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A handsome…spoilt and flamboyant young gentleman



My 4 x great grandfather James Blackman (1759-1842) was described in his youth as ‘a handsome, well-educated, spoilt and flamboyant young gentleman’. The son of James Blackman and Jane Hearne, James was christened on 25 May 1760 at Deptford in Kent, England. Reportedly James was a sickly child, frequently suffering from chest complaints. However, by 1776 he was an Artillery Man in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, Kent.[1]

View of the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich with cannonballs and cannons strored in the open air, April 1841.; Wikiedia Commons

In 1785 the ‘handsome and ‘flamboyant’ James married the extremely well-connected Elizabeth HARLEY at St Margaret’s, Lee. Elizabeth was a small, fair and exceptionally well- educated young woman. Her grandfather had been an Alderman of the city of London and she had been brought up in the 100 room mansion, “Hazelwood House” at Shooter’s Hill, London.

St Margaret’s Lee, Kent England

Elizabeth’s father, George HARLEY didn’t approve of the marriage and forbade his family to attend the wedding. He relented at the last minute and attended with Elizabeth’s brother, Samuel. No other members were allowed to attend.

Family legend has it that by 1800 James was ill and his doctors recommended a sea voyage. Because of this he decided to take his family – Elizabeth and their five young children – to the new colony of New South Wales. One of those children was the two year old Elizabeth, my 3 x great grandmother. Whatever the reason for the family’s move to Australia, it was an extreme decision as the settlement of Sydney was only twelve years old and still quite primitive.

The Blackman family arrived in Sydney Harbour on the convict ship Canada on 14 December 1801. The voyage from Portsmouth in England to Sydney Australia via Rio de Janeiro took 176 days.[2]

Four of my direct ancestors, all from Kent, travelled to Australia on that voyage. James and Elizabeth Blackman (both 4 x great grandparents) travelled as free settlers with their two year old daughter Elizabeth Blackman (my 3 x great grandmother). Richard HICKS (c.1785-1852), another 4 x great grandfather, travelled strictly convict class. [3]

Richard HICKS was one of the ship’s cargo of male convicts. Richard had been sentenced at the Kent Quarter Sessions to seven years ‘transportation across the seas’ for ‘petit larceny’ – he had stolen four tanned hides. [4]

Instead of arriving in chains, as Richard Hicks did, James arrived with his family, armed with a letter of ‘high recommendation’ from the Colonial Office. He was able to obtain the recommendation as skilled and educated people were needed to establish the colony of New South Wales.[5]

Upon the arrival of the ship ‘Canada’, in Sydney, James Blackman sent a letter of introduction to Governor King, who sent his own private boat to take him and his family off, and gave him one of the cottages attached to Government House to live in until he could secure a home for himself. The Governor, assigned Blackman twelve servants and made arrangements for him to draw provisions, etc., from the Government store. He also offered him any land he might choose to take up,

Windsor and Richmond Gazette, Friday 6 November 1931, page 5
Governor King [oil portrait by unknown artist
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Governor King offered him any land he might choose to take up, but Blackman only accepted 100 acres, which apparently annoyed the Governor. King also offered Blackman a position at the Commissariat – a sought after position in the Government service in those days – which he refused. It is said that at this stage he didn’t like the colony, and was planning to return to England.

In 1802 he was granted 100 acres (40 ha) of land at Mulgrave Place, now North Richmond, NSW. James was also employed as the Superintendent of Agriculture in Mulgrave Place.. He owned the land until 1817. Unfortunately he had been flooded out three times as well as being burnt out by bush fires. He was unable to pay his debts and was forced to sell some of the 100-acre property. [6]

Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 5 July 1817, page 4

In 1818 William Cox foreclosed on the property. James was reduced to accepting Cox’s proffered job as sexton, gravedigger and musterer of prisoners on Sundays at the church. The property was sold to out George Bowman. The home that James built is still standing and is known as Bowman’s Hut and is now managed by the Australian National Parks service. [7]

Bowman’s Hut, Richmond

Following the sale James Blackman held a number of government positions, most notably at the Paramatta Goal, New South Wales, Australia as the Chief Constable of Parramatta (4 Jul 1822 to 22 Aug 1822 ). Following that he was in charge of the Parramatta Women’s Factory (22 Aug 1822 to 28 Nov 1825).

James and Elizabeth left the Sydney region in 1825 when James became Chief Constable at Bathurst in 1825.

James died at ‘Bleak House’, his son’s home in Mudgee on 6 May 1842. [8]. Elizabeth Blackman died two months later. You have to wonder – did the name Bleak House reflect the Blackmans’ views on Australia and their decision that they made to stay in the country all those years ago…

Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 8 July 1842, page 3
Bleak house, Mudgee New South Wales

James Blackman is buried in Blackman Vault in Blackman Park at Mudgee, Wellington County, New South Wales. This was the original cemetery in Mudgee. When the graves were moved to the new cemetery, the only one to be left in place was the renovated Blackmans’ Vault.

Blackman Vault in Blackman Park, Mudgee New South Wales


[1] Royal Artillery, ‘History’, Accessed 9 November 2019′

[2] Free Settler Or Felon, ‘Convict Ship Canada, 1801’. , Accessed 8 November 2019,

[3] Free Settler Or Felon, ‘Convict Ship Canada, 1801’. , Accessed 8 November 2019,

[4] Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal – Friday, 8 September 1797 p. 4

[5] Australian Dictionary of Biography, “Blackman, James’,, Accessed 10 November 2019

[6] Advertising, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, Saturday 5 July 1817, page 4

[7] Heritage Council, ” Bowman House”,, Accessed 9 November 2011.

[8] Australian Dictionary of Biography, “Blackman, James’,, Accessed 10 November 2019

3 thoughts on “A handsome…spoilt and flamboyant young gentleman Leave a comment

  1. Nearly 6 months on the ship, wow! But, how interesting to have two sets of ancestors on the same ship, one free and one transported. Did Blackman ever cross paths with Hicks, while Hicks was doing his time?

    Do you have other ancestors from Kent? I have several and just discovered another one this past weekend, surname Stringer from a place called Horsemonden.

    Thanks for sharing!


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