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BOUND FOR BOTANY BAY

IRISH FAMILY CONVICTS TO AUSTRALIA

There is an Australian folk song which begins with these lines.....

Farewell to old England forever

Farewell to my rum culls as well

Farewell to the well known Old Bailey

Where I used for to cut such a swell

( See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botany_Bay_(song) for more information )

For the 4 Spearin family members who were convicts , it was indeed farewell to the old country forever. None of the 4 men ever returned to England or Ireland.

Here are their stories....................................

The first 2 men to arrive on the same ship were James Sperin and Michael Spearin in 1822on the "Mangles"

They were followed by William Sperin in 1825 on the "Asia".

And then came Patrick Spiery (alias Speerin) , the "pensioner" in 1831, on the "Jane".

There are no photographs of these 4 men for us to look at and wonder how they survived, but there are good physical descriptions of each in the NSW State Archives.

So, let us use our imagination..........................

JAMES was 28 years old when he came to Sydney , from County Limerick. He was 5 feet 5 and a half inches tall with a sallow complexion which was a little pock pitted. He had dark brown hair and hazel eyes.

What was his crime? Rioting, for which he received a 7 year transportation sentence after a trial at the Special Sessions 1822 in Co. Limerick. He was transported on the "Mangles" which he boarded at Cork. The route was via Rio and on to Sydney. It took 140 days , with 189 prisoners on board, the youngest was only 15 years old and the eldest was 65 years old. There were 71 prisoners from Co. Limerick with the majority convicted under the Insurrection Act. Here is a list of what James was issued with: 1 jacket,1 pair trousers, 1 pair shoes, 1 shirt, 1 pair stockings, 1 cap or hat, 1 brush and comb, 1 towel, thread and needle, and 1 bag to hold all articles.

His trade was a ploughman and upon arrival in the colony he was assigned to Windsor, NSW , a rural area where farming took place. During this time, James made a complaint about his employer and for this he received a harsh sentence of 3 months in an iron gang. Upon completion of his sentence James gained his Certificate of Freedom. In 1831 he became a Constable of Sydney, where he assisted the local police in Sydney town. He resigned after 12 months and next appears to marry Ann Hurley in April 1835.

James became a successful husband, father and farmer in country NSW where his descendants still live today. He died in 1882 and he is buried at Cootamundra, NSW, Australia.

MICHAEL was only 18 years old when he came to Sydney on the same ship as James. He was 5 feet 6 inches tall, with a fresh complexion . He had fair hair and dark eyes.

What was his crime? Burglary, for which he received a life sentence after a trial at the Spring Assizes 1822 in Co.Clare.

His trade was ploughman and upon arrival in the colony, he was assigned to Windsor, NSW, just like James.

There is a record of further criminal activity by Michael, first in 1827 and again in 1828. In 1827 he absconded twice from his place of work and he was punished with 6 months in the iron gang , at Parramatta, NSW. In 1828, Michael was charged with stealing wearing apparel for which he was sent to another penal settlement at Morton Bay, Brisbane, Queensland for 3 years in addition to his original sentence. He lived on a prison hulk located in the Bay. Typical punishments that were handed out at this time included iron gang for up to 6 months, 50 lashes and returned, house correction, 14 days at the Factory, as well as relocation to another penal settlement.

There is evidence that Michael escaped from the prison hospital along with other men. They were later caught and hanged but there is no record of what happened to Michael. A Certificate of Freedom was never granted to him...........so where did he go? Most escapees at this time travelled by land, keeping close to the shore and swimming across rivers to reach Sydney. It is documented that he took 2 sheets, 1 shirt, 1 rug and 2 night caps from the hospital when he escaped through a back window at night on 23 Oct 1828.

He does not appear in any further records under his name, but I suspect that he lived and died in Australia under an alias. Or did he die by misadventure .... we will never really know

WILLIAM was 30 years old ( married with 5 children in Limerick) when he came to Sydney. He was 5 feet 6 and three quarters inches tall with a ruddy complexion. He had brown hair and grey eyes. He also had a scar on his left cheek and was sickly looking.

What was his crime? Robbery, for which he received a 7 year transportation sentence after a trial on 22 March 1824 at Limerick. He was transported on the "Asia" which left from Cork and took 116 days.

