On the 30 July 1905 one of New South Wales’ longest lived transported convicts, Thomas Dyball, breathed his last at Port Macquarie having, it is believed, lived a full and healthy life of 96 years.
The Dyball name is most commonly associated with the Norfolk area of England. If his age at death is correct this Thomas Dyball was likely born on 30 January 1809 in the parish of Burgh St. Margaret (Yarmouth) in Norfolk to parents Robert Dyball and Ann Dyball (nee Copping). However, there were other Thomas Dyballs born in Norfolk around that time so we may never know the truth.
On 8 April 1829 the Bury and Norwich Post recorded the proceedings of the Norfolk Lent Assizes as follows:
… John Browne aged 17 and Thomas Dyball pleaded guilty to, and John Felmingham, aged 21, was charged with having feloniously broken into the dwelling-house of Thomas Willis, of Acle, shop-keeper, and stolen twenty yards of cotton cord, twelve pair of worstead stockings, and other articles, his property on the 21st of February last, and Thomas Benstead was charged with having received the same, knowing it to have been stolen. – Benstead was acquitted, and Felmingham found guilty, and judgment of Death recorded against him.
Thomas was sentenced to transportation for life in New South Wales. He arrived in Sydney on the “Sarah” on 6 December 1829 and was later transferred to the Port Macquarie convict establishment where he was granted a ticket of leave. There he met Catherine Calnan, another convict who had been sentenced to transportation for seven years for picking pockets. Catherine had arrived in Sydney of the “Elizabeth” on 17 December 1836.
Being convicts the couple had to seek permission to marry, and this was given by Rev. John Croos who married them on 18 July 1841. Catherine received a certificate of freedom in 1845 and Thomas a conditional pardon two years later in early 1847, and at that time with three children and Catherine again pregnant the family decided to stay at Port Macquarie initially. The pardon coincided with the closure of the convict establishment at Port Macquarie as the free settler population in Hastings River grew.
In 1850 the Dyballs moved to the Manning River and became some of the earliest settlers in that area. Thomas took up a selection at Taree Estate and there the couple eventually had nine children before Catherine died at the age of 52 years on 22 November 1870.
Thomas lived on his property for more than fifty years. Only his last eighteen months were spent in ill health when he lived firstly with his sons at Taree and then with his daughter Prudence Grace (Dyball) Beattie on Rawdon island in the Hastings River a little upstream of Port Macquarie where he died. He was buried at the Wauchope Cross Roads Cemetery.
His obituary published in the Manning River Times and Advocate on Saturday 5 August 1905 stated how he could recount many interesting reminiscences of the early days of settlement in this district. It tells of his birth in Norfolk, England and his “immigration” to New South Wales in 1829, but neglects to mention his convict past.