From Sutton Poyntz to New South Wales...

...the remarkable story of ‘Grannie Davies’

It was a warm sunny day  and I had decided to go up to the top of Ridgeway to have a look at the ruined farm buildings, situated above Sutton Poyntz and to take some photographs for the article that subsequently appeared in the October edition. As I climbed a wall to take a get a different angle, I disturbed two deer  who promptly jumped up and set off across the field at quite a pace. So started a chain of events that led to the telling of this remarkable story.

It was later whilst researching the history of the ruins, which turned out to be Northover Dairy, that the fascinating story of Mary Ann Davies began to unravel.

The story had been partially told in local history books and in an old magazine article, but several facts were not clear or were incorrect.

Mary Ann was born on Saturday 22 July 1786 at Blandford, she was the daughter of John Butt, her mother’s name was Elizabeth, but her surname is not known. Mary Ann was baptised on Wednesday 2 August 1786.

Around 1808 she was working in the farm above Sutton Poyntz, but here the confusion begins, because records now show her name to be Mary Ann Pete, whose descendants in the area are called Peatey. Whether her mother married again is not known, but Mary Ann subsequently married herself and became Mary Ann Lawrence.

It is said a donkey was used to collect the water from the spring at the bottom of the hill and it was probably Mary Ann who had this thankless task, walking up and down the track, on the side of the hillside, that can still be seen today.

In April 1813, Mary Ann was working as a maid in Weymouth. She was accused of stealing a watch, chain and key from a Mr Thomas Courton Esquire, which was valued at £5 and probably made of gold. She was brought before the Mayor of Weymouth and commited by Warrant dated 14th April 1813, to the Summer Assize at Dorchester, which was held on Wednesday 4th August 1813.

The indictment reads,

“The Jurors for our Lord the King upon their Oath present that MARY LAWRENCE late of the Parish of Melcomb Regis in the County of Dorset, singlewoman otherwise called Mary Butt, on the twenty-fourth day of March in the fifty third year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, with force and arms of the Parish aforesaid in the County aforesaid:----One watch of the value of four pounds, one watch chain of the value of twenty shillings, and one watch key of the value of three shillings of the goods and chattels of one Thomas Courtin in the Dwelling House of the said Thomas Courtin then situate, being found then and there ---- feloniously did steal, take, and carry away against the peace of our said Lord the King, his Crown and Dignity”.

None of the articles were recovered and she was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death, the sentence was later commuted to seven years transportation to Australia.

She was discharged from Dorchester Jail on 21st December taken to Dartford and put aboard the convict ship Broxbornebury bound for New South Wales.

This is where another spanner was thrown in the research works, as all contemporary reports in the UK call the ship the Bloxenburg, which was subsequently found to be incorrect, the correct name being Broxbornebury.

The large Thames-built Broxbornebury departed London on 22 February 1814 in the company of the Surrey, which was to attract great public and official attention. The Broxbornebury embarked 120 female convicts (of whom two died in transit) plus passengers and merchandise; her master was Thomas Pitcher Jr and her surgeon Colin McLachlan. The Surrey, which had sailed with 200 male prisoners, separated from the Broxbornebury early in the voyage, calling at Rio on 12 April with typhus aboard. Departing Rio on 21 April with the typhus becoming more virulent, the Surrey was off Shoalhaven in late July when the Broxbornebury rejoined her. The Broxbornebury sent a volunteer to navigate the Surrey into Port Jackson, the latter’s crew having been decimated by the disease. Arriving in Sydney on 27 July 1814, after a voyage of 156 days, the Broxbornebury’s passengers were disembarked on the 28th, and proceedings completed by 1 August 1814.


An extract from the General Muster of 1814 reads,

“Mary Lawrence, residence Sydney, from the ship Broxbornebury, convict, off stores, no children, assigned to Mary Reiby”. 


Mary was given her partial freedom with a Ticket of Leave on 7 February 1816, two and a half years after her trial.  This ticket would have allowed her to live with George Davis as, subject to certain conditions, she was now a free agent.

