Friday, November 15, 2013

The Story of John Best - Part 5

John Best’s first 18 months in Van Diemen’s Land must have been a huge change from his life in Ireland. He was serving a sentence for a crime, but not in a jail as he’d experienced in Trim or Dublin. Here, his jail was this new land, this island, with few British souls and natives that knew how to disappear, almost melt, into the bush. John had work. Lots of it. He had a master, or employer, in Mr Thomas Wells, who was obligated to provide basics for his assigned convicts. John had a reliable supply of food from Mr Wells - tea and sugar in abundance - and meat was available in the way of wild game - kangaroo, wallaby, ducks. And John was entitled to ownership of a third of the natural increase in Mr Wells' flock size under ‘the thirds’ rule. Only recently a desperately poor peasant stockman in County Westmeath, he was now earning a living, with the bonus of accumulating stock  to create his own herd. The historian, James Boyce, gives us an idea of how John and fellow convict stockkeepers must have lived during these times:
“The custodian (convict stockkeeper) took the animals to the leased or granted land or, more commonly, to unallocated grasslands, where he watched over the animals, doing the necessary deals to minimise losses from bushrangers and Aborigines while making extra money for flour, tea, sugar, tobacco and rum by selling kangaroo skins.” 
But they must have also been crushingly lonely times for John Best, tending and continually counting Mr Wells’ flock of sheep in the grasslands around the Little Dew Rivulet and the Upper Derwent River. John would have known it was possible to apply for his wife and family to immigrate to Van Diemen’s Land. Convicts, who had been in the colony for a period and who did not commit further offences were eligible to apply to have their families brought out at the expense of the Crown. Applications had to show that convicts would be able to support their families upon their arrival and not incur any further expense to the Government. In general, families were not permitted to reunite in Australia unless the convict applying had a Ticket of Leave which allowed convicts to work for themselves, to provide a means of supporting their families.
In Ireland, Mary Best would have been eking out a very tough existence. Wives in her circumstances were often supported to some extent by their church parish. It’s unclear whether John submitted an application for his family to join him or whether Mary applied to the authorities for her and the four children to join John. Either way, the application must have been submitted sometime around mid to late-1820, based on the travel times for mail to and from Hobart (about 6 months one-way). The application was successful. The White family (George White), the Bennett family (Brian Bennett) and the Montgomery family (Patrick Montgomery) were also successful with applications to reunite in Van Diemen’s Land. The husbands were all Minerva men. There must – surely – have been exchanges of correspondence between the men in VDL and their wives in Ireland. The convicts must have been able to assure their wives (the parishes and the authorities as well) they had sufficient means to support them. The applications appear to have been submitted jointly, suggesting either a connection at the parish level in Ireland or a networking among the Minerva convicts in VDL.
On about the 10th of July 1821, Mary Best and Bridget White, with their children, departed Kinnegad for Dublin. They may have met with Mary Bennett and Ann Montgomery and their respective children in Dublin. The women and children boarded the Brig Park in Dublin, a brig that carried 80 convict women and some children. The Brig Park arrived at Cork on 13 July 1821, where the convict transport John Bull was waiting at the docks. None of the convict women or children were permitted to transfer from the Brig Park to the John Bull until all their clothes were washed. Then berths were allocated to the convict women following a recommendation to good behaviour. Transfer of the convict women to the John Bull occurred on 14 July 1821. Blankets and pillows were distributed before the convict women were locked up for the night. Transfer of the 22 free women and children to the John Bull took place on 16 July 1821. This included our group of 18 free immigrants:
  • Mary Best and her children: Michael, Eleanor, Thomas and Joseph;
  • Bridget White and her children: Catherine, Dennis and Eleanor;
  • Mary Bennett and her children: Bridget, Ann, Rose and Bartholomew; and
  • Ann Montgomery and her children: William, Patrick and Archibald.
The John Bull sailed out of Cork on 25 July 1821, stopping briefly at St Iago (Cape Verde Islands off west Africa) before eventually arriving at Port Jackson on 18 December 1821. During the voyage, Joseph Best had spent several weeks in ship’s hospital suffering an unknown ailment. He recovered. Patrick Montgomery had fallen overboard in rough weather off the NSW south coast. He was safely recovered! After the John Bull had moored at Sydney Cove, our group of immigrants was transferred by boat to Parramatta, “... a water passage of about 20 miles ...” where they were accommodated at the 'public expense', probably at the newly completed Parramatta Female Factory.
Parramatta Female Factory, circa 1826
They spent summer and early autumn of 1822 in Parramatta. What a complete change that environment would have been for them! Hot! They were forced to wait in Parramatta until a ship could take them to Hobart. Finally, they were given passage to Hobart aboard the Royal George, which was authorized to be rationed appropriately to cater for the needs of the 18 immigrants.
 The Royal George left Sydney 19 March 1822 and arrived in Hobart Town on 28 March 1822. Here, at last, John and his family were reunited.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Story of John Best - Part 4

John Best’s first night on land for half a year must have been a bit strange for him. If you’ve ever spent weeks aboard a ship on the open ocean, you’ll know that your first night’s sleep on land is odd, because you compensate for wave motion even though there is no motion. You know why there's no wave motion, but your senses just expect there to be - it seems weird!

