John Herbert (c.1760–1832)

JOHN HERBERT is one of over fifty First Fleeters buried in the parish of St. John’s, Parramatta and one of only seventeen First Fleeters with memorial plaques at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. Originally sentenced to death for his part in a highway robbery with three accomplices, HERBERT’s sentence was commuted to the lighter sentence of seven years transportation. He was transported to the colony of New South Wales on the First Fleet convict ship Charlotte (1788). When he became involved in a domestic dispute with his First Fleet convict wife DEBORAH ELLAM, HERBERT became the defendant in the country’s first domestic violence case. Upon the expiration of his sentence, he became a free settler at Prospect Hill near Parramatta and the Hawkesbury.


  • Born in England: c.1760
  • Servant to Arthur Phillip on HMS Europe: prior to May 1784
  • Convicted and sentenced to death at Exeter: 14 March 1785
  • Sentenced commuted to seven years transportation: 5 April 1785
  • Held on Dunkirk hulk: January 1786
  • Transferred to First Fleet transport Charlotte: 11 March 1787
  • Sailed with the First Fleet per Charlotte: 13 May 1787
  • Arrived at Botany Bay per Charlotte: 20 January 1788
  • Arrived at Port Jackson per Charlotte: 26 January 1788
  • Married First Fleet convict DEBORAH ELLAM: Sydney Cove, 2 April 1788
  • Domestic dispute with wife DEBORAH ELLAM: 4 December 1788
  • On trial for beating his wife DEBORAH ELLAM without just cause: 5 December 1788 (Deborah is punished instead)
  • Son BENJAMIN HERBERT born: 1789
  • Son WILLIAM HERBERT born: 1791
  • Herbert family settle on 70 acres at Prospect Hill on the farm “Pender”: 1792
  • Son JOSEPH HERBERT born: 1795
  • Son JOHN HERBERT (II) born: 1797
  • Son CHARLES HERBERT born: 1800
  • Son THOMAS HERBERT born: 1802
  • Son THOMAS HERBERT dies: 1802
  • Son JAMES HERBERT born: 1803
  • Daughter SUSANNAH HERBERT born: 1805
  • Herbert family off government stores: 1806
  • Buys 80 acre farm, later known as “Puddledock,” at the Hawkesbury: 1806
  • Wife DEBORAH HERBERT dies, aged 52: June 1819
  • Married convict ANN DUDLEY per Friendship (1818): 21 October 1819
  • Son HENRY HERBERT born: 7 October 1820
  • Fine issued for driving cart furiously: February 1827
  • Shopkeeper in Parramatta: 1828
  • Died, aged approximately 68 years: 1 April 1832
  • Buried: 4 April 1832, St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta

Burial Location

  • Buried in Section 3, Row F, No. 14 at St. John’s Cemetery, Parramatta



  • Marine (HMS Europe) up to May 1784
  • Settler
  • Farmer
  • Shopkeeper / Dealer


  • Servant to Arthur Phillip on HMS Europe: up to May 1784
  • Convict, Dunkirk, January 1786–11 March 1787
  • Convict, Charlotte11 March 1787–26 January 1788
  • Settler


  • Pender: a 70-acre farm at  Prospect Hill
  • Puddledock: an 80-acre farm at the Hawkesbury

Related Content

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. 129.
  • 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: Exeter, Devon

# Punishment: Death (commuted)

# Punishment: Seven Years Transportation

# Hulk: Dunkirk

# Ship: Charlotte (1788)

# Burial year: 1832

# Grave: marked