Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

William Caswell

Ballickerra - Map 10

William Caswell, was born at Deptford on 8th August 1789, son of John and Anne Caswell.
His brother Thomas Caswell was born 9 September 1798. John's occupation on the birth records was given as victualler.

William Caswell entered the Navy in September 1805 as an able seaman. Select here to read a chronology of his naval career. A detailed account of the attack on the American privateer General Armstrong in 1814 can be found here. William Caswell received such serious injuries that it was thought at the time that he could not have survived.

William married Susan Hoddle on 12th February 1825 at Westminster. William's brother Thomas was a witness at the marriage. Susan was the sister of Robert Hoddle who would one day become Victoria's first surveyor-general.

William Caswell continued his employment in the Navy until 1828 when he was placed on half-pay. By this time he was thirty-nine years old and the father of two children. His brother-in-law Robert Hoddle had departed for the colonies six years previously and perhaps it was his favourable descriptions that encouraged the Caswell family to emigrate. William with his wife Susan and two children departed London on the Pyramus on 14th October 1828.

Arrival in the Colony

On the passage the Pyramus touched at Tristan da Cunha, Rio de Janeiro and Hobart. There were two deaths on the voyage both from consumption. Others making the voyage in the Pyramus included Captain James St. John Ranclaud, Mrs. Ranclaud and five children, the Wynter family, Mr. and Mrs. Osborne and Robert Hoddle's wife and child. The Pyramus arrived in Sydney on 9th May 1829.

Land Grant

According to the laws of the day William Caswell was entitled to a land grant. The grants were later recorded in the Sydney Gazette -

One thousand nine hundred and twenty acres, parish of Thornton. Promised by Sir Ralph Darling on the 16th July 1829 and possession authorised on 8th December 1830. Quit rent one Peppercorn, the land being given as a Naval Officer of upwards of twenty years service.

Fifty acres parish of Sutton on a point on the south shore of the harbour of Port Stephens. Promised by Sir Ralph Darling on the 9th of December 1830, and possession authorised on the 31st March 1831. Quit rent one peppercorn the land being given as a Naval Officer of upwards of twenty years service (Tanilba House)

Five hundred and ninety acres, parish of Stowell. Promised by Sir Ralph Darling on the 21st October 1831 and possession authorised by Sir Richard Bourke on 21st April 1832. Quit rent £4 19s 2d sterling per annum.

Joseph Pennington Thomas Gill Jacob Newton Duncan Sinclair Francis Allman William Fisher Hugh Torrence Andrew Dixon John Wighton Vicars Jacob Joseph Thew Friedrich Gerstacker John Wighton Thomas Bartie Early Settler Map 2 George Mosman William Caswell Early Hunter Valley Settler Map 10

Life in the Colony

The Caswell family did not at first reside permanently on the Balickerra estate but on the 50 acres grant at Tanilba. When they set sail for New South Wales they could never have envisaged the hardship they would come to endure in the next few years......

Some of their difficulties were revealed in the Diaries of Sir William Edward Parry who visited them in November 1832 at Tanilba.....

Saturday 17th - In the afternoon I went over with Captain Moffatt and Mr. Stacy to Mr. Caswell's and I certainly never saw so much misery in a family of the same class - one child dead, another dangerously ill, an infant very poorly, and the mother like a walking skeleton - I fear not long for this world. Mr. Stacy is rather apprehensive that the complaint of the children is of a typhoid character. [1]

And there were difficult servants to deal with as well:

Mary Cavanagh and Mary Carney assigned servants caused a great deal of trouble. Mary Cavanagh was charged by Lieut. Caswell with persevering to leave his service and refusing to obey his orders. The prisoner being put on her defence, states: Let me get what punishment I will, I will not remain with Mr. Caswell; when I told my master I would not remain with him unless I received wages, he told me, that he could not afford to give me any wages; that he would bring me to the magistrate, and let him give me wages. - She was sentenced to be confined in the cells on bread and water for 13 days and returned to her master. Mary Carney refused to work and was likewise sentenced to the cells on bread and water.

By 1848 when the following incident took place, the Caswells were residing at Balickera:

Sir - On our polling day (the 2nd instant) a complete riot took place here. When Lieut. Caswell, R. N., a gentleman nearly sixty years of age, came to the Court House to give his vote, the mob began to hoot and hiss him. Upon his coming out the word was given to' close him in;' when he was instantly surrounded, pinioned, and a fellow attempted to put a bag over his head, gripping him by the throat at the same time with such violence that he was 'nearly strangled.

Not a constable was to be seen, although one was at the door of the Court House when Mr. Caswell went in, and must have seen that the mob were prepared for mischief, and there is little doubt that Mr. Caswell's life would have been sacrificed, had not a young gentleman, son of Mr. Burnett, of Glenview, dashed into, the crowd and rescued him. During this scene the Returning Officer and the Clerk of the Bench kept their seats, 'cool as cucumbers,' until Mr. Graham Burnett forced his way back into Court, and asked Captain King if he would allow such an outrage. That gentleman thus urged, walked to the door, said a few words to the mob, and told Mr. Caswell to ' keep his eye on one of them, and he would commit him,' and then walked back to his seat. The Clerk of the Court also walked to the door, and, after exclaiming.' Dear me, where are the constables,' trotted back to his desk.

