Henry Kable

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Henry Kable
Born 1763
Laxfield, Suffolk, England
Died 16 March 1846
Pitt Town, Sydney, Australia
Residence Pitt Town
Other names Henry Cable
Occupation Entrepreneur
Spouse(s) Susannah Holmes
Children Henry, Dianna, Enoch, James, Susannah, George Esto (farmer), Eunice, William Nathaniel (publican), John, known as 'Young Kable', Charles Dickenson, Edgar James[1]
Parent(s) Henry Keable and Dianna Fuller

Henry Kable (1763–1846) was born in Laxfield, Suffolk, England. Kable was known for being a businessman, but was convicted of burglary at Thetford, Norfolk, England, on 1 February 1783 and sentenced to death. This was commuted to transportation for fourteen years to America, but the American Revolution meant that transportation to America was no longer possible. Henry was returned to the Norwich Castle gaol[2] until he embarked in the transport Friendship, in which he sailed in the First Fleet to New South Wales.[3]

Wife and children[edit]

Susannah Holmes was sentenced to death after being found guilty of theft from the home of Jabez Taylor. The judge who passed sentence then recommended that she be given a reprieve, which was granted by the king. She was then sentenced for transportation to the American colonies for a term of 14 years. Susannah and Henry commenced a relationship whilst prisoners in Norwich Castle gaol where she gave birth to a son, whom she called Henry. Susannah was then one of the women chosen to be sent to Botany Bay.[4]

In Sydney town[edit]

On 10 February 1788 Kable married Susannah in Sydney in a group wedding, the first European wedding ceremony in the new colony.

Before the young couple left England, they attracted the attention of Lady Cadogan who organised a public subscription which yielded the substantial sum of £20[2] to buy them a parcel of goods which Rev. Richard Johnson was to give them on their arrival in the penal colony. The gift was plundered on the voyage, but Kable won damages of £15 against the captain (Duncan Sinclair) of the Alexander, in the first civil suit heard in New South Wales.[3] Convicts in Britain who had been sentenced to death were regarded as dead in law, and thus had no right to sue, and Sinclair had boasted that he could not be sued by them. Probably from advice the place where a writ would usually describe the plaintiffs' occupation, the words, "New Settlers of this place" had been crossed out and nothing had been substituted. To have described them as convicts would have been fatal to their case. The fact that Henry and Susannah were convicts and the legal consequences of that fact would have been obvious to all of those concerned; maybe the description "New Settlers" was too close to a fabrication, and hence this part of the writ was altered in order to maintain a discreet silence.[2] The court found in favour of the Kables and ordered Sinclair to make restitution for the loss of their possessions.[5]

Henry and Susannah had 11 children.[6] They were:

  • Henry (17 February 1786, Norwich Castle gaol,[2] England, – 13 May 1852, Picton). Henry is buried at St. Matthews, The Oaks.
  • Dianna (5 December 1788, Sydney – 11 March 1854, Macquarie St, Windsor)
  • Enoch (24 April 1791, Sydney – 27 February 1793, Sydney)
  • James (19 August 1793, Sydney – 30 September 1809, At Sea, off the straits, Malacca)
  • Susannah (23 October 1796, Sydney – 20 June 1885, `Vanderville', The Oaks)
  • George Esto (28 September 1797, Sydney – 1853, Bathurst)
  • Eunice (30 May 1799, Sydney – 21 December 1867, Windsor)
  • William Nathaniel (22 March 1801, Sydney – 16 November 1837, Bathurst)
  • John (12 November 1802, Sydney – 30 May 1859, Bairaba Hotel, Windsor)
  • Charles Dickenson (5 October 1804, Sydney – date and place of death unknown)
  • Edgar James (14 August 1806, Sydney – 28 April 1849, Windsor)

and five died before birth


The oddity of the first civil suit won by a convict, may have brought Kable to the governor's notice, although Kable later claimed to have had influential letters of recommendation, for soon afterwards Governor Phillip appointed him an overseer.

