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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Elliott, William Edward (1752–1822)

by B. H. Fletcher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

William Edward Elliott (1752-1822), smallholder, was convicted at Croydon, Surrey, England, on 18 August 1783 for burglary and sentenced to be transported for seven years. He sailed in the First Fleet in the Scarborough. A farmer by trade, he was among the handful of emancipists and former marines who settled in 1791 after his sentence had expired the previous year. One of the earliest smallholders in New South Wales, he was also a pioneer of the Ponds district, an area near Parramatta selected by Governor Arthur Phillip for Elliott and thirteen other settlers. Being single he received a 30-acre (12 ha) allotment which he began cultivating in August. On 11 September at St John's, Parramatta, he married Ann Smith, a convict who had arrived in the Mary Ann on 9 July. By December he had formed a partnership with one of his neighbours, Joseph Marshall, an emancipist and former weaver who also owned thirty acres (12 ha). Tools were scarce, labour impossible to procure and the two men joined forces presumably in hope of making better progress by pooling their resources, but by 1796 the partnership had broken up.

Meanwhile he had earned what proved to be a wholly undeserved reputation. In February 1792 David Burton, the superintendent of agriculture, singled out Elliott and four others including his partner as men 'who cultivate their ground in a very slovenly manner, and are very dilatory'. Elliott claimed that his soil was poor and unproductive, but by October he had some six acres (2.4 ha) under grain and an additional three (1.2 ha) cleared. In 1796 Collins gave him high praise for having bred a flock of twenty-two sheep from a ewe Phillip had given him in 1791; at a time when most smallholders quickly disposed of their issue of government stock this was an outstanding achievement, and distinguished Elliott from his associates, few of whom owned any sheep, and showed him to be a man provident in his ways.

His later career suggests that he must have been unusually diligent and persevering. The thirst for spirits, the high cost of living and the adverse climate which ruined so many smallholders in the John Hunter period did not prevent him from making progress. By 1800 his flock included 120 head, making him one of the foremost sheep-owners outside the officer class. Six years later he was running 365 head on ninety-six acres (39 ha) he had bought at Seven Hills. In 1804-05 he was a private in the Parramatta Loyal Association. Although a signatory to the pro-William Bligh petitions his fortunes did not suffer during the interregnum, for by the time of Lachlan Macquarie's arrival he was the owner of 400 sheep. How he fared during the intervening years until his death on 19 April 1822 is unknown, but his earlier career suggests that he was a man whose personal qualities and achievements justify the preservation of his memory to which the stone still standing in St John's cemetery, Parramatta, bears tribute.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 1
  • D. Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, vol 1 (Lond, 1798).

Citation details

B. H. Fletcher, 'Elliott, William Edward (1752–1822)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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