Tuesday 9 June 2020

Richard Ridge's English Origins

According to his age at death in Windsor, NSW in January 1842 ‘in the 76th year of his age’, the Third Fleet convict Richard Ridge would turn seventy-six during 1842, meaning that he was born in England in 1766. Richard's English origins have hitherto not been properly researched but this hasn't stopped his name being added to 797 family trees on the Ancestry website, claiming that he was born in 1771, at Horsham, Sussex. Yet the 1841 Census of England has him alive there, living at Pondtail Lane, Horsham with his wife Sarah and vital records show him dying in Sussex in 1845.

The Ancestry trees seem to rely on the mention at an Old Bailey case in 1789 that Richard was walking towards 'Hessham', which sounds near enough to be good enough for early researchers to think this must mean Horsham in Sussex.

In fact Richard was walking close to Hounslow in West Middlesex in 1789. An exhaustive Google search of historic names and maps does not reveal any places within walking distance of Hounslow named Hessham. However the village of Heston was close to Hounslow. Horsham was miles away, two-thirds of the way from London to the English Channel, on the road heading southwards to Brighton.

I abandoned any idea that Richard came from Horsham and my concentrated efforts to find Richard's birthplace have yielded the following conclusions.

Richard Ridge came from Oxfordshire

The family name at his baptism at Ducklington with Hardwick, Oxfordshire on 21 December 1766 was Rudge, but all the marriages of his siblings and the deaths of his parents William and Catherine were subsequently recorded in parish records as Ridge.
Baptism of Richard Rudge, Ducklington with Hardwick, 21 Dec 1766
The parish lay around 10 miles or 16 km west of the city of Oxford and north of the Thames River. Ducklington, an ancient village on the River Windrush, a tributary of the Thames, was supposedly named after the central duck pond where many ducks and ducklings have lived for centuries. Hardwick was a hamlet or chapelry within the ancient parish of Ducklington, with Cockthorpe lying between both places.
Map of Ducklington, Cockthorpe and Hardwick
This is where Richard lived with his family throughout his life in England. Located close to the beautiful Cotswolds, the general district has an incredible history outlined in great detail on the British History Online website.

Family Inheritance

Stepping back a little, Richard’s mother Catherine Hewett was born in the ancient village of Buckland in 1727. Although it too is close to the city of Oxford, because Buckland is about one mile or 1.6 km south of the River Thames it lay within Berkshire's county boundaries at that time. Catherine married William Rudge in her home village of Buckland on 3 January 1743 but their first child William was baptized at Ducklington with Hardwick on 28 April 1745.

It seems that Catherine and her husband were helping her childless uncle Richard Hewett to run his farm at Cockthorpe. In 1752 Richard’s mother Catherine ‘the wife of William Ridge’ inherited from her Uncle Richard:
my freehold messuage or tenement with the appurtenances in Bampton in the County of Oxford commonly called or known by the name of the Flower Deluxe (?) and all my estate and interest therein and also all that my copyhold messuage or tenement with the appurtenances in Great Farringdon in the County of Berkshire now in the occupation of John Clough which I hold by copy of Court Roll of the Manor of Great Farringdon 
Richard Hewett's Estate Bequeathed to his niece Catherine Ridge
Richard left all the rest and residue of his goods, chattels, money and estate to Catherine's husband William Ridge, who was the sole executor of the Will.

Bampton, about four miles or 6-7 km south-west of the Ridge abode and one of the oldest towns in England, is famous today as the setting for the outdoor locations in the BBC series ‘Downton Abbey’ and the local authorities have established a website with excellent information about the area.

Richard's Siblings

At the time Richard Hewett wrote his Will, in January 1751, his niece Catherine had four children, William, James, George and Mary, all named as residual beneficiaries of his estate. Nine more children were born into the family. Richard was the youngest of the thirteen children, but four of his older brothers died in infancy. Only two of his siblings were girls, Mary and Martha. The names of Richard’s mother and two sisters fit neatly with the names Richard later chose for his daughters Catherine, Mary Ann and Martha, born in Australia around 1796, 1798 and 1803.

All the Rudge/Ridge children including Richard were literate and signed their names on legal documents. Employment-wise, there was a stone-hewing pit at Hardwick during the eighteenth century but the Ridge family appears to have been yeomen farmers and quite well-to-do. Richard’s sister Mary and brother Joseph married by Licence. Although not a church member, his brother Nathaniel was buried as a ‘gent’ by the Quakers in Witney in 1836.

Richard had six older brothers who needed somewhere to raise their own families. William moved to the family’s inherited property in Berkshire, where he married in 1770 (at Hinton Waldridge or Waldrist). From the 1770s Richard’s older brother George also lived on property inherited by their mother, at Bampton. Richard’s brother James, the next to marry, moved to the nearby market town of Witney, one mile or 1.6 km north of Cocklington. Witney was an important crossing point for the River Windrush and a centre of leather trades, blanket making and mop manufacture. Brothers Robert and Nathaniel also moved to Witney but appear to have remained as bachelors. Richard’s brother Joseph continued to work on the family farm near Hardwick. Sisters Mary and Martha both married in 1775.

Richard Leaves Home 

In May 1788 Richard’s mother died. Richard's older brother Joseph married in October 1788.
Richard's Mother Buried, 2 May 1788
Their father was still alive (until 1795) and Joseph was his helper on the farm where the family had lived for over forty years. Perhaps Richard, the youngest child, couldn’t see anything coming his way because in 1789 when he was almost 23 years old Richard left home to walk to London and find work.

These were stirring times. The French Revolution had just taken place, with the storming of the Bastille in Paris on 4 July and the overthrow of the monarchy in France.

Richard would have crossed the Thames at Newbridge near Northmoor before walking to Abingdon and Dorchester, the crossroads for the main horse post route to London through Nettlebed, Maidenhead and Hounslow. As the crow flies, it was around 54 miles or 86 km from Hardwick to Hounslow, near today’s Heathrow Airport. He would never see his home again.
Map of the Route to London from Hardwick in 1789
Richard now disappears from the parish records and enters the history books ... on 21 August 1789. He was accused of a crime at Brentford that night, as he walked eastwards from Hounslow through Brentford and on to Acton. Brentford, then a country village, is now a western suburb of London, on the northern bank of the Thames directly opposite Kew Gardens. He appeared at the Old Bailey on 9 September 1789 and was transported to Australia with the Third Fleet of 1791. But all of the events in this paragraph form another story.

In Australia, Richard eventually married Margaret Forrester. Much of her story as a child and their story as a couple is told in the book about her father Sentenced to Debt: Robert Forrester, First Fleeter, which can be purchased online at BookPOD. A book covering the lives of Robert Forrester's children has yet to be finalised, other than the story of his daughter Ann Forrester and her husband Charles Homer Martin, published in 2012 in Southwark Luck.

P.S. You are invited to 'Like' Louise Wilson, Author on Facebook.  


  1. Excellent Louise, so many comparisons to the family I have just told you about. I certainly know how much research you have done to come up with this. You are so good at writing it up in a clear and concise manner. Well done again.

    1. Thanks Judith. Encouraging feedback like this is my 'reward' for my research time and writing efforts. As for the story of the family of current interest to you, I'm sure you'll tell it well.