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The Story of Elizabeth Pulley

Photograph re-produced with the kind permission of Glenn Brown


A modest grave in a small churchyard on the other side of the world is key to the story of one of Hethersett’s most notorious residents.

Elizabeth Pulley, who was also known by the names Pooley and Powley, was born in Hethersett in 1763 to John and Anne Pulley.

Elizabeth’s notoriety began when she was just 17 and she received her first conviction for theft, although she was acquitted of a similar charge the year before.

The Norfolk Chronicle newspaper states that on 1st July, 1780, Elizabeth was committed to Norwich Castle for stealing a variety of goods from a private house. There it was commented by one prisoner that she was regarded by others as the only inmate clean and intelligent enough to deliver their baby. A guard commented that she would be good looking if she had the chance to live decently!

This was only the beginning, however, of what became a one-woman crime wave as Elizabeth came up before the courts time after time:

In July 1780 she was found guilty of stealing clothes and was sent to Wymondham Bridewell Prison for three weeks followed by a public whipping in Wymondham Market Place.

A year later Elizabeth was before the courts again for stealing from the house of Samuel Piglething, a weaver of Hethersett. This time she stole a cloth coat, a silk handkerchief, a coloured apron and cash amongst other items. She was sentenced to 12 months hard labour in the Aylsham house of correction.

Elizabeth wasn’t adverse to a spot of festive burglary either. In 1783 she was tried for entering a house at midnight the previous Christmas Eve and stealing cheese, bacon, raisons, flour and a variety of other goods. This time things were very serious for her as she was sentenced to be hanged.

But that is only the beginning of the story. Elizabeth was later reprieved and imprisoned in Norwich Castle until November 1786 when it was ordered that she should be taken to Plymouth and transported on HM Dunkirk, a rotting hulk, for the new settlement of Botany Bay in Australia. It is recorded that three women were “accordingly last Monday taken from the said gaol and seemed not in the least dismayed at the length of their voyage or of their future fate.”

On 2nd March the following year, Elizabeth set off for her “new life” but she couldn’t throw off the old one. She was described as one of a batch of five “especially violent women called the Fighting Five – all of whom caused trouble on the voyage.” Before setting off for Australia the vessel was moored at Portsmouth and Elizabeth Pulley was caught “going with the sailors.”

The First Fleet, comprising HMS Sirius, HMS Supply, convict transports Prince of Wales, Alexander, Scarborough, Friendship, Charlotte and Lady Penrhyn and supply ships Borrowdale, Fishburn and Gloden Grove left England for Australia on 13th May 1787. The fleet was under the command of Governer Phillip and carried 564 male convicts, 192 female convicts, 168 soldiers, 40 officers, 5 surgeons, 40 soldiers wives and children, 13 children of convicted mothers, 200 naval seamen, 233 merchant seamen, plus livestock, building material and supplies. Elizabeth herself had been transferred from the Dunkirk to the Friendship.

Even on the journey Elizabeth was never far from trouble and at Teneriffe in the Canary Islands she was one of four women put in leg irons for 10 days for fighting. A Second Lieutenant had few good words to say about Elizabeth: “I am convinced they will not be long out of irons as they are a disgrace to their whole sex,” he stated.

Elizabeth certainly didn’t clean up her act and was then caught “getting into bed with the seamen” for which she was placed back in irons and handcuffed to another woman.

Her various punishments made her weak and sickly but by August she was back in irons for fighting yet again. Close to the Bay of Good Hope the inmates attempted to mutiny but this was put down.

Eventually Elizabeth was one of nine transferred from the Friendship to the Prince of Wales in order to make way for livestock.

The lieutenant was quick to point out that the animals were much less trouble than Elizabeth: “Thank God all these women convicts are all out of the ship. I am very Glad of it for they were a great trouble much more so then men. We find them (the sheep) much more agreeable shipmates than the women".

