THE THREE SHIPS NOW GATHERED in Portsmouth were joined by a store ship named the Justinian, loading with flour, pork, beef, pease, oatmeal, spirits, oil, and sugar. There were also 162 bales of clothing and a quantity of coverlets, blankets, and cloth, and a portable military hospital, prefabricated for assembly in New South Wales. Four hundred gallons of vinegar were shipped for use as disinfectant and mouthwash.
The wind kept the new convict fleet shuttling between Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight, but on 7 January, a Sunday morning in the new year of 1790, a westerly allowed them to tack their way down the Channel. The store ship Justinian left Falmouth the same day as the other three ships left the Motherbank.
Twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Macarthur kept herself absorbed by writing a stylish journal of the voyage. In the Bay of Biscay the sea “ran mountains high,” she wrote. Down the coast of west Africa, wind sails operated over the deck to keep the lower areas of the ship refreshed, but the terrible heat, particularly in the men's prison deck, could not be dealt with very well. Here was Georgian Hades, the convict deck of an eighteenth-century ship, the pumps on deck having no air to distribute, and men and women locked up with their complex screams and groans and surrenders.
After sailing, the soldiers complained to Lieutenant Macarthur that they were receiving short rations, that they were victims of purloining, that is, short weighting. Nepean did not seem to want to attend to the matter. The Macarthurs' rations were also cut by Captain Trail, without resistance by the incapable Lieutenant Shapcote or by Nicholas Nepean. Nepean dined in Captain Trail's cabin and the two had become cronies, but the Macarthurs “seldom benefited by their society.” As well, the passage the Macarthurs had formerly had to the upper deck was nailed down, and they could get to the deck only via the women's prison. Nepean told a protesting Macarthur that “the master of the ship had a right to do as he pleased.” Increasingly, Elizabeth Macarthur stuck to her cabin. “Assailed with noisome stenches,” she used oil of attar but that did not dispel the reek.
At Cape Town on 19 February, after an argument with Nepean, Macarthur and his wife, child, and servant transferred to the Scarborough in protest, where they shared a small cabin with Lieutenant Edward Abbott. Elizabeth liked the ship's master of Scarborough, John Marshall, more than Trail. Marshall had a wife and three children in England “of whom he speaks in the tenderest terms.” Her husband was incapacitated for five weeks by fever, during which time, Elizabeth Macarthur complained, the other New South Wales Corps officers did not make “the slightest offer of assistance.” He was beginning to walk again as Scarborough neared Port Jackson.
Captain William Hill, a cultivated and sympathetic young member of the New South Wales Corps, was sailing on Surprize, where he did himself great honour by being a critic of the contractors from the start. “The irons used upon these unhappy wretches were barbarous; the contractors had been in the Guinea trade, and had put on board the same shackles used by them in that trade, which are made with a short bolt, instead of chains that drop between the legs and fasten with a bandage around the waist, like those at the different gaols; these bolts were not more than three-quarters of a foot in length, so they [the convicts] could not extend either leg from the other more than an inch or two at most; thus fettered, it was impossible for them to move, but at the risk of both their legs being broken.” Forced inactivity on this scale, Hill feared, was an invitation to scurvy, “equal to, if not more than salt provisions.” Even when disease struck, there were no extra comforts offered. “The slave trade is merciful, compared with what I have seen in this fleet; in that it is the interest of the [slaver] master to preserve the health and lives of their captives, they having a joint benefit, with the owners. In this [fleet], the more they can with-hold from the unhappy wretches, the more provisions they have to dispose of in a foreign market; and the earlier in the voyage they die, the longer they [the masters] can draw the deceased's allowance for themselves … it therefore highly concerns government to lodge in future a controlling power in each ship over these low-life barbarous masters, to keep them honest, instead of giving it to one man [a single agent], who can only see what is going forward on his ship.”
The three main transports of the Second Fleet having reached Cape Town, the convict artificers who had behaved so well during the wreck of the Guardian and who had been stranded were taken on board the Neptune along with some of the Guardian's saved supplies. By now, Neptune had lost fifty-five men and a woman from scurvy. Young Lieutenant Riou of Guardian could foresee an accelerating calamity. He bluntly wrote to Evan Nepean, “If ever the navy make another contract like that of the last three ships, they ought to be shot, and as for their agent Mr. Shapcote, he behaved here just as foolishly as a man could well do.”
