The following is an adaptation of material originally printed in 'The History of the Sykes Family in Australia' produced by Geoff Sykes (Bro. Coman F.M.S.) for the Spring Valley Reunion of 1971 (here: William Sykes)
From Ship Indents, the 1828 Census and the headstone on his grave, we know that William Sykes was born in 1768, probably in London. (William was originally buried with his wife Sarah at Ryansvale (Springfield property). With that cemetery now much neglected, their remains were re-interred in the Spring Valley cemetery in 1976.)
Certainly, in 1798 he was living as a publican in Holborn, landlord of the Sun Tavern, 78 Gray's Inn Lane. (Proceedings of trials at the Old Bailey in the 1790s make two references to a publican 'William Sykes' who may well be our William - but, tantalisingly, there is just not enough evidence to substantiate this: (a) 1796: A William Sykes and his brother John the victims of the theft of a substantial amount of manchester (to the value of more than £11) The brothers are cited as co-proprietors of the Catherine Wheel Inn, Bishopsgate St (t17960622-72). (b) 1799: As landlord of a public house where a theft had occurred, a William Sykes appears as a witness: regrettably, the name of the public house is not given! (tl7990619-35)).
The Holborn area in London.
1. The Sun inn
2. Mr. Meux's brewery
3. Hatton Gardens
This inn is no longer standing as most of this area was affected by the installation of the 'tube' underground railway and then bombed heavily in World War II - and so has been rebuilt; even so, it has proved quite easy to establish where it stood (See Map of Holborn, right). According to the Poor Rate Books of the Parish of St Andrew, Holborn, and St George the Martyr (which list the names of ratepayers and the amount paid), William Sikes (sic) took over paying the rates of a property in Gray's Inn Lane during 1798. (Available for consultation in the State Library of NSW). In 1804 (the year in which William was sentenced to transportation), the payment of rates previously in the name of 'William Sykes' was taken over by Thomas Milward.
1804 was a momentous year for William: on 11 April, he was found guilty of receiving stolen goods, to wit two casks of beer, and so was sentenced to be transported for fourteen years (See the transcript of the trial - where, interestingly, William's age is given as 32 years).
On July 12, 1806, William found himself on the other side of the world, arriving in Sydney Cove with over 200 fellow convicts on the Fortune . According to the 1806 muster, he was assigned to John Macarthur. There appears to be no substance to the view that William was involved in the education of the Macarthur children: for that purpose, Miss Lucas had been brought with the Macarthurs from England in the 1790s and she continued in that role for many years As the boys grew a little older, they were sent to England for further education, so there appears to be little room for William. Given Macarthur's aversion to convicts, it is improbable that he would have engaged one in so important and intimate a role.
It would appear that William spent some or all of the next few years at the Macarthur's Elizabeth Farm, the house still standing in Alice St, Rose Hill. Living in the same area in those years was Mrs Sarah Byrne. Arriving as convict Sarah Best on the Britannia in 1798 with her London-born daughter Caroline Catapodi, she had married Patrick Byrne (NSW BDM Vol 3, # 481 and Vol. 147, # 206) at Parramatta in 1799. By April, 1808, when Patrick died, Sarah had five children to care for - Caroline, Matilda, John, Mary and Anne - and, just a few months later, gave birth to a sixth, William. How grateful, therefore, must she have been for the grant of a small parcel of land (2 rods, 30 poles i.e. about one-fifth hectare) close to the Parramatta Barracks, near the intersection of George and Harris Streets. (Opposite Howell's Mill - reminiscences of William's step-son, William Byrne Old Times May 1903 p.105). How grateful, likewise, must she have been for the friendship and support of the convict William Sykes from Elizabeth Farm ! It is possible even that William was renewing an acquaintance already formed back in London: after all, his Sun Inn in Holborn was only a short distance from the two places associated with Sarah in her 1797 trial at the Old Bailey - the Peacock Inn , Maiden Lane (probably the Maiden Lane near Covent Garden, about a kilometre from William's Sun Inn), and Rosomon's St, Clerkenwell (current spelling, Rosoman St., is less than a kilometer NE of the Sun Inn.)
On 9 January, 1812, William married Sarah at St John's, Parramatta, with witnesses John Eyre and Rosetta Owens. (NSW BDM Vol. 3, # 1314 and Vol.147, # 522) * John Eyre - most likely, the convict artist ~Rosetta Owens: as Rosetta Warburton, had been transported along with Sarah and Caroline on the Britannia in 1798 and, the following year, had stood as a witness to Sarah's marriage to Patrick Byrne. Her partner Hugh Owens joined the 'Rum Corps' a month after Patrick (in May, 1801)
Three sons were born to William and Sarah: George (1810-1903), Thomas (1812-1836) and James (1815-1836) 7homas died by drowning, James in the act of 'throwing weights' -1836 a sad year for the family...)
