John Randall – How He Got There

By Ted Westwood, #7264 Member the Fellowship of First Fleeters

The original story appeared in the Fellowship of First Fleeters newsletter Founders Volume 42 Issue 5 in 2011; but has been edited for its appearance here to include additional information regarding the American War of Independence, to include the pictures and to add a relevant extract from the Joseph Holt Journal published in 1838.

Sometime during 1764 two black slaves, probably from Madagascar, who were owned by Captain John Randall of Stonington, Connecticut [one of the thirteen colonies of North America] gave birth to a son. Common practice of the day by slave owners was to name male slaves John or Thomas, and on this occasion John was chosen.

Boston_Tea_Party_wAround ten years later the Virginians started the American War of Independence which had its origins in the resistance of many Americans to taxes imposed by the British parliament which they claimed were unconstitutional. Patriot protests escalated into boycotts and the destruction of a shipment of tea at the Boston Tea Party [picture left]. The British government punished Massachusetts by closing the port of Boston and taking away self-government. The Patriots responded by setting up a shadow government that took control of the province outside of Boston. Twelve other colonies supported Massachusetts, formed a Continental Congress to coordinate their resistance, and set up committees and conventions that effectively seized power from the royal governments. In April 1775 fighting broke out between Massachusetts militia units and British regulars at Lexington and Concord. (1)

breed-hill-attackThe Battle of Bunker Hill was a battle fought on June 17, 1775, during the Siege of Boston in the early stages of the war. The battle is named for Bunker Hill, which was peripherally involved in the battle, and was the original objective of both the colonial and British troops, though the vast majority of combat took place on the adjacent Breed’s Hill [picture right]. While the result was a victory for the British, the massive losses they encumbered discouraged them from any further sorties against the siege lines; 226 men were killed with over 800 wounded, including a large number of officers. The battle at the time was considered to be a colonial defeat; however, the losses suffered by the British troops gave encouragement to the colonies, demonstrating that inexperienced militiamen were able to stand up to regular army troops in a pitched battle. (2)

In Novembelord_dunmorer of 1775, Virginia’s royal governor, John Murray, fourth earl of Dunmore, [picture left] issued a proclamation in response to information that the colonists had begun forming armies and attacking British troops. Dunmore wanted to put a quick end to the fighting and other activities he considered traitorous. Known as “Dunmore’s Proclamation,” the governor’s announcement created fervour among the populace and may have actually helped secure the alignment of many moderate or undecided white Virginians against the British government. The proclamation declared Virginia in a state of rebellion and placed the colony under martial law. But the most offensive portion of the document was the section that offered freedom to slaves and bonded servants of patriot sympathizers and forces if they were willing to bear arms and fight for the British. (3) Lacking diplomatic skills, Lord Dunmore was a failure as the governor of Virginia, and in May 1775 was forced to evacuate his family from the Governor’s Palace to his hunting lodge in nearby York County when the Hanover (colonial) militia arrived outside Williamsburg. In 1776 he returned to Britain but continued to draw his pay as the governor until 1783 when Britain finally recognised the American independence. (4)

Young John was one of those recruited under the Dunmore Proclamation and at the age of eleven or twelve was made a musician for the 63rd Regiment at Foot and taught to play the flute and tambour – a type of drum. When John became of age later in the war he was taught to use the musket and being a crack shot as well as having musical ability would significantly influence his life in the New South Wales colony.

For Identification purposes it was necessary to give the black recruits, who until then had only been known as John or Thomas or some other white Christian name, a surname so they were given the surname of their previous owner, hence my ancestor became John Randall.

Dunmore organized these Black Loyalists into his Ethiopian Regiment. However, despite winning the Battle of Kemp’s Landing on 17 November 1775, Dunmore lost decisively at the Battle of Great Bridge on 9 December 1775. Following that defeat, Dunmore loaded his troops, and many Virginia Loyalists, onto British ships. Smallpox spread in the confined quarters, and some 500 of the 800 members of the Ethiopian Regiment died.

After the British were defeated it became the black’s worst nightmare to be once again owned by the whites they had been shooting at. By the end of the war, an estimated 800 to 2000 escaped slaves sought refuge with the British; some served in the army, though the majority served in non-combatant roles. In all around 3000 names are listed in the book of Negroes held in the archives in England.

