John Barefoot & Elizabeth Church

Early days – Imprisonment and transportation

The history of Sydney begins in prehistoric times with the occupation of the district by Australian Aboriginals, whose ancestors came to Sydney in the Upper Paleolithic period. The modern history of the city began with the arrival of a First Fleet of British ships in 1788 and the foundation of a penal colony by Great Britain.

Early Sydney was moulded by the hardship suffered by early settlers. In the early years, drought and disease caused widespread problems, but the situation soon improved. The military colonial government was reliant on the army, the New South Wales Corps (also known as the “Rum Corps” due to their monopoly on the importation of alcohol).

Conditions for convicts in the penal colony were harsh. In 1804, Irish convicts led the Castle Hill Rebellion. Conflicts arose between the governors and the officers of the Rum Corps, many of which were land owners such as John Macarthur. In 1808 these conflicts came to open rebellion, with the Rum Rebellion, in which the Rum Corps ousted Governor William Bligh (known from the mutiny on the Bounty).

In the Rum Rebellion of 1808, the Corps, working closely with the newly established wool trader John Macarthur, staged the only successful armed takeover of government in Australian history, deposing Governor William Bligh and instigating a brief period of military rule in the colony prior to the arrival from Britain of Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1810.

The arrest of Governor William Bligh during the Rum Rebellion of 1808..

John Barefoot

Little is known of John prior to his arrest in 1806.

Recently, newspaper accounts from the time of John’s crime have become publicly available that give us much more detail about the crime for which John was tried, sentenced and transported.

From the Belfast Commercial Chronicle Wednesday Dec 10, 1806
Follow the link to see the full transcript.

Above – photos of Kilmainham Gaol, taken by Sue Thomson in 2016.

This is an excerpt of the trial records:
John Barford and Michael Whitethorn – Crime: Attempting to rob the dwelling house of E. Jones Esq.
Tried before the Honorable Judge Day and Judge Fletcher 6 Dec 1806.
Sentence: Both found Guilty, Death penalty imposed.

snip of the records from Kilmainham. Full page HERE

John was aged 31, height 5’9″, with brown hair and grey eyes. His sentence of Death was respited and he was discharged on the John McSally Transport 29 Oct 1808.
His partner in crime was not so lucky. Michael Whitethorn’s sentence of Death was not stayed, and he was executed on 24 Dec 1806.

Wednesday ?night, Michael Whitethorn was executed at the front of Kilmainham gaol, pursuant to his sentence at the last Commission of Oyer and Terminer, for the felony in the house of Mr. Jones in Fortick’s Lane, Dublin.
John Barefoot, who received sentence of death at the same time as Whitethorn, and for the same felony, has been respited by the clemency of Government, during pleasure.

Just think – had John not been willing to turn State’s evidence – to dob in his mates – none of us would have been here. He would have been executed in 1806 and none of us would have been born!!

John boarded the Boyd transport ship. The Boyd departed Cork on 10 March 1809, arrived at the Cape of Good Hope on 24th May and sailed from there on 11th June 1809.The Boyd arrived in Port Jackson on 14 August 1809. Five prisoners died on the passage out. It brought news of the appointment of Governor Bligh’s successor, Lachlan Macquarie.

Lachlan Macquarie

Macquarie served as the last autocratic Governor of New South Wales, from 1810 to 1821, and had a leading role in the social and economic development of Sydney which saw it transition from a penal colony to a budding free society. He established public works, a bank, churches, and charitable institutions and sought good relations with the Aborigines. In 1813 he sent Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson across the Blue Mountains, where they found the great plains of the interior. Central, however to Macquarie’s policy was his treatment of the emancipists, whom he decreed should be treated as social equals to free-settlers in the colony. Against opposition, he appointed emancipists to key government positions including Francis Greenway as colonial architect and William Redfern as a magistrate. London judged his public works to be too expensive and society was scandalised by his treatment of emancipists.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie had been  instructed in 1809 to correct reported abuses in the treatment of convict women. He made it pretty clear that he despaired of the “immorality and vice so prevalent among the Lower Classes of this Colony”, and determined to encourage or induce marriage amongst our forbears. In that way, also, they became a “stable” married couple who could then be assigned to work together.

From the Sydney Gazette, 24 February 1810


Elizabeth Church was tried in Dublin, Ireland in January 1809. We have no idea what for, as no records have yet been found. We have never found a birth for her either, so we are essentially up against a genealogical brick wall! (However … DNA steps in to provide some answers… keep reading 😉 )
According to musters taken in the new colony, she was 23 years old when she arrived in Australia in 1811, and had been sentenced for 7 years. So we have a birth year at about 1788.

