Guide to the Papers of John Grant


MS 737

National Library of Australia View Catalogue Record

Collection Summary

John Grant
Papers of John Grant
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 737
1.07 metres (1 ms box + 2 security binders + 1 large folio item + 6 folders)
Language of Materials
Special Collections (Manuscripts)


Scope and Contents

The collection consists chiefly of letters by Grant to his mother and sister Matilda in England, 1803-1810, and a journal, Jan. 1805 - March 1810, written in French and transcribed and translated by W.S. Hill-Reid, Yvonne Cramer and others. The letters and journal contain detailed accounts of Grant's voyage on the Coromandel, his experiences in the colony and descriptions of the people he encountered, including Major George Johnston, Jude Richard Atkins, Charles Bishop, Sir Henry Hayes, Simeon Lord, John Palmer, Governors King, Bligh and McGuene. A transcription of John Grant's journal by W.S. Hill-Reid, Joan O'Hagan and others forms part of the collection. The collection also includes correspondence with Robert Campbell while John Grant was on Norfolk Island and a copy of his 'Bond of union', 1805, his instrument of protest that resulted in his deportation to Norfolk Island. Also included in the collection are petitions; certificates; legal documents; correspondence with Robert Campbell, 1806-1807; a notebook kept on his return to Sydney from Norfolk Island, 1809; poetry written while at Parramatta and Norfolk Island, 1804-1805; and other papers.

Conditions Governing Access

Please refer to the collection's catalogue record for the access conditions (

Conditions Governing Use

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], MS 737, National Library of Australia, Papers of John Grant, [box number and series and/or file number]'.


The collection was discovered in the vaults of Lloyd's Bank in London by Mr W.S. Hill-Reid. Mr Hill-Reid used the documents as the basis for his book John Grant's journey : a convict's story, 1803-1811 (London : Heinemann, 1957). The collection was acquired by the Library in 1957. Yvonne Cramer later used the papers for her book This beauteous, wicked place : the letters and journals of John Grant, gentleman convict. (Canberra : National Library of Australia, 2000).

Biographical Note

John Grant was born in 1776 in Buckinghamshire, England and educated at Christ's Hospital. Grant was sentenced to death for firing at a family solicitor who frustrated his attempts to woo the daughter of Lord Dudley and Ward. After a petition by his sister to the daughters of George III, he was reprieved and sent to New South Wales for life. Grant was transported on the Coromandel and arrived in Sydney in May 1804.

Although he was in many ways a privileged convict on ticket-of-leave, Grant was influenced by Sir Henry Browne Hays and in May 1805 expressed public criticism of Governor King, his officials and the convict system. Grant's refusal to retract his views led to five years hard labour in Norfolk Island and Phillip Island in Van Diemen's Land, which reduced him almost to death.

Grant returned to Sydney upon completion of his sentence in 1808 and obtained a post as chaplain in Newcastle. He was later granted a full pardon by Macquarie and sailed to England in 1811 in the Spring Grove.

Grant wrote poetry during his period in Australia, although only one poem Panegyrie on an eminent artist, written on the naturalist J.W. Lewin, was published in his lifetime.

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Carlton, Vic. : Melb. Univ. Press, 1966).

Item Descriptions

Edward Grant - Freedom of City, 3 July 1769 (Item 1)

John Grant - Indenture of apprenticeship to Edward Grant, London, 7 March 1791 (Item 2)

John Grant - Notebook with financial statements, 1795-1800 (Item 3)

John Grant - Statement of purchases from R. Jackson, Hat manufacturers, 8 September 1800 (Item 4)

John Grant - Summons to bankruptcy commission, 30 July 1802 (Item 5)

John Grant - Statement of financial position with Mr William Deeks, 4 May 1803 (Item 6)

John Grant - Certificate of sale of 89 dollars for £20.17.1, 11 November 1803 (Item 7)

W.H. Clinton - Letter to Grant rejecting candidature for the Horse Guards, 21 October 1803 (Item 8)

Petition to King of John Grant in Newgate Prison and supported by sundry citizens requesting mercy after his conviction for firing a loaded pistol at Spencer George Townsend, 1803 (Item 9)

Petition to the Princesses Augusta Sophia, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia and Amelia submitted by Matilda Grant, 1803 (Item 10)

In further support of the above and requesting them to use their influences with the King and Queen to reverse the sentence by which her brother John Grant is to be executed on the following Wednesday.

