Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Richard Beacher

Newcastle Harbour Pilot

Richard Beacher, son of John and Jane Beacher, was christened 17 March 1810 in Gainsborough Lincolnshire. He married Jane Cragg at Sculcoates, Yorkshire on 7 December 1829.

Richard later gave his occupation as seaman and Jane was employed in a public house. Six weeks after they were married a destructive fire broke out nearby, and having on the spur of the moment taken advantage of the circumstances, their lives were changed forever. The fire was reported in several publications. Below is an extract from one :

January 28.- Between ten and eleven o'clock at night, a most destructive fire broke out in the extensive coach manufactory of Mr. J. L. Angas, in Angas' court, Bigg market, Newcastle, which entirely destroyed the same, with the greatest part of the contents, even before the fire engines could arrive. The fire, which was first seen to issue from above Mr. Angas' counting-house, was not extinguished till near four o'clock on the following morning (Friday). The fire soon extended to the houses in the court, on the side next to St. John's lane, and three of them, to the bare walls, were destroyed, and also several workshops in the Fighting Cocks' yard, on the opposite side of the court.

The immense floor cloth manufactory of Mr. Hardcastle, which towers above the houses on the west side of St. John's lane, also soon caught fire in the roof. A conflagration so direful in its consequences, had, it was supposed, never before occurred in Newcastle. The lofty and beautiful steeple of St. Nicholas' church being illuminated by the flames, had a most remarkable appearance.

Plunder to a most disgraceful extent was effected during this dreadful calamity, in consequence of which, the houses of various suspicious characters were afterwards searched, and much stolen property found..[1]

On 27 February 1830 at the Newcastle Assizes Richard Beacher and Jane Cragg for their part in the above-mentioned plunder were both sentenced to 14 years transportation.

Leaving England

Richard was convicted of stealing furniture and Jane of pledging cloth. [2]. Richard was sent to the Justitia Hulk 22 March 1830 and transferred to the Burrell convict ship 30 June 1830. [3] Jane was incarcerated until she was transferred to the convict ship Kains. It would have been many months before they saw each other again.

One of the seamen on board the Kains, Charles Picknell kept a journal during the voyage. He reported that the prisoners from York were boarded on the Kains on 2 July. Three Quakers came on board praying with them and giving the prisoners all kinds of useful things. Orders came from the government to sail next tide. The Kains sailed from Woolwich at 1 am on July 8 1830. The same afternoon they were at the mouth of the Thames. The Kains called at Spithead, and was there on July 15 when King George IV was buried 'Guns firing on shore'. The Kains remained off the English coast until 28 July.

Departure from England was made from Plymouth. Picknell's diary entry of the day has a graphic touch 'lost sight of old Landsend 1 o'clock. We and the Burrell of London with one hundred and twenty men convicts both bound for Botany Bay, steered west with 21 sails on. The women were downhearted to leave old England. [4]

Arrival in Australia

The Burrell arrived in Port Jackson on 18 December 1830. The prisoners of the Burrell, spent their first Christmas in New South Wales on Sydney Harbour. The Kains did not arrive in Port Jackson until 11 March 1831.

Richard and Jane Beacher were just two of approximately 164,000 convicts who were transported to Australia in the years 1788 to 1868. In many ways their experiences were similar to other convicts of the day. Found guilty for an impulsive crime, thrown into a hulk or gaol for a few months before leaving all that was familiar when they were transported to Australia. Some of these transportees never managed to rise above the blow fate had dealt. Hardened by deprivation and punishment, they returned to a life of crime and often suffered dire consequences.

