Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Serendipitous Meeting - .A Chance Conversation and Record Found.

Another Norfolk Island Convict Ancestor

Remains of the Prison on Norfolk Island Image SharnWhite ©

SERENDIPITY  noun:  finding something good without looking for it.

Early in this year, 2014, year I was contacted by a researcher from Great Southern Televison. Whilst researching the second settlement of Norfolk Island for an episode of Coast Australia, the second series, she had come across one of my genealogy blogs in which I had written about my convict ancestors. Great Southern Television is the company responsible for filming the Coast Australia series which is hosted by Neil Oliver and a team of other renowned presenters. The first series of Coast Australia went to  air on the History Channel in December of 2013, and is available on DVD at ABC stores. I was contacted regarding my connection to the Second Penal Settlement on Norfolk Island (1825-55) through a convict named Lawrence Frayne, who I had been researching for some years.

Remains of the 'new' gaol on Norfolk Island Image SharnWhite ©

While investigating the second convict settlement, the Coast researchers had discovered a convict who had written a 74 page memoir describing his years as a prisoner on Norfolk Island between 1830 and 1844. The original memoir, held in a safe in the Mitchell Library under the title of "A Convict's Narrative" was penned by my third great grand uncle, convict  Lawrence Frayne.  His long and eloquent, but brutally informing account of convict life, compares the treatment he received under harsh Norfolk Island Commandants such as James Morisset, and the tenacious protagonist of penal reform, Alexander Maconochie.  I have written about this document in my  Family Convictions- a Convict Ancestor blog.

After a meeting with producers and director of the series, it was decided that I would be flown to Norfolk Island to participate in the filming of an episode of Coast Australia featuring the second convict settlement there (1825-1855). There was mention of an eminent UK based historian, Dr Tim Causer, who was hopefully to be a part of the episode as well. This prospect excited me, since I had read papers written by Tim Causer on Australian and in particular, Norfolk Island convicts,  as part of my University of New England History degree,

A week before my departure for Norfolk Island, I received an email informing me that historian Tim Causer would be on the flight with me from Sydney to Brisbane, where we would connect with the Air New Zealand International flight from Brisbane to Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island has been self governed since 1979 and to travel there one needs to travel from Australia with a passport.

So unusual is a heavy fog in Brisbane, that if you google 'fog in Brisbane' you will find accounts of the 'thick fog' which blanketed the city on the morning of June 3, 2014, on the day of my departure. The flight from Sydney was delayed due to this weather and both Dr Causer and I missed the connecting flight to Norfolk Island by only minutes. Although this created a huge problem for the Coast team, since there are not flights to Norfolk Island every day, it turned out to be a most serendipitous moment indeed for me!

As Dr Tim Causer and I sat at the Brisbane International Airport, waiting for the Coast producers to find a way to get us to Norfolk Island, we discussed the second settlement on Norfolk. Tim Causer is well known to be an expert on the topic of Norfolk Island convicts, having spent considerable time in Australia compiling a complete database of all convicts sentenced to this harsh penal settlement between 1825 and 1855.

The 'new ' Gaol (1836-) Norfolk Island Image SharnWhite ©©

Over  coffee, we discussed Lawrence Frayne, my convict third great grand uncle, and the man I was heading to Norfolk Island to speak about. When I mentioned that his brother, my three times great grandfather, Michael had also been a convict, Tim's comment took me completely by surprise.

 " Michael Frayne was was on Norfolk Island too wasn't he?" he said, leaving me quite stunned.

During my years of research, I had found no evidence of Michael Frayne being sent to Norfolk Island, despite thoroughly searching all available records in NSW and Tasmania where many Norfolk Island convicts were sent following completion of their sentences on Norfolk Island. I did, however, have some unaccounted for years (1854-58) in Michael Frayne's life. Three convicts by the name of Michael Frayne had been sentenced to transportation to NSW,  and I had followed all of their lives in my search for my great great great grandfather. I had conducted a thorough search for my 3 x great grandfather's convict records. How, I wondered, had I missed that he had been sent to Norfolk Island?

Second Settlement 'New' Gaol Norfolk Island Image SharnWhite ©©

Serendipity stepped in....

Tim Causer had compiled the database of every convict sentenced the to the second settlement penal establishment on Norfolk Island, and because of this, he had discovered what I hadn't been able to. Michael Frayne's Norfolk Island records had been sent to Tasmania, on the closure of the penal settlement in 1855 and although I had searched the excellent Tasmanian Archive convict database under every conceivable variation of the surname Frayne, I had not found Michael's record, for the simple reason that Michael Frayne was recorded in the Index as Michael MAYNE.

Tim opened the convict database on his laptop and showed me the record. The original document is headed Mayne, Michael, and in small handwriting underneath is written, 'also Frayne'. Confirming that this was my ancestor and not one of the other convicts named Michael Frayne, was the name of the ship St Vincent, on which he arrived in NSW on in 1837. Fortunately for descendants  who are researching convicts, the ship on which they arrived, along with other valuable identifying information, followed them around throughout their convict lives on their convict records.  Although it is fortunate for me, I am not sure that Michael Frayne appreciated that his height at the age of a tender 14 years remained the same in most of his convict records from 1836 until 1864.

I would never have thought to extend my search for variations of the name Frayne to Mayne, and unless I had undertaken to compile a full list of all Norfolk Island Convicts, I would not have discovered this record. But for a freak fog, a missed flight in Brisbane to Norfolk Island, and a long wait at the Brisbane International Airport, the conversation between Tim Causer and myself which led to this significant disclosure, would have never taken place. I have no doubt that we would have been too busy filming the Coast episode. A most serendipitous moment indeed!

I have now viewed Michael's Convict Conduct record [ CON 37/1/4 Page 1257], on the Tasmanian Archive Linc website.. I have discovered the names of the ships which transported him from NSW to Norfolk Island, from Norfolk Island to Hobart and on which he returned from Hobart, Tasmania, to NSW.

For me, this is a 'find' that fills in the previously unaccounted for years of 1854 to 1858, in my convict ancestor Michael Frayne's life. The information has provided me with an excellent new line of research to follow and I am planning a trip in the near future to the Tasmanian Archives.

AND.. just in case you are wondering if we made it to Norfolk Island......We did eventually arrive the following day,  by means of a longer than planned route - flying, Brisbane to Sydney, Sydney to Lord Howe Island (in a Qantas Dash 8), followed by an exciting three hour flight from Lord Howe Island to Norfolk Island aboard the Cirrus aircraft pictured below.

Our chariot awaits! Image Tim Causer

THANKYOU to Dr Tim Causer for his assistance and for permission to include his name in this blog post.  Dr Causer is presently transcribing the manuscripts of British philosopher, jurist and advocate of penal reform Jeremy Benthem (1748-1832). For information about his innovative collaborative transcription initiative please click on the link HERE.


  1. I know we spoke about the episode in February and it has now been shown in the UK. But the chances of uncovering that your direct line ancestor was also on Norfolk Island in such a way. It only goes to show why we should all be blogging about what we know.