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John Ruglass (c. 1764–1837)

John Ruglass (c.1764-1837) and four other men, including Samuel Woodham, were found guilty (a fifth was found not guilty) on 30 May 1781 at the Old Bailey, London, of highway assault and theft of a silver shirt buckle. Ruglass's death sentence was reprieved to enlisting for life in the army in Africa. On 1 November 1782 he embarked on the Den Keyser for Africa with 40 men and women, including Woodham, Thomas Limpus and John Martin who was sent back to Newgate sick. After landing at the island of Goree off the West African coast without victuals, Ruglass made his way back to England and was recaptured on 23 November 1784. At the Old Bailey on 23 February 1785 he was sentenced to life transportation to Africa. He was delivered to the Ceres hulk on 5 April 1785, and discharged to the Scarborough in February 1787, arriving at Sydney in January 1788 as part of the First Fleet.  

Ruglass was employed with the timber cutters in 1788. He lived with Ann Fowles and in January 1789 was sentenced to 700 lashes for stabbing her; he received half of his punishment.

Ruglass was sent to Norfolk Island on the Sirius in March 1790; Fowles was also on the ship. The couple resumed their relationship. At July 1791 he was subsisting two people on a Sydney Town lot with 108 rods cleared. He received a conditional pardon in June 1804 and left the island for Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) alone (Fowles had returned to Port Jackson at the expiration of her sentence in 1792) on the City of Edinburgh in September 1808 as John Rouglas, an individual not holding land. Settling at Hobart, he lived on stores. He died in June 1837 as John Rugless at the hospital at New Norfolk, Hobart, and was buried on 24 June; his age was given as 80.

information from

  • Mollie Gillen, The Founders of Australia: A Biographical Dictionary of the First Fleet (1989), p 317
  • HMS 1796-1790 — accessed 3 September 2020

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Ruglass, John (c. 1764–1837)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Ruglas, John
  • Rugless, John
  • Ruggles, John
  • Rouglas, John
  • Riglass, John

c. 1764


23 June, 1837 (aged ~ 73)
New Norfolk, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death


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 Events
Key Places
Social Issues
Convict Record

Crime: returning from transportation
Sentence: life