William Charker – Chalker

William Charker /Chalker

(1774 – 1823)

William Charker was born at Winchester, Hampshire, England on 16th December, 1774. He was the fourteenth child of a family of a family of 15. His father was Edward Charker, a Tallow Chandler and his mother was Elizabeth (née Barr). The Charkers were relatively wealthy traders and yeoman farmers and thus William was well educated and financially independent yet on 7th December, 1800 he inexplicably became involved (with an accomplice) in a substantial burglary “at the dwelling house of Thomas Evance at St Mary Lambeth stealing goods to the value of ₤33.6.0.

The two were arrested and tried on 25th March, 1801 at the Surrey Assizes. Each was sentenced to only seven years even though their crime was a capital offence. At his trial, his name was given as William Charker, alias William Chalker. This is the first known use of the alias which was to become his usual name in Australia, except on Legal Documents and Government Correspondence where he always used Charker. They were held first at the County Gaol and then in a prison hulk at Deptford before being placed on board the Coromandel, which sailed from Spithead on 12th February, 1802 with 138 convicts and 35 free settlers. It arrived at Port Jackson on 13th June after a non-stop voyage of 121 days.

Shortly after his arrival, William was assigned to work as a farm labourer for Jonas Archer and Mary Kearns at Mulgrave Place in the Hawkesbury district. In 1803, after Archer fled to avoid his creditors, Mary became the sole owner of the farm and soon after married William. The farm was then known as “Chalker’s Farm.”

By 1806 they were prospering but all was about to change with a devastating flood in March of that year in which the settlers lost everything that could not be quickly moved to higher ground. William became a hero as he attempted to save the lives of three of his neighbours and a child with his small boat. When it overturned, the adults drowned but William swam to the shore with the child on his back. He was rewarded with a Conditional Pardon in August 1806. After the harvest of 1806-7, their marriage ended with a legal separation notified in the Sydney Gazette of July 1807. The marriage had endured only three years. When it ended, he left taking only his horse “Miss Sportly”.

With his sentence expired, William was granted an Absolute Pardon on April 7th, 1808. He was now free to return toEngland but instead chose to remain and enter employment with Gregory Blaxland as his farm overseer, probably at his Brush Farm property and later at his more extensive South Creek holding. After leaving the employ of Blaxland, he also worked as overseer for William Lawson at Prospect from 1810 to 1814.

In November 1808, he selected Elizabeth Shackle (Speke, 1808) as his “hut keeper” or assigned servant from the Parramatta Female Factory. Elizabeth had arrived on the “Speke” with her two year old son Daniel on 6th November, 1808. She was assigned to William Charker within days of her arrival and although they did not marry, she assumed the  name and role of  Mrs Chalker almost immediately. Their first child, Edward, was born on 10th September, 1809 at South Creek. Other children were William James (1810), Maria (1811), Joseph Henry (1813), John (1815), James (1817), Mary Ann (1818) and George (1821).Frederick (1825) was born after William had died but was known as Chalker.

Along with his Absolute Pardon in April 1808, William received a grant of 30 acres of land at the Cook’s River, but did not take up the grant. Instead, in August 1812 he applied for and received a grant of 60 acres at South Creek. The South Creek farm was used mostly to raise cattle while he pursued his other sources of income. He was appointed as Principal Overseer of Government Stock at the Cow Pastures (now known as Cawdor) in January 1816 at a salary of ₤50 p.a. with provisions for himself and his family, Chief Constable of the Cow Pastures in February 1817 at a further salary of ₤20. In 1820 when Governor Macquarie established a Pound there, he was appointed as Pound Keeper. In 1818, he purchased a further 50 acres adjacent to his South Creek grant and also received an additional grant of 125 acres there. He had become a substantial landholder and continued to supply meat to the Government Stores.

In April 1820, William was chosen to accompany Surveyor James Meehan on an exploration of the Wollondilly River area. No report has been found of the findings of this expedition but although it was found to be unsuitable for pasturing government stock, William applied for permission to graze his own stock in the area. Permission was granted and by October 1821 he had constructed a hut and stockyards at Mittagong and applied for a grant of land there. After William’s death, 200 acres was eventually granted toElizabethatMittagongRanges.

Soon after returning to Cawdor from Mittagong, William was afflicted with “severe indisposition……..the same originating in the performance of (his) public duties”. After a short time he resigned and asked that he and his family be victualled from Government Stores “as a reward for his faithful service”. This request was granted.

By now William’s health was failing rapidly, even though he was only 48 years of age. He made his Will on 30th January, 1823, leaving all his possessions to his “friend and companion Elizabeth Sheckle” during her lifetime, and then to be divided equally among her children”, thus including Daniel. William died three days later and was buried atSt.   John’s Cemetery Parramatta where his headstone still stands.

From the time of his trial, William was known as both Charker and the alias Chalker. The latter appears to have been used both by himself and others on a daily basis while all Legal and Government references to him were as Charker. He called himself Charker in his Will but after his death, his headstone remembers him as Chalker. Elizabeth during her lifetime, and all of her children except William James, were known as Chalker.

Compiled and written by Malcolm Scanes,

Vice President, Chalker / Charker Society of Australia.