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1820 Settlers - Willson's Party

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Willson's Party

Main References - The Settler Handbook by MD Nash and 1820

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Party Details

  • Leader Thomas Willson
  • Number 307
  • Area Party originated from London
  • Area Allocated to the Party Beaufort Vale on the Bush River
  • 1820 Settler Ship

La Belle Alliance

  • Dates
  • Departure London 12 February 1820
  • Arrival Table Bay, Cape Town - 2 May 1820
  • Final Port Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth

(No other parties were on this voyage) M.D. Nash 1987 - Settler Handbook

"No. 17 on the Colonial Department list, led by Thomas Willson, an architect and commercial agent of Bridge Cottage, Chelsea Water Works, London. Along with Bailie, Parker and Edward Wynne (who was later succeeded by Hezekiah Sephton), Willson was given permission to take out one of the four largest settler parties, consisting of 100 able-bodied men and their families. Wynne's application was well received because of his party's religious convictions, and Bailie and Parker had powerful patrons in government, but the Colonial Department later admitted that Willson's selection was a mistake that was not discovered until it was too late to rectify it. One Edward Webb Wilson had applied to emigrate with the influential backing of J Kynaston Powell of Ellesmere, and the Colonial Department confused the two similar names and accepted Willson's proposal in error.

This was a joint-stock party, recruited by advertisement, and like Parker's and Bailie's it served to absorb the remnants of smaller parties whose applications had been rejected or whose numbers had diminished. Many of these men were London tradesmen: James and Benjamin Wilmot and John Doyle had belonged to a party led by James Wilmot of Little Ormond Street, Queen Square; Thomas Francis and William Bond had belonged to a party led by Thomas Bainbridge of Soho; Goadley, Lance and Wenham had belonged to a party led by James Russell of Seven Dials; Matthew Dold, his two sons and John Ayliff and Thomas Foden had belonged to a party led by JM Dold of Mile End New Town. Thomas Foden had also enlisted in a proposed party led by Robert Pirie of Turnmill Street, Clerkenwell, which contributed 11 members to Willson's party: Pirie, Gyfford, Kidson, Carter, Whybrew, Horn, Rathbone, Williams, Lucas, Nelson and Foden.

Alexander Bisset, a naval officer of Long Acre, London, and Walter Currie and his brother Adam Currie of Langholme, Dumfriesshire, had belonged to a party under Bisset's leadership. When Bisset's proposal was turned down, Currie obtained permission to emigrate independently at his own expense, but subsequently chose to join Willson's party instead.

Early in September 1819, before Willson had been notified of the success of his application, he claimed a first instalment of £5 from his prospective settlers, who were required to pay two further instalments of £5 per man to cover the cost of their deposits and the 'necessary stores' which Willson proposed to purchase for the party. In addition, he levied a five per cent surcharge on the total amount paid, as a personal fee for his efforts on their behalf. In October he issued a printed circular containing a bewildering set of proposals for the organisation and management of the party.

He suggested that ten gentlemen of the party should form a 'Society', each contributing an equal amount of capital and five labourers, and constitute themselves a Committee of Management to oversee the erection of houses and the cultivation of their land. In addition to this party within a party, he proposed that every ten settlers should select a Director to represent them, who would assist Willson himself in 'the dispensation of benefits'. In the distribution of land to the members of his party he would be as generous as was consistent with 'the public good' and the preservation of his 'own individual rights as Lord of the Manor'. He was willing to give a written guarantee of his intention to grant land to any settler who was entitled to a share, and who would 'pay a stipulated sum towards a Fund of Indemnity' intended to go into Willson's own pocket. All that emerges clearly from this extraordinarily unclear document is that Willson was as anxious to avoid responsibility for the management of the party as he was to ensure his own 'adequate pecuniary support'. Willson's settlers subsequently denied that they had given their approval to these confused proposals, 'nor was it ever asked'.

