Explorer, guide, farmer, and government official.
Born at Cottered, Hertforshire [though his date of birth is uncertain: the 1828 Census lists him as 54 years of age (which would make his year of birth c.1774); while his death certificate in 1851 states that he was 84 years of age at his decease (which would make his year of birth c.1767).
Warby, a farm labourer, was charged with stealing two asses in October 1790 and [along with William Deards] was convicted and sentenced to seven years transportation to New South Wales. He sailed on the convict transport Pitt from Yarmouth on 17 July 1791 and arrived in Sydney on 14 February 1792. The voyage of the Pitt via the Cape Verde Islands, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town resulted in high mortality rates, with the death of 20 male and 9 female prisoners; in addition, 120 prisoners were landed sick.
By the end of 1792 Warby had been granted 50 acres of land at Prospect (5 miles from Parramatta, close to Prospect Creek at the foot of Prospect Hill). Four years later, on 12 September 1796 he married Sarah Bentley who had arrived on 30 April 1792 on board the Indispensable. She was 16 years of age and had been convicted of stealing cotton and linen goods, and as a consequence had been sentenced to 7 years transportation to New South Wales.
Warby worked hard as a small scale farmer, and by 1801 he had eight acres under wheat, thirteen acres under maize, twenty five bushels of maize in stock, and ten pigs, as well as two men, one free and one a government servant in his employ.
A year earlier their first child Edward had been born on 20 April 1800; other children followed in regular succession: William on 31 July 1801, Elizabeth on 30 September 1802, John on 3 November 1803, Benjamin on 3 March 1805, and the twins Sarah and Jane on 10 October 1806. [After 1810 the Warby household continued to grow, with the birth of at least another 16 children: in a Memorial to Governor Bourke in 1837 Warby stated that out of a family of 23 children born in wedlock, 11 had survived - all borne by his first and only wife Sarah].
Warby gained increasing respect within the colony as a guide and assistant to exploration parties in the south-western region of Sydney. In 1802 he accompanied Ensign Barrallier in his attempt to find a route along the Nattai and Kowmung Rivers and Christy's Creek across the Blue Mountains; and later, in 1806, he assisted the naturalist George Caley in his endeavours to retrace Barrallier's route. Warby had an extensive knowledge of the Camden/Appin area by the time of Macquarie's arrival in the colony; and in fact had been appointed during Governor Bligh's administration to the position of Superintendent of the wild cattle in the Cowpastures region, with responsibility for the protection and culling of the herd. As a constable at Camden, along with Thomas Harper, Warby was provided with the assistance of a military guard and a hut at Cawdor. [This hut was the first building constructed by white men in the Camden district, though the date of construction is unknown].
After Bligh's overthrow in January 1808, Lieut.-Governor William Paterson made a grant of 100 acres to Warby; however this was rescinded by Macquarie on his arrival in the colony - as were all grants issued by the military administration in the period 1808-1809.
On 22 July 1814, Macquarie authorised Warby and John Jackson to lead an armed party of twelve Europeans and four native guides to track down and capture five Aboriginals who had been identified as responsible for a recent series of attacks on white settlers (Goondel (chief of the Gandangarra tribe), Bottagallie, Murrah, Yellamun, and Wallah). The party returned without making contact. Three months later, in September 1814, Warby and several native trackers assisted a party of soldiers sent in pursuit of the bushranger Patrick Collins, who had been robbing and murdering settlers in the Hawkesbury area. They led the soldiers to Collins' hiding place and when Collins tried to escape the Aboriginal trackers speared him in the leg and arm - he was overpowered and brought to trial in Sydney.
Although instructed to assist the party of soldiers sent out in April 1816, under the command of Captain Wallis, to take prisoner any natives that they met, Warby refused to assist. The native guides, Boodbury and Bundell, absconded when they discovered the purpose of the expedition, and Warby absented himself from the party soon after - fearing that it would compromise his credibility and favourable relationship with the tribes of the Sydney region.
On 20 June 1816 Macquarie granted Warby 260 acres of fertile land in the district of Airds (on the site of present day Campbelltown). It is unclear as to when Warby and his large family moved there, though there is strong circumstantial evidence to suggest that this took place soon afterwards: there are baptismal records for five of their children listed for 11 August 1816 at St. Luke's Anglican Church at Liverpool; records listing Warby as liable for the delivery of fresh meat to the Government Stores at Liverpool on 23 November 1816; as well as a warning in the Sydney Gazette on 11 May 1816 that cautioned people against trespassing on the farm at Prospect known as 'Warby's Farm'. Among Warby's neighbours at Airds was his fellow accomplice William Deards (with whom he had been convicted of theft in 1791) who had a 30 acre grant.
Warby's involvement in the provision of fresh meat to the Government Stores continued as a lucrative source of income - with deliveries of 2,500 lbs of meat in August 1817 and again in March 1818.
By 1826 Warby had built a house, granary, barn, stables, storeroom, and a hut for assigned labourers and had acquired extensive land holdings. On 18 October, he applied for an additional grant of land without purchase, stating in his Memorial that he currently held 400 acres of land by grant, 400 by purchase (300 of which were cleared or under tillage), owned 120 head of cattle and 100 pigs, and employed and maintained eight convict servants.
Warby died on 12 June 1851 at Spring Valley near Campbelltown. His wife Sarah lived on until 19 October 1869. At the time of John Warby's death there were eleven surviving children: William (1801-1885), Elizabeth (1802-1984), Benjamin (1805-1880), Jane (1806-1876), Sarah (1806-1893), Charles Cable (1810-1876), Mary Ann (1813-1904), Robert George (1814-1853), Eliza (1815-1896), James (1817-1899), and Joseph (1818-1899). Three of his children predeceased him: Edward (1800-1804), John (1803-1826), Richard (1821- died as an infant).