tasmania

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.

A Glimpse at Grangegorman Female Depot

In October, 2011, Val, Bill and Lynette travelled around the globe as detectives seeking clues to give us a better picture of where the people who became our forebears came from.  First, there was a whistlestop tour of Fredericton in Canada where William Johnston (WJ) deserted the British army.  Then there was Crosscanonby in Cumbria to the church where WJ was baptised.  Crossing the Irish Sea we discovered Ballymena, the home of Irish-Scottish McClintocks and Fivemiletown where James Carey stole a cow and then Roscommon on the trail of Ann Carey who stole to be with her husband in Tasmania.

We found little in Roscommon to connect with Ann Carey, but we knew that she spent time in the Grangegorman Female Depot in Dublin and that the buildings were still in existence. We were fortunate enough to have a copy of her record page at the prison thanks to some good investigation by Thelma McKay in Hobart.

From Rosscomon to Dublin

So instead of having our customary drink and toast in Roscommon, we made straight for Dublin because we needed to visit Ireland oldest pub and then find Grangegorman Female Depot before darkness overtook us. With a flight already booked, we had to fly back to London the next day and we hadn’t seen enough of Ballymena to get a feel of where the McClintocks came from.

Ann Carey spent 3 months in that dreary prison in 1847, after being convicted of larceny in Omagh in County Tyrone. She was awaiting the SV Waverley, which was to transport her to Van Diemen’s Land on its third voyage to Hobart Town.

Our first stop in Dublin was the Brazen Head which claims to Ireland oldest and pub and that was the appropriate place to drink the health of our little Irish grandmother who was all of 4 foot 11 inches, feisty and quite prepared to tell you to ‘feck off’. In fact, she was charged with doing just that in Hobart Town on 20th January, 1852.   That information comes from her Convict Conduct Record.  Some of the family stories are even more interesting.   One is that she smoked a pipe stoked with the tobacco from cigarette butts off railway workers.  That’s right – my fifth great grandmother smoked a pipe! But as far as I am aware, she did not wear army boots.

The Brazen Head - Ireland Oldest Pub

The Brazen Head was the favourite drinking place for novelist James Joyce and I still remember his depressing descriptions of grey Dublin days. A year before this visit, our son  Andrew and wife Megan had taken us to this pub for the Sunday Singing Session. It was grand!! We listened and joined in with singing sad ballads about life and trouble with a room crowded with morbid melody.  A fitting place to toast Ann Carey. We did so with Guinness, because we knew that it is good for your health and enhances your intelligence.  The ads told us so.

Lack of preparation plagued us in the execution of the quest to find Grangegorman Female Depot. Doesn’t even sound like a prison does it? Well, nobody knew anything about it because it wasn’t a prison any longer. Fortunately, Lynette had brought backup of our home server and I had copied an article on the prison. We pulled up the copy on my PC and found that it was in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. What did our Irish GPS think about that?

Well that was quite OK for the GPS, we got to Stoneybatter just fine but right on peak hour traffic. But that just wasn’t close to anything that looked for a former prison. If only I had looked at the article more closely, as it had one piece of vital information we needed to find our prison. We didn’t have the name of the street, did we? A suburb name just wasn’t near enough.

Grangegorman Entrance in 1996

We drove up some torturous narrow little streets using the random drive approach and asked some construction workers.  Their directions got us to the current men’s prison. Nope – that’s not it. So we went into a road that led to bus depot with a security gate. An inquiry there got us directions to the Grangegorman Hospital. All this at peak hour!!

While I was summoning up the courage to break back into the traffic to go to the Grangegorman Hospital which was nearly but not quite there, I thought I would have one more look at the internet article item that I had copied. Great day in the morning!  It had the street name further down in the article. Rathdowney Road. That was what we needed. We tapped this into our trusty little GPS and off we went.

After 3 wrong turns we were in the right street. Now all we had to do was drive the street and hope that the prison was going to a big complex that we just couldn’t miss. Well it almost was. We took pictures of a depressing front entrance and didn’t know we had found IT for sure until we arrived back in Oz and found an article on the prison.

Entrance to Grangegorman in 2011

Just like some depressing description out of James Joyce before imbibing at the Brazen Head, it was grey, it was dreary and my heart ached for poor Ann having to endure this sad place with harsh grey stone walls. She so deserved the payoff of eventually finding true love for enduring this place.

I like to think she did find true love with WJ, but that wasn’t until 1854 after a couple of false starts. She had to tell a few to ‘feck off’ and then one, John Hambrook, saw her off and she was sentenced to 6 months hard labour for her trouble and a pregnant with a little girl by the name of Mary Ann Carey.

But for all that, there was a happy ending with WJ and some absolutely grand descendants. She possibly reached a point in her life of thanking Judge Torrens for giving her the transportation sentence that she wanted on the 8th March 1847 in the County Tyrone Quarter Sessions.

The best perspective we could get was the rear of Grangegorman Female Depot from Fitzgerald St. It was high multistorey walls with missing windows that had incarceration written all over it.

Derelict remains of Grangegorman Womans Prison

Traversing the cavernous doors at the front entrance on Rathdowny Rd would make you feel like you had passed out of life into darkness. The steel doors present in a 1969 photo where not there in 2011. But it still looked daunting.

The stone walls of the outer the perimeter from Rathdowny Road looks like they hide another world.

It was easier for Ann than the long term residents.  She was there for 3 months to give her some fundamental training before going to Van Diemen’s Land. The Convict Department in Tasmania were trying to get better outcomes from female convicts who were not hired by settlers because they had no skills. She was actually fortunate to be here, as dreary as it looked.

We managed to see as much as we could of a former prison from the outside and then headed north for the Holiday Inn Express in Antrim for our last night in Ireland.

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