John was a Trustee of the Otago Peninsula Trust from 1999 – 2018 and Chair 2007-2008.
John has always had a focus on forming partnerships and during his time as Chair put particular emphasis on improving relationships between the Trust and the runanga, he was very supportive of the development of the partnership with the Korako Karetai Trust that resulted in the formation of the Pukekura Trust, the very successful Blue Penguins Pukekura tourism venture.
John is the Otago representative on the New Zealand Fish and Game Council.
|Located on the Jillett Family Crypt Monument to recognise the 6900 children who died between 1850 and 1860|
There were no massed bands and choirs, no prime ministerial speeches, no visiting royalty. It was even a public holiday. Yet, for those who knew about it, it was a bi-centenary just as important as the one that 11 years ago marked the 200th anniversary of Australia's conversion into a barbarous outpost of European civilisation.
On 26 July, 1799 when the transport Hillsborough arrived in Sydney, Governor John Hunter, successor to the New South Wales settlement s founding father, Arthur Phillip, complained to the Colonial Office in London that the ship's cargo consisted of the "most miserable and wretched convicts I ever beheld".
Among Hillsborough's survivors was 39 year old Robert Jillett, shoemaker and thief. He had already survived one death sentence (imposed in London s Old Bailey), and - before he sired the son from whom I am descended- he was to dodge the hangman a second time.
Robert's colourful life is the sort of stuff that most people would love to find in the family tree; but for many years my branch of the Jilletts found it too colourful. This was because we have what used to be called a touch of the tarbrush, and so the family's past was hidden by silence and evasions.
My father Leslie, a journalist, brought his wife and my sister and me from New Zealand to Melbourne in 1935, the city's centenary year. Nearly 20 years later while studying history at Sydney University, I got my first glimpse of the family's history. It was in "The Sydney Gazette" report of Robert Jillett's journey by cart to the gallows on 13 April 1803. He had been sentenced to death for the theft of 77lbs (pounds) of salted pork from the government store. The weeping Jillett was attended by the Reverend Samuel Marsden, who "emphatically performed the duties of his function." Then after Robert "had been delivered over to the executioner", a reprieve was announced.
"Convulsed with unspeakable joy and gratitude, for so unexpected an extension of mercy, he fell motionless, and for some moments continued in a state of insensibility…."
Robert's partner in crime, James Hailey, a cooper, read the Bible to him during the cart ride; but this piety did him no good. He was still punished, 200 lashes.
When I showed the Gazette article to my father, he did nothing to discourage my assumption that the New Zealand branch of the family was probably begun by a miner who had crossed the Tasman Sea to join the mid-19th century gold rush in the South Island. The truth, which he must have known, at least in part, was more interesting.
Doug's son, John was surprised when his mother Phyllis told him just before the funeral that he was part-Maori. This ancestry may explain Doug's interest in Maori education, but he does not seem to have revealed it to his departmental colleagues. Phyllis confessed to John that because of the Jillett family's heritage she had nearly jilted Doug; she and her English parents imposed the strict condition that the marriage would go ahead only on condition that the Maori ancestry was never acknowledged.
As children, my cousin John and I met our paternal grandfather, John Robert Jillett (1878-1950) whose "career highlights" were running, coaching and saddle-and-harness businesses as a young man.
Although grandfather was dark, it never occurred to John and me that he was part (a quarter) Maori, but it was evident enough for Phyllis, John's mother to be horrified by it.
Although my father knew that Phyllis had broken her own undertaking by revealing the family's secret, he apparently never told our English mother. Nor did he tell my sister and me. We learnt of it from cousin John, but we never let our father and mother know that we knew."
Meanwhile, John, a marine biologist who lives in Dunedin, decided to trace the link between convict Robert and the Maori blood. As a result of his research, much of it carried out in Hobart s archives, we now know that the convict Robert Jillett was born in England about 1760. At least six different spellings of his surname are used in records, and he also had an alias, Thomas Elston.
At the Surrey Assizes in 1795, Robert, who had a wife and five children, was sentenced to seven years transportation for the theft of curtains and other bedroom furniture. Part of his sentence was to be served on a hulk moored on the coast. In 1797 he was charged with being "feloniously at large" (he had escaped before the end of his term), a capital crime. His death sentence was commuted to transportation for life.
Wives, having sometimes made big cash payment were allowed to accompany their criminal husbands on the journey to NSW. There were six or seven such women aboard "Hillsborough". Jillett's first wife was not among them, but his futures second wife, the sturdy Elizabeth Bradshaw, was. Her husband Thomas, whom she nursed through fever, survived the journey, but disappeared soon after the ship reached Sydney.
