An Australian Convict’s Story

The last Australian convict ship - The Hougoumont

The last Australian convict ship – The Hougoumont

This week we found some very interesting Australian Convict records on Find My Past  and here’s the fascinating story that we’ll be presenting to our client shortly:-

Paul Peers was a very unusual name, so searches produced only a few results. His birthplace, Holt, Denbighshire, is thirteen miles from Tarporley, where he married Frances Vernon, and nine miles from Chester, Cheshire, where all his children were born.

Since Paul was born in 1789 he would have been about 51 when the first detailed national census was taken in 1841, so we expected to find him on that census and possibly the next in 1851. However, there was no sign of him, but his death record couldn’t be found either. This was puzzling until we discovered a brief newspaper article, and an entry on the Prison Registers. On 31st March 1818 a Paul Peers, aged 30, was convicted of sheep stealing in Chester. He was sentenced to life in New South Wales, and transported on 12th June 1818 on a ship called Justicia, which was moored in Woolwich. This means that his wife, Fanny, would have been left alone with five children, the youngest being just two months old when Paul was convicted.

According to Australian records, Paul arrived on 18 December 1818 aboard a different ship – the Lord Melville, under the care of his Master, who was called Wetherell. It is possible that the convicts had been transferred to another ship in Capetown, South Africa, as the ships often stopped there for fresh supplies. Paul had been a sawyer in his previous life in Cheshire and the records confirm that he had been born in Denbighshire.

Upon arrival in New South Wales, Paul was sent to assist the ‘Mount Dromedary Party’. Now known as Mount Gulaga, Mount Dromedary is a mountain located in the south coast region of New South Wales, Australia, within the Gulaga National Park. The first Europeans to discover the mountain were the crew of Captain Cook’s ship, HMS Endeavour on 21 April 1770. Cook named it thus as its shape reminded him of the hump of a camel.

Later, Paul was assigned to ‘public works’ and transferred to Maria Island, off the east coast of Tasmania. Three structures from the convict era remain on the island and could have been built by Paul: the Commissariat Store built in 1825 and presently used as the park’s reception and visitor centre; the convict penitentiary, completed in 1828 and now used to accommodate visitors rather than detain them; and the convict-built dam on Bernacchis Creek, which still provides water.

On 21 June 1827, a newspaper article in the Hobart Town Gazette, tells us that a Paul Peers was found guilty of stealing pine boards from the Government House in Hobart, Tasmania. The article doesn’t say what punishment he received for this crime, however, in 1842, Paul was awarded a Ticket of Leave, which was effectively parole. Ticket-of-leave men were permitted to marry, or to bring their families from Britain, and to acquire property, but they were not permitted to carry firearms or board a ship, and they were often restricted to a specific district stipulated on the ticket.

A convict who observed the conditions of his ticket-of-leave until the completion of one half of his sentence was entitled to a conditional pardon, which removed all restrictions except the right to leave the colony. Convicts who did not observe the conditions of their ticket could be arrested without warrant, tried without recourse to the Supreme Court, and would forfeit their property. The ticket of leave had to be renewed annually, and those with one had to attend muster and church services.

A year later, in 1843, Paul remarried in Tasmania and made Jane Burrell his second wife. At the time of the marriage he was a 50-year-old widower and she a 47-year-old widow.

And, happily, in 1845 Paul did indeed receive a conditional pardon. The document reads: Cause of Indulgence:- Having behaved in a very correct manner during the last five years, nearly three years and a half of which period he has held a ticket of leave.

We have not found any record of Paul’s death but we assume he died in Tasmania.

This research was carried out by the team at Family Detective. If you would like to know more about your ancestry and would like us to research it for you, please get in touch. Our website is here.

A woman, a nun and a charabanc!


When Gwendoline got in touch with us, she had been looking for her birth mother for 40 years. Adopted at birth, she had been brought up as a single child and by 19 was completely alone in the world, as both her adoptive parents had died.

The name of my mother is on my birth certificate and adoption papers,’ she said, ‘but I’ve never been able to find her. I just want to know if there is anybody out there that’s related to me.

Our researcher began by looking for Gwendoline’s mother on the birth, marriage and death indexes. Gwendoline had been born in Woolton Park, Liverpool, where her mother, Ann Gwendoline Jones had been working as a maid. As you can imagine, there were hundreds of women called Ann Jones who were born in the area at about the right time, so we were glad of Ann’s unusual middle name. There were no births on the index which seemed to fit (we later found out that Ann had been born abroad), but there was one marriage that looked likely. In our experience, women who gave up babies often married three to five years afterwards, and this one happened four years after Gwendoline had been born.

