Thursday, June 19, 2014

'The Voluntary Declaration of Lawrence Frain, a prisoner in Liverpool Gaol' - a Record Found

" The Voluntary Declaration of 'Lawrence Frain', a prisoner in Liverpool Gaol"

The quote above is the introduction to a statement which was given by my Irish convict great great great grand uncle, Lawrence Frayne and recorded by Patrick Hill, Justice of the Peace for His Majesty's Territory of New South Wales on April 2nd, 1830 at Liverpool Gaol in New South Wales, Australia.

The journey to finding records of convict ancestors can be almost as shackled and manacled as  were the convicts themselves. The search for my FRAYNE convicts from Dublin, Ireland, may not have been impeded by Irons or chains, but it has certainly been challenged by the sometimes erroneous record-keeping of Colonial times and the seemingly ingenious variations of the surname Frayne. Despite the abundance of records available for convict ancestors,  the search may still be impeded by stumbling stones that block the path to finding them. 

It is with dogged determination, therefore, that I endeavor to leave no stone unturned in my search for my convict ancestors. I am gradually chipping away at my genealogical stumbling blocks and shaping them into stepping stones so that I may tread steadily along the path towards gradually piecing together an accurate as possible narrative about the lives of my three times great grandfather Michael and his brother Lawrence as convicts in Australia.

Convict cut stone on the Great North Road, NSW Image SharnWhite ©©

Searches for my  Frayne convict records under name variants that include Frane, Frame, Frene, Freyne, Frain  and even Mayne (an especially exciting tale for another blog!) have all produced records for my convict three times great grandfather Michael Frayne and his brother Lawrence. When I recently added yet another spelling variation to my ever expanding list of mutations of the surname Frayne, the result of this search returned such a significant result, that it may be deemed appropriate to mention my 'happy dance'! (an increasingly popular Genealogical term for the moment of discovery!). 


A Keyname search of the NSW State Records website revealed, under the title of Criminal Jurisdiction, an index for two records for the offence of 'stealing, 8th June, 1830'. One record gives the names of  Lawrence 'Frain's'  convict accomplices, as Alexander Stewart, James Early and John Thoms whilst the second criminal record names, alongside Lawrence Frain,  one Thomas Egan.  Although I discovered these records at State Records New South Wales, through a search for the name FRAINE, in the original record the surname appears as FRAIN.
When the great William Shakespeare pondered, 'What's in a name?', I wonder had he any idea that the answer lay in a significant number of misplaced ancestors! 

You searched for Fraine
Criminal Jurisdiction2

NamesOffenceDateCopyCitationPage(s)Citation 2Remarks
Alexander Stewart, James Early, Lawrence Fraine and John ThomsStealing8 Jun 183013477 [T31] 30/159880 [T145] 48
Lawrence Fraine and Thomas EganStealing8 Jun 183013477 [T31] 30/160880 [T145] 49

Mispelled surnames can be road blocks. [Image  Old Great North Road © © SharnWhite]

When my Key Name Search for 'Fraine' in  New South Wales State Records revealed that the Archive holds two original records relating to the 1830 trial of a convict named Lawrence Fraine, I wasted no time in visiting the Kingswood repository. My hope was that if the Lawrence Fraine in this criminal record was indeed the one and the same Lawrence Frayne who was my three times great grand uncle, it could reveal crucial information about why he was sent to the infamous penal settlement on Norfolk Island. 

Ruins of the Convict Gaol on Norfolk Island Image ©© SharnWhite

Some years earlier, I had made the discovery that my three times great uncle had been sent to Norfolk Island in around 1830. I also learned that he had written a compelling memoir, in which he intelligibly recounted his brutal experiences as a prisoner at the notorious and isolated island gaol. The original document, which is his memoir, is held in a safe at the Mitchell Library in Sydney. I had made a copy of the memoir entitled 'A Convict's Narrative', from the microfilm copy. also kept at the Mitchell Library and had painstakingly transcribed the 74 pages of my 3rd great grand uncle's handwriting. Reading the words of Lawrence Frayne, I discovered that he had been sent to Norfolk Island after spending time on board the hulk Phoenix. In his long memoir, Lawrence Frayne paints a vivid picture of the appalling conditions suffered by prisoners on board the rotting hulk.

