In Search of WJ

The story of the Antipodean Detectives 17 year ongoing search for who William Johnston really was, where he came from and how he came to be a convict in Van Diemans Land.

Val’s Day at the National Archives

We have been playing detective for almost 20 years.  The best clues in our Search for WJ have almost always come from visiting archives.   In October, 2011, we were in London and London houses the daddy of all the archives – The National Archive at Kew.  “1,000 years of history in documents” is a great incentive to make the trip to London.  We just could not resist taking a day to go and soak up the experience of seeing and touching the paper that recorded contemporaneously the events that touched their lives of our forebears.

Our archive experience started on a high note right from day 1 in Hobart in 1994.  We didn’t know anything but we blundered our way into finding gold on WJ.  We started digging in the Tasmanian Archive with only the name of my great grandmother and a rough idea of when she was born.  Within hours we we found our very first record.  It was WJ’s ‘Permission to Marry’ record which allowed him as a convict to marry Ann Carey on the 17th April, 1854.

What Val was about to experience in London was special.  She was about to hold the actual paper record of the court martial of WJ.  It was recorded by the court scribe on the 30th March, 1843 in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. It was signed off by Dr AS Kane who said WJ was fit to undertake any punishment from flogging to hard labour.  It was signed off by Captain Richard French who chaired the proceeding and by Captain Evelyn K.G. Packlington who had the role of Deputy Judge Advocate for the hearing.

My Readers Ticket for the National Archive allowed me to order the records online the day before, to cut down our time at the Archive without records. The 5 sets of documents were ready for us in the document reading room lockers when we arrived and seat 6G had been allocated. We were ready to roll.

We brought the archive box to our desk, removed the ribbons and took the lid off.  There was WJ’s Court Martial record right on the top of the box, just as I had left it a year earlier. Nobody had looked in the last year.  When I first found this record in 2010, I placed the court martial records for WJ, Kennedy and Keefe on the top of the box of records.

Opening the National Archive file box

Val opened WJ’s Court Martial record up and made her way through it.  It is definitely easier to read the transcription, but nonetheless a great experience working through the original.  When Val had finished WJ’s trial record, she then read through the trial records of fellow escapees Keefe and Kennedy.

Val looking at WJ's Court Martial

I went through other items in the archive box and found another 2 Court Martial hearings for the 52nd regiment in Fredericton. I couldn’t resist taking copies of them for review to further understand the context of WJ’s trial. The interesting thing about these other desertions is that both of these poor wretches tried to make it to America and were both caught at one the Deserter Posts near Woodstock.  Bob Dalison from the historical society in Fredericton had told us about Deserter Posts and here was the proof.

I wanted to make sure that I tried to find new material, since I was at the Archive and it is an awful long way to come to look at material already seen.  I wanted to find how long the 52nd Regiment stayed in Canada after WJ’s expulsion from it.  I went through 6 set of Regimental Muster Rolls and Pay-Lists to find that the regiment stayed on until the Spring of 1847.  It took 2 document requests to order up the documents.  Amazingly it only took 30 minutes for each of those sets of records to be retrieved and delivered to my reader’s box for reading. What a great system! And for free!!!

Box WO 71/350 - WJ's Record on Top

The other thing I wanted to look for was any record of George Luther Hatheway being paid for the capture of WJ and his 2 fellow deserters. And eurika – I did! Voucher No 75 of the Pay List for the period April to June 1843 was for payment to “Mr Hatheway for apprehension of deserters”.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t found the amount. The Pay-List is a summary, so I had to be happy with that find.

I think I could move into the Archive.   But my attention was called back to reality by a text from Lynette letting me know that our taxi to Heathrow had just picked her up from Andrew and Megan’s house and would be picking me up in around 45 minutes. Thud!!  I won’t be moving into the Archive, I will be going back home and really soon.

Val’s Day at the Archive was over – now back home to Australia to transcribe, to interpret and to share.

The Home Town of WJ

After the christening of William Oscar at St John the Evangelist Church at Crosscanonby we took the coastal route alongside Solway Firth into the sleepy little town of Maryport. The original town was based around a Roman fort which was intended to prevent invaders from the north avoiding Hadrian’s Wall by using Solway Firth.

