28 January 2011

Crimes our ancestors might have been transported for.

Image reference:http://www.flickr.com/photos/bbcradio4/4795944365/sizes/s/in/photostream/

If you are interested in the state of criminal offences and punishments in the late 18th century, the book by Patrick Colquhoun entitled,  A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, written in 1796, makes an interesting read. The book explains various crimes and misdemeanours, and suggests remedies for them that are contemporary to the convict era.

A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis was written in response to the ever-growing fears held among London society towards the influx of population that had occurred because of growth in the commercial and manufacturing industries; consequently resulting in heavy increases in crime and criminality. The necessities of having an effective police force to administer justice are outlined in the early chapters with crimes such as counterfeiting and 'coining'  given a most severe judgement. 

Transportation is cited to have officially commenced in 1718, under an act of King George I, although 'exile' as a punishment had been in existence since Elizabeth I.  It was initially given to those who had been sentenced to death, but had pleaded 'Benefit of Clergy' to obtain a lesser sentence; which they could do if they were a peer, or a woman, and literate.[1] Up until 1776 all British transportation was to the Americas, where convicts were sold as indentured slaves for life, or a period of seven or fourteen years. Transportation ceased briefly after the American war of Independence, but was recommenced with the First Fleet to New South Wales in 1788.

In 1796 there were 160 capital crimes that could be commuted to transportation, and many lesser crimes received this sentence as well.[2] A Full list of these crimes is available in the book, and includes capital crimes such as: 'Cutting hop binds',  'Sending threatening letters', 'Breaking down the head of a fish-pond' and 'Cutting down trees in an avenue or garden'. Crimes against property make up a large proportion of capital offences.
A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis can be used as a great reference if you are looking to understand the nature of 18th century crime, and why your ancestor received the sentence they did.

[1]  Patrick Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, p. 435.
[2]  Patrick Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis, pp. 438-444.

Also, this link is to the Old Bailey site, which has documents of trial proceedings as well as some good articles about crime and punishment in the 18th and 19th centuries:

26 January 2011

What were your ancestors doing on Australia Day?

Australia Day, the 26th of January, marks the anniversary of the planting of the Union Jack by the British on Australian soil in 1788; and thereby their claiming of the eastern half of the continent. However, at various times throughout our history, the day has had different meanings and significance for Australians.

1804-1818. If your ancestor was a convict, soldier, or free settler they may have acknowledged 'First Landing Day' or  'Foundation Day'.

1818. If your ancestor was a prosperous freed convict, or the child of a convict, they might have celebrated the 'Emancipist Festival' at Government House in Sydney with an opulent meal and a toast. In 1818 this was declared a public holiday by Governor Macquarie to mark the 30th anniversary of settlement. 

1838-1887. Your ancestor in New South Wales, would have enjoyed the 'Jubilee' holiday as an annual event, and, if they were in Sydney, would have enjoyed watching the splendid Sydney regatta. By this era your ancestors would have regarded themselves as 'Australian' if they were born in New South Wales, (including from 1851 Victoria, and 1859 Queensland), or in the three 'sister' colonies of Van Dieman's Land, South Australia, and Western Australia; although these colonies had their own Foundation days.

1888. At the centenary of settlement, delegates of all the colonies, and New Zealand, met in New South Wales to declare the NSW anniversary day a holiday in all colonies. From this date it was known as 'Foundation Day' or 'Anniversary Day'. The Australian Natives Association (ANA) promoted the day. Australian 'Natives' were those born in Australia of European ancestry. By this time your ancestor may have been celebrating with a sports event, such as cricket, or with foot, yacht, or bicycle races, or maybe a picnic?

1901-1929. Celebration of Federation of the colonies into a unified Australia overshadowed the anniversary day in 1901. Federation bought many controversies, and also a new urgency to find our national identity. In 1905 Empire Day was created on the 24th of May to remember our links to Britain and became our most celebrated national day. Schools celebrated Empire Day.

1930. While the 26th of January was now 'Australia Day', the holiday was set for the Monday of that week, in order to preserve the long weekend which became known as the ANA weekend.

1938. Celebrations for the sesquicentennial anniversary occurred in all the capital cities.  Aboriginal Australians declared the day a 'Day of Mourning' in protest of the treatment they had received at the hands of white men since settlement. The 'Day of Mourning' was also a day to appeal for Aboriginal rights and equality. If your ancestors were Aboriginal they could only look back upon 150 years of increased marginalisation and, in Tasmania, genocide. 

1960. The 'Australian of the Year' Award was created.

1979. The National Australia Day Committee was established to incorporate celebrations, and sponsorships and to promote the day as a national commemoration. 

1988. Many of us would still remember the bicentenary celebrations of fireworks, and the glorious First-Fleet re-enactment on Sydney Harbour.

1994. Australia Day across the country began to be celebrated as a holiday on the 26th of January, and the ANA long weekend was abolished.

