Peel River 1844
Eighteen year old William Baker was tried at the Old Bailey on 3rd April 1816. He received a sentence of death for stealing a mare from John Green in Cold-bath-lane in Hackney in 1816. Four witnesses gave him an excellent character and on account of this and his youth he was recommended for mercy.
He arrived in Australia on the convict ship Morley in 1817 and was assigned to the Windsor district after being disembarked.
In November 1820 he applied to married Eleanor Cosier at Parramatta however before this could take place he was convicted of an unknown crime and on 25th November 1820 he was sentenced by the Parramatta Bench of Magistrates to two years at Newcastle penal settlement.
In December 1822 he was on a list of convicts assigned to John Pendergast at Windsor. In August 1823 at Parramatta he applied to marry Mary Ann Smith who had arrived on the Providence. He was sent to Port Macquarie in 1823.
By 1828 he was assigned to the Australian Agricultural Company at Port Stephens perhaps as a shepherd as he obtained a ticket of leave for the Patrick Plains district in 1835. He was granted a Conditional Pardon and found employment carrying the mail between Murrurundi and Tamworth.
In 1841 Baker was accused of stealing 4 mares belonging to John Single who owned Summerhill station near Weary's Creek There must have been further accusations from other settlers, because early in January 1844, a £25 10s reward was offered by the Government and the Port Stephens bench for his apprehension for being 'concerned in committing depredations on the stock belonging to settlers in the district of the upper Hunter.'
The following week it was reported in the Maitland Mercury that he had been captured at the Peel River - and in endeavouring to escape got well pommelled for his pains by the police. Whoever this poor fellow was who was 'pommelled' by the police, is not known, however it was not Baker. A month later P. G. King wrote to the Maitland Mercury with the news that Baker had not been taken at the Peel: - 'The effect (of the statement) must be that the police and other parties will take no further trouble to look after him; and as Baker has not been taken at the Peel, as above stated, he has by this time no doubt benefited by the report which has been circulated by your paper, and has now made his escape: thereby evading the punishment which would have been awarded to him when convicted, as he most probably would have been, of horse stealing. I have therefore to request that you will give the statement alluded to an immediate contradiction'.
William Baker must have learned a lot about living rough since his days as a London shoemaker. Certainly he would have known much of the territory as far as Tamworth from his days as a letter carrier, however the territory north would have been unknown to him. Nevertheless this former London shoemaker, conditional pardon holder and mailman became known as 'a notorious horse stealer and bushranger'. For months he eluded the Division of Mounted Police sent in pursuit.
In his desperate bid for freedom he was pursued from station to station by dogged men who refused to give up. He was finally captured at Bowen River within two days journey of Brisbane. Corporal Grahame and private John Lamb were the two men who would claim the reward money. They returned with Baker to Stroud where on the 2nd of May he appeared before P. G. King and James Ebsworth of the Australian Agricultural Company who then committed him for trial.
Newcastle gaol top right
He was taken to Newcastle gaol and admitted there on the 8th May. Other men admitted to Newcastle gaol that day included notorious bushrangers and pirates James Edwards, Henry Elgar, Henry Hughes, Samuel Ringwood, Buchanan Wilson and Robert Whitehead.
William Baker was held in Newcastle gaol nearly five months awaiting his trial at the Quarter Sessions, and finally appeared before Justice a'Beckett at the Maitland Quarter Sessions on Tuesday 17th September 1844. He was sentenced to transportation for ten years.
The following day he was embarked on the steamer to Sydney to begin his sentence.
Maitland Mercury 20 January 1844
Maitland Mercury 27 January 1844
Maitland Mercury 24 February 1844
Maitland Mercury 11 May 1844
Maitland Mercury 7 September 1844
Maitland Mercury 24 September 1844
Newcastle Gaol entrance books 8th May 1844
Sydney Gazette 21 March 1835
Peel River 1844