In the 1800’s Maryport developed as an industrial centre with a busy port. In WJ’s day, this industrial development would have kept the Turners busy with their High St whitesmith shop.

Maryport Harbour

In the early 1900’s Maryport became a ghost with the development of a port elsewhere, coal strikes and a failure to compete with other centres. It now has a population of around 11,000 and is still sleepy. But you can buy Thai, Chinese and Pizza and more importantly, there are plenty of English pubs and these are absolutely my favourite place to go to.

Maryport has had a couple of notable residents including Fletcher Christian of Mutiny on the Bounty fame and it now has an annual blues festival that has been attended by some notables like Chuck Berry and Jethro Tull. There is great coverage of Maryport in Wikipedia.

Andrew and Megan had resisted the attractions of Maryport a few years earlier whilst travelling the UK.  They didn’t know that it was the home town of ancestor William Lighfoot Johnston who became Andrew’s 4th great-grandfather.   But on this occasion, we were on a mission, so they were prepared to have a look around while we waited for the church service to start. We had a lovely tea, some shortbread and Irish butter at a café down at the Maryport Marina.

Megan, Will and Bill having tea and fine biscuits at marina at Maryport

This low area of the town was where WJ’s dad, John Johnston and other seaman would have moored there boats, carried out repairs and sail services, lived and had their entertainment.

The port of Maryport

We had a short walk up the High St to get the feel for where a whitesmith shop might have been 160 years ago, been but there wasn’t a clue to be had. We did have one clue, however, which we used to deduce reasonably close to where it might have been. There was an incident which resulted in a death of William Brown at the hands of George Turner in 1830.

Looking down John St Maryport from High St

We know that occurred outside of Sarah Turner’s house in John St Maryport. Her house was around the corner from High St.

Corner of High and John St Maryport

We think the Thirlwell Turners whitesmith shop was close to the John St intersection with High St but we just don’t know whether it was up High St or down High St. The death of William Smith incident will be covered in a future blog, A Bad Days’ Work.

View up High St Maryport

From High St we could see out into Solway Firth. A notable feature is the banks of wind-generators in the sea. They stand in rows. We saw them from the air when we flew from Liverpool to Belfast. There were lots of them.

Looking out to the Irish Sea from High St Maryport

One thing that came home to me, whilst looking back east from Carnlough in Ireland was just how close Scotland comes to Ireland. The land that we could see across Solway Firth from High St Maryport was Scotland and that the land we were seeing from Ireland was the end of the land bounding Solway Firth from the Scottish side. No surprise that John Johnston came from Ireland and that the McClintocks from County Antrim in Ireland think they have Scottish ancestry.

The entrance to the marina area in Maryport is a little more sophisticated that what John Johnston would have sailed into and out in his coastal barque. I found it interesting that the boats had flat bottoms and at low tide simply rest on the mud and float again at high tide. Getting that tide right really matters!

The sea entrance to Maryport

After a delightful Sunday Lunch at one of the pubs that could have been Bowell’s Public House in 1830, we headed back to Bowness-on-Windamere to explore Beatrix Potter country.

The Church of WJ – St John the Evangelist Church, Crosscanonby

The seaside village of Maryportwas too small to have a church in the early 1800’s when Thirlwell Turner had a whitesmith shop in High Street Maryport andWilliam Johnston plied the Cumbrian Coast and Irish Sea in a coastal barque.

Cumbria UK Map showing Crosscanonby

The family’s church was St John the Evangelist’s Church in the village of Crosscanonby.   They walked the 3 mile from Maryport to Crosscanonby along a route that was known as the Coffin Way.  It was so-called because this was the route for coffins with their dead for the burial service and burial in the Church Yard at St John the Evangelist at Crosscanonby.

Crosscanonby Church from the South

The church overlooks Solway Firth which forms the eventual boundary between England and Scotland.  In early times salt was harvested from the area near where the church overlooks.