Although most of the party were 'free' settlers who paid their own deposits, there were not many among them whom their contemporaries would have classed as 'gentlemen'. Several men, however, were sufficiently well-off to take servants with them: the Wilmots employed four servants, as did Collis; Cock, Currie and Willson each employed three; and Bisset, Lloyd, John Smith, Webb and the Rev William Boardman had one servant each. The size of the party called for the inclusion of at least one medical man, and at one stage, in fact, it had three: Thomas Cock, James Pawle and William Combley. Combley did not remain with the party; he was seconded to travel in the Sir George Osborn, which had no surgeon on board, but shortly before sailing he decided not to emigrate after all. His servant, Charles Bowsher, sailed in the Sir George Osborn but it is not known whether he rejoined Willson's party on its location.

Under the terms of the emigration scheme, any party of 100 settlers could be accompanied by a clergyman who would receive a government stipend. Willson saw this as an opportunity not only to provide for his settlers' spiritual welfare but also to establlish a 'classical academy' at the new settlement. His first nomination was the Rev Edward Pizey, who was rejected as ineligible by the Colonial Department; he was more successful with his second nomination, the Rev William Boardman. Boardman was headmaster of Blackburn School in Lancashire, and was desperate to emigrate; he had hoped to attach himself to Hayhurst's party, but it was not large enough to qualify for the sevices of a clergyman. The Colonial Department accepted Boardman's nomination on the recommendation of his patron Thomas Claughton, Member of Parliament for Newton, which was countersigned by the Bishop of Chester, as well as numerous testimonials to Boardman's good character, strenuously denying allegations of drunkenness which he feared would prejudice his chances of success.

Deposits were paid for 102 men and their families, and the party boarded La Belle Alliance at Deptford. One of the men withdrew at the last minute because of illness. After more than a month's delay before leaving the ice-bound Thames, the ship sailed from the Downs on 12 February 1820, arriving in Table Bay on 2 May and Simon's Bay three days later. Thomas Cock's wife and three of his children and one of the Wilmots' servants died on the passage out, and Thomas Henderson and Thomas Randall obtained permission to disembark at Simon's Town with their families and leave the party.

When La Belle Alliance sailed from Simon's Bay on the last leg of her voyage to Algoa Bay, Willson distributed another circular to his party, claiming 'indemnification' for the effort and expense he had been put to, and the right as 'Lord of the Manor' to hunt, fish and cut timber on the party's lands and to call on its members for labour. The 'free settlers' under his direction were unanimous in their determination to resist these demands, and on arrival at Algoa Bay towards the end of May they submitted a petition to the Acting Governor, Sir Rufane Donkin, asking for his intervention. Their anger was exacerbated by Willson's refusal to issue them either with regular rations or the additional 'necessary supplies' for which they had been required to pay in England. Donkin held a meeting with Willson and the petitioners, and 'after explaining and exhorting, and deciding rather against Mr W', he believed that 'union was restored'. The party was located on the Bush River, a tributary of the Torrens.

Willson, however, abandoned his settlers as soon as they reached their location and returned to Algoa Bay, from where he retreated to Cape Town, claiming that 'the wretched-minded classes' had threatened to put a bullet through his head. The direction of the party was left in the hands of the Rev William Baordman. Willson had planned to found a town called Angloville, where he hoped to erect 'a Colossal Monument to our beloved Sovereign', but the name eventually given to the location was Beaufort Vale".

Members of Willson's Party

[Bold links are to Geni profiles; other links are to other biographical notes]

James Addams 30 Farmer.

Wife Harriet 25.

Samuel Austin 33. Cabinet maker.

Wife Mary 36.

John Ayliff ✽ 22. Weaver. (Later married Jane Catherine Dold of this Party.)

Patrick Bagley ✽, 25. Army pensioner.

Wife Catherine 25.

William Barrett 19. Gardener.

William Barrett 38. Farmer.


  • Charles 16,
  • Robert 12.

John Bayley 28. Farmer (servant to Collis).

Wife Martha 26.

  • Mary 2.

Alexander Bisset 32, Lieut RN.

Wife Alicia Smith 28.

