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Surprise yourself with fascinating Convict Trivia

Edited Court Records from Old Newspapers
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Purple Bar ser·en·dip·i·ty: the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. (WWWebster Dictionary) Purple Bar

PictureAustralia is the National Library's index to pictorial images held on web sites of participating cultural agencies. It includes many convict related images, which can be located using the Picture Search.

Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899. This site was created to publish many of the hidden court records of the superior courts of New South Wales and currently contains over 1000 edited records of legal cases from old newspapers. You can use the search engine on the Butterworths web site to search for individual names in the edited cases, but be aware that names were often spelt differently in different places.

The Bermuda Prison Hulk Finds. The Dromadary, which transported convicts to NSW and VDL in 1820, ended up as a prison hulk in Bermuda from 1826 to 1851. Many treasures ended up overboard and buried for the next 150 years, until two divers excavated and retrieved objects from the site.

The Scholarly Electronic Text and Imaging Service (SETIS) at the University of Sydney Library, provides full text online of over 100 Australian 18th, 19th and early 20th Century literary and historical works, including Marcus Clarke's "For the Term of His Natural Life".

Of Transportation. A treatise on the systems of transportation to America and Australia, from The Rationale of Punishment, by 18th century classical utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham, philosopher, legal theorist and reformer, and political radical. An interesting read!

Convict Shipnicking - a major issue in the early days of settlement. Article published in the Tasmanian Mercury November 22, 1995.

Disrupting the Boundaries: Resistance and Convict Women. Extract from Depraved and Disorderly: Female Convicts Sexuality and Gender in Colonial Australia, by Joy Damousi.

Prostitution in the Convict Era, part of "The History of Female Prostitution in Australia", by Raelene Frances (published on the WISE [Women's Issues and Social Empowerment] website).

International Blacksheep Society for Genealogists. Basics for membership are having a "Blacksheep" ancestor, (all transportees qualify) and being a genealogist.

Who Were The Convicts (Robert Hughes). Interesting "web reading" for a core class in the humanities at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York.

Who Owned the Convict Ships? The Blackheath Connection: London Local History and the Settlement at New South Wales, 1786-1806, by Dan Byrnes.

Purple Bar Convict Tales in Song. See the words and music (with interesting and informative Notes) for the following:

Black Velvet Band
Botany Bay
Convict Maid
Female Transport
Girls of the Shamrock Shore
Maggie May
Moreton Bay
Stirling O
The Transport
Van Dieman's Land
Wild Colonial Boy

These songs and more are included in Australian Folk Songs.

Purple Bar The Broad Arrow - used to identify property of the government and probably best known on convicts' uniforms. Henry Sidney, Earl of Romney, Master of Ordnance to William and Mary, was asked to mark all government property to reduce theft. He chose to use his family emblem which is a broad arrow, or Pheon, and this is still in use today by the UK government 300 years later.

"Wearing the broad arrow" = In prison. (British Slang -- Lower Class and Underworld 19th Century, Marc Carlson)

Purple Bar Notable Convict Firsts:

First Thomas WATLING was the first professional artist to arrive in the colony (Royal Admiral 1792) and was seconded to the Surgeon General, John White who was an amateur naturalist. His paintings are one of the principal records of the earliest days of Australia. 'Letters from an exile at Botany Bay' gives an irreverent informal account of his life in the early years of the colony. The full text of the book is online in the Australian Literature Database.

William REDFERN, a ship's doctor, was tried for his involvement in mutiny over bad pay and conditions in the navy. He was transported in 1801 on the Minorca, sent to Norfolk Island, and pardoned in 1803. Back in Sydney and wanting to become a doctor again, he was tested by three other doctors and passed the test, thus becoming Australia's first medical graduate.

Remarkably, not a single convict ship was wrecked during the first 45 years of transportation. The Amphitrite, which sailed from London in August 1833 with 106 women convicts and 12 children on board, was the first convict ship to be lost. She was wrecked only 62 kilometres from London, and one kilometre from land. There were only three survivors.

The First Bentley in Australia: A servant girl, Mary Moulton, was sentenced to seven years penal servitude in the Colonies for shoplifting. She found an association with Joshua Bentley, a seaman. They sailed on 13 May 1787 on board the "Lady Penryn", and as a result of the affair, a male child was born, just out from the Cape of Good Hope on 16 Nov 1787. On arrival in Australia, the child was baptised aboard ship on 21 Jan 1788. The child was called Joshua Bentley and records were kept at St. Phillip, Sydney. Unfortunately, a little over two years later, he fell into a hole of water and was drowned. He was buried on 14 Feb 1790 in Port Jackson Cemetery. It was situated where Sydney Town Hall and St. Andrew's Cathedral now stand. It is thought, but not proven, that Joshua Bentley was the first white child to be baptised in Australia. (Contributed by David Mayne).

Many of Australia's first achievers were convicts. Among the convicts of the First Fleet was a man called BLOODSWORTH, an English brickmaker who made use of the brickmaking equipment brought on the voyage and became the colony's first brick maker.

