Reuniting of Wives and Families of Convicts

The separation of convict husbands from their families was usually a traumatic event for the wives and children left behind. Even in cases where the crime of the husband was such as to justify divorce in modern times, the loss of the breadwinner was a calamity that rendered all other considerations irrelevant. Of course, to the many wives who held genuine affection for their husbands the loss was even more traumatic.

Application of Stephen McCabe for Wife and Family to be given free passage 4 Nov 1849

Application of Stephen McCabe for Wife and Family to be given free passage 4 Nov 1849

Over 2000 convicts formally petitioned the colonial government to have their wives and families sent out from Britain. Not all families came, for a variety of reasons. Some of these long-suffering wives had lost patience and made other arrangements for their support; some came on their own; some emigrated elsewhere; some felt too old to travel; some may have died.

In 1817 formal procedures were gazetted for requesting free passage for wives and families to New South Wales. Proof of the marriage was necessary. A magistrate had to give his approval of the application. The request had to come from the husband to the colonial government; petitions by the wife back in Britain were given the “usual answer”.

In 1833 more rules were introduced. The convict had to have served a minimum number of years “with good conduct” before an application could be considered. A convict with a seven year sentence was required to have served four years; fourteen year sentences needed six years, and life sentences needed eight years. These numbers are similar to the years of service required before a ticket of leave could be granted.

Intercession from an influential master was sometimes successful in subverting these rules, but not always.

Stephen McCabe was sentenced to seven years transportation for aggravated assault in Cavan, Ireland and arrived on the Blenheim on the 27th September 1839. He left behind a wife, a son and four daughters. He received his ticket of leave in 1843 and his certificate of freedom in 1846.

In 1845 a petition to the Governor Sir George Gipps was written on his behalf requesting passage for his wife and family. In the letter he mentions that his wife wrote a letter to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland requesting she be sent out. She received the answer “that the Lord Lieutenant had not the power to send them out unless the Governor of the Colony were [sic] the convict was, recommended the indulgence to be granted”.

On the back is written:

“Inform him that I have no longer the means of procuring Passages for the Wives and Families of Convicts to the Colony. GG June 14″

In 1847 he tried again. An application form (pictured above), dated 4th November 1847, was filled out on his behalf, probably by his employer Mrs Lucy Howell whose signature appears at the bottom attesting to his conduct and means of supporting his family. The form gives his occupation, employer and residence; his wife’s maiden name, present residence and county; and the names and ages of his five children – Mary, 26; Catherine, 23; Margaret, 20; James, 17; Bridget, 14. This application was marked “Eligible and recommended” on 29th November 1847. You can see from the photo that there is quite a bit written diagionally across the back.

In the end it was twelve years after Stephen’s transportation before his wife and family joined him in New South Wales. His wife Margaret, by then aged 40, his daughter Margaret, 20, and son James, 15, arrived on the Success on 18th December 1849. These ages appear to have been rounded down. His elder daughter Mary, 24, arrived on the same ship with her husband Peter McEncroe and their five-year-old daughter Mary.

Sources

Although there are indexes to applications for convicts to have their families sent to the Colony they only go up to 1842, and I couldn’t findan application for Stephen in these indexes. Most of the documents I found for Stephen McCabe, other than the standard indents, tickets of leave, and certificate of freedom, were indexed in Joan Reese’s excellent indexes to the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary, namely:

Reese, Joan, Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence Letters Sent re Convicts. 8 microfiche. Balgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1996.

Reese, Joan, Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales. 21 microfiche. Balgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1994-2005.

If you are looking for more information about your convict than the standard convict records you can find Joan’s indexes in many libraries and family history society collections.

