For 205 years, James Rixon has been buried in an unmarked grave at Windsor Cemetery in Western Sydney. Thanks to the efforts of some keen historians and descendants, a plaque commemorating their lives was unveiled on April 10, 2016. The people doing the unveiling are descendants of the five surviving sons of James Rixon and Amelia Goodwin.
Although the exact details of his birth have yet to be confirmed, it’s believed James Rixon was born in Derbyshire, England in the 1770s, At the time of his conviction and sentencing, he was living in Ilkeston, a small market town in the Erewash Valley, Derbyshire, although close to Nottinghamshire.
At the Lent Assizes 19 Mar 1792, the Derby Mercury reported the arrival of Sir Alexander Thomson, Kt., one of the Barons of his Majesty’s court of Exchequer, to hold the county assizes. There were only four prisoners, including James Hickson aged 22 who was “Charged on the oath of William Reed on Suspicion of privately stealing out of his Box in the House of William Webster, of Ilkeston, on Monday the 24th of October last, the Sum of Nine Guineas”. The sentence “To be hang’d” was commuted to Life imprisonment.
Before transportation occurred, James was removed from prison and spent several years on board the “Prudentia”, a prison hulk at Woolwich, Kent, where he worked, wearing leg irons, at His Majesty’s Dockyard. James Rixon came to Australia, leaving Portsmouth, England on November 7, 1797, on board “The Barwell”, an East India ship built in 1782 and reputedly a fast sailor. As Joye Walsh has reported her book, there was an “incident” on board “The Barwell” during its trip to Australia…
Although the ships log is silent on the matter, a private letter states that on the passage to the Cape 25 prisoners had planned to seize control of the vessel while the sailors were aloft and murder the officers. The plot was disclosed by an informer the night before the attempt was to be made. The next morning, as the convict reached the deck, the conspirators were seized, double-ironed and chained together. Although detained for a fortnight by calms and adverse winds, ran out to the Cape in 74 days. She was detained there until March 19, because her officers, fearing they would not find a profitable market at Port Jackson, desired to dispose of their European trade goods. Soon after leaving the cape another plot was allegedly hatched between the convicts and the soldiers to combine to seize the ship.
Although, there were 296 prisoners on board, by the time the Barwell arrived in Sydney on May 17 or May 18, 1798, nine prisoners had died.
Ater three years working as a convict, James Rixon obtained a Conditional Pardon and enlisted in the NSW Corps on March 25, 1801. According to Pamela Statham, this was as a subsitute for Charles Bennett.
Sometime between 1798 and 1801, James Rixon met Amelia Goodwin, also a convict.
Amelia Goodwin was also born in 1770 and her first marriage was to John Goodwin. When convicted she was 29 years old and living at Greenwich, England. Aged 29, she was charged with the theft from her employer of a large number of clothing and household items. According to the court record the value of the goods was 39-shillings, but Joye Walsh the listed goods far exceeded that amount. Amelia Goodwin was tried at Maidstone, Kent, found guilty of the offence on July 15, 1799 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. She is referred to in the court documents as Amy.
According to the historian, Portia Robinson, in her book, The Women Of Botany Bay, the two most common offences for which women were transported from London were stealing from employers and stealing from dwelling houses.
Amelia came to Australia on board the “Speedy”, the same vessel that was transporting the new Governor, Phillip Gidley-King. The Speedy was built on the Thames in 1779 and was a whaling ship, belonging to the fleet of Samuel Endersby and Co. The Speedy left England in November 1799 and arrived at Port Jackson on April 16, 1800. Of the 53 female convicts on board, 3 died by the time the ship arrived.
She was undoubtedly sent to gaol at Parramatta or may have been assigned to a settler or member of the NSW Corps. Amelia already had a husband at home in England which may explain why James Rixon and Amelia Goodwin never married. Or perhaps they reflected the nature of the time?
On Sunday, January 12, 1806, James Rixon and Amelia Goodwin made history! They became parents of triplets. This news made the front page of the Sydney Gazette on Sunday, January 19, 1806 and is believed to be the first recorded birth of triplets by a European woman in Australia. It was reported
“On the night of last Sunday se’nnight Amelia Rixon, the wife of a private in the New South Wales Corps, was safely delivered of three infants, two of whom are living and have a very promising appearance”
Over the following years they had four other children, moved around and James worked in the NSW Corps and making farm implements.
In 1807, he was, however, drummed out of the NSW Corps, although I am unaware of the reasons why.
Aged 36, James Rixon died on April 5, 1811 and is buried in an unmarked grave at St Matthew’s Church of England at Windsor (the oldest church in Australia, although the cemetery pre-dates construction of the current church). The cause of death was not listed on the certificate.
Although they never married, Amelia was recognised as James’ wife, receiving his land grant after his death.
