Scotch Bella: A Complicated Story of Early South Australia

(Waiting For Breakfast’ from The Sunday at Home magazine 1870)

Recently the South Australian prison records were digitized and made available on Familysearch and I’ve spent some time browsing the early years.

A fascinating part of the Adelaide prison records in the 1840s is that they state where the prisoner came from and what year they came to the colony of South Australia. There are some crimes that appear regularly, the main two being 1) refusal by an indentured sailor to return to his ship and 2) drunk and disorderly. Sometimes there were six or seven men from the same ship refusing to return, and often those sailors came from countries outside of Great Britain. One day I’ll explore maritime history in South Australia. I’ll add that to the list.

So, I was browsing the prison records and pondering on such crimes as ‘obstructing the footpath’ and ‘damaging melons’ and I started looking at the places of origin of the prisoners. That’s when I noticed how many ‘drunk and offensive behaviour’ crimes were committed by people from Van Diemen’s Land.

I’m sure everyone knows that Van Diemen’s Land is the primary focus of my research (closely ahead of Munster). So I started looking in the Tassie records to see who those people were, thinking they might have been former convicts.

I was right. Most of them got their conditional pardon and hightailed it out of the state through the late 1830s. It’s too early for the gold rush. I don’t know if they wanted a fresh start in a place requiring labour, or if they were trying to get back to England and just trying to save up for their ticket. By the time we’re into the 1850s there are prisoners from Port Philip as well, plus a couple from Sydney.

Yep, deeply engrossing stuff.

The Colony of South Australia

The colony of South Australia began officially in 1836. It was founded on the notion of free settlement by colonists who could either support themselves financially, or bring some skill with them that the colony required (which meant they could support themselves financially).

The colony was wanted by British folk who wanted a respectable home – ie no convicts, no slave labour, no suss religion – that sort of thing. People who wanted to emigrate, but wanted to emigrate to a place as civilised as the one they had left.

The colony version of a gated community, in fact.

Some people did ascribe to that ideal, but the whole scheme laid itself open to corrupt absentee landlords. A lot of dodgy practices took place such as applying for a land grant in a baby’s name to increase one’s holding, purchasing all the land along a creek so that landlocked grantees would go bankrupt and sell up cheap .. the kind of stuff you see in American Westerns with squatters and their hired gunhands.

The first settlers set foot on ground near Port Adelaide in 1836; just a couple of boatloads.

But with all its problems, some ethical and enlightened minds came out to help set it all up. It wasn’t all bad.

By 1838 the colony had a population of approximately 6,000, with maybe half of them in the designated principal port town, Adelaide. Colonisation started along the coast; the inland was too hot and dry and arid. A flourishing port town began on the Fleurieu Peninsula to the east of Adelaide. Others began on peninsulas to the west: the Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas. Travel between those growing towns was by boat.

Despite it’s lofty and exclusionary ideals, the colony of South Australia attracted ex-convicts and absconders from all over. It was something they hadn’t expected; something they had to find a solution for after the fact.

Dismayed by the need to do so, the administrators of South Australia designed and built their prison very early on; it was taking prisoners by late 1838 and construction continued for some years after.

By 1847 the population of South Australia is estimated at 31,000. Adelaide was still growing, plus people had moved inland. Not far in, but white settlers could be found as far north as Clare (about eighty miles) and as far west as Mt Barker.

By 1849 the population reached 50,000. It’s hard for any town to assimilate that much change.

Now on to the subject of this post ..

The Incarceration of Isabella Anderson

(Entry in the prison records for Isabella Anderson, 5th March 1848)

Isabella Anderson is an early female arrest in this particular register. Aged 41 years and single in 1848, she was found guilty of being ‘drunk and disorderly in Morphett Street’ and placed in prison for ten days. Her place of origin was Van Diemen’s Land and she came to South Australia in 1838.

I didn’t think that much about her until her name popped up again, just a few weeks later (1b).

“Common prostitute using profane indecent and obscene language in Hindley Park.”

She pops up again and again. It’s obvious she had a problem with alcohol, and struggled to keep a roof over her head. I started to feel sorry for her; a middle aged woman in a strange place. Who were her friends? Was anyone worried about her back in Van Diemen’s Land?

I delved a bit deeper. By matching news reports with the prison records I learned that Isabella Anderson was a highly visible character in Adelaide in those days, and was known rather unkindly as ‘Scotch Bella’.

Isabella Anderson in South Australia

The earliest record of arrest I’ve found so far is January 1841, she was drunk and disorderly at the Port. There are only men in the register before that. Isabella has the dubious honour of being the very first woman incarcerated in Adelaide Gaol.

She might have laughed about that. She was a woman of spirit in those days.

Just a few weeks later she was arrested again, the record calling her ‘a prostitute being drunk in the streets of Adelaide’.

Newspaper reports about Isabella Anderson take us back to 1842, but it’s clear she was a known character about town before that: probably since her arrival in 1838. I’ve included these snips because they show some of Isabella’s personality.

(18th April 1842) (1)

Wed 1 May 1844 (2)

Wed 1 Jan 1845 (3)

A long time ago, I read some instructions on taking oral histories for a family history group. One of the suggested questions was ‘what are some colourful characters that you remember around town?”

The question was designed to draw out descriptions of people like Isabella Anderson. Not to ridicule, exactly, but with a failure to understand that they often did not live that way by choice. It seems like choice, because they choose it. But for many on the streets in the past and undoubtedly in the present, it was like choosing to sit on a stone floor vs sitting on hot coals. A choice between something bad or something worse.

In 1840s Adelaide, nobody knew what to do with “Scotch Bella”.

1 May 1845 (4)

17 May 1845 (5)

21 May 1845 (6)

And so it goes on, chronicling Isabella Anderson’s descent into poorer physical and mental health until in mid 1846 we reach this event (7):

There’s a break after that. Isabella seems to have spent three months in the lunatic asylum before she was deemed cured and released to the world again. She went straight back in (8).

After this arrest she seems to have had another spell in the lunatic asylum, following which we get the spate of arrests in the prison registers shown above.

From this time there’s a change in Isabella’s mood. She’s not so happy. She starts thinking of Van Diemen’s Land as home. She’s clearly ready to leave South Australia now.

9th March 1848 (9)

Old lady? Isabella Anderson was forty three. Even by colonial standards that didn’t make her old. Most women were still having their last babies at this age, working in the fields, nursing family members, cooking and cleaning .. I expect it’s an indication of the impact of Isabella’s hard life. She looked old. She was over everything. She was feeling very, very alone.

