THE HISTORY OF THE SYKES FAMILY IN AUSTRALIA

WILLIAM SYKES, father of the Sykes family in Australia

According to the Shipping Lists in the Mitchell Library, William Sykes was born in 1768, and at the age of thirty years kept The Sun Inn, which was situated at 78 Gray's Inn Lane, Holborn. This Inn is not standing today as most of this area of Holborn was bombed heavily during the Second World War, and has been rebuilt, but on investigation, it was easy to establish its situation.

The Holborn area in London.
1. The Sun inn
2. Mr. Meux's brewery
3. Hatton Gardens

From the Poor Rate Books of the Parish of St Andrew Holborn and Saint George the Martyr, which lists the names of ratepayers, and the amount paid, we have established that William Sikes (spelt thus) took over paying the rates of a property in Gray's Inn Lane during 1798. During 1804 the payment of rates previously in the name of William Sykes (spelt thus) was taken over by Thomas Milward. On the 12th March 1803 some officers went to William's home with a warrant and searched it. He was arrested and given bail on a charge of receiving from Mr Henry Jackson, two wooden casks, valued at twenty shillings, and thirty gallons of beer valued at fifteen shillings, knowing these to be stolen.

According to The Old Bailey Trials in the Mitchell Library, William was tried on the 11th April 1804, before the first Middlesex Jury, and Mr Recorder, and was found guilty and so received a sentence of fourteen years transportation to a colony.

William arrived in Sydney on the Fortune in 1806 with 245 other male convicts. They must have had a very good voyage as only two convicts died on the voyage. and according to old records this was extraordinary as some ships lost half. On arrival, William was given over to Mr John McCarthur, and soon gained favour with him, as he was allotted the task of helping to educate the McCarthur children He also gained favour with Governor Lachlan Macquarie, as in 1811 he was granted 80 acres of land at Appin. This meant he gained his freedom in a matter of five years, whereas he was sentenced for fourteen years.

While at McCarthur's house at Parramatta, William met Mrs Sarah Byrne. Her late husband, Patrick Byrne, who was buried 2nd April 1808, was a soldier, at the barracks and Sarah was granted a block of land very close to the McCarthur home. William married Sarah in St John's Church of England at Parramatta (see Sarah Sykes). Their wedding certificate is dated 9th January 1812, with witnesses John Eyre and Rosetta Owen. This John Eyre is very likely the Australian Convict Artist. (See "Early Artists of Australia", page 170.)

Land was granted to many people at Appin amongst them was John Kennedy, William Crowe, William Sykes, John Firth, James Byrne, and Michael Brennan. William must have worked very hard on his land, cleared it, and did a lot of farming as he was amongst a few farmers who received an additional grant in 1815. From Diary of Macquarie 'Journal of a Tour to the Cow Pastures and other parts of the interior in month of October 1815':

From Mr Kennedy's we proceeded to see the Farm of a Mr Sykes, about half-a-mile further to the Southward and at present the most Southern one in Appin. This man has with small means, made wonderful exertions, having cleared and cultivated a large proportion of his farm, and there is every appearance of his having an abundant crop of wheat this season. In consideration of Sykes's industry I have promised him an addition of seventy acres adjoining immediately his present one—which will make his whole farm 150 acres—Sykes's farm is supposed to be about 20 miles distant from the ground we betost from this morning, and we have at least ten miles to ride to our next ground or station at the Stone Quarry Creek in the Cow Pastures, whither all our servants, and baggage proceeded this morning, at the same time we set out for Appin. At 2 p.m. set out from Sykes's farm on our return to the Cow Pastures, and crossing the River Nepean at Mr Riley's Farm and at a very rough steep pass (which I have named 'Campbells Pass' in honour of Mr Paymaster).

William was at Appin from 1811 till 1837, and during the first ten years had a very hard time. The aborigines caused them a lot of worries during the early years, although we must admit they had their reasons for so doing. Many stories are written by old settlers. This one I found in a paper called 'Old Times', May 1903, page 105.

The first murder of the blacks was by an old soldier named Hewett, who was a servant on the Broughton Estate, and saw some of them in the cornfields. He and two other men fired a volley in to them. The blacks showed fight. They killed Hewett, cut off his hands and went round to the settlers mockingly, asking them to place a piece of bread in the outstretched palm, which they worked by pulling the sinews.

