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William Raven (1756–1814)

by Vivienne Parsons

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William Raven (1756-1814), master mariner and merchant, was born in October 1756, and entered the navy as master of the sloop Tobago on 24 March 1779. He enlisted in the West Indies, where he was probably serving in a merchant ship. Though the West Indian Squadron was then hard pressed for men, the fact that he was a master so young suggests considerable ability. In 1780 he was twice wounded when master of the Albion, which he had joined in Barbados the previous September. His son, William Thomas, who had been baptized at St Michael's, Barbados, on 23 June 1781 and later became a lieutenant, joined him as master's servant. On 11 July 1783 examiners at Trinity House declared Raven qualified 'to take charge, as Master, of any of His Majesty's ships of the Third Rate', and he served as master of the Grampus for three years. In May 1786 he received a certificate for first-rate ships, but there is no further record of his services until 1791 when he was briefly master of the Duke.

In 1792 he sailed to New South Wales as captain and part owner of the Britannia, with stores and a three-year fishing licence from the East India Co. He left Sydney in October when his ship was chartered by the officers of the New South Wales Corps to procure provisions from the Cape of Good Hope in an effort to avoid the impositions practised by the captains of merchant ships visiting the colony. On the way Raven left the first sealing gang to operate on the New Zealand coast at Dusky Bay, under the charge of his second mate. He arrived back in Sydney in June 1793 with stock, provisions and spirits, and left again in September to procure provisions in Bengal for Lieutenant-Governor Francis Grose. He relieved the sealing gang at Dusky Bay and then called at Norfolk Island, where Lieutenant-Governor Philip Gidley King chartered the Britannia to convey himself and two Maoris to New Zealand. When Raven finally sailed for Bengal he was delayed by bad weather and encountered pirates in the Malacca Straits, and decided to try to buy his provisions at Batavia instead. He arrived there in February 1794, and after prolonged argument with the Dutch East India Co. over prices, made his purchases, but when he reached Sydney in June he found that store-ships had come from England with relief for the hungry colony. The officers then chartered the Britannia again, and in March 1795 Raven returned from the Cape with livestock and provisions for them. In June the acting governor, William Paterson, once more chartered the ship to bring provisions from Bengal.

After Raven returned from Calcutta in May 1796 Governor John Hunter engaged him in September to take 'a number of distressed invalids' back to England. He arrived there in June 1797 and asked the commissioners of the navy for time to arrange his accounts before receiving another posting. In December he was appointed master of the naval store-ship Buffalo and in May 1799 brought her to Port Jackson as a replacement for H.M.S. Supply. Hunter provided him with a passage home in the Britannia in December 1799, but he was captured by a French privateer off the Isle of Wight and taken a prisoner to France; however, he reached England in June 1800 and asked to be put on half-pay. Next year he asked that he be allowed to remain unemployed owing to 'very unpleasant circumstances of a private nature' and the need to settle still outstanding accounts from the Buffalo. On 6 November 1800 he had been admitted a Younger Brother of the Trinity House, and when war against Napoleon was resumed in 1803 he was commissioned lieutenant in the Trinity House volunteers; he served in the Thames flotilla, but reported in 1805 that the effects of the wounds received in 1780 made him unfit for more active service. He was elected an Elder Brother of Trinity House on 13 November 1806, and died on 14 August 1814.

Raven married Frances Woodin at St Michael’s, Barbados, on 29 July 1780; they had a son (d. circa 1804) and a daughter. After Frances’s death in 1801, Raven married Lucinda Wilson (b.1752), daughter of the chief justice of Dominica. In 1809 Raven stood godfather to his niece, Susan Mary, daughter of Admiral George Wilson. In 1795 he had been given a grant of 100 acres (40 ha) at Eastern Farms, and in 1799 received another 285 acres (115 ha) there and a lease in Sydney. Until at least 1822 these properties were managed for him by James Squire of Kissing Point. Although Raven had a modest estate when he died, his widow later applied for assistance to Trinity House, and she received a pension until the middle of the century.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 2-4
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 1- 2
  • R. McNab, Historical Records of New Zealand, vol 2 (Wellington, 1914)
  • J. S. Cumpston, Shipping Arrivals and Departures Sydney, 1788-1825 (Canberra, 1964)
  • Sydney Gazette, 4 May 1811, 31 May 1822
  • manuscript catalogue under William Raven (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Masters' Qualifications, 1748-1805, Adm 106/2938 (National Archives of the United Kingdom).

Citation details

Vivienne Parsons, 'Raven, William (1756–1814)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 25 May 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]


October, 1756


14 August, 1814 (aged 57)