St John the Evangelist stands on the one of the oldest Christian sites in Cumbria.  According to an excellent article in Wikipedia the present building was built in the Norman style of architecture in 1130 with the south aisle being added in the 13th century.  There were additions in the 14th century.  I could see evidence of the renovations from 1880 noticing that one of the downpipes had that date stamped on it.

Will fascinated by the Bell Tower at St John the Evangelist Crosscanonby

The building is made of red sandstone and the roof of green slate.  There is apparently evidence that the sandstone building originated from an earlier roman church on the site.

Val, Bill and Lynette in front of the red sandstone eastern end of Crosscanonby

As I looked inside of this house of worship, I felt like I was stepping back in time and into some sort of gallery of antiquities.  There is a Royal Coat of Arms with the name of King George III dating from 1773.  The coat of arms was presented not long after James Cook claimed Australia and New Zealand in 1770 and before the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay in 1778.

There is a Last Supper painting over the chancel arch, possibly from Matthias Read who lived from 1669 to 1747, who was famed for works in other churches.   Noteworthy, but after the time of WJ, the stained window is from 1848 the work of John Read, a noted local craftsman from nearby Carlisle.  I felt a sense of identity knowing that the seats were all of 200 years old and therefore occupied by the kin.  The items around the altar and the 13th century font were all part of the house of worship for the Johnstons and the Turners.

Inside St Johns with the old pews, the Last Supper, the GIII Arms and the Font

The church yard seemed filled to capacity with headstones, a few bearing the name of Johnston.  No relation for sure, our lot where all too poor and John Johnston was one of border reavers, born in Ireland, after whole families where removed from the area and relocated to places like, Holland, Germany and Ireland.

Will playing in the graveyard at St John the Evangelist Crosscanonby

Many headstones tell fascinating stories of death by war, misadventure and foul play.  But none more interesting than that of John Smith, a local salt tax officer, who died in 1730. His tomb includes a carving of the salt officer sitting and working at his desk.  Will loved the graves and was happy to climb all over them as a little boy would.

4 generations in front of the 19th century window at St Johns

And most important of all, we were made so welcome at the church of our ancestors.


Through the Waters with WJ

William Lightfoot Johnston (WJ), son of John Johnston and Penelope Turner, was christened in St John the Evangelist Church at Crosscanonby on the 5th October, 1817.

Off to Church at St John's at Crosscanonby

Just on 194 years later, on the 17th October, 2011, William Oscar (Will), son of Andrew and Megan, and 5th great grandson of WJ was christened in the same church using the same 13th century alabaster font.

There is such a difference between the worlds of William Lightfoot and William Oscar in 194 years. Think of our travel to church versus WJ’s; our family church attendance versus WJ’s; arranging the sacrament of baptism; the party presiding over the rite of baptism and the differing reactions of the baptismal participants.

4 generations at St John's at Crosscanonby

WJ and his family would have walked the 3 miles from Maryport to Crosscanonby along the Coffin Way between their home in Maryport and the church in Crosscanonby. They would have been in their Sunday best and the walk would have taken about an hour. We drove the 45 mile from the 400 year old farm house we were staying in near Bowness-on-Windemere in just 1 hour and 15 minutes.

Will with Mum and Dad at the entrance to St John's at Crosscanonby

In 1817, the Church was so much more at the centre of family life and the family was so much more geographically proximate. William’s father John and his mother Penelope would have brought big brother Henry and big sister Nancy for the big day. Grandparents Thirlwell and Elizabeth Turner were almost certainly there and possibly WJ’s uncles Thirlwell and George Turner along with Aunty Sarah Turner. The whole Turner-Johnston family lived in the seaside fishing village of Maryport which was too small to have its own church at that time. 21st century Will had Mum and Dad, Bapa and Nana Wight and Gran Wight in attendance. The rest of Will’s family couldn’t come because they live half a world away in the Antipodes, about 12,000 miles away.

Vicar Mary with Will, Andrew and Megan at the font after the baptism

The conduct of the service for WJ was likely to have been arranged directly with the vicar of the church who would have had actual proximate contact with his flock. Will’s was arranged by an email to Pat, Church Warden from Bill in Australia to fix a date and then a phone-call to the Vicar from Will’s parents in London to arrange the service.

