Eleanor McCabe and Christopher Magee were one of the first free settlers in Parramatta.
Eleanor was in her early 20s when she was convicted in 1785. She had been tried at the Old Bailey for assaulting John Harris in the home of William Calloway, on 11 May 1785. During the trial Eleanor along with the three other women physically attacked the prosecutor and almost tore him to pieces. Eleanor was sentenced to seven years transportation.
During the trial evidence was heard that Eleanor was a “hawker”. She has been before the court on several previous occasions for prostitution and other offences. On one occasion she was sentenced to death but later pardoned and on another sent to a House of Correction for six months.
Eleanor was aboard Lady Penrhyn in February 1787. During this voyage she gave birth to a still-born boy. During the voyage Eleanor along with three ladies was transferred from the Lady Penrhyn to Prince of Wales.
In 1788 Eleanor McCabe married fellow-convict Christopher Magee. He is also known as Charles Williams. Christopher was convicted at the Old Bailey in 1784 for theft of a bag from a wagon outside the Three Cups in Fleet Market. He had some knowledge of farming and had earlier been a convict in America. He was sentenced to transportation. He arrived in the colony aboard the Scarborough on 26th January 1788. Christopher is one of the early settlers of Camellia. On 30 March 1791 he was granted 30 acres of land on the south side of the Parramatta River. Christopher worked hard on his grant and within six months had eight acres cleared and under crop.
Eleanor and Christopher had 2 children but on 18th January 1793, Eleanor and one child, plus another woman, drowned in the Parramatta River near Breakfast Cove.
Christopher worked hard on his grant and within six months had eight acres cleared and under crop. Watkin Tench wrote highly of his endeavors. This high opinion was not, however, maintained — especially after a burglary case in 1792 when Collins records that he left the court “much degraded in the opinion of every man who heard him.”
Eleanor and Charles had their first child James, who lived only for two months. A year later their second child, Mary, was born. Shortly after her birth the couple moved to Rose Hill to settle on Williams’ land grant.
The actual entry in Judge-Advocate David Collins’ Account of the English Colony of New South Wales reads:
“On Friday the 18th, Eleanor McCabe, the wife of Charles Williams, the settler, was drowned, together with an infant child, and a woman of the name of Green. These unfortunate people had been drinking and revelling with Williams the husband and others at Sydney, and were proceeding to Parramatta in a small boat, in which was a bag of rice belonging to Green. The boat heeling considerably, and some water getting at the bag, by a movement of Green’s to save her rice the boat overset near Breakfast Point, and the two women and the child were drowned. If assistance could have been obtained upon the spot, the child might have been saved; for it was forced from the wretched mother’s grasp just before she finally sunk, and brought on shore by the father; but for want of medical aid it expired.
The parents of this child were noted in the Colony for the general immorality of their conduct; they had been rioting and fighting with each other the moment before they got into the boat; and it was said, that the woman had imprecated every evil to befall her, and the infant she carried about her (for she was six months gone with child) if she accompanied her husband to Parramatta. The bodies of these two unfortunate women were found a few days afterwards, when the wretched and rascally Williams buried his wife and child within a very few feet of his own door. The profligacy of this man indeed manifested itself in a strange manner: a short time after he had thus buried his wife, he was seen sitting at his door, with a bottle of rum in his hand, and actually drinking one glass and pouring another on her grave until it was emptied, prefacing every libation by declaring how well she had loved it during her life. The grave is near the Camellia Railway Station, opposite Subiaco.”
Eleanor and her child are buried about 100m north of Camellia Station. It is said to be among the oldest known graves in Australia. This grave was restored by the Royal Australian Historical Society in 1920s with the installation of a brass headstone which reads:
“In this grave lie the remains of ELINORE MCGEE and her infant child who were drowned in the Parramatta River. January 1793. The grave is one of the oldest in this continent.”
On 28 February, 1982 the Fellowship of First Fleeters dedicated a memorial plaque to Eleanor acknowledging that Eleanor McCabe had arrived in the colony on the First Fleet. The foot of the masonry border of her grave plot was also fixed. Now it is completely fenced off. There is no safe access to the grave.
In October 1793 after his wife’s death, Charles sold his farm for less than 100 pounds. He expressed the intention of returning to England but he remained on the farm (his farm) as a labourer. Later on he moved to Hawkesbury and working as a labourer for Thomas Rickerby. He died 10 years later on 13 March 1815 and was buried at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Windsor.
- Terry Kass et al, Parramatta, A Past Revealed, Parramatta City Council, 1996
- David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. 1
- Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate: Saturday, 15 April 1893 “A Neglected Grave” Retrieved on 15 December 2015 http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/85657966?searchTerm=a neglected grave&searchLimits=l-state=New+South+Wales|||l-category=Article|||l-title=351
- Royal Australian Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, Vol.1, pp120&121. 1901
- Elinor Mcgee, Vertical File, Local Studies and Family History Library, Parramatta Heritage and Visitor Information Centre