Another historic newspaper report, this time in response to the Celebration Committee’s plans for the 150-year anniversary celebrations of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney. The Committee decided that for the re-enactment of the landing, and the subsequent parade of floats, there would be no convicts!
THEY PLAYED THEIR PART.
The Celebrations Committee has …decided to ban the birthstain, so far as next year’s pageantry is concerned. No convicts will disembark at Farm Cove, nor in the subsequent procession will there be the slightest reminder that there would have been no Landing except for the need to find a new home for Britain’s surplus prison population. This impressive feat in the bowdlerisation of history has been greeted with varying degrees of derision by correspondent s of the “Herald” and others. Mr. H. J Rumsey, who has boldly called his roll-call of the First Fleet “The Pioneers of Sydney Cove,” suggests that the representation of the settlement without mention of the two thirds who involuntarily participated in it is comparable to the story of Hamlet without the Prince.
…”Conspicuous by their absence,” indeed, will be the “true patriots” who, if they left their country for their country’s good, did a vast amount of good work in the land of their enforced adoption. By discreetly leaving this family skeleton in the cupboard the committee has ensured its attendance at the feast.
…The morals of some of the convicts were in as poor case as their garments. No amount of sentimental whitewashing, by way of reaction to the excessive fastidiousness of the Celebrations Committee can disguise the fact that the convict pioneers included a number of “complete villains,” as even Phillip, who was a humane man for his times and wished to befriend his charges, was forced to admit.
…He [Phillip] pronounced the great body of them “quiet and contented,” and Hunter was able to say in 1812 that “there are many men who have been convicts, and are now settlers, who are as respectable as any people who have gone from this country.” It is a curious commentary on the present ban that convicts were permitted to join in public celebrations from the earliest times, and themselves staged a dramatic performance as early as 1789;
…The truth is that, not merely was Australia founded on account of the convicts, but that it would have made scant progress in its first 50 years without them. We have, perhaps, more to be ashamed of in our treatment of the aborigines, some of whose pathetic remnants, will stage a corroboree at Farm Cove, than of the penal origins of our country. The brutal transportation system reflected at least as much discredit upon its authors and some of its operators as upon the majority of its victims. It belongs to the old unhappy, far-off things of another age. Yet, as Dr. John Dunmore Lang, whose words are recalled by a correspondent today, wrote in 1875, it is a great historical fact which cannot be ignored. The effort to do so is likely to provoke more ridicule than a candid recognition of circumstances, which, so far from being discreditable to Australia, emphasise the magnitude of our achievement in building up a vigorous, independent, and freedom-loving nation from such unlikely beginnings at Sydney Cove. It would be the poorest sort of snobbery to deny that many men and women who were brought to this country under degrading conditions rose superior to their misdoings and misfortunes, and played their part in laying the foundations of the Commonwealth.
THEY PLAYED THEIR PART. (1937, December 11). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954), p. 10. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17435749
Why is it that we are now proud to claim convict ancestors? I was looking in historic newspapers for evidence of earlier views about convict heritage. I found the following remarkable piece in The Queenslander of 7 March 1891:
Whatever changes may be introduced by the advance of Social Democracy, it is doubtful whether pride of birth will ever be eliminated from human nature. There is no sign of it disappearing now at any rate. In Republican France it is just as strong as it was before the Revolution. In America, where there is no titled aristocracy, people are as proud of being descended from somebody who came over in the Mayflower as the Beauforts are of having come over, in the person of an ancestor, with William the Conqueror. In Australia folks have not yet begun to boast of the fact that their forebears came over with the Sirius, or in one of the transports that accompanied that epoch-making vessel. But I have no doubt that will come in time. Most noble origins, from the founding of Rome to the Norman conquest, start from violence and crime, and in a couple of hundred years the convict taint will be blue blood.
Anzac Day, 2011 and this morning I was proud to again accompany my Dad to the Dawn Service, to remember those who served, including those who paid “the ultimate sacrifice”.
I want to speak of my Dad’s military service, someone who fortunately returned home again, but who was part of a group that has received very little acknowledgement.
My Dad was a member of BCOF, the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces. He joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as soon as he was old enough, but he was just finishing training when “cessation of hostilities” was declared. When he was sent overseas, it was to Japan, as part of the occupation forces. He served 3 years in Japan, including time in and near Hiroshima, very shortly after that city was hit by a nuclear bomb. He too saw and had to do some horrific things as part of that service (only once has he really opened up and spoken about some of them).
