An Island Off an Island

Musings from Bruny

Following yesterday’s post I received this from my friend Barry Barnett in London. As you’ll learn in his story Barry is currently researching an ancestor who came to Tasmania as a convict. He is also recording stories about his home town Blandford Forum in his Blog The Blandford Express .Thanks Barry.

There was something undeniably familiar about Jan’s watercolour by Martin Snape of Portsmouth Harbour, England – from the Gosport side.

For it is where my distant relative, John Weeks spent two spells in the convict prison hulks, Laurel and York awaiting transportation to Australia. He was a poacher by trade and a pretty astute one. For after his first transportation conviction, he managed to avoid the transport vessel to ‘down under’ as he spent all his seven years’ sentence working as a labourer in Portsmouth’s naval dockyard.

Life in a convict hulk has been described as a ‘hell on earth’. Prison hulk living conditions, isolated by water and wooden walls, were terrible and hygiene standards were so poor that disease spread quickly. Typhoid and cholera were commonplace and the death rates were high. Below deck was rat infested and the stench appalling. Dead convicts would be buried on ‘Rat Island’ so called as it faced Gosport’s large naval abattoir. Bodies not buried might be sold on by the ship doctor.

After his second transportation conviction, John Weeks did leave Portsmouth Harbour for Van Diemen’s Land. At 62, he was the oldest convict on the transportation vessel, the Lord William Bentinck II. Older convicts were left normally to rot in the hulks at it was assumed they would not survive the long and arduous sea journey. This time, John would have wanted to go as his two sons and daughter had just arrived in Oz under an early assisted passage scheme. Did he get himself arrested deliberately?

Lord William Bentinck II berthed in Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land on 26th August 1838 and John served his sentence. It must have been quite a reunion at Christmas 1844, when he met up with his family in Camden, New South Wales. Apart from his poaching, the versatile John was also described as a coachman, groom, farm labourer and ploughman. Despite his many appearances in English courtrooms there is no record of this continuing in Oz.

On Thursday 8 November 1857, the following appeared in the Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser:

‘Death Notice. At Maitland, upon the 4th instant, Mr John Weeks, aged 82 years, father of John and Benjamin Weeks of Camden, after a severe and protracted illness, which he bore with the utmost Christian patience.’

It was, of course, from the city of Portsmouth from which the First Fleet left for Australia and there are several reminders today here of this link. Portsmouth, nicknamed ‘Pompey’ is England’s only island city.

So perhaps this blog piece could best be entitled: ‘Musings from an island city off an island off Continental Europe!’

Baza, London, England.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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 )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: