Introduction to the Rayner Family

Scope of this research

The Rayner family that is descended from William Rayner, Quaker and Convict, has been researched by a number of people over the last 30 years, but very little of that information is referenced appropriately. Even the offerings that are referenced rarely provide the original source material.

This 'book' will attempt to compile all primary sources for information about William Rayner and his family, with direct transcriptions from the primary sources where these are available. For that reason some sections of the site will appear long winded, or overly pedantic.

As so much information has been handed around, and then reproduced, often erroneously, it has also fallen within the mandate of this work, to attempt to correct these errors wherever possible. Particularly in the case of William Rayner and his son William, there is potential for confusion about individuals and their role in the Rayner family history. Where there is divergent information these issues will be discussed, and hopefully resolved. Not all alternative interpretations of history can be wrapped up in this way but at least the issues will be out on the table.

All available material is presented chronologically, apart from information that more properly sits within an entry for one of William’s children. Generally if an event concerns a single individual it is placed in their own biography, but if it occurred within the lifetime of William or Susannah Rayner and is relevant then it is referenced from that section as required. While the divisions can sometimes become arbitrary, it generally reduces duplication and maintains brevity.

This is not really a biography in the common sense of the word then, but may provide the launching point for a biography; it is almost continually a work in progress. This work deals with William Rayner, his two wives Elizabeth Goldsmith and Susannah Chapman, and their children. Inevitably, in telling the story of his children, relevant biographical details about the grandchildren are included, but William Rayner had 9 proven children and approximately 54 grandchildren, so individual pages for grandchildren would have widened the number of people being researched to hundreds and was not sustainable.


This project has required revisiting all the recorded information about William Rayner, his two wives, and their families. Each reference was either traced back to its original source, or noted for the fact that there was no substantiating evidence.

In undertaking that work another discovery was made and that was the identity of the person who has probably contributed most to the Rayner Family story, Mary Nicholls.

The Rayner Family Correspondence Folder

Most of the biographical information circulated about the Rayner family and their descendants is derived from Mary Nicholls's early work which is contained in the Rayner Family Correspondence Folder at the Archives Office of Tasmania. Mary had worked in both the Archives Office, and the University of Tasmania, the latter being where the early Quaker records are stored. Mary is also the editor of The Diary of the Reverend Robert Knopwood, 1803-1838: first Chaplain of Van Diemen's Land, and the book Traveller Under Concern. The Quaker Journals of Frederick Mackie on his Tour of the Australasian Colonies 1852-1855. For more information about Mary Nicholls see the related comments on this website:

The Rayner papers include:

  • Part 1: Rayner Family (records from Besse's Compilation of Sufferings, the Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting of the Society of Friends, the London and Middelesex Quarterly Meeting of the Society of Friends) pp. 1-2
  • Part 2: William Rayner of Westminster Meeting (further quaker records and the trial) pp. 3-8
  • Part 3: William Rayner at Norfolk Island (Norfolk Island) pp. 9-10
  • Part 4: William Rayner at Newcastle (Newcastle) pp. 10-11

Mary is probably the author of the pages detailing Rayner related HRA entries in the Correspondance folder. The folder also contains a sequence of papers provided by Jean McKenzie, a descendant of Sarah Rayner and Thomas Kerr, submitted in February 1992 and which expand upon Mary's work.

Finally, there is additional material of various origin, including a copy of a page from a family bible which would appear to record the births of some of George Rayner's descendants (the miscellaneous material deals more with George than William).

Archival Resources

See the References and Styles page for a complete list of Resouces.

Secondary Resources

  • Michael Flynn: The Second Fleet, Britain's Grim Convict Armada of 1790; Library of Australian History; North Sydney, N.S.W. 2001.

Prominant Researchers

  • Daryll Rayner: The Rayner Family History; Privately Published; 1999 (This is descendants only but apparently Daryll has also written the story of the Rayner family as a narrative as well, unfortunately this has never been sighted.)
  • Lou Daniel's: The Rayner Family and The Allan Family; Privately Published; 1999 (Lou's high standard for referencing his information has been the model adopted here.)

Other Online Resources

As original material is referenced of course some of the sources recorded here will lose their prominence, thus the need to acknowledge them directly so that there assistance in re-telling the Rayner Family history will not diminish.