George (1810-1903) married Catherine Crowe, the daughter of William Crowe (in 1837). Catherine's brother James married Susannah Byrne, daughter of James Byrne (the Sykes, Crowe and both Byrne family lines have been interlinked by marriage through several generations).
Left: George Sykes, son of William and Sarah.
Right: George's wife, Catherine (nee Crowe).
Governor Macquarie's arrival in 1810 betokened good fortune for William, most notably with his being granted an Absolute Pardon on March 17, 1810 A few months later, The Sydney Gazette of July 14 has William's name in a list of persons who 'will receive an order for such quantities of Cloth as they may be entitled to on account of wool delivered at the Factory at Parramatta'. The inference is that William had already developed some skill in raising sheep: it would not be too fanciful to presume that he had acquired a degree of expertise at Elizabeth Farm from careful scrutiny of the superb managerial skill of Elizabeth Macarthur.
The following year (July 30,1811) his name appears on a list of persons to receive grants of land in Appin. Moving there in December, 1812, the family settled in as pioneers on their 80 acres In September, 1812, we find William's being permitted to draw cattle from the Government herds on credit.
William's hard work so impressed Governor Macquarie that he rewarded him with an additional grant of land In his Journal of a Tour to the Cow Pastures and other parts of the Interior in the month of October 1815 , he writes:
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 set out 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 'Campbell's Pass' in honour of Mr Paymaster ... (1)
William was at Appin from 1812 till 1837 and during the first ten years had a very hard time As recorded in the May, 1903, edition of the short-lived periodical Old Times, William's stepson, William Byrne (1808-1906) recalled 'Outrages by both blacks and whites extended over the years 1813... up till 1816, when the settlers were granted military protection.' He went on to say:
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 into them. The blacks (sic), however, 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 woman and two children The blacks found out the names of these men - Price and Noonan - and laid (sic) in wait on the plantation. They killed Noonan on the spot, but Price, though he had several spears sticking into him, managed to run about 200 yards, as far as Mr Kennedy's gates, when a well-directed spear went through his heart. (John Kennedy had married William's eldest step-daughter, Caroline Catapodi on August 30,1S13 - the marriage being recorded at Windsor, the bride as Caroline Best (Vol. 3, # 1544). My eldest sister (probably Caroline - technically, his step-sister) went past the body a few minutes later, but she was unharmed The fact that Mr Kennedy had buried the lubra and two piccaninnies I have just mentioned, and fenced the graves' ) off on his ground, probably had something to do with this. (There are two graves at the corner of Teston Farm, John Kennedy's property (Geoffrey Sykes, The History of the Sykes Family in Australia, p.4.)
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 give 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, shot sixteen of them, and hanged three on McGee's Hill They afterwards cut off the heads and brought them to Sydney, where the Government paid them 30s and a gallon of rum each for them. After this we had three soldiers billeted on each homestead, and things were fairly quiet after 1816, when they were removed back to Sydney.
One day a fine young aboriginal (sic) named Moudonigi, who had been partly brought up by Mr Kennedy, came rushing up to our place, saying that a tribe of blacks (sic) were close at hand, determined to exterminate all of us After a hasty consultation, my step-father sent my mother and sisters to Mr Kennedy's homestead, and then determined to defend the house as best he could Luckily the soldiers had left some of their old uniforms when they were removed to Sydney My father put on one, my brother another, and Moudonigi dressed himself in the third He got on the roof with an old musket, and he was a capital shot, I can tell you But there was no need to do anything in the way of shooting No sooner did the blacks see the King's red uniform than that was enough for them We saw no more of them, and were never afterwards troubled with them.
William named his farm Mount Britain - there is quite a prominent hill in the centre of the property, such that its full extent can be appreciated by standing on top of it. He built a weatherboard house of four rooms, with a barn (their residence initially) and outhouses. He undertook the clearing of most of the 450 acres that he eventually owned - a big job as the country which is bordering the property is very thickly timbered, even today. In this he was assisted by the growing family and by assigned convicts. We get an insight into how much these convicts obviously appreciated him as a considerate master if we read between the lines in another of his step-son William's reminiscences:
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 hidden the missing products there I now learnt the reason of my step-father being 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 now being 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 (it is more likely that Mooney went to Dr Harris's Ultimo House, situated a short distance away in the area that has become in time the suburb of Ultimo. To travel on foot to Homebush and back would have taken all day - or longer!), 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." (Old Times , May, 1903, p.106).
Obviously, Mooney would not have gone to so much trouble (at some risk to himself ...) if he had not held his former employer in high regard.