All four surgeons employed aboard the fleet had already written to Shapcote about the potential seriousness of the ships' unhealthy milieu. They urged him to get fresh supplies of beef and vegetables aboard. Surgeon Grey of the Neptune wrote that “without they have fresh provisions and greens every day, numbers of them will fall a sacrifice to that dreadful disease.” Yet at the Cape, Trail made sure his prisoners were securely ironed, which did not contribute to their rehabilitation through whatever fresh fruit and vegetables were acquired ashore.
Surgeon Harris, the military surgeon to the 100 soldiers of the fleet, was concerned about their condition also. William Waters, surgeon of Surprize, reported thirty convicts suffering from scurvy. In the Scarborough ten soldiers were affected, five of them “very bad.”
But Shapcote was strangely unconcerned, and may himself have been suffering from the lethargy of scurvy or from some other incapacity. He died suddenly in mid-May, after dining with Captain Trail and his wife. Between 3 and 4 a.m. a female convict who had constantly attended Mr. Shapcote came to the quarterdeck with news of his death.
The fleet entered now the zone of storms. On Surprize, the New South Wales Corps soldier Captain Hill felt pity for “unhappy wretches, the convicts,” who often “were considerably above their waists in water, and the men of my company, whose berths were not so far forward, were nearly up to the middles.”
IN THE DISPIRITED COLONY OF New South Wales, June had opened rainy and hungry, but on the evening of 3 June, there was a cry throughout Sydney Cove of “The flag's up!” It was the flag on the look-out station on the harbour's south head, and was visible from Sydney Cove itself. Tench left a passionate account of what this meant to him and others. “I was sitting in my hut, musing on our fate, when a confused clamour in the street drew my attention. I opened my door and saw several women with children in their arms running to and fro with distracted looks, congratulating each other, kissing their infants with the most passionate and extravagant marks of fondness.” Tench raced to the hill on which Government House stood and trained his pocket telescope on the lookout station. “My next-door neighbour, a brother-officer, was with me; but we could not speak; we wrung each other by the hand, with eyes and hearts overflowing.”
Watkin begged to join the governor in his boat which was going down-harbour to meet the ship, and it was while they were proceeding that a large vessel with English colours worked in between the heads. But a full-blown wind, of the kind Sydney folk quickly came to name southerly busters, was blowing her onto the rocks at the base of the cliffs of North Head. “The tumultuous state of our minds represented her in danger; and we were in agony.” She survived, however, and the governor sent out a boat to hail her, and when he knew who she was, the Lady Juliana with a cargo of women in good health, he crossed from the vice-regal boat to a fishing boat to return as fast as he could to Sydney, to prepare for the reception ashore of this new population. Meanwhile the seamen and officers in the governor's cutter “pushed through wind and rain…. At last we read the word ‘London’ on her stern. ‘Pull away, my lads! She is from old England; a few strokes more and we shall be aboard! Hurrah for a belly-full and news from our friends!’—Such were our exhortations to the boat's crew.”
Tench was still overwhelmed as they boarded, so that he saw the women on board not so much as the fallen but as “two hundred and twenty-five of our own countrywomen, whom crime or misfortune had condemned to exile.” Letters were brought up from below, and those addressed to the officers who had boarded were “torn open in trembling agitation.”
The Lady Juliana was moored in Spring Cove on the Manly side of Port Jackson for some days, as the women prepared for landing. Then it came down-harbour and the women finally came ashore on 11 June 1790. They were better dressed than most of barefoot New South Wales, having been permitted to replenish wardrobes in Rio and Cape Town, and they made their way as paragons of health through mud to the huts of the women's camp on the west side of the town.
But the presence of the Lady Juliana, and the bad news of the Guardian, were at least signs that the settlement had not been forgotten by Whitehall. Above all, so was the appearance of the store ship Justinian, a few weeks later. “Our rapture,” wrote Watkin, “was doubled on finding she was laden entirely with provisions for our use. Full allowance, and general congratulation, immediately took place.” The Justinian had taken only five months to make its transplanetary journey. The profound gratitude and almost personal affection which would have gone Lieutenant Riou's way had the Guardian not been lost was now directed at Justinian's young captain, Benjamin Maitland, for his ship carried the bulk of the stores Phillip needed, including nearly 500,000 pounds of flour and 50,000 pounds of beef and pork, as well as sugar, oil, oatmeal, pease, spirits, and vinegar. Here was the end of famine, and the return to full and varied rations! And from what the Justinian told them, the settlement knew to look out for three more convict ships.
