Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Captain Edward Biddulph R. N.,

Sophia Jane Steamer

Captain Edward BiddulphBirth: January 1790 at Staffordshire
Arrival: 1831 Sophia Jane
Occupation: Naval Commander
Marriage: Mary Stuart Chase, Westminster 1821
Death: January 1851
Burial: Newcastle Cathedral Burial Grounds

With the exception of family and a few former acquaintances, the noteworthy contributions of Captain Edward Biddulph to the advancement of maritime endeavors in Australia had seemingly faded from collective memory by the early 1900s. For a period of forty years, his remains lay undisturbed in a secluded section of the burial ground at Newcastle Cathedral. A former Royal Navy Lieutenant, it was Edward Biddulph who brought the makings of Sophia Jane, the first steamer to Australia from England. He had been quite a character in his day and contributed to town life and to many of the events that shaped Newcastle and Maitland in the 1830's and 1840's.

His many experiences in the Royal Navy remained with him in the form of his bearing and attitudes. He wasn't one to suffer fools lightly and rarely backed down in a confrontation either physical or verbal. He was once described as having a haughty un-accommodating disposition. However whilst his manners may have been abrupt and authoritative, he was also described as being kind at heart and a hospitable and social man. [1] Many of his passengers were grateful for his competence and for the comfort he afforded them on the Sophia Jane.

In 1902, seventy years after he first arrived in Newcastle, readers were reminded of his contribution in an article in the Newcastle Morning Herald describing his (then) last resting place......

In the north eastern corner of the churchyard, half hidden beneath the drooping branches of a fig tree, there is a monument which is of exceptional interest especially to those interested in maritime pursuits. Over forty years have passed since the sailor whose memory is thus honoured was laid to rest, and thousands of the younger generation know nothing of the part played by Commander Edward Biddulph in the development of the Australian Coastal trade. There are two inscriptions which read - Sacred to the memory of Edward Biddulph, Commander R.N. died Jan 28, 1861, also Mary Stewart Biddulph, wife of the above who died Sept. 27 1878. Aged 80. [2]


Edward Biddulph was born 16 January 1790, one of the seven sons and five daughters of Simon Biddulph and Ann Burnett of Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire. Simon and Ann together with five of their children emigrated to The Cape of Good Hope under the British Settler Scheme in 1819. They received a grant of land at Albany although there were many hardships for Simon Biddulph as outlined in Correspondence of Edward Biddulph in 1823 [3]

Simon Biddulph died at Albany on 5 January 1842 [4]

Naval Career

Edward Biddulph did not accompany his parents to The Cape. He had entered the Royal Navy aged 13 in 1803. He served on board the Indefatigable, Captain Graham Moore, commander, and took part as midshipman in the capture on 5th October 1804 of three Spanish frigates, laden with treasure. He was removed to the Fenhound in 1807 and was next appointed master's mate of the Ville de Paris, bearing the flags of Lords Gardener and Gambier. He was commissioned Lieutenant in 1809

He was present, in the Caradonia, at the destruction of the French squadron in the Basque Roads in April 1809, for which he obtained a medal. Following on this action came the expedition to the Scheldt, and Mr. Biddulph who had been transferred to the Sceptre, 74 guns, served on shore with a party of seamen at the investment of Flushing. He obtained his Commission on 5th October 1809 and was appointed to the Onyx on 2nd January 1810. In that vessel, and also in the gunboat service, he took part in the defence of Cadiz. He also destroyed on the beach of Cirar, with the boats of the Onyx and Desperate, a brig of the enemy which was protected at the time by a masked battery and some infantry. For this service he received another medal.

In 1813 he was appointed to the Hebrus stationed on the coast of North America; and on the 22nd July following to the Florida (Captain Mitchell) which was cruising on the South American and West Indian stations. [5]

In May 1819 he was appointed First Lieutenant in HMS Menai, but he left his ship at Algoa Bay in May 1820 to join his parents in Albany. A grant of land was approved for him, but he left the Albany settlement in August to return to England.


In February 1821 he married Mary Stuart Chase at St James's, Westminster, and in the following month sailed for Cape Town to rejoin HMS Menai. During the time he served on the Menai he was actively engaged in suppressing the slave trade on the eastern coast of Africa. He continued to serve in the Menai until she was placed out of commission in 1823.[6]

Arrival of Steam in Australia

Until the 1830's communication and trade between Sydney and Newcastle was either overland or under sail. One of the sailing vessels that was fit to carry passengers with a degree of comfort was the famous little cutter Lord Liverpool owned by Captain Alexander Livingstone. With a fair wind she would make the trip between the harbours in ten hours but she was delayed very often waiting for favourable winds.

