John Sharp c1811 - 1863
A typical Whiteboy "threatening
Of the 40,000 Irish convicts transported to Australia, as many as one in eight were political or social "protesters"; that is, they committed their crimes, not for personal gain, but as a public protest against the social injustices of their day. Most of the protests were about land tenure, high rents, taxes, evictions and despite the severe punishments imposed, persisted for centuries. The protesters were members of various "secret societies" Whiteboys, Whitefeet, Rockites, Ribbonmen, Terry Alts, Lady Clares etc. Usually dressed in a form of uniform (white shirt, sash etc), and led by a "Captain" and band in mock military style (viz "Captain Starlight" in Australian mythology), they levelled fences, maimed cattle, burned houses, stole firearms, and left threatening letters, usually mimicking the official court language, for those who resisted their demands for the people's "justice".
A significant group during the 1830s were the Whitefeet from the Queen's County (now County Laois), large numbers of whom were transported. Typical of these was John Sharp, transported in 1834.
John Sharp was born about 1811 in the RC parish of Arles (civil parish of Killabban), Queen's County,1 the son of Thomas Sharp, farmer, and his wife Mary Nowlan.2 Sharp is not a common name in Catholic Ireland, and it is likely that this is the same Thomas Sharp who in 1824 had equal shares with Thomas Murphy and James Boil [Boyle] in a 13 acre farm in the Killabban townland of Rushes,3 and that this is where John grew up. He learnt to read, and possibly attended the Catholic school at Rushes, where in 1825 Patrick Dunn taught 57 boys and 30 girls in a local farmer's barn.4 We don't know of any brothers or sisters: the Arles parish register shows only Ally Sharp living the district between 1829 and 1841; she was possibly John's sister or other relative.5
The Rushes Inn, Rushes crossroads
(Photos: Trish Downes 2001)
The shared farm, rented from absentee landlord Cornelius Bolton, would have been worked on the 'rundale' system. This was a form of joint tenancy where the farmers, usually relatives, divided the land into strips for their crops and grazed their livestock communally, changing the divisions as needs changed. As families grew, they further sub-divided to provide for sons and their families, each allocation becaming progressively smaller until the land could no longer support the numbers living on it. The landlords disliked joint tenancies and took every opportunity to replace unviable joint tenants with single occupants who could produce more crops and pay a higher rent.
Killabban was part of the Leinster Colliery District and by the 1830s was densely populated. According to John Edge, a colliery manager in 1832, 'taking the three collieries of Newtown, the Lordship [Castlecomer, County Kilkenny] and the Clough; they are like a great bowl; they contain a population greater than any city or town in Ireland, Dublin and Cork excepted.'6 Coal had been discovered in the eighteenth century, and in addition to the locals, strangers had arrived, to work 'task work' (i.e. as casual labourers paid by the job) in the collieries.
By 1850 the joint tenancy at Rushes had been broken up, and Thomas was renting a labourer's cottage on Patrick Fitzpatrick's farm in the neighbouring townland of Farnans, their landlord being John Edge, the colliery manager.8 Perhaps the family was one of the many evicted, or put out of work when some of the collieries closed.
In May 1829 the inspector-general of police for Leinster informed the Chief Secretary's office in Dublin Castle: "Captain Rock has got into the collieries."9 Several Sharp men were involved. In March 1830 Michael Sharpe, 22-year-old weaver and farm labourer, was convicted of Ribbonism and transported for life. According to newspaper reports, he had, with Thomas Fingleton alias Power, attacked and set fire to the house of Pat Brenan at Clopook, parish of Tullomoy in the colliery district. The attack, on 4 November 1829, caused a sensation which reached even the London newspapers.10 Brenan resisted the men, shot and wounded the one who had the fire on the end of a pitchfork, and later identifed to police two of the attackers as his neighbours Thomas and William Fingleton. Earlier that same night the Whitefeet had forced their way into the house of Brenan's brother Thomas, within a quarter of a mile, and taken a case of pistols.
