Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield

The family concerned is Warren’s mother’s family, related to me only by marriage. Warren wrote the following account. I thank him for the great job he has done,

Sophy Bungaree was born in Brisbane Water on the northern arm of Broken Bay, Hawkesbury River in around 1810. At that time the Hawkesbury River was known to the Aboriginal inhabitants as Deerabin.

Sophy and her forebears, now known as the Guringai people, occupied the region bounded by Lake Macquarie to the north, Mangrove Mountain to the west and the ridge line running through Duffy’s Forest to the south. This area encompassed the Hawkesbury River Basin with their neighbours to the south the Eora occupying the Sydney Basin.

Due to a perturbation in the rotation of the earth, the planet goes through cycles of freeze and thaw every 100,000 years or so. The climax of the freeze component of the cycle is referred to today as the glacial maximum and the last glacial maximum occurred only about 18,000 years ago. During the last glacial maximum 110 metres of the current depth of the ocean was tied up in ice sheets that covered the landscape at that time. Evidence of this glaciation can be seen in coastal Victoria and South Australia where striations caused by the advancing and retreating ice sheets can still be observed. During the last glacial maximum and up until about 10,000 years ago the Hawkesbury River Basin, now known as Broken Bay, and Sydney Harbour were river valley environments occupied by Aboriginal people. It would have been an easy matter to just walk across the Hawkesbury River at that time as it would have been far less substantial than it is today. Guringai people occupied land on both sides of the Hawkesbury River within the area enclosed by this large basin. The same could be said of the Eora people in relation to the Sydney Basin.


The Guringai people were salt water people who nurtured and exploited a very rich and diverse environment in terms of food resources. The river systems, swamps, lakes and ocean provided an abundant source of protein and the alluvial flats that bound the rivers and swamps provided an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables including the ever important Long Yam Dioscorea transversa. You can still find the Long Yam growing today in the richer alluvial soils that encompass the many creeks and streams throughout the area.


The Guringai people had their first encounter with the European settlers (occupiers) in 1789 when Captain Hunter and his crew rowed into the north arm of Broken Bay. The idea of settling Broken Bay did not arise until James Webb, an entrepreneur and ex member of the New South Wales Corps, applied for and was granted a lease to occupy land in Brisbane Water in October of 1823.

James Webb was an interesting fellow. The brother of two first fleeters, Robert and Thomas, he arrived in New South Wales (as Australia was then known) as a Corporal in His Majesty’s New South Wales Corps on the Scarborough in 1790. He was first granted land by Lieutenant-Governor Grose at Windsor, on the upper Hawkesbury when he was discharged from the Army in 1794. He grew corn for the colony, built ships and plotted his next exploits. He then acquired land at Cockle Bay (now Darling Harbour) from where he sold timber.


James was given a further grant near Wiseman’s Ferry on a creek now known as Webb’s Creek. He once bragged how he shot Aboriginal men who were attacking his boat at point blank range.

hannaIn 1823 he was granted the land that included all of the now Woy Woy and permission to graze cattle all the way out to Patonga. He continued to cut and sell timber, build ships and became very influential. It was around this time that Sophy first came into contact with the then 57 year old James Webb. She was only between 13 and 14 years of age when he molested her and their daughter Charlotte Webb (on right in 1904) was born in 1824.  NOTE  16 Feb 2017: “The photo of Charlotte Webb is in fact Hannah Ashby.” Thanks to Carolyn Cartan by email. Last week Warren told me on the phone that he had erred in attributing that photo.

James Webb never had much if anything to do with the nurturing or upbringing of his daughter Charlotte and it is not surprising that when Charlotte finally passed away in 1913 he was not mentioned on her death certificate (more about that shortly).

Charlotte was born on the Hawkesbury River (one document says), or Gosford (another says), and was brought up by her mother and later on, her defacto stepfather John Smith. Sophy was mentioned several times in the historical records beginning in 1827 then 1831 and 1835 where her conduct was described as being “of good conduct”.

Some confusion remains today amongst scholars in relation to how Sophy is spelt. In one document (Charlotte’s death certificate) Sophy is spelt thus “Sophia”, in all the proceeding documents she is spelt “Sophy”. The later (Sophy) is the correct spelling as this is the pronunciation used throughout time and is also the spelling and pronunciation of the family members including one of Charlotte’s children and Sophy’s grandchildren who were given their names in her honour.

