We often get an influx of our antipodean cousins in the early summer here at the history centre. Many of our internet and postal research requests hail from Australia and New Zealand. Do you ever wonder if your ancestors ever left Blighty for sunnier climes or were forced to leave these shores as punishment?
The transportation of prisoners to Australia rose to a climax during the late 18th century after a statute was passed during the reign of King George III. The standard sentence for transportation was for seven years but in more serious cases for life. Many escaped the gallows and suffered the inhumane conditions on board the prison ships. Not unlike those poor slaves that also had to endure months at sea in cramped and unsanitary ship hulks.
The first wave of the colonisation of Australia aptly named the ‘First Fleet’, took place in 1788. The 11 ships containing around 1500 men, women and children left Portsmouth in 1787 also laden with food supplies, clothing and livestock. The people on board were to be the founding fathers and mothers of the new colony, albeit a penal one.
The colony was established at a location now known as Port Jackson, further inland in Sydney Harbour than originally planned. Transported convicts were shipped in, in their thousands. The transportation of prisoners was abolished in 1868; by then a staggering 162,000 men and women had arrived on 806 ships.
Whilst exploring the archives at the History Centre on the subject of transportation, I discovered that we held some ‘Bonds and Contracts for the transportation of felons to the American colonies and plantations and elsewhere 1728-1789.’ Within these documents there are names of the Ships’ captains and felons; very useful information for those researching their convict ancestors.
I picked up the trail of a convicted thief, Sarah Varriner, in 1788. She was originally from Painswick, Gloucestershire but arrested, tried and sentenced in Wiltshire for the theft of gold and silver coins. The calendar of prisoners (shown below), lists her offence and committal in 1788.
Sarah Varriner was sentenced to 7 years transportation to the ‘Eastern Coast of New South Wales or some one or other of the islands adjacent’. She was bound for the ship ‘The Lady Juliana’ which was to be the first all female convict ship to leave for the new colony in Australia.
The Battle of El Alamein has been seen one of the major turning points of the Second World War and although it has been viewed more critically in recent years, it cannot be denied that it was a major boost to British morale. Churchill declared "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat." The first battle took place in July 1942 with the decisive second battle being fought over a period of 13 days from 23rd October.
An article from The Times, November 6, 1942 reported
“Victory in Egypt No doubt remains that a major victory in North Africa, for which the country has waited so many months, has been achieved at last.”
One of my favourite aspects of working with the museums of Wiltshire is the fantastic variety of stories, events, people and places represented in the many thousands of items in their collections. Mostly these are used in a very structured way. You go to the museum to see an exhibition on a particular subject or the museum is contacted about the history of a specific village. The volunteers and staff at Wiltshire’s museums spend many hundreds of hours cataloguing the items in their collections so that they are able to know which items are relevant when they come to mount their exhibitions or answer enquires.