Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

John James Coombes - Mariner


On Wednesday 9th December 1880 flags of the ships in harbour and on the various mercantile houses throughout Newcastle were flown at half-mast in memory of an old and esteemed resident, Captain John James Coombes, who died at his residence, Onebygamba, about 4 p.m. on the previous day.

John James Coombes first came to Australia in 1832 as Master of the convict ship Southworth with a consignment of female prisoners on board. His wife Catherine accompanied him on the voyage. The Southworth departed Cork on 6 February 1832 and arrived in Port Jackson on 14 June 1832.

The position of Master on a convict ship was one only obtainable by ship masters specially qualified, and selected after great consideration by Government; more especially with regard to female convict passengers -the regulations requiring a commander, amongst other things, to be married, strictly temperate, and of unblemished character. [1]

Free passengers on the voyage of the Southworth included John Hubert Plunkett, Solicitor-General + family;
Ann Kingston, a free woman and 4 children;
Mary Fleming, free woman with 4 children;
Mary Gillespie, free woman + 4 children;
Mary Gillespie, free woman.
Mr. Kean,
Rev. John McEncroe.

The first child of Catherine and John James Coombes, Eleanor Moatis Coombes was born in Sydney on 29 July 1832. [2]

The Southworth departed Sydney in July 1832 and Timor 6th September 1832. Anchored in the Roads, Madras 14 October 1832. Passengers included Captain Durnford and family, Captain Wakefield, Lieut, Cox, Ensign Layard and soldiers of the 39th regiment, Captain W.H. Campbell of 20th regiment, Lieut. Gibbons of 49th regiment and Dr. Moran of 54th regiment (Madras Gazette) - Sydney Herald 1 April 1833.

The Southworth departed Madras 11 November 1832 and arrived back in London on 16 January 1833 - Sydney Herald 6 May 1833.


John James Coombes had married Catherine Lewis in London in 1830. Their children included:

1). Eleanor Moatis Coombes born in Sydney 29 July 1832. Died 1833

2). John Robert Coombes Born in London 26 October 1833. Baptised 11 December 1836 St. George, Stepney, London. Died in Melbourne Hospital 9 January 1892 after a short but painful illness

3). Robert Lewis Coombes Born in London 1836. Died in Melbourne in 1894

4). Catherine Mary Ann Coombes 1838 - 1901

5). Francis Valentine Coombes 1840 - Died at sea October 1840.[15]

6). Henry Elden Coombes 1844 - 1869 . Died on 11th May 1869 at Melbourne

Catherine Lewis Coombes died in 1859.

In 1863 in Sydney John James Coombes married Annie Dell [3].
Cecil Thomas Valentine son of John James and Annie Coombes was born in 1864.


John James Coombes was employed as Mate on voyages of the Neva in the years 1828 to 1831 [15]

The voyage of the Southworth was John Coombes' only voyage as Master of a convict ship

He continued to make periodical voyages to New South Wales in various first class passenger vessels often bringing very well-known passengers to colonial shores.

Some of the other voyages of John James Coombes included the following -

1). 1834 Resource - arrived in VDL from London 14 March 1834 having departed 7 November 1833. Passengers Mr. and Mrs. Murray, Mr and Mrs White, Mrs West, Mr. Ludgator, Mr. Cohen, Mr. Burke, Mr. Spencer, Mr. Bastion, Mr. Butterworth, Mr. Norman senior and junior.

Passengers to Sydney on the Resource included Major John George Nathanial and Mrs. Gibbes, seven children and one female servant; Mr. Osmond, Mr. Ramsay, Mr. Marshall, Mr. Bryant Mr. Benjamin, Mr. Webb, Mr. Williams and Mr. Clark. [4]

John George Nathanial Gibbes was a Crown-appointed member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and the Collector of Customs for the Colony of New South Wales.

2). 1840 Hope - Departed London 26 February 1839.

