Sunday, 22 August 2010

Conjecture, convolutions, convicts and the commonplace

LEFT: The first view convicts had of Australia.

The conjectural nature of ancestry research gets convoluted at the best of times.

It's pretty much all on a wing and a prayer but I am a great believer in the reality of intuition. Given the meagre and commonplace nature of much of the information which comes to hand, intuition is probably a better guide.

Like any 'investigation' the evidence which initially comes to hand is in the form of 'clues,' 'signs', 'possible leads', 'likely scenarios,' and an understanding of the circumstances, the human condition and the times. Pulling 'out' the obscure and 'broken' bits of information and trying to clarify them is like working away with a small brush on some archeological dig; not knowing if what you have found is of any value, but needing all the same to work away at the 'residue' until something is revealed.

Any investigator, whether criminal, archeological or genealogical will rely upon instinct some of the time.... if not a lot of the time. Ironically, the greatest archeological finds in history have been made by amateurs who were not held back by academic rules, regulations and expectations and who simply followed their gut instincts. One of the most famous was the discovery of the ancient site of Troy, by Heinrich Schliemann; adventurer, speaker of 15 languages, world traveller, and gifted amateur archaeologist. Schlieman ignored the theories of the day and pushed on regardless. No doubt like The Fool in the Tarot Deck, he needed to close his ears to the stories which others told and to take a leap into the unknown; following his own heart and his own intuition.

Schlieman pored over Homer's writings, particularly The Iliad, in a search for clues to the lost city. And then he spent years in the dirt and dust trying to put those clues into place. Genealogy is a tidier passion but just as demanding of time and effort. One great benefit today is the internet; a valuable tool when one is 'riding on instinct.' There is nothing which cannot be instantly explored, at least at a superficial level. And the 'net' also allows information to be 'drawn' to the search.  Information 'posted' on the net becomes available to the millions of 'spiders' which constantly 'search' for relevant words. It brought a photograph of Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis) Atkins which most of her descendants did not know existed.

Whether information is ultimately found to be right, wrong or inconclusive, the reality is that the more information which is put up on the internet, the greater the chance of being found by a researcher who might just have more information. It has certainly happened before and hopefully will happen again.

At this point my intuition is telling me that Edward Atkins may well have been a convict or, more likely, the son of a convict. It may all end as a dead-end but it is one possibility which needs to be explored. There is always a reason why things are as they are and why people do what they do.

Immigrant records to South Australia are quite good but there appears to be no trace of Edward Atkins arriving. And, when he did 'appear' at his marriage to Hannah McLeod in 1843 he did not put down his father's name. Family ties were strong in the 19th century and honouring one's mother and father was expected. There is a reason why he did not name his father. We just don't know what it was.

However, by 1857 he was prepared to write Joseph on his marriage certificate. What had changed? Probably his attidude or his circumstances. He was older, wiser and perhaps felt safer. Or perhaps his father was dead. Whatever the truth, in 1857 we have a name and a time-frame which might lead to the origin of the Atkins family.

Edward Atkins, if his age at death is correct, was born in 1813. However, given the inaccuracies of age at the time, it is safer to assume that he was born sometime around 1810... give or take five years either way. But, working on 1813, he was 30 when he married Hannah McLeod which suggests he may well have been married before and lost his wife; or he was too poor to marry any younger.

A lot of birth, marriage and death records are not available online yet and if Edward was born in another State, or married in another State, it will take time to find any information .... should it even exist. Many of the earliest records from Australia's settlers have been lost or destroyed. But, we have to start somewhere and on a positive note, convict records are probably more comprehensive and more available than most.

Was Joseph Atkins a convict?  Edward's age-frame suggests that his father could have been born  anytime between 1760 and 1790. There are three Joseph Atkins recorded as convicts arriving in Australia between 1792 and 1803.

A Joseph Atkins of Hampshire was convicted in 1801 and was given a life sentence. He arrived at Sydney on The Glatton, in 1803. At this point I know nothing more about him but he remains a possibility.

A Joseph Atkins was one of 325 convicts transported to the colonies for 14 years and arriving at Sydney on the Royal Admiral in May of 1792. However, this Joseph Atkins is listed in New South Wales and Norfold Deaths as being dying later that same year on December 3, 1792. So it is definitely not him.

