Further details thanks to Cheryl AMBROSE from NSW and Barry FREEMAN from Canberra.
The Trials of Billy Freeman, by former ABC journalist Alan ATKINSON.
Further details thanks to Kerry Anne CORY, a descendant of William (Billy) Freeman. It includes a painting by Kerry of what William may have looked like at 14 AND information about Kerry's elusive great-grandfather James William Henry FREEMAN.
Further details can now be added to the FREEMAN FAMILY HISTORY, thanks to Kevin and Heather WOOD of Victoria.
ONE of the most colourful personalities to have lived at Macclesfield was William (Billy) FREEMAN.
Billy was respected by all, and feared by some, partly because of his shocking temper and partly because it was whispered, among the older generation, that he had been 'transported' to Australia. Most felt that this could be true and if so it must have been for some very violent crime.
However, if people of his generation did tend to recall him only because of a very bad and ungovernable temper an examination of his life reveals Bill to have been a real pioneer , hard working and honest in all of his dealings.
Now it is true that Billy was a convict but this record of his 'crime and punishment' taken from the New South Wales Archives explains why he was transported: -
No 1292 - 166, William FREEMAN, Factory Boy, Age 16
Tried: Salisbury Assizes, April 20, 1830
Single, Education R and W, Native Place, Somersetshire
Offence: Stealing cheese
Sentence: 7 years transportation
It seems likely that his age was falsified to allow for the penalty of transportation for he was only twelve and a half years old at the time of the trial, and fourteen and a half years when he arrived at Sydney Cove. Yet on both occasions his age was given as sixteen. (Had Billy taken some bread to go with the cheese his punishment would probably have been even more severe!)
On June 8, 1832 the convict ship John arrived at Sydney Cove with Billy and two hundred other convicts aboard. Having travelled overland from New South Wales he arrived in South Australia in 1840.
On September 15, 1840, Billy married Sarah STACEY at Trinity Church, Adelaide. Sarah was the daughter of James and Mary STACEY and she and her family had only arrived in South Australia on June 20 of the same year. As the STACEY's came from Stogursey in Somerset and Billy from Freshford, Somerset, all were from the same county in England.
Billy and Sarah first lived and farmed near Belvedere and later came to Doctor's Creek near Macclesfield. Billy and his bride went to Sandegrove(sp?) to farm and he was assisted at one time with a loan from Edward STIRLING, MLC, who said of Billy “I have known him for twenty-three years as an honest man of good character.”
Billy and Sarah had ten children who lived beyond childhood and all contributed something to the well-being of Macclesfield at some time or another. During his lifetime Billy was a dairy and wheat farmer, a builder, a butcher, mail coach driver and a mail cart driver. He is said to have driven the first mail coach from Strathalbyn to Adelaide, described as "a three horse coach". He certainly drove the mail coach from Strathalbyn to Yankalilla , a spring dray type of vehicle.
He conducted a butcher's shop for some time in premises just north of the Macclesfield Post Office - the building is still in use. He also did a lot of work for the Macclesfield District Council but in 1883 declined a contract to clean up the Macclesfield General Cemetery because the price was too low.
Billy was a very good runner and won many events at local shows and picnics. For the greater part of his life he wore the ’old English‘ style of smock: a loose garment worn over one's working clothes. It is said that he was one of only two or three people in Macclesfield to do so.
There seems no doubt that Billy must have been very tough as the Southern Argus reports September 14, 1882, that "...he fell from his cart and a wheel passed over his head but he sustained no injury".
Sarah, aged seventy-three, died March 6, 1896, leaving Billy, three sons, three daughters, forty grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. One daughter, Rebecca, married into the WIRTH family who later ran the famous circus.
Billy, at the age of eighty-two, died on April 16, 1899, in the old Marra house on Cunliffe Street, then the home of his daughter Emma. He, Sarah and one son, John Henry, are buried just inside the main gate of the old Church of England Cemetery in Luck Street.
Billy was the great-grandfather of Len CHESSER who says of him that he was "..a real man, I wish I had known him."
Cheryl contacted us in 2016 regarding her Great Grandfather, one of William and Sarah’s children, although at the time she was unable to find any record of his birth.
She said: "Sarah and William had another son not listed – my G. Grandfather was born around 1863 – his name was James William Henry FREEMAN. During this time both William and Sarah were in Adelaide Gaol for burning down their daughter’s house so highly likely he was born inside prison and raised by an older sibling. There is no record of his birth that I can find anywhere".
James William Henry is now included among the names of William & Sarah’s 12 children, listed below, and where known we have included their years of birth and death.