27th May 1848 (10)

They didn’t send her back to Van Diemen’s Land. They just incarcerated her for another few weeks and then released her.

By this time I was quite invested in poor Isabella. I wanted to know how she ended up in that position. How was it that she was in her forties and single in a world where there was always some man to take a bedmate into his home? Fair enough, by the time she was in her forties she was addled and mentally damaged, but had she always been that way? She got to South Australia somehow, and Sergeant Lorymer said she was capable of work, he’d seen her do it.

If she was capable of work of any sort in a colony where women were in short supply, why was she single? And was she actually Scottish?

I can now answer some of those questions. Here’s the full story of Isabella (Bell) Anderson as I understand it.

NOTE: I should state here that I seem to be the only one following this connection for the Bell Anderson discussed next. It bothers me when that happens, it can mean I’ve missed some vital detail. But I’ve looked at the alternatives and I’m confident they can be eliminated. This is still the most compelling match for Isabella. (See section below blog for discussion of these alternatives)

The Whole Story

Isabella was born on 23rd December 1804 in a place called Dysart in the Scottish county of Fife. Her parents were Robert Anderson and Margaret nee Bruce, and she was the sixth child of eight. There’s few clues about her childhood. All of her siblings seem to have lived to adulthood.

She was baptised Isabella, but she was known as Bell to her family and friends. She first enters the criminal records at the age of eighteen.

Index search result on

I ordered the record and it came through very promptly from ScottishIndexes. Bell was arrested for drunkenness and interrupting passengers. In short, she was just the same then as she was in later years; alcohol made her vocal. She wasn’t afraid of attracting attention. She wasn’t afraid of conflict. And even then she had little hope for the future.

Edinburgh was a hard place to be vagrant. Bitterly cold, the inhabitants deeply suspicious, the wharf areas full of damp and decay. And utterly filled with desperation and depravity. A young girl in the midst of all this was at risk of all kinds of danger. She had to be tough just to stay alive.

This is an excerpt about recommitments to Edinburgh Bridewell, the city’s main prison.

(Picture of Edinburgh, John Stark 1821)

Bell spent 30 days in gaol, from 17th April to 17th May. After leaving prison she seems to have stayed in Edinburgh.

She’s put her age down slightly in this record; she was actually 19. The record also refers to a previous commitment on 22nd December 1822. She was seventeen then.

Every year from 1824 to 1828, there’s a record for Bell Anderson going into Edinburgh Bridewell for some short time. She was caught in the cycle of crime. And even then, it seems, alcohol had a hold on her. Maybe a physical hold, but certainly it was her escape, her way of relaxing. Her way of feeling human in a very harsh world.

The various incarcerations suggest she was drinking heavily and becoming very comfortable with gaol. The alcohol took hold with a vengeance. But at this stage drinking was a happy thing; something you did with your friends. They were all drinking as much as each other. There was camaraderie and solidarity. They were found family.

Somewhere around 1826 she met Robert Donaldson.

When Bell was twenty two years old, Robert was twenty eight. He was a tailor from Perthshire, black haired, brown eyed and tall. In 1828 he was lame in the left leg, there’s no indication if that was a recent injury or if he might have been born that way.

In her 1827 criminal record, Bell is surnamed Anderson. In 1828 she is Bell Robertson nee Anderson, and the two of them have a child, for whom I can find no baptism.

There’s no record of a marriage that I can find either. Maybe no ceremony was conducted, maybe the birth of the child was ceremony enough.

So contrary to the ‘single’ status we see in the South Australia records, by the end of 1828, at the age of twenty two years, Bell was a married woman and a mother.

A report of this court appearance was printed by various Scottish papers.

In the case of William Paterson, Janet Morrison, Marion Campbell or Ross, Robert Donaldson and Isabella Anderson or Donaldson, accused of robbing of his watch a man who had been inveigled by some of the females to a house kept by Paterson – Campbell and Anderson were sentenced to be transported for 7 years – Paterson, Donaldson and Janet Morrison to be transported for fourteen years. The Lord Justice Clerk, in the course of his observation on this case, dwelt most strongly and most justly on the evil tendency of such houses as that kept by Paterson, but for which, crimes in this city would be much less frequent, and the property of the citizens much more secure.

(Inverness Journal and Northern Advertiser 26 December 1828)

Reading between the lines, the house was the centre for an organised gang of criminals, maybe a brothel as well. It must have been exciting for a youngster like Bell. She possibly met the others in one of her first gaol stints. Her baby lived there too. Maybe was born there.

A random ship

This time, incarceration tore Bell’s world apart.

The baby’s name was Joan and she was just seven months old at the time of sentencing. All we know about her comes from the ship’s medical log.

Back in gaol, Joan was forcibly weaned from her mother “in preparation for the journey.” It was probably intended that she should die. Babies did die during weaning, it happened in Van Diemen’s Land after arrival.

Joan lived. She was taken on board the ‘Lady of the Lake’ with her mother and the two other women.

It was a journey that shook even the surgeon. His notes are heartfelt. He tried to maintain health on board – but they were handicapped from the start.

There are some dire notes in the medical log for that voyage (11b).

From 18-31 May 1829, we received 10 free women and 19 children; 81 female prisoners and 17 children, the largest ever sent to New South Wales in so small a vessel; and I may here observe, she was the smallest ship ever taken up to convey convicts. We were visited repeatedly by Mrs Pryoe and Miss Lydia Irving, the quakers, while at Woolwich, who appeared to be indefatigable in endeavouring to impress upon the prisoners the necessity of abandoning their evil ways, and becoming useful members of society. After several excellent admonitory discourses they distributed to them testaments, religious tracts, and several articles of comfort for their use during the voyage. “

Later in the journal:

On 8 July 1829 we reached Teneriffe to replenish our water, and procure fresh provisions for the convicts. Anna Maria Dix an infant nineteen months old died (on the 30 July) of atrophy, arising in some respects from want of proper food, having been deprived of its milk diet on embarking at Woolwich. On the 16 October 1829 it blew a complete hurricane, when the ship was obliged to be hove to the wind. On 30 September 1829, Christiana McDonald, a convict, aged 18, fell overboard, in endeavouring to save her cap, which was blown into main channels. The ship was going through the water at the rate of eight knots at the time. The helm was instantly put down, and a boat lowered, but she sunk almost immediately. All prisoners were landed on 6 November 1829. I may here be permitted to observe that a ship of the small tonnage of the Lady of the Lake is by no means adapted to carry out female prisoners from being constantly wet between decks and the hatches being obliged to be put on, thereby causing great deterioration of the atmosphere in the prison.