And then there is Joseph Atkins, of Middlesex who was convicted in The Old Bailey, London, in 1789 and given a seven year sentence, arriving at Sydney on The Salamander, as part of the Third Convict Fleet, in 1791.

While no further details, including age, are as yet available, this Joseph is a 'strong' possibility for two reasons;

 a. he would have gained his freedom in 1796-8 - convicts could get a Ticket of Leave after serving four years -  and would fit the time-frame for Edward's birth around 1810 and b. a Richard Haynes was on the same ship.


ABOVE: A record of Joseph Atkins trial at the Old Bailey in 1789.

The Haynes name may well be a link in terms of tracing Edward Atkins' family. I had originally thought it was connected to Elizabeth but the fact that none of her Lewis children were given the name Haynes makes me wonder if it was a name which was important to Edward instead.

A Joseph Haynes arrived at the same time as Joseph Atkins; on the ship Kent which was also a part of the Third Fleet. Death records show a Joseph Haynes, Parramatta Convict dying on December 1, 1791 shortly after arriving; an infant, Sarah Haynes died on December 6, 1792 - parents John and Ann; Richard Haynes, who travelled on The Salamander with Joseph Atkins died in March 1794 and William Haynes, who came out as a convict on the first fleet in 1788, died July 9, 1801, at Parramatta.

So there was clearly a large Haynes family in Parramatta at the same time that Joseph Atkins was serving out his sentence. Given that one member of the family had travelled on the same ship with him, from England to Australia, it is feasible, if not likely, that an attachement was formed with the family and perhaps with the woman who would become his wife.

So, for the moment, this Joseph Atkins looks to be a possibility. There is quite a bit of general information on his court case and transportation, but nothing specific enough to make the link more certain. This is the 'maybe likely' stage.

The Old Bailey Records show:

Joseph Atkins, theft from a specified place, 22nd April, 1789.

Joseph Atkins was indicted for stealing on the 6th of January, twenty pounds weight of leaden pipe, value 3s. the property of John Lisle, affixed to his dwelling house, against the statue.

JOHN LISLE sworn.


I am a house-keeper , the lead was stole from the house in which I live, I lost it on the 6th of January, I don't recollect the day of the week, it was about eight o'clock in the morning; I saw it on the day before when the water came in, I knew it to be my property; one of the tenants gave me information of it's being stolen.


WRIGHT sworn.


I am a watchman, I took the prisoner, he had a sack on his back; I took him with the property; I knew him before.


GUILTY .


Transported for seven years .


Tried by the first Middlesex Jury before Mr. ROSE

It seems a trivial crime but these were the days when people were transported for stealing a loaf of bread and I am sure that a length of lead pipe would have been worth a lot in those days.


ABOVE: From one hell to another - prison, ship and the new colony.

He sailed on the 27th March 1791, from Plymouth, on the Salamander, part of the Third Fleet, in the charge of Lieutenant Richard Bowen as Naval Agent. A total of 160 males embarked, there were 5 deaths aboard, and 155 disembarked. The Salamander was a vessel of 320 tons, the Master being a, J . Nichol The ship had been turned by a Thames shipyard in 1776.

It appears that The Salamander and the other ships in the fleet had several attempts at leaving Plymouth before they succeeded. The Salamander sailed with the Plymouth Division of the third fleet accompanied by the ships, William and Anne, and the Atlantic.

The main fleet sailed in two divisions; the Atlantic, Salamander and William & Ann left Plymouth on 27 Mar 1791 while the Albemarle, Active, Admiral Barrington, Britannia and Mathilda left Portsmouth on the same day. The Mary Ann had sailed more than a month earlier and HMS Gorgon had made her departure on 15 March 1791. However, the ships reached Port Jackson over a period which extended from ( July 1791 (Mary Ann) to 16 October 1791 (Admiral Barrington).

While the ships of the Plymouth division stayed together until the Salamander parted company near the equator, those of the Portsmouth division were soon scattered by stormy weather almost from the first night at sea. With the fleet scattered miles apart a mutiny erupted on the Abermarle which resulted in summary execution for two of the convicts. They were hanged at the yardarm on the day of the mutiny, 9 April 1791.