Dr Elizabeth Kwan, Celebrating Australia: A History of Australia Day essay.http://www.australiaday.org.au/experience/page76.asp 
History of Australia Day

20 January 2011

Was your grandma, in 1890's Victoria, a suffragette?

Your grandma didn't need to have been a suffragette to have had her say in the implementation of universal suffrage, or the vote, in Victoria. All she needed was to have been one of the 30,000 to have put their signature or mark on the petition that was organised by the Victorian women's suffrage movements.

The women's movements of the 1890's in Australia were not the militant suffragette outfits that were well known in other western countries; nor, of course, did they resemble the 'bra-burning' protesters of the 1960's. Feminist policy in 1890's Australia was about social reform, and focused on a woman's position within marriage; her safety and protection from matrimonial violence, her conjugal freedom, a married woman's right to own property, her rights of custody over children, and her rights within the divorce courts.  Temperance movements saw alcohol as a dangerous element within family relations,  causing untold violence and social upheaval. For women to escape conditions of violence and subjugation they needed the support of the legal, welfare and economic systems. The best way to ensure this occurred was seen by many people as by obtaining the vote.

The Victorian Women's Suffrage Petition emerged as part of the campaign used to measure public opinion and sway politicians. Debates for, and against, universal suffrage raged in the popular press. It is likely that everyone had an opinion. The suffragette societies themselves held some widely divergent views about the role of women within society, and how far to take social reform. They did however, agree upon one very important thing, and that was the vote. The Victorian Women's Suffrage Petition represents a collaboration of their combined efforts.

Was your grandmother, or great-grandmother, a signatory on the Victorian Women's Suffrage Petition? If she was an adult in 1891 it is quite likely, as the petition received a great deal of popular support, even from husbands!

This link takes you to the Public Records Office of Victoria's own wiki which tells the story of the 1891 Women's Suffrage petition and has a link for you to search for your ancestors name.

17 January 2011


In these times of floods, and the 24 hour news coverage thereof, I thought it might be interesting to look at how our parents and grandparents coped with the devastation. How did they get their information? In the days before satellite communication the only way to find out about about friends and relatives, or even their own property or the status of the water flows, was over the wireless, or to rely on phone lines that were likely to be damaged. The cinemas used newsreels but these often arrived to local theatres days, or weeks, after the events. The link below has a newsreel from the devastating Hunter Valley Floods of 1952.


Resources you might not have thought of: Classified Ads in Newspapers

Newspapers can be a wonderful source of information on births, deaths and marriages, but you can find out about your ancestors from other sections of the classified ads as well. The image above was a sale notice in the Argus for some property owned by my great grandfather and which he sold in 1919. It describes the property and the date of the auction. Some real estate ads also list furniture and household chattels as well. This property was sub-divided and the area is now a suburb of Melbourne, so finding the description here really took me back to the way things were in 1919.

If your ancestor had a business then they may have advertised their goods or services in the local newspapers, as well as the big city publications. Check the court sessions if you think your ancestor may have crossed paths with the law.

The NLA newspapers can be accessed through TROVE. Here is the link.
Remember that not all of the images have been transcribed yet, especially the classified sections, so if you think your ancestor had reason to be listed in a classified ad then don't just rely on the site's search engine. You might have to comb the images themselves.

16 January 2011

Cemetery symbolism. What can it tell you about your ancestors?

If you are lucky enough to have found the grave of your ancestor, and if there is a monument there, you may be able to learn a little bit about his or her life by looking carefully at the design and symbolism of the tombstone.

Take a look at the symbols around the grave that might indicate religious belief, status within the community, or a life cut short.  Look at the other graves in the cemetery and you will notice there are common motifs that show the same stone mason at work, or a popular trend in monument design unique to that community. Examine the stone itself, and ask yourself where did it come from? If the stone is not local it was probably bought to the site at some considerable expense, which might be evidence of how deeply the remaining family mourned their deceased.

The gravestone above, of my great grandparents William and Mary Williams, has an Ivy motif engraved around the edge. Ivy is a symbol of immortality and endurance. William and Mary came from a pioneering family and owned considerable property in the area. Their grave is in very good condition, the stone is not local, and shows that their descendants went to a great deal of care and expense to create a lasting monument for them.

This link provides useful information about some common symbolic motifs that are found on western tombs.


I plan to write a number of future articles on cemetery symbolism in the future so please subscribe to this blog if you wish to follow this topic.

14 January 2011

Snapshots of convict life as found in the Bigge Report

Report of the Commissioner of inquiry into the state of the colony of New South Wales 1822.