The following clip from the NSW Australian convict ship muster rolls show the following information:

Elizabeth was sentenced to transportation to the penal colony of Australia. Prisoners were taken on board “Providence” at Cork, the ship proceeded to Falmouth and departed on 21 January 1811 accompanied by the Narcissus frigate.  The Providence parted from the Narcissus at Teneriffe and arrived at Rio de Janeiro on 23 March. She sailed from Rio on 14th April and arrived at Port Jackson 2 July 1811. The Master of the Providence was Andrew Barclay, Surgeon Richard Hughes. On board were 179 convicts, all from Ireland: 139 male, 40 female. Three males and 2 females died on the voyage of 162 days.

A Government Order was issued on 6th July 1811 –

The whole of the male convicts recently arrived in the Providence Transport are to be landed on Monday Morning next the 8th January at nine o’clock in order to be mustered and inspected in the Gaol Yard at Sydney, previous to their being distributed amongst the settlers. The female convicts are to be sent direct from that Ship early on Monday Morning next to the Factory at Parramatta. The Principal Superintendent of Convicts will take care to have boats ready early on Monday morning for the purpose of landing the male convicts at Sydney and conveying the female ones to Parramatta. 

The Female Factory “was not just a place for incarceration, they also provided a space where women could work for rations, and, for some, find refuge and a place to sleep.” Life was very diffficult for these early women pioneers. The early Australian Governors felt convict women were a problem because their skills were not as exploitable as the physical muscle of their male counterparts. As a result they saw convict women as a drain on the colony’s resources and economy.

To remedy this administrators married off convict women, or assigned them as servants. But in the absence of a specialised refuge, those who were unassigned as servants or married were often forced to either cohabitate with a male, or earn their money through prostitution to pay for quarters. Another problem was that the women with no fixed abode found it difficult to protect their weekly rations and many spent the last days of the week without any food.

The first Female Factory, Prince Alfred Square. 1803 – 1821

Wedding bells

Three weeks after Elizabeth arrived in the Colony, banns were called for the marriage between Elizabeth and John Bedford, a fellow convict, and they were married at St John’s Church of England Parramatta on 17th August 1811.  This was most likely an ‘assignment’. The female convicts were kept separate from the male convicts on arrival in Port Jackson, until they could properly be distributed according to industry and character. It is likely that Elizabeth was assigned to John to be married.

bedford church marriage cert

Elizabeth and John were married by the famous minister Samuel Marsden.

The following February (1812) Commissary William Broughton gave notice that the convicts of the Providence who were employed at Government labour were entitled to the summer issue of clothing only. This consisted for the men of: one duck frock, one pair duck trousers, one cotton shirt, one pair of shoes and one leather cap; and for the women, one linen cloth jacket, one shift, one pair of shoes, one straw bonnet.

Children … and a new start

1813 – April 8 – a daughter Rosilla (or Rosetta) was born, christened by Samuel Marsden on 6 June 1813 at St John’s Church of England in Parramatta.

1813 – 3 Nov – John obtained a Conditional Pardon (#309), [AO Reel 601 (4/4427) Register of Pardons and Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, page 723].

Conditional Pardon: No 309
Name: John BARFORD
Date and Place of Trial: County Dublin, December 1806
Sentence: Life
Ship: Boyd 1809
Native Country: Dublin County
Trade: Garden Labourer
Age: Thirty-five (b abt 1778)
Height: 5′ 8″
Complexion: fair ruddy
Hair: dark brown, Eyes – dark hazel
General Remarks: slightly marked with small pox
When Delivered: 3 Nov 1813 For prosecuting to Conviction two Persons for illegal Distillation. [AO Reel 601 (4/4427) Register of Pardons and Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, page 723]

So John obtained his certificate of freedom the same way that he had avoided the noose in Ireland, by helping the authorities – “dobbing” his mates in …

1814 – another daughter, Elizabeth was born (no record). Elizabeth Church is recorded in the 1814 muster of New South Wales as having two children.
1815 – son John born (no record).
1819 – son Michael born (no record).

1820 – Announced in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on 6 May 1820 – the Barefoots were leaving town!

22 May – From the muster of the Schooner Little Mary of Sydney, bound for Port Dalrymple and island adjacents. Among 16 convicts listed on the muster, number 16 is John Barfoot, Conditional Pardon #309. Among the 5 passengers listed, #5 is Elizabeth Church, Free by certificate No 10/1583 [note need to get copy of this certificate]. So with their four young children, John and Elizabeth travelled to Tasmania, possibly for a new life.

Follow Elizabeth and John to Tasmania here.

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