People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Hickman, William (c. 1800–1850)

by Xavier Reader

William Hickman (c.1800-1850) was a formerly enslaved ‘man of colour’ who was brought to the Swan River colony (Western Australia) as an indentured servant. Hickman was born in the parish of Trelawney, Jamaica, around 1800.[1] He appears to have been born into enslavement, appearing on a register of slaves under the ownership of Elizabeth Dunn, neé Simpson, (1762-1839) on the Chester Estate as William ‘Billy’ Hickman in June 1817. [2] Aged twenty-one, he was listed as  both ‘mulatto’ and ‘creole’, indicating that he was likely of mixed racial heritage and born in Jamaica, possibly on the Chester plantation, although it is unclear why he was described in both these terms.[3] William likely had siblings that were also enslaved on the Chester Estate, as several other individuals appear on the slave register sharing the surname ‘Hickman’. Ann Hickman, possibly a younger sister, is listed on the 1817 register aged eleven, also described as ‘mulatto’ and ‘creole’, as does Edward Hickman (illegible alias), aged seventeen.[4]

At the time, the Chester plantation was jointly owned by Elizabeth and her husband James Virgo Dunn (1760-1820).[5] Elizabeth was the daughter of John Simpson ‘of Bounty Hall’ (1741-1785)[6] and Elizabeth Simpson (neé Lawrence) (d.1825), both of whom were large scale plantation owners in Jamaica, including of the Chester estate, which had been owned by the family since at least 1785.[7] The slave register, however, attributes ownership of all the estate’s enslaved people, including Hickman, to Elizabeth, not to her husband James.

Hickman’s movements after 1817 are unclear. James Dunn’s will, written in May 1816 and proved in November 1820, indicate that the Chester Estate passed in 1820 to John Kenyon, Elizabeth’s nephew, following his death.[8] The will named several enslaved to be bequeathed to Elizabeth, including “all those my female Negro slaves…Augusta with her three children Polly Luna and Cynthia, Caroline with her child Sarah, and Eliza with her child Lucy…and their present and future issue and increase unto my said wife Elizabeth Dunn.”[9] There is no mention of the enslaved males on the Chester plantation, so it is unclear whether Hickman was still on the Chester plantation. However, individuals continued to be enslaved on the Chester plantation until well into the 1830s. In 1828, the plantation held 166 bondspersons, and in 1837, after abolition, the estate held 135 individuals, now known as ‘apprentices.’[10]

Whilst there are no records of Hickman between his presence on the slave register in 1817 and his arrival in the Swan River colony, given the fact that slavery was still in operation in Jamaica when Hickman first appears in records of the Swan River, and that individuals continued to be enslaved on the Chester plantation until abolition, Hickman must have been manumitted, transferred through sale, or have escaped. The former explanation, manumission, is highly unlikely. As the historian Barry Higman has pointed out, only “0.1 per cent of Jamaican slaves were manumitted each year between 1817 and 1826,” the years in which Hickman is absent from the historical record.[11] He also does not appear in the records of manumissions that occurred between 1747 and 1838.[12] Moreover, Hickman was, between 1817 and the late 1820s, a young male like to be in his physical prime, at the peak of his ability to perform labour and thus at the height of his value to his owners. Hickman most likely remained enslaved, either on the Chester Estate under the continued ownership of Elizabeth, or was transferred by sale to another owner. Hickman departed Jamaica sometime between 1817 and 1829, probably accompanying his master to another destination, or as a free person of colour, either through manumission or through escape. [13]

