About those convicts
My time, at the moment, is mainly given over to Australian history, but because the convict topic is done to death, I have had little to say about it. I have, however, been thinking about transportation, the convict system, and its effects.
|Four fastidious Britons emoting over the convict stain and the|
Australian lack of human genetic diversity.
Britons of a certain appalling sort, usually lower-middle-class oiks or the toffy-nosed inbred offspring of the degenerate aristocracy, find it amusing to taunt Australians on their first encounter about their "convict taint".
I blame the English education system for letting them out in such a state of ignorance, because, as you will see, the story is far more nuanced than the simplistic notion of wicked felons and good "free" people.
Today, Australians are proud of their convict ancestors especially when the ancestors are clearly not wicked villains, and one of the convicts I want to look at was no villain.
There have always been two views about the convicts. One side agreed with "Major" James Mudie who wrote The Felonry of New South Wales and was horsewhipped for it. Mudie said all convicts were evil and would never improve. Today, people often claim that the convicts, especially their own ancestors, were "transported for stealing a loaf of bread". Mudie was neither an officer nor a gentleman, and he richly deserved his come-uppance.
(For details, see 'New Publication', Australasian Chronicle, November 21, 1840, p.2, : for a commentary (which farewells Mudie in an unfriendly way), see 'The Breakfast Table', Australasian Chronicle, January 12, 1841, p.2, There appear to have been no newspaper articles that supported him.)
The truth about the convicts is somewhere in the middle: some convicts were total villains, some were complete victims. In other words, there were good convicts and bad ones. There were also good and bad "free" people. Out of 245 marines (soldiers) who reached Australia, Judge-Advocate David Collins mentions four marines who received 200 lashes for manslaughter in 1788 and six marines who were hanged for robbing the colony's food stores in 1789. And those were the ones supposed to enforce the law!
(For details of these bad good guys: David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, pages 75 and 83 in the online edition. In the print edition, the pages are 38 and 49.)
On January 10, 1787, two Elizabeths were tried at the Old Bailey. Elizabeth Hayward was 13 or 14 when she left England. She was the youngest female convict on the first fleet, sentenced to be transported for seven years. The charge was stealing a gown worth 4 shillings, a bonnet worth 2 shillings and a cloak worth 1 shilling. Hayward was an apprentice, accused of taking the items from her master, Thomas Crofts, and pawning them.
(Elizabeth Hayward's case: Old Bailey Online. Use your search function or look for case 219 or Reference Number: t17870110-60. Her sentence is listed separately, almost at the end.)
At some time between June 1 and June 10, 1787, Arthur Bowes Smyth, the assistant surgeon on the convict transport Lady Penrhyn, wrote a list of the convicts in his journal. He wrote that "Elizabeth Haward" was 13. Three pages earlier, he had listed Elizabeth Beckford was 70, but a month or so later, he gave her age as 82.
(Beckford's age: see Arthur Bowes Smyth, Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth, 1787 March 22-1789 August 8, page 17.)
There was no joy at all for older people. There was no aged pension, and an old man or woman with no family and no savings had little choice but to steal, or to go into the workhouse. There, the inmates would be fed horribly, treated worse, and exposed to all sorts of diseases.
Workhouses still existed in 1904, when an Australian poet named Jennings Carmichael died after her husband deserted her. Her three sons were placed in an English workhouse until Australians found out about them in 1909, and took up a collection to pay the boys' fares back to Australia.
(See Jennings Carmichael: Her Children in a Workhouse, The Argus, April 16, 1910, p. 4, and see other articles in Trove which are tagged 'Jennings Carmichael'. You will see the tag when you go to the link above: click on the tag, and at last count, 103 other articles will be listed: it seems we volunteers who do the tagging have been busy).
So perhaps we should not blame the two Elizabeths too much for stealing. They may have had their reasons. The gaols of Britain were filled with deadly diseases like tuberculosis, spread by coughing and "gaol fever" (we call it typhus today) which was spread by lice. Whatever their reason, the two Elizabeths gratefully accepted their fates and both were shipped out in the Lady Penrhyn, which carried women convicts and a few of the children of women convicts.
On January 10, 1787, 15 women appeared at the Old Bailey and were sentenced to be transported. One year later, on January 10, 1788, the women in Lady Penrhyn were cowering under the fury of a storm off the NSW coast, having been at sea since the previous May. Perhaps they began to regret their decision, but they reached Botany Bay about ten days later.
Elizabeth Beckford wasn't there by then. On the night of July 11–12 1787, she died, and it was then that Smyth wrote in his journal that she was 82.
(Beckford's death: Arthur Bowes Smyth, Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth, 1787 March 22-1789 August 8, page 30. )
Elizabeth Hayward was not the youngest on board. The convicts' children listed by Smyth as being on board Lady Penrhyn were William Tilley (6 weeks), Mary Mullins (3), Mary Fowles (4), Jane Jones (8) and John Harrison, aged 15.
Elizabeth Hayward was flogged in Sydney for insolence, soon after arriving. She later went to Norfolk Island, and she received another flogging there. (Norfolk Island later became a terrible place, where only the worst convicts were sent, but it was used to grow food for the main colony and it was more pleasant when she was there.)
She may have died in 1830, but she left Norfolk Island in 1813 as the wife of Joseph Lowe along with two of her children. An Elizabeth Lowe died at Launceston, and was buried at St John's, Launceston 29 October 1836, "aged 66", which is about six years too young—but that may be our last trace of the youngest woman convict. If so, she got a good life in the end.
Most of the people sentenced to become First Fleeters on January 10, 1787 accepted their sentences, and so gave their later descendants something to boast about, but one did not. Samuel Burt had been found guilty of forgery, and in those days, forgery was a hanging offence, a capital crime, as the lawyers called it.
Mysteriously (until you know the background), the government wanted him to accept a pardon and serve seven years "to the Eastern coast of New South Wales, or some one or other of the islands adjacent" (or as ordinary folk understood it, to Botany Bay).
Equally mysteriously (until you know the background), the prisoner preferred to be hanged, and here is how the discussion went in court, at the end of the day's proceedings. Notice how politely but firmly, Samuel Burt told the Court (that means the judge) that he wanted to die.
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This blog covers quite a few different things, so I tag each post. I also blog about history, and I am currently writing a series of books called Not your usual... and the first two have been accepted by Five Mile Press, The offcuts appear here with the tag Not Your Usual... . For a taste of Australian tall tales, try the tags Speewah or Crooked Mick. For a miscellany of oddities, try the tag temporary obsessions. And language is covered under the tags Descants and Curiosities, while stuff about small life is under Wee beasties.