The surgeon wrote at great length about the patients in his care. The first was little Anna Maria Dix, mentioned above. But there were many others, including little Joan Donaldson.

Surgeon’s Report Joan Donaldson

August 9th 1829. Joan Donaldson aged 12 months.

This infant was a puny weakly child when received on board – was weaned at seven months old preparatory to accompanying her mother Joan [sic] Donaldson alias Anderson, a convict. The change of diet from that of (cow’s) milk to oatmeal and rice made a very striking alteration in her appearance the first month after quitting England. In fact, she never relished either gruel or rice, and latterly refused the former altogether, but made use of ??? and biscuit powder however this was soon expended.

On the 9th August she was very much emaciated and debilitated.

Difficult dentition about this period ushered in a train of febrile symptoms, accompanied by great irritation and almost total loss of appetite.

The surgeon describes how he treated little Joan with mild purges and tepid baths.

3rd September 1829: Eruption made its appearance behind the ears, head and different parts of the body. She was also attacked by diarrhea, aggravated by the increased irritation.”

She was dosed with ‘Cretaceous mixture with the addition of Tincture of Cinnamon’, plus occasionally a “mild purge of calomel and rhubarb“.

10th September 1829: The irritation was much abated, but she had become so reduced, and appetite having failed, that I entertained no hopes of her recovering. On the 10th September as 6.30pm she expired.

Poor Bell.

What she really thought, we’ll never know, but she’d grown up so lonely, so unprotected that I suspect she cleaved very hard to that child. And now Joan was dead; killed by the meddling of the authorities who thought they knew better than she did.

Bell had the rest of the journey to dwell on her thoughts.

The ‘Lady of the Lake’ arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 1st November 1829.

The three women were sisters in adversity. It was probably a mistake transporting them together, they were trouble from the day they arrived. Bell, Marion and Janet’s conduct reports look remarkably similar. Obscene language, drinking, not showing up for duty. Janet went off to some drinking establishment with her master’s child in tow. Bell was recalled from one position for disgusting language in front of the mistress’s children.

It’s probably too hard to read in this blog, but here is Bell’s conduct report. Full of detail. Full of strife.

The authorities had this strange idea that domestic service came naturally to a woman. There was a bit of training on the boat, but it was a big ask for girls who had run wild since childhood. It might have worked .. but Bell knew that authority figures couldn’t be trusted. She was tougher, stronger, in her own eyes far more resilient than a woman whose principal focus was getting bread to rise and putting a ribbon in the hair of a pampered child. A woman who had everything Bell had lost – how that was thrown in her face! Every day when she woke, she was in the midst of the world she’d thought she had.

From the vantage point of the educated future we know it wasn’t really like that. Bell was not in a good place. Her version of domesticity was full of danger and unhealthy living. She was about to raise that child in very risky conditions. But Bell wouldn’t have seen it that way, and Joan had died a needless death that nobody should have to die.

Plus, Bell was probably battling alcoholism before she even left Scotland, and in this land where wages were sometimes paid in ale, she had no hope of staying sober.

Here is Bell’s description:

A tiny woman with hazel eyes and dark hair, but larger than life like so many of those Scottish convict women. Volatile and restless, Bell owed nothing to anybody.

Her husband arrived the following year and his convict career was as active as hers. Plenty of drunkenness, absconding, petty thefts.

They never got back together. It seems as if they planned to at the start, each declared that their spouse was being transported too. But as the years went by, it just didn’t happen.

Bell and Marion’s time was up in 1835. (11)

The freedom was too much. Bell had never experienced normal life. I don’t know what her childhood was like, but given she was in prison by the age of seventeen, she’d found the wild side long before she knew anything of domesticity. Finally free in Van Diemen’s Land, she could only do what she had always done – drink. (12)

‘Glorious’ is an old word meaning ‘blissfully drunk’.

What was she to do? Bell was married. Her husband was inaccessible, but he was nearby and that meant she wasn’t free to hook up with someone else – at least, not very publicly, which meant a respectable man was unlikely to have anything to do with her.

Honestly, I don’t think Bell wanted a man in her life. She was independent. She had a sense of humour and people liked her. That’s why the two women came looking for her at the gaol that time. That’s why the journalist constantly wrote up her arrests. That’s why people discussed her possible death in those early years. She was a huge problem, but they didn’t hate her for it. They tried to help.

Bell lived in a world of prostitution and deception, but none of her difficulties involve men. She drank and got mouthy, that was all. But she drank alone, or she drank with other women. If there really were sexual encounter, they seem to have been purely business.

To me, it seems like she had a deep distrust of men. Any time a man showed interest she probably ran a mile from him.

She spent most of her convict years at Georgetown in the north. Maybe she went bush. Van Diemen’s Land was a small place in those days. If she’d stayed in Hobart or Launceston I think we’d see more of her in the police reports.

As for her friends, Janet was only halfway through her sentence, and Marion .. there’s a Marion Campbell (widow) who married convict Stephen Barnes in 1836, that might be her. Maybe. Those two lived very quietly as married servants in a household.

Bushland in Van Diemen’s Land was like this.

Bell went to South Australia in 1838, the year her husband was granted his ticket of leave.

Did she know he was getting that? Had they planned to go together, for Robert to abscond with here? Or was she leaving before he could gain his restricted freedom?

There’s no clear record of Bell’s journey to Adelaide. Various ships left from either Hobart or Launceston, some not listing passengers by name.

Perhaps the plan was for Bell to go first and set them up in Adelaide, and for Robert to follow when he was actually free. Or maybe he was ready to abscond, that certainly happened with ticket-of-leavers.

But he ended up arrested for drunkenness and you can’t get drunk when on a ticket of leave. His ticket of leave was revoked. Did Isabella wait in vain, thinking Robert had just abandoned her? Did she stay single for him until it was too late, until her health and her mind was gone?

Bell was already in Adelaide, using her maiden name and declaring herself a single woman.

Maybe it was Bell’s fresh start. She very firmly called herself single; even in the news reports she referred to herself as ‘Miss Anderson’. Was that irony? Was she remembering a husband and child whenever she said it?

All we know is how she lived through the next decade.

In the 1850s she settled down a little. Her health was very bad.

Let’s skip forward a few years to 1st March 1853 (13).