When dawn broke on that cold June morning in 1818, John and his fellow convicts would have been introduced to the farm workings immediately. They would have been told that every Sunday was muster, a day they had to clean up for – if they were not presentable, severe punishment could be meted out by the authorities. Muster often coincided with attending church. John and his fellow convicts were all Catholics and the only Catholic church at that time was in Hobart town. Initially, muster was likely to have been in the tiny village of Newtown. On occasions, the convicts may have been allowed to attend their church in Hobart.

On the 4th of August 1818, Lesley Ferguson was absent from muster. For this misdemeanour, he was given one week on the government gang. In essence, he was sentenced to a week of physical labour in the government’s service. Perhaps constructing a road, or clearing rubbish in Hobart Town. Ferguson apparently got his back up at being treated in such manner. A short while after his release from the government gang, he was caught entering into the parlour of a Captain Barclay with felonious intent (i.e. break and enter). He was sentenced to receive 50 lashes and labour in irons for 1 month. Thomas Wells must surely have returned Ferguson to the government, wishing nothing further to do with him. Ferguson’s convict record shows that he continued a life of misbehaviour and crime until his record stops at 1829. He was still a young man, so perhaps he died.

For the rest of 1818, John Best and his fellow convicts (John Bell and George White) helped operate the Newtown farm for Messrs Wells and Brodribb. The farm grew grain and carried dairy cattle. Perhaps John was involved in sowing wheat on the farm.

In October 1818, the local newspaper reported “On Friendly Farms in this neighbourhood, ninety springs or stalks were counted and ascertained to proceed from one grain of wheat; and will doubtless produce ninety full ears. The ground in question was sown with five pecks of seed to the acre, and has a most abundant promise.” The same month, Wells and Brodribb took out a public notice in the paper warning people to cease moving stock through, or allowing their stock to stray on, Friendly Farms land. The notice advised that the new main road recently constructed (largely by convicts off the Lady Castlereagh and the Minerva) was to be used. The several older tracks on Friendly Farms would be obstructed by felling timber over them. No doubt John and company were put to work on this task!

On the 7th of January 1819, all male convicts in the Hobart area were issued with new clothing (slops), consisting of ... “One Duck or Linen Frock, One Linen Shirt, One Pair of Duck Trowsers, and One Pair of Shoes.” Six months between changes of clothes was pretty good at that time for Van Diemen’s Land – many of the earlier convicts, settlers and even military men had resorted to making their own garments from kangaroo furs!

Also, in 1819, Thomas Wells acquired more land. He was granted a large estate upstream from New Norfolk, about 3.5 km north of present day Gretna. Wells called this property ‘Allenvale’.  I suspect Wells then despatched John Best, John Bell and George White at different times, or in pairs, to move his growing flock of sheep from Friendly Farms to Allenvale and surrounds. This would have been scary work for the shepherds, as the country at the back of New Norfolk had been the hiding place of various convicts turned rogue, known then as ‘banditti’. Wells would have provided the men with a gun and instructions to build themselves a hut, or huts, so they could stay on the Allenvale land and oversee the flock. 

I believe that a hut was built at Hollow Tree, about 12 km north of Allenvale, in which John Best was based. I believe this because, later, Thomas Wells purchased a 55 acre block of land from a Mr John Barnes at Hollow Tree - title to that block later passed from Wells to .... John Best (see below).

A notice in the press published many years later (1841) shows that John Best acquired a block of land from his 'master' Thomas Wells.
Another hut may have built west of, but closer to, Allen Vale, in which George White was based. And perhaps John Bell was based in another hut – possibly north-east of Allen Vale. The men used these huts as a base/shelter while overseeing the flocks. This was only a temporary arrangement – at first.
In mid-September 1819, Thomas Wells sought another convict to help work his farms.  He was allocated Bryant (or Brian) Carroll, who had arrived in Hobart on the Admiral Cockburn on 16 September 1819. This would certainly have allowed Wells to send shepherds to the Allenvale district in pairs.

The 1819 annual muster recorded that John Best had ‘no offences’ during 1818 or 1819. John was a convict who kept out of trouble.

Flocks of sheep had arrived to graze on the grassed valleys of Allenvale and environs. The indigenous people were faced with a new competitor using their resources. For generations, the Big River (Lairmairrener) people had periodically burnt the valleys to promote grass growth and eliminate trees. As a result, the valley grasslands would feed greater numbers of kangaroos, wallabies and bird life. The valleys were literally larders! Another way of looking at is - the valleys were indigenous farms, it’s just that they didn’t look, nor work, like a British farm. The first white men to arrive in the area had been the transient banditti. With them came a reign of terror and abuse.  But some British residents of the grassy woodlands, like Edward White who lived near the Great Western Tiers for three years, were not armed. Settlers taking up land grants after 1818 also recorded peaceful exchanges in their journals and letters. James Boyce describes this period immediately before 1820 as a time when, despite sporadic violence, "... access to Aboriginal hunting grounds had been achieved without outright conquest.  This was a period of uneasy co-existence ...".

But it was inevitable that the Big River people would come into conflict with the shepherds, stock men and landowners. In December of 1819, James Triffitt (senior) lost 300 of his flock of 1,000 sheep; the 300 had been beaten to death at the hands of the Big River people on west bank of Clyde River (Mr Triffitt was residing in New Norfolk at the time and the sheep were possibly left untended by their shepherds).