His trade was ploughman and labourer and upon arrival in the colony he was assigned to Parramatta, NSW. During this time, it is recorded that his Ticket of Leave was cancelled in Aug 1829, for being AWOL. He was granted his Certificate of Freedom in March 1831. It is also recorded that William applied for Permission to Marry but there is no evidence a marriage actually took place. William died in Sydney Hospital in 1832. He was given a Roman Catholic service at St.Mary's Church but it not recorded where he was buried.

Did any of his 5 children from Limerick come to Australia????

PATRICK was 25 years old ( married with 1 child, wife Ellen O'Dea and son John Speerin from Limerick) when he came to Sydney. He was 5 feet 5 inches tall with a ruddy complexion. He had brown hair mixed with grey and dark grey eyes.

He also had a ruptured indented scar over the inner corner of his left eyebrow ( possibly sustained during service in the army) . In addition he had a scar and a mole on the right side of his chin near his ear and a scar under his mouth.

What was his crime? Rioting, for which he received a 7 year transportation sentence after a trial on 20 June 1830 in the city of Limerick. He was transported on the "Jane" in 1831 from Cork, the journey taking 190 days.

His trade was matting manufacturer and indoor servant and upon arrival in the colony , he was assigned to the Attorney General's Office in Sydney Town. He gained his Certificate of Freedom in Oct 1838.

Patrick remained in Sydney and his wife and son came to Sydney in Feb 1850 from Ireland on the ship "Anglia". However, it is recorded that Patrick had "cleared out on a ship "Orator" for California, USA on 18 Jan 1850". What was all that about?????

I suggest he disembarked at Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and travelled across to Geelong in Victoria where a Patrick Speerin appears in a census around 1856. At some point, Patrick returned to NSW and sadly he died in 1865 at Liverpool, NSW, Australia. He was a single, destitute old man with a chronic drinking problem according to records. I would like to think he was reunited with his wife and child and grandchildren, but we know Ellen and John remained in Sydney where John established himself as a successful pawnbroker in Sydney Cove for many years.

This Speerin name died out after 2 generations , as Patrick's surviving grandsons never married and his only granddaughter married but her son never married.


When you read about living conditions on board the convict ships , you have to wonder how these men survived.

What personal qualities did they possess ?. Some might include courage, intelligence, tenacity, humour, good health, good luck amongst others.

The more I read about the colonial history of Australia and the role of the convict population, I marvel at their ability to withstand extreme hardship and injustice and still make a life for themselves and their families. They are the true pioneers of this country.



Convict Voyage ..... at sea

(from http://members.iinet.net.au/~perthdps/convicts/ships.html)

Convicts were housed below decks on the prison deck and further confined behind bars. In many cases they were restrained in chains and were only allowed on deck for fresh air and exercise. Conditions were cramped and they slept on hammocks. Very little information seems to be available about the layout of convict ships but a few books do contain artists impressions and reproductions of images held in library collections.

Although the six convict ships, three supply ships and two naval ships of the first fleet arrived with their cargo of 780-odd convicts in relatively good condition, the same cannot be said for those that followed during the rest of the century.

Of the 1000-odd convicts sent on the second fleet, 260 or more died during the voyage. As mentioned in the section on hulks, many were diseased when they embarked and those who managed to survive the voyage were severely weakened by scurvy, dysentery and fever.

On subsequent voyages the story was not much different and the treatment of the convicts was a disgrace. Private merchant ships were contracted to transport the convicts and their masters looked for ways to improve their profit margins by withholding the convicts' rations, keeping them chained below decks without fresh air and inflicting harsh and cruel punishment in an attempt to maintain discipline. Although official complaints were made after the fact, justice was never seen to be done. In one particular case, Thomas Dennott, the master of the 'Britannia', was described as a sadist. He brought a cargo of Irish convicts in 1797 and subjected them to brutal discipline of 300, 400 and 800 lashes. The worst death rate, however, was recorded on the Hillsborough which arrived in 1799. Typhoid killed 95 of her 300 convicts.

The English authorities began to review the system in 1801 and the general result was that ships would be sent regularly twice a year at the end of May and the beginning of September to avaid the dangerous southern hemisphere winter season. The surgeons employed by the early contractors were answerable to the master of the ship who had the final say. They had been replaced by independent Surgeon Superintendents who solely responsible for the well being of the convicts. As time went on, successful procedures were developed and the surgeons were supplied with explicit instructions as to how life on board was to be organised. Add that to the fact that a bonus was paid to the charterers to land the prisoners safe and sound at the end of the voyage and a different story began to emerge.