These are the last years that Isabella appears in court, so I’ll put them in. This is 21st March 1854 (14)

And two days later on 23rd March 1854 (15)

It was the final charge for Isabella Anderson, and I expect she was probably glad of it. She spent a short time in gaol and on 4th May 1854 she was taken to the lunatic asylum.

Here’s a truncated version of that last gaol record:

There’s nothing else in the papers about Bell Anderson until 1860. She gets a brief mention in a report on the asylum. It’s an indication of the level of her notoriety nearly a decade before.

23rd Jan 1860 (16)

Bell passed away in the Lunatic Asylum on 27th April 1866, aged 52 years, although not even Bell probably remembered her actual age. She was buried in West Terrace Cemetery in Adelaide and has an entry on FindAGrave, but the grave has been reclaimed for another person now.

No trace of Bell remains. I’ve managed to trace one of her sisters, Elizabeth Bruce Anderson, who married James Weir and emigrated to Canada. Elizabeth wasn’t as wild, it seems. Maybe she breathed a sigh of relief when she lost sight of her troubled little sister.

It’s possible that after her first gaol term Bell was ashamed to go home, or maybe she was banned from returning. Whatever the story, it’s a shame that Bell never did find a place where she felt she belonged. But hopefully the last few years were ones of peace.

Without meaning it, Bell has earned herself a place in the history books as one of the best chronicled colonists of South Australia. I like to think she’d find that funny too.

(West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide)

Bell Anderson alternatives in current research:

There are two

  • A baby Elizabeth Philips was baptised in Launceston Tasmania on 30 Jun 1837, parents Henry Philips and Isabella Anderson. This Isabella was likely to be Isabella Henderson of the ship Mellish whose marriage application to Henry Phillips was approved that same year.
  • Isabella Donaldson aged 64 died in Hobart in 1863, wife of a carpenter. I think that Isabella was the wife of William Donaldson, carpenter. Her death notice was in the paper that year. William Donaldson married Isabella Trotter in Dunino, Fife, Scotland and they had one son, Benjamin Trotter Donaldson. William Donaldson, carpenter, died on 20 Jun 1883 in the Tasmanian Huon, his death informed by his son Benjamin.


(1a) “Australia, South Australia, Prison Records, 1838-1912.” Database. FamilySearch. : 10 February 2021. Citing Attorney General Office of South Australia, Adelaide.

(1b) “Australia, South Australia, Prison Records, 1838-1912.” Database. FamilySearch. : 10 February 2021. Citing Attorney General Office of South Australia, Adelaide.

(1c) (1842, April 12). Southern Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1838 – 1844), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(2) AGRICULTURAL AND HORTICULTURAL SOCIETY. (1844, May 1). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 2. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(3) POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COURT. (1845, January 1). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(4) (1845, May 2). South Australian (Adelaide, SA : 1844 – 1851), p. 2. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(5) POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COURT. (1845, May 17). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(6) POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COURT. (1845, May 21). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(7) Friday, 24th April, (1846, April 25). Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(8) POLICE COMMISSIONER’S COURT. (1845, August 23). South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1845 – 1847), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(9) APA citationThursday, 9th March. (1848, March 11). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(10) Friday, 26th May. (1848, May 27). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(11) FROM THE HOBART TOWN GAZETTE. Friday, Dec. 4, 1835. (1835, December 10). Launceston Advertiser (Tas. : 1829 – 1846), p. 4. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(11b) National Archives of London ADM 101/41/9

(12) LAUNCESTON POLICE INTELLIGENCE. (1836, January 16). The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas. : 1835 – 1880), p. 2. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

(13) POLICE COURT. (1853, March 3). Adelaide Times (SA : 1848 – 1858), p. 3. Retrieved January 27, 2022, from

(14) WILLUNGA DISTRICT COUNCIL. (1854, March 21). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

(15) SOUTHERN RACES. (1854, March 23). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 3. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from

Lydia Jelley 1824 – 1899 :A Different Way To Get By


It’s International Women’s Day. I spent a bit of time looking at all the women in my tree to see who might best represent women for me, this year, and Lydia leaped out instantly. She had an eventful life and was proactive throughout. Unlike many in my tree her story doesn’t fade away into motherhood. I don’t know if she would have thought her life a happy one. There were happy moments. But given where she came from, and the perhaps questionable life chooses she made, she did all right. And she certainly left a large number of descendants to keep her memory alive after her death.

Lydia was the second child in her family, the daughter of William Jelley, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Lydia nee Smeeton. She was baptised in Little Stretton where the family lived. The family had long connections with the town – at least, Lydia’s father did. The Jelley family were poor and uneducated, but they seemed to always have work and probably worked very hard.

The Smeetons were different. They had some connections locally, it is true, but the Smeetons were based in London at this time. Maybe they were among the poor who migrated in to the big city seeking work. Lydia’s mother was born in nearby Countesthorpe as far as we can tell, but there were certainly cousins in London. One of our Lydia’s uncles was a butcher in Surrey and as newspaper reports later show, Lydia had contact with her cousins there.


Leicestershire was in an uncomfortable state in the 1820s when Lydia was born and raised. Bang in the middle of the country, utterly landlocked, it did not benefit from sea trade or naval activity. And yet it was a hotbed of insalubrious activity. Of travellers moving from one side of the country to the other. It was near to Staffordshire and Warwickshire which were centres of crime in those days. Hardware was the industry in those counties, nailmaking and smelting and working with ore. And their very tough working conditions led to a lot of refugees moving in to peaceful, more rural Leicestershire.

Organized criminal groups were everywhere. Smugglers, highwaymen, fences taking stolen property from one county and selling it in another. And Leicestershire – bang in the centre of England – was The Crossroads. The place where stolen goods changed hands. The place where a wanted man took a quiet moment to shave off his beard and don a wig and transform into a different person, before heading further away from his troubles.

The Smeeton cousins in London may have been involved in this sort of doings.

And under its peaceful rural facade a new type of rot was setting in for the poor people of Leicestershire. Into the 1830s the textile industry came into its own. Crops changed. Industrialization made its mark. More and more Leicestershire labourers made their way to the city of Leicester to work in sweatshop conditions, whole families at their looms from morning till night, never seeing the sun.

This was beginning to happen as Lydia grew up.

They were a fairly healthy family; healthy enough that all the children survived infancy. By the time Lydia was eleven years old there were six of them. In order they were Eliza, Lydia, John, Dorcas, Harriet and William.

