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Jean Pierre Meunier (1791–?)

by Brian Wills-Johnson

Hobart Town in 1817, by Lt Charles Jefferys

Hobart Town in 1817, by Lt Charles Jefferys

Jean Pierre Meunier was probably born in Épinal, in the French province of Lorraine, in 1791. His ticket of leave gives his birthplace as Lorient, a city on the west coast of France,[1] but earlier army records – written in French – make it clear that this was an error.[2]

On 22 June 1808, Jean Pierre enlisted in the De Meuron regiment, a Swiss mercenary force under contract to the British army, that had set up a recruitment base in Gibraltar. He was paid his four guineas signing-on bounty and, from this point, left a clear trail of documentary evidence that led to his transportation to Australia as a life-term convict. No documentation of his life over the previous 17 years has been found, but he was signed into De Meuron’s regiment as a drummer, which points to previous military employment.

Drummers and fifers were non-combatant soldiers who functioned as both camp clocks and a field signallers. The first recorded use of fifes and drums, according to Beck, was by the Swiss army in 1386 at the battle of Sempach.[3] They had found that the high pitch of the fife and the low pitch of a thudding drum could be heard over considerable distances, even during the heat of battle.

On the battlefield, musicians had the responsibility of helping keep order in battle and make sure the soldiers functioned well as a unit. Drummers would play beatings telling the soldiers to turn right or left as well as to load and fire their muskets. There was a tune called Cease Fire that fifers and drummers would play to tell the soldiers to stop firing at the end of a battle, while a tune called Parley was used to signal to the enemy that a surrender or peace talk was desired. In the camp, fifers and drummers were used to help regulate the working day. Every task that needed to be carried out would be signalled by a fife and a drum. Tunes were used to tell the soldiers to wake up, eat meals, and perform camp chores. Whenever a command needed to be spread throughout the army, whether it be in the camp or on a battlefield, a fifer and drummer would play the tune, and other fifers and drummers would start playing the same tune, until the whole army knew what they needed to do.[4]

The recruitment of a French drummer in Gibraltar in 1808 points to the likelihood that Jean Pierre was one of the 22,000 French soldiers imprisoned in and around Cadiz after General Pierre Dupont de l’Etang’s Second Corps d’Observation de la Gironde was defeated at the battle of Bailén during the Peninsular War. [5] It was the first major defeat of a French army during the Napoleonic wars, and was seen throughout Europe as evidence that the French were not invincible. It is still celebrated annually as the beginning of the liberation of Spain, though the country did not finally throw off the French occupation until after the battle of Waterloo. One of its legacies was a cohort of soldiers from which recruits would replenish depleted British forces, among them De Gueron’s.

Jean Pierre sailed to Malta where the regiment was stationed, performing garrison duties until early 1813. On 5 May that year the regiment embarked on the HMS Regulus, HMS Melpomene and HMS Dover for British North America, and at the end of August the 1,200 officers and men landed in Canada. On arrival the regiment was at or near full strength: on board the three ships were 6 military captains, 20 lieutenants and ensigns, 54 sergeants, 22 drummers and fifers (it had arrived in Malta with just 12) and 1001 rank and file.

After just three weeks in Canada, Jean Pierre went absent without leave. On the muster roll for 24 September 1813, it is noted that he “deserted 27 August returned 3 September”.[6] His was the only desertion from the regiment in August, but there were a further 9 in September.[7] As a fifer and drummer he was being paid at a regular rate of £2/19/5 for each three-month period,[8] and although he was not paid during his absence, and was on a charge when he returned, the meticulous paymaster credited him £2/15/6½ for the 86 days of the quarter he was present.[9] Ten days later he was court-martialled at the regiment’s headquarters in Chambly, and sentenced to life imprisonment.[10]