It was a time when crime and criminals were seen in black and white terms and those who offended were believed to be of inferior nature. Making an example of them was seen as a way to 'teach' other inferiors how to behave. It would be many decades before more enlightened people made the association between crime and poverty.

The Plymouth division regrouped at Rio de Janeiro and sailed from that port together. But more bad weather separated them. All three ships sailed directly from Rio to Port Jackson. This was the first time that ships had made the journey without a stopover in Cape Town. Ships of the Portsmouth division variously raced and limped into Port Jackson. The Atlantic was the first ship to sail non-stop from Rio de Janeiro to Sydney and The Salamander was the second. The Salamander arrived at Port Jackson on the 21st August 1791, 147 days out of Plymouth.

From the NEW HOLLAND MORNING POST", 18th October, 1791


A LIST OF CRIMINALS (including Joseph Atkins and members of the Haynes family) who have come to our shores in recent months

Our readers will find hereunder a List of Persons transported as Criminals to New South Wales in the Ships as following, via: Atlantic, William and Ann, Britannia, Matilda, Salamander, Albemarle, Mary Anne, Admiral Barrington, Active and Gorgon.

THE THIRD FLEET of 11 ships arrived in 1791, with over 2000 convicts. The newspaper report states that 194 male convicts and 4 female convicts died during the voyage, and that though conditions on board ship weren't as 'diabolical' as the previous year, they were still outrageous.

While conditions in English prisons were horrendous, so too were conditions on the ships and at this time, pretty bad in the New South Wales colony. From one hell on earth to another and then another. But there is no denying that the citizens of the New South Wales colony, no matter how bad their situation, were absolutely horrified by what arrived on their shore.

The Sydney Cove Chronicle 30TH JUNE, 1790 states:


At last the transports are here DIABOLICAL CONDITION OF THE CONVICTS THEREON 278 died on the fearsome journey to Sydney Cove.

Less than one month since, the cry of “The flag’s up” rang upon our hopeless community and sent our Spirits soaring upwards, our hope renewed and our bellies filled.

Since the Lady Juliana hove to in Sydney Cove upon that day, four more ships have arrived in the Fleet, and our Joy at receiving the newcomers has turned to exceeding distress.

The sights that have confronted us within the month past have been sights shocking indeed to all Christian Humanity. We have seen the consequences of diabolical outrages committed in the name of Justice.


We have seen Human Beings, with minds and souls and emotions, that have suffered as greatly as their bodies, crawling upon our shores like wild beasts upon all fours, so feeble, so starved, so crippled they were.


Indeed, as our most excellent Governor Phillip was heard to remark upon observing with great distress and pity the scenes at the unloading of the transports, To bring men and women to this Colony in such a manner was like murdering them.


The Transports departed from England with a consignment of more than one thousand convicts – we find ourselves at this time unable to be more exact.

The Neptune carried 424 convicts. Upon arrival, we are informed, 147 had died during the voyage. This same ship of death carried 78 female convicts, and 11 are no more, due to the iniquitous misuse they received while upon their journey. The Scarborough carried 259 male convicts. We learn 73 expired before the ship weighed anchor at Port Jackson. The Surprize carried 256 male convicts and it is believed 42 breathed their last while being transported.


The remaining transport shows improvement. The Lady Juliana carried 226 female convicts and only five failed to survive the voyage. The remainder are in remarkable health. Whilst we must stress that these figures are only such as we have been able to estimate due to the confusion that reigns upon our Settlement, and a later assessment may cause them thus to be amended, our Readers can do nothing but concur that the numbers of those expired, 278 in all, make a total shocking to any man with Human Sensibilities.


It will be remembered that only 48 persons expired upon our own voyage two years since, despite hazardous health conditions and inclemencies of the weather.


The landing of those who remained alive despite their misuse upon the recent voyage, could not fail to horrify those who watched.



ABOVE: England's prisons were overcrowded and convicts often spent months or years on rotting prison hulks before being transported.


As they came on shore, these wretched people were hardly able to move hand or foot. Such as could not carry themselves upon their legs, crawled upon all fours. Those who, through their afflictions, were not able to move, were thrown over the side of the ships, as sacks of flour would be thrown, into the small boats.


