Tuncurry Afforestation Camp

I’ve been researching the great-uncle of a client. We started off with a notice in the NSW Police Gazette that he had been arrested for stealing money from the Government Savings Bank. A Sydney Morning Herald report of the trial at the Sydney Quarter Sessions showed that he had worked for the bank for 17 years and was sentenced to two years hard labour in Goulburn Gaol ‘to be made an example of’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Aug 1925, p.12).

For more information I needed a trip out to State Records NSW at Kingswood.

The Goulburn Gaol Entrance Book [7/13506] is an enormous volume requiring three pillows to support it. The Entrance Book gives:

  • Entrance date
  • Entrance number
  • Name
  • Gaol Number
  • When, where and by whom committed
  • Offence
  • Sentence
  • Where born (with date of birth in this case)
  • Ship and Year if born out of the colonies (it’s an old book)
  • Religion
  • Trade
  • Age
  • Height in feet and inches
  • Colour of hair and eyes
  • Education
  • Remarks, which appeared to indicate whether this was a first imprisonment
  • How and when disposed.

Our former bank employee was admitted to the prison on 10 September, along with some other prisoners. He’d been a bank manager, aged 36, with brown hair and blue eyes. He was disposed ‘To Tuncurry’ on 4 November 1925.

Tuncurry? I hadn’t realised there was a gaol at Tuncurry.

It turns out that Tuncurry hosted the first ‘Afforestation Camp’ in New South Wales. Tuncurry Afforestation Camp was a 6,000 acre property where prisoners were provided with ‘a modified form of prison life and the opportunity to acquire skills which could be used on release’. It makes sense – he was never going to be a bank manager again.

There are a number of volumes generated by the camp in its history from 1913 to 1938. The Entrance book shows some of the same information as the Goulburn book, without the physical description or birth date, and the final column shows that he was disposed ‘On license’ on Christmas Eve 1926. I imagine this was an early release for good behaviour, since his two years wasn’t up yet.

Entrance book [Tuncurry Afforestation Camp] 1913-1937, [5/1617]

Entrance book [Tuncurry Afforestation Camp] 1913-1937, [5/1617]

I had high hopes for the Visitors Book [5/1620] but I guess Tuncurry is a long way for family members to travel. Visitors weren’t as common as they are now. Few of the pages were actually used and the visitors were usually chaplains and surgeons, although there was a visit from the Governor of New South Wales and his entourage during my bank manager’s inprisonment. What a day that must have been!

[5/1620]

Visitors book [Tuncurry Afforestation Camp] 1913-1938 [5/1620]

I would love to know how this ex-bank manager got on after his year of planting trees. I do, however, know what happened to the prison camp:

Sydney Morning Herald Tue 29 March 1938, p.8

Sydney Morning Herald Tue 29 March 1938, p.8

 

How to search for probate files at State Records NSW

SRNSW Western Sydney Records CentreProbate is the process of proving that a will left by a deceased person is genuine. Probate files are created by the NSW Supreme Court (or equivalent in other States) and transferred gradually to State Records NSW. They are more commonly called ‘probate packets’, since all the documents are folded in three into an envelope.

Probate packets can contain all sorts of goodies, including a copy of the will, an inventory of assets, affidavits from family members, and sometimes a copy of the death certificate and newspaper notices.

State Records NSW holds probate packets up to the 1960s, but to find them involves searching the index on microfiche created by the NSW Supreme Court.  State Records NSW has been gradually adding each packet to it online catalogue, Archives Investigator, so that we can search from home.

The latest Now and Then, the State Records NSW newsletter, describes the packets that have been listed so far and how to find them, and I can do no better than to quote the article here.

More probate packets listed in Archives Investigator Over 300 000 individual (NRS 13660) Probate Packets are available in Archives Investigator! Listed so far are:

•             Series 1: April 1817 to c. May 1873

•             Series 2: 1873 to 1876

•             Series 3: 1876 to c.1890

•             The years 1928-54 from Series 4 – Series 4-152152 (probate granted June 1928) to Series 4-419994 (probate granted July 1954).

To check if the details of your ancestor’s Probate Packet is now available online just go to Archives Investigator – Simple Search, key in the name of your ancestor followed by the word ‘death’ and click on the ‘Search’ button. If you locate a relevant result you then have the option to order a photocopy of the probate or preorder the probate packet to view in person at the Western Sydney Records Centre (WSRC).

Search for your elusive ancestor today http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/

Do a search for all your New South Wales ancestors, male and female, and plan a trip out to the Western Sydney Records Centre (WSRC) at Kingswood. Take your digital camera, or be prepared to pay for photocopies if you can’t deal with the folded up pages. You won’t regret it!

Retrieval orders for probate packets are only sent at certain times of the day, so you can save time by preordering up to four packets a day or two before your visit, to be waiting for you when you arrive.

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.

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