He too has health issues as a result of that military service, but there has been very little acknowledgement for military service “after the war was over”. Only fairly recently was BCOF service even acknowledged at the War Memorial. After his return from Japan Dad joined the Citizen Forces and, when it formed, the Citizen Air Force, as “an original” (one of those who joined in 1948).
Our first thought at Anzac Day may rightly be for the Diggers and the debacle and lives lost in 1915 at what is now known as Anzac Cove. We remember also too many other battles when our young men and women served and perhaps died for their country.
But we should remember also the contribution of all those others who also “answered duty’s call” and served in other ways, the peace makers and the peace keepers.
Lest we forget.
I’ve written a new course on Australian Immigration (free settlers) for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies and have been reminded again about how much is explained by looking at background history.
People refer to the ‘push-pull’ of immigration. The Irish potato famine of the 1840s ‘pushed’ a large number of emigrants. In addition to 1 million dead, another 1 million people migrated from Ireland, causing the country’s population to fall by nearly 25%.
Likewise the pull of immigration: in the 7 years from the start of the Victorian gold rushes in 1851, the population of Victoria increased from 70,000 to nearly 500,000, overtaking the population of New South Wales. Ships arriving in Port Phillip were deserted as passengers and crew rushed off to the gold fields (often before immigration officials had time to record who had arrived).
Not all the numbers are so dramatic but looking at the numbers and considering the history helps understanding.
In 50 years from 1803, 75,000 convicts were sent to Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land). With convict labour and also emancipated convicts, there was no shortage of labour and indeed the problem was to ensure no unemployment, especially for assigned convicts.
The need was for wealthy settlers to develop employment – and single women. The gender balance was so unequal that for a while the government subsidised the migration of single women. But there was little need for more labourers. By 1860 about 80% of free immigrants to Tasmania had paid their own fares. The total number of free immigrants to that date was similar to the total number of transported convicts.
It was a different story in Queensland. Because of labour shortages, Queensland was a colony founded on assisted immigration (subsidised passages). In the 40 years leading up to Federation (1901), more assisted migrants arrived in Queensland than any other colony and few records remain in Queensland of the arrival of those who paid their own way.
I’ve been looking at Australian immigration records, and in particular the various indexes that sound as though they are indexing the same records but actually yield very different results.
Some years ago I searched through multiple microfilms until I found the records of John Hoadley and his family, who set out from England as ‘bounty immigrants’ in 1838. Colonists selected suitable immigrants to sponsor, and paid for their fares, in exchange for a ‘bounty’ from the government, which reimbursed part or all of the costs. The new immigrant would then be contracted to work for their sponsor for a time.
Immigration to New South Wales was the responsibility of the NSW government until 1922, and the records are now held by NSW State Records. (Immigration records after 1922 are now held by the National Archives of Australia.)
Anyway back to John Hoadley – he was aged 26, a farm labourer from Chittington Sussex. His wife Mary Ann was a 22-year-old housemaid. They had 2 small children, George aged 1 and Mary Ann aged 2. According to the references supplied, John Hoadley was the son of Amelia Hoadley, a laundress of Blumton, Sussex. His health was good and the local curate attested to his good character.
As I say, I had found their ship and date of arrival by searching through microfilms. When NSW State Records added an online index to their website, that index started from 1844, so did not include the Hoadley family.
When the subscription site Ancestry.com.au released a ‘Bounty Immigrants Index for 1828-1842’, the Hoadley family was missing. (Or were they just wrongly indexed? The original writing is difficult to read.)
Recently I checked a newer Ancestry collection, ‘Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists 1828-1896’ and this time it DID include the Hoadley family. (Why was an 1838 record missing from the 1828-1842 collection but found in the 1828-1896 collection?)
According to the record in the Ancestry collection, John Hoadley “jumped overboard in a fit of delirium … at midnight … Left a widow and 2 children”. I had not known that!
More recently, NSW State Records released ‘digital copies of the Bounty Immigrants lists, 1838-96’ – copies of the original passenger lists, freely available online. Note that these start 6 years earlier than the NSW State Records Assisted Immigrants index. I was pleased to find that the ship ‘Amelia Thompson’ was included – however the digitised images online only include the single men and women, not the families and married couples, so the Hoadleys were left out – again.
Most recently FamilySearch released an ‘Index to bounty immigrants arriving in NSW, Australia, 1828-1842’ – including digital images. Having seen the other records, I expected the FamilySearch image would be a copy of one of those – it wasn’t.
The image on the FamilySearch site is a filmed copy of a card index, including a transcription of all available information – including some I did not know. Poor Mary Ann Hoadley did not only lose her husband on the voyage, her youngest child died at the Quarantine Station 2 weeks after their arrival.
