Thursday, July 11, 2013

Walking in my Convict Ancestor's Footsteps...

Finding the Places where our Ancestors Lived

Raby Farm

The places where our ancestors lived are an important part of our own identity. In places, we find the genius loci or the ancient Roman notion of spirit of place, and so come to sense the spirit of our ancestors. The Romans used the term genuis loci to describe a protective spirit in places, however in the modern Western world it has come to be associated with identity, heritage, and the spirit of the past, especially in the landscape and built environment.

'Consult the genius of the place in all,
That tells the waters for to rise or fall,
or helps th' ambitious hill the heavens to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale....'  
Epistle IV, Alexander Pope to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington (Alexander Pope introduced the idea of genius loci into landscape gardening.)

In my search for ancestors and their families, I like to understand as much as possible about the places from which they came and places where they lived. In these places, the spirit of my ancestors comes to life.

In the NSW, Australia, Convict Indents 1788-1842, (, I learned that my great  great uncle, Lawrence Frayne, arrived in Sydney Cove on August 5, 1826, on board the ship the Regalia. Lawrence was a pantry boy, aged 17 years who had been convicted in Dublin on October 5, 1825, of the theft of rope. For his crime young Lawrence was sentenced to 7 years in the colony of New South Wales. 

Convict records provide much valuable information about ancestors. As well as physically describing  Lawrence Frayne, the record informed me that he bore a scar on his right eyebrow and another on the bridge of his nose and that his appearance included brown hair, hazel eyes and a ruddy complexion. I discovered  that on arrival in Sydney, Lawrence  was assigned to one Edward Riley of Raby Farm.  I now had a physical place to begin looking for the spirit of my ancestor. 

I know from records that Lawrence spent two years at Raby Farm before absconding and being sent to the penal settlement at Moreton Bay (now in the state of Queensland). Moreton Bay was established between the years of  1824 and 1842 to accommodate secondary offending prisoners. It became important to me to understand the place where my great great uncle began his life as a convict as this was the beginning of his Australian story.

 In this technologically connected world in which we live, we are privileged, in the pursuit of family history, to be able to see the places in which our ancestors lived through images available by means of a simple search of Google Images, Google Earth and Maps. Finding the places of our forebears enhances our sense of identity.  To be able to walk in the footsteps of ancestors and past family, helps us to understand our heritage. To see the land which they farmed, the homes they inhabited, to have some sense of the relationship they had with their environment and the landscape which was an integral part of their identity, helps to put their lives into a sense of real  historical context. We are fortunate indeed, if we can visit, in person, the places of our ancestors, and physically walk in their footsteps to 'feel' their presence.

When I began my search for Raby Farm, I was very excited to discover that the property was near Campbelltown, which is an area only a three quarter hour drive from where I live in Sydney. From the Cambelltown Council website, [1] I learned that  a merchant and pastoralist named Alexander Riley ( 1778-1833), was granted 3000 acres in 1809. This large land grant commenced at the corner of Cowpasture and Bringelly Roads, in Liverpool and is situated in what is famously Macarthur sheep country. This information was part of an explanation of the origins of a suburb named Raby, on the council website. Although much of the farm land surrounding Cambelltown has been developed into of housing estates, I was still hopeful of finding some tangible evidence of the original Raby Farm. I also set out to learn who Edward Riley was, and what the nature of his relationship to Alexander Riley was. Records had shown that it was to Edward Riley of Raby Farm, that my great great uncle had been assigned in 1826.

Google Map showing the corner of Cowpasture and Bringelly Road

The Australian Dictionary of Biography informed me that Alexander Riley was born in London, in 1778, the son of  George Riley, a bookseller and that his mother's maiden name was Margaret Raby, The Raby family hailed from County Clare in Ireland and I found mention of a family property in England also named Raby.  Now I had the origins of the name Raby Farm. Alexander Riley arrived in NSW in June 1804, with his wife Sophia Hardwick and settled on a farm in the Hawkesbury area, north of Sydney, where he acquired the positions of magistrate and storekeeper. In 1805, Alexander Riley became deputy Commissary and shortly thereafter was appointed to the position of Secretary of State in the colony. A shrewd businessman, Riley quickly realised that there was a fortune to be made through trade. He formed a partnership with Richard Jones, a fellow merchant and pastoralist. The company of Jones & Riley forged trade relations with India through Riley's brother Edward in Calcutta, as well as trade with Canton. Alexander Riley was a founder of the Bank of New South Wales and introduced marine insurance into the colony of new South Wales. From 1812, he concentrated on building his flock of sheep at Raby Farm and was fortunate to benefit from high wool prices.