This Michael Sharpe may have been John's relative. He may also have been a relative of the only other Sharp noted in the Tithe records for the district, namely Michael Sharp of Kellystown, parish of Rathaspick.11
The second Sharp to come to notice was Thomas Sharpe who, among others, was convicted at the 1831 summer assizes of 'Tumultuous Proceedings' at Ballinakill on Sunday 29 May 1831 against police who tried to remove anti-tithe placards. He was sentenced to three months' imprisonment, and was singled out by the judge for lenient treatment because he "was not among the most active in the riot, ... was not distinctly shown to have thrown stones", and was involved in a rescue which apparently endangered his own life.12 Nothing else is known about this man.
By 1832, when our John Sharp's involvement is first noted, the situation had become so desperate that on 13 February the Privy Council in Dublin Castle had officially "proclaimed" the colliery district as "disturbed".13 This enabled the authorities to bring in the Peace Preservation Force, a "flying squad" of extra police, and to appoint Chief Inspector Matthew Singleton, a professional police officer and magistrate, especially to the colliery district. Singleton and his men set about catching the offenders, and they rounded up enough to cause the judges to hold a "Special Commission" of assizes in June 1832. But not all were caught, and by 1832 the Queen's County was the most disturbed county in Ireland.14
On Sunday morning 6 May 1832, a John Haughey was in bed asleep in his farmhouse at Graigue near Carlow town when he was awoken by a rapping on the door. John Sharp and two other men entered his bedroom and John demanded his firearms. When Haughey told him he had no arms, John asked where his blunderbuss and pistols were. Haughey insisted he had none, only a gun for keeping off the crows. The three men then brought him out of his bed room to the parlour, where he was compelled to give them his gun. On instructions shouted by others from the road outside, Haughey was sworn on oath that he was telling the truth about the blunderbuss (and presumably that he would not report the incident).
Haughey's nephew, John Hayden, who slept in the loft of the farm's stable, was awakened by the dogs barking, and saw the three men leave the house. He heard the others on the road outside order the intruders to return and "swear" his uncle (that he was telling the truth) about the brass barrel blunderbuss. On their leaving the house again, John Sharp allegedly pointed Haughey's gun at Hayden and threatened he would shoot him if he did not "keep in his head".15
Haughey and Hayden were evidently sufficiently intimidated they did not report the incident, as there is no record of it in the May 1832 police reports to Dublin Castle.
If John had not been so fond of dancing he might have escaped arrest. Four months later, eight colliers from Poulathien colliery were at a dance, late at night and two miles from home, when the police arrived and arrested them and their piper for disturbing the peace.16 They appeared before the magistrates at Ballickmoyler Petit Sessions on 19 September 1832 and were remanded to Carlow gaol until they could provide bail as security for their future good behaviour. By chance, John Hayden was a spectator in the court room, and recognised John Sharp as the man who had threatened him with the gun. Hayden decided to inform Chief Inspector Matthew Singleton, and after selecting John from among ten prisoners in the gaol yard, Hayden swore a statement that John was the man who had threatened to shoot him.17
Maryborough courthouse, where John was tried
(Photo: Trish Downes 2001)
John Haughey also provided a statement about the robbery, but was too intimidated by the consequences to identify the prisoner. In fact, the Haughey family were so horrified by their nephew's actions, and so terrified of receiving the vengeance of the Whitefeet, that they turned John Hayden out of their home. Chief Inspector Singleton was obliged to take Hayden under his care,18 and the case received such publicity that it was used the following year in the House of Commons as an example of the general intimidation that was making arrest and conviction so difficult.
On 14 March 1833, at the spring assizes, according to The Freeman's Journal, John Sharp was tried 'for attacking, with others, the house of John Haughey, of Carlow Graigue, taking from him a gun, and administering an unlawful oath.'19 In typical Victorian fashion, The Leinster Express was less interested in the crime than in the crown prosecutor's eloquence; but the account shows the level of frustation felt on all sides about the state of the county:
John Sharpe stood indicted for having attacked the house of John Hoey [sic], at Graigue, and demanding fire arms, on the night of the 6th of May last.