Go forward to read The Story of John Best - Part 5

Go back to read The Story of John Best - Part 3

Monday, April 15, 2013

St Kilda Comes to Canberra

13 April 2013 saw St Kilda Football Club play a game in Canberra for premiership points.  They played against the Greater Western Sydney Giants at Manuka (recently re-named Star Track Oval for sponsorship purposes).

The game was a day-night match - played under lights. A beautiful autumn evening, with no breeze and a temperature of around 24 degrees C.

The game began with the daylight fading and the lights already on.

Ball up to start proceedings
Clint Jones and Toby Greene stare each down at the start of the game.
St Kilda kicked an early goal through Stevie Milne to set a trend for the rest of the game. It was quickly followed by another goal to Nick Riewoldt. The Saints had 5 goals 4 behinds on the scoreboard at quarter time - the Giants did not score at all.

The Giants collected their first goal early in the second quarter, then another.  I thought then that we were going to have a game on our hands.  But the Saints were dominant.  They beat their opponents to the ball and moved it around the ground more thoughtfully.  By half-time, the scoreline was Saints 10.8 to the Giants 5.1.

Half-time scores
The crowd mood was somewhat quiet - seems more were Giants supporters than St Kilda fans. But there were many St Kilda fans.

The scene at half-time.
St Kilda went on to kick 5 more goals in the third quarter and a further six goals in the final quarter.

The final scores.
Some of the Saints players who kicked goals were:

David Armitage - 4 goals (man of the match award)

Stephen Milne - 3 goals

Ahmed Saad - 3 goals
Nick Riewoldt - 3 goals
Beau Maister - 2 goals

Sam Gilbert - 1 goal
After the siren:
Handshakes all round.  Good to see the sportsmanship.

Nathan Wright sees the impact of the Giant's big loss on Toby Greene's face.

As the players left the field to recover, the crowd emptied out of Star Track Stadium.  Many headed to Manuka for a meal or a drink. The evening remained balmy.  A good night for all (except the Giants and their fans, but hey, tough luck guys!).  The Saints finally started their winning form.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Last Day of Summer

While watching a US television soap/drama (Revenge) the other night, I heard a character say something like "... you'll be gone by the end of summer".

The setting for the show is, I think, the Hamptons, or somewhere on the US north-east coast where the uber-wealthy people spend their holiday time.

I was left wondering - what did the character mean by "the end of summer"?  Summer in the US officially ends on 31 August.  But I was left with the impression that the character was referring to perhaps the end of the holiday season.  I was a touch confused.  I put it down to the (small) cultural divide between Americans and Australians.

But here in Canberra, there is absolutely no doubt about when the end of summer is.  We almost celebrate it with dancing in the cul-de-sacs.  Almost. It's today - the last day of February.  From now on, the sting of the searing sun will steadily weaken.  The stinking hot days and sleep depriving hot nights are all but over.  Of course, Mother Nature may yet taunt us with one or two more 30C degree plus days.  I remember a March day in the mid-eighties where it reached 38C.  But Canberrans rejoice on this day, because tomorrow the best season of the year begins - autumn. 

Today is also a day of note, because it's my youngest son's birthday.  Happy birthday Adam!

A summer sight that we hopefully won't see for a long time to come.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Statues - London and Canberra

While on a visit to Floriade last spring, I snapped this statue.


This is the first public statue in Canberra that I can think of (other than a war memorial type statue) that’s appealing for its realism. I really like this statue. But a question kept cropping up in my mind ... ‘who is it meant to be?’ Now, I’m NOT that ignorant that I didn't immediately recognise old Ming, but if you were an international visitor to Canberra, would you know who it was?

This is how London displays their statues (see below). They use pedestals to tell you who the statue represents, and sometimes even a bit about them.  The ACT Government could learn a thing or two from London.

Don't get me wrong - I really like the Ming statue and hope one day that Tuggeranong will be adorned with something of similar style and quality - perhaps a statue of the ACT's own Chris Peters (complete with marble pedestal)?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Story of John Best - Part 3

[I've taken some small liberties in compiling this reconstruction of events. I felt it was necessary in order to paint a clear word picture of what might have occurred - but it's all based closely on fact. I'll progressivley update John's story if I become aware of more detail. Submit a comment if you want to ask me about any particular matter - fact or fiction. Regards, J1A]

Sunday, 7 June 1818.
Although Minerva had reached Hobart, the convicts were kept on board for almost a week. Two convicts had departed Ireland under execution warrants - George Grey (murder) and William Trimm (sheep stealing). A sombre mood among the convicts must have deepened as guards arrived to escort Grey and Trimm from their Minerva holding cell and out onto the long boat lying alongside.

Once ashore, they were marched a short distance to the Hobart Town Prisoner’s Barracks (which evolved into Hobart Gaol two or three years later). For these two convicts, the “attention and offices” of the Reverend Robert (Bobbie) Knopwood were “constant”. Knopwood’s efforts were later recognised by the press as helping to ease the state of mind of each man “... which enabled them to meet their fate with decency and resignation.”
Thursday 11 June 1818
At 11.00am, Grey and Trimm were hanged on the gallows in the grounds of the Barracks. The quick execution sent a loud message to the rest of the Minerva convicts – welcome to Van Diemen’s Land, you are here to serve out your sentence ... better behave chaps or this could be your fate.

