ADHS Newsletter No. 202 MAY, 2002

Items of interest –

  • Annual General Meeting
  • An overview of the convict era (Margaret Oulton)

Annual General Meeting – The Eighteenth Annual General Meeting of the Society was held on Sunday, 19th May, at St. John’s Anglican Church hall, Avoca. Vice President Max Hobson welcomed everyone present on this occasion when we were pleased to have the Shire President, Cr. Chris. Goodman, and his wife Bridget, with us, representing the Pyrenees Shire. It was also great to see Ron Carless, Allan Hall, Jocelyn Milne, Herb. Robinson and Nell Rowland among those in attendance.

After we had enjoyed a delicious three-course luncheon, Vice President Max Hobson presented the Society’s annual report. He stated that 2001-2002 had been a difficult year as we were functioning without a President or Secretary. However, we were fortunate that some of our members were prepared to take on additional work to keep the Society operating and, to these people, we owe a debt of gratitude.

Activities for the year were varied, beginning with the interesting talk on Federation given by the Hon. Michael Ronaldson at the A.G.M. last May. Daryl Wagstaff was guest speaker in June, and told us the story of his ancestors, the Hubble family, who played an important role in the development of the Maryborough community. In July, we visited the Avoca Information and Technology Centre, known as “The Mill”, when Wendy Taylor took us on a tour of the building and explained the resources that are available for use by the general public. At our August meeting, Stuart Mackereth spoke on the history of his well-known family in Avoca. In September, we enjoyed a walking tour of the fine old historic buildings of Dunolly, led by John Tully. We gathered at the Public Hall at Lexton in October, to view the very interesting Federation photographic display in which several of our members were involved. A ‘Christmas’ afternoon tea was enjoyed by members after the November meeting, marking the end of activities for 2001.

The annual Garage Sale began the 2002 programme with over $1,000 being raised. Without this fund-raiser, we could not meet our financial commitments and we thank all who assisted and donated goods. A visit to the Gun Sam Heritage Museum in Ararat was enjoyed in March, followed in April by a fascinating afternoon in the Amherst-Talbot area, seeing historic sites off the beaten track, led by Len Fleming. Our grateful thanks go to all who have been involved in presenting our members with such a varied and interesting programme over the last twelve months.

Our thanks also go to Denis Strangman for creating and maintaining our excellent web-site; to Marj. Partridge and Edna Jarvis for being our representatives to the CHHA and to Edna for acting as our Minute Secretary; to Lorna and Jack Purser for continuing to produce the newsletter; to Irene Macwhirter and Kendra Grumont for mailing the newsletters; to Jan Burnett for being our Research Officer; to Dorothy Robinson for being Jack-of-all-trades and our Treasurer as well; to Colleen Allan for also being a Jack-of-all trades and for receiving e-mail enquiries and representing us at the Local and Family History Fair; to Murray Little for his continuing work in setting up computer records, particularly of historic photos; to Jill Hunter for answering correspondence and for being our Public Officer, and to Jill and Dorothy for their work of photographing High Street, Avoca, for our Federation project. We thank all members who have assisted with the smooth running of the organisation under very difficult circumstances during the last twelve months.

During the year, we have lost valuable members in Eulalie Driscoll, Fay Peck and Margaret Strangman. They will be sadly missed.

In concluding this annual report, Max said that the Society looked forward to another year of recording the history of Avoca and the towns of the surrounding district.

The Treasurer then gave her annual report (see page 5 of this newsletter), the Research Officer indicated that she had had quite a busy year and had written 102 letters, had 44 phone calls, and 38 lots of visitors, whilst it was reported that there have now been 20,526 hits to our excellent web-site.

The recommendation that annual subscriptions should be increased to $20 for a family and $17 for singles was put to the meeting, proposed by Graeme Mills and seconded by Lorna Purser, and was unanimously approved.

Graeme Mills then moved a vote of thanks to Max Hobson and Edna Jarvis for their welcome efforts in assisting the Society during a very difficult year, when Max, as Vice President, chaired the monthly meetings and Edna acted as Minute Secretary. Thanks was also extended to other members who took on extra work in this period.