After arriving in a destitute England with hundreds of others from America, Randall and other blacks did not receive a pension like many of the white military and resorted to stealing. He was convicted at Manchester Quarter Sessions on 14th April, 1785 for stealing a steel watch chain, sentenced to seven years transportation and sent to the hulk Ceres early in 1786, then transferred to the Alexander on the 6th January, 1787.

Shortly after the First Fleet arrived, John Randall married Esther Howard/Harwood, who was transported on the Lady Penrhyn, an English convict listed as a servant-oyster seller. This was one of the first marriages in the colony, carried out on the 21st February, 1788 at what was designated St Phillip’s, Sydney Town. Esther died on the 11th October, 1789 aged 31; there is speculation she may have died in childbirth – she left no issue. (5)

Shortly after the marriage Randall was appointed game killer for Governor Phillip, and was allowed to roam freely in order to help feed the colony. It is obvious Randall soon saw how things worked in the colony and made sure influential people had as much fresh meat as possible. This later ensured he received favoured treatment and privileges not normally available to someone in his circumstances. Randall is recorded as having shot the first emu in the colony.

John Randall led a remarkable life, with frequent mention of his name, actions and words recorded – some of these are as follows:-

April, 1788: Accompanied Governor Phillip on an expedition to Broken Bay.

May, 1788: Accompanied Governor Phillip and Captain George Johnson to Broken Bay again.

July, 1788: Accompanied Governor Phillip and Johnson again to Broken Bay and followed aboriginal tracks to the southern branch which Phillip named Pittwater after the British Prime Minister.

5th September, 1790: Married Mary Butler, an Irish born convict ex the Second Fleet transport Neptune. This was the first marriage recorded at St John’s Church, Parramatta, which at that time was a bench under a tree.

April, 1791: Accompanied Governor Phillip, Mr Collins and 18 others on an expedition to explore the Hawkesbury/Nepean Rivers to see if they were the same river.

31st July, 1791: A daughter was born but later buried, 13 February 1793.

14th September, 1792: Finished his sentence but obviously free well before this.

29th November, 1792: Granted 60 acres at No 92 Northern Boundaries, i.e. North Parramatta/Field of Mars. This was next to his friend John Martin’s 50 acres granted the same day. Acres were granted as a basic 30 plus 20 for being married plus 10 for each child.

15th October, 1793: His house was broken into and two men living with Randall were nearly murdered by convicts with huge bludgeons.

1798: Until 1798 Randall was officially game killer for Lieutenant Colonel Grose who actually lived in England, but he was in fact in the employ of Major William Patterson until he departed in 1796, after which he was game killer for Captain George Johnson who was Governor Hunter’s aide-de-camp. By 1799 Johnson was the wealthiest man in the colony and knew Randall very well from earlier expeditions. It is likely he also knew Randall in America aged around 14 when Johnson took a commission from Lord Percy. (6) He was a keen recruiter of Blacks, several of whom he took back to England – one of whom may well have been Randall.

June, 1799: Randall was accused of stealing plates and glasses, from Government House. There is some confusion as to which Government House; Sydney or Parramatta; but he was forgiven. (5)

10th November, 1801: Randall sold his property cheaply to “General” Joseph Holt, one of the Leaders of the ill-fated Irish uprising in 1798 and subsequently exiled to New South. Full text of this pivotal event in Randall’s life is documented in Holt’s journal printed in two volumes in 1838; but a short version is included here. Price paid £40 plus an agreement to get Randall into the NSW Corps, for which he was eligible due to his service in America. At that time Holt was property manager for Captain William Cox who was responsible for the first road over the Blue Mountains and who advanced the money to Holt for the purchase.

“……..Randall told me he wished to dispose of his farm, and would sell it cheap, if I would promise to get him into the choir [presumably the NSW Corps]……… This man had been a sportsman to Governor Grose. His farm was about a mile and three quarters from Mr Cox’s estate; and I recommended Mr Cox to purchase it ……. ‘Holt if you like the farm, why not buy it yourself? I am sure I can get him into the choir, and it is time you should be doing something for yourself and your family.’ I answered ‘Sir, I may not have as much money coming to me as will pay for it.’ He replied, ‘If you buy as cheap for yourself as you have done for me it will not cost you much, and I will advance for you as far as £500, if you get good value for your money’ ………. Next day Randall came, and I went with him to view his farm; it was very well circumstanced, and convenient for me, being so near Mr Cox’s estate…… I asked the price; Randall said £60, and to engage to get him into the choir. I told him that was more that I could do at present; but I would give him forty pounds if I could get him into the choir, and fifty if I could not do it, and if he came with me he should have my letter to Colonel Patterson……….The Colonel returned me a very civil answer, to the effect that he would do what he could to accomplish my wishes, and would, if fit, take him into the choir, on my recommendation. We then went to Mr Cox, and he gave directions to have the deed of conveyance prepared …… It was made out to my wife Hester Holt, and her heirs…….. The deed was dated the 10th November ….. the money paid down and the writing witnessed by William Cox, Rebecca Cox and James King.” (7 pp. 142-144)