There are various levels of desertion, the most serious being ‘desertion to the enemy’. This, and the slightly more ambiguous ‘desertion towards the enemy’ demanded the death sentence in the British Army. The record of Jean Pierre’s court martial does not detail the seriousness of his desertion, but the relatively light penalty (for the time) indicates that his may have been a simple case of being absent without leave. His sentence read: 

The Court having maturely weighed the evidence adduced on behalf of the prosecution together with what the Prisoner has alledged [sic] in his defence, the Court is of opinion that the Prisoner J. P. Munier Drummer in deMeurons Regiment is guilty of the Desertion laid to his charge, the Court therefore adjudge him the said Prisoner J. P. Munier Drummer in DeMeurons Regiment to be marked on the left side, two inches below the armpit with the letter /D/ half an Inch long; and then to be transported as a Felon for life, to any part of H. M’s Dominions beyond the seas, as H. R. H. The Prince Regent in the Name and on the Behalf of H. M. may be graciously pleased to direct. - [11]

Discipline was harsh in the military. At the same court martial three of Jean Pierre’s compatriots were found guilty of deserting ‘with the intention of going to the Enemy, and for Resisting the party sent against them to bring them back’, and were sentenced to death by hanging. We also find Thomas Orr being pronounced guilty of having deserted on 23 July and ‘not returning until taken prisoner, for which he was sentenced ‘to suffer Death by being shot’. In November 1813, Private Thomas Beckwith was convicted of having wounded himself ‘in the leg, with intent to disable himself for the service’. He was sentenced to 1,000 lashes ‘on his bare back’ with a cat-o’-nine-tails, which probably disabled him more than his own action.[12] Jean Pierre’s sentence might point to some extenuating circumstances, or a good defence.[13]

Being branded with a D for deserter was common in the British Army. The mark was not made by a branding iron, but by a tattoo, in which the skin was punctured by a set of sharp points in the shape of a D, and afterwards gunpowder was rubbed into the wound to introduce a permanent blue pigment. Tattoos were commonly called ‘gunpowder spots’ from the 17th century,[14] and Jean Pierre’s was probably administered with a spring-loaded tool. Apart from any stigma this practice might have engendered, it was meant to foil those serial deserters who would leave their own regiment, and then present themselves to another to obtain the signing-on bonus.

Once Jean Pierre’s sentence had been confirmed at the British Army’s headquarters at Horse Guards in London, he was shipped back to England, where he was received on board the prison hulk Dido on 21 September 1814, more than a year after his court martial. Three days later he was ‘disposed of’ to New South Wales.[15] He sailed on the Indefatigable, via Rio de Janeiro (where there was a delay of five weeks), and arrived in Sydney on 25 April 1815. Of the 200 male convicts loaded, 198 reached their destination.[16] The Sydney Gazette reported that the prisoners were landed in a healthy condition ‘and of particularly clean appearance’,[17] indicating a well-managed voyage. Jean Pierre appears on 29 April 1815 as Pearce Manier on a list of convicts disembarked from the Indefatigable who were sent to Liverpool for distribution.[18]

He was assigned to William Mitchell in the District of Argyle, where Hobart had been established by the British eleven years earlier. There, he lived the life of an assigned convict, doing whatever his master required, which perhaps was agricultural labour on a property on the northern edge of the village.

William Mitchell arrived in Hobart on the Porpoise from Norfolk Island with his wife and three children, in January 1808. An 1814 advertisement warns trespassers on the farm of W. Mitchell near Newtown will be prosecuted.[19] New Town is now a suburb of Hobart, about 4km from the CBD. The farm was subsequently managed by his son-in-law, Robert Blinkworth near New Town, and in 1820 sold to a James Blay.[20] During this time, early in 1817, a female convict called Frances Johnson arrived in Hobart. She had been convicted in Scotton, Lincolnshire, in June 1815 for stealing ‘one woman’s cap, of the value of Two Pence … one woman’s Apron, of the value of One Penny … and one Ten Pound Bank of England Note’. She was sentenced to transportation for seven years, leaving behind her fatherless children, and arrived in Sydney on the Lord Melville in February 1817.