1. Maria (Myers), Bowden
1842 - 1919
Barry obtained much of his information from the ‘really helpful staff at The National Library’ and their collection of digitised British newspapers and journals. This is what he discovered!
The Freeman family was a Freshford, Somerset family. The information below is taken from the records from St Peters Church, Freshford. (Please note: George Freeman was William Freeman’s father)
First available records:
James FREEMAN 1755-1807 m. Ann FREEMAN 1755-1844
Their children: (dates here are baptism records, not dates of birth)
James Jnr. 10/7/1787
George FREEMAN 1791-1843 m. Ann FREEMAN (no record)
The records of Amy and William below state that their father George was a weaver or clothier.
Their Children: (baptism records)
William 28/12/1817 (DOB 10/12/1817)
Some early history of William while he was still in England
A significant influence on the local life in Freshford, and consequently of the Freeman family, was the Freshford Mill on the Frome River, which dates back to the 17th century.
In the 19th century the fortunes of the mill (and consequently the district) fluctuated. During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) times were hard and the Mill closed in 1828. All the machinery was sold off by 1829 and 92 men lost their jobs. At that time George was a weaver and William was a factory boy. George worked up to 15 hours per day and as a factory boy William worked 12 hours per day. He worked 8 hours on a Saturday and had Sunday off. Boys started work when they were 9 years old.
In 1828, William went with his father to Trowbridge to get work. Trowbridge was 5½ miles away from Freshford and had 15 factories.
On the 28 January 1829 William Freeman aged 13, was facing his first prison sentence of 1 month for stealing 2 fur caps as recorded in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette on Thursday March 19, 1829. At his trial he is reported to have wept bitterly saying that he had ‘no mum and no friends’. William’s comment may indicate that he was left to wander the streets unable to get work, while his mother and sisters remained in Freshford. However, the 1841 census showed that his mother Ann and sister Rebekah lived in Trowbridge and his father George had returned to Freshford.
William’s major trial was in April 1830 for stealing 6 lb of cheese. This was the reason for his 7 years transportation and was recorded in the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette under Wilts County Sessions on April 29, 1830. William spent 19 months [actually probably only 1 month] in Devizes Old Prison before being transferred to the convict ship John, to await transportation to NSW on February 7, 1832. William disembarked in Sydney on June 8, 1832.
The History Group would love to hear from anyone with connections to this old Macclesfield family.
‘The Trials of Billy Freeman’ is the working title of a book I am hoping to write on one of Macclesfield’s most interesting residents.
Why did I get interested in Billy FREEMAN? Because I discovered only in 2018 that he’s my ancestor.
Although I have lived in South Australia for years and have often passed through Strathalbyn on the way to holidays at Goolwa, I only knew of Macclesfield as a great little town with a couple of fine pubs on the road to somewhere else.
Imagine my surprise then when I received a text, in January 2018, from my genealogy-loving sister in England to say she had discovered we had an ancestor in Australia, and not only that but that he had lived in Macclesfield not far from where I lived in Adelaide. She told me that Billy Freeman was the younger brother of my great great grandmother Harriet (COX, nee Freeman) of Trowbridge in Wiltshire. She attached the web page about him from the Macclesfield Community History, written by the late Len CHESSER.
I read that my new ancestor William (Billy) Freeman had been a dairy and wheat farmer, a builder, a butcher, and a mail coach driver.
Apparently he also was renowned for having a fiery temper. As I read on, I discovered that although he was a hard worker, he got himself in trouble in middle-age when he and his wife were convicted of burning down their daughter’s house over an unpaid debt. Some character!
But the story became ever more interesting when exploring his origins and how he came to Australia. Billy was born in 1817 and had arrived in Australia in 1832, four years before South Australia was even proclaimed a state. He had come out on his own as a child to NSW, convicted for stealing cheese and sentenced to seven years’ transportation with hard labour. Little wonder that he had attitude.
Delving into the detail, I read that he faced Wiltshire Assizes in Salisbury in 1829 (born December 1817, so just 11 and a half) then spent time in goal and in a prison hulk on the Thames, before sailing on the convict ship ‘John’ with 200 other prisoners, arriving at Port Jackson in 1832. He was just 14 and a half when he landed.
My interest deepened as I discovered that many other people had details of Billy on their ancestry search sites. With encouragement and help from the staff at the Macclesfield History Group, from the family history volunteers at Strathalbyn Library, the State Library of South Australia, and from other Freeman ancestors, one living in Echuca and one in Canberra, I began to research in earnest.