 If your ancestor was a convict then one good primary source of information about the conditions that existed for convicts in the colonies is the 'Bigge Report'. Commissioner John Thomas Bigge was sent from London, tasked by Lord Bathurst, the Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, with the role of observing and reporting conditions in the Australian colonies in order to assess whether or not they were achieving their original objectives as a place of punishment. The three Bigge reports were: The State of the Colony of New South Wales (1822); The Judicial Establishments of New South Wales and of Van Diemen's Land (1823);  and The State of Agriculture and Trade in the Colony of New South Wales (1823).
  The life of a convict in the penal colony of New South Wales has always had a well deserved reputation for having been harsh and rigorous. Much historical evidence certainly exists of brutal punishments, hard labour and terrible deprivations experienced by prisoners, particularly in the colony’s secondary punishment settlements such as Norfolk Island, Van Dieman's Land, and Newcastle. In these settlements accounts of daily life have survived in the report Commissioner Bigge published after his enquiry. The report details the inadequacies of convicts diets, clothing, and accommodations. It describes the health of the convicts, the tasks they performed, and the punishments they received for misbehaviour. There are transcripts of interviews with convicts their gaolers and government officials. There are also descriptions of the daily routines of convicts and the ever-present problem of escapees, who were most often retrieved by local indigenous tribes. While it paints a picture of the convicts’ powerlessness and servitude, there is further evidence that prisoners throughout the colony were able to use the system to affect protests and assert their own power over their masters. 

Commissioner Bigge found that governor Macquarie treated convicts with  too much leniency, but whatever opinion he presented to the House of Commons, his report left us with a window into life in colonial Australia. The Bigge report gives us just one version of convict life in New South Wales, but it has accounts of convicts and their masters and settlers that help paint a contemporary picture of life, useful to genealogists who want to understand the nature of their ancestors experience in the colonies. 

To access copies of the Bigge Report speak to your librarian, or contact the National Museum of Australia, Canberra.   

Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance

Melbourne's impressive Shrine of Remembrance has watched over our city since it's completion in 1934. The link below shows a snapshot of what the people of Melbourne saw as it was being constructed. The Shrine was built from the donations collected by an appeal in 1928, in gratitude for the service and sacrifice of the soldiers of the first World War. The appeal was so popular that the money was raised to construct the entire building in less than six months. This was significant in a time of great economic hardship, and showed how deeply the people of Victoria felt the need for a lasting and visually symbolic memorial to the fallen. The choice of site, and the design, of The Shrine caused a great deal of controversy in the years prior to construction. If your family were Victorian in the 1930's then it is likely that your ancestors donated to the construction of the shrine, read the papers, and discussed over the dinner table the design and construction of Melbourne's greatest monument.

Photograph of construction

The Official Shrine of Remembrance site

Public Records Office of Victoria

Once a week I volunteer at the Public Records Office of Victoria, where I have been part of a team involved in transcribing the Outward Passengers Shipping Index for digitisation to their online database.I enjoy volunteering, and would recommend it to everybody.

There is a lot more to the PROV than indexes, however, as their huge repository is filled with items from Victoria's past. This link is to their online exhibitions which can be viewed by everyone on the Net. There are exhibits here about Melbourne's water storage, "Bigamy, Theft and Murder: the extraordinary tale of Frederick Bailey Deeming",  Victoria's Aboriginal police force 1837-1852, A pictorial history of Victoria captured through a selection of public transport photographs, Ned Kelly, 1956 Olympics, Eureka Stockade, Chinese immigrants, and more....


13 January 2011

Prahran Mechanics Intstitute


Understanding where your ancestors lived and worked can contribute a lot towards your understanding of who they were and what their lives were like. One place where Victorian family historians can go for local history information is a Mechanics Institute. The Mechanics Institute was once a well known focal point in Australian towns and communities as a centre of learning and as a meeting place.There are still over 500 Institutes in Victoria, though most now just operate as halls and community meeting places. Six Mechanics Institutes, however, still operate libraries in Victoria, with the headquarters being the Prahran Mechanics Institute located at located at 140 High Street, Prahran. 

 The Prahran Mechanics Institute lists it's objectives as:
  • To provide a lending and reference library specialising in works about the history of Victoria.
  • To organise educational activities relating to the history of Victoria.
  • To encourage and facilitate the study of history, particularly the history of Victoria.
 So if you are looking for local history information, check out this site:


Welcome to Australian History for Genealogists and Family Historians

Hello to everyone and welcome to my blog!

I would just like to start by briefly introducing myself, and my reasons for starting this blog.

I am currently a student of the Advanced Diploma of Local, Family and Applied History that is operated externally through the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, Australia. I have loved history all of my life, and in recent years have decided to pursue a dream to make a career out of it. I have traced branches of my family tree back as far as the 16th century in Northern England, but now I would like to add 'flesh' to the names and dates in my records.

Adding 'flesh to the bones' is often difficult as few records survive, but where specific records don't exist you can often glean enough information from local history, or by understanding the context of the times your ancestor lived in, to get a picture about the way your ancestor lived and be able to write that into your family story. 

This blog will post links to articles and items of interest for those of you who want to find out more about Australian History in relation to your ancestors, no matter how long they have lived on this magnificent continent we now know as Australia.

This site acknowledges and recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the first peoples of Australia, also the loss and grief held by Aboriginal Australians caused by alienation from traditional lands, loss of lives and freedoms, and the forced removal of children.

Happy Blogging,