Hickman first appears on a supplementary list of individuals residing in the Swan River colony at the 15 January 1830, where he was described as a servant to the Colonial Secretary Peter Nicholas Brown (Broun) (1797-1846).[14] Brown was the second son of Sir William Brown (Broun) (1769-1831), and not immediately in line to inherit the family’s wealth.[15] Following a recommendation from Sir James Stirling, Brown decided to emigrate to the Swan River colony, likely due to the opportunity to become a man of property as per the colony’s policy of granting of land according to the value of assets introduced.[16] As the terms of granting land included the importation of labouring persons, William Hickman was valued as part of Brown’s investment.[17] Brown served as the first Colonial Secretary of the Swan River colony from 1829 until his death in 1846, and played a pivotal role in the civil, administrative and financial operations of the fledgling colony.[18] It is unclear exactly how Hickman came to be employed as an indentured servant to Brown. He was either hired by Brown in Britain shortly before departure, or may have been a longstanding servant in Brown’s household. As most masters generally recruited their servants from the surrounding geographical area close to their place of residence, Hickman may have been living in Scotland, where Brown spent most of his early years working as a clerk.[19] In any case, he was hired under a contract of indenture that probably was intended to last for between five and seven years.[20] Hickman most likely arrived in the Swan River on the same vessel that brought Brown to the colony, the Parmelia, which arrived on 1 June 1829.[21] As an indentured servant, Hickman’s passage to the colony would have been funded by Brown. At least three other servants indentured to Brown arrived in Swan River aboard the Parmelia: Richard Evans, Margaret McLeod, and Mary Ann Smith.[22]

Hickman appears in 1832 on the colony’s first census, described as a labourer, single, aged twenty-nine and born in Jamaica.[23] The census does not list ‘with whom’ he was associated, a category that was designed to connect family members and servants to employers. Given that between 1830 and 1832 servants under contracts of indenture were not allowed to work for a different employer without the explicit consent of their master, Hickman’s contract of indenture to Brown may have ended by 1832.[24][25]

On the 2 April 1834, Hickman was found guilty of a charge of larceny of goods belonging to John Henry Monger (1802-1867). Described as a labourer, Hickman was accused of stealing “a piece of Rope of the value of one shilling.”[26] The record of his indictment noted that Hickman “did occasional jobs for Mr. Monger” and was known to often “sleep in the kitchen close to the Stable” of the Perth Hotel, owned by Monger from November 1833 onwards.[27] Suspicion was also placed on Hickman for numerous other items that were lost, including two chains and a padlock, that were noticed as missing when “there was no other man servant about the premises, except Hickman.” For the theft of the rope, Hickman was sentenced to three months imprisonment and hard labour. [28]

Hickman was later employed by Robert and William Habgood as a house servant over the course of “several months.” Hickman left this employment – either voluntarily or was dismissed – on 27 October 1840. The cause was attributed to Hickman having stolen articles of clothing from the Habgoods. Described in a newspaper article as “a man or color,” Hickman was said to have stolen the clothes “for the purpose of being given to the natives.” In his own words, he explained that “as they [the clothes] were old things, and had been lying there for a long time, I took them to give to the natives.” Hickman had also previously appropriated “cakes, sugar, bread and meat, prints to make a frock with, and a bonnet,” to which Hickman had intended to be given as “presents for a native child.”[29] Is it tempting to speculate that, as a ‘man of colour’ Hickman may have felt sympathy for Nyungar people that were experiencing displacement within their traditional lands and losing their means of subsistence during the colonisation of the Swan River. For the thefts, Hickman was again charged with larceny in January 1841, and was sentenced to twelve months of imprisonment and hard labour.[30] He most likely served both his prison sentences at the Fremantle Jail, which at the time was “the only effectual place of confinement in the colony".

Hickman applied for and was granted a town allotment of land (location O number 14), but by November 1840 he had failed to make necessary improvements and it was resumed by the Crown.[31]

On 4 April 1850, William Hickman passed away of an unknown cause, aged fifty.[32] He is buried in an unknown grave in the East Perth cemetery.[33] It appears Hickman did not marry or have any children.[34

Endnotes
[1] ‘Return of Slaves in the Parish of Trelawney,’ Slave Registers, Former British Colonial Dependencies 1813-1834, T71, piece no. 225, Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com.au/collections/1129/images/CSUK1817_133672-00429/, p.463; ‘Wm Hickman,’ in Ian Berryman, A Colony Detailed: The First Census of Western Australia 1832 (North Perth: Creative Research Publishing, 1979), p.72; William Hickman, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, pre-1829–1988, ed. Rica Erickson (Perth: University of Western Australia Press, 1987).