George and Mary Ann were married on 3 February 1818 just three days after George received his pardon.  The Reverend William Cowper performed the service at St Philip’s in Sydney, with John Teral and Amelia Major as witnesses.  George was described as a mariner, bachelor, aged 30 years, and Mary was described as a spinster, aged 28 years.  Amelia Major was a friend of Mary’s, having also arrived on the Broxbornebury after being convicted at Middlesex on 13 May 1812.  John Teral was an acquaintance of George. 

After Mary Ann had served four years of her seven-year term, the news reached Australia that someone in Weymouth, England had confessed on her death to having stolen the watch, chain and key and had also returned them. The news took nearly a year to reach Mary Ann, who was given a full pardon as compensation and the Governer, Lachian Macquarie granted sixty acres of fertile land at Yass on the Yass Plains.

George was employed as an Overseer on a property at Murrumbateman owned by Samuel Terry.  Mrs Davies was the first white woman to live in the outback and she gave birth to the first white male child to be born on the Yass. The Davies’ had arrived by bullock cart at Yass Plains and built a house at Murrumbateman Creek, Gounyan.

George and Mary soon opened their first inn, called the ‘The Sawyers’ Arms’, brewing their own ale and distilling rum and began building for the future of the family. This inn became the last stopping place on the coach run between Sydney and Melbourne and thus the basis was founded for the family fortune.

When the area was inundated with gold miners, Mary set up a mobile pub, a dray with beer and rum, which was taken to the workings for the thirsty miners.

Mary had a reputation for being a shrewd, active businesswoman. Their inn provided a focal point for social activity and entertainment for the early pioneers in the district, as well as hospitality to travellers. Mary was known as ‘Granny Davies’ in her later life and was somewhat a legend in the Yass district as she was once held up by robbers while on her way to Sydney with a cart full of wool and farm produce. It was recorded that she drove the bandits off with an old blunderbus that she kept under the seat of her cart. On another occasion, when held up by robbers, she hid her money under her hat and they went off empty handed.

Their land grant at Yass, “Gounyan,” remained in the family for many years.  George died in 1867, at age 77, and is buried in the family cemetery plot at Gounyan. George’s will, a large handwritten document made in 1861, was probated in 1868, with Mary Ann and sons, George and James, named as executors. It lists extensive landholdings and livestock to be divided among his children and grandchildren.  The family consisted of four sons and two daughters; and now, with the fourth generation, it now exceeds 500. Mary Ann died in 1889, at age 103, although reports at the time put her age at113! Her funeral took place at the family cemetery, Gounyan, when the services were read by the Rev Mr Hughes, Wesleyan Minister of Yass, and at the grave as was only fitting and right, the greatest ceremony and respect were paid to the remains of one who had left so many to mourn her death, and one who was the first European female to look upon and cross the Yass plains. There was laid in the coffin, with the old lady, the youngest member of the fourth generation – Alfred Edward, the infant child of Mr Andrew Davis of Yeumerra, whose wife died of a heart attack a few hours after giving birth. The baby died a few days before his great grandmother with whom he is buried.

George and Mary Ann’s descendents became large land owners, owning thousands of acres in areas called Mudoonan, Sutton and Bloomfield, (at least one of those is familiar!).

So a young girl who fetched water on a farm at Sutton Poyntz, is sent to prison, crossed the world in a convict ship, marries another convict, is pardoned and starts a wealthy dynasty which continues to this day and all we have to remember her by is a ruined farmhouse on top of the Ridgeway, above Sutton Poyntz.

I find that quite sad.




The Broxbornebury

The “Broxbornebury” was a Thames –built vessel of 720 tons that departed from London on 22 February 1814. The ship embarked 120 female convicts (2 died in transit) plus passengers and merchandise.

