James Ruse was born in Launceston, Cornwall in 1760 where he gained the rudiments of farming.
At the Bodmin Assizes in 1782 he was convicted of breaking and entering. This Capital sentence was changed to transportation for seven years, but because of the loss of the American colonies, he spent five years on the hulks at Plymouth.
When it was decided to establish a penal colony in New South Wales he was sent out with the first fleet in 1787 on the Scarborough. He claimed to have been the first man to set foot on shores of Botany Bay in 1788 when he carried Captain John Hunter ashore.
In July 1789 he claimed that his sentence had expired and soon afterwards he applied for a land grant. Governor Phillip did not at first give him a grant, but in November permitted him to occupy an allotment near Parramatta. The title to that grant was withheld until his capacity as a farmer and his right to freedom had been proved. The governor made this concession partly because he knew Ruse to be industrious and partly because he was anxious to discover how long it would take an emancipist to become self-sufficient. They were supplied with provisions, clothing, seed, implements, livestock, a hut and assistance in clearing a small area of land.
James Ruse married Elizabeth Perry at Parramatta in 1790 and they successfully farmed their land. In February 1791, Ruse received 30 acres in Land Grant Number 1 and by the end of the year Ruse, his wife and child no longer needed food from the government store.
In October 1793 he sold his farm to Surgeon Harris for £40. In January 1794 he obtained the first land grant in the Hawkesbury area, which he sold in 1798 for £300. Another grant at Pitt Town Bottoms which he obtained in 1797 he sold in 1809.
In 1800 he purchased twenty acres facing the river near North Richmond but because of heavy losses due to floods in 1800 and 1801, he sold it to Richard Cheers. In 1809 he successfully obtained a land grant in Bankstown, and in 1819 he received a grant of 100 acres at Riverstone.
By 1825 he was recorded as owning a mere ten acres of land, and in 1824 was working as an overseer for Captain Brooks at Lower Minto. In 1834 he was living at Macquarie Fields.James Ruse died on 5th September 1837, his seventy-seventh birthday. During his last months he occupied himself with the melancholy task of carving his story on his own tombstone.
It reads (spelling mistakes included)
TO THE MEMEREY OF JAMES RUSE WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE sept 5th IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1837 NATEF OF CORNWELL AND ARRIVED IN THIS COLENEY BY THE FORST FLEET AGED 77
MY MOTHER REREAD ME TENDERLEY WITH ME SHE TOCK MUCH PAINES AND WHEN I ARIVED IN THIS COELNEY IS OWD THE EORST GRAIN AND NOW WITH MY HEAVENLY FATHER I HOPE FOR EVER TO REMAIN
He is buried in the cemetery of St. John’s Church, Campbelltown.
- from a pamphlet distributed in the 1980’s and an information sheet prepared by: L. Gapps, R.J. Meredith, B. Mitchell and G.Waller
Australian Dictionary of Biography [http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ruse-james-2616]