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George Rookes KEY

George was the son of James Key and Sarah (nee PICKETT).

At the age of 15, George Rookes Key came to Australia with his brother James (aged 11) on the Protector, arriving in Fremantle in the Swan River Colony on February 26, 1830. The two brothers were indentured as servants to John Randall Phillips, who was on the same ship.

John Randall Phillips was a wealthy farmer and magistrate who was granted 2000 acres in the Canning River region. In April 1830, as he was preparing to journey to his property, all his crop seeds and stores were destroyed by Aboriginals burning off the land. In October that year he was speared in the leg by Aborigines.

Although George and James were indentured to Phillips it wasn't long before they left his employ, possibly due to his no longer having means to employ them.

George (and probably James) signed a bond of indenture to work for Henry Edward Hall in 1831. Hall, with his wife and children, and numerous servants had traveled out on the same ship as the brothers. He brought out machinery, tools, plants, livestock and a sloop.

On arrival in Fremantle, Hall bought a wrecked ship and his family started life in the new colony living in the hulk.

George and James worked for Hall for six months before they absconded and joined the Thistle, an inter-colonial trading schooner recently purchased by James Henty. The ship ran between Launceston and Western Australia (both King George’s Sound and Swan River settlements) with occasional forays to Hobart and stops at the whaling station at Portland Bay on the Victorian coast.

George's early employment in Australia might have remained unknown except for his defection from Hall to Henty.

A report in The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal of Saturday, March 16 1833, records civil court proceedings held in Perth where Mr Henty was charged with wilfully conveying away an indentured servant (George Key, cabin boy) from Mr H Hall. Mr Hall was trying to recover £200 from the bondsman of the Thistle, a Mr Leake.

A witness, John Grant, recalled seeing George Key two years previously (1831) at King George's Sound aboard the Thistle. He stated, "He was working in the cabin. He proceeded in the Thistle to Launceston. He did not land at King George's Sound. He did not stay, he was engaged to Mr Henty."

At the time of the court case, George was employed by Thomas Henty (James Henty’s father) in Launceston.

On June 28, 1836 he applied for permission to marry Ann Brady, a convict transported on the Jane in 1833, and their marriage was registered in Launceston on August 24, 1836.

By 1838, George Key, aged 24, was living in or near Launceston and appeared to be master of his own life, as he applied to the government to have a number of convicts assigned to him.

George and Ann had two children: William Oliver Key born about 1835 and Julie Ann Elizabeth Key born July 1, 1839.

George travelled to Victoria in 1847 on the Cornubia, possibly to look for work or land, but returned to Tasmania. The family moved to Victoria in 1853, travelling on the Blackwall.

They settled in Fitzroy, living in Atherton Street, and George worked as a labourer/bricklayer. The electoral rolls show him as owning three houses freehold.

George Rookes Key died on September 5, 1867 at Melbourne Hospital of "disease of the brain".

His death was noted in The Argus on September 27, 1867 in a special supplement on deaths at Melbourne Hospital. He was listed as aged 52, a bricklayer, and a native of London who arrived at Swan River in 1828.