To William's original grant of 80 acres (30 Jul, 1811), there were added 70 acres on the occasion of Macquarie's visit and again 180 acres on 17 August, 1819.
William grew corn and wheat and ran sheep of a special Spanish breed, very likely early Merinos. A clear measure of William's success is conveyed in the 1822 Muster of the Liverpool District, taken by Thomas Moore J.P We find that William owned 370 acres, 60 in wheat, 15 in maize, 5 in barley and one acre of potatoes. His stores held 60 bushels of wheat and 150 of maize His livestock comprised 4 horses, 14 head of cattle, 300 sheep and 50 hogs.
In 1826, William applied for a liquor licence for an inn, to be erected in Appin, while handing over the management of Mount Britain to his son George. The licence was issued, in the name of the Appin Inn, in October, 1827 (the inn is still standing in Appin, directly opposite St Bede's Catholic Church - as shown right).
However, William was perturbed by the potential competition arising from the 27 June 1827 petition from Patrick Callaghan to the Bench of Magistrates at Campbelltown, also requesting a licence at Appin. This petition was signed by W.H.Broughton, John Dwyer, Moses Brennan, William Crowe, James Byrne, John Trotter, John Burke and Michael Burke. Letters in support were received also from W.P. Faithfull and G.Tate. A licence in the name of Patrick Callaghan was approved on 31 July, 1827.
Fearing for his own livelihood, William objected strongly to the licences being granted to Patrick Callaghan: a lengthy correspondence ensued, involving Governor Darling, the Bench of Magistrates and William.
In William's letter of 27 Aug., 1827, he stated
' ... lately a poor 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 ... Callaghan was fined twenty five pounds, and the Chief Constable Ryan dismissed from office and yet Callaghan is now recommended for a spirit licence'
Nonetheless, a licence was granted to Patrick Callaghan: this must have produced a lot of competition in the small town of Appin: in his A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies , James Backhouse describes Appin as 'village (that) consists of two public houses, a few slab huts and a wooden lock-up house' (Backhouse and George Washington Walker, affiliated with the Society of Friends (Quakers), spent six years in the 1830s travelling throughout the settled parts of Australia, evangelising) Backhouse actually begins his observations on Appin by reference to 'a respectable widow with a large family' J.P. McGuanne, writing in the 2 July, 1920 edition of the newspaper The Campbelltown News , asserts this to have been 'Mrs Catapodia' (sic) If so, Backhouse's reference to Sarah as 'a respectable widow with a large family' may have arisen from his having heard of - but only partially understood - her rather interesting 'marital history' and with William, in all probability, absent at the time - quite possibly at Mount Britain . Several miles away By the 1830s, of course, Sarah's 'large family' had dwindled to just two young sons still at home. I believe McGuane's assertion may be an inaccurate supposition.
With William's free licence automatically expiring in March, 1828, he wrote to the Colonial Secretary, asking if it could be renewed Successful, William continued to run the inn until 1833, when he sold it to Nicholas Carberry. Evidently, competition with Patrick Callaghan and his Union Inn by then had proved difficult for William, even leading him to change the name of his from the Appin Inn to the Union Revived Inn. The section built by William has been enlarged and the original stone has been covered by bricks. For a time, the building was used as the Carrollan Guest House (shown right in 1923) and, more recently as a private residence.
1827 was a significant year for William for another reason also - centred on a sensational event that is now perpetuated in an annual Campbelltown festival, as also in a prominent landmark (a creek at the southern end of the CBD). The 5 February, 1827, edition of The Sydney Gazette reports that William Sykes was the second witness in the trial of George Worrall - for the murder, the previous July, of Frederick Fisher of Campbelltown (giving rise to the legend of Fisher's Ghost) Fisher vanished from his Campbelltown farm on 17 June, 1826 George Worrall told all and sundry that Fisher had returned to England as he was worried about a forgery against Nathaniel Boon. Fisher's departure appeared to be sufficient justification for Worrall's taking over his property and stock A neighbour, Farley, was therefore surprised when he thought he saw Fisher sitting on the slip-rails of his paddock fence. As Farley was walking up to speak to him, Fisher got down from the slip-rails and walked along the creek where he was lost from sight.
Since Farley could not find Fisher, he made a deposition before the local magistrates Gilbert, a blacktracker, and another Koori were taken to the slip-rails They discovered 'white man's blood' on the rails and 'white man's fat' in the water of the creek Prodding around with an iron bar, they eventually discovered the body of a man, later identified as Fisher This led to the subsequent trial of Worrall William was called upon to give evidence because he had unwittingly purchased land, some horses and a gig from Worrall.
In 1827 also we find mention of William's entering a horse in the Campbelltown Races (The Sydney Gazette , 13 August, 1827): this suggests that William was fairly well off, with time for leisure.
