Escape to Van Diemans Land

The story of James Carey, who asked to be transported to Van Diemans Land to escape his wife and build a new life in a new land.

5 Miles from Somewhere Else

Welcome to Fivemiletown

A quick session at the Northern Ireland Family History Society office quickly disavowed us of any idea that we were going to find records in Ireland that we couldn’t find in Australia. We thought this would be the case and so we did have a second string option.  Get the feel of where some of our ancestors came from!

We had some feel for where the McClintocks came from, but because we didn’t know whether they were farmers or not, it was a limited touch of their lives and their world. That’s the problem of trying to track down law-abiding people. No police record, no trial, no jail report!  There was just so little to go on, especially when the Irish Birth, Deaths and Marriages records are limited before the mid-1860’s.  Lynette Wight (nee McClintock) comes from good law abiding folk who farmed and weren’t naughty enough to attract the wrong sort of attention.

But the next 2 people we wanted to follow up left plenty behind for us to go on.   They blazed a veritible paper trial of court appearances, petitions, convict conduct records, more court appearances, swearing at authorities, sentences in Female Factories, surgeon reports and more.  James Carey was a stonecutter who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for 10 years.  His wife, Ann Carey was a housemaid who was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for 7 years. How do we know? Convict conduct and court records of course! And the records point us to Fivemiletown in County Tyrone as the place of the first crime.  Stealing a cow – Bill Wight comes from good convict stock.  But at least the convicts have records – literally!!

Fivemiletown is named for the 3 towns that it is seven miles away from – Clogher, Brokeborough and Tempo. You are quite entitled ask why it might be called Fivemiletown if it is seven miles away from these 3 towns.  Such a relevant question deserves an informed answer. It’s because 7 miles is 5 mile when you’re Irish. An Irish mile is 1.27 English miles. Thus our 3 nearby centres which are 7 English miles away,  are actually 5 Irish miles away. And, after all, it is an Irish town and the Irish are quite entitled to use Irish miles to name it if they so wish.

The first crime we had record of was committed against a merchant by the name of Matthew Binney, when James Carey stole his cow in 1846. James was tried in nearby Omagh and sentenced to transportation for a term of 10 years. We don’t what happened to Matthew Binney’s cow, but we do know that Matthew must not have been too angry about it.  He petitioned the judge on James’s behalf in order to persuade his honor to commute James’s sentence of transportation to VDL to servitude in Ireland.  Presumably Matthew Binney was approached by James’s newly acquired wife.

When this petition failed to get the desired result, there were then another 2 crimes committed.  These were perpetrated by Ann Carey who may well have been forced on James as a wife.  On her second conviction when Ann stole a watch, she managed to get herself transported to Van Diemen’s Land in the hope of being with her husband.  As far as managing to get transported to Tasmania – mission accomplished.  As for the rest – another story.

We arrived in Fivemiletown to find a small town visibly in the grip of recession with numerous ‘To Let’ signs around. On our entrance to the town we saw the Catholic Church which might have been the relevant one for James and Ann’s marriage.  They were both Roman Catholics according to Convict Conduct Records.  The family story has it that there were forced to marry by the priest because there were “too long absent” from a Church picnic.  The mind boggles!  But the church proved not to have been built until the 1880’s, so certainly was not around in the 1840’s. While impressive to be sure,  it didn’t touch our family interest.

After finding nothing that could connect us to Ann and James, we thought we would find a pub, drink their health and have a pit stop all in one efficient operation. We found Scott’s Bar in the middle of town. We went into the bar and found the barman and 2 customers. We fielded a couple of cautious enquiries about what we ‘might be looking for’. We said we were passing through, but that the town had some family historical significance.

These gents were most interesting to talk to and all had been to Australia, knew of someone living in Australia, or had relations in Australia. We really struggled to understand them and I guess it had to be mutual. They recognised Carey as possibly a local name and were kind enough to point out that the town was possibly not named Fivemiletown in the mid-1840’s. I resisted disagreeing with our new friends, but I had a petition from Matthew Binney dated 1846 stating the cow was stolen at Fivemiletown where he was a merchant, so I was quite sure it was Fivemiletown at the time.

It became quite amusing when one gent had to graciously disagree with my Wikipedia informed view that Ann might have moved away from Roscommon, because it was the county hit hardest by the Potato Famine of 1845 to 1852. He had to politely disagree because neighbouring Monaghan was the hardest hit. I accepted his point graciously and did not let it get in the road of a really pleasant dialogue.  My new friend expressed his disappointment the Australia, New Zealand and Canada had all dumped Great Britain after the mother country supported them through 2 world wars.  I had no doubt that my new friend was one of the many who proudly touted British flags outside their homes in Northern Ireland.  And on the matter of us ditching British, I had the Antipodean view that we had become involved in 2 wars that weren’t ours.   And I thought we had aligning with the ‘new world’ we lived in.  I refrained from enightening him of my thoughts.  In so saying, I have to admit to a great deal of admiration for the Brits.

As we were getting ready to leave our new friends kindly bought to our attention that the Court of Petty Sessions established in 1832 was just over the road from the bar. James and Ann however were both tried at a higher level court in Omagh, some 17 miles to the north.  But I did have to wonder what a ‘petty crime’ was when you got 10 years for stealing a cow and 7 years for stealing a watch.  But I also recognise to ‘existing and being born’ because of these ‘crimes’.

We loved the countryside as we made our way towards Roscommon and caught it at 100km per hour on our express touch-tour of Ireland. We were running out of light, when we drove into a charming place by the name of Carrick-on-Shannon. After a couple of inquiries we found a bargain room at the Bush Hotel where we spend lovely night with some real highlights like 5 different ways to have potato. I really felt at home.

Yep – I’m Irish.  Lynette was told by a skin specialist that she has the ‘black irish’ skin.  Irish carries through the several generations.

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