The above was a lesson to me that the indexes and images might sound as if they are all the same, but – for whatever reason – the ancestor you are looking for might be included in one index and missing from another. Or one record might include more information than another. Taken together, all the information tells much more of a story, that I would not have learned if I had stopped looking when I found the name of the vessel and a date.
If a death certificate has the dreaded word ‘Unknown’ – think about other ways of getting the information.
I was looking for the origins of William Etherington, a carpenter who died at Delegate (southern NSW). On his death certificate, not only were his parents listed as unknown, but so were any spouse or children.
Death certificates often have errors or missing information, because the owner of the property where a death occurred was the person required to register the death. The accuracy of their answers depended on who that was and how much did they know.
Next possibility – was there a will naming family members? If so, it might be found in a ‘Probate Packet’ – such files contain information about the property of the deceased and who was to inherit.
Checking the online indexes of NSW State Records (holders of New South Wales government archives), I found no entry for William in the Probate Packet index, nor the index of the Deceased Estate files (generally these contain an inventory of property and possessions).
However there was an entry for William Etherington in the index for Intestate Estates (‘intestate’ means died without leaving a will). The Curator of Intestate Estates determined who was to inherit when there was no will to indicate the wishes of the deceased.
The online index gave a clue that this file was working checking. The comments column included “contains original BDMs”. What an understatement!
William was one of 9 children, most of whom had married (and perhaps remarried) and had children of their own. William’s brother claimed that all his siblings and their descendants deserved to share the inheritance. In evidence there was a family tree (4 generations) along with all the applicable birth, marriage and death dates for everyone named. Not only that, but the file also contained all of the birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial certificates. Most documents were from England and the baptisms and burials were certified by the vicar.
Instant family! And photographing them all with my digital camera cost me nothing. (Fortunately I had a spare camera battery, as there were so many documents.)
I don’t think I have ever before found so many certificates in one file! However it was also a reminder that if the information is missing in the first place you seek, check elsewhere.
Today is Australia Day and I am thinking how our attitudes to our history have changed over time. My childhood history book referred to Captain Cook ‘discovering Australia’ in 1770. That completely discounted the presence of indigenous Australians here for at least 40,000 years, not to mention all the European sightings of our continent long before Cook.
Then there is the changed attitude to a convict past. Not so many years ago it would have been a dreadful shame to have convict forebears. Now such ancestors are much sought after, as it associates us with pioneers, and we are amused by some of the rogues and think the Kelly gang bushrangers were forced into their crimes. Perhaps some people rewrite their history a bit by glossing over their ancestor’s ‘crime’ (“they were hungry so stole a loaf of bread”). I wonder what misrepresentations our descendants will accuse us of making?
The following is a letter to the editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday 9 December 1937 (page 3, see it in Trove) in response to preparations for the upcoming 150th anniversary of ‘Australia Day’. At that reenactment of the landing, they chose to gloss over even the presence of convicts in the First Fleet!
TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD,
Sir,-Dr. Mackaness, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Australian Historical Society last week, said that the 150th celebrations had done much for historical work and research. That may be so. It is interesting to note, however, that Dr. Mackaness made no protest against the inaccurate presentation of Australian history about to be made at the forthcoming celebrations. The landing of Governor Phillip without reference to the convicts, as decided by the 150th Anniversary celebration committee, is in conflict with Dr. Mackaness’s book, “Admiral Arthur Phillip,” just published, and here quoted . . .
“On 25th January at daylight, the Supply, with a company of marines and forty convicts on board, had weighed anchor, but could not leave the bay (Botany) till noon … anchoring the same evening at 7 o’clock, being obliged to turn up … At daylight on 26th January … the marines and convicts were landed from the Supply … The convicts were immediately set to work clearing a piece of land on which to erect the tents … After noon the Union Jack was hoisted on shore and the marines being drawn up to it, the Governor and officers to the right, and the convicts to the left, their Majesties and the Prince of Wales’s health, with success to the colony, was drank, in four glasses of porter, after which a feu de joie was fired and the whole (sic) gave three cheers …”
Here then is the landing scene. Take away reference to the convicts and you have the skeleton which is to be presented at the coming clebrations. Where are the protests of Dr. Mackaness, or the Royal Australian Historical Society? The silence of this society, which aims at historical accuracy, is astounding, while its motto, “Not unmindful of the past,” would appear to be a misnomer, at least as regards the convicts. The official voice of this society is dumb regarding the decision of the celebration committee to ban references to the convict pioneers, when this society’s protest should be loudest.
I am, etc.,
B. T. DOWD. Waverley, Dec. 7.