This week, I have struck up a lively Chat with a certain Shane from Melbourne. He informed me that his four times great grandfather arrived from Essex, England to New South Wales, Australia on board the "Lord Lyndoch," one of the active prison ships of the 1820-1830's. I asked him if he would let me delve into his family history a bit, as the whole Australian Convict realm is new to my research experience. He was happy to let me have at it.
Above, a darkly eerie image of a prison ship, in Portsmouth, England harbor. Convicts are seen boarding.* Hard to imagine 330 convicts in the holds of this ship, crossing from England to Australia.
My friend's ancestor was convicted of "stealing fowl" and served a 7 year sentence. His occupation is also listed as "farmer." Hmmm. Gives one pause. Why steal a chicken, then??
The records for Australian convict ships are amazingly plentiful on Ancestry.com. They include certificates of freedom, medical reports of illness on board, court orders, pardons, ship lists, and more. And there are many independent websites full of information and lists. The crimes range from larceny to murder.
It is well-known that London's prisons were full to overflowing with convicts in the early 1800's and the criminals were eagerly placed in ships, and sent off to Australia, to lighten the load.
With a sentence of 7 years for stealing a chicken, for a 20 year old man, it occurs to me that perhaps men seeking to leave crowded London and find their fortune elsewhere - might perhaps commit a small theft, just SO they could be shipped off, free of charge, to a brave new land. If anyone has the answer to this, I would appreciate the feedback.
Here are few of the websites and databases with great Convict Ship info:
There is nothing like a great Words With Friends game. The next time someone tries to kick you off an airplane for playing your game, simply tell them you are conducting important historical research.
* Citation for painting from the National Library of Australia
- Prison-ship in Portsmouth Harbour, convicts going aboard [picture]
- [London : s.n., ca. 1829] 1 print : etching, hand col. ; plate mark 16 x 24 cm.