Where did my convict die?

Most convicts lived to finish their sentences or obtain their conditional pardons and continued to live long and productive lives. Some didn’t live productive lives, and some didn’t survive to finish their sentences.

The Register of Convict Deaths lists convicts who were known to have died whilst still serving their sentence.State Records NSW: Chief Superintendent of Convicts; Convict Death Register. NRS 12213, SR Reel 690. It is available on Ancestry.

Many of these deaths do not appear in the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages online indexes. The pre-1856 records held by the Registry were collected from parish registers from around the colony, and so the conclusion has to be made that the convict who died was not given a Christian burial.

Convict Death Register

Perhaps the settler wrote to inform the Superintendent of Convicts that the convict had died and the means of death, and it is worth searching the indexes to the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence to see if such a letter was sent. He may have written to the Chief Superintendent of Convicts, but this correspondence has not survived.

Timothy Baverstock was a blacksmith and carpenter transported in 1832 and arriving in February 1833. According to the Convict Death Register he was assigned to a Mr Cobb at Hunter River and died the same year. You may be able to read his entry in the register above – he is about 3/4 of the way down the left hand page. You may also be able to see that his is the only entry that does not give a full date of death – just the year.

To see if Mr Cobb had written a letter to report the death I searched for correspondence to the Colonial Secretary. There is a name index prepared by Joan Reece over many years on microfiche. With great satisfaction I found the name Timothy Bavenstock for 1833, and I filled out the request form to inspect the letter. I was expecting a short note to explain that the convict had died, and perhaps a request for another one to replace him.

ColSecCorr 33-5055

I was quite surprised when it arrived to see a four-page document quite closely written in the left margin of the first page. The letter was not from Mr Cobb of Hunter River, as I had expected, but the Principal Superintendent of Convicts, complaining to the Colonial Secretary that assignees do not report the deaths of the convicts assigned to them.

ColSecCorr 33-5055 p3 detail

Timothy Baverstock is only mentioned because the Principal Superintendent used him as an example of  a convict whose death he would have remained ignorant except that the assignee, Mr Cobb, applied to be assigned another convict.

The letter reads in full:

I beg leave again to bring under the notice of the Government the fact of my being seldom apprized of the death of Convicts in the interior by Assignees; and to suggest the propriety should His Excellency the Governor approve of directing public attention to this matter thr[ough] the medium of the Official Gazette.

As cases in point, I beg leave to mentionthat it was only yesterday in looking over a file of applications in the Office of the Assignment Branch, I discovered the death of the two Convicts named in the margin hereof.

[in the margin] Timothy Baverstock 33/376 Camden 2, Carpenter & Wheelwright Complete

Job Nobbs 32/461 Isabella 4, Shoemaker Complete

The first named was assigned to Mr Cobb of Hunter River, and according to that Gentleman’s statement died the day after his arrival on the farm. The other was assigned to Mr HC Kurnell[?] of Argyle, who states that he also died soon after reaching his farm. Neither case would have been reported had it not been thought by the assignees it would strengthen their claims for others.

I never receive any reports of deaths from Coroners. I have the honour to be, etc etc

The Colonial Secretary wrote an “executive summary” in the margin of the first page for the Governor:

The Prin’l Sup Convicts represents that he is seldom apprised by assignees of the death of their convict servants, and suggests the propriety of directing public attention to the matter by means of the Gazette – adds also that he never receives reports of deaths from the Coroners.

All the Returns of Burials rec’d in this office are periodically sent to Mr Hely (see note below) for his confirmation. The several Coroners may be required to furnish a Death return, but as the bodies of persons on whom inquests are held are interred, then names doubtless included in a Clerical report of Burials, it would not appear that the non-transmission of the Return by the Coroners is productive of much inconvenience. As respects the notice to Assignees I am fearful that not much attention will be paid to it – but they might nevertheless be req’d to report to the Mag[istrate] the death of the Convict servant.

Timothy Baverstock had died the day after his arrival. As a blacksmith and carpenter Timothy Baverstock would have been valuable to a settler, and Mr Cobb would have wanted a quick replacement.

Without his assignee’s request for a replacement and the Principal Superintendent of Convict’s request to The Colonial Secretary, he would have disappeared from the records and we would never have known what happened to him.

Note Frederick Augustus Hely, according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, held the post of Principal Superintendent of Convicts from 1823 until his death in 1836. He applied to retire on a pension but died before it was approved by the Colonial Office.

Sources
State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; NRS12213, Convict Death Register. SR Reel 690. Online version published by Ancestry.com.

State Records NSW: Colonial Secretary’s Office; NRS905, Main series of letters received, 1826-1982. 33/5055, Letter from Principal Superintendent of Convicts dated 1 Aug 1833.

Charles Johnson, prisoner and father

When the grandmother of one of my clients was born there was no father listed on the birth certificate. When she married she stated her father to be a Charles Johnson, but there was no other evidence of this, or indeed of any link between Charles and and the mother Isabella Staader.

At least there was a name to go on, and the place where the child was born. A search of the digitised newspapers on Trove had given a short account of a trial in which Charles was convicted in January 1887 of assault and sentenced to 12 months hard labour at Tamworth Gaol. The woman he assaulted was Isabella Staader.

SMH 18970201 p5 Johnson and Staader

Sydney Morning Herald 1st Feb 1897 p.5

Further searches revealed more information. The NSW Police Gazettes reported his arrest (without bail), sentence and release. He is the Return of Prisoners, showing his sentence:

Charles is about half way down. He was charged with “Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm” on Isabella Staader. He was tried at Tamworth Quarter Sessions on 29th January 1897, and sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour at  Tamworth Gaol.