By the time the exiles were being transported in the 1840s and onwards, a more enlightened routine was in place which even included the presence on board of a Religious Instructor to educate the convicts and attend to their spiritual needs. The shipboard routines on some of the Western Australian transports during the 1860s have been transcribed and are worth reading.

Botany Bay 1825


Botany Bay as a Penal Colony

From http://www.australianhistoryresearch.info/botany-bay-as-a-penal-colony/

If all Britain had in mind was getting rid of a few convicts, the choice of Botany Bay makes little sense; there must of been deeper motives for such a decision. Were there?

As the First Fleet arrived at Botany Bay in January 1788, little did they know that historians in years to come would be disputing the real reasons for the British Governments plans to establish a colony there.

The Botany Bay debate commenced amongst historians in the 1960s after Blaineys The Tyranny of Distance with his theory of Botany Bay as a colony for the supply and cultivation of flax and naval timbers, even though it was Dallas who was the first to question the absurd traditional view back in 1952 with his consideration being given to the naval sea trade theory.

The traditional view in the debate is that Botany Bay was the chosen place for the felon, the outcast, the off scourings of British society, and Bartlett in 1976 wrote: There is no evidence that either Prime Minister Pitt or any member of his cabinet thought of Botany Bay as anything more than a convenient place distance enough for the safe disposal of social waste.

This traditional approach is also supported by Atkinson who believes that Botany Bay was chosen for a convict settlement not because of, but in spite of the possibility that it might become a trading post.

The idea of establishing a colony at Botany Bay started with the Matra proposal in August 1783, even before the end of the War of Independence between America and England. James Matra who travelled with Cook to the South Seas in 1770, spoke of New South Wales as having good soil, advantages of flax cultivation, trade with China and others, the availability of timber for ships masts and Sir Joseph Banks support.

Matras idea was the possible new colony could be used by those Americans who had remained loyal to Britain in the War of Independence such as himself, this idea however was rejected. He failed to mention or consider convicts, but later amended the proposal to include transportees (convicts) among the settlers but as cultivators in their own right rather than as forced labour after an interview with Lord Sydney, Secretary of State for Colonies. Sir Joseph Banks actually had earlier suggested Botany Bay as a possible site for a British Settlement whilst aboard the Endeavour in May 1770.

Did the British government consider the type of labour force that would be required to establish a colony or was Botany Bay just seen as a solution to the ever growing number of convict hulks along the River Thames?

Governor Phillip soon after arriving in 1788 requested carpenters, masons, bricklayers to help with the setting up of the colony along with many tools of the trades. Yet the proposal for the establishment of the new colony being Heads of a Plan addressed the effective disposing of the convicts to the new colony, along with the cultivation of flax, required stores and provisions, clothing for convicts, how the objective of the convict colony overrides the costs involved, naval staff and such.

With Britain continuing to send convicts to Australia for many decades, the cost involved in transporting convicts must have been less that dealing with the problem of the over crowded hulks and goals in England.

The tools sent with the First Fleet were of poor standard, with only twelve carpenters amongst the vast number of convicts. Womens clothing was also of poor quality and quantity plus old aged and ailing convicts were sent. The bad planning and outcome does not support the belief of the non-traditional view of the reasons behind the decision to colonise Botany Bay: The great southern port and the development of a flax industry for naval use dreamed up by recent writers as the reason for the settlement rather than for the disposal of unwanted convicts seem to have been somewhat negated by this sorry account of inadequate supplies of even the most elementary equipment.

The traditionalist may well ask that if Botany Bay was planned to be the great southern port why then did the first free settlers not arrive until 1793 on the Bellona, eight years after the arrival of the First Fleet, again adding more baffling options and outcomes to the Botany Bay debate.

Governor Phillip was given instruction to cultivate flax: And as it has been humbly represented to us that advantages may be derived from the flax-plant which is found in the islands not far distant from the intended settlement ... excellence of a variety of maritime purposes ... an article of export ... that you do send home (Britain) ... samples of this article ... instruct you further upon this subject.

