Monday, January 3, 2011



Have you noticed the content of these travel stories has shifted a little.

They’ve almost become a recounting of a way of life. The Australian way of life.  I’ve become aware too of my little band of readers.  Some of you are fellow Australians, others in Canada, England , Denmark, Russia, The Netherlands and America and some most naturally are in Ecuador.  But I’m always intrigued with the readers from other more remote parts of the world. 

Remote to me because I’ve never had the pleasure of touching on their countries.  Latvia, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Columbia and Slovenia.  Should any of you find the time I would love to hear from you.

I did promise to relate how and why our family, mine and the Reluctant Travellers, the folk from long ago, made their way to Australia. 

My ancestors came from Scotland, England, Wales and the Fiji Islands, and one from the United States; Stan’s from the English counties, Scotland, Denmark and Germany. Some came as settlers, but a few arrived in chains.

Our Aussie heritage started with my Irish great-great-great grandfather Bryan Spalding, the convict.  A larrikin if ever there was one.

 The Founding of Australia. By Capt. Arthur Phillip R.N. Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788 / Original [oil] sketch [1937] by Algernon Talmage R.A.
(Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

When Bryan appeared before Irish courts in Mullingar, Westmeath County in 1796 and was handed a life sentence – transportation to the new colony of New South Wales,  he was 35 years old and was tried under the name of Spalden with alias’s including Spalding, Spollon and all variations in between. Either he wanted to hide his true identity or the English court authorities simply couldn’t understand his thick Irish brogue.  He was described in court proceedings as a vagabond.

To receive a life sentence one would imagine his crime to have been quite heinous.  But this was Ireland at the height of the troubles when the British were being bloody minded and intense loyalty to one’s own mother country was not a valid defence. 

The idea of transportation as punishment was however not a sudden whim; it had been first suggested in a law passed in 1597 entitled...
“An Acte for Punyshment of Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars
.” This law stated that, “Obdurate idlers banished out of this Realm...and shall be conveyed to such parts beyond the seas as shall be...assigned by the Privy Council.”

You need to understand the politics and times. Ireland and England were at loggerheads. The North American colonies, the previous destination for England’s criminals was embroiled in Revolution against the Mother Country and could no longer accept convicts. Crime and punishment in the United Kingdom was clearly getting out of hand with young offenders convicted of such trivial misdemeanours as stealing a loaf of bread.  Jails across the country couldn’t keep up with the increasing flow of prisoners; condemned ships lying at anchor in rivers and ports were pressed into service to become known as the notorious prison hulks. 

And so the authorities of the day came up with the idea of establishing penal colonies in the far away, and as far as they knew, uninhabited land named by Captain James Cook on his 1770 voyage of exploration as New South Wales. They sent off the first fleet of 11 prison ships to this completely unknown and desolate destination under the stewardship of Captain Arthur Phillips. 

Just as well he was a practical man and had first hand knowledge of farming otherwise none of those first unfortunates would have survived. 

Bryan arrived in the colony of Sydney Cove in 1797 on the vessel Britannia 1.  Conditions were cruel and primitive, both during the long voyage and in the colony on his arrival.  Keep in mind those first convict ships had arrived barely ten years earlier when there was absolutely nothing in place, no European type civilisation whatsoever to house or feed the growing number of prisoners being shunted from England.

Imagine landing in a strange foreign country after three and longer months of confined travel by sea in mostly leaky and over crowded sailing ships, then having to construct some form of primitive shelter, establish the locality of fresh water,  attempt to grow vegetables in order to survive, and at the same time know you would never again see your loved ones or the land of your birth.

Life was very harsh in those early years, especially for the Irish prisoners who to begin with were already actively opposed to England and their English masters.  These were desperate sometimes violent men torn from home and family for crimes against the English Crown.  Revolutionary plots and counter plots were constantly being planned and exposed, and cruelly punished.

The patriotism of the Irish, their insatiable desire for revenge and retaliation was ever present in Bryan Spalding.  It seemed that no sooner had Bryan achieved his ‘ticket of leave’ or freedom on the land then he committed another crime and was sent to back breaking work in the mines or worse, given a flogging. He seemed to have a keen nose for trouble and an inability to avoid it.  As the events of 1804 prove.

The trouble began with salacious gossip from home. As news of yet another uprising in Mother Ireland began to filter through the colony from arriving ships, unrest and rebellion spread like wildfire among the Irish convicts and tickets of leave men. Inevitable leaders of the mob took control and began plotting.  They aimed to break out from Parramatta, free other prisoners and as a unified group make their way to Port Jackson where they intended to seize ships and sail to freedom. A simple enough plan, but one doomed to failure.

The rebels numbered 233, most but not all were convicts, some were emancipists and ticket of leave men.

The first contact between the two sides came when a detachment of Government troops clashed with a group of rebels on the Governors domain in Parramatta.  The rebels retreated back towards Toongabbie with the troops in pursuit.

Painting by unknown artist: National Library of Australia

The two forces finally came together at Rouse Hill and there began a brief but bloody encounter. The rebels though not outnumbered were clearly outmanoeuvred.  The encounter was over within ten or so minutes, but it left 30 men dead.  Of those 15 were unnamed rebels killed on the battle field. Nine men were later hanged, seven were given between 500 and 200 lashes, and 30 others were exiled to the Newcastle coal mines.  The remainder of the rebels, 170 men, mostly ticket of leave, were allowed to return to their places of employment.

Among those exiled to the Coal River were four men who assisted the rebels, a Robert Cooper, two emancipists, Bryan Spalding, who had been a 'Taskmaster' at Toongabbie and therefore a trustee, and Bryan Riley, and another man Dennis Ryan.  Riley and Ryan were punished with as many lashes as they could stand without their lives being endangered.

For Bryan Spalding not long given, yet again, his freedom on the ground, it was back to punishment; bone breaking work in the coal fields at Toongabbie. He could at least be thankful for one small mercy; it would seem that on this occasion, due no doubt to his previous position, he had at least escaped the cruel scarring of the lash.

 A few years after his arrival in 1797, Bryan had established a partnership with a fellow convict Mary Welch and they had a daughter, Catherine.

Young Catherine grew up as a free, ‘born in the colony’ child and despite the often criminal aspects of her early life she eventually met and married the Nottingham born Samuel Marshall who arrived as a 16 year old on another convict ship, the Ocean in 1816.  Young Samuel turned misfortune into success  proving to be a hard worker and able provider.

He took part in much of the early exploration of the Hunter Valley and was rewarded with a block of land.  Together, Samuel and Catherine Marshall farmed in a location named Patricks Plain, acquiring other properties and raising six children.

Catherine Spalding Marshall, my great-great grandmother thus became my first Australian born ancestor.


Next - From Scotland came the skirl of bagpipes.

Robyn Mortimer © 2011