|7 May 1788||the Old Bailey, London, EnglandG||John Frederick Cobcroft was sentenced to death on Wednesday, 7 May 1788 at the Old Bailey, London, EnglandG. |
John Cobcroft, John Wood and William Fubbs or Fielder were sentenced to death at the 7 May 1788 Old Bailey sessions for highway robbery. At 4am on 16 April William Frost, an elderly fisherman, had been driving a cart from Harrow Hill to market in London with his wife and daughter. On Edgware Road they were stopped by three highwaymen, one of whom brandished a pistol, shouting: "Your money or your life in a minute" and threatening to blow their brains out. The men took a guinea, six shillings, a thimble and some small change and ran off towards Edgware. Frost then drove to the Bell public House near Kilburn and raised the alarm. The publican and three other men went out in search of the highwaymen and spotted three men coming from Golders Green along Hendon Road near the Bull and Bush public house on Hampstead Heath. After a struggle the three were arrested and found to be carrying a pistol, a knife and some money. They were taken to the Bow Street Public Office and charged. Frost said he had seen their faces clearly: it had been a "moonshiney" night.
At the trial the three men retained a defense counsel who closely cross examined Frost, his wife and daughter, trying to discredit their evidence and suggesting that they were pursuing the case only to obtain the forty pounds rewards for the conviction of highwaymen. Cobcroft had been wearing a leather apron and they said he had been the one pointing the pistol. He called six character witnesses who had known him between five and twelve years, which suggests that he was well established in London. The jury recommended him and his co-defendants to the King's clemency. A temporary respite was granted but he was not formerly reprieved until the end of the September 1789 Old Bailey Sessions when he was among more than one hundred capital convicts called to the bar of the court and offered a pardon on condition of transportation to New South Wales for life.
On 10 November he was sent from Newgate Gaol to the Scarborough transport. Soon afterwards Sarah Smith (QV), aged 18, embarked on the Neptune transport, as one of about six wives or de facto spouses of convicts who had accepted the government offer of a free passage to the colony. Although she was to live with Cobcroft for the rest of his life, the couple did not marry until 1842. The legal wives of Wood and Fielder also sailed on the Neptune.
In colonial records their surname was often spelt Cobcraft. A son born to the couple on 3 February 1793 was baptised Richard William at Parramatta on 17 March. Cobcroft received a conditional pardon in December 1794 and a 30 acre land grant on the left bank of the Hawkesbury River at Wilberforce Reach in July 1795. He was granted another 40 acres in the same district in June 1797. By July 1800 Cobcroft had 17 acres sown in wheat with seven ready for planting maize, owned nine hogs and seven goats and supported himself. His wife and three children were supported from government stores. Two years later he had 20 acres in wheat and barley, 6 in maize and increasing numbers of hogs and goats. Holding 10 bushels of wheat and 20 of maize he fully supported his wife and four children and two free workers. His holdings were increased by a 50 acre land grant in September 1802. Cobcroft was mustered in 1806 with 120 acres (nearly 33 cultivated in wheat, maize, barley, orchard and garden), four horses, 57 sheep, 40 goats and 15 hogs, 15 bushels of grain in store, and supporting his family and three convict workers. While many other farmers were suffering from indebtedness and flood damage, his prosperity seems to have continued unchecked.
In June 1820 Cobcroft petitioned Governor Macquarie for additional land. He described his land grants of the 1790s as one of 30 acres at Wilberforce an another a back farm, also of 30 acres (sic). In 1820 he had a wife and nine children and owned 70 head of cattle. He was granted a further 60 acres at Kurrajong and in October 1825 he petitioned for the allowance of government rations for himself, his wife, four children and two convict workers who were living on the grant. He stated that he had cleared and cultivated 12 acres and had built a dwelling house and outhouses. His request was granted shortly afterwards.
Sarah, a midwife, bore a total of ten children. In 1828 Cobcroft was described as a farmer of Wilberforce, aged 68, living with his wife, aged 57, and their younger children; his older sons and their families were established on farms nearby. A successful and prosperous farmer, he held 485 acres in 1828 (130 cultivated) and owned 7 horses and 300 cattle. He kept the George and dragon public house, Wilberforce Road, Wilberforce, from around 1822-1846 and was actively involved in the public life of the local community. He died on 4 June 1853 and was buried in a family vault at St Johns Cemetery, Wilberforce on the 7th. An obituary notice in the Sydney Morning Herald stated that he left 58 grandchildren and 47 great-grandchildren. His wife was buried with him on 2 June 1857 and their headstone survives in Wilberforce Cemetery. Their descendents are estimated to number well in excess of 8,000.
Notes: Some details contributed by W. Luxford, P. McIntyre & A. Needham; see AONSW CSIL 1829; 7/318.1; Bowd Hawkesbury Journey p99.2