Some expired in the boats; others as they reached the shore. Some fainted and were carried by those who fared better. More had not the opportunity even to leave their ocean prisons for as they came upon decks, the fresh air only hastened their demise.


A sight most outrageous to our eyes were the marks of leg irons upon the convicts, some so deep that one could nigh on see the bones.


The scenes on shore at the present are truly piteous. The two Hospitals, one of which was brought by the Justinian, are filled with the screams of those in agony, and the murmurings of those in delirium. Those for whom there is no room in the Hospitals lie beneath their tents, their bodies trembling from scurvy, dysentery and fever.


Those convicts who were able to manage for themselves are stealing food from the very hands of those too ill to make protest or dying. We may expect many more to breathe their last this night, and in some instances the Fearsome Shadow will prove a most happy release from their death agonies.


We learn that several children have been borne to women upon the Lady Juliana, the cause for which were the crews abroad African slave ships which met up with the transport at Santa Cruz.


Full wonder it is, indeed, that these children have survived, and provident it is that they came into the world upon a ship whose captain was endowed with Christian rectitude and generosity.

Conditions in the new colony were hardly easy which makes the horror expressed about the treatment of convicts on the long journey to Australia that much more damning. And such expressions of horror and condemnation would ultimately have an impact upon Mother England. These were the days when the 'worst of things' happened on such journeys and over time conditions would gradually improve.

In another report, from The Reverend Richard Johnson:

The Reverend Richard Johnson, whose Moral Rectitude and Charitable Forbearance are well known within this Settlement, was the first man to board the convict ship, Surprize.



In an interview later with this Christian Gentlemen, he revealed to your Correspondent his deep distress and horror at the sights he beheld below deck aboard that ship. He remarked that it would e’er be a long time, if ever, that he could forget the misery he had witnessed.


The convicts, he said, we in a most piteous state. Some were half-clothed, some we nigh on naked. Even the dead and dying were still in leg irons. Their discomfort, grievous as it was, was made even more so by the lack of beds or bedding.


There was much moaning and groaning from the wretched individuals, who lay in filthy heaps. Lice abounded, and the odour which arose was foul and fetid.


The Reverend Gentleman spoke of convicts who had breathed their last after the ship had entered our harbour, whereupon their lifeless and wasted bodies were thrown naked upon the rocks.


It will gratify the men of our Settlement that His Majesty’s Ministers will hear of the diabolical atrocities committed in the name of the Government.


It will gratify the men of Our Settlement that the scurrilous rogues responsible for those atrocities be brought to account for their inhuman treatment of the convicts – for Englishmen those convicts still remain, though outcast from society through their misdeeds.


Without a doubt, His Excellency, Governor Phillip, will make it exceeding plain to the Authorities the condition in which the unhappy wretches, committed already to their punishment by England’s Judges, were punished even more so within their ocean prisons.


He has already shewn his anger to the Masters of the transports on many occasions, holding them responsible for the skeletons of men they brought to us. He treatment of the convicts on most of the transports, particularly the Neptune, has been savagely brutal.


We have learned that men were so heavily fettered below deck they scarce could move. We have learned that those same fetters were kept upon those men despite agonising sufferings – and that some died still in their chains.


The demoniacal and barbarous treatment of not permitting convicts to take a goodly portion of fresh air daily, of keeping them below deck in foul and rancid atmospheres, of encouraging vermin and filth to accumulate in such environments, will not be tolerated by men of Sensibility.


Starvation was added to the sufferings of the wretched consignment from England. Even the men and Officers of the NSW Corps had reason to complain about the shortage of rations. Yet we know the ships must have been well-provisioned, for immediately they arrived some of the masters opened stores and exposed large quantities of goods at extortionate prices, despite which they were eagerly bought.


Captain William Hill, of the NSW Corps, who travelled upon the transport, Surprize, has described to your Correspondent the outrageous conditions on board, and added that the slave trade from Africa is merciful indeed, compared to some of the scenes he witnessed during the voyage. He states he will never recover from such sights.