The master was Thomas Pitcher Jnr and her surgeon was Colin McLachlan. She sailed from London together with the ship “Surrey” which had 200 male prisoners which was affected with typhus on board and called in at Rio. The “Surrey” after leaving Rio on 21 April 1814, ‘gaol fever’ or typhus took hold, infecting convicts, guards and crew. The death toll on board had reached 51, including 36 convicts.  The captain, first mate, second mate, boatswain, the ship’s surgeon, six seamen and four soldiers also died. Amongst the dead was the navigator. Fortunately, the “Broxbornebury” joined the “Surrey” on the east coast of Australia and transferred a man to navigate the ship into Port Jackson. Once inside Sydney Heads the ship was quarantined on the northern shore of the harbour where the remaining sick were treated in a temporary tent hospital. So began the use of North Head as a quarantine station. The voyage to Sydney was 156 days and the Bloxbornebury arrived on 27 July 1814 passengers disembarked on 28th and all processing was completed on 1st August 1814

Details of the Broxbornebury

• 720 - 750 tons (1812…1843)    • 14/20 guns    • Crew: 70/62

 • Tonnage: 720 (c1820); 751 tons (1840…1843)

• Materials: Sheathed with copper over boards

• Built: Gravesend/River Thames, 1812

• Registered: London.     • Home Port: London

• Owners: Timbrell; Pitcher & Co   • Fate: Condemned 1843


The book “Journey to a New Life”  describes life on board the convict ships. Chapters include: The Broxbornebury leaves England, The Broxbornebury Journal of a Voyage, The Surrey 1814, The Arrival in Sydney, The New Life, The Lives of the Broxbornebury Passengers and Crew.


Granny Davis follow up...

Following on from the feature in our March edition we have had two emails from Mrs Diana MacQuillan, a descendent of Mary Ann Lawrence (Granny Davis) in Australia! It’s amazing how far The Register goes!

We include an extract from her letter here:-

...Grannie Davis is my 3 x great grandmother ....

“... interesting is the fact that the photo which appeared in your article and that you sent me is in fact on the cover of the book that my cousin, Beryl Pittman wrote on the Davis family called ‘From a little Acorn’.  How amazing that you should have acquired it from an American website for the Hobbs family.  I don’t know who they are, but Beryl might.  We now think that this could a photo of Granny Davis and one of her sons, as George died in 1867.  Granny Davis lived until  13 August 1889, when she was 113 years old.  Beryl has been researching the Australian family for many years (her book was published in 1989, just after our bi-centenary) and she now has a data base of 14,000 + names.

I live in Yass NSW, which is quite close to Canberra ACT, if you are looking on a map.  In the early days of settlement Yass was at the limit of official settlement and there was nothing much between here and Melbourne, which is about 600 kms to the south-west.  George Davis/Davies was granted 60 acres here in about 1821, but he did not take up the grant until about 1827, when Yass was first settled.  The original 60 acres stayed in the family until fairly recently, when the then George Davis, who is unmarried and lives in Canberra, sold it.  The eldest son of the eldest son was always called George and inherited it.  I am descended from George Davis, the son of Granny and George.

Yass is also well known for its very fine wool merino sheep, which my grandfather, Walter Merriman, had a great influence on the breeding.  When my children were at school they used to be most excited as they all learned about their great grandfather and what he had done for the sheep industry in Australia.  My grandfather was actually knighted by Queen Elizabeth on her first visit to Australia in 1954. Unfortunately Australia no longer rides on the sheep’s back, but my family are still very involved in the fine wool industry and have a very well known stud.  However this is nothing to do with the Davis family.

I am very much a Yass person, having been born here in 1935.  I grew up here and then went to Sydney to begin my nursing career.  In 1957 I went to England for a trip, as a lot of us did in those days.  I sailed with P & O, which is where I met my husband, who was a ship’s officer.  When I returned to Australia we were married and lived in Sydney for the next 40 + years, only recently retiring back to Yass, where I have become very involved in the Yass Historical Society and family history.”










The remains of Northover Dairy on the Ridgeway above Sutton Poyntz.

The original photo that was in the March article was thought to be of Granny Davis and her husband George, but it turns out this could be one of her sons.

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