Looking through the British census records show that the Jelley children left home at the youngest age possible and went out to work themselves. In Leicestershire they could be employed at age eleven. Eliza was probably already gone, and now it was Lydia’s turn. At about the age of eleven, somewhere around 1835, she became a servant in someone else’s household.


Lydia first pops into the newspaper record on the 4th July 1840 in the Leicester Mercury.

Lydia Jelley, a female recently in the service of Mr Healey, tailor, was charged with stealing several waistcoat pieces, his property. The prisoner left his service in November last, and about three weeks ago was apprehended by Mr Price, the constable of Ashby, on a charge of felony, when he found the waistcoat pieces in her box. As Mr Price was not in attendance, she was remanded for further examination on Monday.

Leicestershire Mercury 4 Jul 1840 p3

On the 11th July 1840 in the Leicester Mercury:

Lydia Jelley, who was remanded on Friday on a charge of stealing several fancy waistcoat pieces from the shop of Mr Healdy, woollen draper and tailro, of St Martin’s-street, sometime in November last, being placed at the bar. Mr Price, the constable of Ashby, stated that on the 18th of June the prisoner was about to leave her place of service at Ashby in consequence of her master suspecting that she was not strictly honest, when he was sent for and her boxes were searched in his presence, and the waistcoat pieces found amongst her clothes; on being questioned as to how she became possessed of them, she said they were sent her by a relation of the name of Smeeton, residing in London, and denied that she had ever lived with any tailor or draper in Leicester. Mr Healey identified the waistcoats as his property, which he said must have been taken by the prisoner during the short time (three weeks) that she was in his service, which she left on the 14th of November. She was committed for trial at the assizes.

Her crime is written into the gaol register as ‘larceny by servant’, a type of larceny given its own category. And a month later:

LYDIA JELLY, 17, pleaded Guilty to a charge of stealing, on the 14th of November, twelve waistcoat pieces, the property of her master, William Healey. One months imprisonment. Mr T Deacon, Conduit-street, who had known the prisoner 13 years, gave her a good character; and said he should be willing, on her liberation, to take her into his family.

Leicestershire Mercury 15 Aug 1840, p4 ‘Leicestershire Summer Assizes’ via Findmypast

Thomas Deacon of Conduit St was a stocking maker, a widower with a daughter of Lydia’s age. And in the 1841 census it’s just he and his daughter Eliza. It obviously didn’t work out with Lydia. She’s a servant to hozier William Preston in Southampton St, Leicester.

This place didn’t work out either.

We next see Lydia in the Leicestershire Mercury, November 1842, in the Leicester Police Courts report.

Lydia Jelly was brought up under the following circumstances: – She had been living with Mr. Rogers, dentist, London Road, for the last six weeks. It appeared that she had been out all the night of Tuesday, as when she was called at six o’clock on Wednesday morning she was not to be found. She returned soon after withi a small basket and let herself in at the back door. The basket contained a gold finger ring, two bracelets, a miniature and several other articles. She said it was given to her by a young woman in the street, who would call for it. The articles are supposed to belong to some person with whom she had formerly lived. – Adjourned to Monday.

Leicestershire Mercury, November 1842 p 1

Here’s a more complete explanation:

IMPUDENT ROBBERY NEAR WEST-COTES – About a fortnight ago, the house of Mrs Bugg, near Westcotes, was broken open and a great quantity of jewellery etc was stolen therefrom. Some three weeks since, a young woman named Lydia Jelley, who lived as servant with Mrs Bugg, left to enter into the service of Mr Rogers, dentist. [Then comes a summary of the night out and the early morning return ..].

… she was observed by Mrs Rogers to have a basket with her. Mrs Rogers’ suspicions were excited, and she desired to see what the basket contained; and on inspecting its contents she saw a ring and other articles of jewellery therein. Mr Rogers immediate gave information to [the authorities] and hastened back to secure the lady, but she had made her escape. She was next heard of as being at Market Harborough, where in consequence of some suspicious circumstances, she was taken up by Clarke the constable of that place.

Leicester Chronicle 12 Nov 1842

and the resolution on 26th November 1842:

Lydia Jelley, the young woman who lately robbed her late mistress, Mrs Bugg near West Cotes, of a quantity of jewellery, was today committed for trial. Prisoner is a very neat respectable-looking young woman; but this is not the first time unhappily that she has been unable to restrain her hands from picking and stealing.

The case wasn’t brought to trial until March 1843, during which time Lydia presumably waited in gaol.

25th March 1843

LYDIA JELLEY (19: read and write well) was charged with having, on the 8th of November last, stolen, in the dwelling-house of Mrs Charlotte Bugg, a muff, four shawls, a mantle, six veils, two dresses, a watch, three brooches, and other articles, the property of the Rev G Bugg. The prisoner pleaded guilty, and a previous conviction having taking place, she was sentenced to fifteen years transportation.

Leicester Chronicle 25 Mar 1843, page 1, ‘Borough Spring Assizes’

I couldn’t find a picture of the exact ship, but the above vessel has very similar stats. Lydia was transported on the Emma Eugenia.

Why did Lydia do it? She came from poverty like many others. She was the second daughter in a large family and probably helped raise her siblings and work in her own home. But this does not bring people to crime. She was intelligent. In her first incarceration she is recorded as having ‘imperfect’ literacy skills, but later they are high. She worked for some years before her first arrest.

Did something happen to turn her onto that path? A problem with an employer? Or was she trained up to that life from an early age? The confusion for me is that she seems to have come away with nothing. She was moving residence very frequently, living out of her box. Almost like someone on the run. What did she do with the spoils of crime? Was she caught up in organized crime and passing on the loot to someone higher up the chain?

There’s a note in the paper a few months after this incarceration. Through her exploits, Lydia had caught the eye of the press. Her career was guaranteed to attract attention, the fear of untrustworthy servants was understandably strong in England. And so we have a final statement in the Leicester Chronicle of 02 Sep 1843.

REMOVAL OF FEMALE CONVICTS – On Saturday last the following were removed from the Borough Gaol, in custody of the governor and matron, to Millbank Penitentiary, viz., Anna (Actually Hannah) Cobley, aged 25, and Mary Carr, aged 20, for ten years, and Lydia Jelley, aged 19 years, at the March assizes, for fifteen years. A ship for the conveyance of female transports is expected to sail for New South Wales in October next, when the above convicts will probably be sent to their destination.

They left London on the 18th November 1843 and reached Hobart Town on 02 April 1844.

