Monday, 18 June 2018

#52Ancestors - Week 26 - Black Sheep

Unfortunately I have no record of the reaction of the families of my convicts regarding the arrest, trial and transportation of their children or brothers or sisters to a land on the other side of the world. Were they considered as black sheep, their family connection forgotten? Hopefully the families mourned the loss of  those unfortunate enough to have been caught committing a crime (or a perceived crime). The criminal system was harsh and many of the convicts who came to Australia were arrested for what we would now consider petty crimes. Some convicts were, of course, habitual offenders.

But what was the situation regarding convicts in Australia? As we know, now it is almost a badge of honour to have a convict in the family but this has not always been the case.

Initially most of the Europeans in Sydney were convicts and this would have been the for many years. However once they had served their term the former convicts were free to create a new life in the colony. Free settlers gradually arrived and for a time there was some friction between former convicts (emancipists) and some free settlers, particularly former soldiers who were not happy about emancipists having equal rights with them. But in settlements such as Windsor, in the Hawkesbury region, where many former convicts settled and made a new life, the stigma of being a former convict was not an issue as most of the families consisted of emancipists trying to form a new life. They were just the baker, or butcher or general store keeper - people important to the local community.

Despite this, to many people, having convicts in the family was undesirable with the convicts considered the black sheep of the family. Up until the 1960s many families did not talk about the possibility of convicts in the family. My father did not discover that he had a convict, Uriah Moses, in his family until the late 1970s.

Uriah's obituary, in Bell's Life in Sydney and Country Review 11 December 1847, described Uriah as 'one of the oldest hands in the Colony, and universally esteemed by all who knew him.'  There is no mention of his convict pass. The obituary also referred to his protracted illness which he bore with 'Christian fortitude'. Uriah was a Jew who converted to Christianity shortly before he died possibly because the rest of his family were members of the Christian Church. The facts that Uriah had been a Jew plus a convict were overlooked, possibly on purpose, by the family and never mentioned in articles concerning the achievements of his sons, some of whom became large landholders and / or politicians. They possibly wanted to forget the convict connection in the family. What was recorded was that Uriah had run a successful business in Windsor. This may explain why later generations were unaware of convict and Jewish connections in the family.

Needless to say my family did not know anything about the other seven convicts in Dad's side of the family.

But what was the family reaction to the convict on my mother's side of the family? Because Simeon Lord figured in much of Sydney's early colonial history and is mentioned in most history books written about that period, it would have been difficult to ignore him and deny his family connection. My grandparents certainly knew about Simeon and Simeon's name sometimes came up in adult conversation. I assume that stories about Simeon may have been passed on to generations. Unfortunately I only learned the skeleton of these stories, possibly because my grandmother did not encourage talk about this family convict. She was, however, only too pleased to recount stories of the lives of her family members in India.

My father decided to find out all he could about Simeon and I have a suitcase containing his research  material. The focus, in the 1960s and 1970s was on Simeon and not on his wife, Mary Hyde, who was also a convict with an interesting story.

In the 1960s a television company wanted to make a program on the life of Simeon Lord and asked families associated with Simeon for permission. My family readily gave permission but another branch of the family refused. Was their refusal due to stigma to being associated with a convict or were they unsure about the way the story would be told? Whatever the reason the program was not made.

There has now been a turn around in the opinion about the early settlement of the colony that became Australia and the role played by the unfortunate people transported here. I know that I certainly do not consider the twelve convicts in my family to be black sheep of the family.

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