I collected as much material as I could, including a history of the village of Freshford in Somerset where he was born – which described the dire straits of poverty and depression of the time; court documents, convict documents, land certificates and more. I visited where he had worked, where he had farmed, where he had lived and where he was buried, at the old Church of England cemetery in Macclesfield.
And the story grew ever more fascinating. As other researchers had discovered, young convict Billy was indentured after his arrival 1832 to a well-known pastoralist in NSW, John HAWDON. After five years working for Hawdon, Billy received his Certificate of Freedom in 1837, a free man once again at age 20.
The big question was: how did Billy get to South Australia and end up at Macclesfield? Old court records held the clue. One was the court case (mentioned above) in which Billy was involved in 1862. During his trial he received references from local identities and at his sentencing he also received testimonials from two well-known pioneers – Edward STIRLING, a landowner and MP of Strathalbyn (after whom the Adelaide Hills town of Stirling is named). The other name was a bigger surprise: Captain STURT.
What was Billy Freeman’s connection with the noted explorer Charles Sturt, the man who in 1829-1830 explored the length of the River Murray from NSW to its mouth below Strathalbyn at Goolwa? Why would the famous Captain Sturt be giving him a testimonial?
A newspaper report of another court case involving Billy (throughout his life he was pretty litigious) gave the answer. It said he “came to South Australia with Captain Charles Sturt in 1838.”
The 1838 trip is often described as Sturt’s “forgotten journey.” Due to a downturn in farming incomes in NSW and with South Australia in desperate need of sheep and cattle, there were three big cattle drives that year – the first by Joseph HAWDON (the brother of John Hawdon, to whom Billy Freeman was indentured) and the second by another noted explorer Edward EYRE. Charles Sturt undertook the third cattle drive, along with Captain John Finnis.
So although all the names of all the drovers are not listed in the various explorers’ journals, it is a safe bet that - as reported in a court record - young Billy was indeed hired by Sturt to take part in that third cattle drive. It’s also a safe bet that he started off working for Edward Stirling near Strathalbyn. Indeed, Stirling’s testimonial to the court said he had “known (Freeman) for 23 years.”
Once here, Billy was married within two years – to Sarah, the daughter of a free settler James STACEY who arrived in 1840 and whose family settled (and quickly grew in number) at Doctor’s Creek, just out of Strathalbyn. James STACEY and Sarah came from Stogursey – another village in Somerset not very far from Freshford where Billy was born. No doubt the same West Country accent helped forge the connection out here between Billy and Sarah, who went on to have at least 11 children.
There are so many interesting aspects of Billy’s life… the desperate poverty in England in the 1820s in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars; the horrors of children thrown into jail and sentenced to transportation; the tales of the sea journeys to the other side of the world; how some young convicts made good and received their freedom; how they crossed the strange new continent and first met the indigenous people on the way; what it was like to work for the “gentlemen” land-holders, pioneer famers and explorers; how they helped establish South Australia as a viable state.
While Billy Freeman may not have been a big-name explorer, he played a key role in those tough early years. And he lived to the ripe old age of 82.
I hope my story will do him justice. If any other of his relatives have any interesting information on his life in and around Macclesfield, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
From an email to the Macclesfield History Group on 22nd August 2018:
My name is Kerry Cory (nee Freeman). My great-great-grandfather was James William Henry Freeman - son of William (Billy) Freeman.
I'm adding information about my elusive great-grandfather James William Henry Freeman - he has been hard to find but fortunately I lived in NSW for a time and the Wentworth History Society were a great help.
My cousins Cheryl Ambrose and Julie Sennett have been following the story of the Daisy and it is being restored in Renmark after being scuttled in Redcliffs [Red Cliffs?] in the 1940's I think.
The other side of my Family is Morphett - my grandmother was Leila Morphett, grand-daughter of Jeremiah Morphett, who was a brother to Richard who founded Clarendon.
I have also attached a painting I have done of what I think William may have looked like at 14ish. He may have had a shaved head, not a full head of hair, due to lice and vermin, but his description from his transportation describes him as ruddy, freckled and scarred. I have used an early picture of one of my brothers who looks so much like my father and his father (also Bill). He also has a resemblance to George and Elijah Freeman, James's brothers.
Information about Kerry CORY's (nee FREEMAN) elusive great-grandfather James William Henry FREEMAN
"Billy" was the ancestor of Kerry Anne CORY (William Arthur David (Bill) FREEMAN (1893–1973)), Cheryl AMBROSE and Julie SENNETT (Walter Edmund Charles FREEMAN (1888–1957)), and Alan ATKINSON, all researching this family and sharing information.
