Hidden story behind headstone

ON a lonely hillside cemetery in East Maitland stands an ancient headstone with a hidden story.

Marked 1828, it’s the grave of the largely unknown James Trimby who died young and was buried twice.

The eldest son of a pioneer Maitland settler, James Trimby’s final resting place is the historic Glebe Cemetery, near St Peter’s Anglican Church, in East Maitland.

But the ground nearby, or perhaps this very same grave, holds a secret, according to the Hunter Valley Chapter of the Fellowship of First Fleeters who will gather there on Monday, November 12, at 11am. 

They’ll be there to honour the memory of the Trimby clan patriarch, Joseph Trimby (1764-1836), exiled in chains from England to Botany Bay in remote NSW on the convict transport ‘Friendship’ in 1787.

Later a free settler, the former felon had spent 47 years being punished in a strange new land on the other side of the globe to Mother England.

Ironically, his jailing is now seen as an unjust conviction as he was put behind bars for stealing an empty wallet.  

Fellowship members consist of descendants of all those – convicts, soldiers and seamen – who arrived in Sydney Cove on 12 ships of the First Fleet (FF) in January 1788.

One of its chief aims is to identify original pioneer gravesites and place plaques there commemorating that they were original First Fleeters.

Monday’s ceremony is an important, personal event for local fellowship members as they mark the first time a First Fleeter’s gravesite is recognised in the Hunter.

It will also be a stark reminder to Sydneysiders that original First Fleet settlers were not all buried south of the Hawkesbury River.

“There are three known original First Fleeters buried in the Hunter Valley,” Ray Meredith, history enthusiast and a former president of the group, told H2 Review recently.

“There’s the famous colonial architect Francis Greenway as well as one Joshua Peck. We can’t find either, but a Maitland council monument to Greenway is now at the Glebe Cemetery entrance in recognition of his fame.

“Then there’s Joseph Trimby. We think he’s in a family burial plot. We certainly know he’s buried at the Glebe [near son James] because of the St Peter’s burial register and other factors,” he said.

Hunter First Fleeter chapter members are proud of Meredith’s dogged efforts, praising him for 12years spent researching Maitland’s ‘‘lost’’ local First Fleeter Joseph Trimby.

Outsiders, however, might find it strange, bewildering even, as he’s not even remotely related to the Trimbys.

“I do the research purely as an interest,” the 86 year-old said.

“My ancestor was Frederick Meredith who came out on the ship Scarborough in 1788.  

“You keep trying to find out new things. It keeps your brain going. In this case, I first found the [James] Trimby headstone 10 years ago laying over in the Glebe Cemetery with bracken covering it. I’ve been anxious ever since to get the fallen headstones – and there were over 30 – re-erected vertically. Roughly two years ago Maitland council then did the work,” he said.

First Fleeter Joseph Trimby had an interesting, if tough, life in the brutal colony of NSW. Initially sentenced to seven years for theft, he bounced from Port Jackson, Norfolk Island, to Tasmania, to finally the Hunter.

Along the way he received 300 lashes on his bare back for stealing some potatoes and took a wife. In his 50s, he was sentenced to 14 years jail in Newcastle arriving in 1818 when it was “the hell of NSW”.

By 1825 he was free again and farming at Wallis Plains (Maitland). Then in 1836 he died, aged 72 years, at Maitland. His full story can be read at firstfleetershunter.com.au.

It was slowly pieced together over 25years by Joseph Trimby’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter and Catholic nun, Sister Andrea,  independent of Ray Meredith’s sleuthing.

“I started in 1987. As a child I started to research my family by asking relatives,” she said.  

The Sister of St Joseph’s nun said it was likely Joseph Trimby was buried in his son’s grave.

“James Trimby, the eldest son, died in 1828 and his father buried him on their family land at Lochend, around today’s Louth Park, I presume. Seven years later Joseph reburied his son in consecrated ground at the new Glebe Cemetery, in November 1835,’’ she said.

“But seven months later Joseph himself died, aged 72 years. We know he’s also buried there, so it’s believed to be in the same grave.”

“Ray Meredith did his own research. He proved the same as I did and deserves a lot of credit for pursuing the idea to have Hunter First Fleeter graves acknowledged.’’

“I believe Joseph Trimby was done a grave injustice back in England but then helped start up a colony in Australia. I’m certainly grateful for him.”

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