Steamer Sophia Jane

The market for maritime enterprise using steam vessels had been recognised and the Sophia Jane was purchased as an investment for a sum of £8000. [7]

Sophie Jane Steamer
Sophia Jane was a wooden schooner rigged paddle steamer built in 1826 by Barnes and Miller at Rothertithe on the Thames River. Edward Biddulph sailed the Sophia Jane from England to Australia as a schooner with her paddle wheel strapped to the main deck. After arrival on 14 May 1831 the vessel was re-fitted and reconverted to steam and underwent trials on Sydney Harbour. [8]

The Sophia Jane created quite a stir when she arrived in Sydney. When she was launched later in June 1831 the 'Australian' reported:

Steam navigation will help greatly to raise the character of this Colony abroad, and to improve it at home. The addition of such a vessel as the Sophia Jane to our coasting trade is a most gratifying event. It is almost in the trading world what a new governor would be in our political hemisphere. A fresh spirit will be infused into all our settled and unsettled district that can be approached by water. Persons will shortly be able, we expect, to breakfast in town, lunch at Newcastle, dine at Port Stephens, and put up comfortably at Port Macquarie next morning, at half the present expense and in quarter the time, for the journey to Wallis's Plains. Should she not find enough to do between this and Newcastle the route to and from Hobart Town lies open, and the Western Port, when the fine line of coast about there shall be settled.'

In November 1831 a passenger described boarding the Sophia Jane in Sydney in preparation for the 60 mile voyage up the coast to Newcastle. You ascend the planks stretching, like Mahomet's bridge across the watery abyss between the wharf and the steamer's deck, and find yourself safely lodged within 'the wooden walls of England.' Here all is bustle and seeming confusion. Passengers jostling each other - seamen running to and fro - and the ruler of the roost, Captain Biddulph, darting from end to end and from side to side, dealing out his orders in double quick time ....continue

The Sophia Jane was a great boon to the residents of the Hunter River, and though slow, was sure; she left the wharf at Sydney at 7 o'clock p.m., reached Newcastle at 6 o'clock a.m. the next day and generally arrived at Morpeth at 2 o'clock p.m. that day. She made stops on her way up the river landing passengers and the mail, however there were often delays because of weather and she sometimes stuck on the flats in going up the river.

Extraordinary Altercation

In July 1831 only two months after his arrival Edward Biddulph was involved in an extraordinary altercation in Newcastle harbour with some prominent settlers mostly from estates up the valley. Several settlers were afterwards prosecuted and so the entire case was reported in the press. The altercation followed acrimonious correspondence between Captain Biddulph and Robert Scott leading to a highly illegal challenge by Robert Scott to fight a duel. Captain Biddulph declined the challenge and thereafter was subject to abuse by Scott who considered him a coward.......

On the night in question the wind blew strong and the seas were rough as the Sophia Jane lay near the A.A. Wharf in the harbour. Several men including Robert Scott, P. Joseph Cohen, John Cobb, Thomas Woolley, Thomas Bodenham and Messrs. Abbott and Stubbs who had all been drinking at Pawsey's Inn in the township, commandeered the boat belonging to the steamer and rowed out alongside the vessel where they encountered Captain Biddulph in a furious rage. He later testified that he considered the boat to be in danger from the Sophia Jane's paddles and in an effort to save them all he jumped into the boat knocking down Woolley who fell backwards and then Robert Scott and Thomas Bodenham. A scuffle took place before Scott called to the other men to throw Biddulph overboard, followed by which a regular fight took place with blows being struck left and right. Captain Biddulph was thrown overboard however managed to get hold of a stick Mr. Abbott was holding and began beating Robert Scott with all his might. In his own words, he gave Robert Scott as good a thrashing as he could even though he was in the water and holding on to the boat. He was bitten on the finger by Mr. Woolley before making his way on to the boat once more. Once more the men threw him overboard and if he had not been picked up by the pilot boat he thought he would probably have drowned. [9]

Later Robert Scott was fined for his part in the fracas.

This was not Edward Biddulph's only altercation as four months later in December 1831 he severely thrashed Mr. Bodenham (probably the same man as above) on the wharf at Sydney after Bodenham called him a liar - Bodenham was thrown to the ground, struck several times and received some smart kicks as well which left him unwell for several weeks. The only defence set up by Captain Biddulph was that Bodenham had drawn the chastisement upon himself by calling a gentleman of the Royal Navy, a liar. [10]

Colonial Life

Despite this inauspicious introduction to colonial life, Edward Biddulph remained in the Hunter Region where he became an active public and business figure for over thirty years.

