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.

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:

[error uploading photo, I'll try again later]

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

THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF SCOTLAND

NOT TO BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT PERMISSION

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!

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