Our first convict! Also known as Prendergast and Pender.
Born on 7 June 1769 in the Coombe area of Dublin which was known as the weavers’ district. John Prendergast was tried, along with others, on 24 April 1798 with felony of receiving stolen goods from Alderman Lyndon. He was found guilty and sentenced to transport beyond the seas for 7 years – he was 30 years of age. It is unclear whether this was the same person who had previously been arrested in Kildare for Irish rebel offences.
The Minerva left Cork on 24 August 1799 bound for the new colony of NSW. John Pendergast was on board, listed as a weaver. The Minerva was the first transport to arrive in Sydney with United Irishmen on board, transported for their role in the 1998 rebellion. This is the reason there are thoughts that the Pender arrested for rebel offences, may just be the same Pendergast on board the Minerva. The Rebels were transported with a note to say that they were not ever to go back to Ireland but there is evidence that some did indeed go back to their homeland. The Minerva arrived at Sydney Cove on 11 January 1800, the journey having taken 139 days, and all prisoners were then sent to Parramatta and Town Gabby for distribution. (see extracts and notes from John Washington Price, surgeon on the Minerva.)
Although John was still technically a prisoner, by the 1801 Muster he was working land in what was then known as Mulgrave Place or the Windsor district as we now know it. He had also had a child named John with his partner Catherine – there is no record of either a marriage, the birth of John, or of the death of Catherine so we presume Catherine’s death was soon after the birth of their son.
John travelled to Parramatta to have a housekeeper assigned to him to help with the child and presumably to feed him as he was tending his lands and crops. Whether by coincidence or by planning, the transport Nile had arrived at Sydney Cove by the end of December 1801 and had sent her convict women to Parramatta to be indented as domestic servants which was a common occurrence in that early time of the colony as the settlers and released convicts were able to have newly landed convicts assigned to them if they agreed to house and feed them, thus releasing the colony from having to house and feed the new arrivals ‘on stores’ or from the stock brought into the colony from each transport. Jane Williams was a convict from the Nile and she was indented to John as his housekeeper - more about her mid year.
John and Jane were never legally married although they certainly lived as husband and wife and had 7 children. They lived on land John procured or purchased in Cornwallis which is across the river from Windsor on very flat land which was, and still is, prone to flooding. It would have been a very basic, crude way of life for Jane who came from the bustling city of Bristol in the UK. What a culture shock it must have been! In March 1805 John was “free by servitude”. He also had land at Upper Half Moon Bay where there was an orchard – the orchard still stands on that land to this day. He was known to transport his produce (wheat, grain, hogs, goats, corn etc) to Sydney town by barge on the Hawkesbury River so he would have been away from home for many many days at a stretch. John had also acquired land with both Grants and by purchase at Kurrajong, Windsor and Wollombi.
Shortly before his death, John transferred several properties to his sons John, James and William and to Thomas’ son John (Thomas had already established himself and had substantial property of his own in the Monaro district). John died intestate and just four days after his death, his son William called on his mother and John Pendergast’s next of kin to show cause why the remaining estate should not be handed over to him, William. Letters of administration granted by the NSW Supreme Court for the estate suggest that the arrangement was amicable.
It was a tough life in the far reaches of the Hawkesbury but John Pendergast prospered through hard work and possibly good luck as nothing in those early days of the Colony was certain.
From the Journal of John Washington Price, Surgeon, on the "Minerva" which left Cork on 24 August 1799 and arrived at Sydney Cove on 11 January 1800.