Abel Alchin: First Cousin, First in the Colony
by Garry Smith
St John the Baptist Church, Wateringbury, Kent, England
We have all puzzled, at some time, about which family member was the first to come to the colony of New South Wales. Was it a convict? A free settler? A member of the military? I had thought that Martha Alchin, convict from County Kent, might have been the first; she arrived in 1835 – but more about her at another time.
The puzzle might now be solved. Abel Alchin (1805-1842) arrived in the colony in 1826. He was aboard the convict ship Marquis of Huntley. He was not a convict. He came to Sydney as a member of the 57th (The West Middlesex) Regiment of Foot to be garrisoned in the colony to guard against convict uprisings, track down bushrangers and generally keep order.
Convict Chain Gang for recalcitrant convicts sent to work on the roads
Abel Alchin was born in 1805 in Wateringbury, in the Parish of Frindsbury, Kent, England. He was baptised on 30 June 1805 at St John the Baptist Church. Abel was the son of Edmund Alchin (1780-1811) and Philadelphia (Dinah) Borne (1872-1812). His father, Edmund, had a brother, Thomas (1771-1831) who married Sarah Grant (1770-1847); one of their children was Ambrose Alchin (1800-1877) pioneer of Oolong Creek, my three times great grandfather; Abel and Ambrose were first cousins.
Abel Alchin was a general and farm labourer when he enlisted in the army. He was eighteen years old in 1824 when he joined the 57th Regiment of Foot. He was attested at Rochester, Kent on 26 October 1824. He was assigned the rank of private with the regimental number 318.
After a short time in Ireland the regiment joined convict ships at Chatham and sailed with them to the colony of New South Wales. Abel Alchin was promoted on 25 March 1825 to corporal and then to sergeant on 12 June 1826; he was later made colour sergeant, a rank introduced in 1813. He was responsible for carrying the regimental flag or standard and was charged with protecting the standard.
Regimental Standard (left) & Regimental Badge
In 1825 Abel’s regiment was employed in a similar way to when the troops had been in Ireland; there they chased “whiteboys” and now they pursued bushrangers, usually escaped convicts who lived by plundering farms and holding up travellers.
The troops of the regiment were often known to complain about being overworked, in danger and under paid. Abel and his colleagues could see emancipated convicts receive grants of land and operate businesses while they led tedious lives in the harsh weather with poor pay. In 1828 several soldiers rioted in Sydney over the quality of the bread issued to them. Some of the 57th Regiment of Foot took part in the damaging of the Sydney Hotel in George Street owned by Mr Frances Girard who supplied the bread.
Abel Alchin spent about three years and two months garrisoned in Sydney. The highlight of his time might well have been meeting a young Mary Anne Gosney. They married according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church in Sydney on 28 February 1831 in a service by the Reverend John McGarvie; Abel was twenty-three years old and Mary Anne eighteen. Mary Anne had come to the colony as a servant and had worked for a prominent Sydney solicitor, James Norton of Elizabeth Street.
Abel and Mary Anne had precious little time for a honeymoon and, with only two days available to them, packed their bags and sailed with the regiment to Madras, India on 2 March 1831. They arrived in Madras – Fort St George – aboard the Resource.
Abel’s fifteen years and four months service in the army still needs examination. What is known is that Abel’s service in India took a toll on his health. At the age of forty-two years he was discharged. He returned to England, reduced to the rank of private. His discharge, according to the “Proceedings of a Regimental Board” held at Canterbury Barracks, Kent on 12 January 1847, was mainly due to unfitness for further duty because of disability.
India had been his undoing; the climate harmed his physical health. The board’s report stated that it was not within the “power of medicine” to resolve his health issues. Abel, despite his being relatively free of vice or misconduct, had been court marshalled in Madras on 21 March 1832 for being drunk and fighting in barracks.
Abel’s poor health resulted in his death in 1848. He died at Battyeford, West Yorkshire in June 1848 and was buried in the church graveyard at Christ Church, Battyeford on 20 June 1848 – an Alchin, a soldier of Kent and the first in the colony.
Christ Church, Battyeford, West Riding, Yorkshire
Uniform of the 57th Regiment of Foot