These orders have been part of the non-traditionalists justification to their point of view. Traditionalist historians feel the possibility of the flax industry at Botany Bay was just a possible extra benefit to England when options for the convicts were being decided.

Yet contracted tradesmen were still being sent to New South Wales in 1792 to help with the colony at Norfolk Island and others. Sparse flax producing equipment was sent out with the First Fleet which hardly indicates strong encouragement for any flax enterprise or faith in the success of the new venture.

The traditionalist stands firm with the opinion that Botany Bay was only colonised to rid the nations (Britain) prisons and hulks of convicts. Frost believes the opposite is true. He has approached the Botany Bay debate by embracing the whole picture and the possible strategic plan with the Pitt Cabinet decision to set up a colony was for a number of motives; naval trade, supply of flax and naval timber from Norfolk Island and the fact the use of Britains excess convicts (labour) may well help serve in these purposes.

Frost also reviews the possible new political and economic benefits that may have been achieved if they were included in Britains decision process in regards to the new colony. Botany Bay had already been surveyed by Cook in 1770 noting the (so called) natural resources available, by colonising at New South Wales, Britain would protect Cooks right of possession over Botany Bay from the French and Dutch, thus giving them more positional power over the seas and any possible trade.

During the 1960s debate, Blainey (presenting the flax and naval timber theory) accused Bolton of giving confusing comments in summarising his theory and argument against the new ideas for the reasons behind the decision made about Botany Bay.

Blainey believes of the logic behind the: British politicians (who) did not have to emphasise that flax and timber were vital to their country; it was too obvious to be spelled out. He accused Bolton of changing and misunderstanding the content and interpretation of his (Blaineys) research and writings.

This trend seems to have been continued by other opinionators on the Botany Baydebate. During the 1960s disagreement: The fact that New South Wales was almost entirely a convict settlement tended to be overlooked. Both the flax and timber theorists and the China route party have had to admit that the early years of the New South Wales colony did not triumphantly vindicate their arguments.

The Botany Bay debate has been expanded by questioning the 1786 draft, unsigned letter to Hamilton, Under Secretary to Lord Lieutenant in Ireland. In this letter the convicts that were to be sent to Botany Bay would be employed in Cultivating Grain and other Vegetable productions for their subsistence.

A paragraph that features in this draft was omitted from the actual letter sent. In this the convicts are refer to as those dreadful Banditti and the most intriguing statement in this omitted paragraph is But above all, the Cultivation of the Flax Plant seems to be the most considerable object Roe has asked whether the significance of the paragraph (content) is either enhanced or diminished by its eventual omission is a very open question.

Mackay is yet another who has expressed a view on the Botany Bay debate, commenting on other historians opinions. He argued against the strategic position of Botany Bay in relationship to naval trade. Like many, Mackay feels that the establishment of the colony was rushed and poorly done and crisis orientated not a good start if the motives were really for naval trade and timber supply.

After viewing many of what seems to be a circle of comments and opinions that form the Botany Bay debate, he then accused the non-traditionalists of: Distorting our records of the past, and sought to create a myth of a better national origin. They have also overestimated the capacity of governments in the late eighteenth century.

Mackay stills acknowledges that regardless of the shoddy way in which Botany Bay was set up that from such inauspicious beginnings Australia grew to maturity and nationhood which is part of our heritage. But is this really what the Botany Bay debate is all about?

The question of exceptions has also come to play a critical role in the debate about the origins of the penal colony in New South Wales. Should the debate be confined to the reasons and available records of the decision making process as to why Botany Bay was chosen for a British Colony and not what actually happened at the new Colony?

Many of the opinions, assumptions and counter arguments presented in this never ending debate are supported with proof of the writers belief and explanation. The actual decision process to colonise Botany Bay can be puzzling and more than twofold depending on the approach one has to the available documents and incorporating the outcomes of the new settlement.

One aspect of writing about history is based on the availability and range of documents along with the approach and interpretation of them by the researchers. Historians of different gender, culture and backgrounds may well render different versions and/or opinions of the same source/s. And so the Botany Bay Debate will continue.

What ever approach one takes, all agree that one of the results achieved by the decision to establish the Settlement was to relieve the pressure of the British authorities to find a solution to the ever growing numbers of criminals.

Pamela Hector

June 2011 


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Last update: April 2011

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