This being the first case which came on, connected with the insurrectionary state of the country, Mr Tickell addressed his Lordship and the Jury He said he had hoped that at this Assizes, he would have no case of the present character to submit to a Queen's County Jury. He had entertained a hope, that from the firm and temperate administration of justice, at the Special Commission, and last Assizes, and the examples which had followed, a cessation of outrages would have been the result. He did entertain a hope that the admonitions which had been delivered from that Bench in terms which could never be forgotten, would have a salutary effect upon the peasantry of the Queen's County. He would allude to a fact stated by the Attorney-General on one occasion at the Special Commission, and which was still the case in this county, that not in a single case, had the offences been committed against persons in the higher ranks of society; the victims of this system of tyranny, were in every instance the humble occupiers of land. The labours of the Crown would be for the protection of the poor man; for asserting the rights of property, liberty and person. It ought to be well know[n], that those persons who suffered most, were individuals who inhabited the defenceless cottages, and are the more easily rendered the victims of the midnight perpetrators, who go about administering their system of tyranny. The learned Counsel continued to dwell upon the state of the country, and concluded by stating the case for the prosecution.
The prisoner was found guilty upon the testimony of Hoey's nephew, who slept in an out-house, and had seen him pass to and from the house. An alibi defence was endeavoured to be sustained, but failed. To be transported for seven years.20
From this we may suppose that John Haughey was a tenant brought in to replace an evicted one. His farm is not shown in the Tithe applotment records for Graigue townland in 1825, nor in the Griffith's valuation of 1850, suggesting he may have left the area.21
On 15 March a satisfied Chief Inspector Singleton wrote to Sir William Gossett at Dublin Castle:
I have the honour to inform you, that on yesterday, I had John Sharp, placed on his trial for attacking with other Whitefeet, the house of Mr Haughey, near Carlow Graigue, and carrying thereout a gun, on the night of the 21st September last, and after a patient trial, he was found guilty, and sentenced to be transported for seven years.
This is the prosecution that the Right Hon. Mr Stanley stated in the House of Commons a few nights ago, that the uncle of the Crown Witness, named John Hayden, actually turned him out of his house, in order that the Whitefeet should see, that it was not he, Mr Haughey, that identified the prisoner, John Sharp, in consequence of the disturbed state of the Country, and the intimidation throughout the District.22
It was Lord Althorp, Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had made the statement. On 27 February 1833 he introduced into the House of Commons a new Coercion Bill aimed at suppressing the disturbances. In a lengthy speech decrying the level of violence and intimidation, he listed the people 'compelled to quit Queen's County, in consequence of the evidence given before the Special Commission' and stated:
a Mr. Manley [sic] actually turned his nephew out of doors in order to show, that he had no concern [i.e., was not involved] in giving information against a man for robbing his house of a gun.23
But Chief Inspector Singleton was not done with the Haughey case. According to the Freeman's Journal of 10 July 1833, he had tracked down another member of John's party: a "noted character" named John Deegan was committed to Maryborough gaol for attacking the Haughey house. The circumstances surrounding this arrest and subsequent action are unknown.24
John was not the last Sharp to be in trouble with the law. On 14 March 1838, another John Sharpe, aged 20, single, labourer and miner, was convicted of manslaughter and transported for life. He and three others, William Hughes, John Burke and Andrew Redmonds, had been involved in the death of James Conway in December 1837 at the Rushes crossroads the same townland as that of our John, so he was almost certainly a relative. The newspaper account called it the "deed of atrocity" on an "inoffensive and industrious young man" by a party of "sanguinary miscreants". According to The Leinster Express:
The murder is attributed to Conway's father and uncle having some time since prosecuted to conviction a party who attacked their own house, and attempted to deprive them of their lives. Since that period the Conways have been called "The Pointers!" and have been subject to every species of persecution.25
The newspaper, however, might not have told the full story. The offenders were all neighbours of Conway. It seems John had no friends to plead his case, but the family of William Hughes petitioned repeatedly for respite of sentence, blaming the death entirely on John Sharpe, and declaring they were "on the very best of terms" with the Conways. They even obtained character references from two first cousins of James Conway, and presented a statement from the local magistrate, Peter Gale, that the offence "arose from a drunken affray and not from the previous system of outrages."26 But all to no avail; all four were transported for life.27
John Sharp, convicted on 14 March 1833, was transferred on 17 April 1833 to the Surprize hulk in Cove of Cork (Cobh).28 But it was not until 7 July 1834, almost two years after John was arrested, that Surgeon-Superintendent James Wilson, Royal Navy, of the transport Blenheim, came on board the Surprize to inspect his potential transportees, and 200 of them, plus ten free settlers who were sons of convicts, 30 ship's company, 33 soldiers, and eight women and nine children belonging to the soldiers, set sail in the Blenheim on 27 July, arriving at Sydney 14 November 1834. The surgeon described his charges as 'very cleanly in their persons, and their animal strength I would say far above that of most of the Seamen who offer themselves as Volunteers for His Majesty's Navy'.29 On arrival only one elderly crew member was sick, to the doctor's pride. He kept a conduct register during the journey and noted John's conduct as 'good' one of the few to be rated above the normal 'orderly'.30
William Caswell's residence "Tanilba", Port Stephens NSW
(Click on image to enlarge)
On arrival in NSW John, like his shipmates, was immediately assigned to private employment. A mere 5'1" tall with brown hair and hazel eyes, John was 26, single, could read but not write, and was described as a farm labourer.31
John's master was Lieutenant William Caswell, RN retired, who farmed several land grants in the Port Stephens/Raymond Terrace district and who had over 20 convicts on his books. Caswell had arrived in 1829 with his family and £2,000 capital, and was granted 1920 acres on the Williams River which he named "Balickera" and a further grant at Port Stephens where he built his home "Tanilba".32
As an experienced farm worker, John was put to work on Balickera, the Williams River grant.
