Francis Andrews: A Personal Story

The following is a personal story of a convict that spent some time in Queensland as reconstructed from sources found at Queensland State Archives and online. 

            My name is Francis Andrews. This is the story of my journey by boat to Australia, and to Moreton Bay, which one day would be known as Queensland. My story begins in Africa, but nobody knows in which area I grew up, or what my life was like there. I have left no record of how and why I arrived in England from the great continent of Africa. Nevertheless, at the age of twenty-two I found myself in London and in big trouble.

            On 12 August 1820, I was on Carey Street with a friend when a man carrying a bundle asked us where Searle’s Coffee House was.[1] This man was William Clutterham, who was the servant of Mr John Banks, a tailor.[2] In his bundle was a waistcoat and coat he was delivering to Mr Winford at the coffee house.[3] We told him we were also on our way to the coffee house and would show him the way.[4]I signalled my friend and then snatched the bundle and ran away.[5] Clutterham yelled, ‘Stop thief!’[6] A Mr Andrew Rogers testified against me saying, ‘I live in Hemlock Court. I heard the alarm – the prisoner ran by – I jostled him, and he dropped the bundle; I picked it up – he was stopped in a moment’.[7] And like that I was caught. I was indicted for the theft of the coat and waistcoat valued at £4 10s.[8] In the Old Bailey, Fourth Middlesex Jury, before Mr Common Sergeant, on Friday 15 September, Mr Clutterham and Mr Rogers testified against me and I was found guilty of pocket-picking and sentenced to transportation for life.[9]

Sometime from the 3 and 9 May 1821 I left Portsmouth on the ship Grenada II, under the master And[rew]. Donald, heading for Australia with 151 other convicts.[10] We were at sea for just over four months, and all managed to survive the journey.[11] These were awful months on the ship. Eventually we arrived in Port Jackson, New South Wales on 16 September 1821.[12] Despite my already long journey from Africa, I was scared of this new place; it was different from England and the plants and animals where very different from anything I had seen in England and even Africa. Once in Australia all my vital details were recorded in the Chronological Register of Convicts.[13] They stated that I was 5 feet 6.75 inches tall, thirty years old, a Blackman and that I was a servant by trade.[14] It is in this record that the only reference to my place of origin – Africa – is made.[15] I was given a prisoner number. From then on, in my new country I would be identified by my name, my number and the ship I had arrived on.

After five years in Sydney, I found myself in trouble with the law again and got my first mention in the newspaper. The Sydney Gazette published on the 13 May 1826 stated I was a

prisoner of the crown, charged with stealing from the box of a blind man, a prisoner in the Barracks, sundry articles of wearing apparel, found on the person of the prisoner [me!], who did not deny the charge. Sentenced to penal settlement for 3 years.[16]

So my Chronological Record entry was amended to include that I was, before the General Sessions, sentenced to three years for stealing wearing apparel.[17] And with this my long journey continued, as I was made ready to travel to Moreton Bay. I arrived in Moreton Bay on 22 September 1826 and I spent three years there; finally returning to Sydney in 1829.[18]

Unfortunately, I was not very good at staying out of trouble, as my account so far proves. After being back in Sydney for less than a year, I found myself before the court again. On 1 October 1829 I was convicted by the Criminal Court for stealing from the house of John Hosking.[19] Once again, I was on my way to the Penal Colony of Moreton Bay. Travelling on the Amity we arrived at our destination on 9 December 1829.[20] While in Moreton Bay I was admitted to the Brisbane General Hospital for ‘Vulnus’ – which is really Latin doctor-talk for a wound.[21] I was admitted on 18 November 1831, aged twenty-seven.[22] According to Australian record keeping, I was younger now than when I arrived ten years previously. I was in hospital for twelve days and my wound was treated first with cataplasm, more doctor-talk meaning poultice, and then with various numbered ‘curatios’ – which just meant different treatments.[23] For my entire stay in the hospital I only received half portions of our daily food rations, possibly because I was not working.[24] Eventually I was discharged on 30 November 1831, and while the status of my injury was not recorded at the time of my discharge, it must have been okay, because I did not need to go back to hospital.[25] After that I was able (possibly for the first time in my life) to keep my head down and get my time done and after seven years at Moreton Bay I went back to Sydney on 12 November 1836.[26]

At this point my life becomes difficult to follow in record form, possibly because I managed to keep myself out of trouble and so had less contact with the authorities and the newspapers. At some point after my return from Moreton Bay I was granted a ticket of leave for the district of Port Macquarie, however, this was cancelled due to my absence from the area in 1851.[27] After my ticket of leave was cancelled I turned over a new leaf, and as such cannot be found in the newspapers or official records again until 1873. On Saturday 7 June 1873 the Empire reported, ‘Francis Andrews, a coloured man, stealing slabs, not guilty’.[28] I was the only person in the report of whom a physical description was added, and this report is only the second recoverable document that records my race. After this brief interaction with the law I fade once again into obscurity, with the end of my long and perilous journey, which started in Africa, remaining a mystery.

Tess Cohen


[1] Old Bailey Proceedings Online “September 1820, trial of FRANCIS ANDREWS”, last updated April 2012, http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18200918-220-defend2136&div=t18200918-220#highlight.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Public Record Office, England Convict Indents H.O. 11/4, the 1828 New South Wales Census and New South Wales Early Church Records in History Australia, “Grenada 1821,” Convict Stockade, last modified, 29 April 2012,http://www.historyaustralia.org.au/twconvic/Grenada+1821.

[11] History Australia, “Grenada 1821,” Convict Stockade, (last modified, 29 April 2012), http://www.historyaustralia.org.au/twconvic/Grenada+1821.

[12] New South Wales Government. State Records, “Chronological list of Convict Ships arriving at Port Jackson 1788-1849, and Item list of the various Papers for each vessel”, 14, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/documents/publications/Convict%20ships%20to%20NSW.

[13] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, description section at the end under “A” and 5.

[14] Ibid., Description section at the end under “A”.

[15] Ibid., page 5.

[16] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales : 1803 – 1842), 13 May 1826, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2185811.

[17] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 5

[18] Ibid.

[20] Queensland State Archives, Index by Ship – Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839, 53.

[21] Queensland State Archives, Item ID2896, Register of cases and treatment – Moreton Bay Hospital, Case book 16/11/1831-27/1/1833, folio 7.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.; Free Settler or Felon?, “19th Century Medical Terms,”http://www.jenwilletts.com/19thCenturyMedical.htm.

[24] Queensland State Archives, Item ID2896, Register of cases and treatment, folio 7.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 57.

[27] New South Wales Government. State Records, “Convict Index”,http://srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/indexes/searchhits.aspx?table=Convict%20Index&id=65&frm=1&query=Surname:andrews; Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales : 1842 – 1954), 15 May 1851 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12927095.

[28] Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), 7 June 1873, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63231258.

Daniel Scannell: A Personal Story

The following is a personal story of a convict that spent some time in Queensland as reconstructed from sources found at Queensland State Archives and online.

            I am Daniel Scannell and I was one of the youngest convicts to ever be sent to Moreton Bay [Queensland]. My life was short and violent and it began in 1817 in Ireland.[1] On 24 of August in Cork City, aged just thirteen, I was convicted of ‘privately stealing and stealing wearing apparel’ and sentenced to seven years in Australia.[2] Unfortunately it seems that any record of this trial has long since been lost. I find this very regrettable because as you can guess from my age and sentence it would have been a thrilling read. A thirteen-year-old boy does not get sent across the world by himself without a good reason, or at least you would like to think not. I left Cork, Ireland for New South Wales, Australia on 1 January 1830 on board the Forth I, with David Padfoot as the master and William Clifford as surgeon.[3] We were at sea for 115 days, during which three male prisoners died of dysentery and the rest of us finally arrived in New South Wales on 26 April 1830.[4]

A muster was taken by Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay on board theForth I on 28 April 1830 and our details were recorded in the Principal Superintendent of Convicts, Bound Indents for the period 1829-1830.[5] And as such I was recorded to be the 21st convict from the Forth I and the 606th convict to arrive in New South Wales in 1830.[6] When I arrived they recorded I was from Cork City, Catholic, Single, and an Errand Boy, aged thirteen and 4 feet 6 inches tall.[7] They also put down the basic details of the conviction that resulted in my transportation to Australia.[8] Crucially, for me, they noted that I had been put in an Iron Gang. [9]

My initial stay in Sydney was brief. It was only a few months before I found myself before the Court of Magistery at Hyde Park Barracks with J. Bowman J. P. and William Macpherson J. P. presiding.[10] On 3 November 1830 I had run away from Carter Barracks and entered the shop of one Mark in Hunter Street where I stole ‘numerous articles of wearing apparel’, to use the words of their Honourable Justices.[11] However, I did not get far. On 24 November 1830 the Sydney Monitorreported that I ‘Scannell Daniel, Forth, from Carters’ Barracks’, had been apprehended during the past week.[12] This report was in fact slightly out of date because I had already been brought before the court on 15 November.[13] In a letter to the Colonial Secretary, dated 17 November 1830, the Justices wrote:

the Bench therefore sentenced him to be transported to such Penal Settlement as His Excellency The Governor may be pleased to Direct for Three years, in the mean time he has been sent on Board the Phoenix Hulk to await His Excellency’s command.[14]

It turns out his Excellency sent me to Moreton Bay and after a long stay on the Phoenix Hulk I arrived there on 1 January 1831 on board the Governor Phillip.[15]At some point, my Bound Indent record was amended to include my latest escapades and it then stated that my three years in the penal colony would be in addition to my original sentence, not part of it, so I was now looking at a total of ten years in Australia.[16] However, very excitingly, for me anyway, I had grown! I was now recorded as standing 5 feet and 2 inches tall.[17] And so, exactly one year after leaving Cork, I found myself slightly taller and in the penal colony of Moreton Bay.

Once again my details were recorded, this time in the Chronological Register of Convicts, held at Moreton Bay. Here they had my original conviction as larceny and my trade in Cork as a labourer.[18] They recorded that I was fair and freckled with brown hair and hazel eyes.[19] They gave me the prisoner number 2246 and in the remarks merely said ‘to Norfolk Island’.[20] It appears that no record remains indicating why and when I was sent to Norfolk. That being the case, I am not telling either! Unlike my first stint in Sydney, I did manage to stay in Moreton Bay for over two years more before trying to escape. The penal colony was brutal and harsh and by 1833 I had had enough. On 23 April 1833 the Book of Monthly Returns of Prisoners Maintained recorded that I had run away.[21] This time I was not alone: I was accompanied by Patrick Ryan, a labourer of theFlorentia; James Ferrell, a blacksmith off the Countess Harcourt; and William Puckeridge, a native labourer.[22] Once again my freedom was short lived. In a letter to the Colonial Secretary dated 22 May 1833, my fellow runaways and I were named and he was assured that we had ‘embarked on board the Cutter Fairy for conveyance to Sydney’.[23] Strangely, my name was misspelt in this letter and my ship misidentified, but it would be a stretch to think it was not me and all the others named were the same people I was reported to have absconded with. We were not alone on board the cutter but were accompanied by many others, including special constables and witnesses for the prosecution.[24]

So began the most infamous part of my short life. Some time after I arrived back in Sydney, I have forgotten exactly when, I was assigned to the free settler Davis of Punch Bowl Road, and I conducted myself to the satisfaction of my master.[25] Punch Bowl Road and the nearby Parramatta Road were known to house ‘dens of infamy’ and it was in one of these roadside stops that I met William Carter, John Barlow and James Bryant.[26] In this group there was a convict (me), two natives and a free man.[27] In 1835 we formed a highway robbery gang and worked in the Liverpool Road area.[28] We undertook a series of highway robberies, the Sydney Gazette later stating that there was ‘strong suspicion’ that we were being harboured, stating that ‘otherwise it would have been impossible so long to elude the vigilance of the horse police’.[29] On 1 May 1835 we robbed Captain Clarke and Mr Manning on Parramatta Road, taking their money and watches; this turned out to be a very bad move on our part.[30] Our crime was splashed across the newspapers. On 3 May 1835 we were apprehended in the most embarrassing way, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertise reporting:

the prisoners were in the bush near Duck River Bridge, evidently waiting a chance to commit a robbery; only two men of the horse police accidentally encountered them. They had five stand[s] of arms, two double barrelled pistols – and yet they surrendered without offering the least resistance, so powerful does the terror of this body of men operate – When they were secured the soldiers searched about, and at the spot where they took them, the watch of Captain Clarke, and other property, was discovered.[31]

We were caught by accident, we surrendered instantly, and we had incriminating evidence on us. On 9 May we were indicted before the Chief Justice and a civil jury.[32] We were found guilty and sentenced to death, despite Captain Clark stating that he hoped that ‘as no actual violence was used, mercy would be shown to the prisoners’.[33] The Chief Justice is reported to have said in passing the sentence that ‘the prisoners had been convicted in such evidence as entirely took away any anxiety or doubt from his mind, as well as from the mind of the Jury’.[34] On 26 May, attended by Rev. Mr Cowper, I was executed pursuant to my sentence and so ended my time in Australia aged just eighteen years old.[35]

Tess Cohen


[1] State Records (formerly Archives Office i.e. AO) of New South Wales – AO Fiche No 675 Fiche 2 of 3, Principal Superintendent of Convicts Bound Indents 1829-1830 (4/4015) 81 in Peter Mayberry, “Daniel Scannell,” Irish Convicts to New South Wales 1788-1849, http://members.pcug.org.au/~ppmay/cgi-bin/irish/irish.cgi?requestType=Search2&id=26488.

[2] Ibid.

[3] New South Wales Government. State Records, “Chronological list of Convict Ships arriving at Port Jackson 1788-1849, and Item list of the various Papers for each vessel”, 242, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/documents/publications/Convict%20ships%20to%20NSW.

[4] Ibid; New South Wales Government. State Records, “Chronological list of Convict Ships,”. 242.

[5] Free Settler or Felon, “Forth I,”http://www.jenwilletts.com/ConvictShipsFG.htm#Forth1

[6] State Records (formerly Archives Office i.e. AO) of New South Wales – AO Fiche No 675 Fiche 2 of 3, Principal Superintendent of Convicts Bound Indents 1829-1830 (4/4015) 81 in Peter Mayberry, “Daniel Scannell,”, Irish Convicts to New South Wales 1788-1849, http://members.pcug.org.au/~ppmay/cgi-bin/irish/irish.cgi?requestType=Search2&id=26488.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] State Library Queensland, “New South Wales- Colonial Secretary Letters received relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland Received 1822-1860,”  Reel A2.5 (Letters received 1830-1831), 393-4.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Sydney Monitor (New South Wales : 1828 – 1838), 24 November 1830, 3,http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32074569.

[13] State Library Queensland, Reel A2.5 (Letters received 1830-1831), 393-4.

[14]  Ibid.

[15] Queensland State Archives, Index by Ship – Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839, 47.

[16] State Records (formerly Archives Office i.e. AO) of New South Wales – AO Fiche No 675 Fiche 2 of 3, Principal Superintendent of Convicts Bound Indents 1829-1830 (4/4015) 81 in Peter Mayberry, Daniel Scannell, Irish Convicts to New South Wales 1788-1849, http://members.pcug.org.au/~ppmay/cgi-bin/irish/irish.cgi?requestType=Search2&id=2648.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 70.

[19] Ibid., Description section at the end under “S”.

[20] Ibid., 70.

[21] Queensland State Archives, Item ID869688, Returns – Prisoners, 90.

[22] Ibid.

[23] State Library Queensland, “New South Wales – Colonial Secretary Letters received relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland Received 1822-1860,” Reel A2.7 (Letters received 1832-1833) 711-2.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Sydney Herald (New South Wales : 1831 – 1842), 28 May 1835, 2-3,http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12852266.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Australian (Sydney, New South Wales : 1824 – 1848), 5 May 1835, 2,http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42004778.

[29] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales : 1803 – 1842), 5 May 1835, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2198052.

[30] The Colonist (Sydney, New South Wales : 1835 – 1840), 7 May 1835, 4- 5,http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31716478.

[31] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 May 1835, 2.

[32] Sydney Monitor (New South Wales : 1828 – 1838), 13 May 1835, 3,http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32148896.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Sydney Herald, 28 May 1835, 2-3; The Colonist (Sydney, New South Wales : 1835 – 1840), 28 May 1835, 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31716562.

Cornelius Wilbee: A Personal Story

The following is a personal story of a convict that spent some time in Queensland as reconstructed from sources found at Queensland State Archives and online.

I was born Cornelius Wilbee, in Northamptonshire, in 1804.[1] My childhood and upbringing remain unrecorded but were typical of a boy growing up during the very early nineteenth century in England. However, my life did not remain this uneventful. In March of the year 1826, aged twenty-one, myself, John King, Thomas Jakeman and Charles Hudson were convicted of stealing linen cloth valued at £3 6s at the Quarter Sessions for the City of Oxford.[2] We were sentenced to seven years transportation.[3] I did not see my accomplices again as we were transported separately.[4] I left England from Portsmouth on the 16 October 1826 onboard the Midas II, under the command of Captain James Baigrie, with the Surgeon Superintendent James Morice.[5] It was a rough journey during which three prisoners and two soldiers died and another solider was grievously injured, but finally after 122 days at sea we arrived in Port Jackson on the 15 February 1827.[6] I had arrived in Australia were I would remain for the rest of my life, starting a family and owning land there.

            Once in New South Wales I was assigned to work on Col Stewart’s farm as a convict labourer. Due to my trade as a boot and shoemaker, I believe I was a highly desirable commodity for those applying for convict labourers.[7] By the 7 July 1828, I had had enough and absconded from the farm with John Whitehead.[8]My running away did not go unnoticed, and it was repeatedly reported in the media until I was apprehended.[9] The report ran as follows and included a non-too-flattering physical description, ‘The undermentioned Prisoners having absconded…Webber or Wilbee Cornelius, No. 27-75, Midas, 24, Shoemaker, Northampton, 5 feet 2 inches, light brown eyes, light brown hair, sallow comp from Col. Stewart’s Farm’.[10] These advertisements proved effective and I was apprehended and brought before the Bathurst General Sessions.[11] Here I was found guilty of absconding and felony and sentenced to three years in the penal colony of Moreton Bay.[12] This was recorded not only in the Chronological Register of Convicts but also in the New South Wales Census of 1828.[13] During my secondary transportation to Moreton Bay I was placed in the role of government shoemaker in the colony; it was not uncommon for us convicts to be employed in positions related to our previous trades.[14] However, once again this was not to last, and when the opportunity arouse I made a run for it. A letter to the Colonial Secretary, dated the 29 August 1829, reported that:

William Daniels states on the 28th day at last in his capacity as clerk of the public works he mustered the mechanics tools and found all present and further on learning Cornelius Wilbee had absconded the Government shoemakers he again mustered his tools and found one knife and one Grigger deficient. He has no doubt but they were taken by C. Wilbee after the Saturday morning muster.[15]

The exact nature of my inevitable apprehension and punishment does not survive in the records.