John Grant - Letter to mother, preparatory to sailing, 2-4 December 1803 (Item 11)

Thanks her for clothing and other favours etc. Somewhat pessimistic. "Buonaparte will certainly be among you soon, or in Ireland",

John Grant - Letter to mother and sister, 5 December 1803 (Item 12)

Farewell nature suggests last letter before sailing.

John Grant - Letter to mother from San Salvador [missing], 2 February 1804 (Item 13)

Referred to and summarised in following letter but probably never delivered, being entrusted to a Portuguese frigate.

John Grant - Letter to mother and sister, 2-22 May 1804 (Item 14)

20 pages, describing voyage on Coromandel (Captain Robinson). Leaves Portsmouth some time shortly before 1 January 1804. (Grant appears to have had a privileged passage, being accepted, presumably because of his education and social position, as one of the Captain's staff, and sleeping and messing in their quarters. His main function appears to have been keeping five journals for the Captain.)

He entertains ideas of joining forces with Robert Campbell - "of trying to open a connection with India". (Robert Campbell b. Scotland 1769, d. 1846 on the Limestone Plains, now Canberra).

In this letter of May 1804, Grant has presented his letters of introduction to Judge Atkins and Major Johnston. Appears to be in line for the post of secretary to Atkins, but is kept standing still until the letters from England regarding him are received by Governor King. These letters are coming on the ship Experiment carrying women convicts and due to arrive at the same time or shortly after the Coromandel. In the meantime Grant seems to have a free hand, visits Atkins freely, and continues to sleep in the ship. Mrs. Atkins thinks he might be given a free pardon in the following month. The letter was taken to Bengal by Dr. Fielding on the Mersey and fortnight after arrival in Sydney, for on forwarding through brother Samuel Grant in India.)

John Grant - Letter to mother and sister, 13-16 July 1804 (Item 15)

Personal description of Judge Atkins. Grant is living in a "ruinous house" offered as an asylum by Mr Williamson at Parramatta, and is supporting himself. Governor King did not give him the freedom of the colony, as he was persuaded by Williamson, Captain Cox, Judge Atkins and Major Johnston that the time was not ripe to apply for it. From Governor King he received £20 for rum acquired in San Salvador, but no favours as King had animosity for the previous Governor Hunter's friends, including Williamson who befriended Grant. Captain Charles Bishop of Prospect befriends Grant, 5 miles from his home at Parramatta. (Bishop a man of influence, and in a joint concern with George Bass who has been gone 17 months to Peru on a trading voyage. Bishop himself a minor explorer).

John Grant - Poems, 1804-1805 (Item 16_20)

Pope to Attenbury (1804)

The Jug (Parramatta, September 1804)

Thoughts in a mulberry bush (Parramatta, November 1804)

Chicken and the grasshopper (Parramatta, October 1804)

Devotion (Parramatta, October 1804)

The Dream (Norfolk Island, 1805)

Reflexions (Norfolk Island, 1805)

Ideas awakened before daybreak (Norfolk Island, 1805)

Written on the morning of Mr. Wakefield's funeral (n.d.)

John Grant - Letters, August and October 1804 (Item 21)

To mother and sister and to Mr. Pearce, and to Mr. Barnes and Mr. Pearce with newspapers; not in files, and presumably lost.

John Grant - Letter to mother and sister, 1-10 January 1805 (Item 22)

His unhappy relations with Governor King and general description of his progress, and acquaintances, which include Surveyor-General Evans, Captain Kent (Hunter's nephew), and naturalist J.W. Lewin. Grant still at Williamson's farm. (20 p.).

John Grant - Letter to mother and sister from Sydney, 28 Apr 1805 (Item 23)

Is now working property of Captain Bishop who has become insane, and through intercession of Captain Kent has been given freedom of the Colony by Governor King.

