Research 'hunch' reveals identity of convict from Blue Mountains crossing 

There was Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth and now another name will be recorded in the annals of history — Fairs.

The Royal Australian Historical Society has revealed for the first time the name of one of the three convicts who accompanied Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Charles Wentworth on the first European crossing of the Blue Mountains 200 years ago.

“It’s just amazing that documents have been sitting in the archives and everyone keeps saying “Oh, we don’t know what happened to them, we don’t know who it was”, but here it is,” president Dr Anne-Maree Whitaker said.

The discovery was made after a “hunch” by the society’s senior vice-president, Christine Yeats, who found some odd “indexing” in the NSW State Archives late last year about the Blue Mountains and followed it up. The information was published in last month’s copy of the RAHS’s History magazine. 

The document was a petition from Samuel Fairs dated 1817 seeking a conditional pardon. At the foot of the document William Charles Wentworth’s father Darcy wrote: ‘The petitioner accompanied Messrs Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson on their expedition over the mountains and conducted himself much to their satisfaction.’

“It was research gold,” said Ms Yeats, “and it just goes to show there are still things in the government archives that people continue to discover. People are hoping I find the other two [convicts] now.”

Fairs was convicted of housebreaking in Sussex in 1809 and arrived in Sydney the following year.

An interesting character, Fairs was probably chosen for the trip because he was resourceful, “probably handy with horses and getting the food going”, Ms Yeats said.

The convict servants on the crossing carried food, axes and firewood and had to load and unload supplies and set up weather protection for the explorers.

They were assisted by a guide and kangaroo hunter — James Burne or Burns —who was identified by historian Joy Hughes during research for her 1992 book The Age of Macquarie.

A descendant of the convict servant has also been located - with the help of Ancestory.com. Aged in her seventies P Wade from Scotland however, was a little underwhelmed by the news.

“She was pretty laid back about it all,” Ms Yeats said.” It probably doesn’t seem that remarkable ... a bit ho hum. She didn’t say she was over the moon but I think she is pleased to have him recognised.”

Fairs’ 1817 petition for a conditional pardon was successful, and he continued to work for the Wentworth family as a free man. However in 1829 he was sentenced to Moreton Bay for seven years for stealing 200 pounds of pork from Wentworth’s house.

Ms Yeats said Fairs “wasn’t a great hero, he re-offended, he was a bigamist, but he had an extraordinary life”. He died in Hobart in 1867 aged 80. She hopes after all these years Samuel Fairs will get the recognition he deserves — and has turned her attention to encouraging others to “start digging back so we might find the other two convicts.” 

“It will be great to have it in re-writing the story of that particularly Crossing. We can give him a name. We talk about the people in charge but Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth couldn’t have done this [without them], it’s giving a place to the ordinary person.”

Ms Yeats said in the end there was no love lost between Fairs and the Wentworth family after they reported him for stealing 200 pounds of pork, something he claimed he took for unpaid debts from the Wentworth family.

“At the end of the time I’d say relations had soured somewhat.”

Dr Whitaker said with the bicentennial year happening in 2013, their group “did go looking” for the material, material that “is now easier to find with archives being digitised”.

 “Once upon a time you had to go through books and books.”

But Dr Whitaker isn’t overly hopeful of finding the other two nameless convicts — “it’s a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack” and up to now most people who had been discovered “tended to be people in the Cox’s Road party... three expeditions later”.

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