10 fascinating convicts you’ve never heard of

Family History
5 April 2016
by Ancestry

Jorgen Jorgenson

Some convicts have gone down in history, immortalised in the names of landmarks, suburbs, and breweries. Others left more elusive traces.

Sarah Trevor investigates 10 lesser-known yet fascinating convicts.

Gentleman poet

Born into privilege, John Grant was a poet, writer and all-round unlikely convict. Thanks to his class, John was treated well – until he criticised Governor King. In retaliation, he was sent to the Norfolk Island penal settlement in 1805.

She of the sharp tongue

Convict Julia Allen had a sharp wit and wasn’t afraid to use it. Accused of “preferring a stroll in the Sydney streets… to scrubbing her master’s floors”, Julia had some choice words for her master. She declared in court that he was a “dirty, disagreeable, detrimental, little devil – a foul-mouthed, evil-speaking, sanctified, cantankerous coxcomb!”

The ‘convict king’

A Danish-born adventurer, Jørgen Jørgensen first sailed to Port Jackson in 1800 as a ship crewmember. Later, he staged a revolution of sorts in Iceland, then a Danish colony.

Stints as a spy, writer and prisoner followed before Jørgen was transported to Australia as a convict in 1825. Here he became a convict-constable.

Escapee extraordinaire

Born in Cornwall, Mary Broad was a First Fleeter. Upon arrival in Botany Bay, she married convict William Bryant.

In 1791, Mary and William – along with their children and six other convicts –escaped the colony aboard Governor Phillip’s cutter. A remarkable 5,200-kilometre voyage followed, before they reached West Timor. Several escapees died, including William and all three of Mary’s children.

After being sent to Newgate Prison, London, to complete her sentence, Mary was pardoned. She reportedly returned to her native Cornwall.

Another convict architect

Like the famous Francis Greenway, James Blackburn was convicted of forgery yet went on to forge a successful colonial career in architecture and engineering.

James designed several churches in Tasmania, as well as Melbourne’s water supply system. The Inspector of Roads and Bridges declared that he placed more confidence in James than most free men in the colony.

A gravedigger reformed

A fearsome, foul-tempered English convict, Mark Jeffrey arrived in Australia in 1850. Serving time at Port Arthur, Jeffrey eventually became the settlement’s gravedigger, living alone on the Isle of the Dead, famously digging even his own grave.

Tale of two convict friends

In 1835, a widow named Margaret Fannon was sentenced to the Parramatta Female Factory for co-habitation.

Months later, after authorities approved her request to marry another convict, they made a surprising discovery. Margaret had left the Factory, assigned to a mistress by the name of Harris. But Harris was a female convict herself, only pretending to be a freewoman. Both women were returned to the Factory.

The Irishman-come-American Irish nationalist and Fenian

James Wilson arrived in Western Australia in 1867, transported for deserting the British Army.

After James complained about the colony’s monotonous labour to a journalist in New York, the Irish-American community raised funds to help out, purchasing the Catalpa whaling ship. In 1876, the vessel arrived and rescued six Fenian convicts, James included. After an initial pursuit by the Royal Navy, the Catalpa sailed to New York unimpeded. James settled in Rhode Island.

‘Black Caesar’

Believed to hail from Madagascar, John Caesar was one of the first people of African descent to arrive in the colony.

Known for his ravenous appetite, he was often stealing food from settlers and Aborigines. In 1795, John became Australia’s first bushranger, leading a gang of fellow convicts into the bush. He was shot in 1796.

Australia’s first female pirate

Five years after Charlotte Badger arrived in New South Wales as a convict, she travelled aboard The Venus – becoming embroiled in mutiny.

Along with Catherine Hagerty, Charlotte reportedly persuaded the men on board to take control of the ship. Hence she became the first Australian female pirate. Later, Charlotte was among New Zealand’s earliest white settlers.

Discover your convict connections in Ancestry’s Australian Convict Collection.