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Pegus, Peter (c. 1787–1853)

by Xavier Reader, Georgina Arnott, Jane Lydon and Zoë Laidlaw

Plantations of Carriacou, Grenada. The Hermitage plantation was located on the lower left corner of the Island

Plantations of Carriacou, Grenada. The Hermitage plantation was located on the lower left corner of the Island

Peter Pegus (c.1787-1853) was a military captain who emigrated to the Swan River colony (Western Australia) and later Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).[1] He was the son of Peter Pegus (d.1803), a London merchant and cotton grower and slave-owner on the island of Carriacou, Grenada.[2] His mother has not been identified, although she appears to be a different woman to Peter Pegus senior’s wife, Susannah Henrietta Pegus (neé Layard), who bore Peter William Pegus (1792-1860), later Reverend.[3] This has led historians to believe that Peter Pegus junior’s mother was most likely an enslaved woman on his father’s estate, and Peter to have been an illegitimate son.[4] Very little has been established about Pegus’ early life, but it seems as though he spent his childhood on the ‘Hermitage’ plantation, which was regarded as “one of the finest plantations in Grenada…pleasantly situated…a few miles from the sea shore.”[5]

Pegus does not appear in the historical record again until he surfaces in military records, when an army commission was purchased for him following his father’s death. Pegus entered the military, first serving in the starting rank of ensign in the 88th Regiment, later known as the ‘Connaught Rangers’. It is unclear exactly when Pegus joined the service, with a newspaper report indicating he began serving at sixteen, whilst the 1815 register of the 88th lists Pegus as age 29, having completed eight years of service from his initial entry in 26 October 1807, placing him as twenty-one.[6]

During his military career, Pegus saw conflict in the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars. He does not appear to have been present at Waterloo, with an obituary noting that he “arrived too late with his regiment to take part in the battle of Waterloo.”[7] Whilst in the service, Pegus distinguished himself as an excellent soldier and gradually worked his way up the ranks. He was one of a small group of officers personally selected by the Duke of Wellington to perform “Commissariat duties” in Spain, and, by 1812 or 1813, Pegus was responsible for Rhentera, located near Passages.[8] Further evidence of his superior military prowess is demonstrated through the observation that Pegus, when serving under the rank of lieutenant, was noted to have “particularly distinguished himself with the storming parties” during the Siege of Burgos in the Iberian Peninsula.[9] By December 1813, he had arrived in St. Jean do Luts, commanding the 88th regiment.[10] He was later transferred to the 51st Regiment in the role of captain, where he served in India.[11]

Pegus married Mary Jane McNaughton, born 1790, on 12 August 1805, in Dublin. Their first son, William, was born in 1819, fourteen years after their marriage.[12] Some confusion remains around whether Pegus had more than one child with McNaughton, as at least one source lists him as having “two sons, Campbell John Pegus, born 1814 in Britain, and William Jeffries Pegus, born 1820 in Glasgow.”

Pegus, like many middle-ranking military men, emigrated to the Swan River Colony (Western Australia) in 1829 after selling his army commission.[13] Departing from London, he arrived in the colony on 19 October 1829 aboard the Atwick, accompanied by his wife Mary Jane, son, and four servants (and possibly one servants’ child).[14] The early records of land for the Swan River indicate that Pegus brought to the colony investments worth a total of £1551, 26s, 6.25p (£1354, 9s, 4.75p of which was deemed applicable to the cultivation of land).[15] In accordance, Pegus was granted 18,053 acres of land.[16] Like many who emigrated to the Swan River with aspirations of farming, he encountered many of the challenges associated with the fledging colony. A bushfire in 1834 ruined his ‘Coleraine’ estate (located in what is now the suburb of Thornlie).[17] His Beverley estate of 14,000 acres proved equally unsuccessful, with Pegus’ grant described as “of so sterile a description that it would not grow either Leeks nor Onion,” due in large part to the lack of water (“there were no fresh Water Swamps” at Coleraine), a product of the Swan River’s early ‘ribbon grant’ structure.[18] The problems proved so insurmountable that Pegus would sell his land to George Leake at a rate of 4 shillings an acre. His venture to the Swan River colony would later be described as where “he was ruined.”[19] Whilst in Western Australia, he also secured a number of civil appointments: he was nominated as Justice of the Peace in 1830 and in 1834, he secured the position of Superintendent of Natives Tribes to the Canning district.[20]

By 1836, Pegus had decided to depart the Swan River colony and emigrate to Van Diemen’s Land, in search of better prospects. In March 1836 he left aboard the Elizabeth.[21] His wife and son did not accompany him immediately, only leaving the Swan River on the Gail Lardon in February 1838.[22] In Van Diemen’s Land, Pegus also held a number of civil positions. He was the superintendent for several “road parties,”[23] including at Constitution Hill and Point Puer. His most significant and longstanding role, however, was as the Governor of the Oatlands gaol, a position he held for sixteen years.[24] This role appears to have been secured in part through the assistance of Sir John Franklin.[25]

Pegus’ wife, Mary Jane, died at Reibey Ford on 8 July 1839, a mere fifteen months after her arrival in Van Diemen’s Land.[26] By 1840 Pegus had married Mary Sophia Skardon. Together they shared several children: Peter Wroughton, Henrietta Sophia, Georgiana Frances Charlotte, Louisa Mayo, Montago Skardon and Constance Rosa.[27]

Peter Pegus died on 30 October 1853. The cause of death on the deaths register of Oatlands is listed simply as “paralysis.”[28] Pegus’ death left his wife and their children in significant poverty. At the rallying of several newspaper articles, a public subscription was raised on behalf of his wife and children to secure their future wellbeing, which was justified in large part due to his background as a military man.[29] Pegus’ obituary observes that his funeral was “most numerously and respectably attended,”[30] whilst another newspaper memorial reflects upon his character that “we never heard a reproachful remark made upon his conduct, which in this find fault world, unless a man is rich, is something wonderful.”[31]

Peter Pegus was succeeded by his (second) wife Mary Sophia Skardon and their children Peter Wroughton, Henrietta Sophia, Georgiana Frances Charlotte, Louisa Mayo, Montago Skardon and Constance Rosa, in addition to William Pegus, born from his first marriage. 