After this Mr. Broughton's men went into Campbelltown, and brought out a party of settlers, who fired into the blacks' camp and killed an inoffensive old lady, and two children. The blacks found out the names of the men who did this—Price and Noonan—and lay in wait for them on the plantation. They killed Noonan on the spot, but Price, though he had several spears sticking into him, managed to run about two hundred yards, as far as Mr Kennedy's gates, when a well directed spear went right through his heart. My eldest sister went past the body a few minutes later, but was unharmed. The fact that Mr Kennedy had buried the lubra and two piccaninnies mentioned above, and fenced the graves off on his ground, probably had something to do with this." There are two graves at the corner of what was Mr Kennedy's farm. "After this the blacks expressed their determination of murdering a white woman and two children as a blood revenge. They were then under the leadership of a chief named Wallah, and one day surrounded my brother John. Things looked pretty queer for him till Wallah interfered and said, 'No; him mother (Mrs Sarah Sykes) given um bread; no kill.' Shortly after they crossed the river and killed an old man and his wife who lived in a hut by themselves. The Government then sent up a detachment of soldiers who ran a portion of the tribe into a drive and shot sixteen of them, and hanged three on McGee's Hill. They afterwards cut off their heads and brought them to Sydney, where the Government paid them thirty shillings and a gallon of rum for each of them. After this we had three soldiers billeted on each homestead, and things were fairly quiet so they were moved back to Sydney in 1816. (See also "The Life of Macquarie", pages 353-4.)

William named his farm 'Mount Britain', and on inspecting the property you can see why. It has a very distinct Mount about the centre of it, and actually all the property can be seen by standing on top of this hill.

Sarah and William built a weatherboard house of four rooms, with a shingle roof. They also had a barn, and out-houses (see reference from 'Sydney Gazette' page 75). The house shown in the photo to the right was built after the Sykes' left.

They must have worked very well, as they cleared most of the 450 acres which they eventually owned. This was a big job as the country which is bordering the property is very thickly timbered, even to-day. They grew corn and wheat and ran sheep of a special Spanish Breed, very likely early Merinos (Ref. 'Sydney Gazette' page 75.) They had their corn and wheat gristed at the Old Mill which is still standing on MacArthur Onslow's property 'Mt Gilead' (shown to the left). This Mill was built in 1814 by convicts and by 1818 was gristing 80% of the wheat of the Colony. It was wrecked the same night as the Dunbar, and is now used as a water tower. It has beautiful workmanship in it and was built by the convicts. William seemed to have some very good supplies of wheat to the Mill especially in 1821 (see ref. 'Sydney Gazette' page 74).

In the 1822 Muster of the Liverpool District taken by Thomas Moore J.P., William Sykes owned 370 acres of land, 60 acres in wheat, 15 acres of maize, 5 acres of barley, one acre of potatoes, 4 horses, 14 head of cattle, 60 bushels of wheat, 150 bushels of maize, 300 head of sheep and 50 hogs.


I was able to rediscover Mt Britain by following a parish map of Appin. The original grant was ordered by Lachlan Macquarie on 30th July 1811 and was 80 acres. Then another 70 acres was granted to him when the Governor visited him, and 180 acres on 17th August 1819 (three blocks shaded in grey in map on right). Running roughly north-south through the property is the Cataract Tunnel. This was part of the Sydney Water Supply and was built by the Convicts. On the map, right on the Western Boundary of the 80 acre block, there is a small black square. This is a vent to the tunnel, and was used to drag up the shale which the convicts dug out. All I had to do was to follow along the line of the tunnel until I came to the vent, and then I knew I was on William's property, five generations later! On inquiry I was thrilled to know it was still called 'Mount Britain'.

In 1826 William decided to allow George his son to run Mount Britain and he applied for a liquor licence in Appin. The original letter he wrote to ask for this licence is preserved in the Mitchell Library - William's signature is shown to the left.

The Colonial Secretary replied that if he built accommodation suitable for travellers, they would grant him the licence, free of charge, for 12 months, and give him the block of ground. He set to work, and built it and called it 'The Appin Inn'. The Government Authorities then inspected it in 1827, and issued a licence to him, the original is also preserved in the Mitchell Library.

