Nathaniel Lucas
Convict and Pioneer on Norfolk Island

My great great great grandfather, Nathaniel Lucas, was a twenty year old when he came before Mr Rose and a jury, on 7 July 1784, at the Sessions, Justice Hall, Old Bailey on a charge of stealing clothing to the value for 40 shillings. Numerous family members today believe the charge was trumped up for various reasons, however the fact remains he was sentenced to transportation for seven years.

At that time numerous hulks were on the Thames River which were used to house prisoners and on 23 May 1785, Nathaniel was sent to the Ceres for two years and later transferred to the Censor on 3 January 1787.

Nathaniel, who was born in Kingston, Surrey in 1764, was the son of John Lucas, a builder, and Mary Bradford. Nathaniel also became a builder, carpenter, millwright and boatbuilder and these were his trades at the time of his arrest. Three years were to pass before he finally left Spithead on the Scarborough, as part of the first fleet, on May 1787.

First Fleet

The fleet sailed for three weeks before docking at Santa Cruz, Tenerife to take on supplies which included water and vegetables. Two months later, after crossing the Atlantic, the fleet docked in Rio de Janeiro on 6 August 1787. The first fleet remained there for three weeks before sailing to the Cape of Good Hope. On 13 October numerous supplies were taken on board including vegetables and meat. After another break, the fleet left on 12 November 1787 to arrive at Botany Bay between January 18 and 20. The location was considered unsuitable for settlement and so the fleet pushed on to Port Jackson with the arrival date, of 26 January 1788, now claimed as Australia Day. This date is considered, by our original inhabitants, to be Invasion Day.

Lieutenant Philip King was ordered to chose a party of 22 people, 'whose characters stand fairest and whose skills would be of most use' to pioneer the first settlement at Norfolk Island. The basis for this settlement was two-fold, firstly it was to forestall the French from settling there, and secondly, to use the pine and flax on Norfolk to make and repair masts and sails for ships which were returning to England. Norfolk Island, which is 1368 kilometres east of Australia, had been discovered by Captain James Cook in October 1774, but had been untouched since then.

Norfolk Island - the First Settlers

The Norfolk Island founding group, which was made up of seven free men, nine male convicts, and six female convicts included both Nathaniel, and his wife-to-be, Olivia Gascoigne. They were fellow passengers on the Supply which left Sydney Cove on 15 February 1788 and which delivered them, finally, to Norfolk Island on 6 March 1788. The ship carried not only the settlers but also supplies which were to last for six months. The party arrived in bad weather on 29 February and had to lay offshore until weather calmed sufficiently to permit a landing.

The convicts who were chosen for Norfolk Island had been told it would be possible for relationships and marriages to be undertaken and it is believed the marriage of Nathaniel and Olivia was one of several which was solemnised by a Dr Jameson in 1788. The Lucas marriage was confirmed on 5 November 1791 by Reverend Richard Johnson.

Official journals at that time recorded all punishments meted out to convicts however neither Nathaniel nor Olivia were mentioned. Nathaniel was in charge of construction on Norfolk Island and under his guidance crews worked on administration buildings and on homes for settlers. Nathaniel was recognised as an excellent worker and in 1791, after his sentence expired, he was granted fifteen acres of land at Grenville Valley. He built a home on the site for Olivia and for the first 11 of his 13 children. The first child, Ann, was one of the first children to be born on Norfolk Island. A year later the twins, Mary and Sarah, arrived however they died at 18 months of age when a tree, being felled by Nathaniel, descended upon them.

The other children were William (1792), Nathaniel (1793), Olivia (1795), John (1796), James (1798), George (1800), Charles (1801), Sarah (1803), Mary Ann (1805) and finally, Thomas (1807). In typical fashion of the era, the names of children who died were recycled and were given to children born later. Mary and Sarah were the names of Nathaniel and Olivia's mothers, and John was the name of both their fathers. The family left Norfolk Island before the birth of Mary Ann who was born in Sydney, as was Thomas.

