William Singleton was my great-great grandfather. He was transported to Tasmania for life in 1828, aboard the convict ship Manilus. As with most convicts his crime was theft, in this case cheese, bread and bacon. Oh dear, a seventeen year old brickie’s lad gets very hungry.

During his long years as a convict William was incorrigible. He was barely five foot tall, but this diminutive character’s conduct record reveals  he willingly took risks and thus received all manner of punishments. There were whippings, periods of  solitary confinement, hard labour on chain gangs and multiple spells on a treadmill. 


His misdemeanors varied, but  being absent without leave and absconding topped the list. Well, I guess it’s hard to blame him.

On August 30 1845 he was granted permission to marry fellow convict Eliza Bryan, whose sad story in told elsewhere on this site. After finally being granted their tickets-of-leave the couple ended up farming in the rural community of Sassafras, in north-west Tasmania. It was virtually virgin bush when the Singleton family arrived, but was transformed into highly productive land.

Sassafras farmland, Tasmania
Rich farmland at Sassafras, Tasmania

William still liked a drink (or six). I must thank fellow Singleton descendant Helen Anderson for the following information;

Another great great grandfather, William Singleton, a farmer at Sassafras, was arrested by P.C. Norris at 8,45 p.m. on 8 May 1868, being drunk and incapable of taking care of himself in a Public Place at Torquay. His personal possessions on that evening included a half-sovereign, 19/6 in silver coins, a knife, a pipe and a letter. His mare, complete with saddle and bridle, was also noted. On this occasion William was fined 5/- which was duly paid. He appears on more than one occasion!


Eventually he ‘saw the light’ and joined the temperance movement. To my amusement William became master tea maker at the Methodist church in Sassafras.

The church as Sassafras, where William Singleton is buried

Here is an engaging snippet from the Devon Herald, December 21 1883, following what was known as a church tea meeting;

I must not forget our old friend, and tea-maker, Mr Singleton, whose duties among the pots and smoke were by no means light or pleasant ones. He performed his part right well, keeping the tea-pots in a constant state of replenishment.

Now earlier that year William’s son John Singleton had married Emma Shadbolt, whose father George was one of the original trustees of the church and the first superintendent of the Sunday School. I suspect the Shadbolts may have put a bit of pressure on William to turn away from the demon drink.

From his obituary in the Daily Telegraph, 1896;

The funeral of an old and respected resident here named William Singleton, who died at the advanced age of 95 also took place on Sunday afternoon. The deceased enjoyed the best of health up to within 16 months ago, when signs of decay were apparent, and the closing weeks of his life were spent in great weakness. He was one of the early settlers here (over 40 years) and many experiences has the old man told of the early days and of narrow escapes with the Tasmanian blacks, and with what pride he could show spear wounds of his encounters with them. The deceased was at one time very useful in setting limbs when the aid of a medical man was difficult to procure, and not a few can testify to his skill in that direction. Many will miss the cheery old man, who had many friends, and was greatly respected

The mention of setting limbs is interesting. ‘Bone setters’ were men who had somehow developed  the expertise to treat broken limbs in the bush. They were certainly not charlatans or quacks and their help was much appreciated.


I can’t help feeling that those stories of  spear wounds may have been a little embroidered, but we will never know. Despite being so small in stature  the punishments he endured as a convict shows he had unquenchable spirit and was as tough as bullock hide.

William died of heart failure and well, just very old age (95), something that didn’t happen very often in those days. His wife Eliza had predeceased him a few years earlier in 1890, aged 69.

When the records of the church as Sassafras were examined it was discovered that both he  and Eliza were  buried  in the churchyard. Their graves were unmarked, but  at 11.00am  on  Sunday,  July 23 2017,  descendants  met to lay  a memorial plaque. And afterwards, in the spirit of old William, the kettle was boiled. This ceremony was an initiative of John Singleton and my cousin John Allen. I was unable to attend, but my thanks to them both. It is so important to mark the passing of our ancestors and our pioneers.

For the story of William’s wife Eliza, CLICK HERE

  1. Beaut story of Willian Singleton, thanks.

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