Some time after my break for freedom in Moreton Bay, indeed, after I had returned to Sydney, I was assigned to the free-settler W. H. Warlan.[16] TheSydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser mentioned me again in an advertisement stating, ‘Return of all convicts assigned and transferred between the 1st and 31st days of July, 1832, Inclusive: 2648. Wilbee Cornelius, Midas, boot and shoemaker, to W. H. Warland, Upper Hunter’.[17] My skills as a boot and shoemaker must have been really something for me to continue to be assigned to free settlers rather than being put in an iron gang after my repeated attempts to run away. Despite all the excitement of my time as a convict, on 23 May 1833 I was granted a Certificate of Freedom and once again my name was in the papers, this time announcing my new status within the colony.[18] Due to some document problems with my original Certificate of Freedom it was reissued on the 20 January 1841.[19]

My new freedom within the colony allowed me many more opportunities and in 1847 I was once again in the papers, this time reporting my marriage to Mary Flora Melanophy, nee McIntosh.[20] The paper read, ‘Married – At St. Mary’s Church, West Maitland, on the 19th instant, Mr. Cornelius Wilbee, to Miss Mary Melanophy, both of West Maitland’.[21]Mary was fifteen years my junior and had previously been married to Michael Richard Melanophy.[22] Michael and Mary had two daughters, Susannah Melanophy and Sarah M. Melanophy, before Michael passed away in 1845 in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia.[23] Once we were married, Mary and I had a daughter of our own on the 4 January 1849 and named her Amelia Flora Wilbee.[24] Amelia later married George Thorn and had fifteen children of her own, making my extended family tree large and widespread in Australia.[25] In 1852 I made a large step forward in my life; on the 26 May I bought land in Australia, totalling 2 root and 38 perches, Lot 10.[26] This foothold in my adopted country was in Grafton, Clarence and cost me £5 18s.[27]

Despite our large family of descendants, my marriage with Mary was not always a happy one. On 20 September 1854 I placed a notice in the paper that read, ‘Notice – Cornelius Wilbee no longer responsible for any debts contracted by his wife Mary Wilbee, she having parted from him without any provocation’.[28] This separation was not the last of our woes, nor was it the worst. In May 1859 I was accused of stabbing my wife with malicious intent, indicted for the offence and entered the New South Wales Goal.[29] Originally, Mary refused to testify against me and the prosecution applied to the court for my trial to be postponed until the next Quarter Sessions.[30] However, her loyalty did not last and on 5 November 1859 it was reported that my trial was set to be held at the Quarter Sessions of the Armidale Bench ‘Monday next’. [31] The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser reported Mary’s version of events, stating that:

 She deposed that on Monday, 2nd May, she and her husband had a few glasses together when (through jealousy) he threatened to ‘do for her’. In the evening, as she was lying on the sofa he came up to her and after requesting her to go to bed stabbed her in the side; she told him to put the knife away and she would forgive him, but…he stabbed her twice more, when she screamed for assistance. Subsequently she ran out of the door into Mrs Redmond’s, and shortly after arriving there fell from faintness. Her husband followed her thither, but she could not say whether he then had a knife in his hand…she said that the row continued about 10 o’clock at night or later, Smith, Wilbee’s journeyman, was within at the time, the cause of the quarrel she believed to be jealousy concerning him; she has never said she would ‘settle his old man’ and slope with the ‘youth who bought her silks and satins’ she did not even know the name of the shop maker, and if he was at Redmond’s when Wilbee came, he was on the floor, speechless; she would positively swear her husband stabbed her after the light was blown out.[32]

However, my defence lawyer argued that it was dark at the time she sustained the injury, and given that myself and my journeyman were in the house at the time, it was impossible for her to know at whose hand she sustained her wounds.[33] Any record of the conclusion of this case has not survived the intervening years. Mary eventually died in Wellingrove, New South Wales, in 1867 and on 21 December 1822 it was recorded that, ‘Letter of Administration of the late Mary Wilbee, wife of Cornelius Wilbee both of Inverell, to be granted to Cornelius Wilbee, widower’.[34]I survived Mary for a good number of years, only dying on 3 April 1844 in Macquarie St Asylum, Parramatta, New South Wales.[35] Having been sent to Australia as a convict, all alone in the world at the age of twenty-one, I died there a husband, father and grandfather and the owner of land at the age of eighty.

Tess Cohen


[1] Butts of Certificates of Freedom. NRS 12210, reels 604, 982-1027. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, in Ancestry.com. “New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1827-1867,” 1833, 410,http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=CertFreedom&h=20133&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1689.

[2] Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class:HO9; Piece: 8. in Ancestry.com. “UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849,” 1826 108, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=PrisonRegisters&h=92699&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1180; Class: HO 11; Piece: 6. in Ancestry.com, “Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868”, 1826, 91,  bin/sse.dll?h=46549&db=AusConvictOthers&indiv=try

[3] Ibid.

[4] UK, Prison Hulk Registers, 1826, 108

[5] Free Settler or Felon, “Midas 1826,”,http://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ships_m2.htm#Midas 1827.

[6] Ibid.

[7] 1828 “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser(NSW : 1803 – 1842), 7 July, p. 4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2190692.

[8] Free Settler or Felon, ‘Cornelius Wilbee’,,http://www.jenwilletts.com/searchaction.php.

[9] 1828 “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser(NSW : 1803 – 1842), 7 July, p. 4 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2190692; 1828 “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 14 July 1828, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2190734; 1828 “Classified Advertising,”,Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 21 July, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2190766.

[10] Ibid. [to which is she referring?]

[11] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 31.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Home Office: Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania; (The National Archives Microfilm Publication HO10, Pieces 21-28); The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England in Ancestry.com. “1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (TNA Copy)”, 292, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?h=226454&db=HO101828census&indiv=try.

[14] Mamie O’Keefe, “A Report on Missing Tools and other items – Moreton Bay Settlement, 1829,”, Queensland Heritage 3, no. 2 (year): 7–11,http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/article/0f64be90d1eb2b9911c2797ec9c98fe2

[15] State Library Queensland, “NSW – Colonial Secretary Letters relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland Received 1822-1860”, Reel A2.4 (Letters received 1829), 28 August 1829, 326.

[16] 1832 “Classified Advertising,”,Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser(NSW : 1803 – 1842), 27 September, 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2208724.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Butts of Certificates of Freedom. NRS 12210, reels 604, 982-1027. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, in Ancestry.com. “New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1827-1867,” 1833, 410,http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=CertFreedom&h=20133&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1689; 1833 “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser(NSW : 1803 – 1842), 23 May, 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2212143; 1833 “Certificates Of Freedom,”, Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 – 1842), 27 May, 4,http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12846877.

[19] Butts of Certificates of Freedom. NRS 12210, reels 604, 982-1027. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales in Ancestry.com. “New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1827-1867”, 1841, 99,http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=CertFreedom&h=20133&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1989.

[20] Ancestry, “Mary Flora McIntosh (1818-1867)”,http://records.ancestry.com/Mary_Flora_McIntosh_records.ashx?pid=102381602.

[21] 1847 “Family Notices,” Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser(NSW : 1843 – 1893), 21 July, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article691666.

[22] O’Maolanfaidh Clan – Forum, “All Forums – Melanaphey-Malanaphey- Mal/Mel/Mol/Muls Down Under,” (online discussion forum, beginning 1 March 2003), http://www.malanaphyfamily.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=42; Ancestry, “Mary Flora McIntosh (1818-1867)”,http://records.ancestry.com/Mary_Flora_McIntosh_records.ashx?pid=102381602.

[23] Ancestry, “Michael Richard Melanophy (1820-1845),”http://records.ancestry.com/Michael_Richard_Melanophy_records.ashx?pid=186063431.

[24] Ancestry, “Mary Flora McIntosh (1818-1867),”http://records.ancestry.com/Mary_Flora_McIntosh_records.ashx?pid=102381602.

[25] Ancestry, “Amelia Flora Wilbee (1849 – 1927),”http://records.ancestry.com/Amelia_Flora_Wilbee_records.ashx?pid=13866598.

[26] State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia; Returns of the Colony (‘Blue Books’), 1822-1857; Collection Number: Series 1286; Publication Year:1851. in Ancestry.com. “New South Wales, Australia, Returns of the Colony, 1822-1857,” 1852, 688-9, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=NSWBlueBooks&h=27402&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1779.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Free Settler or Felon, “Cornelius Wilbee,”http://www.jenwilletts.com/searchaction.php.

[29] 1859 “New England,” Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser(NSW: 1843 – 1893), 19 May, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18643898; State Archives NSW; Kingswood, New South Wales; Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930; Item: 2/2017; Roll: 759 in Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930 1859, K22,http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=NSWGaolDescriptionBooks&h=328739&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1689.

[30] 1859 “Maitland Quarter Sessions,” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 11 August, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1302903.

[31] 1859 “Maitland Quarter Sessions,” Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), 5 November, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18650571.

[32] 1859, “NEW ENGLAND,”, 19 May, 3. [is this reference complete?]

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ancestry.com. “Australia Death Index, 1787-1985,” 1867, Registration No. 2869,http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=AusDeathIndex&h=4400937&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1780; Free Settler or Felon, “Cornelius Wilbee,”http://www.jenwilletts.com/searchaction.php.

Sheik Brown: A Personal Story

Of all the convicts that were sent to Moreton Bay, Sheik Brown, also known as ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Marridaio’ would have to be one of the more unconventional. If only for the fact that he did not spend much time there, absconding on more than one occasion for lengths of time stretching anywhere between a couple of days to several years. Although evidence of his life is fragmentary, we can tell that he was an intelligent, rebellious and charismatic character, who defied and bamboozled the colonial authorities. Sheik Brown’s interactions with other convicts, colonists and indigenous Australians provides a fascinating glimpse into untold and almost forgotten stories of life in early colonial Queensland. Although Sheik Brown makes several anecdotal appearances in various historical studies, this  first systematic study, with the aid of digital archives of records and newspapers, sheds new light on his life.

Sheik Brown’s early life remains obscure, but we do know he was born in India around 1802.[1] Where precisely is not so clear, however indications point towards somewhere around Surat or Bombay on the west coast of the Indian subcontinent.[2] It is most likely that he was born into a Muslim family, as his name and written language suggests.[3] We know even less about his childhood and youth, except for the fact that some time before 1824 he made his way to London. This seems not to be too unusual, with several cases of Indian sailors or ‘lascars’, as they were known, settling in London and turning up in the records, sometimes like Sheik, for the wrong reasons.[4]

We can, however, speculate that he was involved in some way in the Napoleonic Wars as some? years later, although as part of an alias, it was revealed he could speak some French and had knowledge of the French controlled Isle de Bourbon off the coast of Africa.[5]

Sheik Brown’s first appearance in the records is in 1824, where he, aged twenty-two, is arrested and convicted for theft at the Old Bailey criminal court in London.[6] According to the Criminal Register, however, this was not the first time he had offended, with a remark in the margin stating ‘In Newgate before’, indicating that he had already been in prison.[7] According to the trial records, Sheik had been living in a ‘depot for the reception of black men’ run by a merchant named Francis Robinson who lived in an adjoining house. In testimony given by William Green, a clerk, to Francis Robinson, he accused Sheik Brown of having stolen from his room which was also in the depot:

On the 5th of March there was nobody but the prisoner and one more man there, and about seven o’clock that morning I missed from my room a blue great coat, two coats, two pairs of trowsers, four waistcoats, a pair of breeches and gaiters, a towel, two black silk handkerchiefs, two pairs of white cotton stockings, five leather gloves, two sovereigns, and six shillings. I had seen them all safe the morning before, about twelve o’clock. I locked my door then, and found it locked in the evening when I went to bed, but the key went very hard. I did not then miss the things, as I did not look for them. About eight o’clock on the morning after I missed them, I saw the prisoner in the depot washing himself.

Whilst this was probably not enough to convict Sheik, the evidence given by the shopkeepers and pawnbroker who had bought Mr Green’s clothing from Sheik, however, settled the case. Mrs Douglas Towns, who lived in her tobacconist father’s shop, told the court:

The prisoner used to come there to buy snuff, and on Thursday the 4th of March, between two and three o’clock, he came with a great coat and waistcoat to sell. I bought them of him for 7 s. I produce them. He came back again with some things in a towel, and asked if I could get them washed; he had a pair of breeches, a pair of gaiters, five gloves, and a towel. I said I would wash them for nothing, as I had bought the other things. I gave them to the officer on Friday.

John Dawson an apprentice pawnbroker claimed to have ‘two coats which the prisoner pawned on the 4th of March in the evening for 8 s., in the name of Jack Brown’. However, when Sheik tried to sell ‘three waistcoats and a pair of trowsers’ to David Gidgeon, Gidgeon’s suspicions were raised when ‘he [Sheik] said he wanted money, and had no use for them’ and handed them over to James Beechley, who had already collected the stolen property from Mrs Townes. Beechley told the court, ‘When I apprehended the prisoner I found 17 s. 6 d. sewed up in his drawers. I had asked if he had any money – he said he had only 2 d’. The combined value of what Sheik had stolen was 101 shillings, an estimated modern equivalent of five thousand pounds.[8] Indeed, the theft was deemed serious enough for Sheik, aged only twenty-two, to be sentenced to death. This, along with the other court proceedings, was communicated to him via a translator, and no doubt came as a shock regardless of what language he understood it in. However, in this case being a ‘foreigner’ counted in his favour, with him ‘Recommended to Mercy’ on account of ‘being a foreigner’. However, Sheik was seemingly not yet out from the shadow of death, the London Times on 15 April 1824 reporting how Sheik and several other convicts were brought before a judge who sentenced them to death, issuing them a stern warning that not all their petitions for mercy could be agreed to and that ‘if any of them received a transmutation of their sentence, it would still be on the condition (which might be considered a hard one under other circumstances) of their final separation from their country and friends’. The judge recommended that:

Whatever might be the result of the petitions of their friends here, there was a throne at which petitions for mercy were never offered in vain. He therefore implored them to consider the awful situation in which they stood, having now forfeited their lives, and lose no time in making their peace with Heaven.

Sheik Brown was seemingly one of the lucky ones afforded mercy, his sentence instead reduced to transportation for life.

Aboard the convict ship Asia, Sheik left England behind, destined for New South Wales. Although he must have picked up some rudimentary English, it is easy to imagine the whole thing must have seemed confusing and frightening. Arriving in April 1825, Sheik Brown was landed in Sydney just over a year since his original conviction. Sheik and the other convicts were then most likely posted out on assignment, particularly as personal servants. The next record puts him in the household of Mr George Tomlins, by whom he was accused of ‘stealing various articles of wearing apparel, a brace of pistols, and an umbrella’.[9] A Sydney paper, the Australian, reported the case:

The prisoner had been left in charge of prosecutor’s house on the 16th of November last, and took that opportunity to carry off the property in question. When apprehended some of the clothes were found on his person, the remainder had been left at the house of Clara Parsons, in Phillip-street.[10]

As a result of the new colonial conviction, Sheik was ‘transported’ for another seven years and, as a re-offender, sent to Moreton Bay.[11] Sheik Brown, as prisoner number 757, next makes an appearance in the Chronological Register of Convicts in June 1826.[12] The Chronological Register of Convicts described him as a man of a fraction over 5 ft tall, with a ‘copper colour’ complexion and black hair.

A frequent absconder, Sheik Brown certainly seems to have done his very best to avoid the penal settlement at Moreton Bay. Within only a few days he had run away, living in the bush surrounding the settlement for eight days.[13] The punishment for absconding was flogging, with some prisoners receiving over two hundred lashes as recorded in the Book of Trials.[14] This and his experience of the bush seems to have initially put Sheik off, as his next recorded escape was in 1828, when he disappeared for over six months.[15] In 1829 he disappeared for twelve days, and in 1830 left the settlement for over two years, living in an area called ‘Big River’.[16] Sheik later reported that this large river where he principally stopped was ‘called by the natives Brimbo, and by some Berin’.[17] Reports came back from other runaways that Sheik, now known as ‘Black Jack’, had provided them hospitality. One such report was from runaway James McCarnie, who recounted how he discovered Black Jack in an Aboriginal camp and stayed with him for a week, learning that Jack was planning on returning to Moreton Bay after he believed his sentence had expired.[18]

But it was not just Sheik who had been extending hospitality. During his time away, he seems to have been befriended by the local Aboriginal people. Unlike other runaway convicts whom the Aborigines often returned to the penal settlement in exchange for rewards like blankets and axes, Sheik seems to have been more successful in forming a relationship with them, living with them in their camp for long periods of time. It appears that both Sheik and another absconder, George Brown, who was from Ceylon, had Aboriginal wives with whom they had families.[19]

By 1832 the colonial authorities were unhappy that ‘Black Jack’ continued to evade his punishment. In August, William Dalton, himself a Moreton Bay absconder, was sent from Port Macquarie with the task of bringing in Black Jack.[20] Dalton seems to have done his job, because two days after his return, Sheik turned himself in at Port Macquarie.[21] His useful information about the abundance of raw materials like wood, salt, stone and food seems to have calmed the wrath of the Chief Magistrate, who made him one of his servants.[22] In writing to the Governor, he wrote that Sheik had returned voluntarily, in exchange for a promise that he would not be returned to Moreton Bay ‘in consequence of the Prisoner being an unfortunate Black from Bombay and unaccustomed to mess with Europeans’.[23] The Governor took a dim view of this, responding to the Chief Magistrate that he should act in the same way he would treat any absconder.[24] However by this point it was already too late, as he had already absconded again. Brown was planning an a cunning return taking on a new persona. Picked up near Port Stevens by a passing schooner, he pretended to be a shipwrecked sailor called Jose Koondiana, who professed to have travelled with the aid of Aborigines across the continent from New Holland (Western Australia) where his ship the Fanny had been wrecked. Sheik’s thoroughly detailed, if slightly fanciful tales of his travels, based mainly on his experiences living around ‘Big River’, managed to convince lots of people, including the Bench of Magistrates in Newcastle, that he really was Jose Koondiana. Communicating through French and a translator understanding ‘hindustanee’, Sheik seems to have taken in one ‘gentleman at Newcastle’ in particular who, in a letter published by the Sydney Herald, proclaimed the ‘interior discovery’ of the big river by Koondiana, who had satisfied him in the belief that ‘he has no desire to mislead, nor any pre-conceived fancies or schemes to uphold by the information he gives’.[25] The Herald’s editorial seemed far more sceptical, noting the odd stories coming out of the area.[26] Though the name of the letter’s author was withheld, one could well argue that it was one of the magistrates, Dr Brooks, who not only took in Shiek as a servant, but refused to give credence to suggestions that Koondiana was not who he said he was. The game was well and truly given up, however, when Mark Fletcher, a servant of the Australian Agricultural Company who had worked for sometime in Moreton Bay, positively identified Koondiana as the absconding convict Sheik Brown.[27] From Newcastle he was sent to Sydney where he awaited judgment in the prison hulk Phoenix.[28]

Brown’s case was comples are there were arguments that his sentence had expired, as well as plans to send him to Norfolk Island. The result was that Sheik’s petition was endorsed by the Governor, in May 1834, and he was returned to Moreton Bay.[29] It is not quite clear why this happens, but the legal discussions held between the Colonial Secretary, the Governor and the Attorney General seem to suggest that there were questions over his ongoing sentence.

Back in Moreton Bay in 1836, Sheik was back to his old tricks, absconding in June.[30] The following year, he absconded twice, once in January by himself and again in April with George Brown.[31] In a letter to the Colonial Secretary, the new commandant, Captain Foster Fyans, noted that he had taken a far more proactive approach to the ‘apprehension of the runaways’, including Sheik Brown, writing:

I promised the Natives some reward, if they would accompany any Leut. Officer in the Boat on the same way that Offer and Mr Whyte to with the Boats Crew, left this and proceeded round Bribey Island, directed by the Natives, after a direction of some form, with considerable difficulty and fatigue, I am happy to say, the party fully succeeded in securing the four Runaways from this settlement.[32]

The record goes quiet after this until 1842, when he is issued with a ticket of leave in Parramatta, which although initially giving him permission to remain in the district of Parramatta, is altered by the Parramatta Bench to Moreton Bay in 1844.[33] The next reference is in February 1844 when he was hired by pastoralist George Gummie at the rate of fifteen pounds per annum for the next two years.[34]

The last and final newspaper reference made about Sheik is fleeting and macabre. In a letter to the Moreton Bay Courier it is revealed that ‘Sheik Brown and a bullock-driver were killed by the natives within thirty miles of the settlement’ and that their ‘bones are now bleaching near the road to Messrs. Joyner and Masons station on the Pine River’.[35] There the story would probably have ended, if it was not for Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland. Written by his daughter Constance, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences were published in 1904, and later serialised in the Queenslander. After emigrating with his family from Edinburgh as a child, Tom Petrie played with the local Aboriginal children, eventually learning their local language of Turrabul and participating in traditional customs, including going on a ‘walkabout’ aged only fourteen.[36] As a result of his close relationship with the Moreton Bay Aboriginal people he came to know many of their stories, of which the story of Sheik Brown is one. According to Petrie, he learnt the story of ‘Shake Brown’ or Murridaio, as he was known to Aboriginal people, during a corroboree of the Turrabul people.[37] Through song and dance they told the story of Murridaio, who had stolen away one of their young women Kulkarawa:

A prisoner, a coloured man (an Indian), Shake Brown by name, stole a boat, and making off down the bay, took with him this Kulkarawa, without her people’s immediate knowledge or consent. The boat was blown out to sea, and eventually the pair were washed ashore at Noosa Head — or as the blacks called it then, ‘Wantima’, which meant ‘rising up’, or ‘climbing up’. They got ashore all right with just a few bruises, though the boat was broken to pieces. After rambling about for a couple of days, they came across a camp of blacks, and these latter took Kulkarawa from Shake Brown, saying that he must give her up, as she was a relative of theirs; but he might stop with them and they would feed him.

However when Sheik left this tribe and Kulkarawa behind, heading off to Brisbane, he got into trouble when he was confronted by members of the Turrabul tribe:

He got on to the old Northern Road going to Durundur, and followed it towards Brisbane. Coming at length to a creek which runs into the North Pine River, there, at the crossing, were a number of Turrabul blacks, who, recognising him, knew that he was the man who had stolen Kulkarawa. They asked what he had done with her, and he replied that the tribe of blacks he had fallen in with had taken her from him, and that she was now at the bon-yi gathering with them. But this, of course, did not satisfy the feeling for revenge that Shake Brown had roused when he took off the young gin from her people, and they turned on him and killed him, throwing his body into the bed of the creek at the crossing.

