There were many attempts by convicts to escape from the colony by water. A few were successful, many were not.
David Collins gave an account of an escape from Rose Hill (Parramatta) by five desperate men in 1790. At first they were thought to have perished, however four survived. They were found five years later by Captain Broughton when he landed in the Port Stephens district in 1795........
SEPTEMBER 1790 - CONVICTS ESCAPE
In the night of the 26th a desertion of an extraordinary nature took place. Five male convicts conveyed themselves, in a small boat called a punt, from Rose Hill undiscovered. They exchanged the punt, which would have been unfit for their purpose, for a boat, though very small and weak, with a mast and sail, with which they got out of the harbour. On sending to Rose Hill, people were found who could give an account of their intentions and proceedings, and who knew that they purposed steering for Otaheite. They had each taken provisions for one week; their cloaths and bedding; three iron pots, and some other utensils of that nature. They all came out in the last fleet, and took this method of speedily accomplishing their sentences of transportation, which were for the term of their natural lives.
Their names were, John Tarwood, a daring, desperate character, and the principal in the scheme; Joseph Sutton, who was found secreted on board the Neptune and punished; George Lee; George Connoway, and John Watson.
A boat with an officer was sent to search for them in the north-west branch of this harbour, but returned, after several hours search, without discovering the least trace of them. They no doubt pushed directly out upon that ocean which, from the wretched state of the boat wherein they trusted themselves, must have proved their grave.
26 AUGUST 1795 - ESCAPEES ARRIVE BACK IN SYDNEY AFTER FIVE YEARS ABSENCE
On the 26th the settlement was gratified by the arrival of his Majesty's ship Providence of twenty eight guns, commanded by Captain Broughton, from England. She sailed thence on the 25th of February last, in company with his Majesty's ships Reliance and Supply which ships she left at Rio de Janeiro some time in May last. We had the satisfaction of learning that Governor Hunter was on board the Reliance and might be daily expected.
The Providence met with very bad weather on her passage from the Brazil coast, and was driven past this harbour as far to the northward as Port Stephens in which she anchored. There, to the great surprise of Captain Broughton, he found and received on board four white people (if four miserable, naked, dirty, and smoke-dried men could be called white,) runaways from this settlement. By referring to the transactions of the month of September 1790, it will be found that five convicts, John Tarwood, George Lee, George Connoway, John Watson and Joseph Sutton escaped from the settlement at Parramatta, and, providing themselves with a wretched weak boat, which they stole from the people at the South Head, disappeared, and were supposed to have met a death which, one might have imagined, they went without the Heads to seek. Four of these people (Joseph Sutton having died) were now met with in this harbour by the officers of the Providence and brought back to the colony.
They told a melancholy tale of their sufferings in the boat; and for many days after their arrival passed their time in detailing to the crowds both of black and white people which attended them their adventures in Port Stephens, the first harbour they made. Having lived like the savages among whom they dwelt, their change of food soon disagreed with them, and they were all taken ill, appearing to be principally affected with abdominal swellings. They spoke in high terms of the pacific disposition and gentle manners of the natives. They were at some distance inland whenMr. Grimeswas in Port Stephens; but heard soon after of the schooner's visit, and well knew, and often afterwards saw, the man who had been fired at, but not killed at that time as was supposed, by Wilson. (Select here to find out more about Charles Grimes' visit to Port Stephens)
Each of them had had names given him and given with several ceremonies. Wives also were allotted them, and one or two had children. They were never required to go out on any occasion of hostility, and were in general supplied by the natives with fish or other food, being considered by them (for so their situation only could be construed) as unfortunate strangers thrown upon their shore from the mouth of the yawning deep and entitled to their protection. They told us a ridiculous story, that the natives appeared to worship them, often assuring them, when they began to understand each other, that they were undoubtedly the ancestors of some of them who had fallen in battle, and had returned from the sea to visit them again, and one native appeared firmly to believe that his father was come back in the person of either Lee or Connoway, and took him to the spot where his body had been burnt. On being told that immense numbers of people existed far beyond their little knowledge, they instantly pronounced them to be the spirits of their countrymen, which, after death, had migrated into other regions.
It appeared from these four men, that the language to the northward differed wholly from any that we knew. Among the natives who lived with us, there were none who understood all that they said, and of those who occasionally came in, one only could converse with them. He was a very fine lad, of the name of Wur-gan. His mother had been born and bred beyond the mountains, but one luckless day, paying a visit with some of her tribe to the banks of the Dee-rab-bun (for so the Hawkesbury was named) she was forcibly prevented returning, and, being obliged to submit to the embraces of an amorous and powerful De-dia-gal, the fruit of her visit was this boy. Speaking herself more dialects than one, she taught her son all she knew, and he, being of quick parts, and a roving disposition, caught all the different dialects from Botany Bay to Port Stephens...... p.303
NOTES AND LINKS
John Tarwood (Turwood) was tried at the Old Bailey in 1787 with others for feloniously assaulting Thomas Holmes, in a certain field and open place, near the king's highway, on the 29th day of May last, and putting him him in corporal fear and danger of his life; and feloniously taking from his person, and against his will, one silver watch, value 40 s. a steel chain, value 6 d. a seal, value 2 d. a man's hat, value 5 s. a guinea, value 21 s. and 18 d. in monies numbered, his property. John Turwood arrived on the Scarborough in 1790.
George Lee and George Connoway were indicted for feloniously stealing, on the 27th day of July last, two live bullocks, value 20 l. the property of Robert Hill. They were found guilty at the Old Bailey in August 1786 and sentenced to death but recommended for mercy. They also arrived on the Scarborough
John Watson was tried at the Old Bailey in 1787 and sentenced to 7 years transportation for grand larceny. He arrived on the Neptune in 1790
There was no prisoner by the name of Joseph Sutton arriving as a prisoner prior to 1802. The Joseph Sutton mentioned by David Collins may have been John Strutton who was tried at the Old Bailey and arrived on the Neptune in 1790 or Joseph Suttle who was tried in Surry and arrived on the Surprise in 1790
D. Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, from its First Settlement, in January 1788, to August 1801: with Remarks on the Dispositions, Customs, Manners, Etc of the Native Inhabitants of that Country, London, 1802, vol. II