Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

William Cromarty

Newcastle Harbour Pilot

William Cromarty was born in Ronaldsaye, Orkney Islands, Scotland in 1788 [1]. He married Cecilia Brown in 1815.

He arrived in Australia in 1822 and was employed as 1st Officer on the vessel Fame which was owned by merchant Simeon Lord[3].

William Cromarty was employed as 1st Officer on the Fame in 1822

Later William Cromarty was engaged as Captain of the Fame and became well known and highly regarded throughout the colony. His wife Cecilia and daughter Elizabeth arrived in 1824 on the Phoenix.[2]

He received a land grant dated 7 July 1824, possession authorised on 15th July 1827 as a primary grant. This was situated at Port Stephens, County of Gloucester, parish of Tomaree; commencing at a marked oak tree at the west extreme of the south boundary line of the Crown Reserve of Soldiers Point. [6]

Manning River

J.F. Atchison in an article in the Royal Australian Historical Society Newsletter of April 1978 high-lighted William Cromarty's maritime achievements:

'In February 1827 Robert Dawson commissioned William Cromarty, an able sailor, to attempt an entry of the Manning River from the sea and to chart its channels. The Barnard-Manning Rivers system had been explored in 1825 by Henry Dangar and named by Dawson in honour of William Manning, Deputy Governor of the Australian Agricultural Company. Dawson was anxious to establish its course. Cromarty made an unsuccessful attempt to enter Farquhars Inlet (Old Bar). He then walked along the coast to Port Macquarie.

Dawson made another attack on the Manning the following October. He sent John Armstrong and John Guilding, an experienced planter and native of the island of St. Vincent in the West Indies, north by sea from Port Stephens. They established that the Barnard Manning system flowed out to the Pacific Ocean through two outlets: Harrington and Farquahars Inlets, inlets which John Oxley in 1818 had judged to be coastal lagoons.

The tall headstone in the cemetery at Tahlee commemorates William Cromarty, an early settler whose unsuccessful attempt to chart the Manning River paved the way for Armstrong and Guilding's notable contribution to our understanding of Australian topography

Port Stephens

In 1830, Australian Agricultural Company Commissioner Sir William Edward Parry, described a visit to Captain Cromarty -

'Dr. Nisbet went over to see Mr. Cromarty, a settler, to endeavour to arrange with him to go up the Myall with one of our boats to look for cedar, of which there was a great quantity purchased by the company formerly from Mr. (Simeon) Lord, and of which Mr. Cromarty knows more than anybody else, having been employed by Mr. Lord.

Cromarty is an honest man, a rare avis here, and is desirous of paying us in this way for any services we can render him


William Cromarty was in Newcastle in April 1833 when Governor Burke's visit took place. Perhaps he assisted in piloting the famous steamer Sophia Jane into the harbour on that day in April. He signed an address prepared by Sir W. Parry which was later presented to the Governor.[4]

William Cromarty was seriously injured in an accident at Newcastle port later that year and retired from his position to settle on his land at Soldier's Point, Port Stephens.

It was reported in the Sydney Gazette that the Newcastle port was left without a pilot for some time on Cromarty's resignation, although this was disputed by assistant pilot Charles Hughes who stated that he had performed the duties of pilot at Newcastle, not only from the superannuation of the late Mr. Eckford, which took place in the year 1827, but for ten years prior to that occurrence without imputation or fault'

William Cromarty was apparently appointed to the position of pilot again in October 1834. The Sydney Herald reported of his high fitness for the post, being a man of courage and an excellent seaman [5].


William Cromarty was only 50 in September 1838 when, with his sixteen year old son William, and two others, he perished near Port Stephens while attempting to recover the lifeboat belonging to the King William IV steamer. Read about his death in the Sydney Herald [9]

His wife Cecilia stayed on at Port Stephens with their son Magnus and daughters Elizabeth, Cecilia and Mary. [8]

Daughter Elizabeth married Thomas Peck on October 1833 at Port Stephens. Daughter Cecilia married Captain Banks.

William and Cecilia's son Magnus settled on land that became known as Bob's Farm. His son Magnus Cromarty was elected to parliament in 1922.[11]


[1] Cromarty Births Deaths and Marriages

[2] 1828 Census (Ancestry)

[3] Sydney Gazette 5 August 1826

[4] Sydney Gazette 20 April 1833

[5] Sydney Herald 13 October 1834

[6] Sydney Morning Herald 24 January 1845

[7] Early Days of Port Stephens: Extracts from the diary of Sir Edward Parry, Dungog Chronicle

[9] Sydney Herald 19 September 1838

[10] Baptisms, Marriages and Burials Register Book of Christ Church [Cathedral] Newcastle Baptisms, Marriages and Burials 1826 to May 1837

[11] Parliament of NSW site

[12] Hobart Town Gazette 24 August 1822