First Fleeter – John Baughan (1754 – 1797)

It was many years ago at an early AGM of the Oxfordshire Family History Society that Edna Mason said ‘Of course , you know of John Baughan who was caught for stealing blankets at Witney’. I was still a novice at Family History. Little did I know how long it would take to establish who this John Baughan was and what happened to him. The following is an account that I have reconstructed of his life based on my research and published documents etc. I am indebted to the people and offices who have given their permission to reproduce their work.

I shall refer to John as Baughan although his name was spelt as Baughan, Boffin, Baffen, Baughn, Bingham, Buffin and Bunham.

John Baughan/Boffin the elder was married to Ann Woodley/Wodley on 22nd June 1753 at Cherington, Warwickshire. They had five children; the first two were baptised at Cherington and the remainder at Whichford, Warwickshire. The first child was John and he was baptised on 5th May 1754. The other children were called William (1756-1834), Betty/Elizabeth (1763- ), Mary (1767- ) and James (1769- ).

John married Catherine Morgan on 14th November 1774 at Shipton under Wychwood, Oxfordshire. They had three children : Mary (1775- ), twins Hannah (1778- ) and Anne (1778- ); they were all baptised at Whichford.

About ‘one in the night of 3rd May’ 1783 John cut 5 woollen blankets from the rack and tenters near New Mill in Hailey near Witney. The rack and tenters were the property of Edward Seely. Originally there were eleven blankets and they were owned by John Shorter. The value of the blankets was put at 50 shillings. John asked his father and his brother whether they would be interested in some blankets that he could get cheap from his master’s auction (John was described at his trial as a labourer and living at Asthall, Oxon). A pair was sold to his father and another pair to William; John claimed that he had paid 28 shillings for them.

A reward of £20 was offered by the Blanket Weavers Company (of Witney). They took out an advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal (JOJ) and distributed 400 printed handbills. It was “some words falling from Baughan’s wife which tended to a discovery”. This information reached John Shorter and a search warrant was issued. Thomas Hughes, the Constable, went to Whichford on Thursday 14th May and the blankets were found. John, his father and his brother William were arrested.

John junior was committed to Oxford goal in the week preceding Saturday 31st May. JOJ printed on Wednesday 30th July he had been found guilty; he was sentenced to death but this was reprieved. The trial appears to have taken three days; he had pleaded not guilty. John the elder, his brother William and his spinster sister Elizabeth were all present at the trial.

It cost the Blanket Weavers Company nearly £50 to prosecute John Baughan. It is interesting to note that they describe him as a ‘master weaver’.

JOJ reported on Thursday 18th March 1784 that John Baughan was removed from Oxford Castle to be transported to America for 7 years.

On 22nd March 1784, with 21 other convicts, he was “delivered on board of the ship (Mercury) at the Galliard below Woolwich”. He was one of the 66 captured by “Helena” at Torbay on 13th April after the mutineers had brought the transport into harbour (listed in “Helena”‘s muster as Briffen), and was sent to Exeter, Devon for committal to gaol on 16th April. JOJ reported that the convicts had escaped from the “Great Duke of Tuscany” transport. Here he was recorded as John or Innis Buffin. As Innis or John Bingham he was remanded to former orders without trial by the Special Commission at Exeter on 24th May. Seven of his Oxford companions also escaped, of whom two died on the “Dunkirk” hulk and one was acquitted (Thomas Turner, Matthew Mills and Samuel Hussey became First Fleeters). The keeper of Oxford Castle attended the special commission to prove the identity of the felons. Baughan was sent to “Dunkirk”, aged 28, at the end of June, where he was “troublesome at times”. On 11th March 1787 he was embarked on “Friendship”, where Ralph Clark recorded him as “Jno Baughn, 33 , Cabt. Makr”, noting that he had been born in Warwickshire. On 13th May 1787 “Friendship” set sail from Portsmouth with the ‘First Fleet’ to Australia .

