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Singleton, Benjamin (1788–1853)

by Nancy Gray

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Benjamin Singleton (1788-1853), settler and miller, was born on 7 August 1788 in England of Scottish parentage. His father, William, then a warehouse porter in London, was sentenced at the Old Bailey on 8 June 1791 to transportation for seven years. With his wife Hannah and two sons, Benjamin and Joseph, William arrived at Port Jackson in the Pitt on 14 February 1792. Five years later the family settled on a ninety-acre (36 ha) grant at Mulgrave Place, where another son, James, then aged 30, joined them in 1808.

James and Benjamin built excellent water-mills, the first at Kurrajong, where they ground wheat for the government stores, a second at Lower Portland Head and a third on James's fifty-acre (20 ha) grant at the Hawkesbury. Benjamin accompanied William Parr on part of his exploration of the present Bulga Road in October 1817 but, realizing the advantages to be gained by discovering a trafficable route to the Hunter valley, he withdrew and led a private expedition in April 1818. This, like Parr's, was a failure, but the experience proved useful when two years later as a member of John Howe's party, he finally reached Patrick's Plains. The town of Singleton is built on part of Singleton's 200 acres (81 ha), granted on 31 March 1821 as a reward for his share in this successful expedition.

Cattle on agistment from the Hawkesbury were soon grazing 'at Singleton's' and in February 1823 Major James Morisset appointed him district constable, on the recommendation of Edward Close who thought Singleton 'a very trustworthy man'. In the same year he fell foul of James Mudie, who refused to accept his instructions concerning the employment of convicts on Sundays and their attendance at musters. Singleton appealed successfully to Close, the nearest magistrate, to uphold his authority 'or else the District will be no better than bushrangers'. In 1825 his application for additional land, granted in 1828, was supported by the four major landholders of the district.

Farming he found 'but a poor employment'. He was grazing stock on Liverpool Plains in 1827, his mill and inn at Singleton being managed by relatives. With his brother Joseph he built a water-mill at Boatfalls, near Clarencetown, in 1831 and then embarked on a new venture. He commissioned from William Lowe's yard at Clarencetown a horse-drawn vessel, aptly named the Experiment, to be used in the Parramatta trade. Neither horses nor passengers took kindly to the novelty, and in December 1832 he offered it for sale 'for want of funds to propel her by steam'. Want of funds also forced the subdivision, sale or mortgage of much of his property during the 1830s and his insolvency in 1842, but did not prevent him making the first gifts of land to the Anglican and Presbyterian churches in Singleton. His unique contribution to education was to plough a furrow from the town to the schoolhouse at Whittingham, so that the children would not lose their way. He died on 2 May 1853, aged 65, and was buried in the Whittingham (Singleton) cemetery. He was survived by his wife Mary (1796-1877), daughter of Thomas Sharling of the 102nd Regiment, whom he had married on 7 February 1811, and by their ten children.

Adventurous, energetic and trustworthy, he retained the affectionate regard of his friends and well deserved Mudie's unconscious tribute — 'Singleton is on a perfect footing of equality with his convict servants, mine or any he comes in contact with … in a word Ben Singleton (as they call him) is a fine fellow'.

Select Bibliography

  • William Parr journal (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Benjamin Singleton journal (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary's in letters, vols 19-21, Newcastle, 1823 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Nancy Gray, 'Singleton, Benjamin (1788–1853)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/singleton-benjamin-2667/text3717, published in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

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