spread through the crew and NSW corps members and their families, meant that 56 souls were lost on the journey and a significant number of the convicts did not survive their first few months in the colony. Much correspondence between England and the colony, related to the voyage and the conditions experienced by those on board, is recorded in various sources and changes were made as a result of this particular voyage.
Lydia Farrell was from Stafford in the north of England and was possibly aged about 25 when she arrived in Sydney Cove. Stafford was probably little more than a large village in July 1790 when Lydia was convicted of stealing shawls, a capital offence that should have carried the death penalty, but the sentence was commuted to transportation for 7 years, despite her escaping from Stafford Gaol whilst pregnant and being recaptured.
When the “Pitt” disembarked her human cargo in February 1792 the colony was in the grip of an extended period of drought as well as high summer temperatures and the residents were further suffering from severe food shortages, which were not alleviated by the arrival of a small quantity of supplies which were probably assigned directly to the stores of the NSW Corps.
The 49 female convicts on the “Pitt” arrived into a community dominated by males. When the second fleet arrived in 1789, the “Juliana” carried only female convicts and these 206 women doubled the colonies female population. By 1792, when Lydia Farrell set foot on land, less than 700 female convicts had been transported to Sydney Cove. While the first, second and third fleets all had females on board, females probably represented less than a quarter of the colony’s population. The first free immigrants would arrive in the year after the “Pitt” arrived in New South Wales. This shortage of females meant that Lydia, who had been convicted at Stafford Assizes on 21 July 1790 for shoplifting and transported for seven years, was immediately assigned to Corporal Robert Higgins of the NSW Corps, as a house servant. She was thus Freed by Servitude thus ensuring her freedom as well as accommodation and access to a share of the soldier’s rations, therefore alleviating the risk of starvation that many other residents were experiencing.
Later in 1792 another ill-fated convict ship, the “Kitty” arrived on her only voyage to Sydney cove with supplies and stores for the colony as well as 26 male and female convicts. Lydia Farrell became the only person to have travelled on both the “Pitt” and “Kitty” when, on January 25, 1793, she accompanied Corporal Robert Higgins to Norfolk Island. The role of the NSW Corps, under the command of Lt. Edward Abbott on Norfolk Island, was to assist in the supervision of the convict labour force. The settlement of Norfolk Island mirrored that of Sydney Cove, however, the more fertile soils on the island meant that Norfolk Island, unlike Sydney Cove, was primarily a farming community, with a population in 1794 of about 1,000, about a third of the population of the mainland colony. The population consisted of convicts, not confined in prisons, but instead permitted to farm land to produce food for both colonies, as well as some free settlers and soldiers. Maize, wheat, potatoes, cabbage, timber, flax and fruit were all grown successfully on the island.
An important cultural feature of the island community was the establishment, in 1793, of the Norfolk Island theatre, pre-dating the establishment of the Sydney Theatre. Robert Higgins, as a senior non-commissioned officer, is presumed, by several researchers, to be the soldier identified by Governor King as being instrumental in establishing the Norfolk theatre. He also probably had an acting role and so, by default, Lydia would likely have been exposed to the plays conducted in the local theatre, a pastime she may not have experienced in England. During a performance, however, a dispute broke out between some soldiers and convicts over seating in the theatre. Robert is credited with calming down the agitators however tensions continued between the soldiers and some of the convicts.
View of the main settlement of Norfolk Island, 1796. The theatre is the tall building on the right.
This seemingly idyllic life came to an end when, in November 1794, Governor King recalled the small group of NSW Corps, because of the continuing tensions, from Norfolk Island and thus Lydia and Robert returned to Sydney on the “Daedalus” on November 6, 1794. By 1794 the colony consisted of less than 5000 people. On January 5, 1795, Mary Higgins was born to Lydia Farrell and Robert Higgins.
At this time Robert was still under the command of Captain Edward Abbott who was the commander of the new outpost at the Hawkesbury River settlement. The Hawkesbury district was the site of significant wars between the local indigenous inhabitants and the colonist settlers. While both soldiers and ex-convicts received land grants in Pitt Town and Windsor in the Hawkesbury district, Robert does not seem to have taken up land there.
In 1804 under Capt. Abbott’s command, 25 non commissioned officers and 25 soldiers stationed at Parramatta were involved in the Castle Hill rebellion with the Irish convicts at Vinegar Hill. Robert was living in the Parramatta district and it is possible, therefore, that he may have been involved in the Castle Hill rebellion on March 4, 1804. Lydia Farrell and their children were also residing at Parramatta at this time. The army pay sheet states that he was in Abbot’s regiment at that time, so it is likely he was involved in the fighting.
In 1808, the personal particulars of soldiers in the NSW Corps were recorded and the information on Robert Higgins read as follows; born Alton Wiltshire England, aged 46 years 1 month, height 5′ 7″, dark complexion, hazel eyes, dark brown hair and thin visage.
By 1808 the family were living at 21 Spring Row, Sydney. Spring Row was renamed Sergeant Majors Row and is now 33-41 George Street. From here they moved to a small block of land leased for five shillings in High Street, which is also now George Street, close to Bridge Street. Robert was sent to debtor’s prison in 1809 for three months.
The map to the right shows a map drawn by or for Governor Arthur Phillip and shows the Rocks area of Sydney Cove and the picture below shows The Rocks.
On January 1, 1810, Lachlan Macquarie was appointed as the Governor of the colony of NSW. In the week prior to his departure from England Macquarie was given instructions from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Viscount Castlereagh. These instructions emphasised Castlereagh’s intention to improve the morals of the colonists by encouraging marriage and education. And so, Lydia married Robert on July 9, 1810, at the recently constructed St. Phillips Church in Sydney. Robert was able to read and write and signed the marriage certificate while Lydia made a cross.
Robert had been discharged from the 102nd Regiment and had transferred to the 73rd. Having lived in The Rocks area of Sydney Cove for many years, Robert received, in 1812, a grant of 50 acres in the Cowpastures district of Camden, as did John Love and John Hore. The family, along with their assigned convict, Thomas Seymour, took up their land grant on August 24, 1812. Their Upper Minto blocks on the banks of the Nepean River were bounded on one side by “Elderslie” owned by explorer John Oxley and directly across the river from “Camden Park” owned by John and Elizabeth Macarthur, where Lydia and Robert were both employed. By 1818 Robert was again in debt and his land was offered for sale.
Lydia died in Camden, NSW, on August 30, 1923, and is buried at St Luke’s Liverpool. Robert died on March 8, 1943, and is buried at St Peter’s Campbelltown.