Deborah Herbert (c.1767–1819)

DEBORAH HERBERT (née DEBORAH ELLAM) is one of over fifty First Fleeters buried in the parish of St. John’s, Parramatta and one of only seventeen of those First Fleeters who have memorials in the cemetery. DEBORAH arrived with the First Fleet as a convict per Prince of Wales (1788). On arrival, she married fellow St. John’s First Fleeter, JOHN HERBERT. Though DEBORAH can claim Australia’s first domestic violence case to be brought before the Courts, the couple remained together and had a large family.


  • Maiden name: DEBORAH ELLAM
  • Alternate: DEBBY ELLOM (c.f. baptism record)
  • Alternate: DEBORAH ELAM
  • Alternate: DEBORAH ELIAS (c.f. 1806 muster)
  • Alternate: DEBORAH HELLAM HERBERT (c.f. burial register)


  • Born: c. October 1765, Lower Walton, Cheshire, England
  • Baptised: “Debby Ellom” 18 October 1765, St Elphin’s Church, Warrington, Lancashire, England
  • Arrested for stealing clothing and cloth along with Elizabeth Hewitt and Alice Halton: < August 1784
  • Tried and convicted of theft: 30 August 1784, Chester Quarter Sessions, Chester, Cheshire, England
  • Sentenced to seven years transportation: 30 August 1784, Chester Quarter Sessions, Chester, Cheshire, England
  • Imprisoned at Chester Gaol: c. August 1784–14 March 1787
  • A letter ordered ANN DALY and DEBORAH ELLAM from Chester Gaol and 11 men from the hulks be sent to Portsmouth: 28 February 1787
  • Chester Gaol Turnkey brought ANN DALY and DEBORAH ELLAM on board Prince of Wales: Portsmouth, 9pm, 14 March 1787
  • Sailed with the First Fleet per Prince of Wales: 13 May 1787
  • Arrived at Botany Bay per Prince of Wales: 20 January 1788
  • Arrived at Port Jackson per Prince of Wales: 26 January 1788
  • Married fellow First Fleet convict JOHN HERBERT: Sydney Cove, 2 April 1788
  • Took her husband to court for domestic violence, was ordered to receive 25 lashes and return to her husband: 5 December 1788
  • Died: Parramatta, 23 June 1819
  • Buried: St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta, 26 June 1819



  • Convict, Chester Gaol, c. August 1784–14 March 1787
  • Convict, Prince of Wales14 March 1787–26 January 1788

Related Content

Deborah Herbert: A Prigger of Toggery (2018)

By Michaela Ann Cameron

Abstract: Deborah Herbert (née Ellam) was merely one of many convicts transported for ‘prigging toggery,’ (stealing clothing), both on the First Fleet and throughout the entire era of convict transportation. But was she just a ‘fashion victim?’ As historian Michaela Ann Cameron discovered, Debby’s life story is so much more than a means by which we can illuminate the experiences of the great multitudes of convicts sentenced for the same offence. Because, ultimately, it is a story about family: of familial bonds forged in captivity only to be unnaturally and cruelly severed by the forced migration of convicts beyond the seas; the first case of what we now call ‘domestic violence’ brought before the colonial judiciary; and, in spite of it all, the creation of new life and a new family in a harsh penal colony. more>>

John Herbert: From Felon to Farmer (2016)

By Penny Edwell

Abstract: Dramatic reversals of fortune defined the lives of many First Fleet convicts, and John Herbert was no exception. A former marine, Herbert was reduced to committing theft to support himself after being thrust into unemployment at the end of the American War of Independence. A conviction for the crime of highway robbery paved the way for a new life in the colony of New South Wales where he arrived as a common criminal but died, more than four decades later, a successful farmer. Despite a fiery early dispute that landed them in front of the colony’s Judge Advocate, John Herbert is buried next to his first wife Deborah. Both are among the 17 First Fleeters with memorials buried at St. John’s Cemetery Parramatta. more>>




Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

  • John Cobley, The Crimes of the First Fleet Convicts, (North Ryde, N.S.W.: Halstead Press, 1970), p. 86.
  • Judith Dunn, The Parramatta Cemeteries: St. John’s, (Parramatta, NSW: Parramatta and District Historical Society, 1991), p. 163.
  • “ELLAM/ELIAS, Deborah (c1767–1819) in Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), pp. 117–18.
  • “HERBERT, John (c1766–1846),” in Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1989), p. 172.


# First Fleet

# Convict

# Trial Place: Chester Quarter Sessions

# Punishment: Seven Years Transportation

# Ship: Prince of Wales (1788)

# Burial year: 1819

# Grave: marked