Pilots and Harbour Masters at Newcastle

William Eckford


William Eckford arrived free on the Earl Cornwallis in 1801. On the journey out he met Mary Horrell, a prisoner from Devonshire who was only 14 years old when she was convicted of stealing a muslin apron and handkerchief and sentenced to 7 years transportation. (1)

In 1813 William was convicted of stealing three sheep and was sentenced to death. (The Sydney Gazette recorded him as William Hickford) (2).  The sheep had strayed into Eckford's flock and were killed and pickled by John Johnston, William's overseer.

Both William Eckford and John Johnston were tried and condemned to death, however William's sentence was commuted and he was sent to the Newcastle Penal Settlement in 1814.  His children were amongst the first pupils at the school in Newcastle in 1816. He was exonerated of the stealing incident in 1821. (1)

William was employed as harbour pilot at Newcastle where he remained for many years however received no salary. Instead he was allowed to collect fees. For every vessel in or out of the harbour under 50 tons, 10/-; over 50 tons and under 100 tons, 20/-; over 100 tons and under 150 tons' 30/-; for every additional 50 tons, 20/-.

William Eckford was interviewed by Commissioner J.T. Bigge in 1820.

Sons Joseph and Peter were born in Newcastle, and his last daughter Mary Ann was also born there in 1820. She and a native boy perished at Newcastle in 1826 after a calamitous explosion in the settlement's store house blew the roof off the building. Mary aged 6 and her friend had been playing inside and both died a few days later. The native lad was buried in the Parsonage garden(3) and Mary was buried in Christ Church burial ground  Read more about the explosion here

In June 1828 the sloop Dove was lost off Port Stephens after experiencing strong winds. Seven people lost their lives in this disaster. The famous Lord Liverpool also ran into difficulties in these June squalls, and if not for the skill of Captain Livingstone the cutter would have been lost. William Eckford had attempted to come to the aid of the Lord Liverpool in his leaky old pilot's boat, ('a cockle shell' that should have been replaced eight months previously) but almost drowned in the process.(5)   Eckford retired soon after this after many years service as a pilot. Few probably knew the harbour better than William Eckford, however perhaps this near calamity with the Lord Liverpool was the last straw. He was over 70 years old by this time and retired to Maitland where his sons John, Henry, William, James, Joseph and Peter resided. He received a pension of 4/13/9- on retirement. (4)

In 1823 his name was included on the return of land cleared and other improvements made by settlers on Hunter's River and Patterson's River. His land was located in township no. 19, section 21/22. There was a barn on the land as well as a wattle and plaster cottage and a pig yard. (Fiche 3264; 4/7029E pp.2-3)




(1) McRae-Clift,  AEnone, (from Maitland District Pre 1900 Pioneer Register, Maitland Family History Circle Inc. 2001, p87)

(2) Sydney Gazette 20 November 1813

(3) Australian 21 October 1826

(4) Sydney Gazette 8 September 1829

(5) Australian 13 June 1828




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