Source documents:

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Printed indents, 1830-42, NRS 12188-90; [X642]. Indent for Blenheim (3) arrived 27 Sep 1839, Reel 908.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Warrants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, relating to convict vessels from Ireland – the ‘Irish Indents’, 1822-40. NRS 1156. 2 microfilm. Reel 749-750.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Ticket of leave butts, 1827-1875, NRS 12202; Ticket of leave butt for Stephen McCabe per Blenheim 43/2834, [4/4183], Reel 951.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Butts of certificates of freedom, 1827-1867, NRS 12210; Butt for Stephen McCabe per Blenheim 46/842, [4/4405], Reel 1022.

State Records New South Wales; Colonial Secretary: Letters Sent re: Convicts. Letter to Colonial Secretary on behalf of Stephen McCabe per ship Blenheim, dated 14 June 1845. [4/2706], Ref. 45/4382. 

State Records New South Wales; Colonial Secretary: Letters Sent re: Convicts. Application for Wife and Family for Stephen McCabe per ship Blenheim, dated 19 Nov 1847. [4/2762-1], Ref. 47/8260.

State Records New South Wales; Immigration Board, Persons on Bounty Ships to Sydney, Newcastle and Moreton Bay 1848-1891 (Board’s Immigrant Lists) [4/4913-15]. “Success” arrived 18th December 1849, SR Reel 2460.

Other sources for this article:

Perry McIntyre, ‘Restoring Family Ties: Convict Family Reunion in New South Wales 1788-1849′. In Jeff Brownrigg, Cheryl Mongan and Richard Reid (editors), Echoes of Irish Australia: Rebellion to Republic, published by the editors, 2007.

State Records New South Wales; Archives in Brief 34 – Convict Families. Web page http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/guides-and-finding-aids/archives-in-brief/archives-in-brief-34

State Records New South Wales, Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Convicts and Convict Administration. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2006.

How do you write your family history?

I was amused recently by a discussion on a genealogy forum about whether we can use family tree software or a word processor to write our family history. A family tree program such as The Master Genealogist or Family Tree Maker or one of the many other excellent programs can keep track of our names and dates but it cannot be used to write reports or stories for our relatives and others.

Most family tree programs will write a report for us if we click the right button. The sentences may be a bit stilted but they get the facts across. I’m sure you’ve seen many examples; here’s one:

Mary SMITH was born to John Smith and Elizabeth Bennett on 03 April 1856 in Glasgow, Scotland. She appeared in the 1861 census in 45 Shuttle Street, Glasgow, Scotland. She appeared in the 1871 census in 21 Park Street, Glasgow, Scotland. She married John McDonald, the son of James McDonald and Jean Simpson, on 09 December 1878 in Glasgow, Scotland. She appeared in the 1881 census in Lewis Lane, Glasgow, Scotland. She immigrated on 26 July 1883 in Sydney, NSW, Australia. She died on 31 January 1903 in Penrith, NSW, Australia.

The children of Mary Smith were:

And so on and so on. It’s very uninspiring but it does get the facts across. Of course, it may be missing much of the story that you have stored elsewhere as notes.

There are alternatives. Some prefer to sit down and write the whole thing from scratch in a word processor such as Word. Depending on the skill of the writer it is likely to be a much more interesting read, and will probably contain much more of interest than just these bare facts, such as her nursing of local children, her other relatives on whose advice she moved to Australia, and the death of her eldest son on the voyage out here, and other such examples.

Many family tree programs allow the inclusion of this sort of information as well. The program that I am most familiar with is The Master Genealogist (TMG). It not only allows me to decide which facts will be included in a narrative, it allows me to determine how those facts will be reported. I can craft sentences to my own satisfaction and skill as a writer.

The discussion in the forum, as you can probably imagine, was about the ability of a family tree program to write narrative as well as you can yourself in a word processor. The answer, of course, is no. If the question is, can the program automatically generate prose that looks as though I wrote it myself from scratch, then of course the answer is no. You have to spend a great deal of time looking at the sentences it generates and changing them until they make sense, follow on smoothly from the sentence before, and do not appear as though they’ve been generated by a program. So who has written the prose in this case, you or the program? You have, of course.