The vicar for WJ without doubt was a male. Will’s rite was conducted by Vicar Mary who was relieving for Vicar Sue who was on annual leave at the time when family could travel from Australia.

Vicar Mary and Will held by Dad near the font with the baptismal candle in the background

WJ was a very much a baby for his christening and probably didn’t mind a little water for the Father, a little water for the Son and a little water the Spirit. Will is just over 2. He was a little surprised for the water for the on his head for the Father, looked askance at the Vicar for the water for the Son and quite concerned for the water for the Spirit.

Different in many way – yes – but similar at the same time.

The church is almost the same. St John the Evangelist’s Church, Crosscanonby stands on one of the earliest Christian sites in Cumbria. The present church was built in 1130 in the Norman style. It is the same church now as it was in 1817.

The same font was used despite almost 200 years between the 2 baptisms. The font dates from the 13th century making it over 600 years old. It is square and is carved with leaf motifs and is made of alabaster.

The 13th Century Font at St john's at Crosscanonby

8 generations and 194 years is a big timespan and half a world is a big space between the worlds of William Lightfoot and William Oscar. But now William and Will share a bond through a shared place and a shared font for a sacrament that transcends time and spiritually eliminates the space between Cumbria and far-flung Australia.

Comparing Notes on WJ

Coming to Canada and seeing the places where William Johnston (WJ) and the 2 men who deserted with him had lived, marched, run, been tracked, been captured, locked up, tried and transported gave us a new appreciation of just how hard his life was and explains his burning desire to do anything to get out of the army. Perhaps even to the extent of preferring transportation as a felon to continued service in the British Army.

Image of an officer and soldier of the 52nd Regiment of Foot

After 2 days of seeing what we could see and finding what we could find, we readied ourselves to leave Fredericton New Brunswick and drive to Montreal in Quebec to fly out of Canada. We would fly across the Atlantic to London for the next part of our Search for WJ. We had drunk WJ’s health at the Garrison Ale House and now it was time to move on.

The Pub

The Ale House near the Soldiers Barracks

Almost time to move on, but like Columba, there was just one more thing. We needed to regroup and compare notes with Bob McNeal from the York Sunbury Historical Society and work out what he wanted to do with his new information on the George Luther Hatheway and his new perspective on 3 deserters from the 52nd Regiment of Foot.

We arranged to meet with Bob McNeal before leaving the Maritime Region for Montreal and compare our notes. I had spoken to Bob Dalison and agreed that I would give Bob McNeil copies of the materials I had from the UK National Archive. Bob Dalison has a particular interest in all things military, so Court Martials, Muster Rolls and Pay Lists were of interest.

Deep discussion on WJ

For my part, I needed to get some further clarifications on life in Canada while WJ was living there. Bob Dalison was surprised by my view that British soldiers would rather be in prison in the West Indies than serve in Canada. His view was that British soldiers bent on leaving the army were keen to get to Canada so that they could escape to the south and disappear in America. Note to self – have a look in the National Archive in London.

We met Bob McNeal at the Ramada which had an excellent area for working. I took Bob through the materials from the National Archive and copied it over to his memory stick. Val had a few questions. She had learned a lot and was keen for any other snippets and titbits’.

Bob had decided he was going to write an article on the desertions for the “The Officers’ Quarterly” which is published by the York Sunbury Historical Society. We discussed that approach he might take. The desertions were pertinent for a Fredericton history buff, because of the involvement of George L Hatheway in returning all 3 deserters back to the Garrison as shown by his testimony at all 3 trials.

Hard at Work

Bob already knew Hatheway was rough and ready. The testimony from Hatheway showed just how rough and ready. From an historical point of view it was good quality information – from a primary source of history – a direct copy of historical documents.

