Researching the James Squire story

Okay, yeah, so I’ve written another book. And it’s not entirely about beer.

It’s a biography of James Squire. I mean the First Fleet convict turned beer brewer (and a stack of other things) and not the beer brand.

The spark for the book came while I was researching and writing my first book, The Slab. That one has a few chapters on Squire and I found I was getting fascinated by his story. Because of that I’d done a heap of research into his life that never appeared in The Slab – if it did the three Squire chapters would have been three or four times longer than the others. And I think we can all agree that would have just been stupid.

Still, it took me a while to come around to writing a biography. I thought, “come on, who am I to tackle something like that?” What made me come around was the fact that I wanted to read a bio of James Squire. No one else seemed to be doing that. And I had all this research that I’d already done. So I figured “if not me, then who?”

And so I went back into the study at home and started bashing words into the laptop. Just over a year later we have the result – 250-pages of Squire-related goodness.

Like The Slab, it’s a mix of booze, history and (hopefully) humour. If I was being completely honest, it’s probably a bit more “history-ey” than The Slab. But the aim is still not to be boring – which is easy when you get to include stories like the British soldier who tried to acquire an Aboriginal child by offering his hat as a trade (true story!).

As this attests, there are non-Squire related stories in the book. I included them because they were interesting and because there just isn’t enough Squire facts to fill a whole book by itself.

That said, there is still plenty of interesting Squire facts. For example, he didn’t swipe the ingredients to brew beer – at least not according to my reading of the trial transcript. He seems have put down an alias on the birth certificate of one of his daughters. He might not have been the first person to grow hops in Australia either.

Mind blown? Well then you probably should buy a copy of the book. If I didn’t write it, I’d be buying a copy myself.

So head off to this page to buy one. Or you can head here and admire the website for my micro-publishing company Last Day of School.



If Squire was a chick flick fan he may well have viewed the events of Monday April 11, 1785, as a sliding doors moment. If you don’t get that chick flick reference I totally understand. Sliding Doors was a film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and, really, no one needs to remember any of her films. Not even that one where she won an Oscar for a level of hammy acting not seen from anyone who isn’t Porky Pig. Basically this day was when one door closed for Squire but another opened.

That Monday in April 1785 was the day the law came down on Squire. At the incredibly longwindedly named General Sessions of the Peace for the Town and Hundred of Kingston upon Thames he was sentenced to seven years’ transportation. His crime, was highway robbery, and his haul was “four cocks, five hens and divers [and] other goods and chattels the property of John Stacey”. Yeah, he stole some chickens.

According to Mollie Gillen’s book The Founders, this Mr Stacey had just moved into Heathen Street, which meant Squire had ripped off his neighbour. That’s not a smart move at the best of times, let alone when you’ve swiped an animal that likes to crow all the time.

Stacey: Good morning, James. I hear you’ve got some roosters in the backyard.
Squire: Umm, yes.
Stacey: That’s an interesting coincidence, for until recently I too had some roosters in my backyard. Funny how I lost mine at exactly the same time you got yours.
Squire: Yes, yes it is. Hey, John, look over there. [Squire runs away]

Much has been made of Squire’s astonishingly bad luck when it comes to committing crime. He does it twice (including the 1774 charge) and gets pinged both times. But stop to think about this for a minute.

Doesn’t it seem a little odd for Squire to commit just two crimes a decade apart? Doesn’t it seem weird that, one day in April, Squire just out of the blue decides to steal some chickens? If you ask me, the answer to those questions is yes. We only know of these two instances (assuming the first charge even happened) because he was nabbed and appeared in court. An absence of any charges in the years between 1774 and 1785 isn’t proof that he committed no other crimes. Indeed, it’s just as likely that he committed other crimes in that period but was never caught.

Maybe I’m a bit of a skeptic but I lean towards the latter possibility; that Squire could have been guilty of more than just the two crimes we know of. He was managing an inn for a number of years that was reportedly the home of smugglers and other dodgy types. Keeping that sort of company makes it a bit hard to swallow that Squire managed to keep his nose clean for a decade and then woke up one morning and decided “bugger it, I’m going to steal my neighbour’s chooks”.

The idea that he committed only two crimes in his life, separated by a decade, and was so incredibly unlucky as to get busted both times is also a bit hard to swallow.



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