Submission from Marion Starr to Higgins Genealogy 2003

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   Born on:  29 Sep 2003 
   Updated: 29 Oct 2005

Robert Higgins (1762-1843) 
Sergeant NSW Corps Australia

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A Submission from Marion Starr 
Date: 29 September 2003
Area: New South Wales

(Biography from Murder, Mayhem & Misdemeanours: Early Settlers at the Cowpasture River NSW 1810 - 1830, published by Marion Starr, Sydney 2002)

The village of Alton Barnes in Wiltshire England is probably best known for its white horse cut into the chalk downs and crop circles. It was also the home of Robert Higgins who was baptized at the medieval church of St Marys on 8 February 1762, the son of Robert and Elizabeth.

Robert’s early life is unknown but on 3 February 1791 at Forton Barracks, Portsmouth he joined the newly formed New South Wales Corps. Several months later in April he was one of the soldiers shipped on the convict transport the Queen that carried the first shipment of Irish convicts to Australia. The Queen was one of the eleven ships of the Third Fleet that left England early in 1791 and arrived in Sydney Cove on 26 September. By then there were 273 members of the regiment in the colony. The NSW Corps was recruited in 1789 to replace the marines who had arrived with the First Fleet in 1788, and who objected to supervising convicts and being part of the civil administration. However this was to be the new regiments primary role. They supervised the convicts on public works and in public agriculture, and guarded them when in transit throughout the colony. They also provided the guards for Government House, the Court House and the Commissariat Stores, and were lookouts at Sydney Heads for incoming vessels. The officers served as district magistrates, jurors and public servants. The commanding officer of the regiment was second only to the Governor and was given the title of Lieutenant Governor.

The NSW Corps has often been the subject of controversy because of the position of power attained by many of the officers. They controlled trade in the colony, particularly the supply of rum, and used the profits to buy up land. The NSW Corps was an essential and very influential force in the new colony. Some were undoubtedly opportunists but the majority of the soldiers have been described as ordinary wage earners unable to find employment who were generally recruited from poor rural and urban labourers. In 1802 Governor King wrote to the Colonial Secretary in London:

It is my duty to inform you that the utmost order and regularity has uniformly prevailed among the non - commissioned officers and privates of the New South Wales Corps.

Because of an acute shortage of currency in the colony, soldiers’ wages were usually paid in goods but the officers were paid directly into their accounts in London. The remaining group of the NSW Corps arrived in Sydney Cove on 14 February 1792 on the Pitt with Major Grose. Lydia Farrell was one of the 48 female convicts landed from the Pitt, and she was assigned to Robert. In 1792 Robert was promoted to sergeant and on 25 January 1793 they sailed for Norfolk Island on board the Kitty.

With the arrival of more convicts from Sydney Cove, Norfolk soon became a labour camp and by the early 1790s the settlement’s main purpose was to provide food for the colony. Maize, wheat, potatoes, cabbage, timber, flax and fruit were all successful crops in the rich soil and semi - tropical climate of the island. However the pine trees were found to be unsuitable timber for masts as they were too brittle. While on Norfolk Island, Robert Higgins was made a Sergeant Major and was involved in the playhouse that was started by some of the convicts and free settlers. By the end of 1794 King was so disillusioned by the ineffectiveness of the NSW Corps that he ordered them all to return to Sydney Cove. On 6 November 1794, Robert and Lydia departed from Norfolk Island on the Daedalus.

When Robert Higgins and Lydia Farrell returned to Sydney at the end of 1794, the colony consisted of less than 5000 people. In 1795 their first child Mary, was born at Sydney.

Higgins was still at Parramatta in 1806 and 1807. The records of soldiers in the NSW Corps in 1808 list Robert as being 46 years of age; five feet seven inches tall with a dark complexion, hazel eyes; dark brown hair and a thin face. In 1808 Robert, Lydia and their family were living at 21 Spring Row, Sydney and the same year Robert sold the house to Lydia for five shillings. This was probably to prevent the house being seized by the bailiff due to a debt.