Lydia is described as a dark haired woman young woman with dark hazel eyes. Her height measured at 4 feet 11 and a half inches. Black eyebrows, long nose, small mouth. Once again she is describes as able to read and write well, she can work as a housemaid or needlewoman or Laundress. She’s single and her character is bad.

Like most other female convicts in Hobart Town in this decade, Lydia went to the stationary prison vessel Anson to be trained and refined as much as possible, and generally brought up to standard for assignment in the colony as needed. There’s not much in her convict record. Nothing to steal, perhaps, or she was removed from the influences that led to it. She’s not even involved in the common petty insolences that many women convicts indulged in. And wherever she was assigned, they were happy with her. She wasn’t returned to depot. Nobody made a report against her.

And we can assume that by 1845 she ended up in New Norfolk because that’s where she met her future husband. And probably where her eldest child was born.

We don’t know which came first, the marriage or the baby.

Lydia was granted permission to marry Robert Briers (in the convict books as Robert Bryars) on 31 Jan 1846. She was 21, he was 26. He came from Leicestershire too, a quiet man whose family had moved off the farms into the textile industry. Like Lydia he was transported for larceny. We can’t know for sure but there doesn’t seem to have been a violent bone in his body. He was a gentle soul who did what he had to do. He may have lacked the fire and entrepreneurial spirit of his new wife, but he was an anchor, and probably one of the safest men one could find.

They were married in St Matthews Church, New Norfolk, on 25th Feb 1846, just four weeks before the birth of their daughter Susan.

Is Susan actually Robert’s child? I don’t know. I haven’t matched with any DNA-testing descendant who can tell us. But let’s assume she is. We can also assume that Lydia’s pregnancy encouraged the authorities to approve the marriage application and allow the hasty marriage.

The next birth registration is that of daughter Eliza in 1849. But sometime before Eliza was born a son named Robert. He might have been born earlier than Susan, or in that gap between the two. Lydia was still serving out her sentence but might have been assigned to her husband once his was served out in 1848.

Robert and Lydia settled at Lachlan, a village in the hills near New Norfolk, where they raised their family. They were tenant farmers and with Robert’s farming knowledge and Lydia’s brains, they made a success of it.


Their son Robert was probably born in 1847. For a while I suspected he was not actually the son of convict Robert Briers, but DNA has confirmed the line. My assumption of child order is as follows.

Lydia received a ticket of leave in 1851 and a conditional pardon in 1854.

Robert Briers died in 1868 at the rather young age of 47, leaving Lydia with a farm and a very large family. And this is where we see Lydia come into her own.

She’d been saving. And at some time, maybe now with the death of her husband, but more likely before since he seemed to have kept her steady, she bought land. She bought the land they were currently farming and she bought other neighbouring land. She became a farmer in her own right. Lachlan was a tight community, they all pitched in together to work on all the properties and she’d have had labour to utilise when she needed it. But she must have understood that she had to give back too.

Lachlan near New Norfolk 1992

There are still Briers families at Lachlan today, the descendants of Robert and Lydia. They achieved a great deal given their beginnings. And after Robert’s death Lydia continued for a while at Lachlan, in charge of her own place and a merchant in her own right.

All the same, she met someone new and married him a year after Robert’s death, a saddler with his own property in Hobart named Benjamin Johnson.


It was not a good move.

There’s a sort of Lydia feel about this. An impulsivity, a spark and an originality. The two must have found common ground. He seems to have been a drinker, I think they might have met in a pub and conducted much of their courtship inside one too. And then they married and in the cold light of day things fell to bits rather fast.

The following comes from The Mercury, Hobart FRANKLIN. (1874, August 28). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved March 8, 2021, from

28th August 1874


I don’t know what happened after that. A man named Benjamin Johnson died in 1883, the civil registration was informed by the undertaker. This might be Lydia’s husband. In his very lengthy will he leaves everything to his daughter by his first wife and there’s no mention of Lydia at all. So is that the same person?

It might be, because just a year later in 1884, Lydia purchased forty nine acres and two roods at Molesworth for 66 pounds. This is another village outside of New Norfolk. Possibly she did this after selling the land at Lachlan, but if so she sold that land to her sons Robert and William because it remained in the family. And if not, where did the money come from?

She might have simply saved it up.


Lydia Johnson formerly Briers nee Jelley suffered an onset of dementia in her last years. She died on the 19th August 1899 in ‘New Norfolk’ which could mean New Norfolk township, or Molesworth, or Lachlan, or any of the other little communities that existed separate to the main town but kind of adjoined to it.

State Archives of Tasmania RGD35/1/68 no 626

Lydia was buried in North Circle Cemetery in New Norfolk in a grave well known by all her descendants.


So, why did I choose Lydia for this International Women’s Day post?

Because she came from nothing and made her mark in a world that did not give a woman the freedom to excel. The penal colonies of Australia were a great opportunity for men. There was still oppression and prejudice, but any determined man who kept his head could make his mark, become a landowner or a shop owner and become a success. It wasn’t so easy for women. Especially women of independent spirit.

Lydia did her best while widowed. That was when she bought land. That was when she showed that she had money saved and put away. That was when she was most equal to the men around her; not a servant girl who had no authority, but a mature woman with all the power granted to the widow, the almost-equality afforded one who was on their own through no fault of their own. She was beloved by her children to the end, by her many grandchildren and even great grandchildren.

And one wonders what she might have achieved in a different era.

  1. By Jean-Étienne Liotard – The Chocolate Girl, Public Domain,
  3. By Heinrich Zille –, Public Domain,
  4. Clark, William; The Barque ‘Eucles’; National Maritime Museum;
  5. A red dot for Hobart Town, another for the township of New Norfolk (formerly Elizabeth Town) and just to the south of that township, the village of Lachlan at the edge of the mountains. Portion of the following map, with colour dots added silicon_press_uk, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  6. Family Notices (1869, June 9). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved March 8, 2021, from
  7. FRANKLIN. (1874, August 28). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved March 8, 2021, from
  8. State Library of Tasmania RGD1/1 Book 97, Page 64
  9. , with permission.

William Burleton 1783-1842 :Transportation

These are the final years of William Burleton, my 4x great grandfather, continued from Part II .

William died 177 years ago and we can’t know his true personality, but I’ve always liked him as he presents in the records. It’s clear that people in his own day didn’t know how to take him. Some thought him pompous and entitled, some just thought he was useless. Others seem to have liked him well enough. He was never completely without friends.