At the New South Wales State Records, I studied microfilm reels to verify that in 1830, Lawrence Frayne did spend months on board the convict Hulk Pheonix, which was anchored in Hulk Bay, now known as Lavender Bay in Sydney Harbour, prior to being transported to Norfolk Island.  On microfilm in the Shipping Lists of convicts, sent to and from Norfolk Island, 1828-1850, [4/3876, Reel 1062] I discovered the record of his transportation to Norfolk Island on board the ship Lucy Ann, on  October 25, 1830.  From the Phoenix Hulk Entrance Books [ NSR 4/6281 Reel819] I learned that Lawrence Frayne, of the ship Regalia (1826),  had received a sentence of 'death' later, later commuted, for the crime of stealing in Sydney in January, 1830.  From convict records, I was aware that he had spent two years at the Moreton Bay Penal Establishment for absconding twice from  Iron Gang 7 in 1827, where he had been working on the construction of Great North Road. 


I had great hopes that this newly discovered record of an 1830 trial in Liverpool, might tell me something about the character of a younger Lawrence Frayne, prior to the writing of his memoir, thirteen to fourteen years later on Norfolk Island. The original and first petty crime for which Lawrence Frayne had been transported from Dublin, Ireland,  at the age of 16, was the theft of a piece of rope. After absconding from his first place of assignment, Raby Farm, now Campbelltown, in 1827, he was sentenced to serve time in Iron Gang number 7. This road gang was positioned in 1827-28 at Devine's Ascent on the Lower Hawkesbury, and was one of the gangs conscripted to construct the Great North Road which was designed to link Sydney to the Hunter Valley area. Iron Gang 7 was made up of unskilled men, who, shackled together in leg irons, laboured strenuously in the quarry. After absconding from Iron Gang 7, Lawrence Frayne was sentenced to spend two years at the harsh penal establishment of Moreton Bay. Following his departure from Moreton Bay, I had no record of his whereabouts between January 1830 and October 1830, when he was transported to Norfolk Island. I was optimistic that this new record might fill in the that unaccounted for time prior to his transportation to Norfolk Island, where he spent 13 to 14 years - ten of those years so grim that he barely survived them.

The Convict Settlement at Norfolk Island: Image SharnWhite ©©

Seeking the nature and details of the crime for which Lawrence Frayne was sent to Norfolk Island, was important to me for several reasons. I was committed to investigationg whether Lawrence Frayne was a victim of circumstances, as he claimed in his memoir, or in fact a callous and corrupt criminal, whose memoir could not be relied upon for a truthful account of convict life.  The traditional historical view of the Norfolk Island Penal Settlement is one which suggests that the very worst type of criminal offenders were sent to this Penal Settlement, although many historians now refute that perspective through documented evidence. Since Lawrence Frayne's original crime was of a petty nature, and his subsequent convictions in the colony had all been for absconding, I hoped fervently to establish that the ardent assertions which echoed throughout his memoir, that he was a victim of an unjust criminal system, were authentic. Stealing or bushranging was an unfortunate but necessary process of endurance for escaped convicts. I cherished the hope that survival was the motive behind Lawrence Frayne's criminal demeanor. Throughout his articulate Norfolk Island narrative, a voice of despair and oppression can be heard audibly, as Lawrence Frayne describes discriminatory, immoral and barbarous victimisation for crimes that he believed did not warrant the cruel and severe punishments that were handed down to prisoners. Such punishments, according to the memoir, included, such as 300 lashes, denial of medical treatment following lashes, and months spent in isolated darkened solitary confinement and often were awarded for simple offences such as not tipping one's hat to an officer.  A great deal of credibility for me, regarding the character of Lawrence Frayne, depended on the information in this new document which related to an 1830 charge of 'stealing'. I was aware that if I discovered that he had wilfully or callously endangered lives or committed a heinous crime, this knowledge might somehow invalidate the eloquent and poignant words in his memoir and rebutt his allegations of injustice and maltreatment. 


