Small John

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John and Elizabeth Small

Extracted from one of our Publications:

"Grafton and the Early Days on the Clarence"


John Small was born in 1764 and came out on the “Charlotte” in the first fleet, under Captain Phillip - he attracted Phillip’s attention by his gentlemanly manner and trustworthiness and became his personal servant - known as the “Sergeant”.

On October 12th, 1788 he married another first fleeter Mary Parker, who had come out on the “Lady Penrhyn”.

Their daughter, Rebecka (so spelt family tradition), therefore was born at Government House, the humble first one where her parents were employed, on 22nd September 1789. She was christened on 24th October 1789 - the Chronological Register of Marriages, Baptisms and Deaths (Kerrison James), shows there were many marriages before theirs and the Register of Baptisms, the one of Rebecka Small is number 70. Although a number of early ones were of children born at sea - she is mentioned in the Census of 1828, aged 40 years.

In this census, John Small is described as a Publican, living at Kissing Point with a land grant of 60 acres, 44 cattle and 350 sheep.

Francis Oaks was born 1771 and sailed in August 1796 with other missionaries of the London Missionary Society, to Tahiti. During the wars between the native tribes, the missionaries, who were without a large boat, were in a perilous position.

The brig “Nautilus” arrived in damaged condition and it seemed a gift from Heaven. The missionaries helped to repair it as fast as possible and 19 missionaries set off for Port Jackson, all hands helping to keep the boat afloat. They arrived on March 31st, 1798 and Oakes resigned.

He later married Rebecka Small, became a constable and they lived at Parramatta. He is mentioned many times in early histories of the colony. He was the father of seven sons and seven daughters. Rebecka Oakes lived to be 94 years of age and died in 1883.

Thomas and John, sons of John Small and Mary Parker, lived at Kissing Point, where Thomas had a ship building yard. He decided to sail for the “Big River” after Richard Craig was given one hundred pounds and his pardon for information regarding the wonderful stands of cedar to be found there.

John Small, whose wife was Elizabeth Patfield, accompanied by his son, John Frederick aged 19, came in the first boat “Susan” in 1838. Henry Thorne was in command. Henry Gillett, Francis Freeburn, Steve King and Henry Bums were also on the “Susan”. On the second trip they had another brother William and the Chowne Brothers.

John and Elizabeth’s daughter Harriet Small, was born in February 1842, after John had bought his wife to the Big River. They had eleven children, eight of whom were born at Kissing Point. Harriet was married July 23rd 1862, to Thomas Seller. John and Elizabeth were buried side by side in the family cemetery on Woodford Island.

John’s eldest son, John Frederick, was born in 1821 - he married twice, both wives being Chowne’s, his second wife Louisa was a niece of the first wife Matilda - Matilda’s mother 1774-1855, is also buried on Woodford Island, as are John F. and Matilda. Louisa is buried in Grafton cemetery.

The first settlement was on Woodford Island. At one time John and Thomas held under lease the whole of the island.

John’s first house was of cedar slabs and the second one of sandstone, this house, with brick additions, is still standing, and was later occupied by John Frederick.

John F’s. branding iron was presented to the Clarence River Historical Society by Mr. Hughes, who now lives in the house. John F. Small died in 1897.

The first saw-pit was on land later acquired by James Watson - The Chowne brothers had a pit where the Maclean Court House now stands. They also built a vessel to carry cedar to Sydney.

The third boat that returned to Sydney from the river carried cedar.

Thomas Small who thus pioneered the cedar industry by building and despatching the “Susan”, died at Kissing Point on November 1st 1863.


© Clarence River Historical Society Inc. PO Box 396, Grafton, NSW 2460

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