Later in the same year he appears in a list of Prisoners Discharged to Freedom. The printing is even smaller than in the page above so I haven’t posted an image. It describes not only his crime, sentence and date and place of trial, but some additional information – his native place was Tamworth, NSW; year of birth was 1862; height 5 feet 5 inches; fresh complexion; brown hair and eyes; regular nose, mouth and chin; and this was his first conviction.

The Index to Gaol Photographs on the State Records NSW website does not include those taken at Tamworth Gaol, but there is a full index at the Western Sydney Records Centre. There he was: Charles Johnston in Tamworth Gaol. The presence or absence of the T in the name was a minor inconvenience – if they didn’t always spell names the same way there is no reason for us to be pedantic about it.

SRNSW Gaol Photograph 1897 Charles Johnston

SRNSW: Department of Corrective Services, Photograph Description Book, Tamworth Gaol, 1894-1929.

The page is wrinkled where the photographs have been stuck on.  We now know quite a lot more about Charles Johnson, including some more accurate information, as I suspect the Description Book is more accurate than the Police Gazette. He had light brown hair and blue eyes, with a cut under his left eye. He weighed 130 pounds. He was Church of England and he could read and write.

We may not know exactly what was going on between Charles and Isabella, but we now have an idea of when it might have come to an end. Perhaps she took him back when he got out of gaol; certainly his child knew that he was her father.

Often the father of an illegitimate child can never be found. Sadly, if there was domestic violence, it may be possible to find out quite a bit about him.

The full citation for the page from the Description Book is :

State Records NSW: Department of Corrective Services, ‘Photograph Description Book, Tamworth Gaol, 1894-1929’, [3/5997]; item 49 for Charles Johnson.

The square brackets seem to interfere with the formatting in the picture caption.

John Graham, transported from Scotland to the Colonies

Package from the National Archives of ScotlandI have written previously about my excitement when the package of copies of the trial records for John Graham arrived in the post. The trial records of transported convicts from Scotland are available to be copied, and are indexed by name in the National Archives of Scotland catalogue.

Let me tell you what I found. To recap, the arrival of John Graham into New South Wales was a bit of a mystery as there were no NSW convicts of the right age and no recorded immigrants who fit his circumstances. His death certificate gave the length of time he lived in the Colony of New South Wales as a fairly precise 46 years, meaning that he should have been 16 when he arrived here in about 1846. It also claimed that he was born in Scotland, and that his parents were John Graham, a bricklayer, and Ann Duffy. His widow was the informant. His marriage registration didn’t give his parents; nor did the parish register.

There was a convict by that name arriving in Tasmania from Scotland in 1840, aged 12. The likelihood of this being the John Graham in question was high but not certain.

When I found this convict on the National Archives of Scotland catalogue the entry very helpfully stated that his father was Peter Graham, a weaver. This was a bit discouraging but the other evidence was strong enough to make it worthwhile to order the copies.

The packet of copies arrived, and a large packet it was! Here is a single page, to show the format. Each page is labelled at the top, as you can see.

Inventory of papers in precognition

When I had time to go through the many pages I found the following:

  • a long list of stolen items acquired on 4 separate occasions over about 2 weeks
  • a detailed description of his acquisition of these items and how they were distributed. It would be possible, using a contemporary map of Dundee, to trace John’s movements over the period.
  • a list of the 5 other boys that John hung out with – “all common thieves and associate very much together”
  • extracts from 3 previous convictions for theft
  • statements given by a large number of people, including his father Peter Graham, his mother Rose Duffy, and his uncle Michael Graham, to whom John had given a stolen silk handkerchief
  • Peter Graham, a weaver, was aged 38 and resided at Smalls Wynd, Dundee
  • Rosie Graham or Duffy was aged 38 and very deaf
  • Michael Graham, weaver, was aged 27 and resided at Lyons Close, Dundee
  • Patrick Ward, weaver, and Alice Ward or Collins his wife, were lodgers with the Grahams
  • None of the defendants or the family members giving evidence could write
  • John pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 7 years transportation

Wonderful detail! I was very pleased to see that his mother’s maiden surname was Duffy, giving some link with the details on the death certificate given by his widow.

I am now more inclined to think that this transported John Graham, aged 12 in early 1840, is the same John Graham who died in 1892 after 46 years in the Colony of New South Wales. He was given his Free Certificate in 1846 and may well have headed straight to New South Wales in the same year.

His wife may well have thought that he was born in Scotland, but this convict was born in Ireland, according to the Tasmanian convict records. It would have been an easy mistake to make. John may not even have been able to remember Ireland at all, and certainly by the time he had done his time in Tasmania it must have seemed like a distant memory.

I may never be able to prove that this young convict grew up to be the man I am looking for. I do think that he is the closest match I will ever find, and I’m thrilled with the files I got from the National Archives and the evidence they contain.

Sources

NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Death registration of John Graham, 1892/3934.

Joint Copying Project, ‘The Register of St John the Baptists Wellington NSW – Marriages 10 August 1841 to 23 June 1857 and 17 July 1874 to 14 September 1874.’ Society of Australian Genealogists, 2008.Joint Copying Project, ‘The Register of St John the Baptists Wellington NSW – Marriages 10 August 1841 to 23 June 1857 and 17 July 1874 to 14 September 1874.’ Society of Australian Genealogists, 2008.

National Archives of Scotland: Crown Office Precognitions 1839; Precognition against John Graham, Thomas McKay for the crime of theft, habit and repute, and previous conviction; AD14/39/95.

National Archives of Scotland: High Court of Justiciary Processes 1550-1598; Trial papers relating to John Graham, Thomas McKay for the crime of theft, habit and repute, and previous conviction. Tried at High Court, Perth, 25 Apr 1839; JC26/1839/5.

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