Tue. May 28th, 2024

Convict Record – A fanciful account

1845 Van Diemen’s Land, Australia

Dipping the pen into the inkwell, he began to inscribe her name onto the top left-hand corner of the next page of the pre-printed, pro forma journal. In large, perfectly balanced, beautifully executed, copperplate handwriting he wrote the family name, Harvey then, carefully scaled to the height of the lower case letters of the family name, he wrote her Christian name, Mary.

The alacrity with which he wrote these simple words belied the many years of painstaking practice that precedes such skill. The beauty of the letters, the incongruity of their function would, one hundred and seventy years later, fire the imagination of an amateur researcher of family history.

Like an ancient Egyptian standing before the God Thoth, the events leading to Mary’s immortalisation in the “Book of Conduct” were elicited and duly recorded by the clerk, although now in a rushed and less perfect hand.

Beneath her name he filled in the requisite details: Tried Devon Exeter QS 1st July 1845. Embarked (left blank) 10 years. Arrived 29th August 1846. Then he moved to the right hand box at the top of the page:  Transported for Stg bedding. Gaol Dept previously convicted Single stated pledging furniture from my lodgings once 4 months for similar offence Married Husband William a sailor Mother Jane Edwards Mill St Devon Park _ _ Surgeons Report} Good Sent to Hospital.

He peered at her over the blue steel rim of his eye sized oval glasses. He had purchased them in England as soon as he was learned of his posting to the colony, he was not as young as he used to be and he didn’t fancy his chances of finding a suitable pair in the Antipodes, besides, these were the very latest fashion.  Peering and writing, peering and writing, the Victorian equivalent of a mug-shot slowly emerged, a row of boxes across the page: Trade. Housemaid and Laundress Height. (Not recorded) Age. 35 Complex. Ruddy Head. Oval Hair. Black Whiskers. – Visage. Oval Forehead. Low Eyebrows. Black Eyes. Hazel Nose. (illegible) Mouth. Large Chin. Large Native Place. Clodden Devonshire. The last piece of identifying information in a row below these boxes reads Marks. Pockpitted.

Finally, he records the beginning of her life in the colony:  Period of Gang Probation. 6 Mos Station of Gang. Anson Class. 3 16.3.47. The rest of the page is ready to record any and all further infractions, information and details for which the prisoner will be under close scrutiny. It has two headings, the largest section on the left is headed Offences and Sentences and a second, wide right hand margin titled Remarks. These are for future use.

The clerk is finished. Her old life ended in the Exeter Quarter Sessions on the first of July, 1846. Her journey, half way around the world to Van Diemen’s Land, the furthest post of the British Empire. Only now, one year one month and twenty nine days later will her new life begin.

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