Children :

William Boardman 44, Clergyman.

Wife Margaret Hayes 40.
Children :

William Bond 44. Farmer.

Wife Martha 40.

  • William Henry 13,
  • Louisa 11,
  • Comprise 4.

Charles Bowsher 21. Farmer (sailed on Sir George Osborn).

Thomas Brown 40. Farmer.

Thomas Sanders Brown 36, Butcher.

Wife Elizabeth Legerton 37.

William Thomas Brown 20. Farmer.

Thomas Campion 19. Labourer.

William Carpenter 34. Carpenter.

Wife Mary 34.

  • Eliza Carpenter 7,
  • Maria Carpenter 4,
  • Emma Carpenter 1.

William Chapman 26. Labourer (servant to Webb).

Wife Judith 23.
Child :

  • Sarah 4.

Thomas Clarke 40,Farmer.

Wife Eleanor Taylor 34.

Thomas Cock 32. Surgeon.

Wife Sophia 32 (died at sea).

  • Sophia Cock, 8,
  • John Cock, 7,
  • Thomas Cock, 6,
  • Ann Cock, 4,
  • Jane Cock, 3,
  • James Cock 1, a baby born at sea. (Three children, including the baby, died at sea.)

James Collis 24. Merchant.

James Crawford 22. Farmer.

Wife Martha Wise 22.
Child :

Adam Currie 24. Farmer.

Walter Currie 34. Purser RN.

Wife Ann Lowe 24.

Christopher Dale 31, Music teacher and piano tuner.

Wife Elizabeth Dale 29.

Joseph Dearman 25. Farmer.

Mary 23.


  • Joseph Dearman, 12,
  • Osborn Dearman, 11,
  • John Dearman, 9,
  • James Dearman, 8.

Matthew Dold, 50. Carpenter.

Wife Jane 46.

Joseph Donovan 25, Taxidermist.

Wife Susannah Clark 26.
Children :

Stepchildren :

John Doyle 20. Farmer (servant to Wilmots).

William Robert Eales 26, Farmer.

Wife Sarah Moore 26.

William John Earl 19, Farmer. (Later married Mary Boardman of this Party.)

William Loftie Eaton 21, Farmer.

Wife Mary Ann Lepper 24.

Thomas Foden 40, Shoemaker.

Wife Mary Unknown 36.
Children :

Thomas Francis 31. Farmer.

Wife Elizabeth 28.

John Gamble 19. Labourer (servant to Collis).

Joseph Goadley 31. Tailor.

Wife Mary 31.

Ralph Goddard 26, Cabinetmaker.

Wife Sarah Herbage 26.

John Griggs 20. Music master and copier. He was “of Grosvenor Street, London. “

Theophilus Gyfford 33. Gardener.

Wife Ann 26.

Thomas Hagard 34, Glazier and builder.

Wife Elizabeth 35.

  • Elizabeth Hagard, 1.

Benjamin Hall 29, Farmer.

Wife Frances Sophia Crick 28.
Children :

Thomas Henderson 42. Gunner RN.

Wife Margaret 32.

  • Eliza Henderson, 12,
  • Lavinia Henderson, 10.

Barnabas Higgins 23. Carpenter (servant to Collis)

William Hogg 19. Labourer (servant to Boardman)

Robert Henry William Horne 21, Mariner

Wife Ann Griffin 22.

John Jarman 40. Farmer.

George Jarvis 21, Clerk.

Jolley 17. Gardener.

Wife Mary 21. Mary Ann Atherton

William Kidson (34) Farmer,

Wife Anna Marie Parke (32)

James Lance 31. Shoemaker.

Wife Elizabeth 30.

Thomas Lane 21. Farmer (servant to Currie)

Robert Lindsey 36. Carpenter (servant to Willson)

Wife Isabella 35.

Henry Lloyd 36, Harness maker.

Wife Alicia Mary Whittle 27.
Children :

Charles John Lucas 31, Gardener.

Wife Sarah Avis 27.

Thomas Martin 24. Farmer.