Richard and Jane met with more fortuitous circumstances on arrival. They also had each other and together they eventually made a life for themselves and their young family in their new country. Many years after his death Richard Beacher’s bravery as a Pilot was still remembered by older residents of Newcastle. The mere mention of his name caused a flood of reminiscences stating him to have been the best pilot of his day. [5]


Jane was fortunate to have initially been assigned to Willam Ogilvie at Merton where she would have no doubt had to work hard but would also have been treated fairly. Richard was first assigned to the Australian Agricultural Company at Port Stephens. [2]

Richard Beacher was highly regarded by Commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company Sir Edward Parry who considered him an extremely valuable man on account of his steady good conduct and qualifications as a seaman.[6] In July 1831 Richard made application to be transferred to Merton so that he and Jane could serve out their time together, however Sir Edward refused to allow this until a suitable replacement for him could be found. Willam Ogilvie made application on Richard’s behalf to the Australian Agricultural Company to exchange John Davis (per John 1832) for Beacher [7]. However both Richard and Jane were granted tickets of leave for the district of Port Stephens in 1836 so perhaps Jane left the Ogilvies and joined Richard at Port Stephens. The tickets of leave for both of them were altered to Newcastle in June 1838 and renewed in April 1840. [8]

Jane and Richard had one close call in April 1840 when Jane appeared before Magistrate James Henry Crummer at Newcastle charged with possessing stolen property. She was sent to Newcastle gaol under remand for examination that same day. On 26 May 1840 she was sentenced to two months in Newcastle gaol as punishment for purchasing stolen goods. Their little daughter was just twelve months old. [9] Jane was discharged to her husband in Newcastle on 26 July 1840[10].


The following children were born to Richard and Jane Beacher at Newcastle

Daughter Jane christened 8 May 1839. Married Joseph Taylor in 1858

Daughter Rebecca died in October 1843 aged 11 weeks 3 days.

William born in 1843. Died 25 July 1877

Richard born in 1843

Appointed Pilot at Newcastle

By 1843 Richard had found employment on the cutter Elizabeth one of the many vessels taking coal from Newcastle to Sydney. He was issued a ticket of leave dated 8 May 1843 for travel between Newcastle and Sydney by water for 12 months. He was granted a Certificate of Freedom 11 March 1844

He was appointed Pilot at Newcastle in 1850. [11] He continued in employment in the Pilot Department for the rest of his life.

Sydney Punch 4 August 1877

Death of Jane

Jane Beacher died at Newcastle March 20 1854.

Wreck of the Canmore

The brig Canmore, owned by J. and A. Brown of Newcastle was an old vessel of about 400 tons and employed in the 60 mile trade between Newcastle and Sydney. She was capsized while lying at anchor off Nobbys in October 1854. The sea had been fearful but the brig had been riding it out with others at anchor in the same place although pitching and rolling heavily. Suddenly without warning she was seen to turn bottom up. Conditions were so bad that it was impossible to send a life boat to her and so the pilot boat and several boats belonging to ships in harbour made for the North Shore where Captain W.B. Firth and one man were picked up alive. Dr. Stacy and Dr. Bolton were on the spot to restore them. The two men were the only survivors of the wreck. Later the ship could be seen lying on the oyster bank not a vestige of mast or rigging visible and the upper deck beams and bulwarks had been washed away. [12] The wreck of the Canmore was purchased by Richard Beacher and Mr. P. Walsh. The timbers were used to construct two houses. [13]

Allotment of Land

In 1856 Richard Beacher purchased Allotment 285 in Tyrrell Street Newcastle for £96.

The land was described as being situated on north side of Tyrrell street at the South West corner of allotment 284 and bounded on the East by the West boundary of that allotment two chains northerly; on the north by part of the south boundary of the Episcopal Reserve one chain westerly; on the west by the East boundary of allotment number 286 two chains to Tyrrell street southerly; and on the south by the north side of Tyrrel stret easterly one chain to the south west corner of allotment number 284 aforesaid. Being the allotment sold as lot 2 in pursuance of the proclamation of 5 September 1854.[14]

Map showing location of Richard Beacher's land. Allotment 285. P. Welsh Allotment 284. Parish and Historical Maps - Map showing location of Richard Beacher's allotment in Tyrrell Street