The Officers' Quarterly published by York Sunbury Historical Society

I gave Bob a rather too detailed synopsis of what happened in the rest of WJ’s life and some background on the convict system. Contrary to the understanding of most Australians the convict system had some really positive intentions and outcomes. Convicts if they were compliant, industrious and could demonstrate they had been reformed and were of ‘good’ character, could be free in a fraction of their sentence. Not only could a reformed character work through the system quickly, they could choose who they worked for and negotiate their wages whilst still convicts. And they could even accumulate property. A sum was put aside for them during their sentences, so they could exit the system with something.

WJ was not one of these model convicts – but that’s another story.

A Glimpse of the Life of WJ – A Trip to the Museum

A Snow Shoe for WJ

Having retraced the footsteps of WJ on the Miramichi Road, our next objective was to catch a glimpse of the world of WJ and in the 52nd Regiment of Foot in Fredericton, Canada. The place to this was the Museum. So we retraced of steps south-east back along the Miramichi Road to Fredericton and the Museum now housed in the Garrison District.

The museum housed in the Officers Quarters

One of the things we needed to learn about the Miramichi Road was how to pronounce its name. Without local knowledge, I would never have come near to getting it right. Mira pronounced ‘mirra’ – like the mirror on the wall but with ‘a’ rather than ‘or’; ‘mi’ pronounced like ‘mit’ without the ‘t’; chi as in ‘she’.
Bob McNeal from the York Sunbury Historical Society knew of our early ‘in the steps of WJ’ mission on the Miramichi Road. He waited patiently for us until we turned up for our 10.30am rendezvous with him at 11.50. I seriously underestimated the time required for retracing WJ’s steps. Lucky I was driving.
Knowing we were running so late, we headed for the Officer’s Quarters which housed the Museum. In accordance with Murphy’s Law, we parked in the wrong place, then took the long way around the Officer’s Quarter’s building. It was quite a trial on crutches when I tried to hurry. After almost a complete circumnavigation, we found the entrance and Bob.
Bob took us over to the Guardhouse which was now a Provincial building. He wanted to see if he could get us into the Soldier’s Barrack to see the one room that had been left as it was originally was when used by British soldiers who lived there. We were facing the problem that the Soldier’s Barracks had been closed for the winter 2 weeks before we arrived.
In spite putting up a spirited case, Bob was not able to pull it off. The building had been closed for the winter a couple of weeks earlier and key was not held in the guardhouse. This was quite a foreign concept to us. Buildings and facilities closed for the winter months.

The Soldiers Barracks

We are hoping Bob is able to get us some good photos of the room when the building is reopened in the spring of 2012.
Undaunted, Bob treated to us to a VIP tour of the Museum in Officer’s Quarters. He started fittingly enough with the history of the British Regiments in Fredericton.
The museum was rich with well-interpreted displays of the development and history of Fredericton, the province of New Brunswick and Canada. We had not been aware of the so many conflicts that marked the history of Canada’s development.
Canada had multiples of conflicts – moving borders, changing loyalties, forced repatriations of whole ethnic communities and social dislocations. The British faced numerous common enemies, whose most common point of congruence was their dislike of British. There Americans to the south, always anxious to push the border northward; the disenchanted Irish who were doubly-dangerous as they had military experience having served as mercenaries for the Spanish and hated the British with a passion; the Arcadians (French) who by definition were anti-British; then there were the townsfolk, many of whom simply didn’t like the Garrison whoever it was peopled by.

Loyalist Officers Uniform

The Indian displays gave us an appreciation of how they lived in a rich and beautiful but harsh environment. Snowshoes were their invention to get around in winter. We found their use of birch in art and function very advanced. The canoes they needed to be watertight were made of birch sealed with sap.
One of the most disliked duties of the British soldiers utilised the Indian invention of snowshoes. Details of soldiers were sent out on marches for several days on snowshoes during the winter months.
After catching the highlights at the museum, we decided we wanted another look at the Guardhouse and the Soldier’s Barracks. Apart from Church at Crosscanonby, in Cumbria, these 2 buildings were as close as we could ever get to anything standing that actually touched the life of WJ.
Across the road from the Garrison District, there was an ale house, most appropriately called the Garrison Ale House. We thought this could be an important touch-point.
The question uppermost in our minds: ‘Could WJ and his mates have raised a pint here? Was this the closest we would ever get to WJ’s world?’
On the strength of that thought we raised a glass and thanked WJ for not escaping, for being captured, for being transported to Tasmania and for being our great, great, great grandfather.
Had WJ escaped to the south or west, we could have been on terms with Uncle Sam; to the north or west we could have been Canadians, eh?
It wasn’t until we had toasted WJ’s good health that we found that the Garrison Ale House had actually been a bank and only converted to an ale house 6 years ago. But WJ certainly raised a pint somewhere around here!! On soldier’s pay – perhaps only half a pint.

