Sunday, July 30, 2017

The True Nature of His Crime: Part 1: Michael Frayne

Image: A Convict Hulk Wikipedia ©©

Our ancestors' stories become far more interesting, the more colourful details we can enrich them with.
The colourful life of my convict ancestor was well documented from the time of his departure from Ireland to the time he completed his sentence in Australia. For my 3rd great-grandfather, Michael FRAYNE, this was a period which spanned 26 years from conviction to receiving a Conditional Pardon. From the wealth of convict records that have been preserved, I know quite a lot about Michael. Here you may read a blog post  about his life after he was convicted of a crime in Dublin, Ireland and transported to New South Wales for a 5 year sentence.

What was missing from the convict records for my 3rd great-grandfather were any details of the actual crime he had committed in Dublin, Ireland in 1836. I knew that my ancestor was convicted of 'theft and burglary' but when transported to Australia, little detailed information accompanied Michael regarding the true nature of his crime, arrest or his trial.  

New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842 for Michael Frayne,

Many records of Irish trials were burned in the 1922 fire at the National Archives in Dublin, and although the National Library of Ireland has a database of convicts transported from Ireland to Australia, I have found no information regarding Michael Frayne's trial.

I was able to construct a fascinating narrative of Michael Frayne's convict life in New South Wales, from information I found in Australian newspapers on the National Library of Australia's website Trove,  so I decided to turn to UK newspapers Here I hoped I might uncover clues about the crime committed in Dublin. Searching both the Irish Newspaper Archives and the British Newspaper Archive, I discovered detailed accounts from newspapers in 1836, about a burglary which Michael Frayne committed and information about Michael's trial in Dublin. I am delighted to have made this discovery and I cannot emphasise enough the advantages of searching digitised newspaper archives.

The account of the 1836 trial of Michael Frayne, which appeared in The Freemans Journal on August 23 1836, has provided me with 'meat on the bones' information about the crime for which 14 year old Michael was charged and subsequently transported to to New South Wales. This information was not contained in the Convict Indents which accompanied Michael's convict ship to Australia nor in any other Australian convict records I have found.

Image from The Freemans Journal, August 23 1836, p. 3., Irish Newspaper Archives.

The following is my transcript of the article in The Freeman's Journal on August 23, 1836.


John Heaslip, Patrick McKew, Thomas McKew, Michael Frayne, alias McKew, were indicted for feloniously breaking into the house of Robert Warrren, Esq., on the 27th of June last. 
Thomas Heuston deposed that he knew a place called Water Mills Cottage, the property of Mr Warren; witness was caretaker of the premises; in the course of the night laid in the indictment he heard a noise in the pantry, and went there; saw three men in it, one of whom he seized by the breast, but the other two forced him to forgo his hold; when he got up, the last of the men was making his escape through the window; witness seized him by one of the legs; on this a stone was flung from the outside at him; it knocked the glass of the window about his face, and he was obliged to let his prisoner off; he found two bats, a cap, and two coats left behind by the party; his daughter also found three pairs of shoes, that they left after them; witness hastened out-side, and finding Frayne there he ran at him; the other called to him not to beat him, as he had not been in the house; he secured him to the spot.
The witness was cross-examined by Mr. MACDONAGH but nothing material was elicited. 
Several other witnesses were examined.
Judge CRAMPTON charged the jury, who found the prisoner guilty.
Judgement of death was recorded against them.

One significant question that this article raised, was how Michael Frayne's death sentence came to be commuted to 7 years transportation. It wasn't long before I discovered the answer I sought in another news report in the Mayo Constitution, 26 August 1836, p. 3. 

The Mayo Constitution, 26 August 1836, p. 3. The British Newspaper Archives.

On Monday John Heislip, Patrick McKew, Thomas McKew, and Michael Frayne were indicted for feloniously entering the house of Thomas Heuston. The jury brought forward a verdict of guilt, and sentence of death was recorded against John Heislip, Patrick McKew and Thomas McKew. The punishment of Michael Frayne on account of his youth, was commuted to transportation.

Until I found these news articles, my ancestor's crime had been simply 'theft and burglary'. From news reported in 1836 in Dublin I now have a first hand fantastical witness account of a botched robbery, rich with fascinating details of the event and people involved. I have a better understanding of the circumstances of Michael Frayne's trial and his sentence. Importantly, I have been provided with the names of the people who were involved in, or affected by the crime and trial. 

These people are FAN's - Friends, Acquaintances and Neighbours. They are people with whom Michael Frayne associated and whose own stories and life circumstances when researched may tell me more about my convict ancestor.

Michael Frayne alias McKew - Burglar
Mr Robert Warren Esq. - Owner of Water Mills Cottage
John Heaslip - Burglar
Patrick McKew - Burglar
Thomas McKew - Burglar
Thomas Heuston - Caretaker at Water Mills Cottage
Mr McDonagh - Lawyer at the trial
Judge Crompton - Judge at the trial

I now have new places to add to Michael Frayne's story of 'burglary and theft'.

The Burglary: Water Mills Cottage
The Trial: The Commission at Green Streeet, Dublin

Image of an English cottage Wikipedia ©

Below are some of the questions which I have extracted from the information I found in the 1836 news reports of my ancestor's crime of burglary. With further research into these facts, places and people, my convict ancestor, Michael Frayne, should soon have an impelling new chapter in his convict story.

What was the historical context in Dublin within which this crime took place?
Was the scene of the crime, being a pantry (food) significant?
Who was Mr Robert Warren Esq.?
Where was Water Mills Cottage located?
What can I find out about the character of the caretaker Thomas Heuston? Was he a reliable witness?
What was the nature of Michael Frayne's relationship with Thomas and Patrick McKew, particularly since he had adopted the alias of McKew
What can I find out about about John Heaslip, Patrick McKew and Thomas McKew?
What became of John Heaslip, Thomas McKew and Patrick McKew? Were they excecuted?
What significance di the claim that Michael had not been in the house have?

Image: The Old Bailey Wikipedia ©©

I have no doubt that my research will lead to an interesting new chapter in my convict ancestor's story. Part 2 of this blog post about convict Michael Frayne will reveal more about my research into "The True Nature of His Crime" .


The British Newspaper Archives

Irish Newspaper Archives

1 comment:

  1. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris