My Grandfather, the Thief

A while back, my sister, who is an occasional genealogist, informed me that our mother’s maternal grandparents were convicts. As yet, I didn’t know why they were forcibly transported to a godforsaken hole on the other side of the world. Or so it must have seemed to them. At school, we were told that convicts weren’t really bad people, they were just hungry people who stole a loaf of bread, or such like. This fiction persisted until I visited the old penal colony at Port Arthur in Tasmania. There I saw photos of some of the convicts, and worse, what they were convicted of before transportation. No loaves of bread offences there. On the contrary, bestiality offences seemed to be rather high on the list. Perhaps I wouldn’t enquire any further as to my great grandfather’s transgressions.

So, it seems that I have convict blood coursing through my veins. I’m not too sure how I should feel about this. In Australia, there has been a perverse pride by some in their convict heritage. I suppose they’re trying to make the best of a bad thing. Me, I suppose I don’t really give a rat’s arse. I guess if we all delve into our ancestry far enough, we’ll find skeletons lurking there which only really matter if we care what other people think. And I certainly don’t.

For we are all products of our genes and environment. We all want to survive, one way or another. Who knows if my great-great grandparents had a choice? Somehow, they bequeathed their genes to the Australian pool, and those genes contribute to what is me. I’m rather glad the bestiality one seems to have gone missing somewhere, though, if it were ever there. And I’ll always be grateful that I somehow finished up in Australia.

Life is really a game of chance, isn’t it?

Well, I recently learned just what it was that my great-great grandfather had done in order to be granted “assisted passage” to Australia in 1828. It turns out that he stole an anchor. Many of his fellow convicts earned their assisted passages by stealing a pig. Now, a pig I can understand. You can eat a pig. You can use it to breed baby pigs. You can even take it to market, if you so desire. But…an anchor? What can you do with an anchor? Use it to anchor your boat, if you have one, I suppose, which I sorely suspect he didn’t. Maybe he used it as a doorstop, if that’s what took his fancy. But he couldn’t eat an anchor. Nor could he use it to get baby anchors. And somehow, I doubt there was much demand for anchors at the markets. So, I’m forced reluctantly to declare my convict great-great grandfather a failure. I know that rather ancestrally disrespectful, but really – an anchor?

Still, he must have had other hidden talents. My sister tells me that he had three wives, presumably not all at the same time. I’d never really thought about that before. There’s nothing to say that a convict had to be single. And, his wives were also convicts. My great-great grandmother was convicted of shoplifting, and sentenced to seven years. She also had two small children before she married my great-great grandfather, and we think they must have come out on the boat with her when she was transported.

And on arrival, the unfortunate convicts were assigned to settlers to work for a pittance. Even so, I suppose for some this was an improvement on what they’d left behind. At least they were fed and had a roof over their heads. And there was land to be had, if they wanted to work it. Still, I think about the families the married convicts left behind, how they were then also sentenced to a harder life, without father or husband to help them along.

I don’t know what happened to my great-great grandfather after he’d served his time, though I expect he didn’t accomplish much. I mean, he did steal an anchor instead of a pig. Which is probably the reason I’m where I am today. No entrepreneurial genes to be had in my line, obviously. It’s just as well. I doubt I’d have made a good pig farmer, anyway.

Nonetheless, I’ve been lucky, convict great-great grandparents and all.

Last 5 posts by Con Carlyon

Last 5 posts by Con Carlyon