The hut at Balickera and the convicts' routine there fitted John Dunmore Lang's description exactly (see Box 2). In July 1832, Joseph Challis, one of the convicts at Balickera, described a robbery from the hut to Captain Moffatt, the local magistrate:
Sometime about the 24th of last month on returning to the hut from our work about three o'clock we found the Prisoner sitting near the Hut; he stated he was a free man and that he had a Note from Mr Moffatt, and that we might not be afraid to let him in, on which we let him in; he slept in the Hut all that night, and the next night; the morning after the second night he left the Place before the sun had got up, and said he was going to his Brother; all of us went to our work as usual; the Door was shut with a latch, and a String which was used for securing[?] it was concealed; the Door could not be opened by any Person unaccustomed to the Place except by force; we returned Home to the Hut about half past two o'clock to get our Dinner; on searching for our Bread which was made in the morning it could not be found; this caused suspicion and on making a search found that one of the Slats of the back part of the House which was fastened with a Spike Nail had been forced one side and the Nail broken, and an opening made to admit of any Person going in or out; I then went to search for my clothes and found that they were all taken away; the clothes consisted of which were taken from me, one new Pair of Blue Trousers - value ten shillings - one New Blue Jacket, value sixteen shillings - one Duck Frock new with a Pocket which I sewed in myself, value five shillings - one new checked Shirt, value about five shillings, two Bags, value two shillings, total value of my things stolen one pound eighteen shillings. All my clothes except what I had on my back were taken as also all the things of the three Men that were in the Hut with me; Butler one of the men living in the Hut with me lost two shirts, on Pair of Trousers, one new white Frock, and three shillings in money; John Brown another man had taken from him, one Pair of Trousers, and one old shirt. James Foster, Mr Caswell's Ticket of Leave man, in charge of the Hut, had one Pair of Trousers taken from him; there was nothing left in the Hut of the mens clothes that could be seen; all our Tea and Sugar, and a Cake was taken, and two Towels which had the Tea & Sugar tied up in them; I swear that the Duck Frock now produced in Court, is the one which was stolen from me; the Pocket has been cut out, and shoulder straps put on since it was stolen; the Trousers produced I positively swear to be the Pair stolen from the Hut, belonging to Butler; I know them from the way that Butler has worn them; he wears his Trousers in general that way; and also I know them from a Hole which is in the front of the left thigh, and which he roughly darned up; Butler and myself milk together for three or four hours every day; which enables me to swear so positive as to his Trousers.34
Balickera, Raymond Terrace NSW
(Click on image to enlarge)
By 1837, after four years in bondage and with good behaviour, John would have been eligible for a ticket of leave. He did not receive this indulgence, which would normally indicate that he was convicted of a colonial offence, although we have no record of John being in trouble.35 His fellow assignees were not always well behaved James McGarvey was constantly before the magistrate, having fallen out with Caswell's overseer, John Brown.36 Mrs Susan Caswell wrote home in 1837 that 'good servants are not to be had ... have two women servants but one has been in the cell for the last two weeks and won't work for me any more.'37
His certificate of freedom was dated 1 August 1840, but was not delivered to the magistrates at Newcastle until 22 June 1841, so John probably had to remain in Caswell's service until that time. Strangely, the crime for which he was transported is shown on his certificate as 'picking pockets'.38 This was probably a mere clerical error. John would not have been able to hide his Whitefoot connections, even if he had wanted to, because the Irish convicts were despatched from Ireland with a sealed 'warrant' from the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland showing their offences and sentences.39