When people travelling on their way to Durundur came across Brown’s body they reported it back to Brisbane, and named the creek, Brown’s Creek. Located near Kurwongbah, the creek and the Brown’s Creek Road still bear his name. Kulkarawa remained with the Noosa tribe, performing songs about how she missed her own tribe. Tom Petrie recounts how he was there when, after two years, Kulkarawa was brought home:

the parents of the young gin, and all her friends, started crying for joy when they saw her, keeping the cry going for some ten minutes in a chanting sort of fashion, even as they do when mourning for the dead. Then a regular talking match ensued, and Kulkarawa was told all that had happened during her absence, including the finding and murder of Shake Brown (or ‘Marri-dai-o’ the blacks called him), on his way to Brisbane. Then she told her news, and Father heard afterwards again from her own lips of her experiences.

This remains the last reference made to Sheik Brown, who after all his years of friendly co-existence with the Aboriginal people, died at their hands after taking away one of their young women.

Despite being fragmentary, the archival records reveal the surprisingly varied and remarkable life of Sheik Brown. Escaping death narrowly in London, he went on to lead the life of a convict and a runaway. Never settling in one place, he left traces of his life across early colonial Queensland and Australia. His relationships with the colonial authorities, other convicts, free-settlers and Aboriginal people provides a fascinating glimpse into the lives and experiences of the period.

Daniel McKay


[1] Queensland State Archives, Series 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839.

[2] Crispin Bates and Marina Carter, “Enslaved Lives, Enslaving Labels: A New Approach to the Colonial Indian Labor Diaspora,” in Sukanya Banerfee, Aims McGuinness, and Steven C. McKay eds, New Routes for Diaspora Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 67-92.

[3] CS Ref 33/07365S A28 223 – 226 (SLQ).

[4] Bates and Carter, “Enslaved Lives, Enslaving Labels,” 67-92. Sheik himself was referred to years later as a ‘lascar’.

[5] ‘Interior Discovery,’ Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848) 19 July 1833, 1.

[6] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (www.oldbaileyonline.org, version 7.0, 04 November 2012), April 1824, trial of SHEIK BROWNE (t18240407-72).

[7] England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892. Class: HO 26; Piece: 30; Page: 13.

[8] Bates and Carter, “Enslaved Lives, Enslaving Labels,” 67-92.

[9] “Criminal Court. (Friday),” Australian (Sydney, NSW : 1824 – 1848) 26 January 1826, 3.

[10] TRIAL R v Sheik Brown [1826] NSWSupC8, Macquarie University Law School (http://www.law.mq.edu.au/research/colonial_case_law/nsw/cases/case_index/1826/r_v_sheik_brown/)

[11] “Supreme Criminal Court,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842) 11 Febrary 1826,  3.

[12] Queensland State Archives, Series 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839.

[13] Maimie O’Keefe, ‘The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay’, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 10, no. 1 (year): 67.

[14] Queensland State Archives, Item ID 1137540, Convict book of trials (1835-1842). Commandant’s Office, Moreton Bay.

[15] O’Keefe, ‘The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay,’ 67.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “Colonial Politics,” The Colonist (Sydney, NSW : 1835 – 1840) 17 December 1835,  2.

[18] ‘Colonial Politics,’ The Colonist (Sydney, NSW : 1835 – 1840) 17 December 1835,  1.

[19] Ray Evans, Fighting Words: Writing About Race (St. Lucia, QLD: Queensland University Press, 1999), 74-5.

[20] O’Keefe, ‘The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay’, 67.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. No citation given, but most likely in Colonial Secretaries correspondence.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Interior Discovery,” Sydney Herald (NSW: 1831 – 1842) 18 July 1833, 2.

[26] Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 – 1842) 18 July 1833, 2.

[27] CS Ref 33/05498 and O’Keefe, ‘The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay’ 68.

[28] CS Ref 33/06659 A2.8 227 – 228 (SLQ).

[29] CS Ref 33/07365S A28 223 – 226 (SLQ).

[30] Reel A2.8 page 227-228 (SLQ).

[31] Queensland State Archives, Item ID869688, Returns – prisoners.

[32] Reel A2.9 Page 491-492 (SLQ) 37/ 5416 13th June 1837 From Commandants Office.

[33] State Archives New South Wales; Series: NRS 12202; Item: [4/4165]; Reel: 945.

[34] Maurice French, A Pastoral Romance: The Tribulation and Triumph of Squatterdom (Toowoomba, Queensland: USQ Press, 1990), vol. 2, 36.

[35] “Local Intelligence,” Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861) 6 Febrary 1847, 2.

[36] Noeline V. Hall, ‘Petrie, Thomas (Tom) (1831–1910)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/petrie-thomas-tom-4395/text7163, accessed 5 March 2013.

[37] “Sketcher,” The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939) 18 Oct 1902: 847;Tom and Constance Campbell Petrie, Tom Petrie’s Reminiscences of Early Queensland, 1st ed. (Brisbane: Watson, Ferguson & Co., 1904), 25-7.

Thomas Ashney of Gayndah: A Personal Story

Thomas Ashney was a remarkable man, with a remarkable story. An individual of amazing forbearance, of good luck as well as true pioneering spirit, he confounded the expectations and prejudices of his age to change the fortunes of his, and his family’s, lives. Although the story begins in a bustling Chinese port city during the turbulent Opium Wars fought between flags of dragons and lions, its main setting is the outback Queensland town of Gayndah.

Thomas Ashney began his life in the Chinese port city of Amoy. Born to Chinese parents around 1825, his early life was most likely shadowed by poverty and war.[1] Amoy, now known as Xiamen, was one of the main British trading posts on the south-eastern coast of China. Although having a history of European contact dating back to the sixteenth century, Amoy was violently captured by the British during the Opium Wars in 1841. Growing up in Amoy, Thomas must have witnessed the effects of the Opium Wars and the changes they wrought on his ancient city. After the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 it came within the control of British interests, with the city opening up to European commercial and cultural influences, particularly large numbers of British traders and Christian missionaries.

One of these traders was Henry Moore, the captain of the barque Nimrod. Moore had been trading around Asia since at least 1840, travelling between Australia, the Philippines and China.[2] In 1846 Moore placed an advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald spruiking exotic Chinese goods from varieties of tea to ornate boxes and chests.[3] His 1848 voyage would, however, attempt to introduce a new line of goods from the east, human cargo. Departing Hong Kong on 6 June that year, a city which had also come under British control, the Nimrod arrived in Amoy.[4] Moore set about contracting men to come as immigrants to Australia. We cannot tell what representations Moore and his associates made to lure Thomas and the men of Amoy, but in explaining to potential employers the terms, Moore wrote:

They are engaged for five years from 2nd November next, being thirty days after arrival, at £6 per annum, clothing, and a ration of 10lbs. flour, 10lbs. meat, ¼lb. tea, and 1lb. sugar; which agreement will be transferred on a repayment, by the party hiring them, of £1 12s 6d, advanced each man, and which sum the man repays him out of his wages, and passage money £12, and remuneration for trouble and expenses, varying, according to the number taken, from £2 to £5 each. Thus making one man’s hire about £11 per annum, or less.[5]

The perceived ‘purchase’ of men created controversy in Amoy. In a dispatch from the British Consul in Amoy to the British Governor in Hong Kong, later quoted by the Colonial Secretary in an immigration debate, the unease created in Amoy was revealed;

the shipment was well known, and had been much discussed by the mandarins and people of Amoy, who both designated the transaction ‘buying men’; and it seemed to be believed that the people had been purchased.[6]

Despite Moore’s guarantees that the men were ‘well selected’, the British Consul wrote ‘the Coolies thus sent to Sydney are extracted from the lowest and poorest, and in some cases from the most vicious classes in Amoy’, adding his doubts whether the younger men ‘would at all answer as agricultural labourers or shepherds’.[7] Despite this, the Consul declared his belief that the shipments should continue, as it ‘may raise many vicious characters and abject outcasts, in the scale of humanity and civilization, and place them in the way of an honest and decent livelihood’.[8]

Though Thomas was unlikely of the ‘vicious classes’, he was almost certainly from the poorest. Though it may have seemed like he was being bought, the promise of a guaranteed wage for five years, may to the young man have seemed like a ticket to adventure, and away from poverty. On board the Nimrod, along with 119 other Chinese immigrants, Thomas left Amoy on 7 July 1848 bound for a new life in Australia.

Arriving in Sydney on 2 October, Moore set about organising the business of finding people to take on his Chinese workers. As for his teas and ornate boxes, he took out a series of advertisements in the classifieds of the Sydney Morning Herald.[9] News quickly spread. A report in the South Australian Register announced the arrival of the workers, ‘The owner of the vessel sent them at his own risk, under indenture to himself, looking to the person who hires them for payment of the passage’. Adding more favourably than the British Consul that

the inhabitants of this part of China are said to be a hardy, active, and industrious race – excellent artisans, gardeners, field labourers and home servants. Their habitual sobriety is also a very strong point in their favour, and they are said to be characteristically honest.[10]

Moore especially pushed their use to the squatters, who were always after cheaper labour, responding in a letter to the editor with an excerpt of a letter he had received from ‘an influential settler and magistrate’:

The Chinese have now been five months with me, seem contented and even happy, and do the same work as Europeans, with whom they are equally intelligent and hardy. They will make excellent shepherds, being equal in attention and superior in willingness and steadiness to the European…They are careful, I think honest, and exceedingly cleanly, and would doubtless answer well for cooks or in-door servants: I must not omit stating that by their civility and tact they have avoided all quarrelling, and are individually liked by their white fellow servants.[11]

The Nimrod stayed for two months in Sydney, before moving onto Moreton Bay, arriving on 2 December. Moore had managed to find employers for sixty-four of the Chinese workers in Sydney, with the remaining fifty-six, including Thomas, being found employment at Moreton Bay. Amongst the squatters of the burgeoning Queensland farming districts Moore found eager buyers. Richard Jones, a large landowner and member of the Legislative Council, hired sixteen workers, paying freight of £8 15s for each of them.[12] The arrival of the Nimrod represented the first and largest organised importation of Chinese workers. It took some time for the politics to catch up. Although Thomas was able to rise above it, his life was nonetheless marked by the ongoing debate in Queensland about immigration. The arrival two weeks later of the first arrival of immigrants from Britain under a new British government scheme, in addition to the Scottish migrants organized by Rev. Dunmore Lang over the next few years, increased racial tensions over the labour issue. By the time of the first big immigration debate in 1851, Richard Jones felt it necessary to distance himself from his employment of Chinese workers, avowing his belief in ‘extensive immigration hither from the United Kingdom’ and that only in the case of the failure in such a program should there be the ‘reception of both convicts and Chinese’.[13] Another speaker, Dr Douglass, rose in the Legislative Council to denounce the arrival of the Nimrod in Moreton Bay as ‘a kind of sample by which the dealers in human flesh might judge of the market’.[14]

Yet, despite being referred to abstractly in political debates, it would have been unlikely to have had much bearing on his day-to-day life. As an indentured worker, Thomas would have been tied to an employer for five years, being released from his contract about 1853. With his freedom, it was not long until in August 1854 he married his first wife Jemima Wood, with their first child, Thomas junior, born the following year.[15] It is unclear when Thomas adopted an Anglicised name, or what his Chinese name was before. This makes the task of finding where he worked difficult, as most records used Chinese names if any at all, however it is likely that it was somewhere around Gayndah, as that is where he later decided to settle and where he registered to become a naturalised British subject. On his naturalisation application he wrote that he was a shearer, which is a good indicator that he had worked on one of the large sheep stations in the area.[16]

Life on the colonial frontier was tough. Whether you were a convict or a free settler, the moment you set foot ashore you faced not only the alien environment of the Australian landscape but isolation from all that was familiar. Even the best of free settlers struggled, so Thomas would not have had an easy time. However, by 1860 we know that Thomas had managed to settle well into his new home, owning his own property in Queensland as well as marrying a British subject.[17] As the certificates of naturalisation show, Thomas was not the only Chinese man in the community of Gayndah, with several other men, such as David Deong and John Deian also applying around the same time.[18] It seems clear that these men and their families were accepted by the community, with every application for naturalisation signed by locals of Gayndah attesting to their ‘respectable character’. More widely, the Memorials or Applications for Certificates of Naturalisation show a snapshot into the wide catchment of countries where the foreign-born immigrants (not a British subject) came from, as afar as Poland, Germany (Prussia, Baden, Bavaria, Wurttemberg), Hungary, Belgium, Switzerland and China.

After a several-month wait after making his application, in December 1860 Thomas Ashney was granted permission to become a naturalised British subject. Completing the process, he signed an oath of allegiance to Queen Victoria, pledging to ‘defend Her to the utmost of my power against all traitorous conspiracies and attempts whatever, which shall be made against Her Person, Crown, and Dignity’.[19]

The following years for Thomas and his family were full of ups and downs, through which although he would rise to become a respected and established figure of Gayndah, were marked by tragedy and misfortune. The first blow to Thomas and Jemima came in 1861, when their eldest son Thomas, now aged six, died.[20] Whether this precipitated a change or not, we cannot tell, but in 1862 Thomas and his family appear to have opened a shop with the first of his trading licences granted to him. Thomas appears to have expanded the shop in Gayndah, holding various licenses to trade as a confectioner, wholesale wine and spirits merchant and tobacconist throughout the 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. In their new premises, Thomas and Jemima enjoyed relative normality, adding two more children to the family. The peace, however, was short lived when, in 1868, the Ashney family suffered several misfortunes. The first was the theft of a cash box, the second, and much more serious, was the storming of his premises by drunken miners.[21] A newspaper report detailed how about one hundred ‘roughs’ and ‘refuse’ besieged Thomas’s public house where they;

 took possession of his house by force, helped themselves to all the drink he had on the premises, broke up his furniture, including chairs, tables, sideboard, &c., stole combs, brushes, towels, soap &c., threatened the lives of the inmates with drawn knives, and broke open his kitchen and took all the victuals, cookeryware, &c.’[22]

With the damage estimated to be around sixty pounds, Thomas organised a ‘numerously signed’ petition to the government so that he could be reimbursed.[23] The process of petitioning the government became a drawn out process, with it not being until May 1869 that it was presented by MP Mr Pring to the Legislative Assembly. The Brisbane Courier reported:

Mr Pring presented a petition from Thomas Ashney, licensed publican, Gayndah, alleging that he has sustained serious loss from an attack on his licensed house by a party of diggers, who illegally took possession of certain property, and that he had been unable to obtain redress from the police, and praying enquiry and relief. The petition was received.[24]

To add to Thomas’s miseries in the December of 1868 his wife Jemima died.[25] The rest of Thomas’s life is fragmentary, with his name from time to time cropping up in Queensland newspapers highlighting aspects of his life. However, we do know that in 1870 he remarried, to Georgiana Schnitzler, with whom he would have another five children.[26] As the years progressed so too did Thomas’s standing in the community, becoming a governor of the local hospital, an alderman of the municipality of Gayndah and even eventually holding the post of mayor.[27] He also added to his property, leasing Crown land in 1882.[28]

In 1883 Thomas became the centre of debate over the controversial new ten pound poll tax on Chinese immigrants, recently legislated by the Queensland premier John Douglas. Designed to discourage the ‘indiscriminate influx of the lower Chinese grades’, the scandal arose when Thomas and his son, on returning from a trip to Sydney, were prevented by Customs authorities from landing because he refused to pay the tax. The Brisbane Courier wrote that the Act obviously was not intended to obstruct ‘so worthy a colonist as Mr. Thomas Ashney of Gayndah’, going on to say that ‘Mr. Ashney, who is of celestial origin, is one of the oldest and most respected residents in the Burnett District’. Adding that not only was he a naturalised British subject and husband to a British wife, but that he has ‘subsequently won esteem as an enterprising colonist of strict integrity, and has held the office of Mayor of Gayndah’.[29] The absurdity and unfairness of the situation was later parodied in a poem in the Queensland Figaro;

 Pretty Poll (tax).

Now, I will tell you, if you please

A direful tale your blood shall freeze,

‘Tis of a Briton-cum-Chinese,

Whose name was Ashney,

You’ll say it wasn’t quite the cheese,

Or proper fash’n, eh?

This Ashney (Thomas is his name),

And I may say he got the same,

O’er 20 years since, when (No, blame

If you’re- surprised),

He took the oath, .and so became

Naturalised.

Although he’s Chinese, he is quite

A man that I, at least call white,

And if you do not think I’m right,

Old pard, then, durn it !

Go ask the settlers (honor bright!)

Upon the Burnett.

Ask men upon the Wide Bay coast,

If he’s not been a ruling toast,

In times when he has ruled the roast–

Ask any swain dah,

If Ashney hasn’t held the post

Of Mayor of Gayndah.

Tom Ashney, fearing nought of ruth,

(As wherefore should he, Sir, forsooth ?)

Accompanied by nephew, youth

Of British kidney,

A journey took (the honest truth)

As far as Sydney.

Tom Ashney toddled back agen,

His nephew still was with him then,

And got to Maryborough when

(Just any dolt as)

The Maryborough Customs men

Stuck him for polltax.

Such was their gentle playful way, Which doesn’t seem to me O. K.,

And by the hokey! likewise they

Desired to levy,

Not only on this Thomas A.,

But on his nevvy!

It is the final whisp of hay

That breaks the beast’s b, a, c, k;

Much fermentation will, they say,

Just bung the cork out;

So for his nephew, Thomas A.

Declined, to fork out.

The nephew, being of British breed,

The Customs officers were treed,

They all were bunyipped if they seed

(And I’ve not, hev you?)

How they could make him plank the greed

For his young nephew!

But still they taxed Tom Ashney’s pate;

For doesn’t Act of Douglas state

That Chows must have certificate

For homeward shore-feat ?

And as A. hadn’t, ‘twas his fate

To pay the forfeit.

His money was in Treas’ry banked,

He paid the suvrins ten, unthanked,

(This yarn’s the difficultest yanked

That e’er I noticed)

For Thomas A. the money planked –

But under protest.

For legal bigwigs there’s some sport,

A technical law-case, in short,

A something in Supremest Court

That must be tested

Can British subjects in each port

Be thus molested.*

(*Since the above was written, Ashney’s money has been returned, so that the ‘law sport’ won’t come off. -ED.)[30]

Thomas’s luck ran out even more in 1889 when his Eidsvold shop business, outside of Gayndah, went bankrupt and was put into insolvency.[31] No reference is made about the store in Gayndah, so it is unclear whether he had already lost it or it had been held separately to the Eidsvold business and property, which was inventoried and auctioned off in its entirety from store stock to his pillows and razor blades.[32]

Thomas largely disappears from the records here. By this time, however, he was in his sixties and with a large family; we can speculate that he returned to his other business in Gayndah, slowly settling into semi-retirement. Thomas continued to live with Georgiana until his death in 1908, in Maranoa, aged eighty-three. His wife Georgiana outlived him by another twenty years, with their eldest son, Thomas Seeah Ashney, outliving all of Thomas’s children of both marriages, dying at the age of eighty-seven in 1967.

Thomas’s legacy was not just a large family, but the story of a remarkable pioneering life standing astride the foundational years of Queensland. Escaping poverty in China, his hard work and obvious strength of character saw him rise above the prejudices and difficulties that he faced as an indentured labourer and Chinese immigrant. In facing his critics, he proved true even the most inflated sales bravado of the qualities of the Chinese worker. Thomas Ashney of Gayndah was every bit ‘hardy, active and industrious’, and his place in the history of early colonial Queensland and Australia is assured.

Daniel McKay


[1] Queensland Family Trees, Entry Thomas Ashney Person ID 19820 Family ID F3561. http://www.queenslandfamilytrees.com/getperson.php?personID=I9820&tree=1 (Accessed 11 December, 2012).

[2] “Departures.—Yesterday,” Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (NSW : 1838 – 1841) 15 December 1840, 3

[3] “Advertising,” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) 3 August 1846,  3.

[4] “Colonial Intelligence,” South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) 1 November 1848, 3.

[5] “Chinese Immigration,” Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956) 24 November 1848,  4.

[6] “The Debate on Chinese Immigration,” Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861), 8 December 1851,  1 and “Legislative Council,” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 24 November 1851, 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Advertising,” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 6 November 1848, 3.

[10] “Colonial Intelligence,” South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), 1 November 1848, 3.

[11] “Chinese Immigration,” Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1956), 24 November 1848, 4.

[12] “Classified Advertising,” Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane, Qld. : 1846 – 1861), 2 August 1851, 1.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Legislative Council,” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 24 November 1851,  2.

[15] Queensland Family Trees, Entry Thomas Ashney Person ID 19820 Family ID F3561. http://www.queenslandfamilytrees.com/getperson.php?personID=I9820&tree=1 (Accessed 11 December 2012).

[16] Queensland State Archives, Item ID 1098197, letter 60/2105 (DID 1896).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Queensland State Archives, Item ID882252, Naturalisation Records, No. 61 and 40 (Series 2).