I see him as an impractical man, someone unsuited to daily slog. He had grand visions for his own future but was completely unable to manage his finances. That was his greatest downfall. I think he had pride in himself but that pride took a battering as the years passed, as he had more and more need to prove to both himself and others that he could be the man he had always believed he would become.

By 1836 he was in prison, awaiting transportation to the colonies to complete a seven year sentence. He was an old man now, aged 54, but of general good health and a skilled miller. There’s little doubt that he knew his trade well, it was the one thing that had saved him again and again.

Ship at night, 1854 from Religious Tract Society pamphlet

On 6th April 1836, William Burleton and 324 other male prisoners were loaded onto the ship Lord Lyndoch for its second convict run to Van Diemen’s Land.

Up till this time, William may have hoped for a reprieve; may not have believed it could go this far. He was not the typical convict. He was twice the age of most of his new contemporaries, of good birth and well educated. He was not a Welshman but due to his arrest and trial in Wales his cellmates were all from that country and many still spoke their own language. His differences might have seemed relevant. There was every reason to stay optimistic, but nobody stepped forward to save him from his fate.

The barque Lord Lyndoch was captained on this journey by the experienced John Baker. The surgeon was James Lawrence. It was an East India Company ship, leased to the British Navy in the usual manner. Built in 1815, it was in good repair but not of modern design. It was an experienced convict transport, there was no reason to expect any problems on the voyage.

An outbreak of dysentery while still at Sheerness delayed their departure. The earliest entry in the surgeon’s log is dated 10th April. The first two victims probably brought the sickness on board and both died after a week of treatment. No captain was going to make a long journey with illness on board, so the Lord Lyndoch sat in harbour until the infection was brought under control.

Shipping scene from London Illustrated News Aug 16 1856 p 170

A fortnight after William came on board, they were cleared to leave. The ship departed quietly for Deal off the coast of Kent, its departure scarcely rating a mention in local papers.

Deal – arrived the ‘Lord Lyndoch’, Baker, for Hobart Town …

Globe 20 April 1836 p4 Naval Intelligence

Deal – the ‘Lord Lyndoch’, for Hobart Town, and several others, outward-bound, remain.

Globe 22 April 1836 p4 Naval Intelligence

On 24th April the Lord Lyndoch finally put out to sea. They made good time for an old ship, the whole journey taking 118 days. Conditions on board were stable, a small amount of jaundice and scurvy troubling the prisoners but the surgeon took quick action. William Burleton – recorded in the convict register as William Bourleton – was not treated for any illness on the journey.

There are very few references to the ship as it traveled, but they seem to have taken the usual route down the west coast of Africa, stopping at the Capetown for supplies. The only report is accidental, part of a conversation between rival newspapers in the colonies.

Bent’s News and Tasmanian Three-Penny Register (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1836 – 1837), Saturday 6 August 1836, page 4

The Lord Lyndoch arrived in Hobart Town on 20th August 1836 and the arrival was reported in pretty much every paper in the colony.

Hobart Town Courier (Tas. : 1827 – 1839), Friday 26 August 1836, page 3

William’s conduct report is very short, but enough detail is given to track his life after arrival.

Conduct report for William Bourleton State Library of Tasmania
CON31-1-3 Image 106 page 154

Transcript of details above: Transported for Larceny,

Gaol Report: Character Bad of Late, formerly good, Connections Respectable, Hulk Report Good, Married, Stated this Offence: Stealing Books & Other Articles, Prosecutor W James of Monmouth, Married 7 Children, Wife Elizabeth at Monmouth, Surgeon’s report Orderly

You don’t often see ‘Connections Respectable’ in these records. You might see ‘good’, or ‘bad’ or often ‘indifferent’. But ‘Respectable’ probably means that William was telling people of his good birth and early prospects. He may have been negotiating for an assignment suitable for his position in society. Of course, position in society was officially gone once one became a convict, but in reality well born convicts still had some influence.

His name often appears beside Jenkin Jenkins’ in nonalphabetized records, so I think the two were friends.

His Description List is as follows:

State Library of Tasmania CON18/1/13 Page 284

The British prison system was tasked with finding any skill that William possessed which could make him a useful resource. I really doubt he called himself a ploughman or a farm labourer. He was a Miller, that’s what he always said. But the colonies needed farm workers so any farm experience made him worthy of transportation. As it turned out, Van Diemen’s Land needed millers as well. William was assigned to settler Andrew Gatenby who had land at the Isis River north of Campbell Town.

State Library of Tasmania, Appropriation Lists of Convicts CON27/1/2
Gatenby’s very large land grant was in the circled region. Public domain map of Van Diemen’s Land 1852

This description of the region was published four years before William’s arrival and references the mill in which William worked.

‘Statistical View of Van Diemen’s Land: Comprising Its Geography, Geology &c Forming A Complete Emigrant’s Guide’ 1832, no author named

We don’t have much detail of William’s daily life here, but the absence of notes in his conduct report suggests that he settled well. He coped with the cold and the bushrangers and the different types of grain. No doubt he wrote letters back to Wales and perhaps to Somerset as well, but if so, none have survived.

Present day Campbell Town, taken 2014

He received a ticket of leave in 1840 and letters written to the Lieutenant Governor in 1842 by Andrew Gatenby and John Gellibrand – two very influential men in Van Diemen’s Land – refer to William Burleton as a man who has contributed to the establishment of the settlement. Both men recommend him for an early pardon and request that he be allowed to return to his family in Wales.

It’s another indication that his inability to handle money was the root of all his troubles. While he was not required to manage finances he achieved very well.

The final part of his conduct report (above) states:

“The Lieut Governor has been pleased to remit the unexpired portion of this man’s sentence in order that he may leave the colony to proceed to England”

Conduct report for William Bourleton State Library of Tasmania
CON31-1-3 Image 106 page 154

It must have been a great moment for William. Finally he had the respect of some capable men – Gatenby and Gellibrand – and he might have learned some practicality during his time in the colony. But he was now aged 60 and clearly just wanted to go home to his family.

He booked onto a ship called the Normuhul, a small vessel leaving from Launceston for London on 20 April 1842.

The northern Tasmania coast in the rain. Taken 2015

Exactly six years earlier he had stood on the deck of the Lord Lyndoch as it waited at Deal, had probably looked across to the British shoreline and wondered if he would ever see it again. Now, no doubt, he stood on the deck of the Normuhul and looked at the forests along the Van Diemen’s Land coast. Probably, he was promising himself that he would never return. But maybe he intended to fetch his family and bring them back? Many did exactly that.