Left with five sons, on December 23, 1816 (V18161990 3A/1816), Amelia Goodwin, using the name Emma Goodwin, married another former convict, Robert Burrows who had arrived in Australia on June 12, 1801.
Her marriage to Robert Burrows was short-lived: on January 25, 1820, Amelia’s husband, Robert Burrows accidentally drowned in the creek at Aspinall’s Farm, near Windsor.
In 1826, the sons, Thomas and Henry Rixon and their stepbrother, Robert Burrows made a gruesome discovery, which led to an arrest for the murder of Frederick Fisher who had disappeared on June 17, 1826. It is reported that…
In October 1826 two boys, Rixon and Burrows, were returning home across Fisher’s farm and noticed bloodstains on a fence. Closer investigation found a lock of hair the same colour as Fisher’s hair and a tooth. Constable Luland searched the wheat paddock, prodding the ground with an iron bar, but found nothing. Old John Warby suggested Aboriginal trackers be called in. The ground was marshy, and Namut (known by the English name, Gilbert) the tracker from Liverpool, tasted the water in the puddles and announced ‘white fellow’s fat there’! They followed the puddles, prodding the ground, and found Fisher’s remains in a shallow grave on (George) Worrall’s land.
* James Rixon was born January 5, 1806. He married his sister-in-law Elizabeth Hoare on August 27, 1833 at St Peter’s Church of England, Campbelltown, the daughter of John Hoare and Elizabeth Love. According to his obituary, James “was one of the pioneers of this large district being, we believe the first man who brought a bullock-dray down from Monaro to Eden. Prior to his settling at Bega he built and kept for many years the Crown and Anchor Hotel, Eden.” He died September 12, 1873 at Bega, NSW (3335/1873). Fellow researcher, Annette West writes his death was “after a long period of time from heart disease an not by a accidental fall in the Commercial Hotel as is believed by some. Elizabeth ran the hotel for a year then went into hands of the Underhill’s. There is a news paper article about Elizabeth’s departure saying that she was going to take charge of a hotel near the wharf at Merimbula.”
* William Rixon was born October 17, 1802 at Sydney Cove. When she was only fourteen, William married Ann Hoare on 23rd January 1826 in St Peter’s Campbelltown. Ann was the daughter of John Hoare and Elizabeth Love. In their first few years of marriage William and Ann lived at the Field of Mars before moving to the Campbelltown Districts of Airds and Appin where they began to farm with the assistance of convict labour. Around the time of the birth of their daughter Sarah in November 1839, William and Ann moved to Spring Creek where they managed “The Stringy Bark Inn” a property owned by William’s brother, Benjamin. William also had other hotel interests in the area. William Rixon died on May 28, 1847 (V1847827 32B/1847) at Campbelltown. After William’s death, Ann married twice more. Ann died at 9 Denison St Woollahra, Sydney on August 8, 1895 and is buried at the Roman Catholic Cemetery, Waverly. Please see the biography page of William and Ann for more information about their lives.
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of James Rixon in Australia, a reunion was held at Campbelltown in May 1998. With thanks to Helen Rixon and Joye Walsh there are some more photographs from the day. See link below..
* Benjamin Rixon was born January 5, 1806. He married Margaret Finnamore on October 26, 1829 at St. Peter’s Church of England, Campbelltown. He died July 20, 1886 at Bulli, NSW. In the collection of the Australian War Memorial, there is a tribute photograph to some of the descendants of Benjamin Rixon who were members of the Australian Defence Forces in 1918.
* Thomas Rixon was born August 8, 1808 at Windsor, NSW. He married Ann Smith (born September 11, 15 at Airds) on April 28, 1834 at St.Peter’s Church of England, Campbelltown (V1834 1330 18). He died August 15, 1883 at Campbelltown NSW (6323/1883) Although it has been repeated over several generations that Ann’s mother was the famous “Granny Smith”, information on the Ryde Council Website disputes this.
* Henry John Rixon was born June 22, 1810 at Windsor, and was baptised on April 14, 1811 at St Matthew’s Windsor. He married Elizabeth Seekings on April 2, 1835 at St Peter’s Church of England at Campbelltown. He died June 13, 1884 at Nelligen, near Bega.
* “Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record – Series 1 1788-1841” Ed. John T Spurway Ass Ed. Allison Allen. (1992) Sydney: page 351 – 352
* Portia Robinson, “The Women Of Botany Bay” (published 1988) by the Macquarie Library.
* James Rixon is also briefly mentioned (page 271) in “The Hatch and Brood of Time: A Study of the First Generation of Native-born” by Portia Robinson (Published 1985 Oxford University Press) as “another private (who) had died when his son William was one year old”.
* The book about James, Amelia and their descendants by Joye Walsh, “More a Forest than a Family Tree” is absolutely tremendous. It was self-published by Joye in 1998, and is readily available at a number of public libraries. ISBN 0958555605
* See more photograhs from the Rixon Family Reunion, with thanks to Helen Rixon.
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