Arrived Port Jackson 3 February 1840 from South Sea Fisheries 3 February 1840

Departed April 1840 - For Port Nicholson and Cloudy Bay. [5]

In 1842 Captain Coombes was in Sydney on the Hope when the Lady Raffles caught fire and was later scuttled. Despite many attempts to raise her all were unsuccessful until Captain Coombes took on the task, who, by great exertion succeeded, and Lady Raffles was towed the same night up to Sharp's Bay, where she was left aground at high water. The method was very simple - having fastened a lighter on each side of her, and with a little purchase from on board the Pyramus, they managed to get her afloat with very little damage allowing all her cargo to be got out. [6]

3). 1844 Dale Park - Sailed from London 16 March 1844 and Ireland 31st March 1844, arriving at Port Phillip with 216 immigrants[14]

4). 1847 Medway - The frigate built ship Medway under Captain Coombes departed Sydney for London on 25th January 1847.[7] She returned to Sydney on 16 January 1848 bringing on board some very esteemed passengers including:

Right Rev. Lord Bishop of Newcastle, Rev. Tyrrell
Rev. George Boodle
Rev. Henry Offley Irwin
Rev. Josiah Rodwell
Benjamin Glennie
Rev. John Whinfield
Mr. E. Williams
Mr. W. Broomfield
Mr. H. Ison
Mr. B. Peck
Mr. E. Country, wife and daughter
Mr. A. Irby
Mr. T. Robinson
Mr. Charles Moore, Botanical Gardens curator
Mr. C.H. McDonald
Mr. W. Bowman
Mr. I Codrington.
There were another 23 passengers in steerage.[8]

4). 1850 Constant - 19 January 1850 the Constant departed Adelaide with merchandise and passengers. Arrived at Port Jackson 4 February 1850.

In June 1850 as Master of the Constant, Captain Coombes gave testament as to the quality of the meat from the Newcastle Meat Preserving Company [9]. In 1852 the Constant sailed from San Francisco on 28 May 1852, touching at Honolulu and arrived in Port Jackson 6 August 1852

5). 1856 Druid - Master of the Druid sailing to Port Phillip in 1856

6). 1869 - Planet - Captain Coombes brought the Clipper ship Planet, 667 tons, from London to Sydney via Brisbane in January 1869. Passenger Mrs. Coombes and their son.

John James Coombes' son Henry Eldon Coombes died on 11th May 1869 at Melbourne.


John James Coombes was appointed assistant wharfinger at Newcastle in 1875 [10]. He resided at Onebygamba, later known as Bullock Island or Carrington and perhaps worked at the new wharf facilities that were constructed in the next few years after his appointment.

This was a time of expansion to coal loading facilities at Newcastle and extensive works were commenced by the Public Works Department for the purpose of increasing the wharfage accommodation and shipping facilities of the port.

A new engine house for the reception of machinery to work hydraulic cranes was built at Carrington and new wharves 8000 feet in length were planned to cover an area of 102 acres. The wharfs were connected with the Great Northern Railway by a branch line crossing Throsby's Creek by which coal could be delivered alongside the vessels. The hydraulic cranes were erected at intervals of about 300ft along the front of the wharf. Steam cranes that had been used previously caused a great deal of smoke and dust by the steam boilers and there was a continual jar and rattle of machinery. All this would be eliminated by the new hydraulic cranes.

Added to this was the increase in capacity of processing the coal - The cranes were capable of lifting fifteen tons with the slow purchase, or ten tons with a quick purchase, and each were capable of shipping 800 tons of coal per day.

The engine house which would contain the large pumping engines, was a substantial structure built of compressed bricks and Sydney Sandstone, and was built on a massive foundation of concrete. [11]

By the end of 1877, the first section of this hydraulic powerhouse (as the engine house came to be called) was nearing completion. [12]

Engine House Carrington...Carrington Engine House


John James Coombes held the position of wharfinger until his death in 1880 at the age of seventy-nine, and was said to be hale, hearty and jovial up to the last.[13]

Notes and Links

1). John James Coombes, captain of the ship Planet, ca. 1869 / photographer unknown - State Library of NSW

2). Convict Ship Captains Index


[1] Newcastle Morning Herald 9 December 1880

[2] London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; Reference Number: p93/geo/015

[3] Sydney Morning Herald. 21 December 1863. Marriage - November 23rd at 105 Prince Street, by special license by Rev. John Reid, of the Mariners' Church, Captain John James Coombes, native of London, England to Annie Dell, daughter of the late John Dell, farmer Maitland, New South Wales.

[4] Sydney Gazette 3 April 1834

[5] Sydney Monitor 10 April 1840

[6] The Courier (Hobart) 20 May 1842

[7] Newcastle Morning Herald 7 January 1847

[8] New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826-1922. Ancestry.

[9] Sydney Morning Herald 8 June 1850

[10] Sydney Mail 22 January 1876

[11] Australian Town and Country Journal 22 July 1876

[12] Edward (Ted) Coulin, History of Carrington

[13] Newcastle Morning Herald 9 December 1880

[14] Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists (Ancestry)

[15] Pocknall, H., descendant, Personal communication, 20 May 2020