On 15th October 1787 Catherine, John’s wife, describing herself as a widow was remarried at Shipton under Wychwood to William Dixon.

At Sydney Cove on 17th February 1788, Baughan (as he was mostly known in the colony) married Mary Cleaver (qv), he signing the register. She had been convicted on 5th April 1786 at Bristol for burglary. They had probably met on the ‘Dunkirk’ hulk. She was transported on the “Charlotte”. They had a son, James, baptised on 27th March 1788 but he died the following day. James was probably born during the journey and listed as ‘John Bunham’. A second child, Charlotte, was baptised on 30th May 1789 but died over 15 months later. Charles was their third child and was baptised on 18th July 1790 but he died seven weeks later. On 17th August 1791 John was given a 50 acre grant at Prospect Hill (near Parramatta), his employment as a carpenter noted. He did not settle there. Construction of a mill at Sydney in December 1793 gave him identification as a millwright. The mill was completed and working by 10th March 1794. On 3rd December that year he leased half an acre on the west side of Sydney Cove.

In March 1794 the grinding mill which Baughan had erected in Sydney commenced operations; with nine men working its capstan bar, it ran so smoothly that sixty three pounds of wheat were ground in seventeen minutes. James Wilkinson’s mill near by, powered by six men who walked inside a massive wheel, commenced operations a month later, it was soon abandoned and Baughan was commissioned to replace it by another of his own design. In recognition of his achievements as carpenter and millwright, Baughan was granted a small lease near Dawes Point. Here he erected and furnished ‘a neat cottage’, later acquired by Robert Campbell (q.v.), and established an attractive garden.

On 4th February 1796, overhearing himself being abused by a NSW Corps sentinel (a former convict) who apparently bore him an ancient grudge, Baughan slipped out of his workshop, collected his traducer’s arms from his deserted post and handed them to the guard. The sentinel was immediately arrested. The next day a large group of off duty soldiers, incensed by the resulting confinement of their comrade, surrounded Baughan’s house. A musket brandished by his friend George Wilson was seized, a window broken and the gun smashed over the fireplace. Baughan himself was thrown to the ground with an axe held over his head in front of his terrified wife. The soldiers then proceeded to destroy the house “a neat little cottage which he had built below the hospital”, smashing every item of furniture and other property inside. The officers, led by Captain Macarthur, tried to block legal action against their men and Baughan was reluctant to proceed for fear of further reprisals. At the urging of William Balmain (qv), however, he lodged a complaint. A court martial was ordered and called off a few days later. Governor Hunter expressed himself so forcibly about ‘this daring violation of the public peace’ that the offender, through Captain John Macarthur (q.v.), expressed ‘their sincere concern for what had happened’ and agreed to indemnify the sufferer.

Although D Collins in his ‘An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales’ remarked on Baughan’s ‘sullen and vindictive disposition’, he considered himself ‘an ingenious man’.

On 25th September 1797, by then overseer of carpenters, Baughan was buried at Sydney. None of his children survived infancy and his widow returned to England on “Reliance” in 1800.


Cherington, Warwickshire Parish Records

Whichford, Warwickshire Parish Records

Shipton under Wychwood, Oxfordshire Parish Records

Mollie Gillen, ‘The Founders of Australia’

A J Gray, ‘Australian Dictionary of Biography 1 (1788-1850);

D Collins, ‘An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales’, (London 1798);

N Selfe, ‘Some notes on the Sydney windmills’, (1901-06);

R Clark, Journal

A T Yarwood, ‘Samuel Marsden, The Great Survivor’

Public Record Office – Assizes Records – List of Convicts embarked for NSW 1787

Oxfordshire County Record Office ,Quarter Session Papers

Oxford Central Library,Jackson’s Oxford Journal (1783-4)

Devon Record Office, Bridewell Calendar, Easter Sessions 1784

Alfred Plummer, ‘The Witney Blanket Industry’

Alfred Plummer & Richard E Early, ‘The Blanket Makers 1669-1969’