James SQUIRE, who also arrived with the First Fleet, saw the need to quench the colonial thirst, and became the colony's first brewer in 1790. Another convict, James WILKINSON, produced a 5 metre wide mill wheel, propelled by two other convicts walking inside it, and became one of the colony's earliest millwrights.

Source for the above: Yesterday's Innovations - From Convicts to Nobel Laureates

In 1798 Henry KABLE, a First Fleet convict, opened a hotel called the Ramping Horse, from which he ran the first stage coach in Australia. In 1968, on the 180th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, more than a hundred descendants of Henry and Susannah Kable met in Sydney to honour them as the heads of one of Australia's founding families. It was the first reunion to acknowledge convict ancestry.

William BOND, baker of Pitt Street, made the first damper and was believed to be the last man alive from the First Fleet.

In 1803, Sir Henry Browne HAYES, transported to the colony in 1801 for the attempted abduction of a young Quaker heiress near Cork, applied to Governor King to hold a masonic meeting which was refused. Undaunted, Sir Henry arranged a meeting under the guise of holding a party at the home of Sergeant Thomas WHITTLE, who was a fellow Mason of the NSW Corps. Word of this reached the Governor who issued a warrant for the arrest of those participating and the short lived meeting broke up with a couple of naval personnel making their escape and the rest imprisoned. This meeting was regarded as the birth of Freemasonry in Australia. Source: The Origin and Beginning of Freemasonry in Australia.

James RUSE has been called Australia's first farmer. He was a convict sentenced to seven years transportation for breaking and entering in 1782, and arrived in the colony of New South Wales on the First Fleet in 1788. In 1789, Ruse was given 12 hectares of land near Parramatta, which he turned into the colony's first proper farm, growing grain and vegetables. After his sentence expired in 1792, the title of the land was deeded to him, the first land grant in the colony. He died in 1837.

The first child born on Norfolk Island (to Lieutenant Philip Gidley King and convict Ann Inett in 1789), was named Norfolk.

Source for the above: Gondwana to Gold

1827 The First Strike: The first rebellion staged by women in Australia was in 1827, when convict women at the female factory in Parramatta went on strike, when tea and sugar rations were withdrawn. They were victorious !

Source for the above: Women and the Trade Unions

Purple Bar PatchThe Rajah Quilt, made on board the convict ship Rajah in 1841, is the only surviving quilt known to have been produced during transportation.

The ship Rajah set sail from Woolwich on 5 April 1841 reaching Hobart, Tasmania on 19 July. It landed with 179 women prisoners (one died during the voyage), 10 children, a Royal navy surgeon and three or four other passengers.

The quilt was made possible by the exertions of The British Ladies Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, a group of Quaker women formed in 1816 by Elizabeth Fry. .... In addition to personal items such as combs, bibles and sewing supplies, the British Ladies Society supplied the transportees with tape, pins, 100 needles, four balls of white sewing cotton thread, a ball each of black, red and blue thread, black wool, 24 hanks of coloured thread, a thimble, scissors and two pounds of patchwork pieces ...... nearly ten metres.

... It appeared that a number of pieces (more than twenty) had faded extensively ... however an examination of the back of the quilt reveals that these patches have been positioned and sewn back to front and had not faded at all. This oversight would indicate that the work was carried out in poor light or by someone with failing eyesight ... There are a few patches marked with dark brown small circular stains, identifiable as bloodstains, associated with pricked fingers. These stains are on the patches with the crudest of stitches and although the rocking of the boat may have led to numerous prickings, the cause of these stains appears to have been a lack of skill ... Possibly twenty different hands may be deduced (i.e. the number of female prisoners undertaking the quilt).

... The report of a London Parliamentary Select Committee on Transportation (1838) noted that the patchwork only lasted 2/3s of the voyage, that the women talked as they sewed and that the conversation was obsene.

[Extracted from article by Debbie Ward, Senior Textiles Conservator, National Gallery of Australia.]

The quilt is held by the National Gallery of Australia and is featured in the Everyday Art: Australian Folk Art Travelling Exhibition.

Purple Bar Convict FishConvict Cichlids often turn up in search results for "convicts". They bear no relation to Convict Indents, Musters, Iron Gangs or Pardons, but are in fact a popular species of aquarium fish (cichlasoma nigrofasciatum), originating in Central America.

Purple Bar Convict Descriptions/Abbreviations from the Archives of Tasmania.

  • M.H. = medium hight
  • M.S. = medium size
  • M.W. = medium width
  • M.L. medium length
  • Dk = dark
  • Bro = brown
  • perpen = perpendicular
  • lt = light
  • point d = pointed
  • Do = dotto = as above
  • Redh = reddish
  • Remarks = distinguishing features such as tattoos, scars, and moles are noted here
  • ins = inside
  • rt = right
  • blk = black
  • Plo = plough
  • Fars = farm servant
  • Lab = labourer

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