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Henrietta Shewing

Married to Edward Fletcher in 1807

Henrietta, one of twenty little souls born on the convict transports known as the First Fleet, was to be always known as English, and never in England. Henrietta is the only child born on the First Fleet known to have Australian descendants [1].

Henrietta was born on board the Lady Penrhyn at Capetown Harbour, South Africa on 23rd October 1787 [2]. Three of the women convicts on the ship were known to be midwives: Mary Parker, Ann Colpits and Sarah Burdo. The ship’s surgeon Arthur Bowes Symth was definitely not present, and even recorded later Henrietta in the surgeon’s log as male. The ship’s log at least got the sex correct!

Rev. Richard Johnson came on board to baptise the baby on the 4th November 1787, an event well liked by the crew because they received an extra ration of grog. The sailors who also had fathered children had the opportunity to buy tea and other little extras at Cape Town for their women [3].

Henrietta arrived on the shores of Port Jackson 6th February 1788, a sultry stormy evening. The next two years were hard and famine was severe in the colony, taking its toll especially of the small children. It was decided to send five of the surviving children and their mothers to Norfolk Island. That in itself was an adventure, as they arrived in high seas and were only at great peril able to be landed at Cascade with the seas breaking into the boat which was very frightening and caused much panic and screaming. That night the Sirus was swept on to rocks and shipwrecked.

Henrietta lived on Norfolk Island for the next five years and in that time her mother married the marine Thomas Chipp. A brother Robert was born (and died) and a sister Ann, and a third child is recorded. I think this could have been little Thomas Chipp whose death is recorded early 1795 but most members of the family think the evidence is too flimsy. There were school classes taken by a number of individuals and eventually in 1792 Thomas McQueen was appointed schoolmaster and Susannah Hunter his assistant for seventy five pupils. We could imagine Henrietta would have been one of the pupils.

Norfolk Island had passed from its early idyllic days to a wilder rougher life, and Thomas Chipp and his family decided to leave there and return to Sydney Town which had also become a pretty wild and rough place.

The Governor’s wife Mrs. King started an Orphan School to house the homeless girls living on the streets of Sydney. This first Orphan School stood on the corner of Bridge and George Street. Not all the girls in the institute were orphans. In two of her letters Henrietta refers to having been in the Orphan School. The family was on record as being "on stores" in 1804. Stores were the equivalent of social security.

On the 23rd March 1807 nineteen year old Henrietta was married to the convict Edward Fletcher by the Reverend Henry Fulton at St. John’s Parramatta. Edward had been working for the Knights as a servant, as was her thirteen year old sister Mary Chipp, so we assume they met through mutual acquaintances. This is the period of time Henrietta’s stepfather would have had land at Toongabbie (Seven Hills, later to be known as Bella Vista) and Isaac Knight had the adjoining farm.

Henrietta applied for a land grant and a cow on the grounds she had been an inmate of the Orphan School and was granted a thirty acres at Bankstown. Today the land is occupied by Liverpool Hospital. Governor Macquarie revoked all the land grants made by the Rum Corp after the overthrow of Governor Bligh and Henrietta reapplied and was granted the Liverpool land again. The annual rent was to be 2 shillings a year after 5 years. Thomas Moore [4] apparently wanted the grant Henrietta had at Liverpool but probably helped her to obtain the grant at Narellan plus an extra ten acres, which became known as Fletcher’s Farm, and today is the land near Springs Road, Narellan.

Henrietta had six children: Edward born 8th March 1808 in Campbelltown, baptised at St. Luke’s Liverpool; John born the 10th May 1810 at Cowpastures and baptised by the Reverend Samuel Marsden at St Luke’s on 15th May 1810. Eliza was born at 12th August 1812 at Campbelltown. Susanna was born on the 12th May 1815 at Fletcher’s Farm, Campbelltown; Blanche was born 17th December 1823 and Elizabeth 26th April 1828. Since 1810 Edward had been employed as a constable in the Cowpastures District.

Henrietta’s health had declined over the years and by the time she died at the age of forty-one years, she was blind and crippled. Thirteen year old Susanna was working for the Rev Thomas Hassall as a maidservant on a nearby property, but William Boyle Henrietta’s nephew was living with the family, his father having died. William’s mother Mary was not coping with the change in her circumstances and her sisters took in her children. Edward had a reputation for drinking, but it was said he was always kind and thoughtful to his wife and children, and Henrietta was described as an exceedingly reputable woman who bestowed great pains in bringing up her children. In 1828 there was the first outbreak of whooping cough in the colony and two thousand people died as a result of it. One could be excused for wondering if Elizabeth and Henrietta were two of the victims.

Henrietta and Edward Fletcher are buried in St. Peter’s churchyard Campbelltown in a well-cared-for grave, which also has a First Fleeter’s plaque for Henrietta. Though Henrietta never lived to see her grand children she had thirty six grand children. There are other family graves St Peters churchyard including Susanna Chapman’s Henrietta and Edward’s daughter.

Thomas Chipp always accepted Henrietta as part of his family, and Henrietta was involved in her sisters’ marriages and lives. Thomas was the only grandfather her children knew.


Surname: Henrietta is variously quoted with the surnames Scriven, Shewring, Skirwin, Chipp and Langley before marriage.

Grandson: MH has also written a piece about William Henry Fletcher who was a grandson of Henrietta.

[1] A number of children born to marines on the journey, returned with their families to England. (‘Orphans of History —The Forgotten Children of the First Fleet’ by Robert Holden).

[2] The baby was born at 1pm so in navy parlance was dated the 23rd as their dates changed at noon. She was also recorded as the child of T..G.. which 198 years later was to cause speculation on who was T..G.. With the passing of sailing ships the navy parlance for calling sailors after their job had been forgotten. Philip Scriven was the foremast man responsible for the Top Gallant sail.

[3] As recorded in Jonathan King’s book ‘The First Fleet’.

[4] This is the same Thomas Moore who is credited with founding Moore Theological College. He was a land dealer in the early colony.

Margaret Hardwick, 2009

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