[19] Queensland State Archives, Item ID882252, Naturalisation Records, No. 46 (Series 2).

[20] Queensland Family Trees, Entry Thomas Ashney Person ID 19820 Family ID F3561. http://www.queenslandfamilytrees.com/getperson.php?personID=I9820&tree=1 (Accessed 11 December 2012).

[21] “The Courier,” Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933) 15 April 1868, (Accessed  25 Feb 2013 )

[22] “The Miner,” The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), 25 April 1868, 8.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “Parliament,” Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 6 May 1869, 3.

[25] Queensland Family Trees, Entry Thomas Ashney Person ID 19820 Family ID F3561 http://www.queenslandfamilytrees.com/getperson.php?personID=I9820&tree=1  (Accessed 11 December 2012).

[26] Ibid.

[27] “Gayndah,” Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933) 7 September 1878, 7; “Official Notifications,” Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 26 Mar 1877, 3.

[28] Queensland State Archives, Item ID40548, File – land selection.

[29] “The Intercolonial Convention,” Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 3 December 1883, 5.

[30] “Pretty Poll (tax),” Queensland Figaro (Brisbane, Qld : 1883 – 1885), 8 December 1883, 3.

[31] Queensland State Archives, Item ID1059677, Insolvency file.

[32] Ibid.

Phoebe Hines: A Personal Story

Phoebe Hines’s appearance in the public record is as sensational as it is fleeting, beginning in 1813 with her first known criminal conviction – larceny, for which she received a year in prison.[1] The effectiveness of this as a deterrent is highly questionable, given that a mere two years later in 1815, she appears before the same Lent Assizes on charges of larceny in a dwelling house and is acquitted of the death penalty.[2] Yet within the same year, Phoebe is brought before the Warwick Assizes and sentenced to fourteen years transportation to Australia, for crimes unknown.[3] Regrettably, all records for the Midlands Circuit (in which Phoebe was prosecuted) were destroyed by clerical error in the nineteenth century. Consequently, information for these assizes no longer exists prior to 1860. However, given that the terms of transportation were seven years, fourteen years and life, her offence must have been considerable.

Thus, in 1817, 25-year-old Phoebe Hines embarked on the convict transport Lord Melville to the penal settlement in Sydney. Accompanying her, as stated in the ship’s passenger manifests, was a young son – James Hines.[4] Given the restrictions on children travelling with their convict mothers on the perilous six-month sea journey to Sydney, James was undoubtedly under the age of five at this time.[5] For both mother and son, the journey must have been terrifying, plagued as it was by frequent storms and violent damage to the ship; however there must also have been periods of relief, when basic chores were completed and exercise taken above decks.[6] Relying on the report of the ship’s surgeon, it is to be presumed that both mother and son were free from infectious diseases and in good general health upon arrival in Australia.[7] In the colonial era, this was certainly a feat not to be sneezed at.

Here ensues almost a decade-long silence in Phoebe Hines’s chronicle, demonstrating her to be an example of what Daniels defines as the ‘historical invisibility’ of convict women in the public record.[8] However, in 1825 with a ticket of leave and a new last name, Phoebe Price lifts a piece of cloth from Mrs Dillon’s shop in Pitt Street. In the process, she earns the revocation of her ticket of leave and six months in the Parramatta Female Factory.[9] As an institute, the female factories represent an interesting study in themselves; overtly intended as a place of benevolent reformation, they were inherently problematic in the manner in which they treated convict women and particularly convict mothers such as Phoebe.[10] It is possible, even highly likely, that this was a period of separation insofar as Phoebe and her children were concerned. The year 1829 is tumultuous for her, as she is evidently granted another ticket of leave which she then proceeds to lose on the grounds of her ‘drunken and disorderly character’ in February.[11] On 1 April 1829, she receives her certificate of freedom, in addition to a ticket of leave on 9 April.[12] However, soon afterwards almost her entire family and a number of close friends are embroiled in a debacle which finally results in her transportation to the secondary penal establishment at Moreton Bay. On 19 July 1834, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reports the indictment of Mrs Phoebe Price, ‘a matronly looking woman’, to trial for the malicious stabbing of Mrs Sarah Wilson, her neighbour in Cambridge Street. After ordering Phoebe’s daughter Eliza from her shop during the breakfast hour, Mrs Wilson is confronted at lunch with the reproaches of Phoebe herself. Those reproaches were predominantly administered in the form of ‘ill-language’ and at the point of a dinner knife, which dealt Mrs Wilson three minor head wounds. The conflict, which arrayed Phoebe Price, her husband and daughter against Mrs Wilson and her own husband, resulted in Mrs Wilson’s being pushed off an eight-to-ten-foot-high precipice and Mr Wilson being assaulted by a brickbat thrown from their hostile neighbour’s yard. Mrs Price, apparently, was drunk ‘as usual’ throughout the whole encounter.[13]

Proceeding from this dramatic event was Phoebe’s appearance before the Supreme Court on charges of stabbing with intent to kill and a secondary count of grievous bodily harm. Unable to convict her on the primary charges, Phoebe’s sentence was commuted from death and substituted with a three-year stint in the Moreton Bay penal settlement.[14] Ironically, she is listed as a professional needlewoman[15] – perhaps this influenced her style of crime to some extent! Most notable is the remission of her crime, from the death penalty to transportation, as it clearly denotes the paternalistic relationship which existed between the colonial state and convict women, as described by Damousi.[16]

Subsequent occurrences the Cambridge Street community are highly suggestive of either a long-standing discord among a number of surrounding families, or Phoebe Price’s surprising popularity, given a history of drunkenness and aggression. Upon her return to her home following Mrs Price’s trial, Sarah Wilson is reportedly set upon by an enraged mob headed by James Trainer, Ann Martin and Sarah Willis. In retribution for the testimony which secured the transportation of their aunt Phoebe Price to Moreton Bay, Wilson is verbally abused and assaulted by the trio; her face, torn by the ‘talons’ of one of the female defendants, is presented to the court as a gruesome piece of evidence. Mrs Rogers, owner of the nearby Saracen’s Head hotel where Wilson takes refuge, steps in to protect Mrs Wilson and is treated likewise.[17] In the same period of time, Mary Kenny and Rosanna Bowen of the same neighbourhood attempt to ostracise Wilson from local society, threaten to burn her house down around her and are finally brought to court on charges of assaulting her. Rosanna Bowen is sentenced to six months in the third or lowest class in the female factory for this, demonstrating an interesting sense of loyalty to Mrs Phoebe Price.[18]

Following her arrival at Moreton Bay and entry into the Chronological Register of Convicts,[19] the tale of Phoebe Hines/Price fades into absolute silence. Her experience of the Moreton Bay penal settlement, the fate of her husband and children after her transportation, the circumstances of her release or her life thereafter are not known to be documented. Nonetheless, the story leading up to her forced migration to Queensland reads like a colonial soap opera and demonstrates the multidimensional roles played by convict women in early Australian society. Recalcitrant thief, habitual drunk, mother, wife and in some way valued member of a local community – Phoebe Hines/Price intriguingly combines them all.

Katelyn Klemm

[1] Ancestry.com “England and Wales, Criminal Registers 1791-1822,” www.ancestry.com.au, Accessed 23/11/November 2012.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. S. Battye Library of West Australian History, “Embarkation Documents, Lord Melville,” AJCP Reel 4402 ADM 108/27, transcribed online at www.jenwillets.com/Lord%20Melville by Brian-Wills Johnson.

[5] Barbara L. Voss and Eleanor Conlin Casella, The Archaeology of Colonialism: Intimate Encounters and Sexual Effects (place? Cambridge University Press: 2012), 35.

[6] Brian-Wills Johnson, “The Voyage of the Convict Transport Lord Melville,” http://www.jenwilletts.com/The%20Voyage%20of%20the%20Convict%20Transport%20Lord%20Melville%20(3).pdf, Accessed 29 November 2013.

[7] New South Wales State Records, “NRS1155 Musters and other papers relating to convict ships,” Reel 2424 2/8276, pg. 1.

[8] Kay Daniels, Convict Women (place: Allen and Unwin, 1998), 2.

[9] Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales: 1803-1842), 29 September, 1825, 3, trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/2184467.

[10] Joy Damousi, Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia (place: Cambridge University Press 1997), 113-27.

[11] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales: 1803-1842), 7 February, 1829, 1, trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/2191786.

[12] New South Wales State Records Online, “Convict Index,” Reel 984 4/4297, srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/indexsearch/searchhits/aspx?table=Convict%20Index&I=65&query=Phebe%20Hines&frm=0, Accessed 29/11/2012.

[13] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales: 1803-1842), 19 July 1834, 2, trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/501119

[14] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, pg. 88.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Sydney Herald (New South Wales 1831-1842), 1 September 1834, 4, trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/1285303, Accessed 3/12/2012.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

Matthais Yody: A Personal Story

The history of convicts is not just Australian, or even British. The history of convicts is global. British transportation of criminals to its penal settlement in Australia is just one part of a wider story about the fiery tumult of revolution, war, politics, exploration and migration in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century world. Amongst all this upheaval and change lie millions of untold stories of individuals whose lives became embroiled in the great forces of their age. The story of the young convict Matthias Yody is just one of these. But whereas with other convicts we may begin in London, Dublin or Edinburgh, the story of Matthias begins much further away, in the ancient Polish city of Warsaw.[1]

Warsaw is the ancient capital of Poland, lying on the Vistula River between the Carpathian Mountains and the Baltic Sea. Born in Warsaw around 1786, Matthias Yody grew up in a Europe in flux, with the tumult of the French Revolution beginning in 1789 and the bellicose rise of Napoleon after that. Warsaw itself underwent great changes as the centuries-old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth collapsed as both Prussia and Russia absorbed its lands, completely disappearing by 1795 with Prussian occupation of Warsaw. In 1806, however, Napoleon took control of the city, which remained as the allied Duchy of Warsaw until again partitioned by Prussia and Russia after 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. Amid all this upheaval was Matthias; from some of his convict records we learn that his occupation was a sutler.[2] Sutlers follow behind armies, selling various goods to soldiers. Given the great armies that were manoeuvring around Europe at the time, we can only speculate with whom Matthias traded, perhaps even Napoleon’s grande armée. We cannot be sure when Matthias arrived in Britain. The Napoleonic wars resulted in the mass upheaval of people, but we can reasonably say sometime between his birth in the 1780s and his conviction in 1819. Perhaps after following Napoleon’s armies to Waterloo, he travelled to Britain in1815, following behind the victorious British army. Whatever his story during his early years, we pick Matthias’s story up when he first appears in the archival records in 1819. 

In the Criminal Register in March of 1819, we discover that Matthias was charged and found guilty of ‘larceny’ or theft.[3] Convicted at Maidstone in the County of Kent, he was sentenced to seven years transportation.[4] We cannot know how much English Matthias spoke or understood, but we can reasonably assume that all of this was fairly overwhelming, and more so if he could not understand what he was about to happen. Matthias was then sent to the prison hulk Retribution moored at Woolwich.[5] Prison hulks were old unseaworthy ships that were re-rigged as floating prisons and often used to house convicts awaiting transportation to Australia. The Retribution had been formerly the 74-gun warship HMS Edgar, which had been used by the Royal Navy during the American and Napoleonic wars. Converted in 1813 for use as a prisoner hulk, it was renamed to the more forbidding Retribution and was in continual use until it was broken up in 1835. Conditions on the hulks were immensely uncomfortable, with poor sanitation and overcrowding in the damp. The ex-author James Hardy Vaux, who himself was transported three times, recalled his experiences of the Retribution in a memoir published the same year Matthias boarded the hulk:

there were confined in this floating dungeon nearly six hundred men, most of them double-ironed; and the reader may conceive the horrible effects arising from the continual rattling of chains, the filth and vermin naturally produced by such a crowd of miserable inhabitants.[6]

 

He goes on to describe his arrival at the ship, which we can only imagine being the same for Matthias:

On arriving on board, we were all immediately stripped, and washed in large tubs of water, then, after putting on each a suit of coarse slop-clothing, we were ironed, and sent below, our own clothes being taken from us…as no person is exempt from the obligations to wear the ship-dress.[7]

The rest of his account describes life on the ship, including the daily ritual of getting into boats and going ashore to ‘various kinds of labour’, the brutality of the guards wielding their ‘large and ponderous sticks, with which, without the smallest provocation, they will fell an unfortunate convict to the ground’, and life amongst the other prisoners who, he says, rob from each other ‘as common as cursing and swearing’ and witness darker sins such as murder, suicide and ‘unnatural crimes’.[8] Luckily, Matthias was to have some reprieve from these conditions.

On Thursday 3 June 1819, Matthias boarded the Malabar with forty-nine other convicts from the Retribution and another fifty from the Bellerophon hulk to begin his long journey to New South Wales. The captain of the ship was William Ascough, who would go onto make two journeys on the Malabar. He was well known to be a kind man; in 1833, two of his sailors were sentenced to hard labour for refusing to sail aboard another ship.[9] Life aboard the Malabar has luckily been captured by Evan Evans the Surgeon Superintendent in his detailed Voyage Log of the five-month journey.[10] For Matthias, the conditions aboard the Malabar were far more pleasant than they had been aboard the Retribution, with an attentive doctor and kindly captain who oversaw a regime of thorough and regular physical and moral hygiene. This included the regular cleaning of the ship, airing of beds, appointment of barbers and a ‘divine service’ on Sunday. Even with over 170 convicts on board, they all were allowed on deck at least once a day, weather permitting, in a rotation of around half the convicts. Also on board were thirty-two soldiers who acted as guards, patrolling the decks when the convicts were not locked below, and generally keeping discipline. However, Evans notes that the convicts on the whole behaved orderly, mentioning only a couple of incidents during the voyage. On 9 August the Malabar made a brief stop at the Brazilian port city of Rio de Janeiro on the coast of South America. Evans recorded with some excitement the new supplies of fresh meat and vegetables, including six live bullocks, one of which they butchered some days later. The next stage of the journey was much rougher, with large swells and bad weather forcing the convicts to stay below for days on end. By 25 October they gained their first sight of land, as the south coast of Van Diemen’s Land came into view. On 30 of October the Malabar anchored in Sydney Cove. After they arrived, the Government Secretary boarded to inspect the convicts, asking each of them whether they had been satisfied with their provisions and treatment during the trip, which they all did. Evans last entry in the log, details how on the morning of 5 November the convicts were unloaded with rations and inspected by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Macquarie was generally pleased with what he found, recording in his diary:

This forenoon anchored in Sydney Cove, the Ship Malabar Transport, Commanded by Capt. Wm. Ascough, with 170 Male Convicts from England – whence She sailed on the 17th. of June last ( – touching at Rio Janeiro, which She left on the 17th. of Augt. – ); Mr. Evan Evans R. Navy, being Surgeon Supdt. – and the Guard consisting of 31 men of the 89th. Regt. commanded by Lieut. Ashhurst of the 34th. Regt. – The Guard and Convicts have all arrived in good Health, none of either having died on the Passage.[11]

Macquarie’s pleasure at the good treatment of the convicts was registered in the Sydney Gazette the next day:

The prisoners arrived by the Malabar, Captain Asque [sic] (last week reported), were inspected on Thursday by His EXCELLENCY the GOVERNOR, who was pleased to express much satisfaction at their clean and healthy appearance, and acknowledgment of their good and humane treatment on the passage. On which occasion His EXCELLENCY was pleased to compliment the Captain and Dr. Evans, the Surgeon Superintendent.[12]

But it was not just the Governor who was pleased by the treatment of the convicts; the prisoners themselves presented a letter addressed to Captain Ascough and Dr Evans praising them both for their ‘humane attention to their health and comfort’.[13]

After Matthias had disembarked from the Malabar, he was sent, along with other convicts, to the government depot at Parramatta for distribution to work placements around the colony.[14]

Matthias’s life as a convict over the coming years can only be roughly pieced together as he appears on various lists and government documents. The first reference to him is in 1821, on a list of prisoners, part of ‘Crowders gang’, receiving supplies from government stores. In 1822 he appears on another list as part of a road building convict gang overseen by James Johnson, and also in matters relating to a colonial court case regarding Major Druitt.[15] By 1824 he seems to have been moved from the road gangs to helping muster cattle near the Liverpool road.[16]

But out of all these dates and bits and paper, we can be fairly certain Matthias’s favourite date was 16 March 1826. After seven long years he was free, with a certificate of freedom to prove it.[17] One can only imagine the emotions that he must have felt after finally being set free of back-breaking toiling, labouring, and building of the new colony, shovelful by shovelful.

After his freedom is returned, Matthias drops from the records. We do know that he decided to stay in the colony, as in 1829 we discover that he has a short-lived appointment as a constable in the Colonial Police. The Sydney Monitor reported:

Callaghan a conductor of Police, who a few days back lost his pocket-book containing £68 in notes, by leaving it on the iron chest in the Police Office, has recovered the greatest part of them. It appears a constable named Matthew Yodie [sic] had taken the Book and passed some of the notes; but Callaghan having the numbers traced them, and the greater part were found in his lodgings under a stone. He was fully committed to take his trial.[18]

After being dismissed from his position and found guilty of the theft, Matthias again found himself a convict, his freedom lasting for less than three years.[19] However as a re-offending convict, or recidivist, he would not be returning to the convict life he had known before. Instead, he was sent to the stricter penal settlement of Moreton Bay. Now aged forty-three, Matthias was taken aboard the Amity on the several-day journey to Moreton Bay.[20] The penal settlement of Moreton Bay had been established in 1825, and by the time Matthias arrived it was in the grip of the commandant, Captain Logan, a man who one former convict described as a ‘fell tyrant’. Even after Logan’s death in 1830 and the kinder Captain Clunie took over, life as a convict at Moreton Bay was harsh, with backbreaking labour, humid conditions and lack of infrastructure.[21]

Within only two years of being at the settlement, in 1831 Matthias was admitted to the Moreton Bay Hospital for paralysis.[22] Over the next three years, Matthias would be in and out of the hospital, often for months at a time.[23] On 3 May 1833, Dr J. F. Murray wrote to Captain Clunie to inform him that Matthias’s condition had worsened and that he now had ‘irrecoverable paralysis on side of the body’:

Sir, The undermentioned prisoners being not only unfit for any kind of labour, but even incapable of taking care of themselves, and the circumstances of a Penal Settlement precluding them from a total exemption from work, I would recommend their removal to the Invalid Depot at Port Macquarie; and beg that the recommendation may be submitted, if it meet your approval, to the consideration of His Excellency the Governor.[24] 

Captain Clunie followed Dr Murray’s advice, writing to the Colonial Secretary to forward Matthias and two other ill convicts to the Invalid Depot at Port Macquarie.[25] Assent was soon given, and Matthias was taken from Moreton Bay to Port Macquarie. Although it may be a clerical error, a disturbing feature of the last documents about Matthias is that they progressively get his age wrong, so that Dr Murray refers to him as aged fifty-five, and when in 1834 Matthias dies in the hospital at Port Macquarie, his death certificate reads age seventy-two.[26] It is not beyond belief that all his hard years of convict life and labour had aged him beyond recognition, such that when his frail and paralysed body finally quietened the lonely Pole, in a hospital far from his native home, looked older than he was. Fifteen years earlier, if he had known what fate lay in store for him in Australia, its not to much of stretch to think he would have gone about avoiding what became his death sentence.

Daniel McKay

[2] New South Wales Convict Indents, p. 422. fiche 4/4006, film J.L. 1484, shelf CP 991.

[3] England and Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, Class: HO 27; Piece: 17; page: 262; Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Index to the Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839.

[4] Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849. Microfilm, HO9.

[5] Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849. Microfilm, HO 10/16.

[6] James Hardy Vaux, Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, vol. 2 (London: W. Clowes, 1819), 109.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid, 110-12

[10] Evans Evans, Surgeon’s Journal – Convict Ship Malabar, National Archives ADM101/46/5.

[11] Macquarie, Lachlan. Diary 9 July 1818 – 28 February 1821.
Original held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML Ref: A774 pp.70-78 [Microfilm Reel CY301 Frames #472-480].

[12] “Sydney,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 6 November, 1819, 2, viewed 22 November, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2179062.

[13] Ibid.

[14] New South Wales State Records, Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825 (Reel 6007; 4/3501, p.13).

[15] New South Wales State Records, Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825 (Reel 6053; 4/1754, pp.416-7, 419 & 4/1755, p.97 ) and (Reel 6053; 4/1754, p.411).

[16] New South Wales State Records, Colonial Secretary Index, 1788-1825 (Reel 6033; X828, pp.23-47).

[17] “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 22 March 1826, 3, viewed 21 November, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2185493.

[18] “Domestic Intelligence,” Sydney Monitor (NSW : 1828 – 1838), 28 September 1829, 3, viewed 20 November 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32072495.