Val and Bill Toast WJ

We arrived back at the Ramada to find a red message light flashing on the phone in our room. It was a message from Bob Dalison, also a member of the York Sunbury Historical Society.
Bob had a particular interest in the military and was particularly interested in obtaining the original photos we took of the Courts Martial hearing for the 3 deserters. It’s nice for historians to have access to primary documents. Bob provided us with some insights into WJ’s route of flight. Most deserters would want to flee south to America because there was no chance of pursuit by the British.
WJ knew this and so did the British Army. For that very reason, the army had 3 deserter posts. Each was manned by an NCO and 2 privates dressed in civilian clothing. They would wait for deserters and intercept them.
We offered to provide the 3 court martial records and the 52nd Regiment Muster Rolls and Pay List from April 1836 to June 1843.
And then turned in for a well-earned rest and to do some work for our office back home in Brisbane.

The Miramichi Road – In the Steps of WJ

The big question we wanted to answer on our second day in Fredericton was – “How closely could we walk to the footsteps of WJ in the 52 hours he was absent from the 52nd Regiment?”
The best way to get a feel of what WJ went through was to retrace his footsteps – 21st century style. We had a car, all we needed to know was the route he travelled and whether it could be travelled by car today.
Our hire car was a classy Nissan Maxima. Very nice – leather seats – sunroof. A little disconcerting as it was left hand drive and was meant to be driven on the right hand side of the road. Bill’s mantra was – put Lynette into the gutter when you make a turn. That way – I would stay on the correct side of the road.

Our Nissan Maxima

So, next thing to know was how close could we get to retracing his footsteps?Bob McNeal from the York Sunbury Historical Society helped us out with a 1878 map of the County of York. It showed the Miramichi Road which WJ and his fellow deserters, Michael Keefe and Martin Kennedy, had used for their desperate flight.
The 1878 county map showed a Miramichi Road that was near enough to the very road that Johnston, Keefe and Kennedy had doggedly trekked in March, 1843. So that checked out. And the 2011 road available to us, was reasonably close to the 1878 Miramichi Road.
We were on-target for walking in the shoes of WJ – figuratively speaking.
Bob marked the spot where Keefe was picked up and returned to the regiment. That was 10 miles out from Fredericton and close to Hatheway’s house near Nashwaak Village, which we had seen the previous day.
Bob McNeal estimated the whereabouts of the lumber camp where WJ and Kennedy were apprehended. It was 41 miles out from Fredericton, which put it between Boiestown and Ludlow and he marked it on the map.
Armed with our 1878 York County map, Maps on the current Miramichi Road loaded onto our IPads, our Nissan Maxima and the desire to retrace the steps of WJ’s great escape, we headed off at 8.30am. It was a chilly 4 degrees.
Somehow, in their flight, WJ and Kennedy parted company with Keefe. Keefe was found lying face down in the snow with bruises on his left arm and the left side of his face. He had resolved to simply lie down and die. Unfortunately for all of them, he was right near the house of George Luther Hatheway who found Keefe and took him to his house. This proved a fateful turn of events – it put all of three deserters in the way of the only man in the province who had the tenacity, the means, the lumber industry knowledge and the connections to hunt them down.