I haven’t found a picture of the Normuhul, but I like to think it was a pleasant boat since it was part of William’s almost triumphant return. He was the recipient of a full pardon, he was still a legitimate British citizen and he was going home at last.

It seems absolutely tragic that he didn’t get there. He’d probably written a letter telling Elizabeth that he was coming back. But it just wasn’t to be, the William Burleton streak of bad luck had returned.

It took me years to find William’s death. I knew that Elizabeth called herself a widow in the 1851 British census, but I never could find when he actually passed away.

Here it is in a section titled ‘Shipwrecks and Casualties at Sea’

South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), Saturday 13 May 1843

The wreck was never recovered so we don’t know exactly where they went down. This was a misfortune entirely outside of his control for a man who always tried so very hard and failed so often. But he died with a clear record and at long last, leaving a good reputation behind him in Van Diemen’s Land.

Some of his family remained in Monmouth and their descendants are still there today. The rest returned to Somerset.

My Genealogical DNA Test Experience – 5th to Remote Cousins

No, I had not forgotten about these very distant cousins.

Given that I had 4 2nd-4th cousin matches, 17 3rd-5th cousin matches and eight pages of 4th-remote cousins, the remaining matches had to be 5th-remote cousins.

I don’t remember how many of these I had when I took my first look.  Now, I have 28 pages of them.  That’s about 280 matches.

There is still a lot of debate about IBS and IBD.  Yes, I’m sure there is a proportion of IBS among these, but FtDNA only shows matches which have at least one shared segment of 7 cM or more.  There is a total shared segment limit too, but I don’t remember what that is.

When I began, I read up on autosomal DNA – that it was good for the closest six generations, that it reduced each generation, that small segments are IBS.  Now, just a few months later, I have come to see that these are guidelines only.  Some segments seem to be very resilient, as I said in an earlier post.  They pass down in their entirety.  Others are broken up but they were still passed down so remain IBD.   Some testers feel that they have a large amount of IBS amongst their distant matches.

I am not yet convinced.  I won’t really be convinced until several people have mapped their complete genome and identified which ancestor every segment came from, and then compared this with their match list with a very well researched family tree.  There are a lot of nearly impossible factors in there but technology – and genealogical research – improves all the time.

I have and continue to have success with small segments.  I have more success with matches where we share several small segments than one small segment but nonetheless, to me, the small segments should not be ignored.

We may learn down the track that this varies family by family. Some of us may be built of quite ancient segments that stay together like glue and will not break down.  Others might have genetic structure which recombines more quickly.  But I speculate here.  Genealogical DNA testing is very new and I’m sure someone is collecting the data somewhere.

My impression is that some believe they can’t trust the small segments to locate their relations.  Others believe they can.  I’m one of the latter type.  Undoubtedly some of them are IBS but I’m going to have a damn good try at finding a link before I decide that.

A big new land

Australia – A big new land

I realised several weeks ago that I have a better chance of identifying my remote cousin matches than most, because I live in Australia.  Records are pretty good for Australian colonisation.  Yes, we have our brick walls and there are holes in our research, but I don’t think many settled in Australia without finding themselves on some record, somewhere.  A burial record, a hospital record, the electoral roll or a muster.  If we go looking for our direct ancestors who clearly met a partner and produced a child, we’ll find them somewhere.

Of my emigrating ancestors, most were 5 generations back and there are only 32 of those.  Take another step back and there are 64.  There are only 64 people who I need to find to know where my family emigrated from.  I have a couple of exceptions but this basically holds.

Most of my remotest cousin matches have ancestry in North Carolina and Virginia.   There are a few distinct clusters and there are a spattering of others.  So I am looking for a common feature between the immediate ancestors of my 64 at emigrant level, and families from those two locations in the now United States.

Looking for common factors between inhabitants of those states and my own ancestors, I find two.  Poor but able farming families emigrating in search of a new home, and convicts.

Convicts were sent to Virginia from about 1615.  The process was stop-start, with a concentrated portion from 1657-1671.  It resumed in 1711 and continued till 1775.

Between 1775 and 1788 there were only thirteen years.  Anyone researching convicts in Australia will know how often siblings were transported across a ten or twenty year period.  Undoubtedly, in some cases, a convict was transported to Virginia and a sibling several years later was transported to Australia.  The poor and struggling families of 1750 were often the same poor and struggling families of 1800.  In both the US and Australia there was a stigma about convict ancestry.  In Australia too many records continued to exist and the convict era was too recent for us to cover it up.  We moved on, we grew to understand and accept them.

Replica Cottage from early colonisation era in Sydney, New South Wales

Replica Cottage from early colonisation era in Sydney, New South Wales

In the United States, the cover up was more successful.  Many people today, researching their family, will come to a point where an ancestor suddenly ‘appeared’ in Virginia or Georgia or Maryland or South Carolina. Pennsylvania also had a few.

It is explained nicely at Early American Crime.  With useful figures.  There were well over 50,000 convicts transported to the United States in the 18th Century.  Many of them served out their sentence, married and became labourers or tradesmen.  A few generations down, their children told stories of their grandfather who came over ‘to seek his fortune’ or because he was a younger son who would not inherit land in England.

If these convicts were anything like the ones which came to Australia, they were able men and women who had been held back by circumstance and lack of education.  Sure, there were alcoholics and habitual thieves amongst them, rapists and murderers – but there were even more who just wanted an end to strife and hardship.  Those ones married, raised a family, saved up and bought themselves some land and two generations on their children were bankers and magistrates and large property owners.  It definitely happened in Australia, it undoubtedly happened in the United States.

I have now made contact with two distant cousins whom I am sure are connected via convict siblings, but they don’t even want to consider the idea.  So I’ll do some more research and see if I can prove it from the English end.

Other cousins of course have been very receptive to all possibilities.

I notice from various email lists that Ancestry testers have their matches sorted into categories, one of which is ‘Colonial Ancestry’.  I can see why.  I helped a friend trace his family tree within America and the trail died off in Tennessee in the early 1820s.

However, from Australia, I might just be adding a clue for my distant cousins to use.  They connect to one of 64 people, most of whom are well documented.

If they would all put their trees on FamilyTree DNA, I could browse to my heart’s content and follow all possibilities.  I’m a blood hound and ferret rolled into one, when I have the opportunity. In the meantime – I’m grouping, linking and making spreadsheets.