Why should there be a connection between Frances Johnson and Jean Pierre Meunier? There is no known documentary evidence that they ever met and, so far as the historical record goes, the best that can be said is that they were both in Hobart at the critical time when her colonial son, William Johnson, was conceived. Genealogists and family historians, however, today have recourse to a powerful ‘research tool’ in the form of genetic matching. In 2019 William’s great grandson, Brian Wills-Johnson (the author of this biography) had his yDNA tested and found a relationship with a cluster of men in the United States, variously called Montanya, Mantony, Mantoyne, Montagne, Montana and Montayne. They are all able to demonstrate descent from Dr Johannes Mousnier de la Montagne (or, in English, John Miller of the Mountain). Meunier is the modern French equivalent of Miller, while Mousnier is an older form of the same name.[21]

Like Jean Pierre, Frances Johnson was first sent to a settler in Hobart – specifically, ‘disposed’ of (assigned to) a Mr Marr at ‘Derwent’.[22] In the 1818 annual returns of convicts, she is still with the same master. The same muster lists Henry Marr (Royal Admiral, 1808), as a shop-keeper, Van Diemen’s Land.[23] The entire European population of Tasmania at this time was about 5,000 people,[24] of whom less than 1,000 were women.[25] It would have been almost impossible for Jean Pierre and Frances Johnson not to bump into each other. A relationship between them might also have provided a ticket back to Sydney for Frances. Early in her pregnancy, Lieutenant Governor Colonel William Sorell sternly warned that:

The Female Prisoners in Assigned Service having misbehaved in many Instances, and there being at present no Factory or Public Establishment in this settlement for placing such Women under regular Restraint and Labour; His Honour the Lieutenant Governor makes known his Intention of sending up to Port Jackson, to be placed in the Factory there, such Female Prisoners as from their bad Conduct cannot be continued in Assigned Service, or allowed the Indulgence of a Ticket of Leave.[26]

William Johnson was born in Sydney in October 1818[27] and, so far as is known, never knew who his natural father was. No trace of this French connection has been found in any colonial documents, nor in any stories or hints passed down the family. Obviously, when Frances became pregnant with William in about January 1818 his natural father was in the same place at the same time, and conveniently there is a Frenchman there with a family name that coincides with a cluster of men with related Y-chromosomes, including the male descendants of William.

By August 1821, after William Mitchell had sold his farm, Jean Pierre had been reassigned to William Howe at Minto, NSW.[28] Following the endorsement of both Mitchell and Howe, Jean Pierre received his ticket-of-leave on 9 April 1823. His employers had given him a clean record:

We hereby Certify that John Pierre Munier [sic] who came in the ship Indefatigable which arrived in the Year 1815, has not been convicted of any Crime or Misdemeanour in this Colony, but is to our certain Belief an honest, sober and industrious character, having served faithfully Mr Wm. Mitchell in the District of Argyle from April 1815 to August 1821[29], William Howe Esquire in the District of Minto from August 1821, to the present Date. Sentence Life.[30]

Now free to choose his own employer, within limits, it is not surprising that Jean Pierre was attracted to a master with French connections. In the 1823-25 muster, ‘Jean Pierre Mounier’ is listed as a ticket-of-leave holder employed by Paul Huon of Campbelltown, which is about 6km south of Minto. Huon was born in the colony and, at the time of the muster, had a family consisting of his wife Sara and sons John (4) and Paul (2y and 5m).[31] Jean Pierre would have been a natural fit on Huon’s Sugarloaf Farm as he was likely to have had a Francophone master. Huon’s full name was Paul Huon de Kerilleau, the son of Gabriel Louis Marie de Huon de Kerilleau, a Frenchman who had fled France during the Revolution and come to Sydney with the New South Wales Corps in 1794. Despite his reduced circumstances, de Kerilleau was apparently of high breeding,[32] esteemed by most of the early governors and a regular visitor to Government House.[33] Paul Huon’s mother Louisa Emanuel Le Sage was also French, and had been transported in 1794 for theft. ‘She had been tried for stealing from the London household where she was employed as a lady’s maid, and needed a French interpreter at her trial’.[34]