From Governor Darling's correspondence we read, ". . . that Sykes should be allowed a portion of land and 12 months spirit licence free of expense on his forthwith erecting a house in a suitable spot at Appin for public accommodation." It was decided that as Sykes was ". . . of good character, and accustomed to the innkeeping business in England, that he would be found a useful man in that department of life," and ". . . inform him that a licence for one year will be given to him, after he shall have built, on his own affording good accommodation for travellers."

But on 27th June 1827, a petition from Patrick Callaghan was received by the Bench of Magistrates at Campbelltown, asking for a licence at Appin. This was very shortly after William had opened 'The Appin Inn'. This petition for Callaghan was signed by W. H. Broughton, John Dwyer, Moses Brennan, William Crowe, James Byrne, John Trotter, and John and Michael Burke, and by letters from W. P. Faithfull, and G. Tate, the letter stating ". . . the bearer has certainly been a considerable acquisition to the settlers of Illawarra on account of his attention to letters, parcels, etc."

On 31st July 1827, a licence to Patrick Callaghan was approved by the Bench of Magistrates at Campbelltown. William objected very strongly to the licence being granted to Patrick Callaghan, and a lengthy correspondence took place between him, and Governor Darling, and the Bench of Magistrates. In one letter William stated: ". . . lately a blacksmith by the name of Lynch, who had a helpless family, was murdered immediately after a carousel at Callaghan's house, and on the Coroner's report, with other evidence, Callaghan was fined twenty-five pounds, and the Chief Constable Ryan was dismissed from office; yet Callaghan is now recommended for a spirit licence." Still the licence was granted to Patrick Callaghan, and this must have produced a lot of competition in the small town of Appin.

In March 1828, William's free licence automatically expired, so he wrote to the Colonial Secretary, asking if it could be renewed. This letter is also in the Mitchell. The licence was renewed, and William kept the inn until 1833. Evidently the competition of Patrick Callaghan, and his 'Union Inn' proved very difficult for William, as he changed the name of his from 'The Appin Inn' to the 'Union Revived Inn'. In 1833 he sold the inn to Nicholas Carberry.

At the time of the creation of this web site, the inn still stands in Appin, right opposite the main gates of the Catholic Church of St Bedes. The inn has been added to, the long part in the photo (above right) was the part William built, and the original stone has been covered by bricks. In recent years the building was used as a guest house and re-named 'Carrollon'. The Main Roads Department is forced to pull the old inn down in order to widen the road and at present it is a private residence. In 1841 a third licence was granted for Appin to Patrick Fennell, under the sign of 'The Bourke Hotel', but in the following year this licence was held by Thomas Dillon. This 'Bourke Hotel', was named after a Bushranger, Bourke, who was hanged in Appin. He was tied to the limb of a tree while standing in a bullock dray, very close to 'The Appin Inn', and then the dray was driven away.

The Catholic Church in Appin was built in 1841, the Parish Priest in 1843 was Rev. Father J. C. Sumner, but in the stone work over the door is printed "1841 J. P. Epus" (John Polding, Bishop). The Church was called the Immaculate Conception, in 1850, but it was changed back to St Bedes in approximately 1870.

On 5th February 1827, the 'Sydney Gazette' reports that William Sykes was the second witness in the trial of George Worrall, for the wilful murder of Frederick Fisher of Campbelltown last July. This was the historical Fisher's Ghost, and a creek is named after the incident at the southern end of Campbelltown. (See account in Documentary History.)

On 17th June 1826 Frederick James John Fisher vanished from his Campbelltown farm. In September of 1826 a neighbour of Fisher's, a man named Farley, while returning from market, saw Fisher sitting on the slip rails of his paddock, and walked up to speak to him. Fisher got down from the slip rails, and walked along the creek where he was lost from sight. Mr Farley then reported Fisher's return to the district, as George Worrall had told everyone he had returned to England, as he was worried about a forgery, against Nathaniel Boon, also of Campbelltown. George Worrall had taken over Fisher's property and stock.

Mr Farley then couldn't find Fisher so he made a deposition before Magistrates. A native black tracker by the name of Gilbert, and another native, were taken to the slip rails where the pseudo-Fisher sat. They discovered "white-man's blood" on the rails and on testing the creek found signs of "white man's fat" in the water. They prodded around with an iron bar, and eventually discovered the body of a man who had been buried near the creek, and this was identified later as the body of Frederick Fisher. The Nathaniel Boon mentioned above is believed to be the one who forged a receipt for George Worrall, when he sold some horses and a gig belonging to Frederick Fisher. Both Nathaniel Boon and Frederick Fisher are buried in St Peter's Cemetery at Campbelltown (tombstone shown to left). The case from the 'Sydney Gazette' is reported in Documentary History.