Elizabeth arrived in Botany Bay on 20th January 1788 after a journey  lasting  over 10 months. Even then the locations in and around Botany Bay were found to be unsuitable. Other safer coves were sorted out and eventually they came to what the governor referred to as “the finest harbour in the world”. It had excellent spring water and the ships were able to anchor close to the shore. The governor named the cove Sydney.

On arrival in Sydney Cove, the women were kept on the transports while the male convicts were landed and occupied with setting up a camp. The women were landed at 5 a.m on 6th February and about one hour later they were joined by the men. According to Lieutenant Bowes Smyth: "the men convicts got to them soon after they landed". Captain Phillip referred to the male convicts "unleashed frustrations built up in the twelve months they had been chained below decks." During that night, there was a violent storm in which lightning struck a tree in the middle of the camp, killing five sheep and a pig. It failed to dampen the convicts’ activities. Elizabeth Pulley was supposed to have been found under a tree with three men.  One of the men Anthony Rope seduced Elizabeth.

Anthony Rope was born in 1763 at Rochford, Essex, UK. He was employed as a labourer. At the age of 26, he was tried by the Essex Lent Assizes, which began at Che1msford on Monday, 7th March 1785, before Sir Henry Gould and Sir Richard Perryn. He was tried for burglary and stealing and was sentenced to be transported.

To cut a long story short, Anthony and Elizabeth were married on 19th May 1788 at St Phillip's, Sydney. The marriage was in the presence of John Summers and Elizabeth Mason and they were doubtlessly married by the Rev Richard Johnson. Six days later (Sunday, 25th May), a supper party was held at Anthony's tent to celebrate the wedding. There were six guests and it is recorded that they had a sea pie which contained fresh meat - this was a rare luxury in those days and an acceptable change from the ration of salt pork.

Elizabeth bore a child, Robert, in 1788 at Sydney Cove. Robert was christened on 2nd November 1788. The date of Robert's birth is not known although dates from 5th September to 30th October have been given. It is thought that Robert was the first white child to be conceived and born on Australian soil.

A few months later, Anthony and Elizabeth built their own home - a hut with cabbage tree palm framework and walls of clay and loam mortar strengthened with wiry grass. A coat of whitewash and a roof of rushes from Rushcutters Bay completed it.

On 11th February 1789, Anthony was sentenced to 25 lashes for neglecting work. He was sentenced to a further 25 lashes on 9th March 1789 for neglecting work. In 1791, Anthony was transferred to the Government Farm at Toongabbie where gangs of starving men had to haul huge trees to clear the ground for more food-growing. Here, on 31st March, Anthony appeared before a Magistrates Court at Rose Hill and again received 25 lashes for buying shoes knowing them to be stolen.

Their second child, Mary, was born in 1791. She was baptised at Parramatta on 31st July 1791.

Anthony was granted 70 acres of land at the Ponds, two miles to the north-east of Parramatta (now Kissing Point Road, Dundas) in 1792. In a Despatch, dated 17th October 1972, from Governor Phillip to Under Secretary King, a Return of Land in Cultivation lists Anthony as having one acre under wheat and three acres under maize. There were sixteen original land grants in the Ponds district of which Anthony's was one.

The size of each grant was based on a basic 30 acres, plus an additional 20 acres if married plus 10 acres for each child. The terms of the grant were:

In the granting of land to sentence expired convicts, Governor Phillip carefully selected those who were likely to prove successful in agricultural pursuits. In many cases he seems to have tested their capabilities in a probationary stage, having provisionally granted them areas, with rations, implements, etc., prior to the expiration of their sentences.

Their third child, Elizabeth, was born on 7th February 1794 and baptised at St John's, at Parramatta on 10th February 1794. Their fourth, John, was born on 22nd December 1795, and baptised at St John's on 26th June 1795.

Anthony sold the farm sometime in 1796 for 50 pounds 'with crops'. It appears from the records that Anthony, however, harvested the crops before handing the farm over. In the Court of Civil Jurisdiction convened during the period 3-5th July 1797, John Lambton sued Anthony for the crops. The crops were awarded to Lambton.