What instructions the bench of magistrates issued to their constables cannot of course be known, but the whole affair reflects little credit on their arrangement, or on the zeal and courage of their subordinates. Mr. Caswell having identified the ringleader, he was apprehended on a warrant, and the case was to have come on to-day, but no second magistrate having appeared it was postponed. This is the way in which business is generally conducted here. There are only three magistrates in the district, one or other of these is generally absent, another does not choose to sit, and about three times in four the court is postponed for want of a second magistrate-to the great inconvenience and expense of the public. This does not arise from any want of gentlemen resident in the district, qualified to act as magistrates, of whom there are several, and it is to be hoped that if the present magistrates will not recommend some of their neighbours to be put into the commission of the peace, his Excellency the Governor will inquire into the matter, and remedy the evil. In every district of the colony except this the number of magistrates has of late been greatly increased. -I remain, sir,, your Obedient servant AN ELECTOR. Raymond Terrace, Aug.-15, 1848. [2]


In the following notes by Rev. J.D. Lang some of the improvements made to the Ballickera estate are revealed:

Notes of a Visit to the Manning River by Rev. J.D. Lang

Being refreshed by a night's rest after my return to Dunmore from my visit to Scone, I started again this morning for a longer journey, to the Manning River. Dunmore, my brother's estate, is situated on the right bank of the Paterson River, one of the principal tributaries of the Hunter.

The Paterson, notwithstanding its most un-poetical and forbidding name, which I am sure will be the very detestation of every future Australian poet, is an interesting and beautiful river throughout its entire course, and is broad and deep enough at Dunmore to float a seventy-four. Crossed the river in a punt, and then rode across the country, about nine or ten miles, to Mosman's punt, the crossing place on the William River, another of the principal tributaries of the Hunter, if it should not rather be considered the principal stream, for it is decidedly the largest of the three. There is much alluvial land of the first quality on the Paterson River, and a considerable extent also, although not so much on the William ; the low country everywhere at present looks beautiful, and a luxuriant wheat crop is rapidly whitening for harvest.

My brother had accompanied me to Ballycerry, the residence of his father-in-law, W. Caswell, Esq, R.N., about twelve miles from Dunmore ; and on starting again for Stroud, Mr. Caswell proposed to accompany me a few miles through the bush to put me on the right road ;but he actually gave me more than even a Scotch convoy of twenty miles to Booral, one of the principal stations of the Australian Agricultural Company, and the residence of the present Commissioner, Mr. Ebsworth. I was gratified at observing that Mr. Caswell had actually done, what I had so recently before been recommending to others, somewhat similarly situated, up the country, viz : constructed a dam across the bed of a natural torrent or water-course in front of his house, for the retention and preservation of the surface water of the vicinity. It was quite full from the late rains, and formed a beautiful sheet of water more than thirty feet deep at the lower end. This practice is likely to become general all over the colony - I mean wherever it is practicable and necessary at a much earlier period than many might imagine. For I learned, at Dart-brook, a fact of which I was not previously aware, and which cannot fail to give rise to very serious apprehensions, viz. : that the under-ground supply of water is now failing in many localities in the interior, in which it had previously been abundant.
Mr. Hall, for example, informed me that about eighteen years ago, when he first settled at Dartbrook, he had obtained an abundant supply of water for his establishment from a well sixteen feet deep; but the supply having failed at length, the well had afterwards to be deepened, and this process had been continued from time to time, especially in seasons of drought, insomuch that the present depth of the well is not less than forty two feet. And this, it seems, is quite general case in that part of the country. In short, the grand problem in physics for this community will very shortly be: How to secure a constant and sufficient supply of water for all the purposes of man, especially in seasons of drought. [3]


There were nine surviving children of William and Susan -

Emily possibly born in England, as well as the following born in New South Wales - George Vine b. 1830, Tanilba born 1832, Henry b. 1834, Caroline b. 1837, Louisa b. 1838, Nessie b. 1840, Florence b. 1844, Ann b. 1847.

Emily Caswell married Andrew Lang

Caroline Caswell married Henry Stacy son of John Edward Stacy.

Tanilba Caswell married George Birch of the 60th regiment.

Death of William Caswell

In March 1859 the Maitland Mercury reported that Captain Caswell, together with Mr. (Andrew) Lang and wife Emily had embarked on the Light of the Age bound for London. William Caswell died on 29th April on the homeward bound voyage.

Susan had remained in New South Wales and by December she was auctioning stock, dairy and wine making utensils, agricultural implements as well as household furniture. The furniture had been made to the order of Captain Caswell and was of the best and most substantial manufacture and elegant design and included a handsome carved sideboard, large dining table with four extra leaves. There were chimney ornaments, decanters, crockery, preserving pans, washing and mangling machines, churns, cheese vats, a light spring cart, a large horse cart, wine press, bottling machine, a large station bell as well as and many other items.

Death of Susan Caswell

Susan Caswell returned to England. She died at the residence of her daughter Emily in Devonshire in March 1886.


[1] Early Days of Port Stephens, Extracts from Sir Edward Parry's Diary, Dungog Chronicle.

[2] Maitland Mercury 19 August 1848

[3] Maitland Mercury 19 December 1850