Also on the 11th of June 1818, the convict ship Lady Castlereagh arrived in Hobart from Port Jackson. Then there were two ships full of convict labour in a small town in urgent need of all forms of skilled and unskilled labour. Hobart was a town growing quickly and settlers were taking up land beyond the township.  Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land, Col. William Sorell, recognised that manual labour was an urgent requirement for the settlers if the tiny population was to survive and prosper.

Friday 12 June 1818
On this day, the commander of the 48th Regiment, Major William Nairn, brought several guards and officials aboard the Minerva. The officials were probably:
  • Lieutenant-Governor Sorell’s secretary - Samuel Hood,
  • Chief of Police - Adolarius William Henry Humphrey,
  • Thomas Edward Wells - Sorell’s Chief Clerk; and
  • William Adams Brodribb - also a member of Sorell's Secretarial suite.
(Both Wells and Brodribb were convicts from England who had arrived about 2 years earlier at Port Jackson. By virtue of their administrative skills (clerk and lawyer, respectively) they found favour with the powers that be and became part of Col. Sorell’s team when he travelled to Van Diemen’s Land in 1817 to take up his post as Lieutenant Governor).
The guards brought with them an issue of new clothes and the convicts were instructed to change into them (having been washed in the ship's bath in the preceding days). It was mid-winter, so the new clothing was well received. They were issued:
  • 1 cloth jacket,
  • 1 cap,
  • 1 pair of cloth trousers, 
  • 1 pair of shoes; and
  • 1 cotton shirt.
Major Nairn had a muster of the convicts.  The group - Nairn, Hood, Humphrey, Wells and Brodbribb - walked through the decks of the Minerva.  As they went, Hood interviewed each convict and recorded their trade or calling and marked those that he ‘considered fit for government employ’. He might have asked “What was your occupation before you were convicted? What skills do you have, fellow?”  Mr Humphrey recorded all the details on the muster. A guard directed each convict to strip to the waist. The physical description of each man and any identifying marks were recorded. This would help the authorities and the free population to identify any convict should he abscond. They recorded the description of each convict on the muster as they made their way through the ship. Thomas Wells assigned to settlers any convicts who had not been earmarked for government employ.  On the muster, Brodribb pencilled in the settler's name against each convict. Despite his arrival as a convict in Sydney only two years earlier, Wells enjoyed such confidence as to have custody of the convict indents and to make out occupation licences.
As an example of how things went, some of the determinations went as follows:
John Traynor:  after stating he was a labourer, Wells checked his behaviour record. Well behaved. At 22 years of age, Wells decided he would most useful as an assigned convict and allocated him to a settler by the name of William Raynor.

Patrick McGarrell:  a 27 year old cooper by trade, McGarrell had been allocated to a work gang.

John Bell: a 35 year old labourer from County Antrim. According to the record, Wells allocated him to “W & B”. This was an abbreviation for Wells and Brodribb. Wells had begun the process of selecting workers for the farms that he owned and jointly operated with William Brodribb.

Leslie Ferguson: a 17 year old who had been a servant back in Ireland. Ferguson’s record showed ‘Very well behaved”. Wells allocated Ferguson to “W & B”. He probably thought he was getting a great long term worker in Ferguson, but little did he know that this young man would be trouble!

And so the process went.

When they arrived at John Best, his physical features were recorded thus:
  • Age: 35
  • Height: 5' 4½"
  • Colour of eyes: hazel
  • Colour of hair: black
  • Complexion: sallow
  • General remarks: well behaved
John explained to the officials that he had been a labourer and a herdsman. This appealed to Wells. He harboured plans to make his personal fortune by growing fine quality wool and exporting it back to England, probably inspired by the success of John MacArthur in NSW. John Best’s experience with herding animals was ideal. Wells might have said: “Best, my name is Thomas Wells and next to me is Mr Brodribb with whom I jointly operate a farm. You’ll be working for me. A Mr John Johnston will be your overseer, under my direction. Mr Johnston will remove you to Friendly Farms within a day or so; he is busy readying accommodation for my new servants right now. Do exactly as Mr Johnston tells you at all times and you’ll be alright”.

"W & B" notation against John Best's name on the indent list.

Wells assigned Brian Bennett to Mr Richard Barker, a free settler resident in Hobart but with land at Macquarie Plains, in the middle reaches of the Derwent River valley, upstream from New Norfolk.
At the end of the process, Wells had assigned the following men to work for himself and Brodribb:
  • John Bell (to Wells),
  • Leslie Ferguson (to Wells),
  • John Best (to Wells),
  • George White (to Wells); and
  • James Forsyth (to Brodribb).
Saturday 13 June 1818
The relief column of 48th Regiment soldiers that had arrived on Minerva and Lady Castlereagh and the Minerva convicts disembarked and went ashore, the convicts under the watchful eyes of the soldiers. They came ashore on Hunter Island (present day Hunter Street wharf) near the Government Stores building.
The soldiers then marched the Minerva convicts up Campbell Street to the Prisoner’s Barracks (between present day Melville and Brisbane Streets). Although not a long walk, the convicts were shackled in leg irons. With little fitness remaining after 6 months aboard a ship, this exertion must have tested them, especially the older men.

John Best must have wondered what was about to happen to him. How was his life of hell in Van Diemen’s Land going to pan out?