The Vice President then stepped aside to enable the Shire President to conduct the election of office bearers, with the following results :-

President Stuart Smith
Vice President Max Hobson
Correspondence Secretary Jill Hunter
Minute Secretary Edna Jarvis
Treasurer Dorothy Robinson
Research Officer Jan Burnett
Publicity Officer Edna Jarvis
Newsletter Editor Lorna Purser
CHHA Representatives Edna Jarvis and Marj. Partridge
Public Officer Jill Hunter

Our guest speaker on this occasion was Margaret Oulton who gave a most interesting overview of the convict era. The fact that we had convict forebears was once kept very hush hush but nowadays to claim a convict or two on the family tree is almost a status symbol. Margaret’s talk gave us a greater understanding of those difficult and harsh times in Britain and what our convict ancestors endured as they set out on the long journey to help, through their trade skills and hard labour, to establish this country. We thank her for sharing the results of her research with us (see separate article for report).

The winning ticket for our raffle was drawn by Cr. Goodman, the lucky winner being Lorna Purser who took home a basket of goodies for the pantry.

Our sincere thanks go to everyone who assisted to make this function a success – those who helped set up the hall, those who washed and dried the dishes and tidied up afterwards and those who provided such a lovely variety of food for the luncheon. Thanks also to Lilly Mills for the pretty sprays of flowers she created as gifts for Mrs. Goodman, Margaret Oulton and Edna Jarvis.

Next Meeting – Our next meeting will be held on Sunday, 16th June, at the Court House at 1.30 p.m. This will be a general meeting when plans for the months ahead will be discussed, followed by a working bee.

A Reminder – Subscriptions Are Now Due – Our thanks go to the many members who have renewed their membership so promptly. We would urge those of you who have not done so yet to fill in the renewal form in the April newsletter and send it with your cheque to the Treasurer. It will help so much with the work behind the scenes. If, for some reason, you do not wish to continue your membership, a short note to this effect would be most appreciated.


The main reason why the British Government decided to establish a penal colony in New South Wales was that British gaols were overcrowded. The population explosion in the 1700s coincided with the economic revolution occurring in both agriculture and industry. Cottage industries like spinning and weaving could not compete with textile factories with machines turning up to 120 spindles at one time. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, machines were taking over from people, resulting in a drift of people from the country to the city seeking work. The cities could not cope with this population explosion, with accommodation being difficult to find, and usually over-crowded, and unhygienic in cheap lodging or public houses. These conditions, coupled with the fact there was no organised police force, resulted in poverty and social problems which, in turn, led to an increase in crime. The most common crime was theft from people or property and more and more people were coming before the courts and being sent to gaol.

Major punishments of the day were hanging and transportation. You could be hung in public for stealing a horse, sheep or cattle, for cutting down trees in an avenue or garden, for shop lifting over 5/- (five shillings) in value, or picking pockets for any amount over 1/- (one shilling). Over 150 crimes were punishable by death.

Transportation was the next level down in the form of punishment. Sentences ranged from 7 to 14 years to transportation for the term of a person’s natural life. This could include crimes like stealing fish from a pond or river, stealing a shroud out of a grave, setting fire to a barn or haystack, stealing small items, even an apple. For minor crimes, punishments included branding, whipping or being put in stocks.

In 1718, the British Government passed a Transportation Act. Its purpose was to deter criminals from committing any more crimes and to provide the British Colonies with a supply of labour. About 40,000 convicts were sent to the thirteen American Colonies which later became USA. The convicts mainly worked on tobacco or cotton plantations while some worked as servants until their sentences had expired. From 1776, the American colonies revolted against British rule in the War of Independence and refused to take any more convicts. English gaols soon became greatly overcrowded resulting in the British Government passing the Hulks Act. Convicts were then able to be placed in old ships known as hulks, which were anchored in naval ports or in the Thames.

Conditions in the hulks were poor and the health of the convicts rapidly deteriorated. They were kept in chains and were rowed ashore to work each day. The following is a graphic description given by convict William Day:

“Before going on board we were stripped to the skin and scrubbed with a hard scrubbing brush, something like a stiff birch broom, and plenty of soft soap, while the hair was clipped from our ears as close as scissors could go.

“We were then supplied with new ‘magpie’ suits – one side black or blue and the other side yellow. Our next experience was being marched off to the blacksmith who riveted on our ankles rings of iron connected by eight links to a ring in the centre, to which was fastened an up-and-down strap or cord reaching to the waist belt. This last supported the links and kept them from dragging on the ground.. . . In this rig-out we were transferred to the hulk where we were given our numbers, for no names were used.