The first of the new ships, the Surprize, under jury masts from damage in a Southern Ocean storm, was seen from the look-out on South Head on 25 June. By the next day it was anchored in Sydney Cove, with its convicts, and one captain, one lieutenant, one surgeon's mate, and twenty-six other ranks of the New South Wales Corps. The officers from Sydney Cove who boarded it might have expected the degree of health found in the Lady Juliana. In fact the peculiar disorders of the Camden, Calvert and King ships could be smelled for a hundred yards off. Phillip and King found the ill health of the New South Wales Corps soldiers was in stark contrast to the women of Lady Juliana, and the contrast with the convicts of Surprize was even more marked. Many of the Surprize prisoners were moribund. Upwards of 100 were now on the sick list on board, and forty-two had been buried at sea during the journey. The portable hospital which had arrived by the Justinian, measuring 84 by 201/2 feet, was assembled to take some of the spillage from White's timber-and-shingle hospital building, for the other transports were believed to be close, “and we were led to expect them in as unhealthy a state as that which had just arrived.”
The other two transports were spotted by the look-outs on South Head two days later. Lieutenant John Macarthur's fever caught at the Cape had spread throughout the ship. In the mad Southern Seas men and women had perished amongst the jolting, incessant swell, and beneath the scream of canvas and wind. Aboard Neptune in particular, according to later witnesses, a black market had broken out for lack of proper supplies. It might cost 1 shilling 6 pence for an additional pint of water, a pair of new shoes for a quart of tea or three biscuits, a new shirt for four biscuits, two pairs of trousers for six. Crew members would later sign a statement swearing that they sold food and drink to convicts on board at these elevated prices.
The Neptune and the Scarborough now entered Port Jackson. A visit by White and others showed them that the health of the people aboard Neptune was much worse even than that of the convicts on Surprize, and Collins was appalled by their condition. Indeed, Phillip and all the garrison officers looked judgmentally at masters like Captain Trail of Neptune but got back the unembarrassed stare of self-justified men. With all Phillip's power, he lacked the capacity to try them before his Admiralty court, so he was reduced to condemning them in dispatches.
Extra tents had to be pitched on the west side of the cove by the hospital to take in the 200 sick of Neptune, seriously ill with scurvy, dysentery, or infectious fever. Several people died in the boats as they were being rowed ashore, or on the wharf as they were lifted out of the boats: “both the living and the dead exhibiting more horrid spectacles than had ever been witnessed in this country.”
Much of it was attributed, said Collins, to severe confinement, such as had not occurred on the First Fleet: confinement in irons, that is, on the convict deck, without fresh air, without being permitted to exercise on deck. In many cases, convicts had been ironed together for the duration of the voyage. Collins thought Captain Marshall of the Scarborough had done a reasonably good job. Sixty-eight men had been lost on his ship, however. “On board the other ships, the masters who had the entire direction of the prisoners never suffered them to be at large on deck, and but few at a time were permitted there. This consequently gave birth to many diseases.”
The sick told an astonished Collins and others that sometimes, on board, when one of their comrades died in irons, the other men in the chain sequence had concealed the death for the purpose of sharing out their allowance of provisions amongst the living. “Until chance, and the offensiveness of a corpse, directed the surgeon … to the spot where it lay.” Such indeed had been the fate of Robert Towers.
Visiting the wharf and the hospital tents, Captain Watkin Tench was also outraged by what he saw. “The sum paid, per head, to the contractor, £17, was certainly competent to afford fair profit to the merchants who contracted. But there is reason to believe that some of them who were employed to act for him violated every principle of justice, and rioted on the spoils of misery, for want of a controlling power to check their enormities.” Tench did not, however, see the problem as a systemic one: “No doubt can be entertained that a humane and liberal government will interpose its authority to prevent the repetition of such flagitious conduct.” Captain Collins summed up the problem in a paragraph: “Government engaged to pay £17 7s 6d per head for every convict they embarked. This sum being as well for their provisions as for their transportation, no interest for their preservation was created in the owners, and the dead were more profitable … than the living.”
No sooner were the convicts unloaded than the masters of the transports, including Trail, opened tent stores on shore and offered goods for sale which “though at the most extortionate prices, were eagerly bought up.” Since cash was lacking, though some had brought quantities of it with them, the goods were in part sold to those amongst the population who had money orders and bills of credit, and even to the commissary for bills drawn on the Admiralty.
