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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Williams, Francis (1780–1831)

by R. F. Holder

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Francis Williams (1780?-1831), merchant, arrived at Port Jackson in the privateer Lucy in April 1806. He had left England as supercargo of a ship trading with South America which had been lost. He appears to have joined the Lucy on a journey through South American waters attacking Spanish shipping and across the Pacific to Port Jackson for repairs. Soon after his arrival he was employed by the merchant Simeon Lord and in November 1806 married Lord's ward, Joanna Short, who had been born at Sydney in 1792, the orphan daughter of the convicts Joseph Short and Elizabeth Drury.

Williams did not have official permission to enter the colony. As an associate of Lord and a friend of D'Arcy Wentworth, in whose quarrels with Governor William Bligh he had become involved, he was persona ingrata with the governor, who ordered his deportation and advised the British government that he should not be allowed to return as a settler. He left Sydney in November 1807 as supercargo in Lord's Sydney Cove, carrying commissions from Lord and letters to England for Wentworth, who described him as 'a very respectable young gentleman'. In England Williams executed personal and commercial business for Lord and on his behalf went to America to wind up the matter of the Criterion cargo. In 1809 he applied for permission to settle in New South Wales, returned to Sydney in January 1810 and immediately entered into full partnership with Lord. He acquired farming interests on the Hawkesbury River and Governor Lachlan Macquarie appointed him a trustee and commissioner of the turnpike between Sydney and the Hawkesbury.

In addition to its wholesale and retail business, the firm of Lord & Williams had interests in manufacturing and the timber trade, and in 1810 it made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a flax industry in New Zealand. In July 1811 Williams sailed for Calcutta in the Aurora, an American brig which the firm had chartered, to expedite contracts on behalf of the government for the shipment of wheat, sugar and rum from Bengal, but it was not till October 1812 that Williams returned in the Hope with the cargo of supplies, which was diverted to the Derwent on Macquarie's orders. He spent several months in Hobart Town and bought stock there to set up as a farmer and grazier. He returned to Sydney in March 1813 and requested Macquarie's permission to exchange the 800-acre (324 ha) grant he had received in 1812 in the Hawkesbury district for a similar grant in Van Diemen's Land. Macquarie agreed and ordered that he receive 'the utmost indulgencies of a free settler'. In July 1813 the partnership with Lord was dissolved and Williams left for Van Diemen's Land. Next year he was appointed a magistrate at Hobart, but his grazing concerns seemed to have little success. In February 1818 he was again in Sydney, obtained the position of accountant with the Bank of New South Wales, and a month later succeeded to the senior position of cashier.

In September 1820 the directors of the bank requested him to resign as he had made unauthorized advances to the extent of £2000 which they were obliged to call in. No doubts of his integrity appear to have been entertained; but a few weeks after his resignation it was discovered that the sealed bags of notes which he left for his successor were £12,000 short. It was then found that he had in effect made unauthorized advances to that extent to oblige various individuals and had concealed his action by entering non-existent deposits in the bank books. In March 1822 he was tried and convicted of embezzlement. He appears to have made little personal profit from these clandestine transactions. The bank recovered £6000 from Williams's sureties and about £4000 from three of the customers to whom he had granted favours, though two of them were still being pressed for a final settlement almost ten years later. Sentenced to transportation for fourteen years, Williams appears to have passed his servitude first as a clerk in the government store and later as clerk to the bench at the Newcastle penal settlement. He was granted a ticket-of-leave in 1828 and set up as an agent at Newcastle. He died at Luskentyre, one of Thomas Winder's estates, on 6 October 1831.

His career was an unusual reversal of the Botany Bay success story. After a profitable association with Lord, his decision to abandon trade for the life of a country gentleman was unsuccessful, and his final disgrace seems to have been due to weakness and a desire for prestige and popularity rather than to any premeditated plan for monetary gain.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 6, 8, 10
  • Supreme Court records (State Records New South Wales)
  • manuscript catalogue under Francis Williams (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

R. F. Holder, 'Williams, Francis (1780–1831)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

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