1878 County Map of York

WJ and Kennedy trudged a further 31 miles past Hatheway’s house at Nashwaak Villiage. They made it to Boiestown where they fell into company with a party of around 10 lumberers, who allowed them to stay in the camp.
The route that the deserter trekked and which we drove followed the Nashwaak River to Nashwaak Bridge and then moved away from the river and headed for the Miramichi Valley and the geographic centre of New Brunswick Province.
At 100 km per hour, we delighted at the splendour of autumn hues in yellows, pinks, reds, oranges along with the greens of spruce and firs.
For us, an easy and pleasant drive. What about for WJ?
My mind went back to 11.30am on the 17th November, 2010 when I found the copy of WJ’s Court Martial at the National Archive in London. When I first found it, I couldn’t open it because I was stunned at being fortunate enough for it to have survived and was moved by its import. I knew the end result was “guilty” and the sentence was 21 years transportation. I took a ‘time out’ and went for a hot chocolate in the cafeteria. I returned to the document half an hour later with my head still spinning. I realised I was probably the only person to look at it in almost 170 years. And even better, I found Keefe and Kennedy’s Court Martials as well.
I returned to my desk, took a deep breath, opened WJ hearing and proceeded to read. I struggled with the writing and I could only partly make it out the first time through. But I understood enough to bring tears to my eyes. “You poor little bugger!”, I kept saying to myself.
In a warm car at 100km, we soaked up the beauty of fall in early October. WJ made his escape in mid-March. No hues for him and too early for any beauty of spring. The snow of a harsh winter lay everywhere, possibly starting to turn to slurry. It was quite likely that there had been 5 or 6 feet of snow during that winter, temperatures were still sub-zero and the deserters had escaped with the bare essentials.

Not the welcome WJ would have recieved

We reached Boiestown and called at the Woodman’s Museum. Lumber from New Brunswick had supplied Britian’s need for timber, when France blocked the usual supplies from Scandinavia and this had created a thriving industry in New Brunswick.

Sign for the Woodman's Museum

The woodsmen’s work was hard and the conditions in New Brunswick were challenging. It was so cold that woodsmen slept together for warmth shared a large blanket.
WJ and Martin Kennedy had found a group of 10 lumberers who took them in and gave them a place to stay in a lumber camp near Boiestown.
Hatheway was relentless, he returned Keefe to the Garrison on the morning of the 14th March, and did a deal for the capture of WJ & Kennedy as well. He was joined by Sergeant Miller dressed as a civilian. He made inquiries as he travelled the Miramichi Road and tracked them 41 miles to a point where their footprints left the road. Hatheway knew there was a lumberer’s camp near Boiestown and came knocking by 2am on the morning of the 15th March.
Hatheway entered the lumber camp at that hour and apprehended the fugitives unchallenged by the lumberman and without resistance from the deserters.

The Activities of a Lumberer's Camp

We turned around and headed back to Fredericton along the Miramichi Road toward Fredericton, back to the guardhouse, as did WJ almost 168 years and 6 months earlier, but he was in handcuff. We were going to take pictures of the guardhouse – WJ was going to occupy it.

Search for WJ in Canada – Fredericton Day 1

Our search for WJ in Canada was going to be assisted by Bob
McNeal, a member of the York Sunbury Historical Society.

Bob McNeal

We arrived in Fredericton and checked in to the Ramada on Sunday
night from New York via Toronto.

Bob McNeal met us at our motel on Monday morning.  And just as well.  It turned out that we had picked the
Thanksgiving Day holiday, to start our search.
But because we had Bob to take us around, the day was not wasted.  In fact, the Thanksgiving Holiday worked well for us.

We invited Bob for breakfast at 8am for an early start, but alas
when he knocked on the door at the appointed hour we were out to it.  We forgot to factor in jet-lag and too much
of the ‘city that never sleeps’.   New
York, New York!!

He gave us a few minutes to get out heads together and over
breakfast he mapped out the day.

We had sent Bob the transcript of WJ’s Court Martial held in
Fredericton on the 30th March, 1843.
In addition, we had provided the transcripts for WJ’s fellow deserters,
Keefe and Kennedy.  These were of
interest to Bob because a key witness at all 3 trials was George Luther
Hatheway, a farmer and lumberman, who went on to enter politics and became the
Premier of the New Brunswick province.   Hatheway was a key witness because he
captured all three soldiers and returned them to the regiment.