While serving a life sentence on Norfolk Island, Lawrence Frayne, along with other prisoners, was encouraged by Commandant Alexander Maconochie to write a diary to record his experiences at the notoriously harsh isolated Penal Settlement. Maconochie was the Commandant on Norfolk Island from 1840 to 1844, during which time he became  known for his more humane treatment of the convicts. He introduced a revolutionary system of penal reform known as Marks, which provided prisoners with incentives to reform themselves. He furnished convicts on Norfolk Island, with a school, a library, churches for regular worship, musical instruments and the concept of living in small groups with each person responsible for and toward each other member of the group. The 74 (surviving) pages of Lawrence Frayne's memoir articulately describe the brutal and inhumane treatment he received under more iron-handed Commandants such as James Morisset. By contrast his words show the hope afforded to him and to other prisoners on Norfolk Island, through the returning of human dignity and 'that manly confidence which ought to be cherished in every human being' . [A Convict's Narrative P. 25] 

Through his writing Lawrence Frayne advocated decisively, the benefits of penal reform over what he considered to be the existing demoralizing and debasing system of brutal punishment.  He argued resolutely the merits of humane treatment in the rehabilitating of criminals to become useful members of society and directly attributed the increased rate of crime in the Colony, to the debasement and demoralization of prisoners. The document, which appears significant as a 'convict voice', is confronting in its content. The language and style of writing, punctuated with metaphors and alliteration and raw emotion, demonstrates great natural intelligence rather than a formal education. 

The memoir is held in the Mitchell Library in a safe, and is entitled " A Convict's Narrative".  Although dated 1830, there can be no doubt that it was written after the 1840 arrival of Alexander Maconochie on Norfolk Island. Lawrence Frayne mentions by name,  Commandant Maconochie in the memoir, praising him as the man who introduced his godlike system of Marks and extolling Maconochie's concept of rehabilitating prisoners to prepare them for freedom. Alexander Maconochie had intended Lawrence Frayne's diary to accompany a letter he sent to England to his friend Lord John Russell, a well known  exponent of penal reform in England. That the New South Wales Governor, George Gipps refused Maconochie's request to forward the Lawrence Frayne memoir on to England, had the fortunate effect of preserving the document here in Australia.  Gipps stated his reasoning for not sending Lawrence Frayne's memoir in a letter he himself wrote to Lord Russell, in which he acknowledged that although the document 'contains some shrewd observations on the systems of transportations' , he (Gipps) considered it contained 'libellous accusations against various officers, who have held situations of trust under this Government' . [ Offending Lives: Subjectivity and Australian Convict Autobiographies, 1788-1899, Lisa Christine Jenkins, Stanford University, 2001, p. 179]

The Title Page to Lawrence Frayne's Document, held in the Mitchell Library


As I unfolded the old, yellowed pages of the 1830 document, it was with great elation that I read the following words, 'Rex v Lawrence Frain as per the ship Regalia... charged with Burglary'
It was evident from the mention of the ship Regalia,  that this man, Lawrence Frain, was the one and same man as my great great great grand uncle Lawrence Frayne. Although it was not an encouraging revelation to discover  that he had committed burglary, I was hopeful that from the aged pages of this documentary evidence, I might understand better, the circumstances of his crime, and the man himself .

A page from the testimony of Lawrence Frayne/Frain © SharnWhite 


"Lawrence Frain states that on last Wednesday week, at night, Declarent with two others, viz William Dalton and John McNamara absconded from No. 3 Iron Gang, overseer's name Doyle, and stationed at the Lower Branch of the Hawkesbury -

Thefirst line of the statement immediately reveals vital information about my three times great uncle. I n was  now able to establish  Lawrence Frayne's whereabouts after leaving Moreton Bay as being a member of Iron Gang number 3. From a study of Convict Road Gangs in New South Wales, written by Grace Karskens, I learned that Iron Gang number 3 was, similarly to Frayne's previous Iron Gang, number 7,  stationed at Devine's Ascent, now known as Devine's Hill. Road Gang number 3, however, was comprised of more skilled stone masons and is responsible for constructing some of the most superior stonework on this extremely rugged part of the Great North Road. It would appear from this discovery that Lawrence Frayne had acquired sufficient masonry skills during his time at Moreton Bay, to be placed in a working group quite proficient in stone construction. It is likely that he escaped the drudgery of the quarry whilst in this Road Gang and that he would have been out of irons for part of each day. This situation, however, for a habitual absconder, would have undoubtedly have seduced him towards an  attempt to escape.

One of the original of 5 buttresses known to be constructed by convict Iron Gang 3 © SharnWhite

Lawrence Frayne's statement continues as he describes the escape which indicates that the convicts followed the route of the Great North Road itself, from the Hawkesbury River area to Parramatta.

[  ] with the above named persons travelled [  ] until they came to the [  ] side of Parramatta, when they went into a house on the Parramatta Road to have refreshment, They there met Bridget Daly who was the wife of the owner of the House...'

Lawrence Frayne, in his testimony, describes how Bridget Daly's brother William Whalen, sent them in search of a mate  who could be of assistance to the absconders.

