Like many other Australians I have convict ancestors. As far as I remember this was never a secret in my family but in  society at large it was something to keep quiet about.

When I was a kid  “official” opinion still held that the only real Australians were those who thought of themselves as transplanted English.  We were a country of branch offices run by imported managers. The ABC was our version of the BBC, and sounded like it.  Newspaper editorials appealed to our sense of imperial solidarity  (though the word “Empire” was gradually being replaced by “Commonwealth”). The pseudo-English  went to Protestant churches,  owned businesses, worked as bosses.  They also sent their kids to the Boy Scouts, presumably to keep pace with young Catholics  in experience of pederasty.

The “Irish”  featured as labourers, soldiers and sportsman.  Balts and  wogs were useful for building the Snowy River Scheme and for slotting in to the bottom rungs of society as the Irish began to work themselves upwards.

In such a society convict ancestors were a disgrace, especially to the social climbers whose fondest ambition was to be indistinguishable from their English counterparts (despite the fact that  those counterparts would have regarded them with condescension and contempt). Convicts had been, after all, criminals.

The bitter conscription debate during the First World War, perceived by most people as largely Catholic vs largely Protestant, was still a raw memory for many. Those who looked back to those times with nostalgia now had no grown-up causes over which to fight  and were reduced to squabbling about control of the Labor Party.

There had always been a minority strain in Australia that didn’t go along with the cult of Protestant respectability, opting instead for an aggressive anti-imperial patriotism that was almost as tiresome.  By the late 60s this faction began to permeate the mainstream and criminal ancestors began to be a source of pride. After all, the convicts were  innocent victims of the evil Pommies, weren’t they?

My great grandfather was a convict. The newspaper account of his trial, conviction and unsuccessful appeal is an interesting document.  I thank my sister for finding it and sending it to me so that I can reproduce it and take the credit.

Saturday 25 July 1840

James Gardner, Thomas Gardner & Mathew Brophy stood indited for assaulting Jeremiah, Philip & John Larrisey & William Morrisey of Boardivell on 26 April last.
There were eight counts in the Inditment,
The first was for assualting Jeremiah Larrissey so as to do him greivous bodily injury; the second, so as to endanger his life; the third for riot;
the forth for an affray; the fifth for a common assault on John Larrisey

The prisoners in answer to question from the Clerk of the Courts pleaded justification

William Morrissey examined by Mr Clarke – lives at Boardwell; recollects the night; was awakened by hearing his dog bark; got up & went to his kitchen door; shortly after which it was struck with a blow of a stone; shortly
after it was struck again; he asked who was there & what they wanted at that hour of night; a voice bade him open the door; he refused & shouted as loud as he could for help, as he knew the Larrisseys would hear him, their houses being within 5 or 6 perches of his at the other side of the road; in a few minutes he heard the latch of their door rising & knowing they were coming
to his aid, he opened his own door & went out with a pitchfork in his hand; when he did so a fight and scuffle was going on between the party & the Larrissys;
saw Mat Brophy knocked down into the grip of the ditch; after some time they succeeded in capturing the three men; brought them into his house & kept them prisoners until the morning, when the police having been sent for to Rathdfowney, they delivered them up into custardy; all the Larrissys were cut & covered in blood; Jeremiah Larrissy was severely cut; Phil & John were also cut & himself received 2 or 3 blows; the prisoners at the bar
are the three men they arrested.

The witness was asked a few foolish questions by Brophy which, if anything,the more fully established their guilt.

Jeremiah Larrissey, examined by Mr Corballis lives near last witness; recollects the night of the 26 April last; was in bed with his brother Philip; some time in the night Phil woke him & enquired had he locked the doors & in a short time after said he believed Morrissay’s house was attacked by robbers; they then got up; witness took a spade & Phil a shovel; John took nothing; when they went but they heard stones thrown, & soon after heard his brother John cry for mercy; went over to him & found him with a hold of James Gardiner.
Witness knocked him down with a spade & broke one of his fingers; Matt Brophy then came up & struck witness a severe blow on the head with a large wattle.
(The witness here exhibited a deep indenture in his head). Got several other strokes; his brother Phil was cut across the eye with a stone; knew some of the Gardiners before, but never had a quarrel with them.
Philip Larrissy corroborated the last witness’s testimony. Thomas Gardiner struck him with a stone on the temple – (witness exhibited the wound, which
was very severe) saw Matt Brophy strike his brother Jer.