17th November, 1801: Randall joined the NSW Corps; pay sheets held at the Mitchell Library indicating he was paid an allowance for playing in the band, again due to his service in America.

5th March, 1804: Participated in the Vinegar Hill uprising.

26th January, 1808: Participated in the Rum Rebellion which removed Governor Bligh. (8)

28th December, 1809: Governor Macquarie arrived with his own regiment, the 73rd Regiment at Foot. Macquarie was sworn in on New Year’s Day 1810. (9)

24th April, 1810: He was discharged from the Regiment which was disbanded.

5th January, 1811: Appointed Constable at Sydney Town.

24th August, 1811: Resigned as constable.

19th February, 1814: His house and contents at Kissing Point were sold.

March, 1814: Employed as Resident Manager on a 700 acre property at Broken Bay (now Mona Vale) owned by Robert Campbell Jnr.

20th July, 1816: His two sons aged eight and nine were drowned crossing Manly Beach in a boat during bad weather.

It is not known for certain what happened to Randall, although historians believe he ended up in Tasmania as an acting constable where he was murdered by a convict Samual [sic] Smith and three others who were later tried and sentenced in Sydney. I now believe this John Randall was a convict ex the Atlas 3 in July 1816 then by the Kangaroo to Van Diemen’s Land later that year.

Our John Randall I believe died and was buried unrecorded in 1822. It was then his defacto Fanny petitioned for her daughters Eliza and Ann to be taken to the institution for black orphans set up by Lachlan Macquarie west of Parramatta. This area is now known as Blacktown.

Liza aged nine was not accepted and was said to have been mainly of white colouring. Her life and death is not recorded. Six year old Ann was described as half caste and said to have been as “black as the ace of spades”. She was accepted into the institution which was primarily established for aboriginal orphans. She died there in 1911 aged 95.

John Randall junior died as a seaman in 1830 leaving no male children to carry on the Randall name.


1. American Revolutionary War. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 3 November 2015.]
2. Battle of Bunker Hill. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 3 November 2015.]
3. Dunmore’s Proclamation: A Time to Choose. Colonial Williamsburg History. [Online] [Cited: 3 November 2015.] Dunmore’s Proclamation: A Time to Choose.
4. John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. [Online] [Cited: 3 November 2015.],_4th_Earl_of_Dunmore.
5. Fairall, Ray. The Afro-Australians The Randall/ Martin Families and the First Fleet, Sydney 1788. Rootsweb. [Online] [Cited: 5 November 2015.]
6. Yarwood, A. T. Johnson, George (1764-1823). Australian Dictionary of Biography. [Online] [Cited: 4 November 2015.]
7. T. Crofton Croker, Esq. Memoirs of Joseph Holt, General of the irish Rebels in 1798. London : Henry Colburn, 1838, Vol. 2.
8. The 1808 ‘Rum’ Rebellion. State Library NSW Discovery Collections. [Online] [Cited: 5 November 2015.]
9. McLachlan, N. D. Macquarie, Lachlan (1762-1824). Australian Dictionary of Biography. [Online] [Cited: 5 November 2015.]


1. Game killers of Governor Phillip Era – 1788-1791, Internet
2. A Complete Account of the Settlement of Port Jackson, Watkin Tench
3. The 1792 Land Grants at Parramatta, State Records NSW
4. The journal of “General” Joseph Holt, Joseph Holt
5. A Colonial Regiment: New Sources Relating to the NSW Corps 1789-1810, Pamela Statham
6. Black Founders, Cassandra Pybus
7. Founders of Australia, Molly Gillen
8. The Randall/Martin Families and the First Fleet, Sydney 1788, Internet, Ray Fairall