Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Francis Oakes (1770–1844)

by Niel Gunson

This article was published:

Francis Oakes (1770-1844), chief constable, was born on 15 April 1770 at Foleshill, Warwickshire, England. A shoemaker by trade and a member of the Congregational Church, he volunteered as an artisan missionary to go to the South Seas in the Duff in 1796. He was stationed at Tahiti and was one of those who decided to leave the mission with Rev. James Cover. On arriving in Sydney in 1798 he accepted a grant of 100 acres (40 ha) at Dundas and virtually abandoned his missionary vocation. He was one of the missionaries referred to by contemporaries as having dishonoured his calling by moral defection, though he later supported religious work in the colony.

Oakes remained on his farm until September 1805 when he was appointed chief constable for the Parramatta district. On 27 January 1806 he married Rebecca, the daughter of John and Mary Small; she was born at Sydney on 22 September 1789 and received some acclaim as 'the first or second Anglo-Australian to be married'. Regarded as 'a most useful officer', Oakes was involved in three of the cases leading to the overthrow of Governor William Bligh. He gave evidence at the official investigation into the conduct of D'Arcy Wentworth, was sent to arrest John Macarthur for refusing to attend an inquiry concerning the schooner Parramatta, and lodged a deposition against Macarthur, who had resisted arrest. His report resulted in the immediate criminal prosecution of Macarthur, who blamed Oakes for misconstruing his conversation. During the rebel administration Oakes was dismissed from office. He was one of the settlers who petitioned the Colonial Office in alarm at the condition of the colony; he was chosen by Bligh as a witness to attend Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston's court martial, and sailed to England with Bligh in May 1810.

He returned to New South Wales in the Mary in May 1812 and resumed his duties. Besides being a police officer and farmer, he was also a baker, shop-keeper and contractor. His civic offices in the Parramatta district included inspector of slaughtering houses (June 1812), clerk of the public market (December 1812) and auctioneer (1814). In 1814-22 he was superintendent of the Female Factory at Parramatta. He was an honest steady citizen, though an index to his character is given in the story that when asked if he would swear to the truth of a certain statement, he replied, 'Oh, yes, I'll chance it.' He did not have the entire approbation of his religious colleagues, for William Crook found him 'a bold rough creature', and John Dunmore Lang averred that he was known locally as 'a settler, a chief constable, an auctioneer and a scoundrel'. He died at Parramatta on 5 February 1844. His widow died there on 13 February 1883, having borne him fourteen children.

Two of his sons, George (1813-1881) and Francis Rowland became members of parliament, and a grandson, Archdeacon George Spencer Oakes (1855-1932) was a noted Church of England clergyman in the west of New South Wales. Mary (1810-1880), the third daughter, worked among the female convicts. In May 1826 she married Rev. John Hutchinson (1792-1866), the first Wesleyan minister to be ordained in Australia. After working briefly as a missionary in Tonga, Hutchinson returned to Sydney in 1828 and in January 1832 he became superintendent of the Female House of Correction in Hobart. Mrs Hutchinson was appointed matron and according to Sir William Denison was 'virtually the superintendent'. When her husband was forced to resign through ill health in March 1851, Denison placed her in charge of the Female Factory in Launceston. She was noted for her efficiency and carried out her duties until she retired in August 1854, after the cessation of transportation to Tasmania. She died at North Hobart on 19 February 1880.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vol 2, 6-10, series 4, vol 1
  • G. Paterson, The History of New South Wales (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1811), pp 410, 570
  • R. C. Hutchinson, ‘The Reverend John Hutchinson’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 9, no 3, Aug 1961, pp 93-108
  • R. C. Hutchinson, ‘Mrs Hutchinson and the Female Factories of Early Australia’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), vol 11, no 2, Dec 1963, pp 50-67
  • manuscript catalogue under Francis Oakes (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Niel Gunson, 'Oakes, Francis (1770–1844)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


15 April, 1770
Foleshill, Warwickshire, England


5 February, 1844 (aged 73)
Parramatta, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

brain disease

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