[2] ‘Elizbeth Simpson,’ Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/person/tree/164390428/person/302381337901/; ‘Elizabeth Dunn (nee Simpson),’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, University College London, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/15205; ‘Return of Slaves in the Parish of Trelawney,’ Slave Registers, Former British Colonial Dependencies 1813-1834, T71, piece no. 225, Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com.au/imageviewer/collections/1129/images/CSUK1817_133672-00429, p.463.

[3] ‘Return of Slaves in the Parish of Trelawney,’ Slave Registers, Former British Colonial Dependencies 1813-1834, T71, piece no. 225, Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com.au/imageviewer/collections/1129/images/CSUK1817_133672-00429, p.463. At this time a ‘mulatto’ in Jamaican law was anyone less than four generations removed from an African ancestry. Daniel Livesay, “Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Migration from the West Indies to Britain, 1750-1820,” (PhD thesis: University of Michigan, 2010), p.87, https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/77875/livesayd_1.pdf

[4] ‘Ann Hickman,’ ‘Return of Slaves in the Parish of Trelawney,’ Slave Registers, Former British Colonial Dependencies, 1817, T71, piece no. 225, Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestry.com.au/imageviewer/collections/1129/images/CSUK1817_133672-00431

‘Edward Hickman,’ ‘Return of Slaves in the Parish of Trelawney,’ Slave Registers, Former British Colonial Dependencies, 1817, T71, piece no. 225, Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com.au/imageviewer/collections/1129/images/CSUK1817_133672-00429, p.463.

[5] ‘James Virgo Dunn,’ Church of England Parish Register Transcripts, Jamaica, Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestry.com.au/discoveryui-content/view/799713:9999; ‘James Virgo Dunn,’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, University College London, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146633560

[6] ‘John Simpson of Bounty Hall,’ Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/person/tree/164390428/person/302381339072/facts; ‘John Simpson of Bounty Hall,’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, University College London, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146648797

[7] ‘Elizabeth Barrett Lawrence of Portland Place,’ Ancestry.com Online Database, https://www.ancestry.com.au/family-tree/person/tree/164390428/person/302381339075/facts; ‘Elizabeth Simpson of Portland Place (nee Lawrence),’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, University College London, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146648795; ‘Chester Estate,’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, University College London, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/estate/view/25 

[8] ‘Elizabeth Dunn (nee Simpson),’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, University College London, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/15205; ‘Will of James Virgo Dunn of No. 10 Devonshire Street Portland Place,’ Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, England and Wales, PROB11/1636/282, United Kingdom National Archives, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D195813

[9] Will of James Virgo Dunn of No. 10 Devonshire Street Portland Place, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, England and Wales, PROB11/1636/282, United Kingdom National Archives, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D195813

[10] ‘Chester Estate,’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, University College London, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/estate/view/25; Michael Craton, Searching for the Invisible Man: Slaves and Plantation Life in Jamaica (London: Harvard University Press, 1978): p.42.

[11] Barry Higman, Slave Population and Economy, in Christer Petley, “Legitimacy’ and Social Boundaries: Free People of Colour and the Social Order in Jamaican Slave Society,” Social History 30, no. 4 (481-498): p.485.

[12] ‘Manumission Liber: Volume 5 (1747-1838)’, Jamaica Archives, British Library Endangered Archives Programme Online Database, https://eap.bl.uk/archive-file/EAP148-3-1-1

[13] Daniel Livesay, “Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Migration from the West Indies to Britain, 1750-1820,” (PhD thesis: University of Michigan, 2010), https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/77875/livesayd_1.pdf, p.223.

[14] ‘Supplementary List of Persons actually in the Colony, but whose Names had not been entered in the General Muster Book at the End of the Year’, Returns Relative to the Settlement on the Swan River, A Return of all Persons appointed to Place and to Situations at the Swan River, Ordered to be printed 28 February 1831, State Library of Western Australia Online Catalogue, Q994.1 RET, https://purl.slwa.wa.gov.au/slwa_b1225657_1.pdf, p.26.

[15] ‘William Broun 1769-1831,’ Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950, FamilySearch Online Database, https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XYWJ-576 ; Malcolm Uren, “Peter Nicholas Broun (1797-1846,” Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Database, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/broun-peter-nicholas-1833

[16] Colonial Office, ‘Regulations for the guidance of those who may propose to embark, as Settlers, for the new Settlement on the Western Coast of New Holland,’ 13 February 1829, State Records Office of Western Australia, series S3851.