It would appear that 1827 also saw the relocation of William's eldest son George to Spring Valley, south of Goulburn His step-brother, John Byrne, had already moved south in 1823, eventually taking up land that he named Spring Valley - evidently after the D'Arcy property at Appin (with the whole district soon taking on the name, John's original property was renamed Woodbrook).
We can only conjecture just who was attending to the day-to-day running of Mount Britain , from 1827 on: John Byrne and George Sykes were by now in the district of Argyle and William Byrne, after learning the tanning trade in Liverpool, was established by 1828 as a bootmaker in Sydney. (The 1828 Census shows him residing in Campbell St with his recently married sister, Matilda, and her husband John Carey. He appears to be the John Carey who was licensee of the controversial Union Inn from November, 1831, until 1836. John and Matilda's fifth child, Catherine, was baptised in Appin in February, 1836.) The bulk of the heavier farm work must have been handled by assigned convicts, with assistance from teenagers Thomas and James Sykes. The Byrne girls were all married by then - Ann in 1824 and Matilda and Mary in 1826 - and no doubt had all left the family home (although Mary remained a near neighbour, her husband Francis Kenny owning the land adjoining Mount Britain. In fact, by 1838, Francis Kenny had acquired 150 acres of William's original grants, with William retaining the southernmost 180 acres bordering the river. (Francis and Mary Kenny's son John married James Byrne's daughter Catherine in 1852. Ten years later, their second son Edward married Ellen, daughter of George and Catherine Sykes). In 1828, William is recorded as owning 450 acres (150 cleared, 87 cultivated), with 53 cattle and 250 sheep In 1836, he sold 130 acres, for £132.0.0, to Robert Campbell, acting for the Bank of NSW This land would appear to be the bulk of that acquired by Francis Kenny within the next few months.
They had their corn and wheat gristed at the Old Mill still standing on Macarthur Onslow's property, Mt Gilead, built in 1834 (by convicts). Thomas Rose who had the Mt Gilead windmill built, didn't purchase Mt. Gilead (or Gilead Farm) until 1818. Wrecked the same night as the Dunbar, it is now used as a water tower.
Looking south from the site of the original Mount Britain buildings. Foreground: John Tarlinton, descendant of Sarah (nee Best) and Patrick Byrne. The shaded area indicates Mount Britain - William Sykes' property.
William, touching seventy years of age in 1838, was winding up his affairs in Appin, prior to retiring with Sarah to live with George and his young bride Catherine in Spring Valley. The remaining 250 acres that he still owned in Appin were eventually ceded to George in 1844 - the latter eventually sold this land in 1852.
The remains of George and Catherine's house at Spring Valley where William and Sarah lived from about 1836 till their deaths.
October of the following year marked a sad time for William, with the death of Sarah on the 28th His own death, at the age of 86 years, followed just over nine months later, on August 4, 1853 Fortified by the rites of the Catholic faith that he had embraced on August 24, 1834, he was buried in the same grave as Sarah in the Ryansvale cemetery (begun by the original landowners, the Ryan brothers - James, John & Michael - on what became in time the Maple-Browns' celebrated Springfield).
Because of the abandoned state of the old Ryansvale cemetery, subject to flooding and the indeliberate wantonness of straying cattle, several of William's and Sarah's great-greatgrandsons - Adrian, Eric, Geoff and Neil Sykes - arranged the reinterment of their forbears' remains in the Spring Valley cemetery, alongside the last resting places of so many of their descendants and under the same 'Ryansvale' headstone, with an additional tablet commemorating the transfer.
Paul Reardon, with daughters Jennfer and Patricia, and Brother John Moran, at the start of exhumation. Paul, descended from Sarah (nee Best) and Patrick Byrne, married Mary Sykes, descended from Sarah (nee Best) and William Sykes. Geoff Sykes (Brother Coman) holding William's femur. Gwen and Adrian Sykes examining William's skull. The Ryansvale cemetery. The headstone from Ryansvale cemetery The new resting place at Spring Valley.
'We walk across the unkempt grass, remnants of the dead beneath our feet…
until we find the stone, a plaque of marble buried in the thistles...
set up and paid for by other closer sons I see your name;
...it's shadowed by late sun upon a rock with a call to pray for you.
Thistles stab blood upon our flesh when we kneel to say the prayer…
Bowing our heads, continents away from Clerkenwell.'
(The concluding verses of Patrick Coady's Searching for Sarah - 23 October, 1983, from his anthology Words (p.65), Dominic Press, Cronulla, 1994. Patrick (1928-1999), great-great-great-grandson of Patrick Byrne and Sarah, was President of the Poetry Society of Australia in the 1960s and a member of the group that produced the first issues of Quadrant).
The History of the Sykes Family in Australia William's Trial