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William Francis (c. 1763–1804)

William Francis (c.1763-1804) was found guilty in June 1785 at Croydon, Surrey, of highway robbery and assault (with a companion who was hanged) and theft of a tortoise shell watch, clasp knife, other goods and money. His death sentence was commuted to 14 years transportation on 16 September 1785. Francis was sent to the Ceres hulk in October 1785, where he remained until he embarked for New South Wales on the Alexander in January 1787, arriving in Sydney in January 1788 as part of the First Fleet.

Francis was sent to Norfolk Island on the Golden Grove in October 1788 where he was described as a 'worthless, troublesome Wretch'. Almost immediately he became a ringleader in a plot to overthrow the governor and marines and take the island, escaping by the first ship that arrived. He confided the plan to Elizabeth Anderson who was living with Robert Webb, a seaman from the Sirius. Webb reported the scheme to Lieutenant Governor King who placed Francis in light irons until he was dispatched to Port Jackson for trial on 10 March 1789.

Francis married Mary Jones on 25 December 1790. Still keen to leave the colony, he stowed away on board the Endeavour in 1795, bound for India, with a number of other runaway convicts. The ship proved unseaworthy and Francis was recaptured at New Zealand and taken to Norfolk Island where he was victualled as a prisoner in 1802.

William Francis died at Norfolk Island on 21 January 1804. The headstone which marks his grave, featuring degrading stone and markings, has been found near the bottom entrance to the cemetery at Kingston on Norfolk Island.

* information from Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (1989), p 134

Citation details

'Francis, William (c. 1763–1804)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


c. 1763


21 January, 1804 (aged ~ 41)
Norfolk Island, Australia

Cause of Death


Passenger Ship
Key Events
Key Places
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: 14 years