val wight national archive wj record court martial fredericton trial

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.

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