Image credits 
Figure 1: Plantations of Cariacou: from David Ryden, “One of the Finest and Most Fruitful Spots in America’: An analysis of Eighteenth-Century Carriacou,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History no? no. 4 (2013): p.553. 

Figure 2: Carricou Island today: from Cindy Kilgorie Brown, Alan Moore, Adventure Guide to Grenada, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines, p.300.

Endnotes
[1] The Atwick passenger list gives his age as 42, putting his birth year at around 1787; Peter Pegus (snr) is listed in 1776 as owning 97 slaves, on a plantation producing 32,800 pounds of cotton, a total acreage of 224 acres. Atwick passenger list, Family History WA website database, http://membership.wags.org.au/1829-ships/110-atwick. See also David Ryden, “One of the Finest and Most Fruitful Spots in America’: An analysis of Eighteenth-Century Carriacou,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History no. 4 (2013): p.560, 562; ‘Hermitage Estate, Grenada, Carriacou’, Legacies of British Slavery Online Database (online), University College London, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/estate/view/1357 ’Peter Pegus,’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/person/view/2146637485.

[2] Declaration of the Merchants, Bankers, Traders, and Other Inhabitants of London (London: Philanthropic Reform, 1795): p.94; Georgina Arnott, Zoë Laidlaw and Jane Lydon, “Introduction,” Australian Journal of Biography and History (Special Issue) 6, no. 1 (2022), p.12. ‘Peter Pegus,’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database. Peter’s father died in England, and his legitimate son, Peter William, is said to have “married into the British aristocracy.”

[3] Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.12.

[4] ‘Marriages and Deaths of eminent Persons,’ The Gentleman’s Magazine, vol 70, 1791, p.775; Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.12.

[5] John Sherburne Sleeper, Jack in the forecastle, or, Incidents in the early life of Hawser Martingale (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Lee, 1860): p.342.

[6] ‘Local’, Tasmanian Colonist, 7 November 1853, p.2, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/rendition/nla.news-article226527192.3.pdf?followup=d1f98231bf2f762e6c8e2f650a1f87d4; ‘General Return of the Names, Country, Age and Service of the Officers of the I Battalion 88th Regiment 20 October 1815,’ UK, Regimental Registers of Service, The United Kingdom National Archives, https://www.ancestrylibrary.com.au/discoveryui-content/view/104605:3253?tid=&pid=&queryId=d45a4277c7270c0f2b4d79209d1c9d75&_phsrc=Bmv273&_phstart=successSource.

[7] Courier (Hobart), 7 November 1853, p.4 https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/641126#; Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.13.

[8] Courier (Hobart), 7 November 1853, p.4.

[9] ‘Local’, Tasmanian Colonist, 7 November 1853, p.2.

[10] Courier (Hobart), 7 November 1853, p.4.

[11] Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.13.

[12] Peter Pegus, The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, pre-1829–1988, ed. Rica Erickson (Perth: University of Western Australia Press, 1987).

[13] Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.13.

[14] Ibid, p.12; Peter Pegus Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians; ‘Atwick Passenger List.’

[15] “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.

[16] Return of Lands in Western Australia assigned up to the 20th day of July 1832,” SROWA Cons5000, 683/03.

[17] Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 15 February 1834, p.234, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/641634#.

[18] ‘Answers to Correspondents’, Swan River Guardian, 16 November 1837, p.249, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/23543294#.

[19] Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.13; Courier (Hobart), 7 November 1853, p.4.

[20] Peter Pegus WABD; Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.13; ‘Government Notice,’ Perth Gazette, 22 February 1834, p.237, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/645698#.

[21] Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.13.

[22] Peter Pegus WABD.

[23] Courier (Hobart), 7 November 1853, p.4.

[24] Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.13; ‘Peter Pegus,’ Legacies of British Slavery Online Database, ‘Untitled,’ The Courier (Hobart), 7 November 1853, p.4.

[25] Ibid.

[26] No cause of death is given in her death notice. ‘Family Notices,’ Launceston Advertiser (Tas), 11 July 1839, p.2, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/page/8723844#

[27] Peter Pegus’ gravestone, ‘Peter Pegus,’ Find a Grave online database, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/209412143/peter-pegus#.

[28] ‘Deaths in the District of Oatlands,’ Libraries Tasmania Archives, https://stors.tas.gov.au/NI/1195887.

[29] Arnott, Laidlaw and Lydon, “Introduction,” p.13; ‘Local’, Tasmanian Colonist, 7 November 1853, p.2.

[30] ‘Untitled,’ Courier (Hobart), 7 November 1853, p.4.

[31] ‘Local’, Tasmanian Colonist, 7 November 1853, p.2.

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Xavier Reader, Georgina Arnott, Jane Lydon and Zoë Laidlaw, 'Pegus, Peter (c. 1787–1853)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/pegus-peter-32630/text40497, accessed 6 December 2022.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Plantations of Carriacou, Grenada. The Hermitage plantation was located on the lower left corner of the Island

Plantations of Carriacou, Grenada. The Hermitage plantation was located on the lower left corner of the Island

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