We next hear of Jean Pierre in 1827, when he was employed to help maintain law and order in the colony. His appointment as a rural constable was noted in the Sydney Gazette: ‘Brinngelly. [Sic] – Jean Pierre Monier [sic], per Indefatigable, holding a Ticket of Leave, to be Constable, and to be stationed in Cooke, in the room of – M’Nally, who has absconded; to bear the Date of the 1st Instant.’[35]

On 17 June the following year Jean Pierre, known in this case as ‘J. P. Monnier’, is noted as having resigned his position as a Constable at Bringelly, and being succeeded by another ticket of leave holder, James Gold.[36] Bringelly is 20km north of Campbelltown. The system of parish constables was initiated by Governor Hunter in 1795, based on the English system of constables being elected for one year’s service – an unpaid position – by the parish inhabitants. Governor Macquarie changed the system so that constables were appointed by local magistrates, perhaps indicating the continuing goodwill of William Howe at nearby Minto.

On 12 January 1833 Jean Pierre Mounier [sic] and Catherine Boyle were granted permission to marry, and were subsequently married by Rev. John McEnroe, a Roman Catholic priest, in Sydney.[37] It is unlikely that they had any children – like Frances, she was 8-10 years older than Jean Pierre, who was 42 at the time, though he stated his age as 40 and she as 50.

Catherine was also a former convict. At the Dublin City Quarter Sessions on 16 August 1814, she was ‘indicted for feloniously stealing a bank note for one pound, and a handkerchief the property of John McDonnell. The prosecutor swore he knew the prisoner. She robbed him of a one pound note and a handkerchief. Took it from him when he was asleep in a public house. The note was produced and identified by the prosecutor. The note had been found on the prisoner, who was convicted. To be transported for seven years. Recorder - "You too have been in custody before.” ‘[38]

She was transported on the Francis and Eliza, which left Cork on 5 December 1814, and arrived in Sydney on 8 August 1815, an unusually long voyage of 246 days.[39] On arrival, she was sent to the Female Factory in Paramatta. Her age on arrival was given as 33,[40] which validates her age of 50 when applying to marry.

Here, Jean Pierre Meunier disappears from the record, and the narrative of his life necessarily ends. We do not know where and when he died, nor has any record of the death of his wife been found.

[1] State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12202; Item: [4/4080], tickets of leave 1810-1869.

[2] UK National Archives WO25/677 De Meuron regiment, p. 175. The French pronunciation of ‘Lorraine’ is ‘Lorren’ with the accent on the first syllable.

[3] John H. Beck (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Percussion, Routledge, 2007, p. 147.

[4] The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, at accessed November 2020.

[5] Avner Falk, Napoleon Against Himself: A Psychobiography’ Pitchstone Publishing, 2007.

[6] Canada, British Army and Canadian Militia Muster Rolls and Pay Lists, op. cit.

[7] British Army individual units strengths, 1805-1850, from 

[8] Drummers and fifers were paid more than privates, who received £2/6/- for each three months – PRO W.0.12/11966, muster books and pay lists, Regiment de Meuron, 1812. The regiment had 21 D&Fs at the time.

[9] Canada, British Army and Canadian Militia Muster Rolls and Pay Lists, op. cit.

[10] State Archives NSW; Series: NRS 12202; Item: [4/4080], tickets of leave 1810-1869.

[11] Public Archives of Canada, record group 8, C series, British Military and Naval Records, vol. 1167½, p. 646.

[12] Public Archives of Canada, record group 8, C series, vol. 165, p. 229.