Sophy grew into a relationship with a man by the name of John Smith while Charlotte was a young adolescent, and this relationship endured right up until Sophy passed away (a date that is unknown to us at this point in time). Charlotte met a convict farm hand by the name of Joseph Ashby in the late1830s. Joseph was working for Henry Donnison, a prominent landholder and political figure on the Central Coast at that time.

Joseph Ashby was a figure of misfortune who did it very tough, especially during his early childhood. He was born in Colchester, England in 1810, the son of Lydia Hardy and Joseph Ashby. Joseph snr died when young Joseph was only 11 years of age. Joseph’s mother Lydia died in 1823.

Joseph was a bit of a street dweller and had to resort to stealing and scavenging to be able to survive. Joseph and another fellow, Thomas Balls, stole a basket of raisins from a merchant in Colchester in 1831. They were both duly arrested and interned to await trial. At the ensuing trial Joseph Ashby was found guilty of larceny and convicted, with a sentence of 14 years and transportation to the penal colony of Australia. Thomas Balls was found not guilty and set free. Joseph Ashby was transported to Australia on the convict transport Asia 9 in 1832.

Joseph Ashby was a kind man of good character and only resorted to crime out of desperation. Joseph applied for a “ticket of leave” in May of 1838 for the Brisbane Water region; on his application he is described as being prisoner number 32/208, 28 years of age, 5 feet 2 inches in height, having fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes. This ticket of leave was granted in June 1838. As Joseph Ashby was a convict prisoner and Charlotte Webb an Aboriginal person, permission had to be sought from the Governor to marry and this was granted in 1845. Joseph Ashby was 32 and Charlotte Webb 22 according to the permission to marry document when they married in a small sandstone church in East Gosford on the 2nd April 1845. This church still stands today.

Charlotte Ashby, nee Webb, had many children during the years of her marriage to Joseph Ashby, until he passed away in Wyong on the 11th December 1864, they were: Hannah Ashby 1845; James Ashby 1847; John Ashby (my great grandfather) 1849; Eliza Jane Ashby 1853; Amelia Ashby 1859; and Sarah Ashby 1862. Eva Ashby 1865; Walter Ashby 1868 (born on the banks of the Hawkesbury at Moonee Moonee crossing); and Sophy Ashby 1870 were all born after Joseph Ashby’s death.

Charlotte Ashby was tossed from pillar to post in terms of the way she was treated (or should I say mistreated) at the hands of her employers. It was thought to be acceptable by society to expect to be used for the sexual pleasure of your employer in those days and it was a very common practice. As a result Charlotte had several children outside the sanctity of marriage.

Joseph Ashby lies in Blue Gum Flat Cemetery (Lisarow).

One of the fathers to Charlotte’s children, William Smith, who had an on and off relationship with Charlotte, accused her of stealing from him while in Blue Gum Flat Tavern on the 1st July 1869 the sum of £5. Charlotte was due to appear in court in Sydney 100 kilometres south on Thursday 2nd September 1869. She walked through the prickly heath country of the sandstone escarpment 100 kilometres to Sydney to appear in court and 100 kilometres back when found not guilty.

In 1869 Charlotte’s two youngest children were taken away by the Benevolent Society at the instigation of proceedings by the very same William Smith on the grounds that Charlotte was an unfit mother. These children were later returned.

Charlotte lived out her life in dire poverty amongst those who lived off the fat of the land (her ancestral land) and died in her ramshackle old hut at a railway siding in Narara at the ripe old age of 89 years in 1913. During her lifetime things could well have been very different if Aboriginal people had been entitled to inherit and own land. Her father James Webb left all of his holdings to Samuel Coulter and Robert Cox when he passed away in 1848. They became very rich and influential families as a result.

Although all of Charlotte’s children were born in the Gosford to Wyong area most of them eventually moved to Sydney and further afield to pursue their chosen careers. I can only speak for my great grandfather John Ashby whose children Hanna Matilda, James, Bertha, Charlotte, Henry, Joseph, Margaret, William and Mary all traversed frequently between the Central Coast of New South Wales and Balmain, where they lived until they married. Charlotte’s children James and Eliza Jane also lived in the same street in Balmain intermittently with their spouses and children during the course of their lives. Charlotte Ashby nee Webb was finally laid to rest in the cemetery now known as Brady’s Gully Cemetery in Gosford in 1913.

