William Hill – a man of many ships

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On Anzac Day 2023, I received a query as follows,’ I was wondering if you had any information on William HILL, 39th Regiment, who arrived in King George’s Sound aboard the Amity in 1826. I believe he may have had his wife, Mary, with him.’ And in a follow-up, ‘I’m researching Mary Ann HILL, who died in Albany on 31 October 1873. Her husband was William HILL. The Bicentennial Dictionary of WA indicates that Private William HILL of 39th Regt arrived on 25 December 1826 on the Amity. It is thought his wife Mary accompanied him.’

I did indeed have a Private William Hill on my database of 39th Regiment soldiers arriving in King George Sound, but I had no record of William (or any other 39th troops) settling in Western Australia, nor was I aware of any wives who travelled with the soldiers on Amity. My only reference to William was his first pay and the fact that he re-joined his regiment in NSW in December 1828 – probably on the ship Governor Phillip. This indicated he left King George Sound over two years before the last of the 39th re-joined the regiment in NSW in May 1831.

Did William and Mary return to Western Australia to settle here later? Time for me to hit the Musters and Pay Lists and follow William’s trail, while my correspondent would seek further information about Mary or Mary Ann through her death certificate and from local sources in Albany. For me, the research became an interesting case study, although not quite meeting the criteria of a Redcoat Settler in Western Australia.

Background on Regiment

It is often useful to follow the movements of the regiment when researching soldiers. So I decided to look at William’s regiment’s history at least since the Napoleonic Wars and discovered that after the Battle of Waterloo it remained in France as part of the Army of Occupation until 1818 when it returned ‘home’. And back then ‘home’ also included Ireland where the regiment disembarked troops in Cork in December 1819. Between then and 1824 it served in small detachments at Castlebar (1819), Dublin (1820), Cork (1821), Tralee (1822),  Limerick (1823) and Buttevant (1824). This was not the regiment’s first tour of Ireland. In 1754, the 39th Foot became the first British Army unit to be deployed to India, earning it the motto ‘Primus in Indis’ (‘First in India’). It fought there in the Seven Years War (1756-63).

I discovered that the earliest Muster and Pay List records for the 39th were available in Australia for Buttevant and Cork (courtesy of the National Library of Australia via the Australian Joint Copying Project). The dates covered 25th December 1824 to 24th June 1825.

Meanwhile Orders were received in July 1825 that required the 39th Regiment to serve in Australia and ultimately India. In keeping with arrangements of other regiments, the troops would be transported to the antipodes by convict ships; they would become the convict guards. The first ship to embark 39th soldiers at Deptford, London on 8th November 1825 was Woodman bound for Van Diemen’s Land; the second ship was Regalia leaving Deptford on 22nd December 1825 bound for New South Wales. From its Sydney HQ in NSW 39th soldiers would serve in King George’s Sound and Norfolk Island.

So what has all this to do with Private William Hill… read on and you will see…

Introducing William Hill – a man of many ships

William was born in 1795 in Wiveliscombe, Somerset – a son to John, a tallow chandler by occupation, and his wife Mary – but he was not baptised in the parish church until 28th January 1798. The medieval church is no longer there, the replacement St Andrew’s church was built on the same site in 1827-28 for only a little more, than repairs to its predecessor would have cost. It was a parish full of ‘Hill’ baptisms making my task of identifying the soldier more difficult. For the same reason, it was difficult to verify siblings for William. The population of Wiveliscombe, back at the turn of the 19th century, was about 1,500.

Army Career

In 1815 William enlisted in the 39th Regiment in Cheddon, Somerset in 1815 at the age of 20. He was a labourer before entering Army service. At the time of enlistment he was described as 5 ft. 7 ins. tall, fair complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He received the sum of one guinea the following day on being attested. The first ten years of William’s service would have followed the movements of the regiment as described in my short history above.

The Voyage to Australia
After arrival at Chatham from Ireland, William and his comrades then left Deptford, London on 22nd December 1825 bound for New South Wales via Dublin (see left). One officer – a 20 year-old lieutenant -one sergeant and 20 rank and file soldiers embarked on the 369 ton ship Regalia, built in Sunderland in 1811. The Surgeon Superintendent, James Rutherford, would have embarked at this point in the voyage, but unfortunately his journal did not survive.

Departure from the Thames was memorable – the pilot ship ran aground at Blackwall and tangled with two other ships causing some damage to all three. Then came severe easterly storms which kept them in the Thames estuary until they made a difficult passage to Ireland, arriving on 17th January 1826 at the port of Kingstown, Dublin. Lieutenant William S. Coke, in his account of the journey, reported that most of the soldiers suffered from sea sickness. The 130 convicts were boarded from the prison hulk Essex and after the first attempt to leave harbour, Regalia was turned back by the captain, when the bad weather and heavy seas continued. During this waiting game one of the guard overheard Captain Burt give orders to prepare the quarter boat, silently, for himself and the sailors. This information was quickly conveyed to Lieutenant Coke who promptly responded, ordering his men to shoot or bayonet the first man who attempted to leave the vessel. After two more attempts at leaving harbour, the ship finally set sail again on 16th March.