[19] ”Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 6 October 1829, 3, viewed 21 November 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2193548.

[20] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 57.

[21] William Ross, The fell tyrant, or, the suffering convict: showing the horrid and dreadful suffering of the convicts of Norfolk Island and Moreton Bay, our two penal settlements in New South Wales, with the life of the author William R…S (London: Ward, 1836).

[22] Queensland State Archives, Register of Cases and Treatment 8 Dec 1830 to 28 March 1833 (pages 1, 157, 199, 206, 225).

[23] Ibid.

[24] Queensland State Library, (Roll A2.7 p.733). [this seems to be an insufficient citiation?]

[25] New South Wales State Records [?], Colonial Secretary, Letters Relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland Received 1822 – 1860, CS Ref No: 33/04693 Correspondence Received: 1833 07 17 To: Hon CS To: Moreton Bay JO Clunie, Capt 17th Regiment, Commandant.

[26] New South Wales State Records, Death Certificate [4/4549; Reel 690 p. 236].

Mary O’Brien, Mary Ann O’Hara and Mary O’Hara: Personal Stories

Australia’s bushranging tradition is romanticised through balladry, folklore and arguably, history itself. These narratives celebrate acts of anti-authoritarian bravado and idyllic ‘outlaw hero’ figures;[1] yet the intertwined experiences of Mary O’Brien, Mary Ann O’Hara and Mary O’Hara reveal a mean underbelly to this period of our colonial past. Embroilment with one of New South Wales foremost bushranging gangs was not a glorious affair for these three women; rather, it was characterised by betrayal, loss, estrangement and transportation to one of Australia’s most unforgiving places of secondary punishment, namely Moreton Bay.

 

The early history of Mary O’Brien and her two young granddaughters is difficult to trace, give the status of and prevailing attitudes towards women at this time. It is known that she arrived in Australia aboard one of the incarnations of the Mary Anne, most likely the 1791 journey.[2] Conditions on any of the three trips undertaken by the Mary Anne were nefarious. In a poignant letter published after its very first embarkation, Mary Talbot described the ritualistic ‘tarring’ administered by the crew:

The 16th of March we crossed the line, where we were dipped in a tub of salt water by the sailors, and tarred all over; it being a rule amongst them to make every one pay so much money, or undergo this, and we all shared the same fate.[3]

 

This then, is demonstrative of the sort of treatment Mary O’Brien may have experienced during her passage to Australia.

 Hereafter comes a span in which the three women are only traceable through the fortunes of the men to whom they are related, beginning with Mary’s husband, Michael O’Brien.[4] Following an arduous passage to Port Jackson aboard the Atlas in 1802, plagued as it was with extraordinarily severe outbreaks of dysentery and typhus, a high death toll and a rapidly suppressed mutiny amongst the prisoners,[5] his rise through the ranks of colonial society was notable. He shed his convict chains upon receipt of a conditional pardon in 1815, settling on farmland in the Seven Hills area.[6] His acquisition of property and social capital is well-documented within the Colonial Secretary’s records, encompassing multiple land grants, prime government stock, and laudable returns on the production of wheat and maize.[7] Michael O’Brien also features as a leading and educated member of the local community, regularly contributing written memorials to the Colonial Secretary’s office and even being entrusted with the recommendation of a local schoolmaster to his post.[8] His name also features in an address to the governor co-signed by prominent male members of the Parramatta community, following a seemingly disastrous visit by His Excellency, apologising for the ‘daring insult…offered to Your Excellency, on Your Excellency’s leaving Divine Worship at St. James’s Church, Sydney’.[9] Considering the lack of records pertaining to their marriage, it is probable that Mary had also received her freedom by this point and shared in the day-to-day labours, social respectability and economic advantages of Michael’s smallholding endeavours.

It is during this interval that the connection between the O’Brien and O’Hara clans becomes apparent. John O’Hara, father to Mary Ann and Mary O’Hara, is mainly identified by a strong smallholding presence rather than a convict history; he appears on lists of land grants and leases held by the Colonial Secretary’s Office, as well as on those documenting government-approved arms possession.[10] At his death in 1809 Mary Ann and Mary pass into the care of either their grandparents or godparents, Mary and Michael O’Brien, and little more is mentioned about them for a span. In contrast, a classified advertisement requesting that all ‘claims against him…and that in like manner all those who stand indebted to the Estate do pay their respective debts’,[11] documents the transfer of some notable business transactions and property to his sons, James and John. Included in this property is even a convict servant, one William Wall, who evidently causes the family some grief over the course of his contract with them.[12]

While James O’Hara carried on his father’s farming enterprise, John O’Hara the younger was less faithful to the respectability of the two families. His service as a juror for the district of Windsor and consistent presence on the pay lists and other records for the Parramatta constabulary throughout 1824 bodes well.[13] His promising career ends expeditiously in that very same year, with his dismissal for neglect of duty and conniving with bushrangers.[14] This association foreshadows events that will affect the entire family several years later. 

The women of these two clans, Mary O’Brien, Mary Ann O’Hara and Mary O’Hara are rescued from historical obscurity by the sensational records of their trial. Since 1827, a syndicate of bushrangers led by Bold Jack Donohoe had been ‘the terror of the settler for many months’,[15] although it is clear that many in the convict and ex-convict community overcame their fear to assist the illustrious gang. This was the ultimate downfall of the O’Brien and O’Hara broods, indicted as they were in June 1831 for harbouring bushrangers and knowingly receiving stolen goods as remuneration.[16] John Walmsley, assuredly the least popular of Donohoe’s gang,[17] betrayed the smallholding families who had harboured them in return for a full pardon of all his misdemeanours in the colonies.[18] This must have made an extensive list, given the volume of property the outlaws availed themselves of: significant quantities of jewellery, clothing, raw material, tea, coffee and tobacco, as well as murdering a prominent member of the Parramatta community in the few short years before Donohue’s death and the capture of the remaining gang members. The role of the O’Brien and O’Hara kin in sheltering these glorified highwaymen was by no means underestimated by the local constabulary, with one officer attributing the ‘reign’ of Donohue and his associates exclusively to the friendship of these particular men and women. In consequence, Mr Justice Stephen sentenced Michael O’Brien, Mary O’Brien, John O’Hara, James O’Hara, Mary Ann O’Hara and Mary O’Hara to fourteen years in a place of secondary punishment of his choosing; meanwhile, John Walmsley was entirely acquitted and sponsored for transportation to the sister colony in order to protect him from wrathful locals enraged at his betrayal of the O’Briens and O’Haras.[19]

For elderly, infirm Mary O’Brien and her two teenaged granddaughters, sojourning at Moreton Bay was somewhat out of the ordinary. Aged seventy-five when she was convicted, Mary O’Brien suffered a severe deterioration of her health under the infamous conditions of the penal settlement. Within months of arriving she succumbed to bouts of anarsca and uterine prolapse, as indicated by medical registers;[20] nevertheless, she valiantly survived until 1838, when petitions on her behalf by successive commandants of Moreton Bay saw her returned to New South Wales per the schooner Isabella.[21] What she returned to and how she lived at this point is questionable, given that Michael and James were still interred at Norfolk Island, John was dead by drowning in waters off the coast of that locale[22] and Mary Ann and Mary remained at Moreton Bay for some months more.

Mary Ann and Mary eventually secured their own early release, through a series of interesting events. Mary Ann, the elder by two years, also features in the medical registers as a victim of poor health, although she eventually recovers enough to be sent out to public service for a short time.[23] Concurrently, sixteen-year-old Mary was implicated in an escape attempt involving a number of other inmates of the female barracks and prison guards.[24] Her accomplice, Mary Byrne, had previously absconded from Moreton Bay for four days in October of 1834 and was, in fact, one of only two female prisoners reported to have done so.[25] In spite of this poor behaviour, a series of imprecations were made for clemency in their sentence, beginning with a memorial written by the girls themselves in 1832.[26] Their claim that they had no control over the style of person granted admittance to their grandparents’ house did not secure their return to Moreton Bay, but changes to colonial law finally did. A string of letters written by various authorities of Moreton Bay to His Excellency had to this point failed to secure a commutation of their sentences, despite pleas of their youth, ‘first clap’ status and the return of their poorly grandmother to New South Wales.[27] Instead, the introduction of new provisions for the remission of sentences of convicts interred at Moreton Bay[28] saw the girls’ embarkation back to Sydney on 19 May 1839.

The disappearance of the three women from the accessible historical record following this suggests either an end to their criminal activities, or a descent into degradation. Their account, and the manner in which it is inherently linked to the fortunes of their immediate male relatives, is illuminating as to the treatment of convict women in colonial Australia. Unfortunately, much of their story has been lost due to the general inability of women to own land, stock or property, and engage with the wider economic and social narratives of their contemporary society. What does survive is, however, illustrative in terms of our historical studies of this period.

Katelyn Klemm

[1] Graham Seal, The Outlaw Legend: A Cultural Tradition in Britain, America and Australia (Place: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 1-4; 121-6.

[2] Given her age and timeline, although without knowing her maiden name, it is a difficult task to ascertain which, among the dozens of ‘Mary’s’ across all the journeys of the Mary Anne, she might actually be.

[3] The Times (London, England). 18 October 1791, p. 3, http://www.jenwilletts.com/mary_talbot.htm.

[4] Originally spelt ‘Bryan’ but later version used here for clarity.

[5] Jen Willets, “Convict Ships-Atlas 1802,” http://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ships_a.htm#Atlas 1802 (July) Accessed 27 November 2012.

[6] New South Wales State Records Online, “Index to Convict Pardons,” http://srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/indexsearch/searchhits.aspx?table=Index%20to%20Convict%20Pardons&ID=21&query=michael%20bryan&frm=0, Accessed 27 November 2012.

[7] New South Wales State Records Online, “Index to the Colonial Secretary’s Papers, 1788-1825,” http://colsec.records.nsw.gov.au/indexes/colsec/o/F42c_o-02.htm#TopOfPage, Accessed 27 November 2012.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales 1803-1842), 9 January 1830, 2, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/498229, Accessed 28 November 2012.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales 1803-1842), 15 October 1809, 1, trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/6570, Accessed 28 November 2012.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales: 1803 -1842), 12 August 1830, 3, trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/499243, Accessed 28 November /2012.

[16] Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales: 1803 -1842), 22 June 1831, 2, trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/32075645, Accessed 30 November 2012.

[17] He is depicted as a ‘cowardly dog’ in ballads describing Donohoe’s gang, see Graham Seal, Encyclopaedia of Folk Heroes (Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 2001), 59.

[18] Sydney Gazette & New South Wales Advertiser, (New South Wales: 1803 -1842), 21 June 1831, 2-3, http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/page/499012, Accessed 21 November 2012.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 2895, Register of Cases and Treatment – Moreton Bay Hospital, dated 8 December 1830 – 3 November 1831, Folio 229.

[21] State Library of Queensland, Record Number 764725, New South Wales Colonial Secretary – Letters Received Relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland 1822-1860, Microfilm A2.10, 28.

[22] New South Wales State Records Online, “Index to Convict Deaths,” http://srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/indexsearch/searchhits_nocopy.aspx?table=Convict%20Death&ID=71&query=john%20o’hara&frm=0, Accessed 28 November 2012.

[23] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5652, Book of Monthly Returns of Prisoners Maintained by the Government at Moreton Bay, 110.

[24] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5646, Book of Trials held at Moreton Bay, 12-17.

[25] Mamie O’Keefe, “The Runaway Convicts of Moreton Bay,” Royal Historical Society of Queensland Journal 10 (1975): 57-71.

[26] State Library of Queensland, Record Number 764725, New South Wales Colonial Secretary – Letters Received Relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland 1822-1860, Microfilm A2.7, 1-4.

[27] State Library of Queensland, Record Number 764725, New South Wales Colonial Secretary – Letters Received Relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland 1822-1860, Microfilm A2.7, 57; A2.10, 828-32.

[28] State Library of Queensland, Record Number 764725, New South Wales Colonial Secretary – Letters Received Relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland 1822-1860, Microfilm A2.10, 526-7.

Cornelius Wilbee: A Personal Story

The following is a personal story of a convict that spent some time in Queensland as reconstructed from sources found at Queensland State Archives and online.

I was born Cornelius Wilbee, in Northamptonshire, in 1804.[1] My childhood and upbringing remain unrecorded but were typical of a boy growing up during the very early nineteenth century in England. However, my life did not remain this uneventful. In March of the year 1826, aged twenty-one, myself, John King, Thomas Jakeman and Charles Hudson were convicted of stealing linen cloth valued at £3 6s at the Quarter Sessions for the City of Oxford.[2] We were sentenced to seven years transportation.[3] I did not see my accomplices again as we were transported separately.[4] I left England from Portsmouth on the 16 October 1826 onboard the Midas II, under the command of Captain James Baigrie, with the Surgeon Superintendent James Morice.[5] It was a rough journey during which three prisoners and two soldiers died and another solider was grievously injured, but finally after 122 days at sea we arrived in Port Jackson on the 15 February 1827.[6] I had arrived in Australia were I would remain for the rest of my life, starting a family and owning land there.

            Once in New South Wales I was assigned to work on Col Stewart’s farm as a convict labourer. Due to my trade as a boot and shoemaker, I believe I was a highly desirable commodity for those applying for convict labourers.[7] By the 7 July 1828, I had had enough and absconded from the farm with John Whitehead.[8] My running away did not go unnoticed, and it was repeatedly reported in the media until I was apprehended.[9] The report ran as follows and included a non-too-flattering physical description, ‘The undermentioned Prisoners having absconded…Webber or Wilbee Cornelius, No. 27-75, Midas, 24, Shoemaker, Northampton, 5 feet 2 inches, light brown eyes, light brown hair, sallow comp from Col. Stewart’s Farm’.[10] These advertisements proved effective and I was apprehended and brought before the Bathurst General Sessions.[11] Here I was found guilty of absconding and felony and sentenced to three years in the penal colony of Moreton Bay.[12] This was recorded not only in the Chronological Register of Convicts but also in the New South Wales Census of 1828.[13] During my secondary transportation to Moreton Bay I was placed in the role of government shoemaker in the colony; it was not uncommon for us convicts to be employed in positions related to our previous trades.[14] However, once again this was not to last, and when the opportunity arouse I made a run for it. A letter to the Colonial Secretary, dated the 29 August 1829, reported that:

William Daniels states on the 28th day at last in his capacity as clerk of the public works he mustered the mechanics tools and found all present and further on learning Cornelius Wilbee had absconded the Government shoemakers he again mustered his tools and found one knife and one Grigger deficient. He has no doubt but they were taken by C. Wilbee after the Saturday morning muster.[15]

The exact nature of my inevitable apprehension and punishment does not survive in the records.

            Some time after my break for freedom in Moreton Bay, indeed, after I had returned to Sydney, I was assigned to the free-settler W. H. Warlan.[16] The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser mentioned me again in an advertisement stating, ‘Return of all convicts assigned and transferred between the 1st and 31st days of July, 1832, Inclusive: 2648. Wilbee Cornelius, Midas, boot and shoemaker, to W. H. Warland, Upper Hunter’.[17] My skills as a boot and shoemaker must have been really something for me to continue to be assigned to free settlers rather than being put in an iron gang after my repeated attempts to run away. Despite all the excitement of my time as a convict, on 23 May 1833 I was granted a Certificate of Freedom and once again my name was in the papers, this time announcing my new status within the colony.[18] Due to some document problems with my original Certificate of Freedom it was reissued on the 20 January 1841.[19]

            My new freedom within the colony allowed me many more opportunities and in 1847 I was once again in the papers, this time reporting my marriage to Mary Flora Melanophy, nee McIntosh.[20] The paper read, ‘Married – At St. Mary’s Church, West Maitland, on the 19th instant, Mr. Cornelius Wilbee, to Miss Mary Melanophy, both of West Maitland’.[21]Mary was fifteen years my junior and had previously been married to Michael Richard Melanophy.[22] Michael and Mary had two daughters, Susannah Melanophy and Sarah M. Melanophy, before Michael passed away in 1845 in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia.[23] Once we were married, Mary and I had a daughter of our own on the 4 January 1849 and named her Amelia Flora Wilbee.[24] Amelia later married George Thorn and had fifteen children of her own, making my extended family tree large and widespread in Australia.[25] In 1852 I made a large step forward in my life; on the 26 May I bought land in Australia, totalling 2 root and 38 perches, Lot 10.[26] This foothold in my adopted country was in Grafton, Clarence and cost me £5 18s.[27]

            Despite our large family of descendants, my marriage with Mary was not always a happy one. On 20 September 1854 I placed a notice in the paper that read, ‘Notice – Cornelius Wilbee no longer responsible for any debts contracted by his wife Mary Wilbee, she having parted from him without any provocation’.[28] This separation was not the last of our woes, nor was it the worst. In May 1859 I was accused of stabbing my wife with malicious intent, indicted for the offence and entered the New South Wales Goal.[29] Originally, Mary refused to testify against me and the prosecution applied to the court for my trial to be postponed until the next Quarter Sessions.[30] However, her loyalty did not last and on 5 November 1859 it was reported that my trial was set to be held at the Quarter Sessions of the Armidale Bench ‘Monday next’. [31] The Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser reported Mary’s version of events, stating that:

 She deposed that on Monday, 2nd May, she and her husband had a few glasses together when (through jealousy) he threatened to ‘do for her’. In the evening, as she was lying on the sofa he came up to her and after requesting her to go to bed stabbed her in the side; she told him to put the knife away and she would forgive him, but…he stabbed her twice more, when she screamed for assistance. Subsequently she ran out of the door into Mrs Redmond’s, and shortly after arriving there fell from faintness. Her husband followed her thither, but she could not say whether he then had a knife in his hand…she said that the row continued about 10 o’clock at night or later, Smith, Wilbee’s journeyman, was within at the time, the cause of the quarrel she believed to be jealousy concerning him; she has never said she would ‘settle his old man’ and slope with the ‘youth who bought her silks and satins’ she did not even know the name of the shop maker, and if he was at Redmond’s when Wilbee came, he was on the floor, speechless; she would positively swear her husband stabbed her after the light was blown out.[32]

However, my defence lawyer argued that it was dark at the time she sustained the injury, and given that myself and my journeyman were in the house at the time, it was impossible for her to know at whose hand she sustained her wounds.[33] Any record of the conclusion of this case has not survived the intervening years. Mary eventually died in Wellingrove, New South Wales, in 1867 and on 21 December 1822 it was recorded that, ‘Letter of Administration of the late Mary Wilbee, wife of Cornelius Wilbee both of Inverell, to be granted to Cornelius Wilbee, widower’.[34] I survived Mary for a good number of years, only dying on 3 April 1844 in Macquarie St Asylum, Parramatta, New South Wales.[35] Having been sent to Australia as a convict, all alone in the world at the age of twenty-one, I died there a husband, father and grandfather and the owner of land at the age of eighty.


[1] Butts of Certificates of Freedom. NRS 12210, reels 604, 982-1027. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, in Ancestry.com. “New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1827-1867,” 1833, 410, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=CertFreedom&h=20133&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1689.

[2] Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class:HO9; Piece: 8. in Ancestry.com. “UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849,” 1826 108, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=PrisonRegisters&h=92699&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1180; Class: HO 11; Piece: 6. in Ancestry.com, “Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868”, 1826, 91,  bin/sse.dll?h=46549&db=AusConvictOthers&indiv=try

[3] Ibid.

[4] UK, Prison Hulk Registers, 1826, 108

[5] Free Settler or Felon, “Midas 1826,”, http://www.jenwilletts.com/convict_ships_m2.htm#Midas 1827.

[6] Ibid.

[7] 1828 “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 7 July, p. 4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2190692.

[8] Free Settler or Felon, ‘Cornelius Wilbee’,, http://www.jenwilletts.com/searchaction.php.

[9] 1828 “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 7 July, p. 4 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2190692; 1828 “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 14 July 1828, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2190734; 1828 “Classified Advertising,”,Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 21 July, p. 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2190766.

[10] Ibid. [to which is she referring?]

[11] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 31.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Home Office: Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania; (The National Archives Microfilm Publication HO10, Pieces 21-28); The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England in Ancestry.com. “1828 New South Wales, Australia Census (TNA Copy)”, 292, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?h=226454&db=HO101828census&indiv=try.

[14] Mamie O’Keefe, “A Report on Missing Tools and other items – Moreton Bay Settlement, 1829,”, Queensland Heritage 3, no. 2 (year): 7–11, http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/article/0f64be90d1eb2b9911c2797ec9c98fe2

[15] State Library Queensland, “NSW – Colonial Secretary Letters relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland Received 1822-1860”, Reel A2.4 (Letters received 1829), 28 August 1829, 326.