Wife Susan 26.

William Mercer 14 (in the care of Thomas Willson)

Frederick Moltby 19. Gardener.

John Moody 49. Carpenter.

Wife Sarah 36.

James Mundell 24. Farmer.

Wife Catherina Stagg 27
Children :

Thomas Nelson 33, Clerk.

Wife Mary Ann Craik 33.

Benjamin Norden ✽ 21. Tailor.

John Norton 25. Farmer.

Wife Sarah Norden 25.

Thomas Palmer 32. Leather dresser.

James Pawle 30, Surgeon.

Wife Jemima Bacon 32.
Children :

Richard Peacock 34. Farmer.

Wife Maria Johnson 28.

Ann Pepperell (servant to Currie).

John Phillips 19. Farmer

Francis Pierce 13 (in the care of John Moody)

Richard Pierce, 40. Baker.

Wife Ann Holden 41.

Thomas Piper 36. Labourer (servant to Collis)

Robert Pirie 35, Baker.

Wife Mary Rachel Horn 24.
Child :

John Pratt 38. Farmer.

Wife Ann 37.


  • William 13 (adopted son)

John Purdon 40. Army pensioner, late Sergt, 53rd Foot.

Wife Mary Clifford Harrison 34.

Thomas Randall 40. Farmer.

Wife Maria 21.

James Rathbone 22. Carpenter.

Wife Susanna Burling 22.

  • Emma Rathbone 1. James Reid 36. Farmer (servant to Wilmots)

Wife Ann 30.

  • John William Reid, 13.

Thomas Reynolds 28. Farmer.

John Robertson 30. Cabinet maker.

Wife Elizabeth 22.

Samuel Rowe 29. Baker.

Wife Sarah 26.

  • Edward Rowe, 6.

George Dennis Scott 19. Carpenter.

John Scott 39 Carpenter.

Wife Frances 38.

  • Eliza Scott, 9,
  • Edmund Scott, 6,
  • Henry Scott, 4,
  • Emma Scott, 1.

Samuel Scrooby 31. Carpenter.

Wife Ann Woodward 33.

Benjamin Simmons 18. Farmer.

Philip Simons 38. Farmer.


  • Samuel Simons, 10,
  • Ralph Simons, 8.

Charles Slee 26. Farmer.

Morris Sloman 33. Farmer.

Wife Phillis 24.

  • Mark Sloman, 5,
  • Rosetta Sloman, 3,
  • Julia Sloman, 2.

John Smith 42, Boatswain RN.

Wife Rebecca Hancorn 34.
Children :

Richard Smith 18. Labourer.

William Stanton 36. Locksmith and bell hanger.

Wife Elizabeth Moxom 35.

Charles Taylor 19. Farmer.

John Thomas 40. Labourer.

Wife Mary 35.

Thomas Walker 22. Carpenter.

Wife Elizabeth 22.

  • Elizabeth Walker, 2,
  • Sarah Walker, 1.

Thomas Walker 46. Baker.

Wife Sarah 43.

John Webb 35, Farmer.

Wife Mary Ann Stewart 34.

Thomas Wenham 28. Carpenter (servant to Willson)

Wife Elizabeth 26.

James Wheeler 39. Farmer.

Wife Harriet Elizabeth Pepper 35.
Children :

John Whybrew 19. Gardener.

Charles Wilkinshaw 22. Gardener.

John Williams 38. Master at Arms, RN.

Wife Ann 35.

Thomas Willson 35. Architect. (deserted his group soon after arriving in Albany)

Wife Mary Ann 30.

  • Percy Willson, 9,
  • Douglas Willson, 6,
  • Thomas Willson, 4.

Benjamin Wilmot 22. Lawyer.

James Wilmot 30. Lawyer.

Wife Ann 29.

Frederick William Woods 21. Farmer.

George Wright 19. Labourer.

