CONVICT ANCESTRY and PROUD OF IT




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Searching for the truth

The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteen and Ninteenth Centuries saw a massive rise in unemployment in England. As a result, many otherwise lawful citizens were forced to resort to petty crimes just to support their families and the gaols were soon overcrowded. The English Government adopted a policy of transporting prisoners to it's colonies in America and Australia for long periods. Not only did this ease the pressure on the gaols but as an added benefit it provided a much needed pool of labour to help develop it's colonies.

In line with this policy the Government told the Judges in England, Scotland and Ireland that they must sentence certain types of prisoners to long periods of transportation.
Hardened criminals, they were to go but there was another category of prisoners who were to be sentenced to long periods of transportation, no matter how trivial the offence. These were young males between the age of 18 and 35, who were in good health and could read and write; this was the type of labour badly needed in the new colonies.

England's defeat in the American War of Independence left Australia as the destination for most transportees and as the news of the better life style in Australia got back to the old country, many young men committed minor crimes just to get transported.

As one Australian historian put it, "The convict nonsense gets overplayed....It was Utopia...higher wages, meat, a nice warm climate. People wanted to come here. I reckon people would have stolen a handkerchief just to get to Australia"

Our story starts in 1952 when, one day, we came home to find that our elderly Aunt Em, who was staying with us had burned a lot of letters, old newspapers and books.

It was obvious that the burned documents contained information that Aunt was not proud of and she wanted the knowledge to die with her. We knew that Aunt Em had lived in Tasmania in her earlier years and it seemed logical to us that, what she seemed ashamed of, must have something to do with Tasmanian convicts.

Aunt Em was 98 years of age when she died in 1956. A couple of years later we decided to do some genealogical research

THE CONVICT CONNECTION

My cousin, Betty Rodsted visited the Tasmanian Government's Archive Office and she found that Aunt Em and her sister (who was my Grandmother) were daughters of a Tasmanian convict, James Scott Christie.

I'd always had the impression that the convict era was a long time in the distant past. The realisation that two of my relatives, whom I had known for years, were daughters of a Tasmanian convict, changed my thinking, it was not all that long ago.

I continued the research and found more surprises. As well as this direct link with Tasmanian convicts through my mother's side of the family, I found that, on my father's side, both my Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother had also been Tasmanian convicts.

At last count I know that at least five of my Tasmanian ancestors were convicts. This shame of convict ancestry must have been widespread because neither my father nor my mother ever confided in us. Little did they know that we, as kids, would have been proud and boasted about it at school.

I am not ashamed of my convict ancestry; rather I am proud to know that my ancestors made a significant contribution to the development of Australia as it is today.

Date created: June 14, 2002.
Last Modified: January 27, 2009.
Author Albert Bonser
Email: Alby Bonser

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2002 A.Bonser.