TMG can do this, but it takes time, with a lot of trial and error. The most recent version of the program allows you to display a preview of the sentence when you are creating or updating a fact. You can update the sentence for that person only, or you can update a “master” that will use it everywhere that the same type of fact appears.

The only good reason that I can see for doing all of this work is if you are going to be generating multiple reports with at least some of the same people listed for different relatives. The same text will come out for each person no matter how often you run reports for different branches of your family. You may do some tweaking in your word processor once the report has been generated but you don’t have to write it from scratch every time.

If you are just going to do it once, as a professional genealogist might for a client, then it is not worth the extra work of setting up sentences in the family tree program, and you are better off doing it directly in the word processor.

Another advantage to using your family tree program is that it will probably generate a list of sources for you, and will cite them, if you wish, throughout the text. This is much less hassle than making sure you are quoting the right source with the right number every time you make a change, and keeping your superscripts correctly numbered.

That’s my two cents worth, and that was my take-away from the long discussion on the forum.

Reference:

APG-L Archives at http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/index/APG, February 2008.

Not the same old stories

Desktop with Blank Paper and PencilIt is a fact of life that every now and then we are obliged to visit our older relatives and in-laws. We may love these people very much and yet we quite often look forward to these visits with annoyance, if not actual dread. To have to listen to the same old stories yet again seems almost unbearable.At the same time we may regret that we didn’t get more information from our grandparents and other relatives who have passed away. Why did they never tell us about their childhoods or when they got married? Perhaps we never asked!

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Don’t be content to listen to the same stories of your living relatives, but ask them for more information before it’s too late. When they tell you the same story about what somebody else did then don’t just nod sympathetically but ask for more information:

  • What did you say or do?
  • Why do you think he did that?
  • What happened next?
  • What did _________ think/say/do?
  • Did that happen often?
  • What was the usual custom?

I’m sure you can think of other examples, depending on the situation. Think of a story right now that usually comes out during a visit and think up some relevant questions. If you use them you may be surprised at what new information comes out.

You can also be more systematic in your approach. Instead of waiting for the old stories to come out, you can ask for new ones. Be prepared before you get there with specific questions to ask, depending on your interest and theirs.

A few questions to ask family members could include:

Growing Up

  • Where did you grow up?
  • What was your school like?
  • What did you do after school?
  • What did you do in the school holidays?

Family Members

  • Describe the personalities of your family members.
  • Are there any physical characteristics that run in your family?
  • How well did you get on with each of your siblings?
  • Who was your favourite grandparent/aunt/uncle/brother/sister?
  • Who was your least favourite grandparent/aunt/uncle/brother/sister?

Family Traditions

  • Can you remember any stories that were told to you as a child (fictional, folklore, or real life)?
  • Did your family have any memorable holiday or other traditions?
  • What did your mother cook for special occasions?

Special Interests / Hobbies

  • Did you have any hobbies when you were growing up?
  • What kind of games did you play?
  • what did you do instead of watching TV?

Courtship / Dating / Marriage

  • Where did you meet your husband/wife?
  • How did he / you propose?
  • Did your parents approve? Did his/hers?

You could write down the answers (before you forget) or even record the whole thing. A PDA or MP3 player may be able to record voices, or a voice recorder. A video camera would be even better; even the one in your new digital camera or mobile phone would be better than nothing. The results would be a priceless record of the history of your family. Explain what you are doing and why, and ask permission first.

You could transcribe the interview (because that’s what it will be) when you get home and distribute copies to interested siblings and other relatives. You could burn the voice or video recordings to CD or DVD and distribute these as well.

Don’t just do it the once. Make it a regular thing if your relative is willing. He/she may enjoy telling different stories, and you will certainly enjoy hearing them. These visits can be a fantastic opportunity to get some information out of your relatives; don’t waste them!

Source for questions: Survey Reveals Americans’ Surprising Lack of Family Knowledge, 24-7 Family History Circle, Ancestry.com, 7 Dec 2007.

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