Yesterday I picked up a copy of 'Growing Your Family Tree' by Cherry Gilchrist and, while I have only read a small portion, it inspired me to write this next blog. I have been waiting for something to come along since my last blog on Remembrance Day.
In the first chapter Cherry sets the scene at the Powys Record Office, eavesdropping on a conversation between a visitor and an archivist. The visitor is looking for information on his grandmother and, with help from the archivist, discovers something about her that shocks him. Unexpectedly he finds out that his ancestors ran pubs, and his family are teetotallers. This little snippet got me thinking about my own ancestry, and the many little 'shocks' that I have experienced since researching my family history in earnest.
I have my own teetotal story - my great-grandfather converted to the Methodist faith after growing up with an alcoholic father. Another great-grandfather survived a torpedo attack off the North Sea during World War One. My dear 3 x great-grandfather went mad and smashed windows, convinced that somebody was out to murder him and his wife. My 3 x great-grandmother sent her children to an Industrial School and she later died in a Workhouse. Then there was the uncovering of a Convict!
My visits to my local genealogical society over the years has seen many interactions with Australians who rather proudly announce that they each have at least one Convict ancestor in their family tree. Many boast that without them they wouldn't be here today. White Australian settlement history rests largely on the shoulders of those Convicts who sailed on Convict ships, from as early as 1788 through to the mid 1840s when criminal transportation was put to an end. The last of those Convicts were known as 'Exiles' because, basically, they were not really wanted anywhere. There was no room for them in England. Its prisons were fit to bursting, and many were placed on Prison Hulks off the coast until there was a place for them somewhere or a final decision from officials could be arrived at.
Frederick Ward, my third great-grand uncle, was one of those 'exiles'. In December 1844 he was sentenced, at the Beccles Quarter Sessions, to be transported for 7 years, for stealing three stones weight of cows flesh from James Skippon of Bungay. Unfortunately, this was not Fred's only crime. He had been convicted on two previous occasions; in 1843 and 1844, both on accounts of larceny, and was sent to Beccles Gaol.
In December 1844 Fred Ward was sent to Millbank Prison in London. Millbank was intended to house up to 1000 transportation prisoners at any one time. The average stay was for around three months, during which time prisoners would be assessed for future placement. By the early 1840s transportation sentences were ceased but there were still many prisoners who faced the possibility of being sent away. In 1843 Millbank was converted to house general prisoners and transportation prisoners, including Fred Ward, were moved to Prison Hulks.
Finally in January 1847 Fred Ward was placed on the 'Thomas Arbuthnot' with around 288 male prisoners from Millbank, Pentonville & Parkhurst Prisons and sailed from Spithead to Port Philip Settlement (Melbourne), arriving in May 1847. The 621 ton ship began her voyage at Portsmouth, then travelled to the Isle of Wight where she took on 90 Parkhurst boys. The Times newspaper had this to report:
"The Thomas Arthbuthnot convict ship, Captain Therason, sailed from Spithead this morning for Port Philip with a superior class of delinquents, officially called "exiles". These are the first "exiles" sent to the above settlement, which the inhabitants of that respectable place are very wroth at, and have memorialised the Government on the subject..."
Little is known about Fred Ward after his arrival to Port Philip. This is still a work in progress. What is known is that people such as Richard Deeks spent his precious time researching and transcribing all transportee records of Suffolk and turned it into a book. It was this invaluable book, held at the Suffolk Record Office, which helped me to locate and further research Fred Ward. This from a book review:
'Transportees from Suffolk to Australia 1787-1867' lists everyone who was transported from Suffolk to Australia, and gives quite a lot of detail about them, where such detail is available. It was published by Seven Sparrows Publishing in 2000 by Garry Deeks, Richard Deeks' son. The address of Severn Sparrows Publishing is given as 'Seven Sparrows Publishing The Old Manse, Laxfield Road, Fressingfield, Eye, Suffolk IP91 5PX' When it originally came out it cost £7.99. It is now out of print. It is really indespensible for anyone doing research on Suffolk Transportees. It was a colossal piece of work which took Richard Deeks a huge effort to compile..."
While I won't deny that Fred Ward was unfortunate in his life, he was my very own unexpected 'shock' story that I like to regale people with. Nobody in my family even knew we even had a convict for an ancestor, and when I revealed all, they were equally surprised. When I told my Australian friends, they just nodded their heads or shrugged their shoulders and beamed, "We all have one. You're not unique". I have to admit though that I was not expecting one - not a Ward.
When I began to research the siblings of my 3 x great-grandfather, Henry Ward, I couldn't locate one of his brothers (Fred Ward) after the 1841 census. So began a lengthy detective-style manhunt. When I stumbled across a convict record on Ancestry, initially I denied with every fibre of my being that it was him. My belief was that there was no possible likelihood of a Ward ancestor who was so..."fractious", so "unorthodox"! So unexpected.
Next time you are working on your family tree and you find an unexpected 'shock' be assured that you really are not alone. "There is one in every bunch" as my grandmother Lilian used to say. We are who we are today, because of our past: Our unique and colourful ancestry.