In 1817, due to ill health, Alexander Riley returned to England with his family, leaving his colonial interests in the hands of his younger brother, Edward who relocated from Calcutta to NSW.  The property Raby Farm was advertised for lease (assumedly to Edward) and was described as, ' convenient buildings, one hundred acres of cleared ground are enclosed and subdivided into convenient paddocks- the whole of the land is well watered, and one of the finest crops of wheat in the colony is now growing on it'...[2]  On the southern section of the property a residence had been built. 

By the  early 1820's, Riley's property, Raby Farm had grown to 3,200 acres with more than 200 acres cleared for the grazing of sheep and cattle as well as the cultivation of crops such as maize, barley, oats and vegetables.[3]

 Raby Farm, sketched  by Joseph Lycett in 1824

Along with his brother Edward, Alexander Riley organised to send an entire flock of Saxon Merino sheep from Germany, to his property in NSW. Chartering a ship named the  Sir George Osborne, Alexander  transported the sheep across the seas, with the first flock of this breed arriving in Sydney in August 1825. The care of Riley's flock during the journey, was entrusted to Riley's nephew Edward Riley, son of his brother Edward. When Edward Jnr arrived in Sydney in 1825, with his uncle's large flock of Saxon Merino sheep,  his father had died. The sheep and property named Raby Farm then became the responsibility of Alexander's young nephew, Edward Riley who under Alexander's expert guidance helped this strain of merino sheep to flourish  to become one of the most significant types of merino sheep in Australia. John Macarthur was known to be envious of Riley's success as his sheep won gold medals year after year in the annual Australian Agricultural Society Shows. 

Because I had found a mentio of Raby farm being leased on Alexander's return to England  I needed to confirm that Edward Riley was living at Raby Farm  as the Convict Indent had indicated. I found evidence that Edward Riley senior had resided at Raby Farm through a search of the National Library of Australia's digitalised newspaper website, Trove, where I found the following article printed in the Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser, October 28, 1820,  'Raby Farm, on the Cow-pasture and Bringelly Roads:- Take Notice, that if any Cattle or Sheep are found on this Farm after this date, they will be impounded by the order of Edward Riley.'

I turned to Trove to find any information I could about Alexander Riley's nephew, Edward Riley and Raby farm in 1826 onward which was when Lawrence Frayne, was assigned to work there as a convict labourer. An advertisement placed in The Australian (Sydney, NSW, 1824-1848) read, 'To be Sold, 250 Ewes which have been running this season with Mr Mc'Arthur's Rams, and are now forward in Lamb. Apply for particulars at the Office of Messrs Jones and Walker; or to Mr. Edward Riley, Raby Farm' where the sheep may be seen.'

(Jones and Walker was Alexander Riley's company Riley & Jones with a new partner added named Walker.)

 Significantly, I knew now that the Edward Riley who my great great uncle, Lawrence Frayne was assigned to was Alexander Riley's nephew, Edward (1806-1840), the son of his brother Edward Riley, (1784-1825). I also knew that Raby Farm became extremely successful in the breeding of merino sheep from 1826, the same year that Lawrence Frayne was assigned to work there. Since my two times great uncle had been a pantry boy in Dublin, Ireland, I wondered what his occupation was when assigned to Raby Farm. From various sources, I found that a pantry boy was a cook's assistant in the kitchen. His responsibilities would have included peeling potatoes, cleaning and washing pots and pans. Male convicts were generally assigned work which involved hard labour, outdoors, with long hours. It is unlikely that Lawrence would have been assigned to the kitchen of Raby House, this being work generally assigned to female convicts. 17 year old Lawrence Frayne would most definitely have been drafted by Edward Riley to carry out work with which he was unfamiliar, including the clearing of densely forested land, working the land for crops at Raby Farm, or  caring for sheep or cattle. 

Male Convicts were usually assigned to outdoor labour

From an address delivered by Edward Riley to the Agricultural Society which was published in the Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser on Wednesday February 21, 1827, I learned that the years 1826-1827 were years of economic hardship and severe drought in NSW.  Catastrophic events such as flood and drought would have impacted on the lives of everyone at Raby Farm including the convict labour and my own ancestor. Crops certainly failed at Raby Farm according to news reports, but it appears from articles published in the Sydney Gazette, that Edward Riley's Saxon Merino sheep were, in 1826, unrivalled in quality, their wool being most suited to the climate and Raby Farm seemed to be returning considerable profit despite the drought.   