Phillip's final figures were that 158 prisoners died on board the Neptune. Others said 171, and 36 aboard the Surprize, 73 aboard the Scarborough. Nearly 500 convicts in all were landed sick. Given the weakened state of the arrivals, at first officers could see no benefit to society from the newcomers until they might recover and join the labour force, whose rations and work hours had at least returned to normal for the present.
The Reverend Johnson, who had avoided the hulks after his first visit to them in the Thames, and who seemed to avoid visits to the convict decks on the way to Botany Bay, had become inured to the proximity of convicts and to the universal squalor of Sydney Cove and entered the below-decks of the first of the three scandalous ships to arrive, the Surprize. He was galvanised by what he saw. “A great number of them lying, some half, others nearly quite naked, without either bed nor bedding, unable to turn or help themselves. I spoke to them as I passed along, but the smell was so offensive that I could scarcely bear it…. Some creeped upon their hands and knees, and some were carried upon the backs of others.” Johnson did not quite manage to carry his Christian compassion to the other holds—the captain of the least fatal ship, Scarborough, urged him not to descend into the death hole of its convict prison.
Attentive at the hospital, however, Johnson found many of the ill unable to move and “covered over almost with their own nastiness, their heads, bodies, clothes, blankets all full of filth and lice. Scurvy was not the only nor the worst disease that prevailed among them.” The convicts had not lost sufficient craftiness to beg clothing from Johnson and then sell it almost at once for food, but when it came to food, those who were stronger stole from the weak, as was the case with the blankets as well.
Parties of convicts were sent out collecting the acid berry, also known as the native currant, to combat the widespread scurvy. Since White found the quantity available was insufficient to treat everyone, he also made use of a plant growing on the seashore greatly resembling sage, and a kind of “wild spinage” (samphire) as well as “a small shrub which we distinguished by the name of the vegetable tree.”
By early August, the Reverend Johnson wrote that he had buried eighty-four of the convicts, one child, and one soldier, nearly all of them from the Second Fleet. People would afterwards remember the dingoes howling and fighting over the bodies in a sandy pit over the hills above the Tank Stream. By 6 August, Phillip reported an improvement in convict health, with the sick list down to 220, but deaths continued.
Captain Hill, landed from Surprize, suffered the normal shock of arrival but was pleased in some respects with his landfall. “It is now our winter quarters, and had I superior abilities to any man that ever wrote, it would be possible for me to convey to your mind a just idea of this beautiful heavenly clime; suffer your imagination to enter the regions of fiction; and let fancy in her loveliest moment paint an Elysium; it will fall far short of this delightful weather. It is well we have something to keep up our spirits, everything else is unpromising. And did the gloomy months prevail here as in England, it is more than probable that the next reinforcement on arrival would find a desolated colony.”
But he was not happy with the amenities of his life. “Here I am, living in a miserable thatched hut, without kitchen, without a garden, with an acrimonious blood by my having been nearly six months at sea, and tho' little better than a leper, obliged to live on a scanty pittance of salt provision, without a vegetable, except when a good-natured neighbour robs his own stomach in compassion to me.” Fresh meat cost 18 pence a pound, fish was not abundant (for it was winter), and “should one be offered for sale, 'tis by far too dear for an officer's pocket.”
All the healthy male convicts from the Second Fleet were sent to the farming settlement at Parramatta. Captain Hill began surveying and laying out an enlargement of that township, “in which the principal street will be occupied by the convicts; the huts are building at the distance of 100 feet from each other, and each hut is to contain ten convicts … and having good gardens which they cultivate, and frequently having it in their power to exchange vegetables for little necessaries, which the stores do not furnish, makes them begin to feel the benefits they may draw from their industry.” He found that people who had lived in huts with their own gardens for some time rarely abused the confidence that was placed in them, and if they did it was to plunder some other convict's garden.
Women convicts were put to work making clothes out of the slops, the raw cloth brought out on sundry ships. The population had by now quadrupled, and so when on 1 August the Surprize left for China, Phillip leased it to drop off 157 female and thirty-seven male convicts at Norfolk Island on the way.
D'Arcy Wentworth had been working on a voluntary arrangement with Surgeon White, but was now sent to Norfolk Island with his convict paramour, Catherine Crowley, with the provisional post of assistant surgeon, based on the help he had given in the grounds of the Sydney hospital. His sense of exile and of being neither bond nor free threw him more and more into the company of pregnant Catherine, and it seemed to have been adequate for him.