The carriage of the convicts was in the hands of private contractors, and it is well known that contractors are economical fellows. They had much to gain by overcrowding conditions and by reducing supplies of rations.



ABOVE: Convicts were put to work building roads for the new colony.

The appalling state of the men and women who were thrown, dragged, dropped or who fell, crawled or hobbled off these ships was reflective of one of the darkest times in history. The convicts suffered perhaps more than the miserable creatures chained on slave ships.... if only because slaves were a valuable commodity and convicts were inferior beings who needed to be taught a lesson; the dregs of humanity with no right to live in a civilized society.

It is yet another irony, that Australia, birthed from such 'dregs' has grown to become one of the most pleasant, efficient, sophisticated, just and law-abiding countries in the world. When you start at the bottom there is only one way to go and that is up. In 1791 when Joseph Atkins arrived, the 'way up' may have seemed almost impossible. But, because of the courage and hard work of convicts, soldiers and settlers, his descendants, whether they be mine or not, can live in order, harmony and beauty today.

But  all of this was a long way in the future. The colony itself was in dire straits. The Guardian, one of the ships in the convoy, had hit an iceberg. Many of the crew were saved and the ship was towed to shore but eventually abandoned. More crucially, along with its loss went provisions which would have kept the colony fed for two years. The settlement was in despair.

WOE TO OUR YOUNG SETTLEMENT Deplorable paucity of provisions stores and cloathing:

So the Guardian is lost and with it our provisions. What, in the name of Heaven, is to become of us?
Our people are feeble, we have many hundreds more mouths to feed, and our larder is far from adequate.


The atmosphere that prevails in our small Settlement differs exceedingly from that joyous day near one month since, when the cry of “The flag’s up” rang forth and a ship carrying the British colours was espied for the first time in two and one half years.


The did we present a scene of happiness, of kissing those nearest us, of being so overcome in our emotions as to make us insensible even of speech.


Today, we are a veritable picture of misery, and the distressing and deplorable condition in which our newcomers find themselves – more of that in other columns of this Journal – does nothing to alleviate our pitiable state.

Her Majesty’s Government must know what is going on. We cannot be left to starve.


It has been made known to the Authorities that our paucity of provisions, stores, cloathing and tools places us in a diabolical position.




We have eaten not one ounce of fresh meat these three years since – save the flesh of the kangaroo, fish, and birds, which are variable both in quantity and quality. Much of the livestock we brought with us has wandered off, died or been killed.

And the food, such as we have, is, apart from that carried by the storeship, Justinian, and the transports themselves, three years old.



ABOVE: Conditions in the new colony were difficult for convicts, soldiers and settlers alike.


Vast quantities of flour has been spoiled, and condemned as unfit for use, and were it not for the recent arrivals, it would have been finished in November. Likewise, our pork would have lasted only two weeks more, and our rice until September.

No soul upon this Earth could accuse us of improvidence. Since our arrival in New Holland we have been rationed with our supplies, in the first instance to seven pounds of bread or flour weekly; seven pounds of beef or four pounds of pork; three pints of pease; six ounces of butter; and one half pound of rice.


Since that time our rations have been reduced on two occasions, until at the time when the Lady Juliana was sighted, we were receiving the miserable amount of two and one half pounds of flour, two pounds of pork and two pounds of rice, weekly.


We have become feeble, unable to work more than three hours in one day without severe discomfort. Scurvy has become rift. Our sufferings both of body and spirit have indeed been great.

No wonder so many convicts died within a few years of arriving. Joseph Atkins, of Middlesex, is not however listed among the dead. We can only presume he lived, at least long enough to marry, have children and possibly to gain his freedom.

A Joseph Atkins died in Parramatta,  in 1875 at the age of 97. Is it Joseph Atkins who came out as a convict in 1791? He would have been thirteen when he arrived and  seventeen if he got an early ticket of leave or twenty if he did not, when he gained his freedom. And if he is the father of our Edward, he would have been born in 1778 and about 30 when his son was born.

However, I have just found a record of a Joseph Atkins, born Middlesex, 1776. If this Joseph can be linked through age with the Joseph Atkins convicted in the Old Bailey then the only thing left to do is connect him with our Edward Atkins. Many things are unlikely but nothing is impossible with ancestry research.



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