In a NSW Department of Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) Statement of Heritage Impact, produced in May, 2010, I discovered that Raby House, situated on Camden Valley Way, has survived and is now a State Listed Heritage Item. Excited at the prospect of seeing the homestead where my convict great great uncle was assigned, I set off  by car to find Raby House. My first attempt to find the property was unsuccessful. I arrived in the Campelltown area, having no idea of what the house actually looked like and although I found several heritage properties, I could not identify which was Raby House. 

After more research and finding an old photograph of the driveway to Raby House, which showed a timber bridge which had featured in the  RTA impact statement, I headed south on the M7 and M5, a second time to find Raby House. This time my attempt to walk in my ancestors footsteps was foiled by a thick fog which rolled in over Campbelltown around 3.30 pm. As atmospheric as fog is, finding the 'spirit' of my past in the midst of it proved impossible. Undeterred, and still determined, I set off on a third journey, some weekends later, early on a clear day, and armed with the photograph below which I hoped would help me to find Raby House.

An old photograph of the driveway to Raby House
Below is my own photograph of the bridge crossing and the driveway entrance to Raby Farm which I found on my third trip to Campbelltown. In the background is pictured, Raby House. 

My photograph of Raby farm as it is today
Although Raby House is no longer situated on 3200 acres, there is enough land surrounding the significant house to still retain the feel of a large farm. Gazing along the driveway which leads up to the house which Alexander Riley built and in which his nephew Edward Riley lived at the time my convict great great uncle, Lawrence Frayne was assigned to Raby Farm in 1826, I saw the land that my convict two times great uncle had worked. My thoughts turned to what life would have been like for Lawrence Frayne and suddenly I knew that I had found the genuis loci of Raby Farm and my convict great great uncle. 

Raby House June 2013

There are no words to describe the feeling of connection to an ancestor one experiences when physically walking in their footsteps. Standing on the land where my great great uncle worked and lived for the first two years of his sentence as a convict in Australia, caused a shiver to run down my spine, as I felt the  spirit of Lawrence Frayne through the spirit of the place where he had been. 

Raby House June 2013

A view of Raby House from a street nearby

*Addendum: Since writing this blog post I have been very excited to discover that there exists a convict built barn on the property Raby Farm. 


3. ibid

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Memoirs of a Convict.

"my shoulders were actively in a state of decomposition..."

The above words are an excerpt from the narrative written by my great great great uncle, Lawrence Frayne, as part of his memoir written on Norfolk Island, c 1830. This stirring account of his treatment on Norfolk Island is held in the Mitchell Library, in Sydney. Robert Hughes, in his 1987 book, The Fatal Shore,  cites Lawrence Frayne's autobiography and the oppressive punishment he received at the hands of Commandant James Morisset. It is one of nine autobiographies which have survived and which were written by prisoners who were sentenced to serve time at the secondary penal settlement of Norfolk Island. It is the only graphic account of Morisset's strict regime of punishment implemented whilst he was Commandant on Norfolk Island. In its second settlement (1825-1855), Norfolk Island earned a reputation as a  harsh environment where (male only) convicts who re-offended were sent. It was known as a place of despair, especially under the strict command of this Commandant.
James Morisset gained a reputation, whether deserved or not, as a tyrant. In more recent years,  historians have questioned the character of Major Morisset and currently debate whether or not he deserved the notoriety he has been afforded as a tyrannical penal administrator. 

James Morisset
There was no doubt in the mind of my three times great uncle, Lawrence Frayne as to the unforgiving disposition of the commandant from whom he received the severest of punishments.

"I plainly told the Commandant in the court that he was a tyrant. he replied that no man had ever said that about him before. I said they knew the consequences all too well to tell him so... But I tell you in stark naked blunt English that you are as great a tyrant as Nero ever was... New and heavier cuts were procured purposely for my punishment."

In 1830,  Morisset ordered Lawrence Frayne to receive 300 lashes, probably for participating in one of the numerous mutinies which occurred on Norfolk Island during the administration of James Morisset.  By his own admission, Lawrence had a hasty temper, and he never became resolved to a convict's life, after arriving on the shores of Port Jackson  in 1826, as a 17 year old 'pantry boy' sentenced to transportation for 7 years for the theft of a piece of rope. 

Lawrence Frayne made repeated attempts to abscond between 1826 and 1846. For his escapes he was sent from assignment south of Sydney, to the harsh secondary penal settlements of first, Moreton Bay and then  Norfolk Island, the latter, from whence it would be impossible for him to take flight. 