'they then all went into the bush and came to an old Hut which had been the resort of the person in question but who had left it in the moment and had gone to another hut at some distance. The party  was unarmed here until the person alluded to came, He proved to be John Thomas whom Dalt'n and his party knew at Moreton Bay. Thomas said he knew of a place where there was plenty of money...'

The statement continues as a long and vividly colourful anecdote, in which  Lawrence Frayne reveals himself to be a talented narrator. He describes a bark hut where the escapees lived in the bush and his detailed recount notes such  peculiarities as what the escaped convicts  ate. The following excerpt refers to such an incident  after William Dalton and John Thomas had walked to another Hut [house] which belonged to a friend of Thomas named  Samuel Bowler. 

'Thomas and Dalt'n returned to their companions and sent Whalen for Ginger beer - after drinking the Ginger Beer the Party left. This was on Saturday 27' March, Whalen did not accompany the Party - They travelled on this road towards Liverpool until they came to a road which leads off from it into the Bush, 3/4 of a mile from the junction of the road with the road leading from Sydney to Liverpool'

Frayne describes in detail how John Thomas initiated the burglary of a side of 'beef' at a 'Hut' belonging to  Sam Bowler and then suggested another place that they could rob.

'Thomas said there was plenty more at Jacksons, The Party proceeded there without delay taking with them the property stolen at Bowler's which they left at the Bridge near Jacksons, as Thomas said he would take them to his place of hiding, about a mile and a half from Jacksons'

Throughout his statement, Lawrence Frayne refers to himself as the Def't [defendant] and in describing the second burglary, he states that the group knocked on the door of William Jackson's home in the, 'alias of Constables'. In his own defence, he claims that whilst the robbery took place, he, Lawrence Frayne, 'having been knocked down, is unaquainted with any of the proceedings'.

It would be easy to believe that this declaration was a colourful fabrication by Lawrence Frayne to dissociate himself from the burglary, however,  the sworn testimony of William Jackson himself, the man whose home was burgled,  confirms colourfully, that 'the Def't was lying on the floor seemingly dead' after which he was 'taken away'.

The testimony of Constable Thomas Webber of  Liverpool, who was present at the home of William Jackson, when Frayne was captured, also supports the fact that Lawrence Frayne was injured during this robbery. Webber apprehended Lawrence Frain on March 28, inside the home of William Jackson. This information comes from his statement which is included in the bundle of Frain documents held at Sate Records NSW.  Webber's account differs slightly from the version afforded by both Lawrence Frayne and William Jackson. In Constable Webber's report of the incident, Lawrence Frain was knocked to the floor by a person unknown after which a man named Castles 'put his knee on the Def't's chest thinking he was one of the robbers'  and  pinned him to the floor. A servant from William Jackson's household also claims responsibility for wounding Lawrence Frayne. Whosever version of the events at the Jackson home is closer to the truth remains unclear, however, what is evident is that Lawrence Frayne was injured and his companions deserted him and fled with the spoils of the robbery.

The list of property which was stolen includes mostly food and items of clothing plus five gallons of brandy in a keg and two muskets. 

It is clear to me after reading 'The Voluntary Declaration of Lawrence Frain' that my great great great uncle was somewhat a loquacious chronicler, even before he wrote his articulate memoir on Norfolk Island, although there is little doubt that Alexander Maconochie's gift of a library and education, improved both Frayne's vocabulary and his skill as a narrator. Significantly, for me, the prismatic testimony given in April 1830, appears to very much authenticate the later Norfolk memoir as Lawrence Frayne's own penned work.  It bears the same style of storytelling and idiosyncracies that are characteristic of his recount of events at the Norfolk Island Penal Settlement. 


After finding the name of Constable Webber in this document, a Google search for Thomas Webber, Constable, Liverpool, resulted in the discovery of two detailed news articles from June 1830, on the Trove website. I had previously not found these items because Lawrence Frayne's name was spelled as Frane  and  Frame in the respective newspapers.

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser carried the story of the trial of Lawrence Frane (Frayne) on June 10, 1830 and the Sydney Monitor published the story of the robbery and capture of the convicts including Lawrence Frame, on June 12.  Both newspapers provide a substantial and detailed account of the capture of  my three times great grand uncle, who is referred to dashingly and daringly as the 'bushranger' Lawrence Frane/Frame and the court proceedings, some of which are not to be found in the Archive documents.

