Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Benjamin Boyce (1820–1847)

by Eric Richards

This article was published:

Benjamin Boyce (c.1820-1847), ordinary seaman and labourer, was born at Scrane End, a hamlet near Freiston, Lincolnshire, England, son of Samuel Boyce, a beer-house keeper. Benjamin was one of the thirty-six crew of the Moffatt, which sailed from the Thames in August 1839 with about 200 emigrants for the new colony of South Australia. He appears not to have known of its destination, nor to have had any intention of being himself a migrant. During the voyage he was ill, twenty-eight settlers died and two were drowned. The vessel arrived in December, by which time Boyce had developed a close relationship with Louisa Thomson, who was accompanying her family from Sussex. With their co-operation, Boyce and two others jumped ship on Boxing Day. He lived a fugitive existence in the sandhills, with a reward of £2 for his capture, until the departure of the Moffatt, then found employment in a dairy looking after twenty cows, after which he cut hay on government land in Adelaide.

Competition drove him out to the Adelaide Hills. Here he set up in partnership with William Holland, an ex-convict who, by remarkable coincidence, came from Boyce's village in Lincolnshire and had served fourteen years in Van Diemen's Land. They worked at tree-cutting and erecting rough houses and fences in the hills. In nine months Boyce was able to save the extraordinary sum of £40 and then took work in a grog shop; he bought a pony and cart and harness for £20 and was owed £28 by an employer. On 26 September 1843 in St John's Church of England, Adelaide, he married Louisa; she signed with a mark. A son Thomas had been born in April. They lived at Walkerville, Benjamin working as a shearer in the bush for George Anstey, averaging sixty to seventy sheep a day, he claimed.

Boyce became known to posterity from three of his remarkable letters written to his parents in England—graphic accounts of an unofficial immigrant in South Australia as it passed through depression and into recovery in 1842-46. In semi-phonetic prose, he described vividly his reactions to shipboard life, local Aborigines, employment, prospects, marriage, and his feelings about home and the colony. He urged anyone unsuccessful in England to migrate to South Australia. He did not expect ever to see England again. There was a bravado in his words and he declared that he was 'not a fraid to go from the smoke of my mothers chimney'.

He exulted that 'I . . . bean making muny as fast as I cud count it . . . I uest to spend it faster than I earnt it'. His luck ran out in August 1846 when he fell from a tree. After much medical treatment he died on 1 December 1847 at Walkerville. He had been a member of the Albion Lodge of the South Australian Independent Order of Oddfellows which, for his subscriptions amounting to £4 14s. 2d., had provided free medical support, sixteen months sick pay and funeral expenses, a total of some £85.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Richards, 'Immigrant Lives, 1836-1986' in E. Richards (ed), The Flinders History of South Australia: Social History (Adel, 1986)
  • South Australian, 7 Dec 1847, p 3
  • Boyce letters, D 4308/1-3(L) and Robert Thomson letter, D 7703(L) (State Library of South Australia)
  • Moffatt manifest book, GRG 41/8, item GAG 41/8, v 2, p 88 (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Eric Richards, 'Boyce, Benjamin (1820–1847)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Scrane End, Lincolnshire, England


1 December, 1847 (aged ~ 27)
Walkerville, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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.