Penal Settlement on Norfolk Island

After the first 'hundred', as lashes were referred to,  Lawrence Frayne was placed in a cell until his back was healed sufficiently for him to receive the second hundred lashes. It is the initial flogging of one hundred lashes to which he referred when he wrote,

" My shoulders were actively in a state of decomposition, the stench of which I could not bear myself, how offensive then must I appear to my companions in misery. In this state I was sent to carry salt beef on my back with the salt brine as well as pressure stinging my mutilated and mortified flesh up to Longridge. I really longed for instant death..."

More from the Memoir of a Convict written by Lawrence Frayne in my next post....

  •  Frayne, Lawrence Memoir on Norfolk Island, Colonial Secretary's Papers, vol 1, [NSW 1799-1830] MSS681 [CY1084], Mitchell Library, Sydney.
  • Causer Tim, Norfolk Island's Suicide Lotteries, myth and reality, menzies centre for Australian Studies, King's College London.
  • Hughes, Robert, The Fatal Shore, A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787-1868, Random House London, 1987.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Escape from Barrenjoey - Customs House Boat crew

Customs House Boat Crew - Convict Escape

Barrenjuey (Barrenjoey) George P Slade (1832-96)

This story begins with an article mentioning my convict great great great grandfather, which appeared in the NSW Government Gazette on December 23, 1846 ( ). 

Frayne, Michael, St Vincent, 1837, from Customs Boats crew, Broken Bay on the 21st instance.'

Broken Bay is a large inlet about 50 kilometres north of the Sydney CBD on the New South Wales coast. Captain Cook sailed into this inlet in 1770 and described it as 'broken land'. Three arms of water flow into Broken Bay, the Hawkesbury, Brisbane Water and Pittwater. 

When I read the Government Gazette article I had been unaware that my great great grandfather, Michael Frayne had ever been in the Broken Bay vicinity, having previously only seen records which placed him in Braidwood, an area south of Sydney and Patrick Plains which is north of Sydney, in the Hunter Valley. Both of these are farming communities and so it caught my imagination that Michael may have been involved in an escape from a 'Customs Boat crew'. Being most curious to discover why a boat crew would have been in the Broken Bay area I set out to construct a narrative around the one line entry in the Sydney Government Gazette.

Broken Bay, NSW

Pittwater,  was  named by captain Arthur Phillip in March of 1788 when he sailed into the southern arm of Broken Bay, and declared it to be "the finest piece of water I ever saw".  Phillip named it Pittwater after the British Prime Minister, William Pitt, the Younger whose government had sent him to NSW in charge of the First Fleet of Convicts. 
As the Penal colony established itself in Port Jackson, the area known as Pittwater became an escape for convicts and a haven for smugglers. Until at least 1819, this part of Sydney was beyond the reaches of the law, having not even a police constable to enforce law and order. 

Barrenjoey Head, Pittwater
As a result of a notorious smuggling operation in 1842 which involved the ship, the Fair Barbadian, a Customs Station was built at Barrenjoey by convict labour in early 1843. The following article appeared in the Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW) on November 29, 1842. 

Colonel Gibbs of the Customs Service gave instructions for five convicts to 'form a winding path up the south face of the mountain by clearing the bushes and making steps where required, to a flat place on the top near the western end where a sentry box or watch hut is to be built and a flag staff erected.'  

John Broadley Howard became the first customs officer at the newly established station and with him were sent a coxswain and five convicts. Howard had at his disposal, a whaling boat and another smaller boat.

A whaling boat would have been about this size.
Whilst living in tents, the convicts built the huts which were to serve as the first customs station. A three room cottage was later built for Howard and his family.
Ships were instructed to report to the customs station before entering Broken Bay and a  watchman kept a lookout for vessels attempting to slip past the customs station.  John B Howard was diligent in his attempt to stamp out illegal stills and the smuggling of alcohol. After a number of attempts to prevent the smuggling of rum from illicit distilleries,  going out in his boat, in the dark of night and in terrible weather to apprehend both smugglers and brewers, Howard and other customs officers succeeded in ending the previously lucrative smuggling industry. 

An article published earlier in the Sydney Government Gazette, confirmed that Michael Frayne had  been a member of the crew of the Customs Station boat when he escaped custody.
"Sydney, 16th December, 1846: The following Prisoners of the Crown have absconded since the last publication - Michael Frayne, St Vincent, 1837, 23, Dublin, errand boy and car driver, 4 feet 10 1/2 inches and upwards [ this was his height when he was convicted in 1836 at age 14...later records show that he would have actually been 5 feet 9 inches in height in 1846], ruddy complexion, brown hair, hazel eyes, from the Customs Boats crew, since the 15th instance."

