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.


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.

My Scottish Trial records have arrived!

I have written previously about the trial records available at the National Archives of Scotland for convicts transported to Australia. You can search for the convict by name in the catalogue and order the records to be copied and posted to you by writing to them by email.

A couple of weeks ago I rang the National Archives to order copies of files for John Graham and Thomas McKay. Actually it was 17 August. Yesterday, 2 September, a nice big packet arrived in the mail:

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Inside the jiffy bag was a nice thick stack of colour photocopies all tied up with tape. Each one is labelled with the statement:



and the reference number of the file.

I have therefore decided against reproducing one of the pages here.

I can’t wait to have a good look through it. More soon!

Scottish convict records at the National Archives of Scotland

National Archives of ScotlandDid you know that you can search for your Scottish convict by name in the catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland?

I didn’t until recently. I am researching one John Graham who, it was claimed on his death certificate, arrived in the colonies when he was about 16 and spent may have spent some time in Tasmania. A search of all the usual arrival options to New South Wales proved unsuccessful but there was a suitable candidate transported to Van Diemen’s Land at a young age.

Further research at the excellent Archives Office of Tasmania digitised content website showed that this John Graham came from Scotland. His 7 year term was timed perfectly for him to serve it, move to New South Wales, get married and start his family.

The catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland has indexed convict trial records by name. A search for the name John Graham gave far too many results to be useful, but narrowing the date range down to when I knew (from the Tasmanian records) that his trial took place, and there he was. Twice.

The precognition (AD14/39/95) showed that he was tried with Thomas McKay, who appears next to him on the convict indent. Under the heading  ‘Accused’  they are both named, as is his father and his father’s occupation, and their residence:

John Graham, son of Peter Graham, weaver, Small’s Wynd, Dundee
Thomas McKay, son of Donald McKay, painter, Hawkhill, Dundee

The trial papers (JC26/1839/5) give even more information:

John Graham, son of Peter Graham, weaver, Small’s Wynd, Dundee, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty in terms of own confession, Sentence: Transportation – 7 years. Note: Pannel cannot write.
Thomas McKay, son of Donald McKay, painter, Hawkhill, Dundee, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty in terms of own confession, Sentence: Transportation – 7 years. Note: Pannel cannot write.

Requesting copies of these records is not so straightforward, but it can be done. It appeared that the only way to do so from the other side of the world was to request a quote by email, so I wrote to the enquiry email address asking for one, giving the first reference that I’d found.

I got an email back a few days later with a very detailed list of what was in both files:

Precognition (ref: AD14/39/95)

A Precognition is the written report of the evidence of witnesses to a crime, taken before the trial in order to help prepare the case against the accused. This particular Precognition contains the following items:

  • Bound Precognition, this includes the witness statements and the declarations of both John Graham and Thomas McKay [74 pages]
  • Printed Indictment [7 pages]
  • Inventory of Papers in Precognition [3 pages]
  • Schedule [2 pages]
  • Petition [6 pages]
  • Letters [2 pages]
  • Supplementary Schedule [2 pages]

74 pages of witness statements and declarations! Priceless!

The Court Process Papers (ref: JC26/1839/5) contain the following items:

  • Handwritten Indictment [13 pages]
  • Diligence [2 pages]
  • List of Assize [2 pages]
  • Execution against John Graham [2 pages]
  • Execution against Thomas McKay [2 pages]
  • Execution against witnesses [4 pages]
  • Declaration of John Graham [4 pages]
  • Declaration of Thomas McKay [4 pages]
  • 2nd declaration of John Graham [4 pages]
  • 2nd declaration of Thomas McKay [4 pages]
  • Extract Conviction [5 pages]
  • Complaint against Robert Burt, James Downie, Duncan Carswell, James Robertson and Thomas McKay [2 pages]
  • Extract Certified Copy Complaint [4 pages]
  • Complaint against Archibald Paterson & John Graham [2 pages]
  • Complaint against John Graham [2 pages]

I was also given the option of a Minute Book entry:

The Minute Book Entry (ref: JC11/86)

This is a handwritten summary of the proceedings in court, and includes the charge, the plea and the sentence handed down [2 pages]

The quote was given separately for each file, and was not for the faint-hearted, although considerably cheaper than a trip to Edinburgh. We are going ahead with it, so I’ll report on what comes back when the package arrives.

Payment is by cheque on a British account (which I don’t have) or an international money order, or by credit card over the phone. They hope to provide online payments in the future. Postage and packing is included.

As much as I wish that they offered a similar service to the National Archives of Australia where you can pay a small amount to have something they intend to digitise scanned early, such as the World War II service files, I am still impressed that I was able to do so much from my PC here in Sydney.

I can’t wait for the copies to arrive!

Image by courtesy of the National Archives of Scotland

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