Evidently William did well around the district, and for a man who had been a convict he soon became trusted and liked by all the settlers. A report of his entering a horse in the Campbelltown Races seems to suggest he was fairly well off, and had time for leisure (see report in Documentary History).

Evidently William returned to Mount Britain in 1833; George his son, and John Byrne his step-son had both moved to Spring Valley at Goulburn. In 1837 William, Sarah, and family all moved to Spring Valley, although he still owned 'Mount Britain', as in 1844 he handed it over to George his son.

Another interesting story from the 'Old Times' May 1903 page 106, is the following:

Speaking of convicts, reminds me of the first time I came to Sydney when I was ten years old. At that time there was a great trade done in cedar, and my step-father (Mr Sykes) had arranged with Robert Dunn, who had a wheelwright's shop on Brickfield Hill, to build him a couple of carts, and to pay for them with cedar. We camped with a load ten miles out of Sydney, and for some unknown reason my father was very anxious to get into Sydney early the' next morning. He woke up before daylight, and everything went well till we got as far as where the University now stands. There was a very bad road there, and we got stuck coming up the hill. However there was a chain gang working near at hand, and they gave us the necessary assistance, for which my step-father gave them a few figs of tobacco. On top of the cedar and hiding it from view were several boxes of eggs and butter, and other farm produce, but on resuming our journey to Sydney we found these had all mysteriously disappeared in the twinkling of an eye. My father sent to the overseer, and all the convicts were carefully searched, with no result except in one case. One of the convicts had hidden a rooster underneath his jacket, and it was the noise of the fowl that proved his undoing. The roads at the time were lined with a thick scrub, on both sides, and the convicts must have evidently hidden the missing products there. I now learnt the reason of my step-father being so anxious to reach Sydney as early in the morning as possible. At that time it was necessary to have a licence to cut and remove cedar. Owing to the delay and there being now no covering for the load, Tom Dunn the chief constable, was soon on our tracks, and coming up to my step-father asked him if he had a licence to sell cedar. The reply was 'No', whereupon Dunn took out a piece of chalk and drew a broad arrow on the cart, meaning by this that the contents were confiscated by the King. This was a pretty bad day's work, but luckily a man named Mooney, who had been formerly assigned to us, and was now in the employ of Dr. Harris came up and asked my step-father what was the matter. Dr. Harris lived in the locality which now bears the name of Homebush. Mooney went off post haste to Dr. Harris, and returned in a short time with two letters—one to Dunn, and in the event of that failing, another to be presented to Governor Macquarie. Dr. Harris in his letter to Dunn indignantly demanded why he had interfered with his cedar. When Dunn opened it he was in a terrible fright, and immediately returned the cedar to my step-father, so there was no need to trouble the Governor in the matter.

Sarah and William had three sons, George, Thomas and James (the last two died single). Sarah and William also reared the Byrne children.

William became a Catholic in 1834. From an entry in Father Therry's diary, which is in the care of the Jesuit Fathers at Glen Waverley in Victoria, we discovered the following: "Received William Sykes, aged 66 years into the Church with conditional baptism, in the presence of Mr John Byrne, and George Sykes on the 24th August 1834."

William worked hard, and with the help of his step-sons John and William Byrne, and his own sons, became a fairly wealthy land owner. In 1828 the land titles office, of the Registrar General's Department, have on record that he owned: 450 acres, 150 cleared, 87 cultivated, 53 head of cattle, and 280 sheep. This same office has recorded, that he signed over 250 acres to his eldest son, George, for natural love and affection, and for the sum of ten shillings' on the 21st October 1844, and sold to Mr Robert Campbell on the 17th and 18th February 1836, one hundred and thirty acres for a sum of one hundred and thirty two pounds. This Robert Campbell was really the Bank of N.S.W.

William and Sarah moved to Spring Valley in approximately 1837, where they lived with their son and daughter-in-law George and Catherine till their death. William died at the age of 86 years, on the 4th August 1854 and was buried at St Michael's cemetery at Ryansvale, on the Springfield property. He was buried in the same grave as Sarah. The headstone still stands (shown left), and is in good order.

SARAH SYKES, mother of the Sykes family in Australia