When 23 year old Michael Frayne was recaptured in December of 1846,  he had been free for 7 days. Escaped convicts faced many perils in their attempt to survive. The Pittwater area was fertile and many farms had been  established on the land along the waterways. Escaped convicts were a constant problem for farmers in the area, as they menaced families and stole from the homes of farmers to survive. There were many caves to hide in and some escaped convicts joined ranks with bushrangers. Remaining free was difficult and many were discovered dehydrated and starving.

 Evidence such as convict records and Government Gazettes show that my great great great grandfather was an habitual absconder. This was hardly surprising given that he was only 14 when convicted of theft in Dublin and sentenced to Life and transportation to NSW.  Convict discipline and daily life for many was extremely harsh.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Michael Frayne could have been assigned to Customs officer  John Broadley Howard, and was one of the five convicts who built the Customs Station  and the cottage for Howard in 1843.  Records show that Michael was in Braidwood in 1842 from where he absconded and was recaptured in that same year.  I have no record of his whereabouts from 1842 until December, 1846, when he absconded from 'the Customs Boat crew, Broken Bay'. Perhaps Michael Frayne spent time there on duty, keeping a watch for approaching vessels. Perhaps he accompanied Howard on his journeys on the waters of broken bay in the whaling boat to apprehend smugglers.

My imagination is working overtime with new information and I have many yet unanswered questions. Did Michael Frayne abscond in one of the two the customs boats? Did he leave on foot and disappear into the dense bushland of Pittwater? How did he survive for a week and where did he go? Armed with  new information and excited to think that my convict g g g grandfather was  assigned to work at the Customs Station at Pittwater, I intend to visit the site to see for myself the place where Michael Frayne made a bid for freedom in 1846.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Blog of 2012 Award

Thrilled to Receive this Award...

2012 was a very productive year for me in my genealogy journey. I enjoyed writing posts for my FamilyHistory4u , although my other blogs,  GeneaThemeBlogs4u blogs, and SharnsGenealogyJottings (my personal family blog) did not see as many posts as usual. In November of 2012 I added a fourth blog to my repertoire, called Convict Connections - A Convict Ancestor. It is for this blog,  which traces the journeys of my Irish convict ancestors  to the Penal Colony of NSW, Moreton Bay and Norfolk Island, and their lives in the Colony, that crissouli  (Chris Goopy) of  the AS THEY WERE blog  most kindly awarded me the coveted Blog of 2012 Award.         

Many thanks Chris for  considering my blog worthy of consideration as a recipient for this Award. Your list of nominees, includes some of my own favourite bloggers! It is a joy to read the writings of other bloggers and I am honoured to nominate for the 2012 Blog of the Year Award,  the following blogs,  which I  always read with great pleasure. These are just a sample of all the well written and informative blogs which deserve awards and I wish I could nominate ALL of the wonderful bloggers I follow for awards.... I would like to introduce some long time favourite blogs of mine as well as some that you might not have read yet.

1. Genealogists for Families Project for Judy Webster's tireless work administering not only the Genealogists for Families Group, as well as a Facebook page but significantly for  keeping all members of the sub group of, informed through this blog which she is the author of. Judy writes a number of blogs but her passion for the Genealogists for Families Project, for Kiva  is inspiring and her blog,' Genealogists For families Project' is evidence of her vision for helping others. In memory of Joan Miller, please accept this award, so well deserved.

2. A Family Tapestry  Jacqi Stevens beautifully written posts are always thought provoking and informative. Jacqi has a wonderful way with words. She poetically describes her family history as " from family I receive my heritage; through family I have a legacy, with family I weave a tapestry. These are my strands'.  

3. Family History Across the Seas  Pauleen Cass is one of the most prolific bloggers that  I have had the pleasure of reading the work of.   Pauleen's posts are always filled with fascinating information and a wonderful sense of humour, which always makes reading her words a pleasure. The extent of knowledge she shares is astounding and the volume of well written blogs that Pauleen generates is astounding!   

4. From the Keyboard of Helen V Smith    Helen's blog posts are always interesting to say the least. her great sense of huomour shines through her writing. Thankyou for sharing your vast knowledge with others through your writing Helen. I always learn something from you!