Once inside the walls of the Barracks, the gates were locked.  The Minerva men were taken to the courtyard.  There was a gathering awaiting their arrival. Those present included:
  • Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land - Col. William Sorell (the head honcho in V.D.L.),
  • the Chief of Police - Adolarius Humphrey; and
  • Col. Sorell’s secretarial suite (or administrative officers), comprising Sorell’s secretary, Samuel Hood, Thomas Wells and William Adams Brodribb.
With the convicts assembled, Lt. Governor Sorell inspected the convicts and then delivered a brief address. Sorell commenced with his approval of their clean appearance and their correct conduct whilst on board. They were told that good behaviour would be to their advantage, and they would be treated kindly. Sorell warned those who had been reported as disorderly by the Surgeon-Superintendent, that they should be more circumspect and they would be watched by the police.

Convicts intended for public works were then inspected by Sorell for his approval for such public employment and then put to labour in the public works. Convicts that had been assigned to settlers were then collected by their respective new 'masters'. John Johnston had arrived at the Barracks with a bullock and cart (in 1818, there were very few horses in Van Diemen's Land).  Those convicts assigned to Wells and Brodribb, to their surprise and great relief, had their shackles removed. Johnston advised them there was no escaping Van Diemen’s Land; quite simply there was nowhere to go, no way to leave the island. Restraints were thus unnecessary. But he also left them in no doubt they remained prisoners and subject to further punishment for any misdemeanour.

Johnston led the five W & B men out of the Barracks to his bullock-drawn cart waiting nearby. Johnstone climbed into the driver’s seat.  One convict climbed up and sat beside him while the others, perhaps, sat on a hay bale in the tray.  They left the Barracks and made their way slowly northward up Campbell Street.  They headed out past the town boundary and then along a rough but well used track towards Wells and Brodribbs' Friendly Farms, where the Hobart suburb of Newtown sits today, a trek of about 10 kilometres.
John Best and his fellow convicts George White, Leslie Ferguson and John Bell are driven to Friendly Farms at Newtown. June 1818

The forced removal of John Best from his Irish homeland by the British government was now complete.

Go forward to read The Story of John Best - Part 4

Go back to read The Story of John Best - Part 2.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Boris Johnson's Ice Age

The Canberra Times printed an article yesterday written by Boris Johnson (he being the mayor of London).  Johnson wrote how he had stared through his window at a flowerpot and his bashed up barbeque and noticed that the layer of snow he could see outside his London home was getting thicker. He wrote "This is now the fifth year in a row that we have had an unusual amount of snow; I mean snow of a kind that I don't remember from childhood: snow that comes one day, sticks around for a couple of days, followed by more."

He concludes "But I observe something appears to be up with our winter weather, and to call it "warming" is to strain the language".  So Boris consulted learned astrophysicist Piers Corbyn, "...who has very good record of forecasting the weather". Corbyn reckons global temperature depends not on concentrations of CO2 but on the mood of our celestial orb (the sun). And that 'mood' is one of declining solar sunspot activity known to have coincided once in the past with a severe cold spell on Earth (the Maunder Minimum).

Johnson writes "I am not saying for a second that I am convinced Corbyn is right ... I am only speaking as a layman who observes there is plenty of snow in our winters these days, and who wonders whether it might be time for government to start taking seriously the possibility - however remote - that Corbyn is right". He concludes by writing "I look at the snowy waste outside, and I have an open mind".

Well Boris.  I live in Canberra, the capital of Australia.  Here, The Canberra Times (same day) also reports "Canberra heading for January heat record as storms spark fire fears".  The article tells us "Canberra is sweltering through what could be its hottest January on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology".  The average daily maximum temperature in January for Canberra is 27C.  This January so far, our average daily maximum temperature is sitting at 33C, a massive 5 degrees C above average!  Now it's only 24 January today, so we may be lucky to be blessed with some days where the maximum fails to exceed 30C (here's hoping) and lower the average daily maximum somewhat.

Boris - you look out your window and wonder if sunspot activity is leading the world to another Ice Age.  I look out my window and wonder when Canberra's summer will start cooling down to the long term average!

Perhaps an article written with a bit of fun in mind, but it might be sensible, Boris, that you look further than your own backyard to see if your conditions are reflected elsewhere.  And perhaps consult more than one expert (and perhaps not just an astrophysicist). From what I can tell, places like Washington and New York (regular deep freezes most winters) seem to have seen nary a snowflake at all this year.  Perhaps all their snow has gone to London!

So, I wish I was in London right now, enjoying the sight of snow falling rather than than my garden trees scorching under a relentless sun (see my poor Gingko below).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Story of John Best - Part 2