It seems that relations between Captain Robert Burt, Surgeon James Rutherford and Lieutenant Coke were strained throughout the entire voyage. Regalia sailed past Madeira on 25h March and reached Cape Verde Island on 5th April. After more adventures, she reached Rio de Janeiro harbour, dropping anchor on 17th May. For details of the considerable adventures of this voyage, click here. The ship arrived at Port Jackson, Sydney on 5th August 1826.

Sydney Monitor 9 Nov 1826

A Short Holiday in King George Sound
William Hill had been on the ground in Sydney HQ for only three months when he was under orders to embark on Amity, a ship to defend and settle the south west coast of New Holland under the leadership of Major Edmund Lockyer, 57th Regiment, Captain Joseph Wakefield and 19 soldiers of the 39th Regiment. More detail of Amity’s voyage can by found here: King George Military Post, Western Australia’s first military post and convict settlement.

Currency Lad 15 Dec 1832

William and his comrades arrived on 26th December 1826, but although the post was occupied until the last of the 39th Redcoats returned to NSW in March 1831, William left to re-join his regiment in Sydney on 10th December 1828 on Governor Phillip. His next posting would be to Norfolk Island in February 1829. He served in Australian territory for nearly six years after which he left for India on the troopship Hercules on 8th December 1832 as part of the 39th detachment of seven officers, 186 troops plus women and children.

More detail can be offered (below) from the time William arrived in Buttevant, Ireland to when he left for India. The Musters and Pay Lists are not available in Australia once William’s detachment arrived in India.

William Hill’s Postings from Buttevant, Ireland to Poonamalee, India

Going to Pension
Although I cannot offer you details of William Hill’s Army career in India, we do know that by the time he reached India in early 1833, he had completed 14 years service in the Army, earning an additional 8d. per diem pay on 16th May 1829 (while in Norfolk Island) and a further ‘across the board’ increase in pay to 9d. per diem for those serving 14 years and upwards on 1st July 1832. Furthermore, his service record shows that he earned his first Good Conduct badge on 9th November 1836, and a second on 9th November 1838 giving him additional pay of 1d. per diem and 2d. per diem respectively. By 1839 William was certainly looking at an Army discharge and some kind of pension.

William Hill’s Final Discharge Details [WO97-554-010 p.1]
William is recorded as having served 27 years 341 days plus 179 for further service when fully discharged. His final discharge date was 27th May 1840 – by which time he was back in England, having arrived at Gravesend on 3rd May 1840. His medical examination took place at Chatham the following day. He was 44 years and six months at the time of his discharge.

William’s discharge was on medical grounds recording, ‘According to the Surgeon’s report, it appears that this is a case of of disease arising from cholera and dysentery as well as general debility from long service, contracted in the service and not attributable to neglect, design, vice or intemperance, and the Regimental Board approved of the opinion of the surgeon as it is shewn by the Proceedings of the Board.’

Furthermore, his discharge documents states, ‘That his general conduct has been very good but more particularly so when left behind at Bellary with a detachment when the Regiment took the field in August last.’

William was admitted to pension with an amount of 1s 3½d. per day payable at Wiveliscombe, Taunton, Somerset. He continued to receive this amount until his death in 1876.

Personal and Family Life

Eliza Binding nee Hill headstone at Grantville Cemetery, Bass, Victoria
Mary Hill record of death in Bellary, India 1839

William Hill probably married his first wife, Mary, in Ireland. To find a record of names as common as William and Mary would require the ‘needle in a haystack’ approach in too many parishes, many of which may not have the relevant records available. Mary may well have accompanied William to King George Sound, but I have been unable to verify this. Mary was certainly with her husband in Norfolk Island as their daughter Eliza was born on 21st November 1829. William returned to Sydney with the regiment at the end of June 1830 on the ship Lucy Ann, after which Eliza was baptised in St Phillip’s Church, Sydney (named for Governor Arthur Phillip) on 11th July 1830. The headstone at Eliza’s burial place indicated that Mary died in India 1839 aged 40. It shows that Eliza, after her marriage to George Binding in Brompton Ralph, Somerset, emigrated to Victoria, Australia.


Back Home
William’s decision to discharge from the Army in November 1839 was probably prompted by his widower status three months previously, the prospect of having to raise his daughter alone, and the reasonable pension he would receive from the Army.

1841 Census of England at Wales, Wiveliscombe [HO107-950-9]

Meanwhile back in Wiveliscombe, William’s youngest brother Henry (aged 28) had married Ann Norman (20) on 28th March 1832 after banns. They had three children, William, Mary and John between 1833 and 1839. Henry died in April 1840 leaving Ann a widow with three children under seven years old.