John Grant - Certificate of Emancipation. Signed by Governor King, 1 February 1805 (Item 24)

John Grant - "a paquet for publication/of/poems?/" (Item 25)

To mother, via Captain Forrest of the Sydney, also a print from J.W. Lewin. Missing from file.

Bond of Union: Copy of tenets on original given to Govenor Blight, and proposed additions at Norfolk Island, 13 October 1805 (Item 26)

William Deek's letter to John Grant on his present financial state, 18 November 1805 (Item 27)

John Grant - Letter to mother and sister, Norfolk Island, 3 June 1806 (Item 28)

Few lines only, listing letters already sent, and enclosing copy of 1806 'Birthday Ode.' Also copy of order to Captain Forrest to deliver paquet to Captain Burnett.

John Grant - Letter to sister Matilda, Norfolk Island, 8 June 1806 (Item 29)

In French, listing his poetical productions in exile. (Also 'Plaintive Ballad,' written Parramatta, 1804).

John Grant - Letter to his sister, containing 1806 'Birthday Ode,' and note, 9 June 1806 (Item 30)

John Grant - Another letter to sister, with poem translated from Virgil, 9 June 1806 (Item 31)

Robert Campbell - Letter to Grant, 27 May 1807 (Item 32)

On contacting him at Norfolk Island and on carrying of his mail to England.

John Grant - Letter to Robert Campbell at Port Jackson, 20 June 1807 (Item 33)

Acknowledging above and parcels, and requesting further favours. Expresses some views on Governor Bligh.

John Grant - Draft of letters to various citizens, 9 April 1808 (Item 34)

Requesting their signatures to "Addition of Bond of Union".

John Grant - Letter to mother and sister, 7 March 1810 (Item 35)

With 1810 'Birthday Ode.' (and copy of letter by King of Tahiti to missionaries) for insertion in Sydney Gazette.

John Grant - Letter to mother and sister, 16 April 1810 (Item 36)

Enclosing copy of request through Rev. Marsden to Governor Macquarie for a free pardon.

John Grant - Letter to mother, 10 May 1810 (Item 37)

Encloses copy of petition to Governor Macquarie signed by Robert Campbell and others, for Grant's pardon. Also copy of Bligh's testimony and Grant's reply to him, 10 May 1810. (2 copies of this letter). Includes copy of promise to pay Sam Breakwell, 24 April 1810.

John Grant - Letter to brother Samuel, 11 May 1810 (Item 38)

Advising proposed despatch with Commodore Blight of his six journals.

John Grant - Letter from Prospect Hill to mother, sister and brother, 27 July 1810 (Item 39)

Grant is not yet pardoned but Macquarie has promised him such if he can arrange a voyage home. Grant is promised a passage home in the Springrove due to leave shortly, promised by Mr. Hook, Mr. Campbell's partner. As there is no more correspondence it is presumed he accepted this. Also in letter is 1810 Ode.

Extract from Bewick's History of Quadrupeds, 4th edition, 1800 (Item 40)

'The Jaguar'.

Memorandum on the distillation of spirits by the processes of Sr. Argand, citizen of Geneva (in French) (Item 41)

John Grant - Journal, January 1805 to March 1810 (Item 42/1)

Also includes a version of the journal transcribed and translated by W.S. Hill-Reid, Joan O'Hagan and others. (4 files).

John Grant - Photocopy of typescript of 1805-1810 journal (Item 42/2 [1 of 2])

John Grant - Spare copy of typescript of 1805-1810 journal (Item 42/2 [2 of 2])

John Grant - translation of French sections in first 30 pp. of 1805-1810 journal, by W. Scott Hill-Reid (Item 42/3)

John Grant - Notebook, 1809 (Item 43 [1 of 2])

Includes typed transcript.

John Grant - Transcription of 1809 notebook (Item 43 [2 of 2])

Press release by Commonwealth of Australia News and Information Bureau, Australia House, London, 14 October 1957 (Item 44)

Regarding the handing over of John Grant's papers to the Australian High Commissioner. There is also a news cutting about the presentation.

Photocopies of the collection (Item 45_48)