As the convict ship Minerva sailed south from Cork, one can imagine the fear engulfing the convicts.  These convicts had surely never been to sea before. Many had been incarcerated in cramped, dark and damp cells for months, if not years.  John Best had been in prison for 5 or 6 months.  The short sea voyage from Dublin to Cork had been hellish.  Many men on board Minerva were suffering from ulcers immediately prior to departure.  Ship’s surgeon, James Hunter wrote in his journal that many convicts were “constipated in the bowels, many of them had not had an alvine evacuation for more than a week.” This may have been caused by their detention aboard the brig that brought them from Dublin to Cork.  It was not unusual that convicts transported from Dublin to Cork received neither clothing nor bedding, as these were considered unnecessary expenses due to the shortness of the journey to Cork. Because only a few were allowed on deck at once, they spent most of the time in irons in the hold in very unhealthy conditions.  In other words - no toilet breaks when required.  In theory, the trip was a 2 day journey.  But in reality, delays often prevailed and it was more like a week to two week journey.  Hence the tendency for convicts to arrive at Cork in a constipated state.  Another sign of the terrible conditions in the Irish jails and aboard the Dublin-Cork brig is found in James Hunter’s Minerva journal: “They were upward of eighty cases of the disease [itch] while in jail and just before they were sent on board [the Minerva].” Itch (or scabies), was a contagious skin-disease caused by a parasite (Sarcoptes scabiei). The disease could have been easily avoided by regular bathing and the wearing of clean clothes. Clearly, both these hygiene basics were not properly provided by the overstretched and corrupt prison system.

The Minerva convicts surely then developed a fear of terrible trials ahead during their much longer sea journey to New South Wales.  Once out on the open ocean, the rocking motion of the Minerva had an immediate effect, with many men suffering sea-sickness in the first week.  Hunter wrote in his journal that Minerva “... on leaving port experienced a heavy gale of wind which last some day, every convicts and many of sailors were sea sick”.  But the fresh sea air must have also had a healing quality, as Hunter went on to write that it: “... probrably had a good effect upon the ulcers as many healed rapidly afterward, there were many minor cases which were all well within one month.” 

The convicts no doubt also feared the dark, wild ocean itself – none would have been swimmers and most would have been familiar with tall tales of sea monsters taking ships, sirens luring ships to their doom on rocks and pirates attacking. But perhaps the hardest thing the convicts had to deal with was the loss of their families and the only way of life they had ever known.  The depression is evident in Hunter’s description of poor old John Cartwright – he suffered badly from the pain of being taken away (see mention in The Story of John Best – Part 1).  Alas, poor Cartwright, he was so desperate to return to his family that he took part in a daring, but ultimately unsuccessful, escape attempt in 1819 (he successfully escaped Van Diemen's Land but appears to have died several months later in gaol in Java).

Surprisingly, for the remainder of the trip to Port Jackson, ailments were relatively few and were either physical injuries related to life aboard the Minerva (e.g. ‘contused and lacerated fingers’, ‘fracture ulna by falling on the wet deck’) or individual medical problems such as occasional cases of fever, diarrhoea, furunculus (boils), dysentery or symptoms associated with the common cold. One case of cholera morbus (gastroenteritis) and a case of venereal disease in a boy convict were recorded in Hunter’s journal.

One can imagine the ship endured buffeting in the strong westerly gales (the Roaring Forties) that sweep the Southern Ocean. The voyage across the Great Australian Bight would have been rough too.  Despite those travails, the Minerva arrived safely in Sydney on 30 April 1818 without loss of life.  The Minerva’s arrival at Port Jackson was recorded in Governor Lachlan Macquarie's personal diary:

"Thursday 30. April 1818 At 8,O'Clock this Evening, the two Male Convict Ships Lady Castlereagh Commanded by Capt. George Weltden with 300 Male Convicts from England, and the Minerva Commanded by Capt. John Bell with 160 Male Convicts from Ireland, anchored in Port Jackson; the former Ship having sailed from England on the 22d. of Decr. and the latter from Cork on the 1st. of Jany. last; neither of the Ships having touched any where during the Voyage nor lost a Single Man. — Mr. Jas. Cragie is Surgeon Supdt. of the Lady Castlereagh, and Lieut. Brotheridge of the 48th. Regt. commands the Guard; Mr. — [name omitted] Hunter is Surgeon Supdt. of the Minerva, and Capt. Allman of the 48th. Regt. commands the Guard on board that Ship." 

About half the convicts were disembarked at Sydney and subsequently transported to Newcastle per the 'Elizabeth Henrietta'.  Governor Macquarie directed that the Minerva and the remaining 160 convicts proceed to Hobart in Van Diemen’s Land.  John Best was one of those stuck aboard the Minerva for a little while longer! John spent about a month aboard Minerva while she was anchored in Port Jackson, just off shore from the current site of the Sydney Opera House.  During this time, the convicts would have been allowed to move about the deck (shackled by leg irons) and to view the infant settlement of Sydney town.

From Lachlan Macquarie’s diary (1818):

Thursday 28. May !
The Ship Minerva Capt. Bell, with 160 Male Convicts and a Guard of the 48th. Regt. Commanded by Lieut. Van Meulen sailed from this Port for the Derwent. — 

The Minerva arrived in Hobart on 7 June 1818, after a total journey of 157 days. Hobart at the time was still only a small township. The white population of Van Diemen’s Land (later to be known as Tasmania) was only some 3,000 people at the time.

The convict ship Minerva Arrives in Hobart on an overcast winter's day - 7 June 1818

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Red Lion at Marsworth

In a post last year (Marsworth - Visit to an Ancestral Home), I described how my older son and I visited Marsworth in Buckinghamshire (England) and lunched at the Red Lion pub. 
I also mentioned that my ancestor, William Rowland, left his ancestral home of Marsworth early in the 1850s and then migrated to Australia in 1852.  William returned, with his daughter Susan, to visit Marsworth in 1898.  According to his obituary, William "... saw the house in which he was born and the church in which he was baptised".