It is unlikely that William would have known of his brother’s death the month prior to returning to England to sort out his medical pension and other arrangements. A year would go by before we find the widower and the widow again – in the 1841 census of England and Wales. William is back in Wiveliscombe living with a family named Greedy (probably as a lodger – although not stated in the census). Ann is also still in Wiveliscombe, living with the Cross household, with her three children… and one extra child named Eliza aged 12. Now, what a coincidence; a young girl born in 1829, NOT born in the county (Somerset) but in Australia, so says the census record on the page after William’s entry! So now we can predict the outcome… or can we!

William Hill married Ann Norman (using her maiden name) after banns on 2nd May 1842 in the parish church of St. James, Taunton. Then came the surprise: William Hill married Ann Hill (using her former married name) after banns on 31st July 1844 in the parish church of Wilton, Taunton. Both marriages have been transcribed and indexed by the Somerset Archives; both marriages were recorded by the General Registrar’s Office at Taunton (but with different reference numbers, of course). There is no doubt it is the same couple – but why two marriages?

William and Ann’s family can be easily traced in the Census Returns from 1841 together with the relevant birth/baptism, death/burial and marriage records. For example:
1841 Census William and Ann are living in separate households in Wiveliscombe. William’s only child, Eliza, is recorded with Ann’s children from her first husband.

1851 Census William (ag lab pensioner) and Ann are living in ‘Tarr’, Lydeard St. Lawrence, Taunton with:
Eliza born in Norfolk Island, 21 Nov 1829, baptised in Sydney 11 Jul 1830 (daughter of Mary, Williams deceased first wife).
Mary baptised in Wiveliscombe 18 Oct 1835 (daughter of Henry, William’s brother).
Jane baptised in Wiveliscombe 6 Nov 1842.
Sarah baptised in Wiveliscombe 22 Sep 1822.
Ann baptised in Lydeard St. Lawrence 29 Aug 1847.
Henry baptised in Lydeard St. Lawrence 2 Jun 1850.

1861 Census William (stone mariner) and Ann are living in Dulton Road, Milverton, Somerset with:
George baptised in Milverton 3 May 1857.
Martha baptised in Brompton Ralph 4 Dec 1853.

1871 Census William and Ann are living at ‘Hounds Moor’, Milverton with a granddaughter.

William’s pension return indicates that he died on 17th March 1876, his pension paid up to 1st April 1876 at the Trowbridge District Office. I have been unsuccessful in identifying any other verifiable death or burial record for William – but it is possible he died and/or was buried outside Somerset perhaps in the residence of one of his children. Or maybe his name was misspelt as Hall or Hull as it often was.

Ann Hill neé Norman is undistinguishable in the records from the 1871 Census onwards.


The Mary Ann Hill death cited in Albany in 1873 was not the wife of William Hill who arrived on Amity. His wife Mary died in India in 1839.

The newspaper record of the departure of Amity from Sydney to King George Sound suggests that three women and three children were on board, but how to confirm this or identify them is another matter. But we do know that William’s wife Mary was in Australia at least three years later. She lived for a further decade after the birth of their daughter Eliza on Norfolk Island; they could have had other children during that period of which I am unaware.

St James’s Parish Church, Taunton

Wikipedia, Wikipedia Commons.
The Records and Badges of Every Regiment and Corps in the British Army, Henry Manners Chichester and George Burges-Short 1900.
The National Army Museum, London.
Historical Record of the 39th or Dorsetshire Regiment 1702-1853, Richard Cannon Esq.
Wivey and the Hills Churches website.
Vision of Britain website (population statistics).
The 1827 Newcastle Notebook and Letters of Lieutenant William S Coke HM 39th Regiment, Cynthia Hunter, 1997.
Somerset Archives (baptism, death and marriage records).
British India Office Archives Deaths & Burials N-2-19 p.101.
General Registrar’s Office, England & Wales (marriage records).
Find A Grave Australia website (headstone).
War Office Musters and Pay Lists WO12-5263 to 5266, National Archives, Kew.
War Office Embarkation Returns WO25-3503-50 (1825-28).
War Office Royal Hospital Chelsea: Soldiers Service Documents WO97-0554-010, National Archives, Kew.
War Office Royal Hospital Chelsea Admission Books, Registers and Papers WO23-12,39,48,58, National Archives, Kew.
Census of England & Wales, 1841 [HO7-950-9], 1851 [HO107-1923-447], 1861 [RG09-1609-82], 1871 [RG10-2361-44] National Archives, Kew.
Sydney Monitor 11 Aug 1826 (Regalia)
Sydney Monitor 9 Nov 1826 (Amity).
Sydney Gazette 1 Jan 1829 (Governor Phillip).
The Australian 6 Feb 1829 (Isabella).
Sydney Gazette 1 Jul 1830 {Lucy Ann).
Sydney Gazette 11 Dec 1832 (Hercules).
Currency Lad 15 Dec 1832 (Hercules).