[16] 1832 “Classified Advertising,”,Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 27 September, 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2208724.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Butts of Certificates of Freedom. NRS 12210, reels 604, 982-1027. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales, in Ancestry.com. “New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1827-1867,” 1833, 410, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=CertFreedom&h=20133&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1689; 1833 “Classified Advertising,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 – 1842), 23 May, 1, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2212143; 1833 “Certificates Of Freedom,”, Sydney Herald (NSW : 1831 – 1842), 27 May, 4, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12846877.

[19] Butts of Certificates of Freedom. NRS 12210, reels 604, 982-1027. State Records Authority of New South Wales, Kingswood, New South Wales in Ancestry.com. “New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1827-1867”, 1841, 99, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=CertFreedom&h=20133&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1989.

[20] Ancestry, “Mary Flora McIntosh (1818-1867)”, http://records.ancestry.com/Mary_Flora_McIntosh_records.ashx?pid=102381602.

[21] 1847 “Family Notices,” Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), 21 July, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article691666.

[22] O’Maolanfaidh Clan – Forum, “All Forums – Melanaphey-Malanaphey- Mal/Mel/Mol/Muls Down Under,” (online discussion forum, beginning 1 March 2003), http://www.malanaphyfamily.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=42; Ancestry, “Mary Flora McIntosh (1818-1867)”, http://records.ancestry.com/Mary_Flora_McIntosh_records.ashx?pid=102381602.

[23] Ancestry, “Michael Richard Melanophy (1820-1845),” http://records.ancestry.com/Michael_Richard_Melanophy_records.ashx?pid=186063431.

[24] Ancestry, “Mary Flora McIntosh (1818-1867),” http://records.ancestry.com/Mary_Flora_McIntosh_records.ashx?pid=102381602.

[25] Ancestry, “Amelia Flora Wilbee (1849 – 1927),” http://records.ancestry.com/Amelia_Flora_Wilbee_records.ashx?pid=13866598.

[26] State Records Authority of New South Wales; Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia; Returns of the Colony (‘Blue Books’), 1822-1857; Collection Number: Series 1286; Publication Year:1851. in Ancestry.com. “New South Wales, Australia, Returns of the Colony, 1822-1857,” 1852, 688-9, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=NSWBlueBooks&h=27402&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1779.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Free Settler or Felon, “Cornelius Wilbee,” http://www.jenwilletts.com/searchaction.php.

[29] 1859 “New England,” Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW: 1843 – 1893), 19 May, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18643898; State Archives NSW; Kingswood, New South Wales; Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930; Item: 2/2017; Roll: 759 in Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930 1859, K22, http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=NSWGaolDescriptionBooks&h=328739&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1689.

[30] 1859 “Maitland Quarter Sessions,” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 11 August, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1302903.

[31] 1859 “Maitland Quarter Sessions,” Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 – 1893), 5 November, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18650571.

[32] 1859, “NEW ENGLAND,”, 19 May, 3. [is this reference complete?]

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ancestry.com. “Australia Death Index, 1787-1985,” 1867, Registration No. 2869,http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=AusDeathIndex&h=4400937&indiv=try&o_vc=Record:OtherRecord&rhSource=1780; Free Settler or Felon, “Cornelius Wilbee,” http://www.jenwilletts.com/searchaction.php.

Dunwich Benevolent Asylum

Every family has a story, but not every story has family. The records of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum are teeming with these family-less stories, of men and women, young and old whose lives for whatever reason ended within its walls with ‘no friends, no property, no cash’.[i] The wretched vagaries of life in early colonial Queensland, as in any age, were such that despite one’s best efforts, or because of one’s unlucky fate or wanton excess, one could end up with nothing and with no one. Dunwich was the safety net, the catch-all for the senile, destitute and abandoned dregs of the colony. Caring for disabled youth, elderly ex-convicts, old soldiers, luckless migrants, and even the odd hoary scoundrel alike. For all their variety, these individuals have been rescued from oblivion; the stories of these people live on in the pages of the Dunwich records. Although they may no longer have families to tell their story, at least some fragments of their lives endure, so that their stories may be told.

The Dunwich Benevolent Asylum was officially formed in 1866 and housed in the old Dunwich Quarantine Station, which had been formerly used to isolate newly arrived imigrants believed to be carrying illness.[ii] With powers granted by the Benevolent Asylum Wards Act 1861, facilities like Dunwich provided ‘for poor people who because of age, accident, infirmity or otherwise were unable to care for themselves’.[iii] The majority of inmates were drawn from the old Benevolent Ward of the Brisbane Hospital. Although the move of benevolent patients in 1865 was initially a temporary arrangement, so that the inmates could take a ‘change of air’, it became a permanent change in 1866 under the supervision of the Queensland government.[iv] Although the establishment of the Asylum seems to have been supported by the local community, the isolation of the site and the infrequency of transport meant that it was largely cut off from the rest of the colony. A letter to the editor of the Queenslander in 1867 believed that now the benevolent patients were at Dunwich these ‘poor old folk’ are ‘out of sight, out of mind’. The letter, whilst praising the generosity at Christmas reminded the public that in the new year they should likewise be treated well in spite of their isolation, suggesting that they send useful things like books and magazines:

the sick patients at the hospital seem to have had a grand feed on Christmas Day – ducks and green peas, sucking pigs and apple sauce, Edindurgh [sic] ale, and Guiness’ [sic] stout! Generous as usual, the tradesmen of Brisbane have been profuse in their kind intentions.[v]

The asylum throughout its life housed many hundreds of people until its closure in 1946 when its patients were transferred to a new facility at Sandgate.[vi] Whilst the records of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum largely date from after the separation of Queensland from New South Wales in 1859, they form a fascinating collection of insights into individuals who had long been living in the Moreton Bay area and early colonial Australia more widely. Each record varies in the information it gives on each patient, ranging from the bare minimum of details such as name, age, date and reason of admittance, to more detailed information including place of birth, parent’s names and interesting biographical information about their lives. The individuals themselves vary considerably. Origins of inmates, for instance, stretch right across the world from Britain, China, India, Norway, Prussia and Samoa to Switzerland. Ages of the inmates likewise vary. Whilst most are old, there are a significant number of young people who mostly through accidents were blinded, paralysed or crippled to the point that they or their families could not work to support them. The older inmates are more useful if looking specifically at pre-separation Queensland, with all sorts of stories emerging, with the assorted woes, miseries and tales of misfortune matching the assortment of people.

There are many individuals’ stories that can be found brimming in the Dunwich registers waiting to be told. They are immensely diverse, from the elderly ex-convict like Robert Bullock, who was transported for rioting in Bristol, or John Sullivan, who arrived in Australia as a cabin boy, to the poor Samoan girl Wish-e-nib, who through a series of calamities becomes stranded in an alien country.[vii] Others tell ordinary tales, such as that of Mary Allen, who was admitted to Dunwich aged sixty-seven in 1868 and proudly claimed to be ‘one of the first two white women sent to Moreton Bay’.[viii] Then there are the heartbreaking tales of those generally down on their luck, such as Job Davies, who after arriving in Queensland from England with his passage paid for by his daughter, found that she had died before his arrival and a son-in-law who refused him shelter, or Hannah Chadwick whose husband attempted to murder her in the outback.[ix]

Some stories, such as that of eighty-five-year-old Denis O’Shea, one of the older residents of Dunwich, speak of both historic happenings and personal struggles in early colonial Australia. Born around 1794 in Bantry Bay, Ireland, where his parents Timothy and Julia O’Shea were farmers. Whether for adventure, money or duty he ended up in the British Army serving as a foot soldier in the 39th Dorsetshire Regiment of Foot which, despite its name, predominately drew its troops from Ireland. Aged twenty-one in 1815, it is possible he had joined the army earlier, playing a role in the Napoleonic Wars, although the regiment was in Bantry in 1822, so it is possible he joined up then.[x] What we do know is that Denis’s regiment arrived in Sydney in 1826 to assist in maintaining order in the new colonies. Denis recounts in his Dunwich records how he went out with the explorer Captain Sturt on some his expeditions around New South Wales.[xi] Although Sturt wrote an account of his expeditions, there is no mention of Denis by name, but we can well imagine he was part of the ‘we’ that referred to the expedition party.[xii] Afterward he says that he was sent to New Zealand ‘under Mr Busby when possession was taken by Governor Darling’. James Busby was the British Resident in New Zealand and largely responsible for the drafting of the Declaration for the Independence of New Zealand signed by several Maori chiefs.[xiii] Both Sturt’s expeditions and the unrest in New Zealand put him at the centre of important early colonial events. From around 1847 onwards, however, he spent several decades ‘living around Maryborough’. However, the register sadly records that a month before he was admitted to Dunwich ‘my farm was sold by order of the mortgagee last month’. In 1881, after only a short time in the Asylum, Denis died, with the cause listed as ‘Senile Decay and Paralysis’. Of Denis O’Shea we can be fairly sure that what he was saying was fairly accurate; of others such as William Sinclair, alias Charles Hastings, the only thing we can be sure of was that he was prone to lying.

Other stories are just plain fantastic. Almost everything about William Sinclair in his Dunwich records contradicts other records or is hard to substantiate. Nonetheless, whether or not he was a born charlatan or an adventurer of gambled fate, it is a rollicking good read. According to his Dunwich register entry, he was born in Bangalore, India, to Mary and Charles Elphinstone. He came to Australia aboard the HMS North Star in 1839 as a draughtsman, but went ashore having been bequeathed £35,000. Buying the run ‘Waterloo’, he took up squatting for the next nine years before working at Port Stevens with a trading company for the next twelve years. His description of the years after this are more vague, recalling how he travelled ‘backwards and forwards’ between Port Phillip, Adelaide and Van Diemen’s Land dealing in stock and horses. William’s Queensland leg came in 1866, where he lived for a while before being thrown from a horse and admitted to Brisbane Hospital. This is all a great story, but what he leaves out of the record is his criminal career. Under the alias Charles Hastings, we discover that he had before entering Dunwich served two sentences in Brisbane Gaol for ‘forgery and uttering’. Convicted in Toowoomba in 1874, he was initially sentenced for three years.[xiv] He next sentence appears in the records of Brisbane Gaol, which not only tells us that he was a book binder, had once suffered a broken jaw, but that he was born in England. What cannot be falsified, however, is the preserved photograph of him in the prison registry, putting a rare real face to the name on the paper.[xv] After he was released, he was again convicted of forgery and this time sentenced for a five-year jaunt at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Not long after this, however, he was transferred to Dunwich and admitted for debility and gout in 1877. Whether he was Charles or William, we do know that he lived in Dunwich for the next ten years, dying in 1887.

Unfortunately for historians, much of what is contained in the Dunwich registers is all the evidence that remains extant of the lives of the people it records, the story ends before it begins. On searching for some of the patients in other Queensland archival records, it is difficult to find more than one or two other references to them. This does not, however, completely deaden the chance that a wider search could answer some mysteries raised by the Dunwich entries. Nonetheless they remain a rich source of individual stories, and of quite surprising relevance in telling the broader story of colonial Queensland and Australia more broadly. In contrast to working with immigration records for convicts and free-settlers, the Dunwich records record the end of people’s lives, offering tantalizing hints to long lives lived, or of bigger stories untold.

Daniel McKay


[i] Queensland State Archives, Dunwich and Eventide Records: Brief Guide 26 (Brisbane: QSA, May 2011), 1.

[ii] Queensland State Archives, Pre-Separation Resource Guide: A Bibliography of Sources Held at Queensland State Archives relating to Queensland Prior to Separation from New South Wales in 1859 (Brisbane: QSA, 2010).

[iii] Queensland State Archives, Dunwich and Eventide Records: Brief Guide 26 (Brisbane: QSA, May 2011), 1.

[iv] “Telegraphic,” Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 12 May 1865, 2;  “Telegraphic,”, Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), 25 Oct 1866, 2.

[v] “The Benevolent Asylum Patients At Dunwich,”, The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), 28 December 1867,  4.

[vi] Queensland State Archives, Pre-Separation Resource Guide: A Bibliography of Sources held at Queensland State Archives relating to Queensland prior to Separation from New South Wales in 1859 (Brisbane: QSA, 2010).

[vii] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 12552, Register of Personal Details Relating to Persons Admitted, c. 1 January 1859 – 29 September1882, 260, 168, 202

[viii] Ibid., 22.

[ix] Ibid., 166 and 28.

[x] Richard Cannon, Historical Record of the Thirty-Ninth, or Dorsetshire Regiment of Foot (London: Parker, Furnivall, and Parker, 1853), 65-72.

[xi]Reference to Sturt’s expeditions of 1828 and 1829 are found in Richard Cannon’s history of the regiment:

‘The attention of Lieut-General Ralph Darling, governor of the colony, having for some time been drawn to the importance and advantages which would result from a greater knowledge of the interior of the country, yielded to the entreaties of Captain Charles Sturt of the THIRTY-NINTH. and permitted him to proceed for the purpose of prosecuting the discoveries already commenced by other travellers. This officer departed from Sydney on his first expedition, on the 6th of November 1828, proceeding in a westerly direction, and remained absent until the 2nd of April 1829, when he rejoined the regiment, having performed the task allotted to him in a manner highly satisfactory to the government; so much so, that having again most particularly requested permission to proceed once more for the purpose of exploring the country in another direction, his request was readily acceded to by the governor, and he accordingly departed from Sydney on the 3rd of November 1829.’

[xii] Charles Sturt, Two Expeditions into the Interior of Southern Australia during the years 1828, 1829, 1830, and 1831 with Observations on the Soil, Climate, and General Resources of the Colony Of New South Wales (London: Smith, Elder, and Co, 1834).

[xiii] Claudia Orange, ‘Busby, James – Busby, James’, in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: Te Ara – the Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, updated 30 October 2012.

[xiv] Queensland State Archives, Item ID104859, Register – Court Cases.

[xv] Queensland State Archives, Digital Image ID 18835.

Assisted Immigrants

The rest of the project has been focused around the use of multiple sources and archives to complete the life story of one person; this section looks at examining one collection deeply. Each process is utilised by academics and they reveal different sorts of information. With the first it is possible to uncover the life of an individual and discover exactly what lead them to where they ended up. With the second, however, the findings are more general; a group experience is found and commonalities and averages are drawn. The document collection used for this study was the Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals and thus, the group examined is assisted immigrants to Queensland.

Originally, the intention behind the use of this collection was to take a sample and use it to develop quantitative data on the assisted immigrants: average age, occupations, place of origin and family status. But with such detailed interaction with the sources it quickly became clear that to limit their use to statistics would be to sell their usefulness short. To use this list / these lists only for statistical analysis of the group they describe would mask the glimpses of human experience that are revealed, almost accidentally, in the records of the assisted immigrants. Here are just some of these human stories.

Any long journey by ship in this period is known to have been rough and often deadly, especially for those who could not afford to travel in private compartments. The voyages undertaken by the assisted immigrants to Australia were no different and one of their most common associations is death. Death on board the ship was not at all uncommon; in fact, it was so common that to find a passenger list that did not list a death on the journey is a bit of a shock. As such, an examination of the Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals merely illustrates that the popularly held belief of the high occurrence of death on these ships, while grounded in fact, is perhaps slightly exaggerated.[i] Of the 2891 people examined in the sample selection, only 38 are listed as having died.[ii] It must, however, be remembered that in the larger picture this is a very small sample size. One of the most heart breaking instances found was that of the Smith family on board the Agricola. The Smith family consisted of John (34), a shepherd and head of the family, Catherine (35), James (10), John (8) and Mary A. (6).[iii] However, during the voyage John, the father; Catherine, the mother; and John, the little boy, all died.[iv] This left James and Mary A. to fend for themselves when they arrived on 2 March 1853 in a completely unfamiliar country.[v] While this is an extreme example, with both the adults of the family not surviving the journey, any death on board must have been very trying for everybody, no less the family of the deceased. In particular, the death of the main income earner, often the male head of the family, had to have had a devastating impact on the family’s survival in Australia. If one were to choose to follow up on the Smith children or any family that lost their ability to provide for themselves through death on the boat, the Queensland State Archives have many collections that would aid in this search.

Another instance of mortality at sea, and upon arrival, was that of the ship the Emigrant. With six passengers dying at sea, the ship was quarantined at Dunwich upon its arrival in Australia.[vi] While in quarantine a further four people died, within sight of their destination.[vii] In total, the Brisbane Courier recorded that forty of the ship’s company died of typhus fever.[viii] It is difficult to comprehend how these passengers must have felt, isolated on board their ship, so close to the destination, having survived the long journey and the typhus that ran rampant on board, only to die without ever coming ashore. The first time they would touch Australian soil would be their burial in the Dunwich Cemetery.[ix]

While death was ever-present on board, what was equally prevalent but far less known was the starting of life at sea. It was not at all uncommon for women to give birth while on board. In the case of the Truro, an incredible twelve babies were born in one voyage, all within days of each other, while the Caroline had eight births.[x] It appears to have been the practice to name the infant after the ship on which he or she was born, either as their first name or as their second, and when researching settlers with very unusual names it is not uncommon to discover they were born on board a ship of that name.[xi] Equally common in naming practices, it appears, was to name the new infant with the same name as the child that died on the voyage.[xii] While this was probably done to keep family names alive, it seems a very sad thing to be constantly reminded of the child that was lost. It is a testimony of the wretchedness of the life that was left behind, and the hope these families held for their lives in Australia, that women would embark on months-long journeys while already heavily pregnant, particularly given the dangers of childbirth in the best of circumstances during this period.

While the Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals can be used to find statistics on the nature of the assisted immigrants arriving in Australia, they are possibly even more useful as a study of moments in these people’s lives. It appears that this is a largely untapped resource for looking at the specific immigrant rather than to collect group data. These documents are important for individual stories, as they are often the only time when it can be exactly known where these people were and what they were doing. Assisted immigrants for a large part, though not exclusively, came from a class of people who often did not leave a legacy of person specific documentation and these lists allow for months of their lives being recorded.

Tess Cohen


[i] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 13086, Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid, Agricola.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Queensland State Archives Series, ID 13086, Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals, Emigrant; C. R. Wilbur, “Notes on the History of Maritime Quarantine in Queensland, 19th Century”, 374, available on http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:215323/s18378366_1945_3_5_369.pdf.

[vii] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 13086, Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals, Emigrant.

[viii] Wilbur, “Notes on the History of Maritime Quarantine in Queensland,” 374.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Queensland State Archives Series, ID 13086, Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals, Truro; Queensland State Archives Series, ID 13086, Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals, Caroline.

[xi] Queensland State Archives Series, ID 13086, Registers of Immigrant Ships’ Arrivals.

[xii] Ibid.

Daniel Scannell: A Personal Story

The following is a personal story of a convict that spent some time in Queensland as reconstructed from sources found at Queensland State Archives and online.            

            I am Daniel Scannell and I was one of the youngest convicts to ever be sent to Moreton Bay [Queensland]. My life was short and violent and it began in 1817 in Ireland.[1] On 24 of August in Cork City, aged just thirteen, I was convicted of ‘privately stealing and stealing wearing apparel’ and sentenced to seven years in Australia.[2] Unfortunately it seems that any record of this trial has long since been lost. I find this very regrettable because as you can guess from my age and sentence it would have been a thrilling read. A thirteen-year-old boy does not get sent across the world by himself without a good reason, or at least you would like to think not. I left Cork, Ireland for New South Wales, Australia on 1 January 1830 on board the Forth I, with David Padfoot as the master and William Clifford as surgeon.[3] We were at sea for 115 days, during which three male prisoners died of dysentery and the rest of us finally arrived in New South Wales on 26 April 1830.[4]

            A muster was taken by Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay on board the Forth I on 28 April 1830 and our details were recorded in the Principal Superintendent of Convicts, Bound Indents for the period 1829-1830.[5] And as such I was recorded to be the 21st convict from the Forth I and the 606th convict to arrive in New South Wales in 1830.[6] When I arrived they recorded I was from Cork City, Catholic, Single, and an Errand Boy, aged thirteen and 4 feet 6 inches tall.[7] They also put down the basic details of the conviction that resulted in my transportation to Australia.[8] Crucially, for me, they noted that I had been put in an Iron Gang. [9]

            My initial stay in Sydney was brief. It was only a few months before I found myself before the Court of Magistery at Hyde Park Barracks with J. Bowman J. P. and William Macpherson J. P. presiding.[10] On 3 November 1830 I had run away from Carter Barracks and entered the shop of one Mark in Hunter Street where I stole ‘numerous articles of wearing apparel’, to use the words of their Honourable Justices.[11] However, I did not get far. On 24 November 1830 the Sydney Monitor reported that I ‘Scannell Daniel, Forth, from Carters’ Barracks’, had been apprehended during the past week.[12] This report was in fact slightly out of date because I had already been brought before the court on 15 November.[13] In a letter to the Colonial Secretary, dated 17 November 1830, the Justices wrote:

the Bench therefore sentenced him to be transported to such Penal Settlement as His Excellency The Governor may be pleased to Direct for Three years, in the mean time he has been sent on Board the Phoenix Hulk to await His Excellency’s command.[14]

 It turns out his Excellency sent me to Moreton Bay and after a long stay on the Phoenix Hulk I arrived there on 1 January 1831 on board the Governor Phillip.[15] At some point, my Bound Indent record was amended to include my latest escapades and it then stated that my three years in the penal colony would be in addition to my original sentence, not part of it, so I was now looking at a total of ten years in Australia.[16] However, very excitingly, for me anyway, I had grown! I was now recorded as standing 5 feet and 2 inches tall.[17] And so, exactly one year after leaving Cork, I found myself slightly taller and in the penal colony of Moreton Bay.