On eventually gaining his freedom in 1841, John moved to employment on the neighbouring farm of Kilcoy. (Caswell was declared bankrupt in the 1840s depression and may not have been able to afford paid staff, even if John had wanted to stay.) In 1842, at Kilcoy, in the Raymond Terrace/Hexham district, John married Mary Graham, a free immigrant from the village of Easky, County Sligo.40
Mary Graham had arrived 13 July 1840 as a bounty immigrant per the ship Formosa. Her father Edward, said later to have been a soldier,41 was dead, and her mother, Mary or Ellen Sheridan, was still living in Easky. Mary was a farm servant, said to be 18 on arrival, but later records suggest she was no more than about 14. She had somehow got herself to Liverpool, with all the certificates of baptism and good character necessary to be accepted as a bounty immigrant. There is no evidence that she came under the protection of an older relative, neighbour or family although the regulations required it nor that she had any connections in Australia.42
Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General
Advertiser, Sat 6 Jan 1855 p. 3
The baptism of John and Mary's first child at Hexham in 1844 would have been a sweet sorrow for them. In strict adherence to Irish naming customs, they named their son Thomas after his paternal grandfather. But as neither had any family in Australia to act as godparents, they chose their friends and neighbours in the small Irish community of Hexham.43 Thomas's godmother was Julia Murphy, who with her blacksmith husband John, had arrived from County Tipperary as a free immigrant in 1841.44 Godfather was Patrick Lenehan/Lenaghan, from Mary's native County Sligo, who had been transported for life in 1827 for administering an unlawful oath a Whiteboy crime!45
Howard Farm, Hexham NSW, today mostly a vacant swamp
(Click on image to enlarge)
John did not forget his Irish roots and although he probably could not afford it, he contributed 2/6 to the Irish Relief Fund at Raymond Terrace in October 1846.46
In 1844 Leneghan was a tenant farmer at Howard Farm, Hexham, the estate of the late colonial architect Francis Greenway.47 After several moves as farms were leased or sold, by 1849 or earlier John and Mary also settled at Howard Farm.48 Greenway had died in 1837 and in 1846 his 800 acres had been divided between his six children, the absentee landlords leasing their portions.
John & Edward Sharp's headstone, Singleton old Catholic cemetery
(Click on image to enlarge)
John and Mary raised their family at Howard Farm for about 12 years, when for some reason, between 1860 and 1862, they moved to Singleton, where John became a shepherd on Ravensworth station. In January 1863 John died from heart problems and chronic bronchitis at age 52.50
Why did he move to Singleton? Perhaps the Greenway family had other uses for his land at Hexham, or the several major floods in the 1850s may have wiped him out. The most likely answer is he was determined to select his own freehold land, under the new Acts which came into being in 1862. There is no evidence of him making a conditional purchase, but selectors had to pay 5 shillings per acre (25 per cent) deposit when they registered their selection, and he might not have acquired the necessary funds before he died. He was working as a shepherd at Ravensworth, but most of the selectors also took jobs until they could make their farms pay.
John's chronic bronchitis suggests his health had been poor for some time. His childhood had been spent amongst the coalfields of Leinster, and he had worked as a collier, about which William Tighe had written for the Dublin Society in 1801:
The colliers are, independent of accidents, unhealthy and short-lived; they seldom arrive at fifty years of age. A consumption of the lungs is the disorder of which they usually die; for a year or two before which event, they often throw up continually a black spittle; those who work in wet pits live longest, as they do not swallow so much of the volatile dust of the coal. The leaning posture in which they work, is unfavourable to health, as the muscular action is constrained and partial, and the play of the lungs impeded; many do not survive it for ten years, though there are peculiar instances of workmen that have been in the collieries for forty.51
Tragedy struck again in March 1863, when son Edward, two weeks from his sixth birthday, died of diarrhoea at Ravensworth.52 Somehow Mary found the money to erect a headstone in Singleton Catholic cemetery to her husband and son. One of the earliest in the cemetery, it is in good condition in the front row.
