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James Dearman 1801-1834   Australia bound

Portsmouth and the high seas 1830

So the end of James’ criminal career in England.  Although the Old Bailey records show just three trials, only one of which had previously resulted in imprisonment, his listing on the criminal register after this final trial shows that he had been imprisoned four times before.  No wonder then that he was finally transported.  He was lucky to have avoided it for so long.  As these convictions do not show up in the Old Bailey transcriptions one has to assume that they were at lesser courts, such as the Middlesex Quarter Sessions, but to date I have been unable to access these, so cannot confirm whether this is true or not.  If it is, then I can only confirm that I think he was lucky he didn’t get transported earlier.


And looking at the close proximity of the brothers’ offences, one has to wonder - were they egging each other on?  Was it a family business?  And none of them seem to have been particularly intelligent about it all.

So first of all it was back to Newgate and then transfer to a convict hulk - old warships anchored in harbour as staging posts for the convicts about to be transported.  In James’ case it was the Leviathan in Portsmouth Harbour.  I couldn’t find a picture of this particular ship, but I gather it was an “old 90 gunner from Nelson’s Trafalgar fleet, jammed with 600 convicts rendered ‘tame as rabbits’ by starvation and discipline”.  The painting above left is of Portsmouth Harbour with the prison hulks all lined up in a row, so I guess it was one of them.

The following is a paragraph from Robert Hughes’ book The Fatal Shore - which is all about convicts in Australia.


“The sight of the hulks at Portsmouth, Deptford or Woolwich was deservedly famous.  They lay anchored in files on the gray heaving water, bow to stern, a rookery of sea-isolated crime.  As the longboat bearing its prisoners drew near, the bulbous oak walls of these pensioned-off warships rose sheer out of the sea, patched and queered with excresences, deckhouses, platforms, lean-tos sticking at all angles from the original hull.  They had the look of slum tenements, wtih lines of bedding strung out to air between the stumps of the masts, and the gunports barred with iron lattices.  They wallowed to the slap of tahe waves, and dark fleeces of weed streamed in the current from the rotting waterlines.  Some were French warships captured in battle, but most were obsolete first-raters that had once borne a hundred guns for  England, now all that remained of their pride was a battered figurehead and the rusty chains, each link half the size of a man, that held them to their last anchorage.  They were like floating Piranesi ruins, cramped and wet inside, dark and vile smelling.”  (See the cross-section of one at left)

Apparently whilst here they were sent to work in the Naval dockyards in chain gangs.  Exploitation and corruption were rife - favours could be obtained by bribes - but I imagine our James would not have been able to do this.  Where would he have found the money?  They were fed though - meat three times a week, although it was often a struggle to keep one’s rations from the ‘old hands.  Suffice to say it was miserable.

I wonder if anyone saw him off when he left - or whether he was abandoned to his fate by wife and family as soon as he was sentenced.  Did Catherine try to go too?  I gather some wives petitioned to be allowed to travel with their husbands, but they had to pay for their passage and permission was rarely granted.  I doubt either of them was literate enough to write, so they never saw each other again. His record shows him as having good conduct whilst on board the hulk

At last the day for departure would have come and the prisoners would have been ferried out to the ships that were to take them to the end of the earth.  It must have seemed an inconceivable distance to people of the time - it’s pretty much still like that for some.  James travelled to Australia on the William Glen Anderson a ship that only made one convict trip.  It was 389 tons and was built in 1827 (no picture - sorry).  It left London on 17th May, 1831,  and travelled to Portsmouth to pick up more convicts, including James, leaving there on 2nd June, so James would have been in the hulk for several months.  It arrived in Hobart on 1st November, 1831 - a voyage of 152 days, which was long, even for those days.  Maybe they were becalmed somewhere.  Typically the ships travelled across the Atlantic to Rio and from there picked up the winds - the roaring forties which took them all the way to Australia via the Cape of Good Hope.  There were 166 (or 177 - records vary) convicts on board and none of them died.  The only person to die on the voyage was the captain - Captain Smith who was replaced by James Fawthrop.  


As an aside James Fawthrop seems to have eventually settled in Portland, Victoria, and became a hero when he helped rescue some shipwrecked sailors.

It is possible that the surgeon’s journal is in the Tasmanian Archives - so perhaps one day I shall go and check it out.  If nobody died on the voyage he must have been a good surgeon, or the captain was an enlightened man who saw that the convicts were relatively well treated.

A brief glance at Robert Hughes’ accounts of convict transports seems to imply that although conditions were grim, by 1831 they were not as grim as they had been.  The 30s were the decade when transportation peaked.  The Napoleonic wars were over, there was not an effective prison system in England and the logistics of transportation had been worked out.  The ships were chartered and there was always a doctor (or surgeon) on board.  The convicts were fed and exercised - they even seem to have taken part in entertainments such as the crossing of the line.  Nevertheless it was certainly not a picnic as these two pictures show.

And so James said farewell to England, to his pregnant wife and children.  He was never to see them again.  I wonder if he heard of the birth of his last child, Robert or whether that was the last he heard of any of them.  As to Catherine, well it must have been a desperate time for her, though she may well not have felt any responsibility for John Newman and James - they certainly ended up in the workhouse anyway.  By 1841 we find her living as the housekeeper (and mistress, judging by the children that were subsequently born) to one James Jarman, a carpenter of Enfield.  I do not think he ever married her, but I have not fully investigated.  Such a similar name - at one point I though it was James come home and living under an assumed name.  But no.


Convicts to Australia - A comprehensive listing of links to sites of interest to those researching Australian convict ancestors

Ancestry - Ancestry has a lot of records associated with Australian convicts - you will have to subscribe though, and some are only available to their premium members

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