[17] “Return of property on which land has been claimed from 01/06/1829-30/06/1830,” State Records Office of Western Australia, Consignment 5000, 683/02.

[18] Malcolm Uren, “Peter Nicholas Broun (1797-1846,” Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Database, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/broun-peter-nicholas-1833

[19] Malcolm Uren, “Peter Nicholas Broun (1797-1846,” Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Database, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/broun-peter-nicholas-1833

[20] Tim Mazzarol, “Tradition, Environment, and the Indentured Labourer in Early Western Australia,” Studies in Western Australian History 3, no. 1 (1978): 30.

[21] Parmelia passenger list, Passengers WA arrivals and departures, Family History WA Online Database, http://data.fhwa.org.au/component/content/article/72-members/358-swan-river-colony-arrivals-and-departures-1829-1838

[22] Parmelia passenger list, Passengers WA arrivals and departures, Family History WA Online Database, http://data.fhwa.org.au/component/content/article/72-members/358-swan-river-colony-arrivals-and-departures-1829-1838

[23] Berryman, A Colony Detailed, p.72.

[24] Berryman, A Colony Detailed.

[25] Frank Crowley, Master and Servant in Western Australia, Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Western Australian Historical Society 4, no. 5 (1953): p.99.

[26] ‘J.H.Monger vs William Hickman, Indictment for Larceny,’ Supreme Court Indictment Files, State Records Office of WA Cons 3472, April General Quarter Sessions 1834, case 82, transcribed by Graham Brown for the Swan River Pioneers Special Interest Group of the Western Australian Genealogical Society, 2013, Family History WA Online Database, p.151, http://data.fhwa.org.au/images/stories/documents/members/transcripts/srp_cons3472_qsif1/files/mobile/index.html#151

[27] ‘Perth Hotel,’ Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 16 November 1833, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/641779.3/; p.184.

[28] ‘J.H.Monger vs William Hickman, Indictment for Larceny,’ Supreme Court Indictment Files, State Records Office of WA Cons 3472, April General Quarter Sessions 1834, case 82, transcribed by Graham Brown for the Swan River Pioneers Special Interest Group of the Western Australian Genealogical Society, 2013, Family History WA Online Database, p.151-152, http://data.fhwa.org.au/images/stories/documents/members/transcripts/srp_cons3472_qsif1/files/mobile/index.html#151; ‘Hickman, William of Perth, Labourer,’ Swan River Colony Criminal Court Records Books 1830-1840, Supreme Court Criminal Indictment Registers, State Records Office of WA Cons 3442/1, transcribed by Graham Brown for the Swan River Pioneers Special Interest Group of the Western Australian Genealogical Society, 2013, Family History WA Online Database, http://data.fhwa.org.au/images/stories/documents/members/transcripts/srp_cons3422_rb1/files/mobile/index.html#7; p.7; ‘Quarter Sessions, Fremantle,’ Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 2 April 1834, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/641556/, p.266.

[29] ‘Magistrates Court,’ Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 31 October 1840, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/642468.3, p.2-3.

[30] ‘Quarter Sessions,’ Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 9 January 1841, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/642589/, p.2; ‘State of Crime in Western Australia (continued),’ Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 18 June 1836, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/nla.news-issue1070.pdf/

[31] ‘Colonial Secretary’s Office, Perth,’ Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 7 November 1840, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/642480/,p.4.

[32] ‘William Hickman,’ Western Australian Births, Deaths, and Marriages Index, WA Department of Justice Online Database, https://www.wa.gov.au/organisation/department-of-justice/online-index-search-tool

[33] ‘William Hickman,’ Find a Grave Online Database, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/207566858/william-hickman

[34] No persons bearing his surname are registered as married or born prior to his death. ‘Hickman,’ Western Australian Births, Deaths, and Marriages Index, WA Department of Justice Online Database, https://www.wa.gov.au/organisation/department-of-justice/online-index-search-tool

Original Publication

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Xavier Reader, 'Hickman, William (c. 1800–1850)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/hickman-william-32882/text40955, accessed 5 February 2023.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012