William (Billy) FREEMAN
• Birth 10 December 1817, Freshford, Somerset, England
• Baptism 28 Dec 1817, Freshford, Somerset, England
• Birth of brother George FREEMAN (1821–1861), Somerset, England
• Residence Trowbridge 1829, with Father George (George was a weaver, Billy factory boy)
• Residence July 1829, Wiltshire, England
Civil 1st conviction, aged 11, stealing 2 fur caps
Date of Conviction 28 January 1829, Wiltshire Assizes - 1 month
Civil 2nd Conviction, aged 12, stealing 6 lb cheese
Date of Conviction 20 April 1830, Salisbury Lent Assizes, Sentence - 7 years Transportation
Was in Devizes old prison for a month, before being transferred to the prison hulk for boys, the Euryalus, at Gravesend on the Thames. Embarked on the John with 200 other convicts on the 7th February 1832.
• Arrival 8 Jun 1832, New South Wales on the John, Sydney Cove NSW,
14 years old.
• Marriage 15 Sep 1840, Trinity Church, Adelaide SA, Australia, to Sarah Ann STACEY (1823–1896), English
• We were told he was taken to SA and surveyed with colonel William Light, Hindmarsh island?
• Birth of daughter Maria FREEMAN (1841–1919). May have raised James for her parents.
• 1841 South Australia, Australia
• Birth of daughter Ellen Jane FREEMAN (1843–1862), 5 Feb 1843, South Australia, Australia
• Death of father George FREEMAN (1791–1843), Sep 1843, Freshford, Somerset, UK
• Birth of daughter Harriet FREEMAN (1845–1875), 1845, South Australia, Australia
• Birth of son George William FREEMAN (1847–1923), 29 May 1847, Strathalbyn, SA
• Birth of daughter Emma FREEMAN (1848–1907), 1 June 1848, Sandergrove (near Strathalbyn), South Australia, Australia
• Birth of child F FREEMAN (1851– 1851)
• Birth of daughter Rebecca FREEMAN (1852–1925), 13 Oct 1852, Macclesfield, South Australia
• Birth of son Elijah FREEMAN (1855–1931), 16 Dec 1855, Macclesfield, South Australia
• Birth of son William FREEMAN (1857–1864), Strathalbyn, South Australia, Australia
• Birth of child FREEMAN (1858–1858), 10 Nov 1858, Kentucky, South Australia
Death of child FREEMAN (1858–1858), 12 Nov 1858, Kentucky near Strathalbyn, SA
• Birth of son John William FREEMAN (1860–1864), 21 Jan 1860, Sandergrove, South Australia
• Death of brother George FREEMAN (1821–1861), 7 Aug 1861, New Norfolk, Tasmania. Was he also a convict?
• Death of daughter Ellen Jane FREEMAN (1843–1862), typhoid, 31 May 1862, Milang, SA
• Birth of son James William Henry FREEMAN (1862–1897)
• December 1862, possibly Adelaide Gaol, SA, Australia (may have been raised by Maria)
• Death of son William FREEMAN (1857–1864), 18 Jan 1864, Milang, South Australia
• Death of son John William FREEMAN (1860–1864), 18 Jan 1864, Milang, South Australia
• Birth of son John Henry FREEMAN (1864–1875), 30 Jul 1864, Macclesfield, South Australia
• Death of sister Harriet FREEMAN (1808–1874), possibly from bronchitis, June 1874, Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England
• Death of son John Henry FREEMAN (1864–1875), 5 May 1875, Macclesfield, South Australia
• Death of daughter Harriet FREEMAN (1845–1875), 3 Jun 1875, Bull Creek, South Australia
• Death of sister Rebecca FREEMAN (1811–1885), 29 November 1885, Sydney Street, Wellington, New Zealand, (67?)
• Death of wife Sarah Ann STACEY (1823–1896), 6 March 1896, Macclesfield, SA, (78?)
• Death of son James William Henry FREEMAN (1862–1897), 28 December 1897, Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia
• Death 16 April 1899, at his home, Cunliffe Street, Macclesfield, South Australia, Australia
Photo of brothers James, George and Elijah FREEMAN on the Daisy on the Darling River near Wilcannia, NSW.
Found at the Adelaide Library.
James William Henry FREEMAN (1862–1897)
• Birth December 1862, possibly Adelaide Gaol, South Australia
• Death 28 December 1897, Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia
May have been called William James Henry FREEMAN as a child.
Born while his mother Sarah was in Adelaide Gaol for arson. His father William pleaded for his wife not to go to gaol at this time as she was pregnant. James may have been raised by his sister Harriet, or sister Maria (as his wife Elizabeth Brown was great friends with Maria).
