Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

James Kerton

Convict at Newcastle and Morpeth

James Kerton alias James Winkfield was sentenced to seven years transportation at King's Lynn, Norfolk Quarter Sessions on 13 April 1807. He was sent to the Retribution Hulk at Woolwich where his crime was recorded as grand larceny. He was transferred from the hulk to the convict ship Admiral Gambier on 27th May 1808. [1]

James Kerton was a carpenter by trade which could have seen him live a comfortable life in his new world however a run of back luck and some disastrous decisions saw him existing precariously on the edge of the law for years and ultimately resulted in his incarceration in the most notorious penal colony of New South Wales.

He had been in the colony for ten years before he was first punished for a serious offence and afterwards there were interludes where his fortunes changed for the better however after 1818 he was in and out of various gaols where he was punished severely several times over.

In his first transgression in 1818 he was convicted at the Criminal Court of purchasing a shirt from a prisoner, and passing upon him a forged bill for 2s 6d in payment. For this crime he was sentenced to two months in the gaol gang [2]. However his real troubles began after he married widow Mary Dial in August 1820. Mary had been sentenced to transportation for 7 years at Nottingham Town Assizes on 22 October 1818. She arrived on the Janus in May 1820. Mary was accompanied by Elizabeth, her daughter with former husband Daniel Doyle who was a soldier of the 48th regiment. There was also another daughter Caroline who was sent to the female orphanage in July 1820.

In 1821 James was sentenced to transportation to Newcastle for two years and fined £50 for keeping a disorderly house and selling liquors without a license, a crime he denied [3]. He was later described by the Judge Advocate as a most infamous character and was to remain in gaol until the fine was paid. His wife Mary and her daughter Elizabeth applied to join him at Newcastle. [4] Two children Eliza and James Henry were also granted permission to live with him at Newcastle in 1821. [5]

At Newcastle James leased for a time a cottage in the township which interestingly he described as being made of cedar. While at Newcastle he was accused of another crime brought about by some illegal dealings of his wife. He again denied the charges however was punished and sentenced to work at the lime burner's gang near Newcastle. When he was released from his sentence he found that Mary had taken up with another man and she and the children returned to Sydney. In 1823 when his term of imprisonment at Newcastle was ended, a petition on his behalf allowed that he could be released even though the fine had not been paid. At first he was incarcerated in Sydney Gaol however by December 1823 he had been released.

He was afterwards assigned to Edward Close at Morpeth where he states he built a house before being given a ticket of leave one month before he was awarded his Certificate of Freedom which was granted in September 1824. The house that he mentions may have been the first house built for Edward Close.

After he became free he was employed by Alexander Shand to make furniture.

Letter of Protest

The first issue of The Monitor was published in May 1826 by Edward Smith Hall and Edward Hill. Edward Smith Hall was a champion of convicts, campaigner for social justice and for freedom of the press. Through The Monitor, he opposed Gov. Darling's oppressive laws including allowing constables to be rewarded with the fines of those convicted of breaches of Licensing and Gambling directives.

James Kerton's correspondence published in The Monitor in 1826 reveals the precarious situation of many ex-convicts and also gives his account of the personal persecution he endured. It may also have been carefully compiled under the watchful eye of Edward Smith Hall to underline the injustice of the laws in general.

To the Editor of The Monitor


I am a free man, and have been so about twelve years, and am now a shop-keeper in Parramatta, and besides woollens and linens, I supply the people with bread and spruce-beer.

The overseer of the road gang on the Windsor road, a soldier, is an acquaintance of mine, and on Sunday the 25th ultimo, he requested me to let him have a joint of the pig I was about to kill on Saturday the 1st instant, and he would send a man for it. On Sunday the 2nd instant, the overseer and his gang came in to mass and to church. Mass is over before church, and one of the gang came to my house before the church service was ended, and said, he had directions to wait till the overseer called for him. At the time the man came in, I had two visitors (native lads) in the house, free men. My own family consists of my adopted son and myself, and a woman servant, free.

Presently, five assigned servants of Mr. G. Blaxland with passes, and who had been at mass, called on their way home. One wanted bread and the others came with him by chance. Immediately afterwards a native of the name of Hussey came in to enquire after a waistcoat which he had previously ordered. In about a quarter of an hour, we heard a violent rap at the door, and a loud voice as if in some excitation was heard,

"I insist upon your opening the door or I'll burst it in."