By the 17 July 1809 he was living at High Street, Sydney (now George Street) in the vicinity of Bridge Street. He was leasing a small block of land at an annual rent of five shillings. Early maps show a number of soldiers’ houses in this area. The settlement was clustered around the cove that was intersected by the Tank Stream and tidal mud flats that reached as far as Bridge Street. The stream, so named because of the three tanks that were built into the sandstone banks to conserve water, divided the settlement for convicts and military on the western bank, and government officials on the eastern bank. The bridge, which was later to become a street, connected the two sides of the settlement. A broad cross section of people lived on the slopes of The Rocks near the military barracks. These were labourers, tradesmen, merchants and publicans. On the 27 January 1809 Higgins was reduced in rank to a private, and on 15 September he was placed in a debtor’s prison.

Higgins was forced to forego his land grant and served four months in gaol being released on 19 January 1810, just after the arrival of Governor Lachlan Macquarie. On 24 March 1810 Robert was transferred to the 73rd. Highland Regiment, which had arrived with Macquarie. This transfer was to a special invalid and veteran company of about 100 men who were no longer fit for active service but were assigned to light duties. As part of his social reforms Macquarie encouraged formal marriages and on 9 July 1810, at 10 am, William Cowper married Lydia and Robert at St Phillip’s Church, Sydney. By then they had four children, Mary, Elizabeth, John and Sarah. It was one of the first marriages in the new church that was completed that year. The witnesses were John Hobbs, who was also a sergeant in the NSW Corps and his wife Eleanor.

Robert was granted 50 acres of land in August 1812 on the eastern bank of the Nepean River. This land was bordered by the grants of two other retired sergeants, Thomas Trotter and Edward Johnson and he was assigned a convict, Thomas Seymour (Admiral Gambier 1811). Seymour later married Mary Higgins and their descendents were early pioneers in the Burragorang Valley.

In 1814 the Higgins family were living on their small farm on the banks of the Nepean. Early in 1818 the Sydney Gazette announced the sale of Higgins’ farm. Robert was in debt and part of his land and all his farming tools were sold to George Crossley. He was even forced to sell his old draughthorse. By 1823 Higgins had leased ten acres of his remaining land to a Jewish ex-convict called Elijah Stephens. By then most of the land along the river had been cleared for cultivation and the principal crop was wheat with maize as a secondary crop. The wheat was sold and the maize was to sustain the settlers and their pigs, which were a source of income. Vegetables, particularly potatoes, and fruit trees were also cultivated. Droughts in the late 1820s forced the sale of most of the farms to surrounding estates.

On 30 August 1823 Lydia died at Camden. She was buried at St Luke’s Church at Liverpool NSW. Robert Higgins lived for another twenty years at Camden where he died on 8 March 1843 and was buried at St Peter’s Church, Campbelltown NSW. 


Off Site Links to Robert Higgins and New South Wales Corp


Early Settlers at the Cowpasture River New South Wales 1810 - 1830

Based on early court records from Cawdor, Liverpool, Camden and Campbelltown, this book is an entertaining collection of 25 short stories about the lives of many of the ex-convict characters who lived at the Cowpasture River in the 1820s, with tales of theft, bushranging, arson, brawling and even murder. Stealing pigs and cattle were common pastimes and the sly grog shops did a roaring trade in illicit rum sales.

Includes 122 biographies as well as maps of land grants & a convict trail.

Higgins Family includes Robert (1762 - 1843), Lydia (1757 -1823), Mary (1795 - 1867), Elizabeth (1797 -1827), John (1799 - 1847), Sarah (1801 - 1870) and their spouses.

Marion Starr

Cost: AUS $35 + P&P

The above information is reproduced here with the permission of ,the Submitter. All information remains the copyright of the submitter and may be removed at any time, at their request. 

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