We ordered a copy of the marriage certificate and were pleased to see that the initial ‘G’ in Ann’s name did indeed stand for Gwendoline, that the marriage took place less than five miles from Gwendoline’s birthplace and Ann was working as a maid when she married. We were confident we had found the right woman. However, Ann had married a Thomas Price Smith! Searching for Ann G Smith’s entry on the death indexes brought up hundreds of research results, and trying to find children for Ann and Thomas was equally frustrating. There were too many possibilities to even know which certificates to order in.

Undeterred, our Researcher widened her search and finally hit gold! Among lists of Passenger Records from the 1960s, she found a woman called Ann Gwendoline Smith travelling to Asia with her two children. Herr daughter had a very popular name, but her young son had an unusual combination of forenames which made him easily traceable. By following him through his life we found that he had also had a son and had called him after his own father, Thomas Price Smith. This made him our best candidate yet to be a living relative of Gwendoline.

We found several addresses and wrote to them all, asking if Gwendoline’s potential half-brother would please get in touch with us. He phoned us almost immediately and, despite being shocked by the news, forwarded us photos of his mother, who had died nine years earlier, so that we could send them to Gwendoline. He also agreed that we could forward his contact details to her. In his email he wrote:

Please tell Gwendoline that my sisters and I had no idea of her existence, otherwise we would definitely have looked for her. We all feel sad that we have not had her in our lives for all these years, and there is a large, warm family here, waiting to meet her if and when she is ready to get in touch.

As soon as our report arrived through Gwendoline’s door, she was on the phone to us, crying and laughing and talking ten to the dozen. She was so excited to know that she had not just one, but four half-siblings who lived only 60 miles from her. She told me a little of her story, how she had been fostered by a catholic nun for some of her early life, and had been given a photo of a woman standing with a nun called Sister Gwendoline in front of a charabanc. She had never known who the woman was, until her half-brother had sent her the photos. The woman in the photo was her mother.

Gwendoline and her new family are meeting up for the first time this week and I have asked them to let me know how it goes. I imagine there will be tears of joy and an awful lot of story-telling and amazement. Good luck to you all on this new chapter in your life – I hope it’s an exciting and fulfilling one!

Find me a pirate!

Photo by Paul Townsend

Photo by Paul Townsend

How would you react if you discovered one of your ancestors was a pirate or a highwayman in the 17th century? How about if he was a mugger, a rapist or a murderer in the 20th century?

We asked some of our readers to share their experiences of finding a rogue in their family history and asked: How did it make them feel? Did they regret finding out? And would their reaction have been different if the crimes had been committed more recently?

Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett’s g-g-g-grandfather, Frederick, was born in Worcester in 1817. He married in 1839 and then fled to America in the 1850s and married again, bigamously. He never returned to his original wife and family, and was found living in Illinois on the 1880 US census. Andrew says, “More than anything I felt sorry for my g-g-g-grandmother. I don’t think she deserved that sort of treatment,” but perhaps the passing of so many years has allowed Andrew to forgive Frederick for his misdemeanours. He admits to finding him an intriguing character who had a real adventurer’s spirit.

Andrew HowsonWhilst searching for his g-g-grandmother, Andy Howson discovered that her father, John Pybus, was in York Castle Gaol. A sad tale emerged of a former shoemaker whose dearly–loved wife had died shortly after the birth of their second child. It seems that in his grief, John took his eye off his business and, in late 1841, was declared bankrupt. Sadly, John’s ultimate fate has never been discovered.

Andy says, “I was taken aback when I found him in gaol, and struggled to work out how he had fallen so low, but as his story was revealed, I felt really sorry for him. It’s the chance you take when looking into your past and I’m content with what I found. If you’re not ‘Good, Bad or Mad’ there are not many extra records to enhance and flesh out the life of a family member. On the whole I’m glad I found him and not ashamed of him one bit.”

Connie Sparrow has found two prisoners in her past and has different feelings towards each one. The first, Uriah Andow, born 1798, was sentenced to death for stealing two lambs in 1829. Luckily, his punishment was commuted to transportation for life and he was conditionally pardoned in 1848. Connie says, “I’ve a degree of sympathy for Uriah as he probably stole to support his family. However, I have far less sympathy for George Frederick Collins, who was convicted of stealing from his employer – the Post Office.

It appears he was suspected of having done it several times and his boss set a trap that George sprung. He was sentenced to three years penal servitude in August 1900, and in 1901 he was in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight, but I get the feeling he also served time at another jail. Afterwards, George’s wife and children emigrated to Canada, so George lost everything: his job, his home, his wife and his family, as well as his liberty for a time.”