            Once again my details were recorded, this time in the Chronological Register of Convicts, held at Moreton Bay. Here they had my original conviction as larceny and my trade in Cork as a labourer.[18] They recorded that I was fair and freckled with brown hair and hazel eyes.[19] They gave me the prisoner number 2246 and in the remarks merely said ‘to Norfolk Island’.[20] It appears that no record remains indicating why and when I was sent to Norfolk. That being the case, I am not telling either! Unlike my first stint in Sydney, I did manage to stay in Moreton Bay for over two years more before trying to escape. The penal colony was brutal and harsh and by 1833 I had had enough. On 23 April 1833 the Book of Monthly Returns of Prisoners Maintained recorded that I had run away.[21] This time I was not alone: I was accompanied by Patrick Ryan, a labourer of the Florentia; James Ferrell, a blacksmith off the Countess Harcourt; and William Puckeridge, a native labourer.[22] Once again my freedom was short lived. In a letter to the Colonial Secretary dated 22 May 1833, my fellow runaways and I were named and he was assured that we had ‘embarked on board the Cutter Fairy for conveyance to Sydney’.[23] Strangely, my name was misspelt in this letter and my ship misidentified, but it would be a stretch to think it was not me and all the others named were the same people I was reported to have absconded with. We were not alone on board the cutter but were accompanied by many others, including special constables and witnesses for the prosecution.[24]

            So began the most infamous part of my short life. Some time after I arrived back in Sydney, I have forgotten exactly when, I was assigned to the free settler Davis of Punch Bowl Road, and I conducted myself to the satisfaction of my master.[25] Punch Bowl Road and the nearby Parramatta Road were known to house ‘dens of infamy’ and it was in one of these roadside stops that I met William Carter, John Barlow and James Bryant.[26] In this group there was a convict (me), two natives and a free man.[27] In 1835 we formed a highway robbery gang and worked in the Liverpool Road area.[28] We undertook a series of highway robberies, the Sydney Gazette later stating that there was ‘strong suspicion’ that we were being harboured, stating that ‘otherwise it would have been impossible so long to elude the vigilance of the horse police’.[29] On 1 May 1835 we robbed Captain Clarke and Mr Manning on Parramatta Road, taking their money and watches; this turned out to be a very bad move on our part.[30] Our crime was splashed across the newspapers. On 3 May 1835 we were apprehended in the most embarrassing way, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertise reporting:

the prisoners were in the bush near Duck River Bridge, evidently waiting a chance to commit a robbery; only two men of the horse police accidentally encountered them. They had five stand[s] of arms, two double barrelled pistols – and yet they surrendered without offering the least resistance, so powerful does the terror of this body of men operate – When they were secured the soldiers searched about, and at the spot where they took them, the watch of Captain Clarke, and other property, was discovered.[31]

We were caught by accident, we surrendered instantly, and we had incriminating evidence on us. On 9 May we were indicted before the Chief Justice and a civil jury.[32] We were found guilty and sentenced to death, despite Captain Clark stating that he hoped that ‘as no actual violence was used, mercy would be shown to the prisoners’.[33] The Chief Justice is reported to have said in passing the sentence that ‘the prisoners had been convicted in such evidence as entirely took away any anxiety or doubt from his mind, as well as from the mind of the Jury’.[34] On 26 May, attended by Rev. Mr Cowper, I was executed pursuant to my sentence and so ended my time in Australia aged just eighteen years old.[35]


[1] State Records (formerly Archives Office i.e. AO) of New South Wales – AO Fiche No 675 Fiche 2 of 3, Principal Superintendent of Convicts Bound Indents 1829-1830 (4/4015) 81 in Peter Mayberry, “Daniel Scannell,” Irish Convicts to New South Wales 1788-1849, http://members.pcug.org.au/~ppmay/cgi-bin/irish/irish.cgi?requestType=Search2&id=26488.

[2] Ibid.

[3] New South Wales Government. State Records, “Chronological list of Convict Ships arriving at Port Jackson 1788-1849, and Item list of the various Papers for each vessel”, 242, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/documents/publications/Convict%20ships%20to%20NSW.

[4] Ibid; New South Wales Government. State Records, “Chronological list of Convict Ships,”. 242.

[5] Free Settler or Felon, “Forth I,” http://www.jenwilletts.com/ConvictShipsFG.htm#Forth1

[6] State Records (formerly Archives Office i.e. AO) of New South Wales – AO Fiche No 675 Fiche 2 of 3, Principal Superintendent of Convicts Bound Indents 1829-1830 (4/4015) 81 in Peter Mayberry, “Daniel Scannell,”, Irish Convicts to New South Wales 1788-1849, http://members.pcug.org.au/~ppmay/cgi-bin/irish/irish.cgi?requestType=Search2&id=26488.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] State Library Queensland, “New South Wales- Colonial Secretary Letters received relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland Received 1822-1860,”  Reel A2.5 (Letters received 1830-1831), 393-4.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Sydney Monitor (New South Wales : 1828 – 1838), 24 November 1830, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32074569.

[13] State Library Queensland, Reel A2.5 (Letters received 1830-1831), 393-4.

[14]  Ibid.

[15] Queensland State Archives, Index by Ship – Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839, 47.

[16] State Records (formerly Archives Office i.e. AO) of New South Wales – AO Fiche No 675 Fiche 2 of 3, Principal Superintendent of Convicts Bound Indents 1829-1830 (4/4015) 81 in Peter Mayberry, Daniel Scannell, Irish Convicts to New South Wales 1788-1849, http://members.pcug.org.au/~ppmay/cgi-bin/irish/irish.cgi?requestType=Search2&id=2648.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 70.

[19] Ibid., Description section at the end under “S”.

[20] Ibid., 70.

[21] Queensland State Archives, Item ID869688, Returns – Prisoners, 90.

[22] Ibid.

[23] State Library Queensland, “New South Wales – Colonial Secretary Letters received relating to Moreton Bay and Queensland Received 1822-1860,” Reel A2.7 (Letters received 1832-1833) 711-2.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Sydney Herald (New South Wales : 1831 – 1842), 28 May 1835, 2-3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12852266.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Australian (Sydney, New South Wales : 1824 – 1848), 5 May 1835, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article42004778.

[29] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales : 1803 – 1842), 5 May 1835, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2198052.

[30] The Colonist (Sydney, New South Wales : 1835 – 1840), 7 May 1835, 4- 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31716478.

[31] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 5 May 1835, 2.

[32] Sydney Monitor (New South Wales : 1828 – 1838), 13 May 1835, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32148896.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Sydney Herald, 28 May 1835, 2-3; The Colonist (Sydney, New South Wales : 1835 – 1840), 28 May 1835, 5, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31716562.

Francis Andrews: A Personal Story

The following is a personal story of a convict that spent some time in Queensland as reconstructed from sources found at Queensland State Archives and online. 

            My name is Francis Andrews. This is the story of my journey by boat to Australia, and to Moreton Bay, which one day would be known as Queensland. My story begins in Africa, but nobody knows in which area I grew up, or what my life was like there. I have left no record of how and why I arrived in England from the great continent of Africa. Nevertheless, at the age of twenty-two I found myself in London and in big trouble.

            On 12 August 1820, I was on Carey Street with a friend when a man carrying a bundle asked us where Searle’s Coffee House was.[1] This man was William Clutterham, who was the servant of Mr John Banks, a tailor.[2] In his bundle was a waistcoat and coat he was delivering to Mr Winford at the coffee house.[3] We told him we were also on our way to the coffee house and would show him the way.[4] I signalled my friend and then snatched the bundle and ran away.[5] Clutterham yelled, ‘Stop thief!’[6] A Mr Andrew Rogers testified against me saying, ‘I live in Hemlock Court. I heard the alarm – the prisoner ran by – I jostled him, and he dropped the bundle; I picked it up – he was stopped in a moment’.[7] And like that I was caught. I was indicted for the theft of the coat and waistcoat valued at £4 10s.[8] In the Old Bailey, Fourth Middlesex Jury, before Mr Common Sergeant, on Friday 15 September, Mr Clutterham and Mr Rogers testified against me and I was found guilty of pocket-picking and sentenced to transportation for life.[9]

            Sometime from the 3 and 9 May 1821 I left Portsmouth on the ship Grenada II, under the master And[rew]. Donald, heading for Australia with 151 other convicts.[10] We were at sea for just over four months, and all managed to survive the journey.[11] These were awful months on the ship. Eventually we arrived in Port Jackson, New South Wales on 16 September 1821.[12] Despite my already long journey from Africa, I was scared of this new place; it was different from England and the plants and animals where very different from anything I had seen in England and even Africa. Once in Australia all my vital details were recorded in the Chronological Register of Convicts.[13] They stated that I was 5 feet 6.75 inches tall, thirty years old, a Blackman and that I was a servant by trade.[14] It is in this record that the only reference to my place of origin – Africa – is made.[15] I was given a prisoner number. From then on, in my new country I would be identified by my name, my number and the ship I had arrived on.

            After five years in Sydney, I found myself in trouble with the law again and got my first mention in the newspaper. The Sydney Gazette published on the 13 May 1826 stated I was a

prisoner of the crown, charged with stealing from the box of a blind man, a prisoner in the Barracks, sundry articles of wearing apparel, found on the person of the prisoner [me!], who did not deny the charge. Sentenced to penal settlement for 3 years.[16]

So my Chronological Record entry was amended to include that I was, before the General Sessions, sentenced to three years for stealing wearing apparel.[17] And with this my long journey continued, as I was made ready to travel to Moreton Bay. I arrived in Moreton Bay on 22 September 1826 and I spent three years there; finally returning to Sydney in 1829.[18]

            Unfortunately, I was not very good at staying out of trouble, as my account so far proves. After being back in Sydney for less than a year, I found myself before the court again. On 1 October 1829 I was convicted by the Criminal Court for stealing from the house of John Hosking.[19] Once again, I was on my way to the Penal Colony of Moreton Bay. Travelling on the Amity we arrived at our destination on 9 December 1829.[20] While in Moreton Bay I was admitted to the Brisbane General Hospital for ‘Vulnus’ – which is really Latin doctor-talk for a wound.[21] I was admitted on 18 November 1831, aged twenty-seven.[22] According to Australian record keeping, I was younger now than when I arrived ten years previously. I was in hospital for twelve days and my wound was treated first with cataplasm, more doctor-talk meaning poultice, and then with various numbered ‘curatios’ – which just meant different treatments.[23] For my entire stay in the hospital I only received half portions of our daily food rations, possibly because I was not working.[24] Eventually I was discharged on 30 November 1831, and while the status of my injury was not recorded at the time of my discharge, it must have been okay, because I did not need to go back to hospital.[25] After that I was able (possibly for the first time in my life) to keep my head down and get my time done and after seven years at Moreton Bay I went back to Sydney on 12 November 1836.[26]

            At this point my life becomes difficult to follow in record form, possibly because I managed to keep myself out of trouble and so had less contact with the authorities and the newspapers. At some point after my return from Moreton Bay I was granted a ticket of leave for the district of Port Macquarie, however, this was cancelled due to my absence from the area in 1851.[27] After my ticket of leave was cancelled I turned over a new leaf, and as such cannot be found in the newspapers or official records again until 1873. On Saturday 7 June 1873 the Empire reported, ‘Francis Andrews, a coloured man, stealing slabs, not guilty’.[28] I was the only person in the report of whom a physical description was added, and this report is only the second recoverable document that records my race. After this brief interaction with the law I fade once again into obscurity, with the end of my long and perilous journey, which started in Africa, remaining a mystery.


[1] Old Bailey Proceedings Online “September 1820, trial of FRANCIS ANDREWS”, last updated April 2012, http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t18200918-220-defend2136&div=t18200918-220#highlight.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Public Record Office, England Convict Indents H.O. 11/4, the 1828 New South Wales Census and New South Wales Early Church Records in History Australia, “Grenada 1821,” Convict Stockade, last modified, 29 April 2012, http://www.historyaustralia.org.au/twconvic/Grenada+1821.

[11] History Australia, “Grenada 1821,” Convict Stockade, (last modified, 29 April 2012), http://www.historyaustralia.org.au/twconvic/Grenada+1821.

[12] New South Wales Government. State Records, “Chronological list of Convict Ships arriving at Port Jackson 1788-1849, and Item list of the various Papers for each vessel”, 14, https://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/documents/publications/Convict%20ships%20to%20NSW.

[13] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, description section at the end under “A” and 5.

[14] Ibid., Description section at the end under “A”.

[15] Ibid., page 5.

[16] Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (New South Wales : 1803 – 1842), 13 May 1826, 3, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2185811.

[17] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 5

[18] Ibid.

[20] Queensland State Archives, Index by Ship – Chronological Register of Convicts 1824-1839, 53.

[21] Queensland State Archives, Item ID2896, Register of cases and treatment – Moreton Bay Hospital, Case book 16/11/1831-27/1/1833, folio 7.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.; Free Settler or Felon?, “19th Century Medical Terms,” http://www.jenwilletts.com/19thCenturyMedical.htm.

[24] Queensland State Archives, Item ID2896, Register of cases and treatment, folio 7.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Queensland State Archives, Series ID 5653, Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 57.

[27] New South Wales Government. State Records, “Convict Index”, http://srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/indexes/searchhits.aspx?table=Convict%20Index&id=65&frm=1&query=Surname:andrews; Sydney Morning Herald (New South Wales : 1842 – 1954), 15 May 1851 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article12927095.

[28] Empire (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1875), 7 June 1873, 2, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article63231258.

READINGS AND RESEARCH ON FEMALE CONVICTS IN AUSTRALIA

As I have personally experienced, researching convict women can be a difficult process due to the lack of primary sources written by or for convict women. Accordingly, the following is a list of my top ten picks for online and print resources for reseraching convict women.

ONLINE: WEBSITES, PODCASTS, VIDEOS AND ARTICLES

(These are often less thoroughly researched, respected or authoritative than the print resources listed below them, however for students, new researchers in the area or those who want some basic, quick information they are exceedingly interesting).

1. Hendrickson, G. (2009). Women Transported: Myth and Reality. Retrieved from http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/publications/papers-and-podcasts/social-history/women-transported.aspx. 

Complimented by National Archives of Australia. (2012). Women Transported: Life in Australia’s Convict Female Factories. Retrieved from http://www.naa.gov.au/about-us/media/images/women-transported/index.aspx.

2. Hassan, R. (2012). Whores, Damned Whores and Female Convicts: Why our History does Early Australian Colonial Women a Grave Injustice. Retrieved from http://theconversation.edu.au/whores-damned-whores-and-female-convicts-why-our-history-does-early-australian-colonial-women-a-grave-injustice-4894.

3. Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Association. (2012). Parramatta Female Factory Precinct Homepage. Retrieved from: http://www.parragirls.org.au/.

4. Female Convicts Research Centre Inc. (2012). Female Convicts Research Centre Homepage. Retrieved from http://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/.

5. Drofenik, L. (2010). “Damned Whores or Founding Mothers? Representations of Convict Women in Australian Literature.” Acta Scientiarum, 32 (1), pgs. 97-105.

6. ABC Radio National (Life Matters), Australia’s Convict Women, Podcast 10th January 2012. Retrieved From http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/australias-convict-women/3692026.

7. Forell, C.A. (2009). Convicts, Thieves, Domestics and Wives in Colonial Australia: The Rebellious Lives of Ellen Murphy and Jane New. Retrieved from: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2080526&http://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=9&sqi=2&ved=0CE4QFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpapers.ss.

8. Jones, C. (2010). Australian Feminism Part 1 “Depraved and Disorderly,”: Gender, Race and Sexuality in Colonial Australia. Retrieved from: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/sociology/staff/academicstaff/jonesc/jonesc_index/teaching/birth/wk_14_deparved_and_disorderly.pdf

9. NSW State Records. (2012). A Gallery of New South Wales Women. Retrieved from: http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/digital-gallery/women-in-the-records.

(Note: Not all of these women are convicts, see Annie Turnbull & Mary Reiby).

10. Australian Children’s Television Foundation, Education Services Australia & The Le@rning Foundation. (2012). My Place for Teachers. Retrieved from: http://www.myplace.edu.au/home.html.

(This site is excellent from a teaching perspective, with information on the female factories and activities centered around “Sarah,” a young convict girl working her way through the convict system and life in the female factory).

PRINT:

(I’ve included Google Books links for all of these publications to assist in finding places to purchase/borrow them. If you have access to a local or university library they may also have either a print or e-book edition to look at).

1. Damousi, J. (1997). Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts, Sexuality and Gender in Australia. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.

Google Books Link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=QYfIFkINhS8C&pg=PR1&dq=depraved+and+disorderly&hl=en&sa=X&ei=6eW_UNGHNOHFmAX2uYCIAg&redir_esc=y

A brief extract from this book is available here: http://www.australianhumanitiesreview.org/archive/Issue-August-1997/damousi.html which gives a summary of the ideas and history explored by Damousi in full.

2. Oxley, D. (1996). Convict Maids: The Forced Migration of Women to Australia. Melbourne, Australia: Cambridge University Press.

Google Books Link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=3bTgd5lmvcAC&pg=PR4&dq=Convict+maids+:+the+forced+migration+of+women+to+Australia&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Eee_UPSwNMLMmAXJ74HYCQ&ved=0CDUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Convict%20maids%20%3A%20the%20forced%20migration%20of%20women%20to%20Australia&f=false

3. Daniels, K. (1998). Convict Women. New South Wales, Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Google Books Link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=IPrZoFd5OiUC&pg=PA278&dq=convict+women+kay+daniels&hl=en&sa=X&ei=xuq_UKyGMcjAmQWQqYHQDQ&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=convict%20women%20kay%20daniels&f=false

4. Smith, B. (2005) A Cargo of Women: Susannah Watson and the Convicts of the Princess Royal. New South Wales, Australia: Rosenburg Publishing Pty Ltd.

Google Books Link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=1DpRc8-igAMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=a+cargo+of+women&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ee-_UI3MCOf0mAWcsoHgBw&ved=0CDgQ6AEwAA

(There is also a fictional, novel adaptation of this book by the same name).

5. Swiss, D. J. (2010). The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women. New York, United States of America: Berkley Books.

Google Books Link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=9iQRKQEACAAJ&dq=the+tin+ticket&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YO6_UMqECcyfmQXe_oHgDw&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAA

6. Baxter, C. (2008). An Irresistable Temptation: The True Story of Jane New and A Colonial Scandal. New South Wales, Australia: Qllen & Unwin.

Google Books Link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=ALYRTlwwEpQC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

7. King, D. & Schroeder, L. (2012). Catherine McMahon: A Remarkable Convict Woman. New South Wales, Australia: Rosenburg Publishing Pty Ltd.

Google Books Link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=hfWcpwAACAAJ&dq=convict+women&hl=en&sa=X&ei=lgLAUKqUFbHKmAXflICAAQ&ved=0CDsQ6AEwAw.

8. Atkinson, J. (2005). Mary Proctor: Convict, Pioneer and Settler. New South Wales, Australia: Rosenburg Publishing Pty Ltd.

9. Rees, S. (2001). The Floating Brothel: The Extraordinary True Story of Female Convicts Bound for Botany Bay.

10. Williamson, K. (2004). Women on the Rocks: A Tale of Two Convicts. Queensland, Australia: University of Queensland Press. New South Wales, Australia: Hawchette Australia.

Google Books Link: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=c-8TqsmIZewC&printsec=frontcover&dq=convict+women&hl=en&sa=X&ei=BfO_UNf1F9GhmQWerICQAQ&ved=0CEEQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=convict%20women&f=false

(This last one is fiction, but gives an insight into the convict experience for women all the same).

Any one or even all of these sources can be of assistance to students, researchers or those with a general interest in female convicts, particularly as a starting point for further study or invesitgation into a certain convict woman or group of convict women.

MORETON BAY CONVICT DEMOGRAPHICS – The Long and Short of it.