Main sources for party list

Return of settlers under the direction of Mr Thomas Willson (Cape Archives CO 6138/1,50. This is the London list; no Agent of Transports' list has been traced giving the state of the party as it arrived at the Cape). Petition of the free settlers on board the transport La Belle Alliance (Cape Archives CO 3918,269. This petition was signed by 67 'free settlers' who had paid their own deposits and were not bound to service, while four others, including the Rev William Boardman and Dr Pawle, refrained from signing). List of families located, from Special Commissioner William Hayward's notes (Cape Archives CO 8544).

No reference has been traced in colonial records to Thomas Campion, Adam Currie, Joseph Dearman, Thomas Hagard, Thomas Martin, John Moody, Thomas Reynolds, Charles Slee, John Thomas, Frederick Woods or George Wright; the majority of them were probably indentured servants, and it is not certain that all actually reached the Cape.

E Morse Jones lists the following births and deaths on board La Belle Alliance. His sources for this information have not been traced, and it has not been incorporated into the party list: a son, William, born to the wife of Ralph Goddard; a daughter, Emma, born to the wife of Benjamin Hall; a son Philip, born to the wife of John Norton, and Charles, the 2-year-old son of John Purdon, died at sea.

✽ The names of three men who are known to have been associated with Willson's party do not appear on any of its official lists.

  • Patrick Bagley, a veteran of the Peninsular War, enrolled and paid his deposit as a member of Bailie's party. He missed the Chapman's sailing and was allowed to travel on La Belle Alliance instead. He was located in Albany with Willson's party and claimed a share of its land.
  • Benjamin Norden was listed as a member of a Jewish party formed by his father, Abraham Norden of Smithfield, London, whose application to emigrate was unsuccessful. He described himself in 1823 as one of Willson's party, but it is not known whether he sailed in La Belle Alliance under another man's name, or whether he reached the Cape some time after the 1820 settlers and joined his relative John Norton on the party's location. He was not a claimant for land.
  • John Ayliff, a weaver, was listed as a member of the party formed by JM Dold of Mile End New Town, London, whose application to emigrate was unsuccessful. JM Dold, his brother WA Dold and their father Matthew Dold subsequently joined Willson's party as replacements for three men who had dropped out. According to the entries in the sailing list, Matthew Dold was accompanied by his wife Jane and their son Ayliff aged 13, JM Dold by his wife Sarah Ann, and WA Dold by his wife Jane Catherine. It has been established that Sarah and Jane C Dold were in fact the daughters and not the daughters-in-law of Matthew Dold, but by listing them as their brothers' 'wives', no separate deposits had to be paid for them. In the same way John Ayliff, who by his own description was 'a very fresh looking young man', may have been listed as 'Ayliff, aged 13', either to avoid paying a deposit or because the party's numbers were complete and no further adult male settler would officially be admitted. No mention of any such deception is made in Ayliff's autobiographical accounts of the circumstancs of his emigration. John Ayliff and Jane Dold were married by the Captain of HMS Menai at Algoa Bay on 25 June 1820, while the party was awaiting transport to its location.
  • Joshua Davis Norden

Extract from: The Cape Journals of Archdeacon N. J. Merriman, 1848-1855

"This tablet is on the West Wall of the Cathedral and commemorates Joshua Davis Norden (1803 - 46), who arrived at Algoa Bay with Willson's Party on the Belle Alliance in May 1820. After various farming disasters, Norden opened an auctioneer's business in Grahamstown in 1835, became a commissioner of the municipality, and established a burgher force for the defence of the town ("Norden's Yeomanry"). He was killed in action during the War of the Axe; his body was recovered and burried with full military honours in the Jewish cemetery. His fellow-soldiers erected the plaque in the Cathedral (G Saron & I Hotz, The Jews in South Africa, Cape Town, 1955 pp299-300)

Further reading

Rev John Ayliff, The Journal of 'Harry Hastings', Albany Settler (Grahamstown, Grocott and Sherry, 1963),

a work of fiction based on Ayliff's own experiences as a young emigrant;
The Journal of John Ayliff: vol. 1, 1821-1830, ed Peter Hinchliff (Cape Town, AA Balkema, 1971).

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