This is a photo of Elizabeth Freeman (nee Brown) and believed to be Maria Freeman sitting.
• Residence March 1875, Bulls Creek (near Macclesfield and Strathalbyn), South Australia.
• Possibly informant on his cousin Sarah Ann HILLIER’s death certificate on the 17th of March 1875 at Bulls Creek making him 13 years old at the time. He may have changed his name when leaving SA.
• His brother John Henry FREEMAN (1864–1875) died on 5th May, Macclesfield. His sister Harriet FREEMAN (1845–1875)died 3 Jun 1875 at Bull Creek. These three died close in time, possibly from bronchitis/pneumonia.
• Possibly travelled from Mannum, South Australia, to Echuca, Victoria, on river boats with brothers George and Elijah FREEMAN . Maybe around 1875???
• Marriage to Elizabeth Jane BROWN (1864–1946), 25 October 1883, Moama, New South Wales.
Elizabeth Jane BROWN (1864–1946)
• Birth of daughter Elizabeth Blanche Amelia FREEMAN (1884–1915), Echuca, Victoria
• Birth of son Elijah James Henry William FREEMAN (1886–1901), Wee Wee Rup, Victoria. Buried in an unmarked grave at Balranald NSW.
• Occupation 7 April 1888, Deniliquin in New South Wales, application for land 100 acres - The Pastoral Times Deniliquin.
• Birth of son Walter Edmund Charles FREEMAN (1888–1957), 7 July 1888, Deniliquin
• Employment 8 Aug 1889, Deniliquin. Trade butcher. Incarcerated in the Deniliquin Gaol, 8th Aug 1889 to 7th Sept 1889 for embezzlement.
• Residence 1889, Deniliquin, New South Wales, Australia
• Employment 1889, Deniliquin New South Wales - Butcher
• Birth of son Rupert Alfred Charles FREEMAN (1892–1971), Kerang, Victoria, Australia
• Birth of son William Arthur David (Bill) FREEMAN (1893–1973) (grandfather of Kerry Anne CORY). Born 2 May 1893 at Gonn Run Station, Deniliquin, NSW, Australia
• 1895, Wentworth, New South Wales, Australia. Court for trespassing. Did not show up.
• Birth of daughter Daisy Rebecca FREEMAN (1896–1923), Euston, New South Wales
• Death of mother Sarah Ann Stacey (1823–1896), 6 March 1896, Macclesfield, South Australia
• The Daisy, a Hawking Steamer, 25 March 1896, Euston, New South Wales, Australia.
"The first boat of the season, the Daisy, arrived here on Tuesday last with a cargo of sundries. This is a new boat built specially for the low river, owned and captained by Mr. J. W. Freeman, who has a homestead lease near Melhran?".
• 1896, Echuca, Victoria, Australia. Occupation - Riverboat Captain of the Daisy, which was built in Echuca in 1896. Ownership changed from the builder to J. Freeman shortly after its launch. The Daisy operated as a 'Hawking' Steamer on the Darling and Murray. J Freeman died in 1897 and ownership passed to R.S. Mcleod.
• Death 28 December 1897, Swan Hill, Victoria, Australia. James died from appendicitis at Swan Hill, Victoria. Buried in an unmarked grave at Swan Hill.
Notes from Kerry Cory:
• My father was told by his father that James died of sunstroke to the back of the neck. He may have been found in a paddock walking from the riverboat for help.
• His wife drove to Swan Hill from Euston in NSW, about 100 mile by horse and cart, but they had already buried James by the time she arrived. She was never sure if he was really in the coffin!!
• She remarried in 1904 and moved with the children to Renmark in South Australia. She is buried with her daughter Elizabeth Blanche, Renmark SA.
• "The above information is from my Ancestry page under Thomas Smith family Tree".
Stacey Family tree containing the Names: STACEY, FISHER, WOOD, FREEMAN, McLEAN, EDWARDS, BECK, and BOWDEN.
Text from the image above:
James STACEY was born at Somerset, England.
He married Mary FISHER on the 23 September 1822 at Stogursey, Somerset, England.
They had eight children born at Stogursey, Somerset, before migrating to South Australia in the ship the "Charles Kerr" and arriving in June 1840.
James Stacey died 16 August 1860 of pneumonia and his wife Mary on 22 November 1851, both at Macclesfield. (Not in cemetery, old cemetery built over by school oval on Luck Street).
Sarah STACEY 1823 - 1896 married William FREEMAN, had children:
Maria married Robert Bowden