There she still lies.

This story is dedicated to the memory of my forebear Charlotte Ashby who owned some of the richest country in Australia but died poverty-stricken and lies in a pauper’s grave.

Update 11 December 2020

Warren now has a photo of Charlotte Ashby which he has shared with me on Facebook, noting: “Bungaree’s grand-daughter Charlotte Ashby nee Webb. The daughter of Sophy Bungaree and James Webb Born in Gosford 1824-5. Married convict Joseph Ashby at Kincumber 1845. Charged with stealing in ~ 1869 attended court in Sydney after walking from Gosford. Found not guilty and then walked back to Gosford. Lived until the age of 89 and buried in Brady’s Gully, Gosford.”



5 Responses to “A Guringai Family’s Story: guest entry by Warren Whitfield”
  1. Jim Belshaw Says:
    November 22, 2006 at 10:00 amThank you Warren (and Neil) for this story.
  2. cedric williams Says:
    November 25, 2006 at 3:52 amSomething similar story to my grandmother Lucy Williams (nee Pike) who was part Aboriginal but the family will not admit it. My website is
  3. ninglun Says:
    November 25, 2006 at 7:59 amThanks, Cedric. Your site is very interesting.On that site Cedric writes:


    I’m one of the many descendants of John Williams, who was a reluctant soldier, a Welshman in the English army and his wife Sarah, daughter of William Nash, a marine in the First Fleet to Australia, 1788, and Maria Haynes, convict (or not a convict) according to which family history you read)He ran off after being brutally flogged but was recaptured and sentenced to penal servitude and transported to the convict settlement of Port Jackson, now Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

    He lives in Canada these days, but I note his life (like mine) goes back to The Shire and Woronora Cemetery. It was in the bush near there that I first sensed that haunted spirit of the bush which D H Lawrence so perceptively describes in Kangaroo, and as Cedric says, I now believe (without being all Twilight Zone about it) it was some sense of this:

    I guess I won’t be going back to fill a plot in Woronora cemetery, after all.So long Australia, land of my ancestors, pioneers and convicts and maybe some dark people flitting through the red-gums, where they hunted for the last forty thousand years.

    One found traces here and there in rock overhangs, or grooves on rocks by the creek, and one wondered…

    Most pioneer Aussies, were not habitual churchgoers, as they came from Britain’s lower classes, and were not known for reverence of religion. That was the domain of the middle classes, while the richest social segments used religion to hold onto their high positions of power and land and money. Superstitions and religion have always been used to bamboozle the plebs and keep them in their place.These pioneers had their children baptized as the easiest way to establish a birth notice. The struggle for life’s necessities gave them little time either for education or church-going, but they became experts at fencing a few acres, chopping wood, washing babies’ bottoms and cooking kangaroo-tail soup among other things.

    Some other things would include how to get bush ticks out of cattle and kids, and giving birth without medical help and dying far from clergy.

    It is not surprising that the Australian psyche evolved with a disdain for cant and dogma but with an underlying sense of fair play and social justice.

    This attitude eventually was belatedly directed towards the Aboriginal original inhabitants, but it took a long time.

    In the early days, brutality was so common from government administration down even towards ordinary citizens, and blacks were considered subhuman vermin, to be contained, bred white, worked with little pay and otherwise ignored.

    Go and read Cedric’s stories.


  4. Jim Belshaw Says:
    November 25, 2006 at 4:45 pmNeil, I will write something properly on this post because it deserves promotion. I have given Warren’s business two plugs so far in stories.On Cedric, I looked at his site. I wonder whether he went to school at TAS or De la Salle. I was interested in the Armidale connection.


  5. cedric williams Says:
    November 28, 2006 at 5:43 pmThanks Jim, I was at T.A S. for awhile but because my family could not afford the fees I transferred to Armidale High School and boarded at St John’s Anglican. I remember playing De la Salle College rugby union and they almost always won, because I was told they did not get supper if they lost the game.I used to eat pie peas and potatoes at Sourris cafe. Peter Sourris was in fifth year when I was in fourth. He was in my dorm, as was Geoff Nunn who was a champion butterfly stroke swimmer and also there was a son of a Tenterfield bank manager whose name i can’t recall but who was a swot and came first in most subjects.


