WILLIAM TUNKS (TONKS)  is known as ‘Tunks’ but is recorded on the ship’s papers as ‘Tonks’, WILLIAM, aged 33, was “put on board HMS ‘Sirius’ on 24th February 1787” as a private of marines, one of a party of 12 supernumeries (all artisans of various trades – William was a gimlet maker). He remained on board the flagship throughout the long voyage to Botany Bay (13 May 1787 to 20 January 1788) and spent a further period of at least 10 months in Sydney Cove.

Although many descendants have done considerable research, no records have been found as to where William was born or what he had done before becoming a Marine; neither is there any record of what services he was called upon to do during the establishment of the Colony. (see an excerpt & update about William Tunks by Joyce Cowell and other family forbearers printed below)

“When Governor Phillip’s return to England  the Marine Corps was abandoned, and those members who chose to remain in Australia were given grants of land at either Rose Hill (Parramatta) or Norfolk Island.  William’s name appears in a list of 29 ex-Marines who sailed for Norfolk Island on board the  “Atlantic” on 28th October 1791: He was granted 60 acres of land and supplied with livestock, rations, tools and building materials.

William stayed on the island as a farmer for almost two years: During this period he became acquainted with, and had a daughter in 1792, Rebecca Ann, by a young convict woman (Sarah Lyons). Sarah who had been sent to Norfolk Island in August 1790 on the “Surprize” soon after arriving at Sydney Cove on the  “Lady Juliana” on 3rd June 1790 after a voyage of just one year from England. No record can be found of a marriage between William and Sarah, nor of the birth of their daughter.

On 7th March 1793, for an undisclosed reason, William and Sarah and baby Ann left Norfolk Island on board “Kitty” to return to Sydney. On arrival there William enlisted in the 102nd. Regiment of Foot (NSW Corps) and remained a private soldier until the regiment was disbanded in 1810.

On 22nd July 1795 William, as a private soldier, was granted 25 acres of land on the Hawkesbury River.  A second child, John, was born on 8th March 1795 and another son, Charles, in 1802. William then applied for, and was granted,  140 acres of land on the Nepean River near Castlereagh. A severe flood in 1806 completely devastated the farm and everything on it.

William died on 6th August 1821,  aged 67,  and was buried in the Town Hall or Sandhill’s Cemetery. The remains of pioneers buried in these cemeteries were later exhumed and re-buried at Botany Cemetery, but no trace of William’s re-burial can be found.  A commemorative plaque for William has been attached to the Tunks family vault in St.John’s Cemetery, Parramatta. [Exerpt from Len Chalmers Book “Descendants of William Tunks & Sarah Lyons]

Reprinted from Len Chalmers 1986 ‘A Family Tree’.

William Tunks Update by Joyce Cowell

Since the above was written, research by Joyce Cowell, Judy Steel, Gillian Hughes (an English genealogical researcher) and Alice Clark has enabled us to fill in much of his early life. But there are still some question marks and hopefully others may be able to solve these doubtful assumptions.

The starting point for research into his origins was found in the ‘Description Book, Enlistment of the 100th Company Marines – Chatham Division’. A William Tunks is listed as age 18, 5ft 4ins high with brown hair and fair complexion, born in the city of Worcester, enlistment date 14/3/1778. The International Genealogical Index of the Mormon Church turned up a William Tunks baptised on 4th. June 1758 in the parish of North and Middle Littleton, Worcestershire. His parents were recorded as John and Mary, but there is no record of such a marriage. Now for the problem! This date would make him 20 and not 18 on enlistment in the Marine Company . However,  we thought this was our man until the minister at St Nicholas’ Church said that the death of a two year old William was recorded in the churche’s records.

A possible solution! The father, John Tunks married a Margaret Perkins 21 months after William’s baptism. Did the married couple have another child at about the time William I died, and did they call the new baby William after the deceased toddler as was often done in those day. If so, this would make the age of William the marine at enlistment correct. This is a puzzle for other descendants to solve.

However his career in England from the age of 18 to his arrival in Australia is now known and substantiated from original documents and is as follows.

He served as a marine during the War of American Independence and was discharged from the Marines at the war’s end. Eighteen months later when there was a recruitment drive in Warwickshire, he joined up again as a member of the 69th Company, Portsmouth Division. He served on the Ganges, a British training vessel, for the next 20 months and was then discharged to Haslar Hospital at Gosport. While being victualled ashore, his age is recorded as 26 which ties in with his age of 18 when he first enlisted. In May 1787 he joined the First Fleet for the voyage to Botany Bay.

Joyce Cowell March 2001

Note: Regretfully Joyce Cowell died on 7th February 2004. Also Len Chalmers our founding father died on 31st Aug. 2004. Both these long standing members have given so much to our Association over the last twenty one years.


Where did William Tunks come from?

Report by the late John Daniell extracted from Tunks Talk June 2002

In 1996 my wife and I were in the UK and as part of our ‘Visiting our Roots Trail’ visited what we then thought was William Tunks’ birthplace “Middle Littleton”.  We took a photograph of the ancient baptismal font imagining William as a child being baptised. Horror!  We arrived back home and read in the September 96 issue of Tunks Talk that the William Tunks born in 1758 and baptised in St Nicholas’ Church Middle Littleton Worcestershire was buried inthe church graveyard five years later (1763). Therefore there was no possibility of this being our William. Ever since then we have from time to time searched in vain for William Tunks’ beginning. I believe that through the TDAI we should pool all our research on William’s beginnings then we might have a chance of solving the riddle.

As I understand it the earliest known documented fact pertaining to William Tunks is that:

• The attestation (enlistment) of Wm Tunks on14th March 1778 in the 100 Company, Chatham Division of the British Marines. The document copied by Gillian Hughes, a researcher in the UK, for Joyce Cowell states that he was age 18: height 5’4”: hair/ complexion fair: his trade was that of a collier and he was born in the city of Worcester.

Now the fact that the document states his age as 18 could be read simply that he was over 18 and the fact that they put down his place of birth as Worcester may mean that is where he was recruited or where he was press ganged: or alternatively that he was born in the county of Worcestershire which pre 1832 covered a different area than that county currently does. To search the Parish records for the city of Worcester would mean checking the records of 12 churches and one cathedral. But this we must organise as a systematic collective research project.

Another parameter in the equation that must be considered is William’s Record of Death.  When he died in Sydney on 6th Aug. 1821, the St Phillips Register and the RG Death Cert. give his age as 67 indicating that he was born in 1754 whereas his enlistment papers would indicate that he was born in 1760.  So ideally it is back to the Parish records! This could be a mammoth task with a lot of blind alleys.

Has anyone done any research in this area?

Do you have a theory about where William was born?  Please contact us on member@tunksaustralia1788.com.au

Timeline William and Sarah

Follow their life milestones from their births in England to their deaths in Australia


Tunks Descendants Family Tree

Five generations of descendants of William Tunks and Sarah Lyons.  Update your own part of the Tunks Family Tree.