William Sexton (c1808 - 1865)





(Parents of Peter Byrnes):



Line of Descent to Peter Byrnes:


William Sexton

Great Grandfather

?James Byrnes

Thomas Byrnes

Peter Byrnes

Father ??Samuel Sexton
Mother ??Jane Pilgrim
Birth Needham, England, c1808-1811
Occupation Soldier[1]/labourer/storeman[2]/[3]
Death 5 April, 1865, Wellington NZ.
Cause of death Epilepsy
Marriage Mary Wilson (no marriage record yet found, but possibly 1843-44, Meath, Ireland)[4]

Margaret/Mary SEXTON (845 - 1930)

William SEXTON (1847 - 1917)

Sarah SEXTON (1851 - )

Joseph SEXTON (1853 - )

James BYRNES [born Sexton] (1857-1932), married Grace Pobar, 1882 Toowoomba

(right): An early 21st century view of the High Street, in Needham Market, Suffolk, where William was born nearly 200 years earlier.  Local historians believe that it is likely that an unnamed hamlet existed on the town site at the time of the Domesday Book at the end of the 11th century.[5]

William's  family background is unknown, but at that time, the Army was seen as an alternative to the tough life of an agricultural labourer, and at least provided security in the form of a roof over a soldier's head, and regular food, so perhaps it’s not surprising that William joined the Army when he was only 17. 

His regiment, the 65th of Foot (infantry), served in Ireland, West Indies and North America, before being sent to Hobart in 1845 on convict escort duty, and subsequently on to New Zealand.

His unit was assigned to the convict ship Pestonjee Bomanjee, which left Gravesend on September 1, 1845, headed for Van Dieman’s Land with a complement of 298 male convicts guarded by 50 soldiers.  Accompanying the soldiers were six women and six children, among them William’s wife Mary (née Wilson) and the couple’s first(?) child, Margaret Mary, who was born just before the ship set sail for the southern colonies..[6]


Also in the unit was Francis Burns, another soldier, destined to become Mary’s second partner.

After first visiting Hobart, where Margaret Mary's birth was finally registered, William and his family sailed on to New Zealand from Sydney with his unit on the Levant on 7th July 1846 landing in Wellington on 22nd July 1846.  Four more children, William jnr (1847) Sarah (1851), Joseph (1853) and James (1857) were born to Mary in Wellington.  (It’s believed son James is the same child known later in Queensland as James Byrnes, after taking on the name [albeit with a change of spelling] of his mother’s second partner, Francis Burns).

Life in the Army was not easy - William's overseas service left him suffering from intermittent fevers, dysentry and chronic rheumatism.  The Medical Officer recommended his discharge (at age 40) because ‘He seems worn out from length of service and is unable to carry his Knapsack’

In all, he chalked up 22½ years of pensionable service - losing the very first year because he was under age when he enlisted, and a spell in 1829 when he deserted, was court martialled and imprisoned for a couple of months.  The Army gave him a good testimonial overall - despite a second Court martial for being absent without leave.  That time they didn't jail him, just demoted him back to Private. William was discharged on July 31, 1849 and subsequently given an Army pension in February 1850.

At his discharge William was described as being ‘40 yrs 7 months, 5ft 7ins tall, with fair hair, hazle (sic) eyes and a fresh complexion’.  He said that he 'intends to reside in the District of Wellington, New Zealand'. 

Throughout the 1850s, William worked as a labourer in Wellington, and by 1857, was living in the same street (Tinakori Road) as Francis Burns.[7]

(right): Tinakori Road, where William lived in the 1850s, as it was in 2010 - but we have no record of which house it was..



(right):Wellington's Lambton Quay in 1860, at the time when William Sexton's family was leaving him and their life in Wellington, to go with Francis Burns to Queensland.



Sometime between the birth of James in 1857, and 1864, his wife Mary left him for Francis Burns.  Mary, by then known as Mary Burns, died in Queensland in February, 1864.  It appears likely all the Sexton children as well as Mary's youngest, James, accompanied their mother to Queensland.

William died in Wellington on 5 April, 1865 of epilepsy, and was buried the next day with a service at St Paul's Church, Thorndon.  The burial register of St Paul's describes William as  "late of the 65th Regiment" .[8]

His burial place is now marked only by a plaque  in Wellington's  historic Bolton Street cemetery which commemorates a mass grave... an unknown number of people are buried there, after several hundred graves were moved to allow the construction of a motorway along the edge of the park.

[1] Military information from British War Office records (W.O.97/788 and WO120 Vol.69 p 253), and Discharged in New Zealand (Officers of the Imperial Foot Regiments who took their discharge in New Zealand 1840-1970), by Hugh and Lyn Hughes, NZ Society of Genealogists, 1988 p95

 British War Office records, W.O.97/788

 WO120 Vol.69 p 253).

[2] UK 1881 Census

[3] As above

[4] Surgeon’s report of Pestonjee Bomanjee Ref: Admin 101/59 Reel 3206, (This report described Mary Sexton, aged 25, as the wife of Pte. Sexton)

[5] http://www.needham-market.suffolk.gov.uk/

[6] The birth of the baby Mary Sexton was registered by the vessel's master in January 1846, after the ship arrived in Hobart. Her birth had earlier been noted in the1845  Baptism register of the Parish of Woolwich. (Thanks to family history researcher, Margaret Pope, who drew this entry to my attetnion)

[7] details from the birth certificates of his son James (1857).

[8] NZ death certificate, and Burial register, 1840-1866, of St Paul's Church, Molesworth Street, Thorndon (NB - with thanks to Sexton researcher Lynne Callaghan for this information)