    I remember bicycling out to Black Mountain and excursions to Walcha and the surrounding bushland. I have a story about it and I will try to persuade my son to put it on the webpage soon.

13 thoughts on “Family stories 4 — A Guringai Family Story — Warren Whitfield

  1. 2,000+ attempts at spam comment have been just foiled on this post by Akismet. Random attack? I don’t know, but I am closing comment here immediately.

  2. Thanks, Warren.

    These family pages are becoming quite a good resource thanks to all those who have been adding via the comment threads.

  3. Hi Uncle Neil and in reply to Robin;

    You are quite right the photo is of Hanna Ashby (my great Aunty)and not of Charlotte Ashby (her mother).
    A mistake that was made early on and should have been corrected. Thanks Robin.

  4. I am trying to locate descendents of all people interred within the Brady’s Gully Cemetery.
    Due to my research into all people interred at this Cemetery, I am well aware of Charlotte Ashby. I have also found many more people interred within this Cemetery that have not as yet been listed within any past Brady’s Gully Cemetery documents.

    The Brady’s Gully Cemetery has a sad history.
    The major portion of this Cemetery was handed over to the NSW Education Department to be used for ‘public school purposes’, and officially gazetted as such, in 1964.
    This was done without thoroughly researching and investigating who was in this burial ground and how many people were interred in this Cemetery.

    A smaller portion of the remaining Cemetery that included a portion of the access road, was officially made into a Pioneer Park in 1997. Currently, I am endeavouring to have this land title returned back into a complete Cemetery as it was once dedicated in 1882.
    In my request for the return of this Cemetery in its entirety, I have this year [2010] already spoken personally with,or been in contact with all, currently serving; Gosford City Councillors, MP for Robertson: Ms. Marie Andrews, NSW State Lands Department Minister: Mr. Tony Kelly & NSW Education Minister: Ms. Verity Firth. I am awaiting their action in regards to this matter.
    I would dearly love to hear from ancestors of this Cemetery.
    You are welcome to contact me at

  5. Dear Warren,
    I am also related to Charlotte Webb. The photo that you have on your website is NOT that of
    Charlotte Webb! it is a photo of Hannah Ashby one of her daughters. I know this to be correct
    as I have the same photo in my album, it was taken at my grandmothers home, Maria Hein Kensey in Church St Balmain, there is another photo that was taken at the same time, my own mother Gwendoline Kensey is in the photograph with her grandmother Hannah Ashby. (NOT Charlote) I have a family photo taken at a picnic? for Charlottes 80th Birthday.
    Yours sincerely

  6. Hi,

    I am also a descendent of Charlotte Webb, would be interested in meeting my long lost cousins.

  7. My father’s grandmother (my great-grandmother) was Eliza Jane Ashby,daughter of Charlotte Webb,and it is only recently that we traced the family tree and discovered our indiginous roots. My father is now 89 and has some photographs of Eliza and her daughter, Rebecca Weller (my father’s mother). We also have some photos of people of that family but we cannot identify, so it would be of great advantage to us if these can be recognized. Rebecca died when my father was only in his 20’s so a lot of family history was lost with her.

  8. Trails can be difficult in such matters, as sometimes things have been kept secret for perfectly understandable reasons. I have seen the documents Warren refers to because he brought his file with him to Sydney at the time he wrote the story above. However, I don’t see Warren all that often and don’t have copies. I’m afraid I didn’t think to get them because they concern his relatives (through his mother) not mine, and are thus outside my own family history. So Warren is the one to contact.

  9. Thank you Neil for your quick reply. After speaking to my mum, neither herself or my uncle – Richard – can find any docs linking Charlotte to Sophy to the Bungaree family, they have been collecting all birth – death and marriage certificates for all family members they have found. Can you please point us in the right direction or send me links or copies of docs that we can use as a starting point?

    We are not sure if we are missing information or due to the period of time, information is harder to find or obtain . .

    I couldn’t thank you enough!!

  10. Replied by email. Please note that the link to Great Green Way Eco Tours no longer works. I will correct that as soon as I can.

  11. I am not sure how to approach this, but my mother Barbara Shaw nee Smith is also related to Charlotte many generations on . . . I am keen to know more about the family history and hope that Warren can educate both my mum and myself on our family history

    If time is no issue, Warren can you please contact me via the email address provided


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