On 9 August 1863 Mary, left with six children, married George Dougherty, a bachelor of Ravensworth.53 Their story deserves its own chapter.
|John Sharp|| c1811
Arless, Queen's Co
(son of Thomas Sharp & Mary Nowlan)
|29 Jan 1863 Ravensworth, Singleton||4 Apr 1842 Kilcoy, Raymond Terrace/ Hexham|
|m. Mary Graham||c1825
Easky, Co Sligo
(dau. of Edward Graham & Ellen or Mary Sheridan)
|10 Mar 1881 Sedgefield, Singleton||m2. 1863 Ravensworth, Singleton, George Dougherty|
|1. Thomas||1844 Hexham||1931 Gunnedah||1869 Anne Morris nee Fletcher|
|2. Ellen||1847 Motto Farm, Raymond Terrace/ Hexham||1924 Singleton||1866 James Downes*|
|3. John||1849 Hexham||1932 Narrabri||1878 Mary Ann Downes*|
|4. Robert||1851 Hexham||1931 Boggabri||1888 Rose Jane Porter|
|5. Bridget||1854 Hexham||1924 Gunnedah||1875 John Downes*|
|6. Edward||1857 Howard Farm, Hexham||1863 Ravensworth, Singleton|
|7. Mary Ann||1860 Howard Farm, Hexham||1950 Quirindi||1882 Patrick Neil McGill|
(*Note: 3 Sharp siblings married 3
The Slievemargy mountains, part of the Leinster coal fields, Co Laois
(Click on image to enlarge)
House breaking and threatening with firearms are serious offences. If we were to believe the rhetoric in the newspapers, parliament and the courts, the Queen's County protesters were a lot of vicious, irredeemable thugs and the only way to restore the peace was to execute the ringleaders and remove the others as far from the scene as possible. The local magistrates and landowners were doubly offended: their courts and bureaucratic ways were being held in contempt, mocked and ridiculed; and their property was being attacked and devalued.
Certainly the protests were violent and persistent. In the years from 1829 on the number of incidents reported reached record levels , despite improved rates of capture after the arrival of the Peace Preservation Force.
But despite the rhetoric, contempories clearly understood that these were not common crimes committed by common criminals. The 1832 Select Committee on Disturbances in Ireland was directed to examine causes of the disturbances as well as recommend methods of suppression. The Committee distinguished "offences connected with the state of the country" from "mere ordinary offences",54 and recognised that evictions were a major cause, but it could not or would not face the fact that massive reforms were required to overcome the distress of the people. The Committee's solution monetary compensation and assistance to emigrate55 was not what the Whitefeet were agitating for.
Indeed, contemporaries knew the issues exploding population; falling prices for rural commodities; no industrial infrastructure; excessive competition for land and jobs; oppressive laws and taxes; exploitation and greed by absentee landlords. As early as 1831 some writers were articulating the transition from the "war of religion, or the war of political opinion" to one of "poverty against property" and of "gaunt famine"56 which was to lead inevitably to the tragedy of the great famine in the 1840s. John's crime must be seen against this background of poverty and despair.
The 1798 Croppies' grave at Graigue, near Carlow
(Click on image to enlarge)
In the Queen's County, the tithes had become a political issue at the 1832 election. A prominent player was Patrick Lalor, parliamentary candidate and father of the Peter Lalor of Eureka Stockade fame. The Lalors were rich tenant farmers in the Queen's County, self-made and not from the landlord aristocracy. At a rally in February 1831 Patt Lalor launched the Queen's County campaign of refusal to pay tithes and of boycotting anyone who did pay up. The campaign fanned the flame of the protesters, who extended their intimidation tactics to anyone who did pay the tithes. At least one newspaper pointed out that Mr Lalor was not called by the gentry to serve on the grand panel at the 1833 Spring assize for the Queen's County.57
The district had a history of unrest. The Queen's County was the first county to be 'planted' by English settlers in the sixteenth century, with fierce resistance from the locals. There was a relatively high percentage of protestants in the county, and the sectarian divide was deep. Over 600 local men had been slaughtered by the British military at nearby Carlow during the 1798 Rebellion, and half of Ballickmoyler village, where the rebel contingent had assembled, had been destroyed in that period.58 The disturbances during the 1820s and 1830s were a continuation of the protest against poverty, insecurity and English domination.