[13] His sentence, compared with that of Thomas Orr, indicates that he returned voluntarily.

[14] See, for example, William Wycherley’s play The Plain Dealer, 1665.

[15] HO 9/9, Convict hulks moored at Portsmouth, register of prisoners, p. 27

[16] Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Library of Australian History, Sydney, 2004, pp. 340-1.

[17] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 29 April 1815, p. 2.

[18] Reel 6004, 4/3494, p. 66, Colonial Secretary’s Records ( 

[19] Van Diemen’s Land Gazette, 10 September 1814, p. 2.

[20] Hobart Town Gazette, 27 May 1820, p. 2.

[21] Meunier and the English surname Miller are both occupational names derived from the Latin word for mill, molina. Dictionary of American Family Names, Oxford University Press, 2013. The etymology is molina (Latin), molīnārius (late Latin), munoiere (old French), meusnier (middle French), meunier (modern French). - The famous Moulin Rouge, ‘Red Mill’, shares this etymology.

[22] AJCP reels HO 10/1 to 10/16, annual returns of convicts.

[23] AJCP reel 63, HO 10/10, p. 214. Tasmania was called Van Diemen’s Land until 1856. A James Andrew Marr was born in Tasmania on 18 February 1816, parents not listed (Latter Day Saints index). Henry Marr left Hobart for Sydney in 1821 – Hobart Town Gazette, 3 March 1821, p. 2.

[24] Annual Statistics of Tasmania, 1901

[25] Rebecca Kippen & Peter Gunn, ‘Convict Bastards, Common-Law Unions, and Shtgun Weddings’, Journal of Family History, 2011, p. 1.

[26] Hobart Town Gazette and Southern Reporter, 28 March 1818, p. 1.

[27] According to details on his death certificate.

[28] Series: NRS 898; Reel or Fiche Numbers: Reels 6020-6040, 6070; Fiche 3260-3312.

[29] A William Mitchell came free per Providence in 1811, property at Argyle, m. Elizabeth Huon – Colonial Secretary’s index to correspondence, 1788-1825.

[30] Series: NRS 898; Reel or Fiche Numbers: Reels 6020-6040, 6070; Fiche 3260-3312.

[31] General Muster List of New South Wales 1823, 1824, 1825, Carol J. Baxter (Ed.), Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record, Sydney, 1999.

[32] Seventy-five years after his death in 1829 his real identity as a member of the Bourbon family was revealed through a document which had been found and authenticated – Anny P. L. Stuer, ‘The French in Australia’, PhD thesis, Australian National University, 1979, p. 44. He had earlier disguised his French identity, having come to Australia as ‘Gabriel Lewis’ – A2998, vol. 102A, Mitchell Library, Sydney.

[33] G. P. Walsh, Australian Dictionary of Biography,

[34] Michael Flynn, Settlers and seditionists: the people of the convict ship Surprize 1974, Sydney, Angela Lind, 1994.

[35] Sydney Gazette, 19/7/1827. On 13 & 16 July the same newspaper called him Jean Pierre Mouvier.

[36] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 27 June 1828, p. 1.

[37] Register of Convicts’ Applications to Marry, State Archives NSW; Series: 12212; Item: 4/4508.

[38] Freemans Journal, 21 June 1814.

[39] Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, op. cit., pp. 340-341.

[40] Peter Mayberry,

Original Publication

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brian Wills-Johnson, 'Meunier, Jean Pierre (1791–?)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Hobart Town in 1817, by Lt Charles Jefferys

Hobart Town in 1817, by Lt Charles Jefferys

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Munier, Jean Pierre
  • Manier, Pearce
  • Monnier, Jean Pierre
  • Monier, Jean Pierre

Épinal, Lorraine, France

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Places
Convict Record

Crime: court martial
Sentence: life
Court: Quebec (Canada)
Trial Date: 13 September 1813


Occupation: defence forces personnel (British)