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Sir Henry Browne Hayes (1762–1832)

by N. S. Lynravn

This article was published:

Sir Henry Browne Hayes (1762-1832), convict adventurer, was the son of Attiwell Hayes, a reputable and opulent citizen of Cork, Ireland. Despite an inclination to irregular behaviour, Hayes won an influential place in the community, becoming a captain in the South Cork militia, a freeman of the city in 1782, and subsequently a sheriff. It was probably for services in the latter office to the visiting lord lieutenant that he was knighted in 1790.

Hayes was transported to New South Wales for kidnapping the Quaker, Mary Pike, heiress to a fortune of £20,000. He forced her to undergo a spurious marriage at his home at Mount Vernon, but she was rescued soon afterwards. This was in 1797 when Hayes was a widower with several children. Immediately outlawed, he went into hiding for a time but then for two years lived openly. By 1800 he considered it safe to offer himself for trial. This took place next year, but despite his confidence he was found guilty and sentenced to death; the sentence was commuted to transportation for life, and he arrived in New South Wales on 6 July 1802 in the Atlas. He paid handsomely for a privileged passage, which was as well for him, for the voyage was the worst in the history of transportation. During it he antagonized the surgeon, Thomas Jamison, which earned him six months imprisonment after his arrival.

Hayes's sojourn in New South Wales was noteworthy largely for his war against authority. There is no positive evidence that he took an active part in the 1804 Castle Hill rising, but he was certainly a suspect and it would have been out of character if he had not encouraged it behind the scenes. He befriended various intransigents, including Maurice Margarot and John Grant, and their continued defiance of Governor Philip Gidley King earned Grant exile on Norfolk Island, Margarot and Hayes in Van Diemen's Land. When Hayes returned to Sydney, he spent his time chiefly at Vaucluse until in 1808, for his expressed sympathy with the deposed Governor William Bligh, George Johnston, sent him to the Newcastle coal mines. He was released after eight months, was back there in May 1809, and was further charged by the commandant, Lieutenant William Lawson, for attempting to bring the rebel government into ridicule. That was on its way out, however, and a pardon made out by Bligh in 1809 was honoured by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, and Hayes left for Ireland in December 1812, surviving a shipwreck at the Falkland Islands. He retired in Cork and died in 1832.

His first positive contribution to the colony was his attempt in 1803 to found a Masonic Lodge for which he incurred the displeasure of Governor King. It is doubtful if Hayes had a warrant to establish a lodge, though he claimed he did, but his meeting on 14 May 1803 is regarded as the foundation day of Freemasonry in Australia. His second contribution was Vaucluse House, the home he built near South Head. Here, when not on his 'travels', he lived in remarkable style and freedom for a convict. Because of its later associations it has become a national monument. It passed to John Piper after Hayes's departure, and in 1829 to William Charles Wentworth who considerably extended it. It was bought in 1910 by the New South Wales government for preservation as a memorial to Wentworth and the establishment of responsible government. Built in snake-infested country, Hayes surrounded it with a moat of turf which he had imported from Ireland, and which he believed would keep the reptiles at a safe distance. Curiously, the turf appeared to have had the desired effect.

Select Bibliography

  • The Trial of Sir Henry Browne Hayes, Knt. for Forcibly and Feloniously Taking Away Miss Mary Pike on the Twenty-Second Day of July, 1797 (Cork, 1801)
  • C. M. Barnard, Narrative of the Sufferings and Adventures of Capt. Charles H. Barnard in a Voyage Round the World (NY, 1829)
  • K. R. Cramp and G. Mackaness, A History of the United Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of New South Wales, vol 1 (Syd, 1938)
  • C. H. Bertie, ‘The Story of Vaucluse House and Sir Henry Browne Hayes’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 3, part 11, 1917, pp 507-30
  • P. H. Morton, ‘The Vaucluse Estate from 1793 to 1829, and Those Connected With It’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 15, part 6, 1930, pp 324-82
  • Sydney Gazette, 22 May 1803
  • J. Grant journal and letters (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

N. S. Lynravn, 'Hayes, Sir Henry Browne (1762–1832)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 June 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]




1832 (aged ~ 70)
Cork, Ireland

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 Organisations
Convict Record

Crime: kidnap
Sentence: life
Court: Cork (Ireland)


Left the colony: Yes