Monday, May 20, 2013

Private Francis Smith (1793-1836)

Head and foot stones from the grave of Francis Smith

Springwood Cemetery (Blue Mountains City Library)

Francis Smith was born at Bromashall, Middlesex, in 1793. On 6 December, 1813, he enlisted in the 4th Foot of the King's Own Regiment, which was engaged in the fighting against the armies of the Emperor Napoleon in Spain. The following year he proceeded with the regiment to North America and participated in the Battle of Bladensburg and the capture of Washington; then accompanied the regiment south to New Orleans. The 4th sustained heavy losses against Andrew Jackson and half their number perished in the disease-ridden Louisiana everglades. Francis was one of the yellow fever causalities and he remained sick in hospital in North America while his regiment proceeded to Waterloo. He rejoined them in France early in 1816 as part of the British army of occupation. In 1819 he went with the army to the West Indies for eight years, then returned to England.

In February 1832, as a guard on board the convict ship Catherine Stewart Forbes, which was recorded as the worst cholera-affected vessel among the convict ships at the time, Corporal Francis Smith sailed from London for NSW. The voyage took 170 days during which he was subject to a court martial for a military offence that brought him one month's hard labour and reduction to Private. He stepped ashore at Port Jackson on 15 August 1832.

Private Henry Watts, of the Light Company 4th Foot, painted in spring 1831 before his departure for Australia. The inscription reads:

“Henry Watts, 4th King’s Own, Lions of England, Dear Parents

when you see this remember me

And bear me in your mind When i am far in a Foreign Clime.”

Private Smith would have worn a similar uniform.

Image courtesy of Kings Own Museum

Following short terms of duty at Sydney, Parramatta, Windsor and Liverpool, Francis was detached as a guard of iron-gangs at Mount Victoria. He then went to Cox's River for two years, followed by Emu Plains, Seventeen Mile Hollow and Springwood. At one stage he camped with a detachment of 50 men of the King's Own, in what is known as the King's Cave near Linden. By now he was a Lance Corporal. His daughter Isabella was born at Parramatta in January 1833 while Francis was at Cox's River, and he had to wait six months for leave to attend her baptism.

Francis Smith arrived in Springwood in January 1836 to take up duties at the Military Stockade on the Western Road. The Springwood Stockade maintained a line of communication to Bathurst, provided protection from escaped convicts for travellers and was a supply point for iron-gangs working in the district. With a compliment of six soldiers, it had been in continuous use since its establishment after Governor Macquarie camped near the site in 1815. The comfortable barrack comprised a substantial slab hut with a shingled roof, stone chimneys and board floors. There were three bedrooms, a sitting room, pantry, store room, a detached kitchen with an immense fireplace, and a stable. It also had an enclosed garden and a good supply of water.
In this setting, many years before lawful settlement was permitted in the district, Francis Smith completed a most adventurous life. There is no record of a cause of his death, but he died at the Springwood Stockade and was buried in the bush close by.

The inscription on the Georgian style headstone reads:

Sacred to the
Francis Smith
who died May 5th, A.D.
aged 43 years
having served for 25 years
as a soldier in
H.M. 4th The King’s Own

At the time of his death, Private Smith was survived by his wife, Isabella, and his daughter, also named Isabella, who was born in Sydney and was three when her father died. Following her husband’s death, Isabella received a gratuity of ₤4/8/2 ½ and settled in Parramatta with their daughter, where in 1840 she married labourer George Ross. She died a grandmother, aged 68 at Sydney in 1865.

In 1848 aged just 15, the young Isabella married Joseph Lapworth, a ticket-of-leave convict. There was one child, Sarah Jane. Isabella died aged 39, also a grandmother, at Sydney in 1872.

In 1869 Sarah Jane Lapworth married Theodore Dubber, an immigrant from Wiltshire. They produced five sons and a daughter, whose descendants live throughout Australia to-day.

Private Smith’s grave was relocated from the Stockade site after the Springwood Cemetery was opened in 1886. His headstone gives the misleading impression that Springwood Cemetery is much older than it actually is. Unfortunately the headstone has been vandalised and parts of it are no longer legible.

This image is of the regimental badge for the Kings Own Regiment,

taken from an officer’s belt plate issued during the time

the regiment had units garrisoned in the colony of NSW.

Image courtesy if Kings Own Museum

On Saturday 5th May, 1990, in a small park at the front of the Springwood Civic Centre, a plaque was unveiled by Brigadier D. J. McLachlan, Commander of the 2nd Military District, Australian Army. He was assisted by 15 month old Nathan Dubber of Tweed Heads, Francis Smith's youngest direct descendent.

Note: Francis Smith’s grave is not the earliest known European burial in the Blue Mountains. That honour belongs to the convict Edgar Church who was buried on Pulpit Hill at Katoomba in June 1822, aged 27 years.

One year later than the grave of Francis Smith is that of the Irish convict John Donohoe who worked in an iron gang under the supervision of the 4th Kings Own Regt. and was buried in June 1837, aged 58, near to King’s Cave at Linden; it is therefore almost certain that the two men were known to each other.

1. Blue Mountains City Library, Local Studies Collection PF258, undated photo from Stan Bentley, Springwood Historical Society Research Officer 1981-1987.
2., 3.  Images courtesy of:

* The Making of a Mountain Community, Springwood Historians 2003
* Smith, Francis. Vertical file, Blue Mountains City Library, Local Studies collection.
* Springwood's Solitary Soldier. Bob Grady, 1988

Note: This article is now linked from a QR code at the grave site at Springwod Cemetery.

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