Location of Richard Beacher's house at NewcastleStreet map of intersection of Tyrrell Street and Newcomen Street Newcastle. Richard Beacher's allotment 285 on the north side of Tyrrell. .[15]

Wreck of the Eleanor Lancaster

One of the many rescues in which Richard Beacher took part was recalled in the Newcastle Morning Herald many years later -

'Early in the month of November 1856 the barque Eleanor Lancaster, then a well known trader to the port, sailed hence coal laden and on Thursday November 7 was seen making back to the port. A terrific southerly gale was blowing at the time and as the barque approached the port, it was realised her position was one of great danger. There were neither tugs or life boat in those days nor did the southern breakwater extend beyond Nobbys while on the north side there was no breakwater of any kind. There was therefore nothing that could be done to assist the incoming vessel and the watchers by the waterside could only wait and look on while the barque made a gallant attempt to reach safety.

But the elements were against and at last she struck on the southern edge of the Oyster Bank. Once the vessel struck her fate was sealed. Immense seas broke over her and a few minutes afterwards the crew took to the rigging for safety. There had been heavy rains preceding the gale which caused a heavy fresh to run out of the harbour and this together with the gale caused a tremendous sea upon the bar. Various expedients were suggested to rescue the distressed men but by common consent it was admitted that no boat propelled by oars could make back against the fresh and gale even if the barque was reached. At length Pilot Richard Beacher a seaman of the old school, made a start in the direction of rescuing the men. hose days there were three large buoys in the fairway one of them being outside the bar, to which the coasters frequently made fast on arrival while waiting for the flood tide to work themselves into port. One of these buoys was situated abreast where the old lightship used to be moored and to this buoy Captain Beacher made fast the pilot boat having first coiled in an immense quantity of rope. His idea was to slack away until the boat reach the barque, take the men out and then haul back again.

But the best made plans are sometimes spoilt by interference of others. While these preparations were being made the captain of a large foreign barque came on the scene. He possessed a ships lifeboat which he had manned with the intention of pulling to the wreck and rendering assistance. As the latter boat came past the buoy where the pilot boat was moored making final preparations Beacher hailed the shipmaster with the lifeboat and said For Gods sake don't go out there you will never get back again. The captain thought otherwise and started away with his lifeboat but soon got into difficulties and realising how impossible it was for him to get to the wreck attempted to come back. A terrific struggle ensued in which the lifeboat battled among the seas until the crew were well nigh spent. It was then Pilot Beacher decided to go to the rescue of the lifeboat and put in operation the very plan which had been designed to save the crew of the barque.

The pilot boat was slacked away from the buoy and in time reached the lifeboat when the two crafts were hauled back to the buoy. These exciting feats were not carried out without loss of time, and when the two boats got back to the buoy it was pitch dark. An attempt was then made to reach the shore, the lifeboat starting first but so strong was the rush of the outgoing fresh and so fierce the gale that no progress could be made and in the storm a return had to be made to the buoy where the bitterness of the breeze, rain and darkness the boats crews remained all night.

It was 8 o'clock next morning when they succeeded in landing all thoroughly worn out with exposure. The crew of the pilot boat was a volunteer one and as far as can be ascertained their names were Messrs. Hugh Gilmour, J. May, Daniels, McPhail, and a man named Yankee Jack. Of these Mr. Hugh Gilmour is still living. He was formerly a member of the pilot service but on the arrival of Mr. Moriarty at Newcastle to make the first survey for improving the port was transferred to what afterwards became the harbours and Rivers Department in which he is employed as storekeeper at Carrington' [16]

Appointed Assistant Harbour Master

Richard Beacher was appointed Assistant Harbour Master at Newcastle in 1858 in the room of Henry Serjeant.[21] Pilot Department Newcastle 1859 Pilot Department