“The prisoners were marched on shore each day under the supervision of guards with whips to work on the docks at Woolwich arsenal cleaning guns, stacking timber, knocking rust off shells, emptying barges, loading and unloading ships and weeding the long lanes between the mounted guns.

“During all this time,” wrote Day, “I was never for a moment without the leg-irons, weighing about twelve pounds.”

(This excerpt is from “Transported to Van Diemen’s Land” by Judith O’Neill, pages 10-11.)

The Government eventually realised that the solution to this problem of over-crowding in their gaols and hulks was to find a new destination to which convicts could be sent. In 1779, a Parliamentary Committee from the House of Commons was appointed to deal with the transportation issue.

Sir Joseph Banks, and then James Matra, both of whom had travelled with Captain Cook on the Endeavour, suggested that New South Wales would be a suitable location, giving several reasons – the Colony could become a naval station in time of war; the NZ flax plant could be cultivated to supply rope and canvas for the British navy; NSW would be a good base from which to conduct trade with China, the Pacific and the Spice Islands; the new colony would hopefully produce goods required by Britain such as tea, coffee, sugar and tobacco. After looking at Africa, Canada and India as likely locations, the Home Secretary, Lord Sydney, finally announced in 1786 that a penal settlement would be established in Botany Bay, NSW.

In October, 1786, Captain Arthur Phillip was appointed Governor of the proposed new settlement. Phillip proved to be a good choice for without his wise guidance the Colony could have foundered. He requested careful selection of convicts – those who might be of assistance in agriculture, building of roads and bridges, etc. His requests fell on deaf ears and he was forced to do the best he could with the convicts he received. The Colonial Office announced that one of the main reasons for the existence of the Transportation Act was “to send abroad annually, persons who hurt those at home”.

(As space is very limited in this newsletter, it is proposed to continue this fascinating talk given by Margaret in the June newsletter. For those of us with convict ancestors, it is important for us to understand fully the conditions of the times and much would be lost by trying to condense this report of Margaret’s talk. Ed.)

New Members – A warm welcome is extended to these new members :-

Mrs. Muriel CADD, of Springvale, Vic., whose interests are the CHATFIELD family and
John Henry WILSON in the 1930-1940 period
Mrs. Rozlyn LILLEY (nee WEIR), of Tascott, NSW, who is researching James WEIR and
Jane WILLIAMSON who married on 5th January, 1878.

A New Book – “Good Food, Bright Fires and Civility: British Emigrant Depots of the 19th Century”, by Keith Pescod. This fascinating book was mentioned in our March newsletter. In answer to a query from one of our Sydney members having difficulty purchasing a copy, contact has been made with the publisher who advises that it can be obtained by ringing Australian Scholarly Publishing at their Melbourne city office on (03) 9654 0250 at a cost of $44.

Cowwarr Primary School No. 1967 celebrated its 125th anniversary in March of this year with over 400 people attending the ‘back-to-school’ festivities. A book has now been published giving the history of the school which has served this small township located in Gippsland near the foothills of the Great Dividing Range and about 25 minutes drive from Traralgon. Titled “Celebrating 125 Years of Memories“, the book, compiled by Mrs. Pauline Vuillermin, contains 84 pages of text and 80 pages of photographs and costs $20 plus $5.50 postage. It is available from the Cowwarr Primary School, Church Street, Cowwarr, Vic. 3857. Cheques should be made payable to the Cowwarr Primary School.

Tracing Your Family History in Australia – A National Guide to Sources (3rd Edition), by Nick Vine Hall, is an update and expansion of the 1994 edition, containing 896 pages at RRP $75 posted within in Australia. This is to be released in May, 2002, with its companion volume, Tracing Your Family History in Australia – A Bibliography (1st Edition), now nearly two and a half times bigger than before, and costing $35 posted within Australia. A pre-publication offer is at a cost of $86.90 instead of RRP $110 posted price for both volumes. Order from Nick Vine Hall, P.O. Box 275, Mount Eliza, Vic. 3930, or e-mail nick@vinehall.com.au

Carisbrook Historical Society’s Annual Dinner will be held on Tuesday, 16th July, at Caroline’s Restaurant, Carisbrook, at 7 for 7.30 p.m., cost $22, bookings by 12th July on 5464 2251.