Did You Know…

That Robert Yeomans (Robinson) was the first recorded deaf person (in non-aboriginal history) to be born in Australia!

How Come?

He was a son of a convict (Mary Cassidy from Ireland, per ‘Kitty’ 1792 with 7 yrs sentence) and seaman (Robert Robinson), born on 9 December 1792 in Sydney Cove, New Holland (Australia) a month after his parents’ arrival!

After Robert Snr left the Colony, his mother Mary married a William Crew, another convict and they added 2 girls to the family before William’s death in 1797. Robert Jnr gained another stepfather when Mary married John Yeomans (convict, per ‘Britannia’ with 7 yrs sentence) and this one was for the keeps!

John and Mary went on to build their family with eight more children, moved from Sydney Cove and Concord before making the final move to Wilberforce when Robert was 9 years old.

Robert was working as a shoemaker by 1823, living at Wilberforce with his family. Five years later, Robert had his own property – a 60 acres with cattle and crops growing. He also ran his own shoemaking business in Wilberforce, and probably in Windsor.

He died a bachelor on 9 June 1856, aged 64 years.

Wait a minute!

Did it say Robert was a shoemaker, a businessman, and a farmer?

Yes! Even in the early 1800s!

Evidence please?

There are documents on Robert Yeomans, however only three used here as examples: Musters (censuses), family diary and notes, and newspaper notices.

Musters/Census
  • 1823-1825 General Muster List of NSW: Yeomans, Robert, aged 27 years, born in the Colony, dumb and living at Wilberforce.
  • 1828 Census of NSW: Yeomans, Robert, aged 36, born in the Colony, a Presbyterian and a shoemaker at Wilberforce. Owned a 60 acres with 10 cattle.
Family diary & notes

John Yeomans Jnr, a brother of Robert wrote that:

“(Robert)… was deaf & dumb from infancy had learnt the trade of Shoe-making of which he continued to work until a few weeks before his death. He was remarkably intelligent, could write tolerably well, was always cheerful & happy and possessed an excellent memory. Was a great favourite with all the inhabitants of Wilberforce where he had resided from boyhood…” – dated in the year of Robert’s death.

A photocopied pages - the mention of Robert's death and who he was.

A photocopied pages – the mention of Robert’s death and who he was.

From the notes of the family historian, Robert:

“…was accepted by John, as his Step-son. He was born a deaf mute and remained under the family’s wing most of his life. He had learnt the trade of shoe making and repairing and set up a repair business in Wilberforce, which he continued right up to his last few weeks of life. … His property at Kurrajong, 60 acres adjoining George’s, (… which was a memorial granted to his father and deeded to Robert) was worked by himself and his brothers up until his death, when it was absorbed back into the estate being controlled by John Jun. at that time.
He remained a bachelor and his heath started to fail in May 1856, when arrangements were made with John Junior and Ann, his step-sister to take him under her wing and provide for him with suitable accommodation and assistance for which John would bear all expenses. … note that he was very ill with what he described as Dropsy. … At the funeral a great number of his old playfellows, male and female now adults, were in attendance. He was buried with his mother on the 11th of June 1856 in St. John’s Cemetery Wilberforce.”

NOTES:
  • Kurrajong is about 15kms West from Wilberforce.
  • George was one of Robert’s half-brothers.
  • Memorial grant was a land grant given by the government of the time to people who requested for some to support themselves. John Snr petitioned that he need more support to assist his deaf and dumb son Robert and idiot daughter Charlotte and he was granted over 100 acres land at Wilberforce area which included Kurrajong. Part of this land was then divided and Robert obtained 60 acres.
  • Dropsy = An old term for the swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water. In years gone by, a person might have been said to have dropsy. Today one would be more descriptive and specify the cause. Thus, the person might have edema due to congestive heart failure.
  • There is no marked headstone at St. John’s Cemetery of the Yeomans family last time visited in 2010. The cemetery experienced numerous vandals, floods and damages so it is possible the particular headstone’s missing.
Newspaper notices
  • Sydney Gazette & N.S.W. Advertiser’ dated 25 August 1821 (p. 2, col. 2) – A public notice from Surveyor General’s Office, Sydney – a list of persons for the grants and leases. Robert was listed for a grant, along with his brother George.
  • Sydney Gazette & N.S.W. Advertiser’ dated 27 August 1833 (p. 3, col. 6) – Robert was listed as one of the donor for the ‘Hibernia Subscription Fund’, donating £0, 2, 6., from Pitt Town.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald’ dated 22 March 1855 (p. 2, col. 3) – Robert donated £0, 5, 0. to the Patriotic Fund, collected at Wilberforce.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald’ dated 12 June 1856 (p. 1, col. 1) – DEATHS. … At Wilberforce, on the 9th instant, Mr. Robert Yeomans, aged 64 years.”

Questions?

? Why was Robert trained as a shoemaker?

? Who taught him to write?

? Could he sign?

? Did Robert travel around and to Sydney?

? Was he aware of other deaf people (there were about known 20 deaf people before his death)?

? What else would we be able to find out about him?

One day, we will find out more…

Resources

  • Copies of documents obtained from State Records NSW
  • TROVE Online – newspapers searched spanned between 1803 and 1857
  • Snippets from emails and notes on the history of Yeomans family.
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4 thoughts on “Did You Know…

  1. Greg says:

    Glad to read a bit of history. Was there any schools running at that time Robert Jnr grew up ?

    • dhawriter says:

      Hello Greg, thanks for your comment and question. There were no schools in Australia at that time for the deaf children.

      However, according to Wikipedia: “The historic St John’s Anglican Church was designed by Edmund Thomas Blacket and built by J. Atkinson of Windsor. Construction was started in 1856 and the building was not completed until 1859 at a cost of £1500. The grounds of the church contains the Old School House building (built 1819), which was used as a school, a church, and a residence of the school master until the church was completed. The school house was replaced in 1880 by a Public School. The original church building is still used for the church’s 8am service with the modern education centre used for later services.”

      Robert would have been over 25 years old by the time the Old School house was built so we can safely assumed he didn’t go to local school back then.

  2. There’s a lot more background about Robert Robinson and his life in my book ‘Paul Bushell, Second Fleeter’. Regards, Louise Wilson

  3. dhawriter says:

    Thank you, Louise – I will look up for that book.

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