I, thinking it was some drunkard, replied that I should not open it. Immediately afterwards, Mr Thorn, Chief Constable, looked in at the window, I instantly directed the door to be opened. The moment the door was opened, Mr. Thorn and Wells the Constable entered the house, and searched it, without shewing a warrant - and an officer belonging to the Bench, stood at the gate shouting for more constables, who ran from all quarters, and the front of my house became like a fair.

Hand-cuffs being sent for, Thorn secured all the government-men, (notwithstanding they shewed him their passes) and took the free men to the watch-house. It appeared to me that these rude invaders of my house, wanted to justify their outrage by pretending we were drinking, for Mr. Thorn taking down a tumbler from the chimney-piece in which were the remains of some spruce-beer, said, "there's rum in this," - but the other constable Wells, on tasting it, said, "Oh no - there's no rum in this - but there's pepper - it's pepper-beer." Thorn then said to me, "do you keep a public-house, " I said no. He answered "why then allow so many people here? I replied "they are all here on innocent business - the men are well dressed, clean and peaceable, and have passes, and this is my own house?"

AFTER this, the overseer above mentioned, called, and seemed surprised that Thorn should have put hand-cuffs on his man, for although he had no pass, none was required, seeing that he came in with his overseer to mass. The overseer then took the joint of pork and went his way. In the course of the day, as my neighbours were not allowed to come to me, I went and consulted with the most experienced of them as to the probable issue. The bench being like all the country benches, in the habit of levying fines, they one and all told me that I should be fined 10 dollars for each of the visitors, and myself 100. If I had known as much as I do now, I should not have believed them; but at that time being greatly agitated, and in fact in the utmost dread, as much so as any poor Spaniard is of the inquisition, I pondered all night on the best method I could pursue to save my little property from the fangs of the law.

I rose early next morning, sold my two pigs at a loss of 30s. and removed all the goods - and lest the magistrates' bailiff should find out the great bulk, I deposited a few here and a few there. In carrying them to different neighbours, I was bid an under-price for some, which I considered it prudent not to refuse. And as I expected I should be compelled to leave the neighbourhood (for I had resolved to abscond rather than go to jail) I also sold some chairs, maize, pumpkins, and flour, being cumbrous articles.

On Monday morning, all the men were carried before
Dr. Harris , and Mr. Thorn stated he had entered my house on a private information being given him that I had men drinking in my house, but that he found nothing but the sediments of some ginger beer. You will of course expect to hear, Mr. Editor, that the magistrate severely reproved the chief constable for daring to search my house without a warrant - and for the still greater outrage of imprisoning three free native lads who were sitting quietly in my house on the sabbath day, and to whom I had (after shaving one of them as a friend, for I'm no barber) read a chapter or two in the Bible, as they can testify. But the magistrate made no such remarks. In the first instance, he ordered a constable to go for me.

I was not at home, being busy in stowing my goods among my neighbours. The constable returned and told the magistrate that I was off to the Hawkesbury, and had left the town altogether. I am told he replied by addressing himself to the men in charge, saying, that it was a good thing for them I had gone away, as it would save the Convict prisoners from being flogged, and the free prisoners from being fined. The latter were then bound over to appear before a full bench next Saturday, (the 28th inst.) and the former ordered to attend at the same time. But upon what charge we do not know, as no depositions were made against them that I could hear

Norfolk to Sydney

Now, sir, you have often in your public character spoken of the oppressions which the prisoners of this country have endured from those whom you call the old hands . I should never have made my wrongs known, but being again ruined under the appearance of law, I feel that tho' this letter, and the disclosures therein, may be my ruin, I had better be ruined and perish, than continue to drag on an existence which has been one of inquisitorial terror, ever since I was free.

To go on then, sir, with my history. In the year 1807, on the 13th of April, I was sentenced, at Lynn, in Norfolk, to 7 years' transportation, for marrying two wives. I do not acknowledge the justness of that sentence, because my first wife was an adulteress. But it was no easy matter for a poor man without counsel, and never in a court of justice before, to prove that in mitigation of sentence. In the year 1809, on the 21st of December, I arrived in the
Admiral Gambier , (1st.) Reid, Master. I was first assigned to the Hospital, and afterwards to the Camp Gang - with my earnings I bought some geese which had been stolen - I knew not this at the time, but I knew, it afterwards - I concealed it - it was discovered, and Colonel Foveaux ordered me a hundred lashes, which I endured. I was sent to the road gang, afterwards to the lumber yard-for not going to church on Sunday, I received 25 lashes - this was in Macquarie's time.