5. How Did I get Here? My Amazing Genealogical Journey  Andrea Kelleher's blog is one I discovered in 2012. Andrea's posts from the USA are always fascinating and so beautifully and thoughtfully illustrated. 

6. My Genealogy Adventure  I have been following Tanya Honey's blog for quite some time and I always enjoy her well researched and interesting posts. Topics such as 'Brooklyn School Picnic' and 'The Sticking up of the Goulbourn Mail and a Bushranger shot' have such a wonderful 'Australian flavour. Tanya's blogs are evidence of her avid enthusiasm for Trove and how a story can unfold through past anecdotes from the past. 

The 'rules' for accepting this award are simple:

  1. Select the blog(s) you think deserve the 'Blog of the Year 2012' Award.
  2. Write a post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen - there's no minimum or maximum number of blogs required - and 'present' them with their award.
  3. Please include a link back to this page 'Blog of the year 2012 Award' -   and include these 'rules' in your post (please don't alter the rules or the badges).
  4.  Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the rules with them.
  5. If you choose, you can now join our Facebook group - click 'like' on this page 'Blog of the Year 2012' Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience.
  6. As a winner of the award - please add a link to the blog that presented you with the award- and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar ... and start collectingstars, just click on the link provided in Rule 3. 

Looking forward to a prosperous 2013 year of blogging, 
many thanks,

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

First 'Find' for 2013..another convict in the family!

A Third Convict in the Frayne Family

Only three days into the new year and I am fortunate enough to have made an exciting discovery. I began this blog to record the stories of my convict great great great grandfather, Michael Frayne and his brother Lawrence Frayne , also sentenced to transportation from Ireland for stealing. Today I have discovered that a third brother, John Frayne, born between Lawrence and Michael was also transported to the Penal Colony of NSW for the crime of theft. John arrived in NSW on board the convict ship "Forth" on February 3, 1835, 9 years after his older brother arrived and 2 years before Michael. According to his Convict Indent, John's occupation was a Pantry Boy. Aged 17 years, the same age as Lawrence had been when sent to Australia for stealing rope, John was convicted of the theft of clothes. Like both of his brothers, he was described as having brown hair and grey eyes, and his complexion sallow. 
John was immediately assigned as a servant to William Dangar in the Hunter Valley, where both Michael and Lawrence Frayne eventually lived. 
William Dangar had arrived in the Colony in 1925 with his brother Thomas from Lampden in England. Their brother Henry Dangar, a Government Surveyor,  was already living in the Hunter Valley area and had aquired considerable land holdings. William was granted 800 acres of land near Scone (Turanville) and later aquired a further 1800 hundred acres adjoining Turanville. 
Thomas Dangar was the Postmaster at Scone and also the proprietor of the Golden Fleece Inn,  the same hotel which my g g grandfather, Michael Frayne became the licensee for in 1864, although the Inn had been moved to a new location by Thomas Dangar by then. It appears that the more than one of my Convict Frayne's livelihoods were connected with the Dangar brothers, who were free settlers. 

An exciting first 'find' for 2013 and much more research ahead of me! 

William Dangar was an early settler in the Hunter Valley

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Michael Frayne - A 14 year old burglar.

Michael Frayne - 14 year old burglar from Dublin


Michael Frayne was my great great great grandfather. He was convicted of burglary and robbery in Dublin, Ireland in 1836, aged just 14 years.  Despite having no prior convictions, Michael Frayne was transported to Australia aged 15 years, on board the convict ship St Vincent, which arrived in NSW on January, 5, 1837.  The most significant thing about having a convict on the family tree, is the wealth of fascinating information available with regard to that ancestor. Whilst one might deem it scandalous to have a criminal in the family, it is important to realise that many convicts who were transported to Australia were petty thieves, caught in the act of attempting to survive. Although undoubtedly, some convicts were indeed hardened and contemptuous criminals, even they possess a captivating appeal and are ancestors for which I am certain most family historians will inevitably develop some intrigue if not affection. What is momentous about uncovering a convict in your past, is that there is possibly no other ancestor for whom you will find as many enlightening records, nor the extent of  information about,  than a felonious forebear. 


On August 1, 1836, in Dublin, Ireland, 14 year old Michael Frayne was arrested on a charge of burglary and robbery. He would most likely have been seized off the streets by the feared Irish police, known as peelers, and detained in custody  to await trial. The Irish police force was the world's first, having been established by Robert Peel*, an Englishman, and Chief Secretary in Dublin in 1814. In their dark blue coats, deliberately designed so that  they were able to mingle unnoticed in the crowded streets of Dublin,  the Irish police force was a determined force to be reckoned with. Equipped with truncheons and handcuffs and tall hats, the peelers were unsympathetic to the plight of common folk who struggled to survive against a background of agricultural depression,  rioting and gang violence.  