As a free person, Elizabeth could own property and be assigned convict servants. Robert who was presumably one of them skippered a small boat owned by her that traded between Sydney and the Hawkesbury River. His return to thieving temporarily interrupted Elizabeth's business career. When his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, on Norfolk Island, she, again standing by her man, sold her property and accompanied him.
Robert, who described himself as a widower, and Elizabeth lived on the island as a man and wife, and in 1808 (in conformity with the slowly implemented policy of closing the first Norfolk Island settlement) were moved to Tasmania.
British whalers, sealers and timber-getters had been working in New Zealand since the 1790's but it was not until Samuel Marsden (the parson who had comforted the gallow-dodging Robert Jillett) began his missionary work among Maoris that the country's potential was appreciated. Its attractions as another outpost of empire, coupled with a few bloody encounters between settlers and Maoris, led to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi between Queen Victoria and most Maori chiefs. The treaty, usually described as the founding document of New Zealand nationhood, declared that the country was a British colony in which the native people were made British subjects, but retained rights over land and fisheries.
Robert the whaler entered a common law marriage with a Maori, Etara Ta Kaea (Sarah). They had six children.
Cousin John and I feel that the Jilletts lack only one element to make them antipodeans in every respect. It may be, John suspects, that the element is still to be uncovered. His research suggests there is an unsolved ethnic mystery to do with Robert the whaler's early manhood in Central Tasmania.
Aboriginal blood in the family! That could cause a ruckus in Tasmania where there is the biggest concentration of convict Robert's descendants.
Fifteen year ago, on his first research trip to Hobart, cousin John met a leading member of the Tasmanian Jillett clan. "We were only two minutes into our conversation", John recalls, "when he made a point of reassuring me that there were no convicts lurking in our family tree".
The Jillett Family
Relationship with Elizabeth Bradshaw (nee Creamer) married to Thomas Bradshaw. Thomas was transported to Australia on the Hillsborough, for highway robbery; and was very ill on the voyage. Contemporary research has found that he was alive in January 1800. But that was the last known record. Elizabeth was granted permission to travel on the Hillsborough, and along with their daughter Mary Ann, she arrived as a free settler.
In 1803 he stole 1/2 pig from the Commandant's store and was sentenced to death. He was taken to the gallows, and granted a reprieve. He was then sentenced to transportation to Norfolk Island. Elizabeth sold her lands and travelled with him on the same boat, along with her three young children.
She purchased land on Norfolk Island, and may have been the first free woman settler on Norfolk Island. In 1808 they were resettled to Van Diemen's Land. She was granted land in exchange for those she left behind. They married in 1812, and had more children.
Robert and Elizabeth settled in New Norfolk, at Back River. Together they had 10 children.
Mary Ann Bradshaw b 1797 married Charles Horan in 1812. They had one child Edward who was born in 1813. In 1826 Charles advises that his wife had left him. She later is jailed in Launceston for upsetting the court. She was the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Bradshaw.
William Bradshaw b 1800 married Mary Gunn. They had 9 children. He became a farmer, and a publican. He was insolvent and died 1859. They lived at Back River, New Norfolk.
James Bradshaw b 1802 married Jemima Lydia Gunn. They had 7 children. James was a farmer and an inn keeper. They lived at New Norfolk.
Susannah Jillett b 1805 (she was born and christened Bradshaw). Married Charles Dowdell, who met with a gruesome death in 1832, then she married William Garth, and later Joseph Oakley. She had 4 children
Rebecca Elizabeth Jillett b 1806/7 (she was born and christened Bradshaw). Married William Young, a successful businessman. They had 11 children.
Eliza Jillett b 1807/08 baptised as Bradshaw. Married John Bowden. May have left him and took up with another person. They had 4 children.
Frederick Jillett b 1811 and died perhaps in infancy
Robert Jillett b 1812 Also known as Ropata Tireti. Went to New Zealand around 1836/7, was a shore whaler at Kapiti Island. Married Te Kaea (Sarah). They had at least 6 children
Charlotte Daisy Jillett b 1815. Married William Henry Smith and lived at Bruni Island. He became bankrupt in 1846. No children of that marriage have been sourced.
Thomas Jillett b 1817 Married Mary Ann Shone. He became a very successful sheep farmer and business man. His business interests crossed the mainland, into Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. He was a keen horseman, and very active within the Oatlands community. He owned the Callington Mill. They had 12 children, of those 3 died within 6 weeks of each other in January and February 1859, of scarlet fever. He built a memorial to them in St Peter's Anglican Church at Oatlands, Tasmania.
John Jillett b 1819 Married Phoebe Triffett. He was a farmer and butcher. He built Eldergrove at York Plains. They had 13 children, but 4 of those died within 6 weeks of each other in January and February 1859 of scarlet fever. He also built a memorial to them in St Peter's Anglican Church in Oatlands, Tasmania.