In 1798 Kable opened a hotel called the Ramping Horse, from which he ran the first stage coach in Australia, and he also owned a retail store.[7]

Henry became a constable of police, and later chief constable in the new colony and was involved on the prosecution side in criminal cases. Kable was dismissed 25 May 1802 for misbehaviour, after being convicted for breaches of the port regulations and illegally buying and importing pigs from a visiting ship.[3] After this, he became merchant and ship owner. Like others in the colony, and perhaps because of his early success, Henry used the courts to argue cases against his opponents. He seems to have prospered; in 1808 shipping records show Kable and two partners, boat builder James Underwood and the other Simeon Lord, as principal ship owners in the expanding commerce of acquiring and exporting sealskins to the colony.[8] Kable was one of 70 signatories to a petition to Governor Hunter from creditors who were anxious to prevent debtors from frustrating their demands by legal delays.[3] The partnership dissolved in some bitterness shortly afterwards but not before Henry had managed to divest himself of a good deal of his property to his son, in order to avoid the consequences of any court order.[2] Kable did much to pioneer sealing and shipbuilding in New South Wales, working with Simeon Lord who marketed the skins and James Underwood who built the ships.[3]

Like Lord and other early Sydney entrepreneurs, Kable always had a substantial landholding as a kind of 'sheet anchor'. He had been granted farms at Petersham Hill in 1794 and 1795, and in the latter year bought out four near-by grantees within a week of their grants being signed. In 1807 he owned at least four farms of about 170 acres (69 ha); in 1809 in addition he held five farms at the Hawkesbury and 300 acres (121 ha) at the Cowpastures, with a variety of real estate in Sydney itself including his comfortable house and extensive stores. He also had 40 horned cattle, 9 horses and 40 pigs. His business reputation seems to have been dubious, for he was regarded with distrust by Governor King and with active hostility by Governor Bligh who thought him and his partners fraudulent and had them imprisoned for a month and fined each £100 for sending him a letter couched in improper terms. It is certain that Kable played no part in public life comparable with Simeon Lord's multifarious activities. His commercial career in Sydney seems to have ended soon after Lord & Co. broke up, for as early as February 1810 he announced that his son Henry Junior had taken over the entire management of his Sydney affairs. In 1811 Kable moved to Windsor where he operated a store and brewery, the latter in association with a partner, Richard Woodbury and his Sydney warehouse was let to Michael Hayes.[3]


Kable's grave

Henry died on 16 April 1846, at Pitt Town near Windsor, New South Wales and was buried on 18 April 1846, at St. Matthew's Church of England, Windsor.


In 1968, on the 180th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, more than a hundred descendants of Henry and Susannah Kable met in Sydney at Crows Nest to honour them as the heads of one of Australia's founding families. It was the first reunion to acknowledge convict ancestry.

The 1977 folk opera The Transports by Peter Bellamy tells a version of the story of Henry Kable and his wife Susannah.

In 1984, Zillah Kable Thomas and Lola Wilkinson descendants of Henry and Susannah, unveiled a plaque commemorating Henry's land grant on the site of the Regent Hotel, (now known as the Four Seasons Hotel.) At this time the restaurant Kable's was also opened. In 2010 it is still there despite the change of owners and the hotel name.

In 1988, another Kable reunion was organised by Zillah, taking 2 years to plan and having 500 relatives descended from the couple to celebrate the 200th Wedding Anniversary being the occasion. This was held in a packed ballroom in the hotel on the spot of the first gaol in Sydney and the one which Henry controlled as the first chief constable in the colony. He had successfully crossed the order of society by beginning as a convict and very quickly becoming a controller of the worst offenders in the colony. The dinner was to celebrate in particular the wedding date of the couple 200 years on but also to acknowledge the Bicentennary of Australia. The event was awarded a certificate for being a recognised official Bicentennial event by the Australian Bicentennial Authority.

Celebrity veterinarian Katrina Warren is a descendant through Henry's son John.[9]


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