Irish 'Peelers'

At his trial on August 26, 1836, Michael was found guilty of the charge of burglary and robbery and was sentenced to death. One can only imagine the boy's terror as his judgement was handed down, and in turn, the mixed relief he must have felt when this  punishment was commuted to life and transportation. In 1837, Michael's conviction was not the first skirmish with the law, for the family of the Sarah and Michael Frayne.  Ten years earlier, in 1826, Michael's older brother, Lawrence had been transported to NSW Colony , on board the ship Regalia. Lawrence Frayne, aged 17 had received a life sentence  for the crime of stealing a piece of rope. Conceivably,  the one glimmer of hope for young Michael Frayne, as he waited to be transported to an unknown place on the far side of the world, may have been the possibility of seeing his brother Larry again. 

At the time of his arrest, and with no prior convictions, young Michael Frayne was employed as an errand boy and a car (carriage) driver in Dublin. Unable to read or write, Michael was living in a city in which economic, political and religious circumstances did not make life easy for a young Catholic boy. In 1836, Michael Frayne, at the age of 14 years, stood  5'8" tall. With dark brown hair,  hazel  eyes and a complexion that implied the   freshness of youth,  Michael stood on the cusp of manhood. His adult life ahead of him  and under different circumstances, life may have held a very different future for this boy. His young body bore none of the typical scars or markings which would indicate a troublesome lad, however, it is not difficult to understand how due to circumstances of his birth and life, the young catholic boy found himself on the wrong side of the law.

A haunting image which reminds me of Michael

As in England, prisoners in Ireland were housed on de masted ships known as   hulks to alleviate the problem of over crowded prisons. The hulks were moored in estuaries and rivers and like the English hulks in the River Thames, were infamous for the squalid conditions in which prisoners were harboured. When Michael Frayne was escorted on board one of the moored hulks, to await transportation, he would have suffered the humiliating and inhumane treatment which was commonly suffered by convicted felons. Michael's head would have been shaved first, and after being fitted with a loose, ill fitting, calf length shift, the boy's legs would have been shackled tightly in irons. 

On the hulks, prisoners spent much of their time below deck in crowded and filthy disease ridden conditions. In this dark, dank hostile place, 14 year old Michael, would have found himself living  alongside criminals of all ages. In addition to petty thieves and political prisoners, he would have found himself in the company of hardened criminals who included murderers and rapists. Little comfort would have been found in a place of such degradation where the foul stench of human excrement and rotting food would have permeated the air. One can only imagine the distress felt by Sarah and Michael Frayne at the thought of losing a second of their sons to a harsh and distant Penal Colony from which they would never return.

A demasted hulk off Howth Head Ireland [6]


Michael Frayne arrived in Port Jackson, NSW,  Australia, on January, 5 1837. His journey on board the convict ship, St Vincent, departed Cork on September 18, 1836. The voyage which lasted 115 days, was under the mastership of James Muddle. On board were 224 male convicts from the hulks at Cove of Cork  and Kingstown.  78 of these convicts were embarked from the hulk Surprise, and 120 were from taken from the hulk Elsen.  Michael Frayne and the other convicts on this ship, were under the guard of Lieutenant Donald Stewart,  of the Third  East Kent Regiment, Lieutenant Sculley, 80th Regiment, as well as 30 rank and file 80th and 28th regiments. Also on board the St Vincent were 10 free male  settlers. These were sons of convicts who had been previously transported, and including one John Sealy aged only 12 years,  were setting out to begin new lives in the Colony. In addition, the St Vincent carried, 6 free women and 7 children. The Medical Superintendent on the St Vincent, Andrew Henderson, recorded a journal of the voyage in which he wrote that in general the health and appearance of the convicts on embarkation was good and continued to be so for the rest of the voyage. On this voyage, only three deaths were recorded. Michael Frayne was fortunate that his passage  to Australia was not fraught with the outbreaks of cholera which plagued many of the hulks and  convict ships which departed Cork in the 1830's.  Henderson's journal states that he had never expended so little medication as on the 1837 voyage of the St Vincent.

