Sir Henry Brown Hayes 1762 – 1st February 2017

Sir Henry Brown Hayes 1762 – 1st February 2017


Are you sitting comfortably?  Then I shall begin.  Once upon a time there was a wild young man who lived in a beautiful manor house near the city of Cork in Ireland, the son of a wealthy and respectable man.    Henry lived life to the full, and according to some stories had three children by three different women before he reached the age of 21.  With the help of his father and his family connections he was made a Freeman of Cork City at the age of 21, and by the age of 27 he was elected as Sheriff of the city.  In anticipation of a visit from the Lord Lieutenant he was tasked with organising a banquet.  The food and wine, all paid for by the Corporation, and therefore the tax payer, were of excellent quality, and the evening an outstanding success.  The organisers were rewarded with a knighthood, though he was the only one to accept the honour.

The following year the task of overseeing the first transport of Irish convicts to New South Wales fell to Henry.  Convicts from all over the country were brought down to Cork, whence they set sail in the Queen, 133 male and 22 female convicts, four of them with young children.  The journey was an awful one, the Captain having skimmed off a healthy profit from the funds provided to pay for food for the convicts, so all suffered from short rations and poor quality.  The ships officers and the soldiers there to guard the convicts had to share the disgusting fare, and many complaints were made to senior officers.  Another serious oversight was that a copy of the manifest for the ship to carry was overlooked, so on arrival at the penal colony there was no record of who the prisoners were or how long their sentences.  A copy did eventually reach Australia, eight years later, by which time those sentenced to seven years had already endured an extra two.

In 1783, Henry married Elizabeth, heiress to a sizeable fortune, but by the time of her death in 1794 Henry had managed to spend the majority of his wife’s fortune on costly furnishings and decorations of his home, including painted ceilings, doors and walls.

He cut a fine figure in the uniform of the South Cork militia, commissioned as a lieutenant in the 1793, the year the regiment was created, and attaining the rank of Captain.

Image result for South Cork Militia[Lieutenant Lucas Webber (South Cork Light Militia) by Hugh Douglas]

Dr. Caulfield of Cork wrote that ‘When he was a captain in the South Cork Militia, he usually encamped under a tent covered with silk and was otherwise equally extravagant.’  Caulfield also tells us that he “gave us splendid dinners at his country villa, which was a world to see, the most perfect piece of ingenious design and workmanship for elegant and comfortable retirement that could be seen in any part of the Kingdom.”

On his wife’s death, with a young family, and finding himself with large debts and no way to pay them off Henry determined to marry himself another heiress.  His fancy lighted on a young Quaker heiress, Mary Pike.  One can only suppose that this gentle young girl was not enchanted at the prospect, for Henry carried her off at gun point, and took her back to his mansion, where a man in priestly garb married them, very much against her will.  In fact Mary refused to accept that the marriage was valid.  She was presently rescued from her abductor, but sadly poor Mary never recovered from her ordeal, never married and ended her days in an asylum.

But what of our blackguard, for he can hardly be termed a hero?  He ran, with a price on his head, £1000 offered for his capture.  For two years he evaded capture, until he eventually surrendered himself at the establishment of an acquaintance, declaring that if someone was to receive a reward it may as well be one of his friends.  He was duly tried in June 1800, and was sentenced to hang, however his influential friends managed to get the sentence commuted to transportation for life to the penal colony at Botany Bay.

Trial advert for Henry Hayes        Trial advert for Henry Hayes

In 1801 Henry was on board the Atlas on his journey to the colony.  A bribe persuaded the captain to allow Henry to mess with him, and to bring with him his servant.  No doubt he also made sure to provide additional provisions to make the journey more bearable.  Even in this position Henry could not toe the line, and on arrival at Sydney was sentenced to an additional six months imprisonment ‘for his threatening and improper conduct’ towards the surgeon on board, Mr Thomas Jamieson.

Image result for Atlas convict ship

Henry was indeed fortunate to be able to afford these privileges, for on arrival at Sydney it was found that of the 151 male and 28 female convicts taken on board at Cork, 63 males and 2 females died on the passage, as did two soldiers and a sergeant’s wife.  Surgeon Jamieson felt it necessary to write a detailed letter of complaint about the Captain to Lord Hobart in which, among other things he stated: “The principal matter of complaint I have to enter into against Mr. Richard Brooks Master of the Atlas (and whence originates various causes of accusation), is that he shipped on board said vessel under his command a far greater quantity of goods and merchandize for his own private trade than could be possible warranted by the usage of the Service he was engaged in. By such conduct the ship was so deeply laden that it became necessary to keep the air scuttles in general closed, and the deadlights frequently shut in…….The usual modes of preserving health and cleanliness on shipboard was seldom attended to, even the Hammocks and bedding were as permanent fixtures and salutary custom of airing them upon deck being generally omitted. From the above circumstances and the humidity created by the confined state of the convicts the air became noxious to such a degree as to extinguish the candles burning the cabin…..

The just observation that foul air and filth generate disease was verified in the Atlas. A dangerous fever and dysentery appeared amongst the convicts, to which numbers fell victims; nor were the necessary means adopted to check the progress of this destroying Malady used; on the contrary it should see, from the conduct pursued, that it was intended to aid the baneful influence of this harbinger of Death, for one half the hospital was occupied as a sail room, and by this arrangement the Sick were some of them obliged to sleep in the prison with other prisoners who were in health. The prevailing disease being contagious in its kind, the infection extended from the cause above recited, and the malady became almost general I have further to remark upon the above head that when the ship lay at Rio, the prisoners being kept on shore presented a favourable opportunity to expel infection from on board by washing and fumigation; but the Surgeon could do neither to effect, the prison being almost filled with sundry kinds of lumber, principally Mr. Brooks private property”

Convicts on Deck the Atlas 1 1802 – (C) Brian Ahern                                       Image result for Convict Ship Atlas

Ashore Henry continued to make a nuisance of himself, consorting with the wilder elements of the Irish convicts and attempting to establish a freemason’s lodge.  When troubles between Governor Bligh and the military began Henry backed the wrong side, and ended up being sent to work in the coal mines in Newcastle.  In 1812 Henry was pardoned by Governor Macquarie and he set sail once more in the Isabella to return to the country of his birth.  The passage home was far from uneventful, and he survived a shipwreck of the Isabella at the Falkland Islands.  One of his fellow passengers, Joseph Holt, wrote an account of their experience.

After all the adventures of his life, Henry lived quietly on his return to Ireland, for nearly twenty years, dying in 1832 at the age of 70.

If this was a piece of fiction, or a film, it would be hardly credible, but ‘tis neither, but perhaps one day someone will see the potential.  Now who to cast in the title role?