I remained in the Lumber-yard till I was free. I then built a house for Mr. Devine. I kept on working as a carpenter till I was married; and then I settled at Parramatta, where I baked and kept shop. I lived comfortably at Parramatta for 18 months. This was in the year 1821. I then discovered my wife was intimate with a magistrate of the colony, whose name I will reveal at the proper time and place. I discovered them together under circumstances the most distressing to a husband who has either any respect for his wife or himself. Soon after this, I was summoned to appear before the Bench at Parramatta, for keeping a disorderly house. Mr. Garling defended me. Mr. Garling had to come up three times before I could get a hearing, which was expensive to me. The constables, swore they saw men drinking in my house, and gambling, by tossing up half-pence. They deposed to no other disorder, save they swore generally, that there were noises in my house in the night-time, and quarrels. The whole of this was false ; and as long as the present system of allowing fees and fines continues, so long will peaceable house-holders be subject to the new English inquisition, established in this colony, under the plea of preserving our morals pure. It was holiday-time, and my neighbours had played a game of cards at my house, for trifling sums, but I declare before God, I never had real gambling in my house.

My enemies, however, instigated by the paramour of my wife, were too much for me. The accused can scarcely ever prove a negative. It is difficult for a man to prove to the satisfaction of magistrates to whom he is obnoxious, that there was no tossing up - that there was not a noise at night in his house. It was not even pretended that bad women were seen in my house. Nevertheless, I was committed to take my trial - and was afterwards sentenced by Judge Wylde, to be imprisoned (not transported) for two years, and pay a fine of 50l. to the King. Wells, the constable, the same man who entered my house without a warrant last Sunday, said to me before my trial came on, "you think of getting the upper hand of me, but in your sentence you will be fined and confined." Mr. Garling, after I was sentenced, told me, I had not been dealt with according to law, and left the court as it appeared to me indignant.


I was transported to Newcastle. Governor Macquarie permitted my wife to accompany me; for, being broken-hearted, and having some bits of things which she alone could take care of, I forgave her - she also had two children (not mine) which I did not like to cast off. On my arrival at Newcastle, I was not allowed to work for myself, although Governor Macquarie had informed my wife on account of her children, that I should be so allowed - but Major Morriset employed me in making bird-cages, tables, etc. for Mrs. Hayes, his concubine; and gave me the King's rations and slops with the rest of the prisoners.

I hired a little house with two rooms and a skillen, letting the latter to lodgers. The houses are built chiefly of cedar, and the carpenters who had lived in the house previously, left on the tye-beams some remnants of cedar, measuring 18 inches by 6¾ thick - with these I made some trays for domestic use. My wife made gowns. She was accused of purloining half-a-yard. My house was searched, and the trays were taken to the Major. My account of them was not believed, although I shewed the constable the place in the loft- floor from which I had taken them. I received 50 lashes and was ordered to the lime-burners for the rest of my sentence, and to be worked in irons on bread and water, which I endured.

The cat with which I was scourged, was the same, or one of the same, which Mr. Bigge the Commissioner took with him to England. It was called the Rogue's cat, and was composed of nine thongs as thick as the tip-end of the little finger. Each thong had several knots. I examined one of the knots, and found small pieces of lead in it. I received 25 lashes on the back and 25 on the breech. I was much excoriated. My shirt stuck to my back, and the only mitigation of my sufferings was anointing my shirt with the slush which the cook gave me. He also washed my back with warm water every other day. My wife was not allowed to visit me. It was a dark dungeon with a stone floor, and I was allowed no bedding, blanket nor straw. There was nothing to sit down upon. I had to sit on the cold floor. The nights were very cold, it being in September. When I got out, I found my wife had made improper connexions - I felt I could no longer support her and her children - I therefore consented to her going up, to Sydney


I was then assigned to Lieutenant Close and built him a house. He gave me a kind of ticket-of- leave one month before I was free. I worked after I was free for Mr. Shand and made furniture for him. I was again apprehended and put into gaol by Major Morriset , on the plea, that I had not paid the fine of £50, part of the Judge Advocate's sentence. I was sent up to Sydney with the other prisoners. I remained in the Sydney gaol 17 weeks. I then memorialised Governor Brisbane and was let out.


I went to work for Mr. Crane and rented a house from him on the rocks. A black man (free) lodged with me and helped to pay the rent. One night I returned home from my work and found two constables having two men in custody - they took me in charge - next morning I was accused of harbouring bushrangers. It appears two men had run into my kitchen and were there apprehended. I had seen the men about the premises, but had paid no attention to them. I was sentenced to pay a fine of £10. which not being able to do, I was again sent to gaol. I laid there three weeks ; and the bench by that time, thinking me probably innocent, rescinded the sentence. I then worked for Mr. Archbold. Mr. Bradley trusted me with some tools. I did work for Mr. A. to the amount of £50. but have only received £21. I then made boxes and sold them in the Sydney market.