On 30th December 1796, Anthony and Elizabeth settled at Mulgrave Place on a land grant. Mulgrave Place is now roughly in the Windsor/Wilberforce area. There is no record of this land grant. Possibly, Anthony had a 'permit to settle', given by Lieutenant-Governor Grose. By 15th June 1795, Grose stated that 'the number of settlers on the banks of the Hawkesbury, with their families amounts to upwards of four hundred persons and their grounds extend nearly thirty miles along the banks on both sides of the River'.

Their fifth child, Sarah, was born on 1st March 1798 and baptised at St John's, Parramatta on 26th June 1798.

Their sixth child, Susannah, was born in possibly 1801. Her year of birth varies from 1797 to 1801.

The next child, William, was born in 1805, probably in the Windsor area.

From the 1806 General Muster, Anthony was living with his wife and six children (Robert, Mary, John, Susannah, Sarah and William - Elizabeth, born in 1794, was probably deceased by then) on 48 acres that he was renting from James Badgery on the Nepean. The Muster details that Anthony had 4 acres under maize, 18 acres of pasture and 26 acres fallow. He also had 1 bushel of wheat and 6 bushels of maize in hand and had one free man in his employ.

On arrival in Australia, Anthony Rope had  benn employed at the Brickworks making bricks and he later learned to lay them.

On 17 June 1806, Anthony's name was mentioned in connection with conducting a private still in the Hawkesbury District.

In August 1806, Anthony was a signatory to an address from the Hawkesbury settlers to Governor Bligh. The address, which welcomed Governor Bligh, suggested administrative improvements and stated that John Macarthur's Act, insigning for the 'free inhabitants' was an invasion of their Rights.

Their eighth child, Elizabeth Ann, was born on 24 March 1808 and baptised at St Matthew's, Windsor, on 15 September 1811.

On 16 November 1816, Anthony was mentioned in a notice in the Australian for failure to present a pardon at Muster Notices in the Sydney Gazette. The notice reads:

Whereas during the late General Muster several persons who originally came as convicts reported themselves as free by servitude, pardon, etc etc but did not produce ayt certificate of Free Pardon, Emancipation, Ticket of Leave are now ordered to produce or obtain a copy of the same or be considered imposters and recalled to Government work as convicts.

In the flood of 1817, Anthony and Elizabeth lost their stock, crops and home and were forced to sell most of their farm.

In 1822, Anthony was involved in compensation for loss of clothes when conveying with others a life boat to Port Macquarie.

In 1824, Anthony was leasing 20 acres at Evan, on the Hawkesbury River, possibly at a place or location called 'Tumble-down Barn'. In 1824, Anthony sent a Memorial to the Colonial Secretary asking for more land.

In 1826 or 1827, Anthony occupied land on an estate belonging to William Faithful. The land was near the junction of Ropes Creek and South Creek between Shanes Park and Dunheved. They were still farming there in 1828 and at that time had 11 acres of land, all cleared and cultivated and had five horned cattle. The area is now known as the suburb of `Ropes Creek'. The `Gazetteer of New South Wales 1866' describes the area as:

..... a small agricultural village, situated on Ropes Creek (a small E tributuary of South Creek) 3 miles W of Hebersham or Eastern Creek. There are two hotels, The Farmers Home and the Wheat Sheaf. The surrounding country is generally flat and the population employed on the various agricultural farms in the district.

Elizabeth died in 1837 and is buried next to her son William and granddaughter, Eliza Frost, in Castlereagh Cemetery, Church Lane, Castlereagh (near Penrith). Anthony died on 20 April 1843 at Castlereagh and is also buried at Castlereagh Cemetery. His headstone no longer exists, but that of Elizabeth remains located in the middle of the cemetery.

Note: The Fellowship of First Fleeters placed a plaque on Elizabeth's headstone in a ceremony on Sunday, 20 October 1985. 

They rest side by side with some of their children in the peacefulness of the old Castlereagh Cemetery

In February 2014 an article on this subject appeared in the Eastern Daily Press Newspaper and is reprinted below. Click on the photographs to enlarge them.