Newfoundland Convicts Sent to Australia

ARCHIVAL MOMENT

AUGUST 31, 1835

A convict team much like the one that Thomas Baldwin would have served with ploughing a farm, while a guard looks on.

Many Newfoundlanders have made their way to Australia over the years; among the very first to reach the shores of that beautiful country were those who arrived on the “convict ships.”   They were convicted felons, often of very minor crimes, chained in the hold of the convict vessels that that carried them to the prison colonies in Australia.  Among the early ‘documented’ Newfoundlanders to arrive in Australia was Thomas Baldwin  (alias Baldwell) who arrived aboard the convict ship  “Hero” on  August 31, 1835.

Australia at the time was not the tourist attraction it is today. It was originally established by Britain as prison colony. Between 1788 and 1868, 165,000 convicts were transported to Australia.

The Newfoundlander, Thomas Baldwin who found his way to Australia was  24 years old, married with one child and recorded his religion as Catholic. Thomas’s trade was a carter. (A carter typically drove a light two wheeled carriage). He had no education and was sentenced for 7 years for stealing poultry.  Thomas was tried at Waterford City, Ireland  on  February 2, 1834 and arrived in the colony of New South Wales (NSW), Australia on August 31,1835 aboard the convict ship ‘Hero’ and was then assigned to Grose Farm.

The Hero was one of fourteen sailing vessels bringing prisoners to New South Wales, Australia  in 1835, six of them brought Irish prisoners.  On board there were 197 prisoners. The journey took 169 days. Included on the passengers list were 8 women and 9 children.

It is likely that given he gave his home address to the court as Newfoundland  that he must  have been in Newfoundland during  previous summers, perhaps prosecuting the fishery. The Baldwin family name has been established inNewfoundlandsince 1724.

It is possible that Thomas Baldwin was intentionally trying to get arrested so as to be sent to Australia to be with his brothers. Thomas’s family was no stranger to the law.  His brother Lawrence (convicted of stealing clothes) was transported on the convict ships to Australia in 1828 and his brother James in 1833.

Thomas had issues with authority, while in prison in 1836 he was charged with the offence of ‘neglect of duty’ and was ‘placed in cells for 6 days on bread and water’. In 1841 he was charged with the offence of ‘disorderly conduct’ and was placed on the treadmill grinding corn for 2 months at Carter’s Barracks from where he was discharged.

It is likely that Thomas also knew what it was like to be flogged.  Discipline was firm. One observer of the cruel treatment to the convicts reported:

“The floggings are hideously frequent. On flogging mornings I have seen the ground where the men stood at the triangles saturated with blood, as if a bucket of blood had been spilled on it, covering a space three feet in diameter, and running out in various directions, in little streams two or three feet long…. “

Thomas’s home for the duration of his imprisonment would have been Carters’ Barracks, home to the convict gangs working on the brick fields as carters and brick makers.The barracks provided sleeping quarters for these tired workers who daily carted the new made sand stock bricks.

Other Newfoundland families that have links with Australian convict history include Edward Shaw, a soldier transported to New South Wales in 1840, John Watson , a fisherman  transported in 1824 and  John Woods a fisherman salter of St. John’s transported on the convict ship Southworth in 1822.

Recommended Web Site:  Irish Convicts to New South Wales: List of Ships Transporting Convicts to NSW 1788-1849.  http://members.pcug.org.au/~ppmay/ships.htm

Recommended Music: The experience of these convicts is recorded through the first Australian folk songs written by convicts. Convict songs like Jim Jones, Van Diemen’s Land, and Moreton Bay were often sad or critical. Convicts such as Francis Macnamara (known as ‘Frankie the Poet’) were flogged for composing original ballads with lines critical of their captors.

Botany Bay sung by Mirusia Louwerse in Melbourne Australia : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQCIUKgHc5k