Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

William Eckford

Newcastle Harbour Pilot

William Eckford arrived free on the Earl Cornwallis in 1801. On the voyage out he met Mary Horrell, a prisoner from Devonshire who was only 14 years old when she was convicted of stealing a muslin apron and handkerchief and sentenced to 7 years transportation. [1]

In 1813 in Sydney William Eckford was convicted of stealing three sheep and was sentenced to death. (The Sydney Gazette recorded him as William Hickford) [2]. The sheep had strayed into Eckford's flock and were killed and pickled by overseer John Johnston.

Both William Eckford and John Johnston were convicted and condemned to death, however William's sentence was commuted and he was sent to the Newcastle Penal Settlement in 1814.

Robert Whitmore was employed as pilot in 1815 however he fell into disfavour having grounded the Estramina in October and in correspondence from Commandant Lieutenant Thomas Thompson to Headquarters dated 27 October 1815, William Eckford was recommended for the position of pilot [6].........

William Eckford's recommendation for the position of Pilot at Newcastle October 1815

William Eckford's children were amongst the first pupils at the school in Newcastle in 1816. He was exonerated of the stealing incident in 1821. [1]

William was employed as harbour pilot at Newcastle where he remained for many years however received no salary. Instead he was allowed to collect fees. For every vessel in or out of the harbour under 50 tons, 10/-; over 50 tons and under 100 tons, 20/-; over 100 tons and under 150 tons' 30/-; for every additional 50 tons, 20/-.

William Eckford was interviewed by Commissioner J.T. Bigge in 1820.

Sons Joseph and Peter were born in Newcastle, and his last daughter Mary Ann was also born there in 1820. She and a native boy perished at Newcastle in 1826 after a calamitous explosion in the settlement's store house blew the roof off the building. Mary aged 6 and her friend had been playing inside and both died a few days later. The native lad was buried in the Parsonage garden[3] and Mary was buried in Christ Church burial ground Read more about the explosion here.

In June 1828 the sloop Dove was lost off Port Stephens after experiencing strong winds. Seven people lost their lives in this disaster. The famous Lord Liverpool also ran into difficulties in these June squalls, and if not for the skill of Captain Livingstone the cutter would have been lost. William Eckford had attempted to come to the aid of the Lord Liverpool in his leaky old pilot's boat, ('a cockle shell' that should have been replaced eight months previously) but almost drowned in the process. [5]

William Eckford retired soon after this after many years service as a pilot. Few probably knew the harbour better than William Eckford, however perhaps this near calamity with the Lord Liverpool was the last straw. He was over 70 years old by this time and retired to Maitland where his sons John, Henry, William, James, Joseph and Peter resided. He received a pension of 4 pounds, 13 shillings and 9d. on retirement.[4]

In 1823 his name was included on the return of land cleared and other improvements made by settlers on Hunter's River and Patterson's River. His land was located in township no. 19, section 21/22. There was a barn on the land as well as a wattle and plaster cottage and a pig yard. (Fiche 3264; 4/7029E pp.2-3)

Notes and Links

Robert Lorn Pattison

John Bingle

William Cromarty

Arnold Fisk

Alexander Livingstone

Charles Hughes

George Jackson

Richard Beacher

Sea Grave Yard

Harbour Lights

Signal Staff

Coal Fired Beacon

Newcastle Lifeboats

Port of Newcastle 1856


[1] McRae-Clift, Aenone, (from Maitland District Pre 1900 Pioneer Register, Maitland Family History Circle Inc. 2001, p87)

[2] Sydney Gazette 20 November 1813

[3] Australian 21 October 1826

[4] Sydney Gazette 8 September 1829

[5] Australian 13 June 1828

[6]. Colonial Secretary's Correspondence. Reel 6066; 4/1805 p.200a