Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Arscott (1767–?)

by A. J. Gray

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John Arscott (flourished 1783-1794), carpenter, a native of Truro, Cornwall, England, was sentenced at Bodmin on 18 August 1783 to be transported for seven years; he sailed with the First Fleet in the Charlotte and was transferred to the Scarborough at Portsmouth. In the first two years at Port Jackson the demand for carpenters was heavy and he seems to have been busily employed at his trade; in his spare time he made furniture and also built a hut in which he established himself comfortably. In March 1790 he was transferred to Norfolk Island. He distinguished himself by saving the wreck of H.M.S. Sirius from destruction by fire and so earned high praise from both Major Robert Ross and later from Governor Arthur Phillip. He returned to Sydney in the Supply on 30 May 1791, and on 26 October sailed in the Atlantic when she was sent to Calcutta for provisions; he was discharged on her return next June and probably returned to his carpentering. On 8 December 1792 he married Catherine Prior who, as Catherine Fryer, had been convicted with Mary Bryant at Exeter in 1786.

On 24 April 1793 Arscott and his wife sailed for England in the Shah Hormuzear. On 3 July a party from her and from the Chesterfield went ashore at Tate's (Darnley) Island in Torres Strait in search of water. They were attacked by natives; five of the party were killed and their provisions and equipment stolen. In this encounter Arscott played no small part in rescuing the two others who survived. They then decided to run to Timor, and after ten days of great hardship, sighted an island which the natives called Sarret. Here they were well received and remained for nine months. On 1 May 1794 they reached Banda in a trading proa, and on 10 October arrived at Batavia where Arscott found that his wife had died the previous year, two days before the Shah Hormuzear had arrived there. Nothing further appears to be known about him, but his behaviour throughout his recorded career strongly suggests that his resourcefulness and bravery were impressive.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vol 1, part 2
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 1
  • M. Flinders, A Voyage to Terra Australis, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1814)
  • H. R. White, A First-Fleet Index (Southport, 1960)
  • European Magazine, May, June 1797
  • R. Clark, Journal (State Library of New South Wales)
  • W. Bradley, Journal (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

A. J. Gray, 'Arscott, John (1767–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Cornwall, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Passenger Ship
Key Events
Key Places
Convict Record

Crime: theft
Sentence: 7 years
Court: Cornwall
Trial Date: 18 August 1783


Children: Yes (1)
Left the colony: Yes