With a life-time in the Fredericton community, a career as a


Hatheway's House Still Standing

history teacher and a real passion for history, Bob knew the high spots to go
for.  He took us to Hatheway’s house,
which is still standing.  In
consideration of the 170 years that have passed, it is in good shape.

Our interest in the house attracted the attention of the
now-owner, Jim Allen, who came out to see what the interest in the house was
all about.  He was intrigued and even more
so was his son Philip.  Their home had
been the home of a prominent politician and one of the most colourful
characters in New Brunswick history.

Next, it was off to the cemetery.
This tough guy was mortal!  And he

Hatheway Grave

Hatheway's Headstone

was tough.  He tracked WJ and Kennedy 41
miles through snow and went into a lumber camp and arrested them.  But he did die.  The headstone was in pretty good condition.

Hatheway’s contribution is noted publically with a display near
the legislature that Bob took us to.
Hatheway’s achievements and contributions are noted.  One of his real highlights was to push
through the legislature against some torrid opposition the introduction of
free, compulsory and non-sectarian education in New Brunswick.

HonourThe British Army Memorial











Next was the memorial to the British Army regiments that served in
Fredericton.  Fittingly, it is located in
the Loyalist Burial Ground in Fredericton and is near a British Flag.  The memorial pays tribute to the soldiers who

gave their lives with the words, ‘Across the field lyeth British soldiers who
died in Fredericton’.

The memorial also
acknowledges the many British Regiments that spend between 1 and 7 years
stationed in Fredericton.

British Army Regiments

The British Army Regiments Who Served in Fredericton

One of these
was of course, the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot.






Then a real find for us!  The Soldiers Barracks in Fredericton itself
was still standing.

WJ's Home in New Brunswick

This is the very
building that WJ lived in when he wasn’t off on marches, running away or in the
guard house.  The building is in great
condition and is used for a variety of purposes by the province.  One room has been left as it was when soldiers
lived in it.





Nearby was the Guard House where Hatheway would have returned WJ
to await his Court Martial hearing in Fredericton.

Where WJ whiled away a few hours

This building is in good condition is also used
by the province.

Thanks to Bob McNeal, Day 1 in Fredericton, was worth every
jetlagged hour of travel.

Let’s Search for WJ in Canada!

Our search for William Lightfoot Johnston, WJ as we like to call him, has been going since 1994.

WJ is our convict ancestor who was transported to Tasmania in 1844.

WJ was born in Maryport in England in 1817. After apprenticing as a blacksmith and farrier, WJ joined the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot in 1836 and set off to see the world.

Image of an officer and soldier of the 52nd Regiment of Foot

After 3 years with the Regiment at Home, WJ was assigned to the Regiment Abroad. So see the world, he did.

Army life was not for WJ. He spent a great deal of his 6 years in the army in jail as a result of his frequent desertions.

His last duties with the 52nd, were in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. After seeing the Carribean from the inside of a jail for 6 months, WJ and the 52nd spend 19 days aboard ship arriving at St John in New Brunswick in the fall of 1842. The Regiment then proceeded to Fredericton where it remained until 1845.

It was here that WJ got the mother of all jail terms -transportation to Tasmania for 21 years.

We had discovered WJ’s trial record by Court Martial in November 2010 at the National Archive in London. In addition, we discovered the trial records of his 2 fellow deserters, Keefe  and Kennedy. So we knew the desertion that had him bound for Van Dieman’s Land happened in Fredericton in New Brunswick.  We also knew that the 3 runaways had been captured by a civilian by the name of George L Hatheway.

Bill, Lynette and Val decided the best way to search out more about WJ’s time in Canada, was to go there.

In preparation for the journey and in the hope that they would have some direction in the search for WJ, Bill contacted the York Sunbury Museum by email, explaining what they were looking for and what they already knew. Ruth Murgatroyd who is the Executive Director contacted members to see who could help.

Ruth Ringing up a Purchase

We were on our way to finding out about WJ’s time in New Brunswick as well as  about the man who captured him George Luther Hatheway.


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