Captain Cook discovered Australia and first landed in 1770 at Botany Bay. George Coxon arrived in 1791 and was most likely the first Coxon in Australia.
He was transported on the ‘Matilda’ a prison ship from England. The ‘Matilda’ was one of eleven vessels of the Third Fleet, that is the third fleet of vessels transporting convicts to Australia. From 1787 to 1867, 162,000 convicts were transported from Britain to Australia in this way.
George Coxon was sentenced to seven years transportation on 8th October 1788 at Durham Assizes.
George Coxon was one of the 230 male convicts on board the ‘Matilda’ when she sailed from Portsmouth on 27th March 1791. The ‘Matilda’ arrived on Monday 1st August 1791 in Port Jackson, Australia after a passage of four months and five days.
On board the Matilda on arrival were two hundred and five male convicts; one ensign, one serjeant, one corporal, one drummer, and nineteen privates, of the New South Wales corps; and some stores and provisions calculated as a supply for the above number for nine months after their arrival.
The master of this ship had anchored for two days in a bay of one of Schoeten’s Islands, distant from the main land of about twelve miles where, according to his report, five or six ships might find shelter. Those who were on shore saw the footsteps of different kinds of animals and traces of natives, such as huts, fires, broken spears, and the instrument which they use for throwing the spear. They spoke of the soil as sandy, and observed that the ground was covered with shrubs.
The convicts in this ship, on their landing, appeared to be aged and infirm, the state in which they were said to have been embarked. It was not therefore to be wondered at, that they had buried twenty-five on their passage. Twenty were sick, and were immediately landed at the hospital.
Fifty-five of the convicts brought in this ship, selected from the others as tanners and tradesmen, were sent up to Parramatta; of the remainder, those whose health would permit them to go were put on board the Mary Ann, together with thirty-two convicts of bad character from among those who came out in the preceding year, and eleven privates of the New South Wales corps. On the 8tb August 1791, the Mary Ann sailed for Norfolk Island. Since George Coxon was likely neither a tanner or tradesman he would be sent to Norfolk Island on board the Mary Ann.
European settlement of Norfolk Island began on 6 March 1788 when the British flag was raised by Lieutenant Philip Gidley King. So George Coxon arrived only three years after the island was colonised. During the early period of settlement in Sydney, when food was scarce and widespread starvation a real danger, Norfolk Island was a source of much-needed supplies. However, maintaining the Island was expensive, owing to its isolation and the absence of a safe place of anchorage. The most well-known example of this danger was the wrecking of HMS Sirius, the flagship of the First Fleet, at Norfolk Island on 19 March 1790. The loss of the Sirius was a devastating blow to New South Wales, as it left the colony, precariously, with a single supply ship.
George Coxon would have had a tough time in Australia and a particularly tough time on Norfolk Island. The convicts were all sentenced to hard labour and when they arrived worked on manual tasks such as timber cutting, brick making or stone cutting. In 1788, the Governor of New South Wales had been ordered by the First Governor of Australia to establish a Flax Plant on the island and it was for this work that George Coxon would have been required. In those days seeds from the flax plant were used to make linen which was in high demand.
From 1787 to 1867, 160,000 convicts were transported from Britain to Australia. Three of them were Coxon’s. None transported to Australia were called either Coxen or Coxson.
Henry Coxon was sentenced to life at Derby Quarter Sessions and then transported on the convict ship ‘Camden’ to New South Wales, Australia on 21st March 1831. His crime was to ‘send a threatening letter’.
The convict colony in New South Wales was the first established in Australia and life was very harsh. However, in 1831 when Henry Coxon arrived an Act was enforced in the colony that limited the number of lashes that a convict could receive to fifty.
The transportation of convicts to New South Wales was suspended in 1840 and abolished in 1850.
James Coxon was sentenced to 12 years at Staffordshire Assizes for ‘robbery and previous conviction of felony’ and transported on the convict ship ‘Clara’ to Western Australia on 28th January 1864.
In total, 9,668 convicts were sent to Western Australia. He was one of the last convicts transported since in 1865 the British policy changed and the last convict ship arrived in Western Australia in 1868.
Many prisoners were transported for petty crimes; a small number were political prisoners. More serious crimes such as rape and murder were not transportable crimes. The journey usually took 250 days and life on board was harsh and crowded.
It is reported that the colonisation of Australia was driven by the need to address overcrowding in the British prison system. It was simply not economically viable to transport convicts for this reason alone.
Many convicts were either skilled tradesmen or farmers who had been convicted for trivial crimes and were sentenced to set up the infrastructure for the new colony. Convicts were often given pardons on completion of their sentences and were allocated parcels of land to farm.
It has been estimated that around 20% of Australians today have one of these 160,000 convicts in their ancestry. Once considered shameful it is now a matter of pride for Australians to identify with the early convicts in their family history. Many of the convicts were judged to be unfairly convicted and are a relic of colonial history.
[ Acknowledgements and thanks: An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales by David Collins; Historical Records of Australia Vol 1, 1788-1796, UK National Archives.]