In 1832 he purchased the schooner Friendship in partnership with Francis Mitchell and also an interest in Joint Stock and Capital of the Bank of New South Wales. He acquired an allotment of land at Newcastle probably where the Crooked Billet was situated. He also held a depasturing licence on the Liverpool Plains.

In October 1833 it was announced that he had established in Cockle Bay (Sydney) a manufactory of steam engines of every descriptions.[11]

The Sophia Jane had the honour of carrying the Vice Regal party, when Governor Bourke visited Newcastle in 1833. Captain Biddulph was then in command and among the Vice-Regal suite were Chief Justice Forbes, Mr. Justice Burton, Major Mitchell and Mr. G. Deas-Thompson. The Governor was received by an aboriginal guard of honour and a procession formed which proceeded to the Newcastle Inn where the Governor's party dined.

The Sophia Jane was sold to Joseph Hickey Grose of Parramatta and continued in the Sydney - Newcastle trade for many years.[12]


By 1836 Edward Biddulph was probably residing in the Maitland district on his grant Elmhurst. He was Steward at the Maitland races and on the committee of the Maitland Jockey Club in 1842. He was a committee member petitioning to deny the re-introduction of transportation in 1846 and also on a committee making arrangements for the visit of Governor Sir Charles Fitzroy in 1847. He was also Chairman of the Newcastle and Stockton Benevolent Asylum in 1850.


In 1839 Edward Biddulph was appointed by a committee of creditors to sail in pursuit of runaway swindler John Thomas Wilson who had departed the colony on the Nereus under Captain Powell leaving considerable debt in his wake. Captain Biddulph sailed on the Rover's Bride in what became an unsuccessful endeavour to capture the inveterate con-man. [13]

Later Edward Biddulph settled at Newcastle. In 1841 he resided in King Street Newcastle.

He would have often travelled up and down the coast between Sydney and Newcastle by steamer. He was one of the passengers on board the King William IV steamer when she was Wrecked at Newcastle in 1839 and was praised for his exertions in assisting the harbour pilot George Jackson in saving the passengers. [14]

In 1848 he was employed as Port Master[15]

Petty Disagreements

Edward Biddulph's successful life was marred by petty disagreements and unfortunate incidents. He managed to raise the ire of people from various walks of life from Police Magistrates to settlers, employees and lowly convicts. In particular his very public dispute with Police Magistrate Edward Denny Day which must have provided a great deal of amusement to the readers of the Maitland Mercury when he made public the dispute via an advertisement in 1847:

To Edward Denny Day, Esq., Police Magistrate at Maitland. Elmhurst, 2nd January, 1847.
This forenoon your friend Captain Button called upon me, and presenting the Maitland Mercury of the 14th November, 1846, said you were exceedingly angry at reading the report of my speech at the public meeting, on the Transportation System, and demanded a denial of that part which alluded to the Police, or to give you a meeting. Being thus peremptorily called upon, without reading the paragraph, I immediately acknowledged it as my sentiments, and I refuse to retract, and I refuse your challenge, because I believe what I said, and because I have a right to express my sentiments at a public meeting, on a public question, and upon the conduct of public servants; and I shall do it upon every occasion, whether the Police Magistrate is angry or pleased ; and because I think Mr. Edward Denny Day has no right to set himself up as the champion of the Police!. Edward Biddulph R.N.

To Edward Biddulph, R. N., Elmhurst. Maitland, 5th January, 1847.
I have only a single observation to make in reference to your communication of the 2nd instant, just handed me by Captain Button. In that you admit having used language which I feel reflects most calumniously on my private character; and you refuse either to retract that language, or to give me the meeting I have demanded from you. I have, therefore, no alternative left but to brand you, in plain terms, as a cowardly poltroon, who has uttered a gross falsehood, which you have not the spirit to defend. I shall make such use of your communication and this as will make your conduct in this matter, and my sentiments in reference thereto, extensively known in this neighbourhood. - Edward Denny Day.

To Edward Denny Day, Esq., Police Magistrate, Maitland. Maitland, 5th January, 1847. 3 P. M.
I have this instant received your letter, which is so gross - but I will not descend to use the foul language you have, but will content myself with publishing your letter. You, Mr. Denny Day, have entirely mistaken your man - the Celt cannot bully the Saxon. - Edward Biddulph, R.N.