Extract from William Rowland's Obituary
In my previous post, I wondered whether the house in which William was born still survived.  I strongly doubted it, because very few early-1800s buildings remain in Marsworth.  One of the few that does remain is the Red Lion pub.

Well, can you imagine my surprise when I recently came across a court record dating to either 1832 or 1833, in which William's mother and grandmother are both mentioned. In that record, William's mother (Jemima) was living with her mother-in-law (who was Mary Rowland) at the Red Lion. Here is the exact text:

R. v Thomas Page [aged 20], Marsworth, Stealing 4½ crowns belonging to Robert Russell, on 8 Dec. Witnesses: Robert Russell, keeps beer house at Marsworth, and a wharf Joseph Rowland, constable of Marsworth. Jemima Rowland, lives with mother-in-law at Marsworth (Red Lion). Guilty - 4 months hard labour.

Source: From the County of Buckinghamshire Quarter Sessions "Epiphany Sessions 1832 [no ref. or date]" [] (accessed 01-Jan-2013).

Folks, if William's mother Jemima was living at the Red Lion with her mother-in-law Mary, then surely her husband (William senior) and her children (including my migrant ancestor William) would have been with her too. Mary, by the way, was a widow in 1832 - her husband John Rowland had died in April 1820 and his occupation (according to his will) was 'victualler' (i.e. the operator or owner of a public house or similar licensed establishment) at Marsworth.

This court record gives me a good degree of confidence in believing that William Rowland (junior) not only lived his very early years at the Red Lion, he was actually born at the Red Lion (born 9 November 1828).  Hey ... perhaps a little bit of a stretch but I'm willing to go with this and confidently say that my son and I also saw and went inside both the house in which William Rowland was born and the church in which he was baptised (All Saints, Marsworth).

The Story of John Best – Part 1

The year was 1817. A description of Irish society at that time noted how it was comprised of wealthy people and poor people; unlike England there were no middle classes. John Best was a labourer and herdsman (shepherd) of about 34 years of age. It's safe to assume he fell into the poor group of Irish people. John was a native of the small town called Kinnegad in Westmeath County, Ireland. As the crow flies, Kinnegad is 23 kilometres south-west of Trim and 57 kilometres west of Dublin.

John was married to Mary (maiden name unknown) and by 1817 they had four children:
  • Michael (born 1807),
  • Eleanor (born 1810),
  • Thomas (born 1813) and
  • Joseph (born 1815).
Life in the early 1800s must have been something of a struggle for Kinnegad townsfolk. Like most other small Irish towns, commerce revolved around agricultural pursuits.  No real wealth flowed to those who toiled on the land.  Unlike England, which at that time was experiencing industrialisation, Ireland lacked iron and coal resources and so remained a land of agriculture. Most Kinnegad residents leased a small plot of land from a landowner (usually an absent English landowner).  On this plot, a family could live in a dwelling of their own construction – often a stone cottage – and they had the right to grow their own personal supply of vegetables and keep an animal of two.  But the majority of the land was given over to raising potatoes as a cash crop.  With the income raised from selling their potatoes, a family could then meet their rent obligation to their landlord.

The town’s cottages were largely constructed of field stones, with pitched, grass-thatched roofs and a stone chimney at one, or sometimes both, ends.  Small clusters of cottages had been built close to each other, with fields surrounding them, fenced by low, field stone walls.  The town centre had grown where the main roads to Dublin, Galway and Sligo intersected. Buildings in Kinnegad town centre were more substantial – a number of two storey stone buildings, often with a shop at ground level and the proprietor’s residence on the first floor.  Here also was the Catholic Church, St Mary's, built in 1793 but now a mere ruin sitting behind the modern-day St Mary's Church.  The old St Mary's was a fine stone building for its time and John and his family would have regularly attended.  By 1817, the muddy streets in the town centre were covered with gravel to give the Dublin to Galway stagecoaches a firmer surface, thus faster and more reliable passage in wet weather.

 By spring time 1817, a long wet spell had become a very serious problem across most of Ireland.  For some farmers, their potato crop was destined to be a complete failure.  Others were lucky enough to grow a crop that reached harvest and so made themselves a financial return.  In Kinnegad, John Best was perhaps among the not-so-lucky ones.  His potato crop probably did fail. If so, he would have faced a year until the next harvest with virtually no income whatsoever.  The need for farm labourers had largely evaporated, because many tenant farmers couldn’t pay for help. John faced a dilemma - how would he and Mary feed and clothe their family? Things took a turn for the worse sometime during the spring or early summer of 1817.  John was arrested for ‘burglary and robbery’ (what we today might describe as breaking and entering).

 John was probably motivated by need, not greed. But he was, nevertheless, arrested and locked up. There is a possibility that he committed the crime purposely, with the intent of being sentenced to transportation.  Others were certainly doing that, because life in Australia as a convict was, in 1817, already recognised as being better than the difficult conditions endured by poor folk in Ireland.

Kinnegad did not have its own gaol.  So John would have been quickly transported to the Trim Gaol, about 23 kilometres to the east (longer by road).