Newcastle Harbour

In 1873 Richard Beacher aged 64 was again employed in the Pilot Service. When difficulties arose in the harbour because of crowding of ships awaiting to load coal and other cargo he was one of the pilots who signed a petition to harbour master D.T. Allan informing him of the state of the harbour. They deemed it unsafe to moor any more vessels without risk from swinging, collisions and grounding. They advised that large vessels should not enter the port until some of the vessels in harbour were removed. This letter was signed by all the pilots in service at Newcastle at that time -
James Taylor, Senior Pilot
R. Beacher, Acting Pilot
D. Powell Junior Pilot
Joseph H. Dagwell Junior Pilot
John Bain assistant Pilot. [17]


Richard Beacher died in 1876......'We regret to announce the sudden death of Mr. Richard Beacher, one of the oldest and ablest of our Newoastle pilots. Mr. Beacher has not followed his vocation regularly lately, but was considered very robust and in good health up to Sunday afternoon, when he was suddenly seized with English cholera, and died at his residence, Tyrrell-street, yesterday afternoon'. [18]

His city block of land situated in Tyrrell street with a street frontage of 66 feet and depth of 65 feet was auctioned by the administrators of his estate. R.C. Watt reportedly purchased the allotment for the sum of £900.[19]

Richard Beacher's heroic deeds were still remembered twenty five years later....'Old residents who were interested in the maritime life of the fifties love to tell stories of the old days, when there were no tugs, and the pilots of the period worked the vessels in on the tide. One of these old school pilots was buried on the hill at Christ Church Cathedral where a stone bearing the following inscriptions marks his resting place - Sacred to the memory of Richard Beacher, died Nov. 13 1876 aged 63, also Jane Beacher, his wife who died March 20 1854. A son was also buried in the same plot in 1877'[20]

Notes and Links

1). Ticket of Leave issued 20 April 1840 to Richard Beacher. Native Place Gains Borough. Trade Seaman. Offence Robbery. Place of trial Northumberland. Date of Trial 27 February 1830. Sentence 14 years. Born 1807. 5ft 4in, Ruddy and pockpitted complexion. Hair brown, sandy whiskers, eyes grey. Allowed for the district of Newcastle. Tickets of Leave. State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12202; Item: [4/4139]

2). Letter to Sydney Morning Herald re work of the pilots signed by Richard Beacher and William Hescott. Sydney Morning Herald 10 December 1856


[1] The Local Historian's Table Book: Of Remarkable Occurrences

[2] Convict Indents. State Archives NSW Convict Indents Fiche No. 677; State Archives NSW. Convict Indents. microfiche 678

[3] UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849. Class: HO9; Piece: 4

[4] Charles Picknell's Diary Sydney Morning Herald 10 May 1930

[5] Newcastle Morning Herald 29 March 1902

[6] Source: In the Service of the Company: letters of Sir Edward Parry, Commissioner to the Australian Agricultural company: volume 1, December 1829 - June 1832 Letter 461

[7] Date: 1832 12 July Place: Port Stephens/ Merton Source: In the Service of the Company. Letters of Sir Edward Parry, Volume 2 June 1832 - March 1834 Letter 666 .

[8] Ticket of Leave Butts

[9] Newcastle Gaol Entrance Books. State Archives NSW; Roll: 757.

[10] Newcastle Gaol Discharge Books. State Archives NSW; Roll: 138

[11] Maitland Mercury18 December 1850

[12] Maitland Mercury 25 October 1854.

[13] Newcastle Morning Herald 28 April 1902

[14] State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood, NSW, Australia; Archive Reel: 1777; Series: 1216; Description: Copies of Deeds of Grant to Land Alienated by Grant, Lease or Purchase Volume 178 Town Purchases, 1855

[15] Illustrated Sydney News 27 June 1889

[16] Newcastle Morning Herald 22 Aril 1901

[17] Sydney Morning Herald 10 November 1856

[18] Maitland Mercury 16 November 1876

[19] Australian Town and Country Journal. 24 March 1877

[20] Newcastle Morning Herald 29 March 1902

[21] Sydney Morning Herald 11 September 1858