A surprise in the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence

I found a surprising document when I was researching a convict at State Records New South Wales at Kingswood last week. John Webster arrived in 1830 on the Lord Melville (2), received his certificate of freedom in 1836, married a convict in the same year, and had a number of children over the years. He died in 1896, in Marrickville, in inner Sydney.

All this information is worth finding and the very least you should try to discover about your own convict. Once you have the birth, marriage and deaths of any ancestor, his/her spouse and their children, and the relevant convict records, it’s time to look further afield. The Colonial Secretary received all manner of correspondence from and about convicts and is always worth searching.

The index from 1788 to 1825 is online at the State Records NSW website. After 1826 to 1894 there are indexes prepared by the late Joan Reese on microfiche, and these are worth their weight in gold.  It was these that I searched to find any correspondence for my client’s convict.

I searched each series in turn, 1826-1831, 1832-1837, 1838-1841, 1842-1847, and on until the end. The index is commonly called ‘Convicts and Others’ and it is important to keep searching it even though your convict is no longer a convict. It is equally important to search it even if your ancestor wasn’t a convict.

In the 1878-1888 series I found the entry with his name, no ship name, but the place ‘Enmore’, with the State Records NSW references. Enmore is where one of his daughters was married, and near Newtown where many of the children were born. So I requested to inspect the actual document in the Reading Room at Kingswood.

When it arrived I was surprised to find it to be a Notice of Admission for the second wife Mary to a ‘Licensed House’ for the care of the insane in Tempe, which is down the Princes Highway from Newtown. According to the Superintendent of the Hospital she was

suffering from Melancholia, Chronic. She takes little or no interest in her surroundings. I think she is no longer good for anything.  She is in fair general health, although thin and weak.

Her medical practitioner wrote

Have attended her on & off for several years and for some time she has become more and more melancholic. She now sits nearly all day in the one place saying she will never get well that she has many sins – that she has a strange feeling, has lost all reason, & does not desire anything[;] she is getting thinner & although she eats well, cannot sleep.

All the above have also been observed by her husband. He also says she mutters and keeps him constantly watching her.

Poor woman.

We now know a lot more about this family than we did before, and have further leads we can follow if the records of this institution still exist.

Sources

Reese, Joan. Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales. Microfiche. Balgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1994-2009.

State Records New South Wales: Colonial Secretary, ‘Main series of letters received, 1826-1982’. NRS905. [Bundle 1/2632], Item 87/1718, ‘Notice of Admission for Mary Elizabeth Webster 8 Feb, 1887’. 8 pages.

Comments

  1. I’ve been holding onto this post so I could thank you. I’m a lazy researcher mostly. If it’s online, I’m more likely to go on the hunt. Thanks to your post Carole, I’m keen to take myself out to Kingswood for a day or two to chase the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence post 1825.

  2. Hello, this post is extemely interesting to my family and I. We believe John Webster is our great, great-grandfather and would love to find out more however we don’t live in NSW. I would be very interested in talking further about engaging Carole to help with our research. Please do contact me. Regards A

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