Trim was a walled town; its walls had been built over 150 years earlier to defend it against Oliver Cromwell’s English forces, but the town had surrendered before the walls could be put to any test.  Amongst its public buildings were a church, two Roman Catholic chapels, a market house and a court house for holding the assizes (periodic criminal courts held around England and Wales).  A gaol adjoined the court house and it contained a tread mill that prisoners were forced to operate to supply water to the prison. When Mr William Smart, the Governor of the Trim county gaol, locked John away, John would have recognised two other prisoners in the cell – George White and 28 year old Patrick Grenan (or Grehan), also of Kinnegad. Both White and Grenan had also been arrested for ‘burglary and robbery’ – perhaps the three of them were involved in the same crime?  Also locked up in the Trim gaol was a Brian Bennett, native to County Cavan, charged with mail robbery. All faced trial at the summer assizes.

 In early August 1817, the Trim summer assizes were held. There was much ado when they began. The Irish patriot, Roger O'Connor faced a charge of robbing the Galway mail coach in December, 1812 in order to capture love-letters incriminating his friend Sir Francis Burdett.  O'Connor had been " ... removed thither, by habeas corpus, from Newgate [prison in Dublin]". O'Connor was tried at the Trim assizes before the Right Hon. Sr. George Daly on Monday and Tuesday, August 4 & 5, 1817. This trial attracted much public interest ...the Newgate Calendar described it as: “The court was crowded to excess, and O'Connor, with his friend Sir Francis Burdett, were allowed to sit within the bar[1].  O’Connor was acquitted. Of much less note were the trials of John Best, George White, Patrick Grenan, Brian Bennett and other men, which probably followed over the next day or so. John, George White, Patrick Grenan and Brian Bennett were all found guilty and each received a sentence of transportation for life.



John, along with White, Grenan, Bennett and any others sentenced to transportation, would have then been transported to the Dublin gaol at the earliest opportunity. Convicts brought to Dublin were housed, along with other offenders, mostly in Newgate and Kilmainham gaols. Dublin's city gaol, Newgate, was under constant criticism from reformers because of its deplorable condition and the fact that all categories of offender were housed together. Kilmainham was Dublin's county gaol, with arrangements for convicts much the same as in Newgate, except that transportees were separated from debtors and petty offenders. It is unknown which gaol John was sent to. But John would have spent several months (August to December?) in a crowded gaol in Dublin. While he waited under difficult conditions, arrangements were underway for transporting him and his cohorts to Port Jackson.

 In Cork, a port city south of Dublin, the transport ship Minerva was being prepared to receive the convicts.  Read about the Minerva here: [].   A ship’s surgeon – Dr James Hunter - had been assigned to the ship and he took up his post on or about 5 September 1817. Soldiers of the 48th Regiment were also quartered aboard the ship during September. Fortuitously, Dr Hunter’s journal survives.

 In about November 1817, John and his fellow transportees were removed from the Dublin gaol and placed aboard a brig in Dublin harbour. Because of delays, transportees sometimes had to wait on board these vessels for extended periods in appalling conditions. Sometimes, convicts had to remain aboard their vessel in dock at Dublin for six weeks awaiting suitable winds. They received neither clothing nor bedding, which were considered an unnecessary expense due to the shortness of the journey to Cork. Because only a few were allowed on deck at once, they spent most of the time in irons in the hold in very unhealthy conditions. The journey from Dublin to Cork only took two days, but it was not uncommon for such vessels to again be detained once they arrived in Cork harbour and before the convicts could be removed to their transport ship.  We get a sense that John Best and fellow Dublin transportees were, in fact, delayed board their Dublin-Cork transport vessel, because,  In Dr Hunter’s journal, Hunter wrote:

 John Cartwright, aged 35, convict; disease or hurt, typhus mitior, having a wife and many children, the anxiety and lowness of spirits coupled with the fatigue experienced in a passage from Dublin has induced the fever which he is now affected; taken ill, 26 December 1817;

 The convicts appear to have been loaded aboard the Minerva on or about 23 December 1817. Once aboard, conditions improved for the convicts.  They were required to wash and had clothing supplied. Once the convicts were properly settled, a routine of chores alternating with confinement to cells would have been introduced. 
At Dublin Castle, on the 30th of December 1817, Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, 2nd Earl Talbot, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, signed his approval for the convicts to be transferred to the Governor of New South Wales.  A copy of the approval was shipped from Dublin to Cork and couriered to the master of the Minerva, Captain John Bell [read about Capt. John Bell at].

Two days later, on a cold, mid-winter’s day – New Year’s Day 1818 –the Minerva pushed away from the wharf and caught a fresh breeze out of Cork harbour and headed south. 

Some convicts were used to help with tasks aboard the ship.  Dr Hunter wrote in his journal:
“William McCormick, convict; disease or hurt, contusion in the right side resulted by heaving at the capstan in weighing the anchor; taken ill, 1 January 1818; well 7 January 1818. “

On board were a number of other convicts with whom John would get to know over the years to come:
·       George White (age 30) of Kinnegad,
·       Brian Bennett (age 30) of County Cavan,
·       Patrick Montgomery (age 41) of County Antrim,
·       William Campbell (age 38) of County Armagh,
·       Leslie Ferguson (age 17 ) of Colerain; and
·       John Bell (convict, age 35) of County Antrim.

 As the Minerva sailed south on a brisk breeze, John would have known he’d never see Ireland again. Mary and the four children were left behind to cope as best they could without him.  How gut-wrenching must that have felt?

Click here to read The Story of John Best - Part 2
Go Back to read John Best - The Prequel 



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