Lieutenant William Caswell RN
(From the painting in Tanilba House)
The Hunter Valley has been described as 'the nearest thing to a plantation society that New South Wales produced.'59 It was settled in the 1820s by moderately wealthy immigrants, who had been enticed to the colony with the promise of land grants in proportion to the capital they were prepared to bring with them. In turn, they were assigned convicts in proportion to the size of their holdings. So, unlike the earlier settlements where the pioneers were the ex-convicts, the more entrepreneurial of whom went on to become self-made large traders and landowners, society in the Hunter Valley was a highly stratified one of imported wealth (the 'pure merinos') and poor convicts and ex-convicts with little opportunity to improve their lot.
Many of the settlers were ex-military or retired military on half pay, including Lieutenant Caswell. At least initially, the Caswells were friends with James Mudie60, the notorious tyrant of Castle Forbes whose convicts were said to have preferred death to life in his service. Caswell, along with most of the Newcastle and Port Stephens landowners, signed the petition to Governor Bourke in 1833 complaining that the powers given to magistrates, particularly the diminished powers for flogging, were inadequate to control the "Prison population".61 And Caswell, along with most of the landed population, signed James Macarthur's petitions directly to the King and to the House of Commons complaining about the "relaxation of discipline amongst the Convict population" under Bourke's governorship.62
Mrs Susan Caswell
(From the painting in Tanilba House)
As a master, Caswell seems to have been fair. Although his wife Susan complained about the prisoners, at least one assigned servant at the Tanilba held favour; Ninian Melville, the Scots cabinet maker who made Susan's furniture and who married Catherine Hayes in 1841, named his daughter Tanalba, presumably in memory of his happy time at Tanilba.63 And Caswell suffered being sued for libel when he spoke up for a convict who he believed was wrongly punished in a sodomy case.64
As a naval officer of 20 years Caswell would have been used to harsh discipline. His convicts included some who had been in the colony for over 20 years and presumably with a number of masters who had returned them to the government. Of the 27 assignees found in the records, tickets of leave have been found for only 13 of them probably about normal in the Hunter Valley at that time.65
The routine at Balickera, at first glance, seems rather like John's life back in Ireland, except that he was probably better fed, clothed and housed. But there were at least two significant differences:
What of the other Sharp protesters from the Queen's County? Their outcomes were not as fortunate as John's.
On 22 February 1831 Michael Sharpe arrived per the Edward from Cork. He was assigned on arrival to the Irish Catholic settler Edmund/Edward Burke who had arrived from County Galway in about 1826. Burke owned property in Sydney and Richmond and acquired extensive acres at Mittagong in the southern settlement of NSW.66 Michael was initially assigned to Sydney, but was reported at Mittagong with Burke in the 1837 muster. His movements after that are unknown. His convict indent has no note of grant of a Ticket of Leave or pardon; instead there is the undated notation 'IG' for 'ironed gang', indicating that at some stage Michael re-offended and was given a colonial sentence. No record of it has been found, nor of his eventual fate.67
John Sharpe, convicted in 1838 of manslaughter and transported for life, arrived via Westmoreland (3) in 1838. He must also have re-offended, although no record has been found; he died, an invalid and convict, at the Port Macquarie penal settlement 13 September 1843. He was buried by the Anglican chaplain.68
Of the three Sharp men transported from the Queen's County, our John was the lucky one. He married, raised a family, and although he himself did not leave any material legacy of wealth or land, his children and their descendants have prospered. As Francis Forbes, Chief Justice of NSW during the 1820s, said:
[NSW] is a place of privation, labor and suffering and the place where by far the greater number of offenders who have been sent here, have found a life without hope and a premature death. The Terrys and Lords [wealthy emancipists] et hoc genus omne, who from the beginning comprehend about one hundred persons, are artfully held up to public view while thousands of nameless wretches who have lingered out the remains of a burdensome life, are as forgotten as their graves.69
© 2003 Patricia Downes
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