John Larrissey (a feeble minded old man) examined by Mr Clarke – Fully corroborated his brothers testimony; got a blow across the eye from which he for a long time suffered a great deal of pain, and another across the back of the hand; had the palsy before the night.

Dr Robert Drought examined by Mr Corballis – Is a medical gentleman; knows the Larrissys; attended them after the night of 26: Philip was in a dangerous way; the eyebrow was detached & lay upon his cheek. Jer had a very extensive cut on his head; it was nearly 2 in length: John’s right eye was injured; Philip received great bodily harm.

The prisoners not producing any witness his lordship recapitulated the evidence
& the Jury found the prisoners Not Guilty of the first count, Guilty of all the others.


The humble petition of James Gardiner and Thomas Gardiner prisoners confined in the goal of Maryboro in the Queens County
Most humbly show to your Excellency
Than that they were tried at the last assizes holden at Maryboro before the Lord Chief Justice Bushe and found guilty of an assault on William Morrissey.
Phillip-Jeremiah and John Larrissey and sentenced to seven years transportation.
That your petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency that they at all times since the commission of this unfortunate transaction felt the deepest sorrow for it and in proof of which they offered to plead guilty of this assault but were put on trial when not pleading guilty to all the counts in the indictment against them and they consider that the Jury only returned a Verdict against them for a common assault but petitioners cannot speak with certainty whether or not.

That your petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency that this occurrence for which they are now under so severe a sentence happened thus.

A person named Peggy Larkin lived as Servant with the aforementioned Larrissey’s and in the Spring of 1839 sowed some potatoes with one Key who resides near to
Larrissey’s, that in sometime after some disagreement took place between the girl and the Larrisseys when she left the neighbourhood and went to Service elsewhere. She having pitted these potatoes in the garden of the said William Morrissey who lives immediately opposite to the Larriseys the High road running between them
That said Peggy Larkin has a sister named Joney who is married to one James Gardiner an uncle to your Petitioners. She her husband and five small children
were in the most absolute distress for several days for provisions when this Joney Gardiner asked them would hey go bring her some of the aforesaid potatoes belonging to her sister the said Peggy Larkin to which they foolishly consented thinking it no harm.
That on their coming to said Wm Morrissey’s home where these potatoes were pitted his dog began to bark and he got up out of bed and on making noise the Larrisseys got up and came out and thought your Petitioners were going
to rob them assaulted your petitioners very severely and your petitioners in defence of their lives assaulted said Larrisseys & Morrissey but your petitioners most positively declare they had no intention of committing any other crime but to bring away a few of the aforesaid potatoes not for themselves but for the support of the sister and children of the owner there of in proof
of this…… and can they brought for them was taken on the spot but returned the next morning by the Police.
That your Petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency they are very poor and were not able to defend themselves by Council or Attorney and have a widowed mother, two sisters and a brother solely depending on their earnings
for Support and Petitioners under the circumstances of the case most humbly entreat of your Excellency in Clemency and mercy not to send them out of the Country but commute their sentence to any length of imprisonment and hardship your Excellency may think meet to inflict on them in order they may one day or other render some assistance to their unfortunate distressed
Petitioners most humble refer Your Excellency to the annexed recommendations in their behalf.
And in duty bound …………..pray

(signed James Gardiner and Thomas Gardiner dated 2ne August1840;

We the undersigned inhabitants of Queen’s County do hereby certify that we have read the foregoing Petition and that we believe the same to be true and under the circumstances of the case beg leave to recommend the Petitioners to the Clemency and mercy of His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant.

Given under our hands this 4th day of August 1840
John R Price, Westfield Bev Joseph Spacker? Ag…….
Peter Roe, Gortmaclea? James Llewellyn Roe, Coolbally
John Henry? JP ? Thomas Dowling, T…..
Robert White, ?? John Roe JP?
Pa….. T…… JP? G 21 1840

James & Thos Gardiner

The Law must take its course
Aug 14 (signed E)



  1. There but for a few potatoes go you and I

    Dr Don Wilson

    Dental Surgeon

    Seaside Dental

    308 Military Rd

    Grange South Australia 5022

    Tel (08) 8353 4477

    This email message is intended only for the addressee(s) and contains

    information that may be confidential. If you are not the intended

    recipient please notify the sender by reply email and immediately

    delete this email. Use, disclosure or reproduction of this email by

    anyone other than the intended recipient(s) is strictly prohibited.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s