Edward Biddulph died on 28 January 1851 of disease of the heart after 4 months painful suffering aged 61 years. [16]

Family of Edward and Mary Biddulph

1). Anna Maria, eldest daughter, married Charles Boscawen Ranclaud

2). Walter, eldest son married Harriett Sophia eldest daughter of Theophilus Foot of Moravia Downs Queensland

3). Charlotte Jane

4). Edward Joseph

5). Harriette Burnett, youngest daughter married Philip Francis Adams at Newcastle in 1859

6). Thomas

7). Francis Henry

Assigned Servants

Thomas Sherman per Asia 1832, assigned servant on the Sophia Jane steamer in 1832

Edward Keogh per Bussorah Merchant 1831 assigned servant on the Sophia Jane steamer in 1832

George Taylor per Hercules 1832, assigned servant in 1832

Joseph Hutton per Hercules 1832 assigned servant in 1832

Michael Farrell per Dunvegan Castle 1832 assigned servant in 1832

James Kelly per Dunvegan Castle 1832 assigned servant in 1832

Henry Davis per Planter 1832 assigned servant in 1832

Henry Wood per Hercules 1832 assigned servant in 1832

Owen Donegan per Captain Cook 1832 assigned servant in 1832

Julia Birmingham per Forth 1830 assigned servant in 1833

Sarah Mee, servant, charged with robbery in 1835

Charles Fee per Captain Cook 1832, assigned servant in 1835

Bernard McGormey per Warrior 1835, assigned servant in 1835

Tryphena Morgan per Numa assigned servant in 1835

Elias Powell per Aurora assigned servant in 1835

Richard Hollingshead per Sesostris assigned servant 1835

Hannah Hassett per Mary 1835 assigned servant at Newcastle in 1835 - 36

Susan Whitford per Mary 1835 assigned servant in 1836

John Chapman per Lady Kennaway 1836, assigned servant in 1836

Mary Murdoch per Surry 1833 assigned servant at Paterson in 1836

Margaret Barry per Surry 1833 assigned in 1837

Ann Armstrong per Hooghley assigned servant at Newcastle in 1837

William Askew per Captain Cook assigned servant at Maitland in 1837

Thomas Ashford per Fairlie assigned servant at Paterson 1837

John McLaughlin per Exmouth assigned servant at Paterson in 1837

William Ashton per Sesostris in 1837

William Dolby per Mary Anne 1835 assigned servant at Paterson in 1837

David Avison per Henry Porcher assigned servant in 1837

Michael Neville per Jane assigned servant at Paterson in 1837

William Smallbridge per Marquis of Huntley 1826 assigned servant at Paterson in 1837

John Smith per Fairlie assigned servant at Paterson in 1837

Peter Smith per Eliza 1828 assigned servant at Maitland

Joseph Vale per Lord Melville assigned servant at Paterson in 1837

John Walsh per Captain Cook assigned servant at Paterson in 1837

Thomas Widgett per Asia 1833 assigned servant at Paterson in 1837

Susan Whitely per Mary 1835 assigned servant at Newcastle in 1837

John Cooper per Portland 1832 assigned servant at Newcastle in 1837

Thomas Coll per Bussorah Merchant assigned servant in 1838

George Allen per Fairlie assigned servant at Maitland in 1838

Thomas Day per Prince George assigned servant in 1839

William Poulston per Portland 1832 assigned servant in 1840

Margaret Toole per Diamond assigned servant at Newcastle in 1840

Mary Mumford per Diana assigned servant at Newcastle in 1840

Notes and Links

1). One of Edward Biddulph's sisters was Frances Biddulph who later married Henry William Radford.

2) Robert Lorn Pattison was employed as 1st Officer on the Sophia Jane in the late 1830's

3).The Story of the 1820 Settlers

4). The Sophia Jane was engaged to convey female convicts from Sydney to Newcastle in 1833. Twenty female prisoners who had arrived on the Caroline in August 1833 were embarked on the Sophia Jane destined for private service in the Hunter Region


[1] Sydney Gazette 23 July 1831

[2] Newcastle Morning Herald 29 March 1902.

[3] Correspondence of Edward Biddulph 1820 Settlers


[5] A Naval Biographical Dictionary: Comprising the Life and Services ..., Volume 1 By William R. O'Byrne

[6] British 1820 Settlers to South Africa

[7] Newcastle Morning Herald 29 March 1902

[8] Herben, Carol, 'Sophia Jane', Illawarra Historical Society Inc., 2007 (Online)

[9] Sydney Gazette 13 March 1832.

[10] Bodenham v. Biddulph Sydney Gazette 23 June 1832

[11] Sydney Gazette 8 October 1833

[12] Newcastle Morning Herald 2 August 1911

[13] Sydney Morning Herald 8 April 1840

[14]. Sydney Gazette 6 July 1839

[15] Maitland Mercury 1 November 1848

[16] Maitland Mercury 8 February 1851