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William Small (1796–1891)

The prevailing influenza has removed a very old resident of the Ryde district, Mr. William Small, at the age of 96 years. At the time of his death he was, we believe, the oldest Australian in the colonies. He was born in a farmhouse at Ryde on December 14, 1796, a few years after the arrival of the first fleet, his father having reached the colony with the first batch of convicts as a gaol warder. In his youth he was taught bootmaking and worked for Mr. Pope, of Ryde. He afterwards entered the police force, and after 10 years' service, during which time he rose to the rank of inspector, he again changed his occupation and sought to earn his livelihood as a tiller of the soil. He settled at Ryde on a 30 acre estate granted to his father by the Government and passed the remainder of his days fruitgrowing. He had a wonderfully retentive memory and could remember distinctly events which occurred almost a century ago. Speaking of the old convict days he more than once was known to say that the excessive brutality of the officers towards the convicts was the cause of the greater number of the crimes committed in the early days of the colony. The law allowed of 999 lashes being administered in the presence of a medical man, and frequently each lash was administered with a minute interval Mr. Small leaves many sons and grandsons, almost all of whom are gathered around Williamsdale, his pretty little him at Ryde, and in 1888 he had living no less than 28 lineal descendants. Mr. Small's sister Rebecca (Mrs. Oakes) was, it is claimed, the first white person born in Australia, having been born on September 22, 1789.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • profile, Evening News (Sydney), 25 June 1889, p 6
  • interview, Sydney Mail, 25 April 1891, p 934

Citation details

'Small, William (1796–1891)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 December, 1796
Ryde, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


9 November, 1891 (aged 94)
Ryde, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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.