When the Justinian turned up at Norfolk on 7 August, the ration on the island was down to 2 pounds of flour and 1 pint of tea per person weekly, and only fish and cabbage tree palms and mutton birds and their eggs had saved the population. The Surprize joined her late that afternoon, with D'Arcy Wentworth and his eighteen-year-old convict woman aboard, but the Wentworths did not have a high priority for landing, so when the ship had to back off again and go to Cascade Bay on the north side of the island to shelter from a gale, Catherine Crowley gave premature shipboard birth to a son who was to be named William Charles Wentworth. D'Arcy Wentworth helped his son from his mother's womb, cut the cord, and washed him, noticed an inturned eye, but wrapped, warmed, and caressed the baby. It took some weeks of tenderness and care to ensure his survival.
Wentworth landed into a turbulent scene, every human's negative passion enhanced by hunger and isolation and the limits of a small island set in consistently dangerous seas. He saw that the officers of the Sirius snubbed Major Ross and would not pay him the normal respects. Appointed quartermaster-general, Ralph Clark was now seen as Ross's favourite, even though Clark's opinion of the man had not previously been high. Clark's new posting gave him a tin-pot power, but it was also power of life and death over those who served time on Norfolk. D'Arcy Wentworth, fortunate to be free of all that, found five other surgeons and assistant surgeons on the island, and liked most of them: the fellow Irishmen Thomas Jamison and Dennis Considen, then Surgeon Altree, and the former convict John Irving. Irving, sentenced in Lincoln, had served as assistant surgeon on his own ship in the First Fleet, Lady Penrhyn, and after the arrival of the portable hospital in the Second Fleet had done such conspicuous work there that Phillip granted him an absolute pardon and appointed him to assist Considen. Back in Sydney, he had a grant of 30 acres awaiting him.
Dennis Considen befriended Wentworth at once and began to instruct him in the use of native plants for treating disease, an area of practice in which he had been a leader in Sydney. Indeed, in a letter to Sir Joseph Banks he had written, “If there is any merit in applying these and other simples to the benefit of the poor wretches here, I certainly claim it.” As well as promoting the use of native sarsaparilla and spinach, red gum from angophora trees, yellow from grass trees, and oil from the peppermint eucalyptus tree, he found that the native myrtle would serve as a mild and safe astringent in cases of dysentery.
Wentworth was appointed surgeon to the little inland hamlet of Charlotte's Field, soon to be known as Queensborough, in the interior of the island, to which he walked each day. Wentworth had to treat, above all, diarrhoea and dysentery. He also had to attend lashings. Clark seemed to think flogging increasingly appropriate, and for some time, Wentworth was a mediator between the lash and convicts. There had been the case of John Howard, former highway robber, already lashed early in 1790 for stealing potatoes and selling his clothes in return for food and drink. Later in the year, he would be ordered to receive 500 strokes for selling the slops issued to him by the public store and for telling a lie about it to Major Ross. Wentworth humanely called off the punishment when he had received eighty strokes—though Howard was still, in theory, to receive the remainder when he had recovered. Wentworth also attended when a man of almost seventy was given 100 lashes for stealing wheat and neglecting his work; and a young convict boy received thirteen strokes on the buttocks for robbing his master.
Ralph Clark, the Norfolk Island punisher, gave later Australian feminist historians every opportunity of accusing him of rancour against the women convicts. He said of First Fleeter Rachel Early that she was “the most abandoned woman that I ever knew or heard of,” but that seemed to be a definition Clark applied to whichever woman he had last been required to punish. He was embarked on an affair with Mary Brenham, a First Fleet woman of about nineteen years of age with a son who had been born to one of the Lady Penrhyn sailors. She would soon be carrying Clark's child. He seemed to take the relationship seriously—ultimately he would call the girl-child born of Brenham “Alicia,” to honour his wife, irrespective of whether she would ever find out or not.
As claustrophobic as the cheek-by-jowl society of Sydney and Parramatta were, the even narrower tensions of Norfolk Island sometimes made men like Clark sound nearly unhinged. He wrote, for instance, of a fellow officer, Lieutenant Creswell: “I am a damned thorn in his side as he thinks I will get some thing by my volunteering this business of building a town out at Charlotte's Field [Queensborough]. I don't care how much he grins but by God, he must not attempt to bite for if he does this world will be too small for both of us to live in.”