Norfolk pines used for masts

The famous Norfolk Island pines were used by Nathaniel, a joiner and carpenter, for the supply and repair of masts for ships returning to England and he later ran a boat business in Sydney. During his fifteen years on Norfolk, Nathaniel built administrative buildings and homes for the settlers and on various occasions took over grants of land which were abandoned when the settlers left Norfolk Island. In 1793, a few years after his initial grant, Nathaniel increased his landholdings when he bought a further 60 acres from a former marine,which he used to farm wheat, maize and pork. On 22 May 1802, he was appointed Master Carpenter, of Norfolk Island.

His relationship with Lieutenant-Governor Philip King was on such a good footing that when Nathaniel wrote a letter to his father, dated 20 October 1796, it was King who personally carried the letter and attempted to deliver it. King was unable to track down John Lucas and today the letter is in the Mitchell Library.

Nathaniel Lucas' signature

Nathaniel Lucas' signature.

In 1804, when King became Governor of New South Wales, he invited Nathaniel to Sydney to erect a government windmill on a site on Church Hill where the toll gates now stand on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Nathaniel was also permitted to build a mill for himself. They were prepared on Norfolk Island and delivered to the Sydney colony on the Investigator.

When the decision was made to abandon the first settlement, Olivia and her children left Norfolk Island in April 1805, on board the Investigator to live at Church Hill next door to John Macarthur. The site today is known as 1 York Street. Ron Madden points out "Lucas disassembled and brought to Sydney for his own use the post mill that he had erected on Norfolk Island in 1795 (the first windmill erected in Australia). After re-erecting his windmill in Sydney he subsequently erected a smock mill for the government which was 99 percent fabricated in Sydney with probably only the millstones and perhaps cogged wheels prepared on Norfolk Island." Nathaniel later built another mill on the present site of the Shakespeare Memorial near the State Library of New South Wales. In April 1805 he assumed the position of the colony's superintendent of carpenters and his work then included the Rum Hospital, now the Mint Bulding, and rectories at Paramatta and Liverpool. In 1808, Nathaniel was formally appointed as superintendent of carpenters and he held this position until his retirement in December 1814.

Trafalgar Hotel

One of Nathaniel's buildings was the Trafalgar Hotel which he opened as an outlet after being granted a liquor licence in 1809. As one of the builders of the Rum Hospital he was given permission to import and sell alcohol. He was a teetotaller, although late in his life he began drinking rum to anaesthetise a mouth disease which was a common way to reduce pain in those years. In 1810 he exchanged his post mill for a lease at Liverpool where, together with Olivia and some of his children, he became a grazier and farmer in addition to continuing with his building trade. His son William, who was later to marry into a brewing family, took over the lease of the Trafalgar Hotel.

The marriage failed during 1816 and Olivia and various children moved to Launceston. Apparently Nathaniel did not visit the family however John and Charles commuted.

Convict architect, Francis Greenway, had a number of serious clashes with Nathaniel during the construction of St Luke's Church at Liverpool. Their disagreements escalated into a violent quarrel even as Governor Macquarie was laying the foundation stone. It was soon after this that Nathaniel vanished and when his body was discovered in the Georges River by his son, Olivia decided Greenway had murdered him. A new communication from Ron Madden says, "the evidence is very clear that faced with financial ruin and indications that he was an alcoholic and possibly suffering oral cancer, Lucas threw himself into the Georges River, knowing that he couldn't swim." No record of any inquest exists. At the time of his death Nathaniel was 54. At that time rum was used to help soothe pain in the facial area and it is thought this is why Nathaniel was drinking, not that he was an alcoholic.

Today the descendants of Nathaniel Lucas and Olivia Gascoigne form one of the largest families in Australia and one estimate suggests one in every 799 people in Australia call Nathaniel and Olivia their ancestors.

Lucas Family - First Fleet Fellowship of Victoria

Links to other convicts associated with my family

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This page was updated by Diana Kupke (Diana Mann) on 8 January 2024