Maria Garrett challenged us to find a pirate in her family history! The closest we got was her paternal great grandfather. Maria says, “He was a Royal Marine who spent an awful lot of time “over the wall.” His records show he deserted or was absent without leave on many occasions. I never knew my paternal family; but for me, reading about his antics made me smile and brought my ancestry alive. I have since been in contact with a long-lost cousin who gave me a much-treasured photo of my ‘pirate’ great grandfather, who, incidentally, had 21 children! For me, discovering my unknown family has allowed me a glimpse into those lives who went before and I’m thankful for knowing that.”

If you would like to look for your ancestors in prison records you can search the newspaper archives  or the assorted records of criminals, convicts and prisoners on Find My Past, or Old Bailey records here.

Teenagers these days


Next week my teenage daughter finishes her GCSEs. Then she will be all grown-up.

Grown-up enough, we’ve all decided, to catch a bus to London with a friend and spend a few days there, taking in a music festival in Hyde Park. Oh heck! Seeing it in black and white has just made my palms sweat. Maybe I shouldn’t have started watching that season of ‘Without a Trace’ this week.

But she’s a very sensible girl, clever, confident and resourceful. We’ve visited London lots of times together and she knows how to handle herself. These are the words of ‘rational mum,’ who knows that the chances of something awful happening are statistically very remote.

Turning to work, which is always a happy distraction for me, I started paying more attention to the lives of the teenagers I was researching from the turn of the century. Of course they weren’t known as that at the time. The term ‘teenager’ only came into existence in 1957 when Bill Haley and the Comets coined it during a UK tour.

What were young people’s lives really like in the 1900s? Were they safer or more dangerous? Happier or just hard slog? And did their poor mothers worry, as we do, about their fledglings starting to leave the nest?

School versus work

There’s no doubt that school is a far more stressful place now than even thirty years ago and our teenagers are being driven harder than ever to do well academically. They also now have to stay in education or training until the age of 18. It wasn’t until 1918 that the minimum school leaving age increased from 12 to 14 years old, so a hundred years ago the vast majority of 13-19 year olds had finished their formal education and entered the world of work. Our teens face mental overload and perhaps a certain lack of financial independence. Teens from the 1900s had already started their life-long, often back-breaking jobs such as domestic service, labouring, or work in a mine or factory. They didn’t earn much either. Homework or hard work? I’m sure most would choose the former.

Safer or more scared?

The list of frightening scenarios that has gone through my mind over the last few hours is incredible. No doubt it’s been fuelled by movies, news reports and social media hype. We worry about our teenagers being attacked, abducted, abused and trafficked, and of course these things do happen, but do they happen any more frequently than a hundred years ago? It’s virtually impossible to come up with accurate figures for such things from the early twentieth century, mainly because so many attacks on young people weren’t even reported then, perhaps because they weren’t considered serious enough. However, there is evidence that young people were no safer than they are now.

In a very interesting article about The Victorian Child Marah Gubar writes about the great advances in attitudes to children during the end of the 19th century. In 1885 a journalist called W T Stead, performed a rather dubious experiment to illustrate the ease with which young virgins could be kidnapped and sold on the street.

One in three of Queen Victoria’s subjects was under fifteen and several landmark laws relating to them were passed between 1850 and 1899. In 1891 the Custody of Children Act sought to bring some legislation to the practice of children and young people being sent abroad to work in the Americas without their consent. So there must have been an awareness of the same dangers even then.

It would be fascinating to know the figures involved, but we can’t be sure whether teenagers today are more or less vulnerable than they were 100 years ago. Kids of the modern era are certainly more aware than their forebears, and policing, communication and surveillance are more prevalent than when even I was a teenager, so I’m going with the theory that they are actually safer.

Happier or more stressed?

A survey in 2014 suggested that UK teenagers are the unhappiest in the world because of fear of failure, bullying, the burden of being thin or attractive and pressure to succeed at school. But would a quick visit back in time to 1900 reveal happier young people? Cramped living conditions, often a lack of good food and medicines, childhood diseases and a life of hard slog or endless pregnancies. Weren’t the young people of that time facing just as many issues? Perhaps the emphasis has just switched from physical problems to emotional and psychological ones?

So, in answer to this one, I would say, no, our teenagers are not necessarily happier than they were then. But what I do know is that the ones that are the happiest are those who work hard but are up for an adventure. Those who love being with their friends, enjoy music, travel and culture. Those who want to squeeze all the juice out of life and take a few risks. So, fly my little one, fly! Be safe but be happy. Have an amazing adventure like millions of young people before you.