The marine garrison showed they suffered obsessions of their own, to match those of the convicts and gentlemen, by refusing to take their provisions, alleging that the convicts were better off through getting preferential treatment and extra greens. Their hunger was no doubt sincere, but Clark was convinced that what they wanted was to test whether they or Major Ross were to be the masters here. He believed that the air of revolution, let loose in France, had reached even this remotest post.
Captain Johnston and his officers called the roll of the two companies, parading without arms in front of the barracks preparatory to implementing orders from Ross to march them disarmed to the store with their supply bags. The authority of the Crown felt tenuous here, and yet, haunted by the possibility of severe punishment, the ranks broke and left their muskets in place and marched to the store to take their rations. “This day has been near one of the most critical days in my life,” Clark sighed. “Never was club law near taking place in any part of the world than it was in this—I wish that we were fairly away from this island, for I am afraid if we stay much longer we will not get away without a great deal of bloodshed, for our men here are the most mutinous set I ever was amongst and are ripe for rising against any authority.”
On Monday, 2 May 1791, Clark “went out to Queensborough to take Richardson with me (which is the man that flogs the people), and give them as many lashes as I think they deserved.” The flogger in question was James Richardson, a young man sentenced at eighteen for highway robbery and sent out on the First Fleet. Richardson was very muscular and had been the public flogger for some months. The previous May, he had been required to lash five members of a boat crew who had concealed part of their catch, but had found himself subjected to fifty “for neglect of duty for not flogging the above five men as he ought to have done.” That is, he had not lashed them with sufficient vigour.
At Queensborough, Clark found that Katherine White and Mary Higgins had stolen corn out of the public fields. A woman in her early twenties, Katherine White had once lifted £65 in bank notes from an office in Woolwich, but the jury had soft-heartedly valued them at only 39 shillings to save her from the gallows. “When I ordered Katherine White and Mary Higgins 50 each, White could only bear 15 when she fainted away. The doctor [Wentworth] wished I would order her to be taken down which I did.”
Clark then records that Mary Tute received twenty-two of her twenty-five lashes “when she fainted away when I ordered her to be cast loose—I hope this will be a warning to the ladies out at Queensborough.” The pattern continued. Later in Ross's reign, Clark ordered another young woman to receive fifty lashes for abusing Mr. Wentworth, but she received only sixteen, “as Mr. Wentworth begged that she might be forgiven the other 34.” Clark considered the girl in question—one Sarah Lyons—a “D/B,” his code for “damned bitch.” Wentworth's tenderheartedness would not save Sarah Lyons from further floggings.
As much as these punishments were countenanced in the eighteenth century, and indeed administered to members of the armed forces with equal mercilessness, there is a growing coarseness of sensibility in Clark's journal which is an index of the effects of flogging on the entire society. What was occasional in the Royal Navy was close to daily on Norfolk Island, and obviously Wentworth did not like it. Clark's voice is the voice of a small-minded and savage authoritarianism, and there were days when Wentworth thought highway robbery was honest work beside this.
BACK ON THE MAINLAND, something promising was happening. James Ruse, the governor's agricultural Adam, was fulfilling his symbolic significance on his farm in the Rose Hill area. He was no stranger to rage at what had befallen him, and liked to soften the edges of his life as a probationary felon-yeoman with gambling, talk, and drink. Phillip was willing to live with those realities. What he wanted were signs of agricultural hardihood and industry, and Ruse gave him that.
Ruse's 1790 harvest would produce a token 171/2 bushels of wheat from 11/2 acres, but by February 1791, Ruse would draw his last ration from the government store, an event of great psychological potency for Phillip, Ruse, and all the critics. By then Ruse had met and married a convict woman from the Lady Juliana named Elizabeth Perry. Elizabeth at twenty-one had stolen items of clothing, including a bombazine gown and shoes, from her employer, a milk vendor's wife, to whom Perry had represented herself as “a country girl just come to town.” She had been sick for the week before absconding with the goods. She claimed innocence, and argued that the clothes she was arrested in were her own, and given the shaky nature of the criminal justice system, she might indeed have been right.
The Ruse-Perry marriage rounded out the idyll. Phillip's land grant to Ruse was confirmed when in April 1791 the young convict received title to his land, the first grant issued in New South Wales. His place near the Parramatta River would become known appropriately as Experiment Farm. Elizabeth Ruse often heard her husband complain of the unsuitability of his ground at Parramatta, and he comforted himself for the smallish returns for his excessive labour and agricultural cleverness by drinking and gambling with other Parramatta convicts.