Patrick Beattie, a servant of Samuel Bowler, and a witness in the first robbery in the Bowler's public house, (referred to as a hut by Frayne), offers a delightful description of my great great great uncle during his court testimony. Pointing at the prisoner, Frame (Frayne) he announced, 

'I have a slight knowledge of one of the men; he was a stout looking man: I think that is the man with a yellow handkerchief and blue jacket.'

Most of the witnesses confirmed that Lawrence Frame (Frayne) had been wounded  at Jackson's home and detailed how he was knocked to the ground and left behind when his accomplices fled the scene of the burglary. William Johnstone, a servant of Jackson swore that he did not recognise 'any but the man left behind; I wounded him'

When Benjamin Young, a police constable of Liverpool was questioned at the trial of Lawrence Frayne he confirmed the part of Frayne's testimony in which claimed that he had been living in a hut, 'like a gunyah' in the bush prior to being captured. Constable Young had been sent to the house of Robert and Mary Adlam with a search warrant. He recovered items there which had been stolen from the Jackson home. When questioned as to who owned the items, Mary Adlam answered, referring to Lawrence Frayne 'they were brought here a few days ago by a tall good looking man to be washed'
I cannot fail to be amused by the contradictory descriptions of Lawrence Frayne's physical appearance, by tow witnesses. By a male, he is described as 'stout', while Mary Adlam  paints a more romantic image of  him as a 'tall' and 'good looking man'. 

Mary's husband, Robert Adlam accompanied police officers to show them the whereabouts of the hut 'where the bushrangers were secreted in the scrub'. Lawrence Frayne was in custody at this time and the constables found no sign of William Dalton and John McNamara other than that 'a fire was burning briskly as if they had only just left. '  


John McNamara and William Dalton appear to have eluded the police following these robberies. I have yet to discover what became of the two men who escaped from irn Gang 3 along with Lawrence Frayne.  Frayne, at the age of 20, received a 'death' sentence in June of 1830, after being found guilty of burglary, along with John Thomas (his name is given as both Thoms and Thomas in documented evidence). There is no mention of McNamara and Dalton being tried for this crime. Alexander Stewart and James Early were both apprehended following the burglary at Jacksons, and charged but were found to be Not Guilty. Robert and Mary Adlam each received a sentence of 14 years for 'receiving stolen goods'.

Fortunately for Lawrence Frayne, his death sentence was commuted to 'life', although from his memoir, one must question whether this reprieve and being sent to the  Convict Hulk, Phoenix and ultimately to Norfolk Island, was not worse than a sentence of death for him.  From the Phoenix Hulk , Lawrence Frayne resolutely made yet another attempt to escape. Following this bid for freedom he received a 'life' sentence on Norfolk Island.

Norfolk Island Gaol ruins

From all accounts, it is evident that Lawrence Frayne and his companions committed this crime of burglary in an attempt to survive life on the run, after escaping from their Iron Gang on the Great North Road. Five gallons of brandy in a keg was by all accounts not a necessary item for survival but I have no doubt that it would have been a much enjoyed luxury. Although  crime cannot be excused, I am somewhat relieved to establish that my three times great grand uncle does not appear to have been of an evil or an abhorrent character. He undoubtedly demonstrated traits of  defiance and obstinacy in refusing to capitulate to the convictions  of the Colonial Penal System and indeed one that was even more harsh than typical of other penal systems of the times. The very nature of the colonial prison system, where convicts worked outside the confines of  walled gaols, inevitably bred fear in those responsible for law and order.  Lawrence Frayne himself interpreted this system as being one of retribution subverted by far harsher and barbarous punishments than what fitted the crimes committed.

Lawrence Frayne was released in about 1843-4 on a Ticket of Leave to  Maitland, in the Hunter Valley area of New South Wales, by Commandant Alexander Maconochie. I have little doubt that the articulate but explicit and affronting document Lawrence Frayne wrote under the endorsement of  Maconochie, was the turning point in his convict life, and was in all probability the reason he did not live out his life sentence and die on Norfolk Island. 


State Records New South Wales

Defiance, Deference and Diligence: Three Views of Convicts in New South Wales Road Gangs, Grace Karskens                               


Soon to come...  more tales of the true convict life of Lawrence Frayne......

1 comment:

  1. I take my hat off to you Sharn, this is a detailed and beautifully researched report. I applaud your tenacity and diligence.

    I am in awe.