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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bloodsworth, James (1759–1804)

by Morton Herman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

James Bloodsworth (d.1804), master bricklayer and builder, was living at Kingston-on-Thames, England, in 1785 when sentenced to seven years transportation. In 1788 he was taken to Australia in the First Fleet in the Charlotte and was immediately appointed master bricklayer in the settlement at Sydney Cove. Since there were no architects in the fleet he was largely responsible for the design and the erection of Australia's first buildings, although the army and navy officers in the settlement had some knowledge of architecture.

Besides designing many private houses, Bloodsworth can be credited with the first Government House, which lasted from 1788 to 1845, and in 1790 the storehouse at King's Wharf on the shore of Sydney Cove. Governor Arthur Phillip praised 'the pains he had taken to teach others the business of a bricklayer', and his conduct was exemplary at a time when most convicts were noted for indolence or rebelliousness. Bloodsworth worked under difficulties; although there were competent bricklayers among the convicts, they had no proper mortar to bind the bricks together. For the walls of Government House some lime mortar was obtained by burning shells, but elsewhere mud-mortar had to be used. This was far from satisfactory, but by adapting his construction methods to these crude conditions he produced serviceable buildings, which also were by no means unseemly, because he was working within the long-established rules of Georgian architecture.

Bloodsworth was pardoned in 1790 and on 1 September 1791 was appointed superintendent over all the brickmakers and bricklayers. Next year he was offered rehabilitation to England, but he refused. In 1803 when offered a choice of employment at Port Phillip or the Derwent he again refused, preferring to remain in Sydney. In 1802 he had become a sergeant in the Sydney Loyal Association, a great mark of respect to a former convict. At that time he was farming his grant of fifty acres (20 ha) at Petersham; later he increased his holdings to 245 acres (99 ha). By Sarah Bellamy, who came in the Lady Penrhyn, he had seven children. Although he had the asset of his farm and his government salary of £50, he was insolvent when he died from pneumonia on 21 March 1804 at his house in what was later called O'Connell Street, Sydney. Because of the high regard the settlers had for him, Governor Philip Gidley King ordered that he be given the nearest the young colony could provide to a state funeral. The Sydney Loyal Association escorted the cortège with muffled drums, and the body was laid in the town cemetery with military honours. He was survived by two sons and two daughters.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1-4
  • W. Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson in New South Wales (Lond, 1793)
  • M. Herman, Early Australian Architects and Their Work (Syd, 1954)
  • Sydney Gazette, 25 Mar 1804
  • First Fleet Convicts, lists (State Library of New South Wales)
  • C. Grimes, Plan of the Settlements 1796 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Philip Gidley King letter book, 1797-1806 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Bigge appendix, box 12 (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Morton Herman, 'Bloodsworth, James (1759–1804)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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