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Sea trade brings a 'Soule' to Australia


Martin Lawrence's contemporary family lives in Australia, on the other side of the world to Plymouth, the home of their Pilgrim ancestor, George Soule. How did their 'Soule' ancestors come to Australia? Before an actual migration in the 1850s, there was an earlier link - George Soule's six times grandson, Benjamin Page, visited Sydney Cove three times in the 1790s. Martin Lawrence shares his story.

Portrait of Benjamin Page (1753-1833) original held by descendants

In the beginning - George Soule & the first generations

Some years after arriving at Plymouth in 1620, Pilgrim George Soule was granted land in Duxbury a few miles north, and moved there with his family about 1632.


George (generation 1) acquired land in Dartmouth, about 20 miles away, which he gave to his sons Nathaniel and George in 1658 and 1668. The next few generations of the Soules resided at Dartmouth - George (gen.2), William, (gen.3), and Mary (gen.4).


Mary Soule moved to Providence (about 10 miles distant) when she married William Page. This marriage was not without controversy, since the Dartmouth Monthly Meeting of Quakers, on 18 Dec 1721, condemned "Mary Soule, daughter of William, for her recent marriage to William Paige". Apparently, Mary married out of order with her elder sister Hannah and this was considered inappropriate. However, Mary still inherited her share of the family estate in Dartmouth when her father (William Soule) died a year later.


William and Mary Page had a son Ambrose Page (gen.5), who as a ship captain travelled a lot but continued to make Providence, RI, his home. Ambrose had a son, Benjamin Page (gen.6), and it is with Benjamin that the Australian connection begins.


Benjamin Page, Naval Officer and Ship's Captain

Benjamin Page was born on 22 March 1753 at Providence, Rhode Island. Benjamin played a significant role in the destruction of the Gaspee, a customs vessel. This event, on 09 June 1772, some 18 months prior to the Boston Tea Party, is still annually remembered in Providence, with week-long celebrations. During the Revolutionary War, Benjamin was first a Lieutenant on a number of ships, and later the Commander of the Regulator, an armed sloop of 24 guns.

Benjamin was Captain of trading ships sailing out of Providence. Prior to the Revolutionary War, this included voyages to Surinam and the West Indies, and subsequent to the Revolutionary War several voyages to each of the West Indies and Europe (the most distant location was Saint Petersburg).

From 1790, Benjamin's trading voyages focused on trade between Providence, Rhode Island, and the East. The first such voyage was on the ship Hope, to Bombay, India, lasting from 21 Jan 1790 to 06 Jul 1791.

Following this, Benjamin undertook four trading voyages to Canton from 1793 to 1799. Three, on the ships Hope, Halycon and Ann & Hope, stopped in Sydney Cove Australia. The ship's visits to Sydney are documented in the press of the 1790s and various historical records. The highlights below give an insight into sea trade and life in the young Australian colony.

Voyage 1: Ship 'Hope' at Sydney Cove, 1792

Hope arrived in Sydney Cove on 24 Dec 1792 and stayed 17 days. In December 1792, the Colony's Judge Advocate and Secretary, David Collins, reported:


"there anchored in the cove an American ship, the Hope, commanded by a Mr. Benjamin Page, from Rhode Island, with a small cargo of provisions and spirits for sale. The cause of his putting into this harbour, the master declared, was for the purpose of procuring wood and water." "This ship had touched at the Falkland Islands for the purpose of collecting skins from the different vessels employed in the seal trade from the United States of America, with which she was to proceed to the China market." The colony purchased cured beef, port, flour. Notably,"seven thousand five hundred and ninety-seven gallons of (new American) spirits at four shillings and sixpence per gallon, were purchased".


In the early days of Sydney Cove, there was largely a barter economy with rum being the mainstay of the system.


Governor Philip had had to leave the Colony due to ill-health, and the Deputy Governor Francis Grose took command. Grose's first letter back to England (in January 1793) reported firstly the departure of Governor Phillip and secondly the visit of the Hope. He first addressed the visit in general and then wrote a long paragraph regarding the large purchase of spirits that was made, starting with: "I lamented on this occasion being obliged to purchase his spirits, without which he would not agree to the disposal of his provisions."

View of Sydney Cove, 1792. (Wikipedia, public domain)


Voyage 2: Ship Halcyon at Sydney Cove, 1794

Halcyon arrived 14 Jun 1794, staying 24 days. Collins reported: "arrived in the harbour the Halcyon, a ship from Rhode Island, commanded by Mr. Benjamin Page, who was here in the ship Hope at the close of the year 1792, and who had ventured here again with a cargo of provisions and spirits on speculation."

"The ship he built himself at Providence, after his return from China in the Hope."

"The whole of the spirits were purchased by the officers of the settlement and of the garrison at the rate of six shillings per gallon; and afforded, together with what had been received from Batavia by the Britannia, a large and comfortable supply of that article for a considerable time."


Grose had been frequently corresponding with Britain regarding the spirits purchased in late 1792 from Capt. Benjamin Page of the Hope. Coincidentally, he sent his latest letter on the subject with Capt. Benjamin Page of the Halcyon.


On the passage from Sydney Cove to Canton, Benjamin Page discovered a new "Spice Island" and claimed it for the United States.

Extract from the newspaper "Connecticut Courant" of 13 September 1795.


Voyage 3: Ship Ann and Hope at Sydney Cove, 1798

Ann and Hope arrived 20 Oct 1798, staying just 3 days. There are three journals/logbooks of this voyage still extant, including one by Benjamin Page, junior, son of the ship's captain. Thus, there is a wealth of interesting detail known about this voyage.


Collins reported: "On the 20th, an American ship, the Ann and Hope, anchored in Botany Bay, unfavourable winds having prevented her getting up so far as Port Jackson. As the master only wanted a little wood and water, three days were sufficient to procure them; and at the end of that period he sailed for China."


The journals include long accounts of this few days spent in Sydney. While the ship was in Botany Bay, a number of Aboriginals came in canoes to the ship and some bartering took place. The journals provide descriptions of the native people, the flora and fauna, and translations for a number of Aboriginal words and phrases. There is also a description of Sydney, which at this time had a population of 1,217.


There is a description of a battle they witnessed between two groups of Aborigines, which resulted in a number of them being speared. "Benelong [sic], a native of enlarged mind and who had been to England and dined with the first noble men of England" was one of those speared. "The Europeans at Sydney are almost as much in the dark now as they were 10 years ago with respect to the cause of these fights. The natives are cautious of explaining themselves and will even deny there is to be a battle on the day they prepare themselves for it."


Here I can't resist mentioning that on the journey home, the Ann and Hope was attacked by a privateer. The Ann and Hope, which mounted 12 nine-pound cannons, drove off the privateer.

Ship Ann and Hope of Providence (from an old painting commissioned for Brown and Ives)


Back in America: Benjamin's move to Ohio

In the late 1820s, Benjamin and family moved to Jackson Township, near Massillon, Ohio, which was then the frontier of European settlement. This was a more substantial move, of some 540 miles. One son who made this move with Benjamin was Oliver Page (gen.7), who married Margaret Caroline Troup soon after arrival here. They had a son William Graham Page (gen.8) who features in the next stage of my ancestors links to Australia, through the gold rushes.


To read the next chapter of this story, go to The Goldrushes - Start of a Soule line in Australia.


By Martin Lawrence Society of Australian Mayflower Descendants member, descended from George Soule.

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