A Plan of the St Vincent which appeared in the Illustrated London News


In 1821, Michael Frayne was born into an Ireland troubled by economic, religious and political turmoil. The Irish parliament had been abolished under the Acts of Union in 1801, and merged with Britain, an amalgamation which culminated in widespread discrimination against Irish Roman Catholics. The city of Dublin, Michael's birthplace, although a major city in Ireland at the time of Michael's birth, was overpopulated and not prospering. Ireland's population was growing but the economy was steadily in decline. Ireland possessed a harsh penal system under which women and children were commonly imprisoned. The threat of torturous punishment and hard labour, however was little deterrent for hungry men, women and children forced to beg or steal to survive.

Dublin early 1800's (Alan Clancy)


St Paul's Church Arran Quays

Michael Frayne was baptised on June 4, 1821 in the Catholic Parish of St Paul's, Arran Quay** in Dublin. At  this time, in Ireland, the official religion was Church Of Ireland and there were few Catholic Parishes. The photograph above,  is of  St Paul's Church, Arran Quay, designed in 1835 and built in 1837. Prior to the construction of this large church, masses for the Parish of St Paul, were held in a barn. It is in that simple barn, which served as a church,  that Michael was baptised.  The Catholic Parish of St Paul, Arran Quay first opened a register for births, deaths and marriages in 1731. Although not baptised in the above church, Michael would have watched its construction.  Michael parents, Michael Frayne and Sarah (Sera) Phoenix had another son, a year later, named Peter who was also  baptised in the Parish of St Paul's, Arran Quay on July 7, 1822. I have yet to find a birth or baptism record for Michael's brother, Lawrence, however, another son was born to Michael and Sarah Frayne in 1817. John Frayne was baptised in the Roman Catholic parish of St Catherine on May 19, 1817. 

A description of the new St Paul's Catholic Church appeared in the Catholic Penny Journal, January, 10, 1835

* Sir Robert Peel, second Baronet, (1788-1850), served two terms as the British Prime Minister,  from 1834 to 1835 and from 1841 to 1846.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Felonous Family

My Convict Connections

In the early days of my venturing into family history, in those days when one wrote letters to Archives or a Birth, death and Marriage Registries requesting certificates, and waited patiently for them to arrive,  I knew little of the obstacles which lay in wait for me. 

When I received a birth certificate from the Queensland Archives for the birth of my great great grandmother Sarah FRAYNE, born September 13, 1878 in Brisbane, I was at once excited as I read that her father Michael Frayne was a Lawyer from Dublin. With my husband's ancestry traced back to Royalty, I felt unquestionably proud of my Dublin Lawyer!

This is the image I had of my 3 x Irish great grandfather.

Some years later, with a great deal more experience in family sleuthing, a revelation dropped heavily onto my convivial family tree. Whilst reading an article about commonly misunderstood old English letters my assumption erratum dawned weightily upon me. No sooner had I read that an old English "S" is often mistaken for and "L", it was with some disappointment that I realized Michael Frayne was not a Lawyer but a Sawyer! In an instant pillage of my research, my illustrious ancestor had fallen from grace on my family tree. Michael Frayne at the time of his daughter's birth was employed, not to respectably uphold the law, but rather less impressively to cut down trees.

 As is want to happen, one realisation frequently leads to another. On the birth certificate for Michael's daughter Sarah in 1878, it stated that he had resided in the colony for 40 years. That placed Michael Frayne's  arrival at around 1838. Instantly, I comprehended that 1838 was too early in Australian Colonial History for the arrival of  free Irish settlers and my three times great grandfather plummeted spectacularly for a second time from respectability. The obvious conclusion stared me incredulously in the face. My ancestor was a CONVICT! 

A more likely image of my 3 x great grandfather!

Seconds after my initial surprise, I became very excited. A convict in the family, I decided was far more exciting than my husband's Royal connections. And as I ventured into my convict research, my offending ancestors did not stop at one convict. Indeed, I discovered that I have a most fascinating flock of felons for forebears. My expedition into my ancestral convict past has been one of my most fascinating genealogical journeys. I have begun this blog to record the stories of my convict ancestors. They are: my three times great grandfather Michael Frayne, a Dublin burglar, who arrived in NSW aged 14, his brother, Lawrence Frayne, convicted of stealing rope and who is the only convict to have left a written account of his harsh treatment on Norfolk Island ( held in the Colonial Papers, Mitchell Library) his parents in law, Joseph Williams and Mary Kelly and Michael's notorious first wife, Bridget Donnelly who operated a brothel in King Street, Sydney. 

My new blog "Family Convictions" will be dedicated to the intriguing stories of my 'Australian Aristocracy', convict ancestors.