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.
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.
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.
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.