ORGINS

The records can tell us a lot about convicts as individuals, but by putting all the data together we can get an idea for convicts as a group of people. The following three graphics show some of this broken down. Figure 1, shows the convicts broken down into where they came from, into the various countries that make up the British Isles and wider. Australian encompasses those convicts who are written as being ‘native’ or ‘born in the colony’, most indications point to this referring to european children born in New South Wales who have committed an offence in Australia (remember Moreton Bay was a place of secondary punishment). The European segment includes convicts who although sentenced in Britain were born elsewhere including Sweden, France, Spain, Italy, Russia (Poland). When you picture convicts you tend not to think of Guisseppe Laberbera the Italian convict born in Naples or Charles Sunstrum the Swede. Across the Atlantic there were a number of convicts born in North America, hailing from Philadelphia, Halifax, Boston and New York. Other, includes a few convicts from the Africa, the West Indies and India including Henry Palmer of Jamaica, James Thomas of South Dominica, George Brown of Ceylon and Patrick Collins of Bombay. These are just some of the interesting individuals who show that not all convicts were British, and the real multicultural mixing pots the penal settlements became. It also shows the higher than expected  level of mobility that people had, particularly as indicated by the wide range of places of origin. Whilst most of these convicts were sentenced in Britain elsewhere in Australia there are records of convicts who were sent directly from other places in the British Empire including North America (several American ‘patriots’and Canadian ‘rebels’ were sent out as political prisoners), the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and from port cities in India.

RELIGION

The records list a lot of personal details including eye and hair colour. Religion was also listed, although the large percentage of the convicts who did not specify their adherence makes it hard to get a complete picture. In some cases its possible to fill in the blanks, the convict Sheik Brown from Bombay in India for instance was very likely a Muslim although this wasn’t listed in his record. Nonetheless these numbers are a useful in seeing the broad strokes of  the demographic breakdown of the convicts at Moreton Bay.

TALLSHORT

tallshortconvictwomen

The records when compiled allow us to compare and contrast the data, for instance we can see the range of heights of convicts, from shortest to tallest.

MORETON BAY PENAL SETTLEMENT 101

The majority of research into Australia’s colonial past tends to focus on New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) as the dynamic frontiers of the period. Contrastingly, this project is primarily concerned with the penal settlement operating in the Moreton Bay region between 1824 and 1842. Established in response to the report of John Thomas Bigge in 1822 (http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/history_nation/macquarie/greenway/bigge.html) who highlighted the need for another secondary place of punishment to deal with a spate of crime in Sydney and increasing numbers of repeat offenders in the colony, the settlement of Moreton Bay covered much of the area pictured below. Eventually, it comprised the area from Stradbroke Island to modern-day Ipswich, including familiar demesnes such as Cowper’s Plains, Eagle Farm and what was to become the City of Brisbane.

Contained on microfilm at the Queensland State Archives, “Moreton Bay Penal Settlement Maps and Architectural Plans,” Series I.D. 3739.

This phrase, “place of secondary punishment,” may not be a familiar one for students and researchers new to the study  of Australian colonisation. Essentially, convicts were transported to New South Wales or Van Dieman’s Land on the basis of crimes committed within Britain; however it is fallacious to believe that this was the end of their wrongdoing, and colonies such as Moreton Bay, Norfolk Island, Port Macquarie, Port Arthur and so on accomodated those who had significantly re-offended since their arrival in Australia. Hence, when looking at documents such as the “Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 1824-1839,” (http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/Researchers/History/HistoricalEssays/Pages/moretonbay-convict-settlement.aspx) convicts are recorded as having an “original” and “colonial” offence. Nearly 2,400 men and 145 women were transported to Moreton Bay on colonial charges which ranged from larceny and receiving stolen goods to sexual offences and murder.

A succession of Commandants held sway over Moreton Bay, shaping the harsh conditions, hard labour and poor quarters afforded the convicts which eventually resulted in the settlement’s closure. Of these, Patrick Logan of the 56th Regiment was particularly notorious, sentencing recalcitrant prisoners to over 200 lashings coming to a total of 11,000 lashes in just nine month. His letterbook, available on microfilm at QSA (http://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/Search/ItemDetails.aspx?ItemId=339165) makes for insightful reading. The abuses inflicted on inmates of Moreton Bay fostered an intense culture of resistance to which military authorities responded with severity, as the Book of Trials (http://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/Search/ItemDetails.aspx?ItemId=869682) clearly demonstrates.  Raymond Evans (2007, 38-39) even makes reference to several rebellions on board convict transports destined for Moreton Bay, and the manner in which these were attended to by the officers in charge.

Female convicts held an unique position in the convict narrative of Moreton Bay, one which is often silenced. Many penal settlements hosted “female factories” where convict women and (sometimes) their children were housed and employed in a variety of tasks such as needlwork, washing, picking oakum and specific to Moreton Bay, making straw hats for the men. Women were also subjected to singular punishments designed to shame more so than pain, such as head-shaving, wearing iron collars and solitary confinement.

Contained on microfilm at the Queensland State Archives, “Moreton Bay Penal Settlement Maps and Architectural Plans,” Series I.D. 3739.

Contained on microfilm at the Queensland State Archives, “Moreton Bay Penal Settlement Maps and Architectural Plans,” Series I.D. 3739.

In consequence of this sort of treatment, convicts were regularly admitted to the Moreton Bay Hospital for treatment and were even buried in the area. In fact, family life was a major part of the penal settlement life, with soldiers assigned to the colony often bringing young families, women in the Female Factory cohabitating with their children, spouses of convicts applying to sent there to be close to each other and children being born to female convicts during their sentences. As a result of this, the transition from Moreton Bay penal settlement to Brisbane Town was perhaps rather natural, with the official ending of transportation there in 1839 and opening to free settlement by Governor George Gipps on 10th February, 1842.

REFERENCES

Australian Children’s Television Found & Educational Services Ltd. (2011). My Place For Teachers: Female Factories. Retrieved From http://www.myplace.edu.au/decades_timeline/1820/decade_landing_18.html?tabRank=2&subTabRank=2

Book of Trials Held at Moreton Bay July 1835- 1842, Queensland State Archives Item ID869682, Register – court cases.

Chronological Register of Convicts at Moreton Bay, 1824-1839, Queensland State Archives Item ID869689, Register – prisoners.

Dr. Jennifer Harrison. (2011). Moreton Bay Convict Settlement. Retrieved From http://www.archives.qld.gov.au/Researchers/History/HistoricalEssays/Pages/moretonbay-convict-settlement.aspx

Moreton Bay Penal Settlement Maps and Architectural Drawings, 1830-1848, Queensland State Archives Series ID 3739, Moreton Bay Penal Settlement Maps and Architectural Drawings.

State Library of New South Wales. (2012). The Bigge Report. Retrieved From http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/discover_collections/history_nation/macquarie/greenway/bigge.html

Queensland Government, Department of Community Safety. (2009). History of Corrective Services in Queensland. Retrieved From http://www.correctiveservices.qld.gov.au/about_us/history/history.shtml#early_brisbane

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. (2012). The Convict Records of Queensland. Retrieved From http://www.amw.org.au/citation/34

TRUE RESEARCH EXPERIENCE?

After a full semester at the John Oxley library going through what I was later told was the quintessential research experience ; that is seemingly endless dead ends, I was a little wary coming into the project. In my research project at the John Oxley Library I spent hours running up against brick walls, that is not saying anything about the wonderful staff at the library nor their vast collection but more about the impossible topics that I was picking. Despite being very excited about the upcoming Perilous Crossings Project my time at the library was definitely tainting this excitement. And to be honest my first day at the archives just appeared to continue my tradition of hitting walls everywhere I looked.

In reaction to the general idea that all the convicts who came to Australia where English, Christian and just a down and out, good person who was forced to steal a loaf of bread to feed their kids, I choose to look at somebody who did not fit this type; Samuel Levy, a man who had been recorded as being Jewish. While the Jewish community in Australia is a large one, people tend to think of it not having a history or tradition in Australia. I was intending for showing that people of all religions had been arriving in Australia since the beginning. Well this turned out to be more difficult than I thought, while a number of Jews are recorded as arriving in New South Wales as convicts, and even doing something that warranted being sent to Moreton Bay, there turned out to be very little documentation on them. Giving up on Samuel Levy and the others I moved onto Daniel Scannell, who proved to be far more fruitful.

It was researching Daniel Scannell that I found what I hope is the true research experience ..the little thrill you get every time you uncover something new, something you can connect to your person. Unveiling somebody’s life, one crime at a time as it turned out, is a thrilling experience and one that makes up for the dead ends you hit before making these break-throughs. Aged only thirteen at the time of his conviction that sent him to Australia, Daniel did not let this deter him, but instead embarked on a career as a criminal that ended in him being executed at the age of only seventeen or eighteen as a bushranger and highway robber.

Daniel’s full and very eventful short life made me think that perhaps it is the people who “make good” once here that become difficult to track. Subsequent convicts I have researched have strengthened this idea as the easiest things to find (and often the only things there are to find) are records of the convicts’ further crimes and punishments. As such, those who “make good” disappear from the documentation.

So despite my rocky start in the first week I am gaining momentum and am really enjoying the research process as it turns out the highs, when they come, are definitely worth lows.

10 USEFUL WEBSITES FOR RESEARCHING CONVICTS

The internet is making historical research more and more accessible, anyone at any time can discover an untold story, these are some websites that are making tracing the journey of some long-dead convict across the globe easier. 

1. Google www.google.com

No, this isn’t a joke! Google is an immensely powerful search engine that has the potential to find sources and information that you would never otherwise find. However don’t expect it to do all the work for you, this is a blunt instrument which pulls up everything and anything, if you type in John Smith for instance your going to find much more than you want, John Smith the convict after all is unlikely to have a Facebook account. Besides that there were over 600 convicts called John Smith. But by using some tricks you can refine your search. By putting “John Smith” in inverted commas Google will search for the phrase as a whole, rather than John and Smith as they appear individually. Additionally, trying this in combination with the word convict, or other key words like the name of the ship, or where they ended up “moreton bay”. Google is good for giving you an idea of what’s out there, but if you don’t find anything or much, do not give up hope, don’t sulk of become disheartened there lies gold buried elsewhere for the taking!  TIP  Searching the name of the person your tracking with their ship is a good way to refine your search as in most old records and newspaper reports  most convicts were referred to by name and ship of arrival.   

2. NSW Index of Convicts http://srwww.records.nsw.gov.au/indexes/searchform.aspx?id=65

Why do all the hard work when someone has done it for you? Most state archives or libraries have some form of Index of Convicts which have been compiled with the blood, sweat and tears of staff and volunteers. Some of these indexes like the NSW and Tasmanian lists are searchable, so you can look up a name to see if your target is there, and if so what information exists elsewhere for you to find. Some of these indexes give a lot of information, others just tell you where you can find it. TIP As with all of these searchable databases, remember that the person your tracking could have there name recorded with a range of variations, for example Matthais Yody, alternatively appears as Matthew and Udy, Yodie, Jody and Todie. Also remember that until 1859 Queensland did not exist, and was part of New South Wales.

3. Index – Moreton Bay Chronological Register of Convicts www.archives.qld.gov.au/Researchers/Indexes/Convicts/Pages/ChronologicalRegister.aspx#search

To find out about convicts who were sent to the Penal Settlement at Moreton Bay, this is the best starting place. Available on the Queensland State Archives website this index is quite user friendly and accompanied with useful explanatory notes. TIP Its always a good idea to cross reference information on the index with the original record.

4. Tasmanian Index of Convicts http://portal.archives.tas.gov.au/menu.aspx?search=11

If you know or want to see if the person your tracking went to Tasmania this searchable index is a great resource, cataloging around 76,000 people.

5. Trove Database NLA http://trove.nla.gov.au

The trove website is one of the most useful ways of getting to know more about your convict. Containing searchable database of  digitized Australian newspapers from the very beginning of settlement, you will be surprised by what you can find. For instance when freedom was granted then the convicts name would appear in a list published by the colonial secretary, or if they had been involved in some further scandal or crime it might be detailed in an article. Also if you have found reference to some event that is in other source you can use that as a lead to find newspapers from the event, when they aren’t referred to directly by name. TIP Remember that these newspapers have been digitized and the OCR that is used to search the text is fallible, so it’s a good idea to use different techniques to find what your after. Also take care of the many derivations that names can have.

6. Old Bailey Court Records www.oldbaileyonline.org

Covering the period from 1674 – 1913 this website is an amazing searchable resource of trial proceedings from this notorious criminal court of justice. Many convicts transported to Australia began their journey in the docks of the Old Bailey and so to add detail to your research is an invaluable source.

7. State Library of Queensland http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/family-history/info-guides/convicts

The State Library of Queensland has a great resource page on researching convicts with details of their own holdings and other useful sites. There is also a database that you can use though isn’t as exhaustive as some of the others.

8. State Library of New South Wales www.sl.nsw.gov.au/research_guides/convicts/index.html

Although geared towards family history, this guide to using the records for researching convicts is quite comprehensive. The State Library of NSW has the lions share of convict records and other sources. This includes material relating to the penal settlement at Moreton Bay. However luckily the Queensland State Library has microfilm copies of much of these records, so you don’t always need to go on a holiday to Sydney for your research.

9. Convict Records www.convictrecords.com.au

As a basic search tool this is a useful way of snavelling a couple of leads, although the information is largely unreferenced and its better if you can find the stuff for yourself so you can be more certain of its accuracy. Plus its boring if you don’t get to go on a treasure hunt.

10. Australian National Maritime Museum – Convict Ships www.anmm.gov.au/site/page.cfm?u=1475

If trying to get an appreciation for convict ships, this is a good page that details further resources you can track down. Often there is information you can find about the ship that convicts came to Australia. For instance by searching the name of the convict ship you might find details that you wouldn’t otherwise have done. A search for the Malabar which came out in 1819, revealed that Lachlan MacQuarie the governor had boarded it for inspection and written about the event in his diary.

There are lots of great other sources that you can reach through the internet depending on who your searching for. There is often a wealth of great images and written sources that you can find as contextual material, for instance about what the Old Bailey looked like, or what it was like to be a convict at the places where the person your tracking was at the time. Whilst your still going to have to visit a library or archive, there is a lot you can do before you get there.

GETTING STARTED PART 2

Our first week at the archives has revealed as much about ourselves and each other as researchers, as it has about this awe-inspiring institution in itself. Initially, we established a common belief in the need for our research to be symbiotic, with each student feeding off the leads, sources, surmises and analysis of the others and ultimately those more experienced guides lighting our way through what can often be a murky swamp of indexes, databases and difficult-to-decipher microfilm and original copies. Fortunately, Dr. Dolly Mackinnon is exceptionally ready to place her extensive historical knowledge at our disposal, while research archivists such as Jane and Saadia act as omniscient and omnipotent gods of QSA, ferreting out fantastic original copies to which access is generally restricted and apparently breezing through plenty of other bureaucratic red tape for us as well. However, we also discovered a wide range of personal interests and agendas within the group which were to inform the direction of our research, from Daniel’s preference for exotic origins or American connections, to Tess’s penchant for researching younger or Jewish convicts as well as my own desire to balance the representation of the genders and work more extensively on the experience of family groups or females involved in the penal experience. Having engaged with the background to this project extensively and long before ourselves (as we were frantically completing exams), Dolly had noted well in advance a number of people and stories which she personally hoped to include, and many of these were right up our alley also. Yet the flexibility and freedom which she has allowed us in directing this project for ourselves has menat that even when our research focus diverges from her own, she continues to be encouraging and helpful. Consequently, our first week at QSA has been simultaneously welcoming, exhilirating, a little bit overwhelming and informative, with the three of us gradually forming a cohesive and workable research team with expert support and learning how to pursue our individual research topics as well as bearing out and checking the research of our peers.

WEDNESDAY

Having established a fairly solid foundation of our convicts’ basic details, today was predominantly about moving away from simple information available through indexes to fleshing out the stories of these men and women’s lives with digitally archived newspapers, records of the empire and colonies and specific accounts related to Moreton Bay, such as the “Book of Trials Kept at the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement July 1835-February 1842” (http://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/Search/ItemDetails.aspx?ItemId=869682). This demonstrates the manner in which QSA works as an excellent platform from which to begin research which traverses a variety of sources and institutions; based on the information I obtained from the full “Chronological Register of Convicts of Convicts at Moreton Bay” (http://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/Search/SeriesDetails.aspx?SeriesId=5653), available on microfilm, I was able to ascertain that two young, female convicts Mary and Mary Ann O’Hara, transported to Moreton Bay in 1831 were sentenced to fourteen years there alongside a 75 year old woman, Mary O’Brien for the crime of recieving stolen goods. Entering these details into Trove  (http://trove.nla.gov.au/) enabled me to backtrack to newspaper reports of the proceedings of the Sydney Supreme Court and determine that at 16 and 18 respectively, these women were indicted with several male members of their family on the evidence of John Walmsley, for harbouring bushrangers and recieving from them valuable goods which the family knew to be stolen. Walmsley, a key member of the bushranger group harboured by the O’Hara’s and O’Brien’s, committed them to Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island with his evidence, in return for an unconditional Crown pardon of all crimes and misdemeanours committed in the colony. The most important exercise in using historical sources is to corroborate and confirm the data they represent; in this instance, the colonial practice of identifying convicts by their original transportation ship or native place is incredibly handy in differentiating convicts of the same name, information which is readily available through the Chronological Register or a multitude of indexes kept in the Public Search Room.

In attempting to trace the experience of the O’Hara girls during their internment at Moreton Bay, the aforementioned Book of Trials was practically helpful- as well as academically fascinating. The ever-accomadatory reserach archivists in the Public Search Room actually arranged for us to view the original version of this document, although that spidery clerk’s handwriting we have yet to master was made significantly easier to decipher with the help of a sample of typed transcriptions from the original held at the back of the Public Search Room in addition to other indexes and finding aids. The Book of Trials is one of a number of documents which QSA usually restricts the general public from accessing due to the age, damage or sensitivity of the document, so we were particularly excited and and grateful for this opportunity. Essentially, it is an account of misdemeanours committed and punishments meted out to convicts within Moreton Bay, such as absconding (running away), stealing supplies from the settlement or officers supplies, refusing to work in the chain gangs etc., with punishments generally doled out in the form of lashes to the back with a cat o’ nine tails. Female convicts do not appear to have recieved lashes for, as Dolly suggested, exacting this punishment does require the convict to be stripped to the waist which may have gotten a little too exciting for the predominantly male population of Moreton Bay. Notably, Mary O’Hara cameos in the very first account of this volume as an accomplice in an attempt at jail-breaking coordinated by some of the women and officers associated with them, which suitably topped off a day of thrilling discoveries for my day.

THURSDAY

Today our training wheels came off, with Dolly leaving us on our own at the archives to attend to some matters of her own. We were told that parties in the private group room so thoughtfully provided to us by QSA would only be permitted if the departments working beside us were also invited…but we decided to get some good, solid research in instead. Personally, I spent much of the day painstakingly going through medical records of the Moreton Bay penal settlement, specifically the “Registers of Cases and Treatment- Moreton Bay Hospital 1831-1842” (http://www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au/Search/SeriesDetails.aspx?SeriesId=10822). The common saying that there is no reading a doctor’s note was never more applicable than to these 19th century doctor’s casebooks detailing the illnesses and treatments of convict admissions to the Moreton Bay Hospital, although in this instance the extensive use of Latin medical abbreviations was distinctly unhelpful. A number of familiar names turned up in these documents, such as our man Matthew Yody and Mary O’Brien, an elderly grandmother transported to Moreton Bay in 1831 with the O’Hara sisters discussed previously. The hard labour, poor conditions, insufficient quarters and diet manifested themselves in a wide range of conditions amongst the convicts, including paralysis (Matthew Yody), anasarca and uterine prolapse (Mary O’Brien). Interestingly, we also came up with one of our first frustrating roadblocks due to gaps in the historical record; there were records listed in the alphabetical index at the begining of some of these registers which pointed to other convicts of interest to us being admitted, however their full details were not extant in the register. Nevertheless, it is microfilm copies of these surviving original documents which allow historical researchers and students such as ourselves some fascinating insights into the people and topics we are interested in.

FRIDAY

Venturing out to the Queensland State Library today gave us the opportunity both to experience how the archives interact with other major depositories of sources for Australian history and to compare the operations and resources of the two institutions. One would think that we would never need to leave the archives, with their massive collection of materials; however I personally found some interesting references to sources held by other agencies, such as QSL, through my engagement with indexes available through the computers in the Public Search Room at QSA. Notably, we had far more trouble reading many of the microfilm copies of documents at QSL, possibly due to these microfilms being taken at a much earlier date when the technology and processes involved were less advanced in comparison to those now used at QSA. On the other hand, the records of the New South Wales Colonial Secretary were fantastic in terms of fleshing our the frame of the narratives we had begun at QSA and generating a few more leads to follow in tracing our convicts throughout their lives. In fact, we could almost certainly have spent another day at QSL re-checking sources and following some more obscure leads. On the whole, QSL is an excellent supplementary resource to working at the archives or school/university more generally.
Here concludes an account of our wonderful first week as “QSA Researchers!” Any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to utilise the blog🙂