My wife, finding I was. getting on, came back, and expressed great contrition. I received her back - she stopt with me nine days, and then took away tea, sugar and linen, and went back to her paramour, with whom she now lives.

Parramatta Road

I then went to live on the Parramatta road, and sold ginger beer, bread, etc. like Mr. Swinton, and when I got the house in good repair, I was hurried out by Mrs. Haslam, and built a new skillen half-a-mile lower down. Three men came one day and asked for ginger beer, but finding they would not pay for it I dismissed them. I believe Haslam from whence they had just come, sent them to get me into trouble, for before the men had well gone away, he. and a gentleman (who was riding by) seized the three men. I appeared before my old friend Dr. Harris once more. I pleaded I lived by selling ginger beer, and that I merely sold the men beer the same as other passengers. I was fined 20 dollars for harbouring bushrangers. An execution was put in my house. I paid the money and hope it will be appropriated to the public service. I then took a farm from Mr. Smith on the Windsor road and lived there nine months and built a house. Two soldiers came in and had their dinner and robbed me - they were tried at Windsor. On the trial, Mr. Howe and Dr. Harris questioned me if I had not been to the Coal River. The soldiers were acquitted.

I was afterwards taken up and found guilty of selling spirits without a licence, and not being able to pay the fine, I was put in gaol for three months. The informers hoped to get half the fine. I was entirely innocent. Whilst in gaol my house was burnt down. I then came and settled at Parramatta - this was about two months ago. This is my history. A man who has once been before the court is ever after the prey of every villainous informer and constable. I have no rest for the sole of my foot. If I go to the town I am pursued. If to a farm I am still pursued.

I remain Mr. Editor,
A persecuted and oppressed Emancipist.[6]

Norfolk Island

Two years later James Kerton is recorded in the 1828 Census as a dealer residing at Parramatta, age 54.

In August 1831 he was charged with receiving stolen goods - one blanket, value five shillings, and five other blankets, value twenty shillings, the property of Thomas Foster, Esq. knowing the same to have been stolen. [7] The Sydney Gazette reported....The informer, Monaghan, who lately figured in the Supreme Court, was the principal witness in this case, and swore positively that, after the robbery, in which he bore a part, the blankets were taken to the prisoner's house, and received by him, with a knowlege that they had been stolen.[8]

At the Parramatta Quarter Sessions James Kerton was sentenced to be transported to such penal settlement as His Excellency the Governor may think fit for seven years for receiving the above stolen property.[9]

He was sent to Norfolk Island penal settlement, considered by many to be the harshest in the colony. Here he once again crossed paths with his old nemesis Colonel James Morisset who had been appointed Commandant at Norfolk Island in 1829 - 1834. Colonel Morisset was absent from the colony having returned to England, in the years 1825 - 1827, so perhaps he may not have read the above correspondence published in 1826 in which he was mentioned so disparagingly.


James Kerton would have been about 57 years of age when he was sent to Norfolk Island in 1831. He served his full sentence and returned to Sydney on the Governor Phillip in April 1838, one of ten men, all of whom would forever carry the ignominy of being a Norfolk Island Expiree.

He was discharged from Hyde Park Barracks on 28 April 1838 however his life of servitude was not quite over. Just three months later in July 1838 aged around 65 years, he was sent to Parramatta Gaol under sentence of 3 months on the treadmill in the House of Correction. [10]


It may have been James Kerton who died at Parramatta on 11th August 1839. His name was recorded as 'Kewerton' in the burial register of St. John's Church, however he had been known by many names over the years including Kerton, Kirton, Katon, Keaton, Keating, Winkfield and - curiously - in 1831 the Goose Doctor.


[1] UK Prison Hulk Registers. Ancestry

[2] Sydney Gazette 31 January 1818

[3] Sydney Gazette 11 August 1821

[4] Colonial Secretarys Index. (Fiche 3234; 4/1870 p.2)

[5] Colonial Secretarys Index (Reel 6008; 4/3504 p.287)

[6] The Monitor 7 July 1826 and The Monitor 14 July 1826

[7] Sydney Gazette 13 August 1831

[8] Gazette 13 October 1831 Curiously around 1831 he began to be referred to as 'The Goose Doctor' SydneyHerald 17 October 1831

[9] Darlinghurst Gaol Entrance Books. State Archives NSW; Roll: 854

[10] Parramatta Gaol Entrance Book State Archives NSW; Roll: 175.