Some happy finds

Sometimes I come across a batch of lucky A Rebel Hand-related discoveries on the net and it’s good to share them, so here’s a round-up.

The Convict Maid

Following on from my last one, about women convicts and the early Female Factory above the Gaol, here’s an Australian folk song, The Convict Maid, sung by Emily Pollard of Heartbeast Theatre Company.

They are putting on Mother Country from May 13-18 2012 as part of the Anywhere Theatre Festival in Brisbane, Australia. Heartbeast say that it’s “a play about a time when the English ruling classes deliberately got women convicted of crimes so they could send them as convict/prostitutes to the male-dominated Australian penal colonies.”

Here are the lyrics to The Convict Maid, which is sung to a variant of a tune familiar to anyone who knows the songs of 1798; The Croppy Boy.

The rebel Byrnes

Photograph of 1798 hero, Billy Byrne of Ballymanus, Wicklow © Frances Owen 1994

Statue of Billy Byrne of Ballymanus

One of the names connected with the Irish Rebellion of 1798 in County Wicklow is Byrne. The best-known are probably Miles Byrne of Monaseed and Garret and Billy Byrne of Ballymanus, who I’ve mentioned in another post.

A new website tells the story of Clann O’Byrne and there’s a great photo of the Chieftain, Val Byrne, who I met at the re-opening of Wicklow Gaol in 1998 – a fascinating man.

At the heart of 1798

Just over the border in Wexford lies Askamore, the area of seventeen townlands which make up the Roman Catholic curacy in the parish of Kilrush. It was at the heart of the rebellion of 1798 and the Askamore community website gives a lively picture of the area now as well as a look at its history. Ballyellis, Nicholas Delaney’s townland, is in the curacy.

Askamore’s very near to Gorey, a town which played its part in 1798, and I was delighted to find that one of my favourite Australian bloggers, Cassmob of Family History Across the Seas, has connections to it, too.

The finish of Doggett's Coat and Badge, Thames watermen's race

Doggett’s Coat and Badge, Thames watermen’s race (via Wikipedia)

Away from the internet, and I’ve finally started doing what I’ve promised myself for a while. I’m reading Kate Grenville’s The Secret River. This is not just because it’s a major novel about the early years of convict Australia.

It’s also because I recently found out that James Thomas Richards, one of my non-Delaney ancestors, was a Thames waterman, just like her main character, William Thornhill. I’m planning to look into James’s life once I’ve got the Delaney side of my family properly under my belt.

It was a post on one of my Facebook must-sees, the Australian Genealogy page, which reminded me to read The Secret River. Have you read it? What do you think?

If I posted every time I found something great on the net, though, I’d be square-eyed and arthritic, so for great history and genealogy resources I’ve compiled a growing list on this blog’s sister A Rebel Hand website. It covers Irish and Australian history as well as genealogy online research and some excellent blogs. If you can think of any I could add, please get in touch!
Next time, I’ll be back with a post on convict courtship in the early days of the colony of New South Wales.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in 1798, A Rebel Hand, Australia, Convicts | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Factory above the Gaol – women convicts in 1818


When my great-great-great grandmother Sarah Marshall stumbled off the convict transport Friendship on January 14, 1818, she emerged from a traumatic journey of confinement and scurvy which became notorious for ‘indecent and licentious intercourse’ to find herself in an alien land and facing an uncertain future.

Convict ship the Neptune (via Wikipedia). No picture survives of the Friendship.

Convict ship the Neptune (via Wikipedia)

She may have been a wily Mancunian ‘felon’ – she had been convicted of stealing fivepence-worth of clothing – but what was to happen to her during the seven years of her sentence? Who wouldn’t be daunted by being at the will of others for so many years and so far from her family and home?

The choice for women, outnumbered by men and potentially vulnerable to sexual predation, was stark. Go into service, go to the Female Factory, or get married (or live as the wife of a male protector). But at least she was alive. Theft was still a hanging offence.

In 1818 the famous Female Factory at Parramatta was about to be built by Francis Greenway, Governor Macquarie‘s emancipist convict architect. But in the meantime women who were not assigned a job or married off still went to the old combined gaol and factory on the north side of the Parramatta River, where Prince Alfred Park now is.

This gaol, the second on the site (the first was torched in 1799) was built between 1802 and 1804 from stone, not the wood and thatch of the earlier one. Construction was overseen by the ‘flogging parson’, as the Parramatta magistrate, the Reverend Samuel Marsden, was known. A “grasping Evangelical missionary with… the face of a petulant ox”, Marsden was to refuse to allow the legality of Nicholas Delaney and Elizabeth Bayly‘s marriage – which had been carried out by Major Abbott of the Rum Corps. The money for the new building was raised by a tax on spirits, which Terri McCormack thinks “probably led to the increased use of illicit stills”.

This gaol also incorporated a linen and wool ‘manufactory’ on the top floor, where these valuable materials were woven. This was ideal work for women. And convict women needed to be put to work – to pay for their keep; because they were considered even more degenerate than male convicts, and the devil made work for idle hands; to help reform them; and to divert them from consorting with men.

Victorian hand-loom, in Timmy Feather's Worksh...

C19th hand loom (via Wikipedia)

These two rooms with their looms were known as ‘the Factory above the Gaol‘. By the time Sarah arrived in New South Wales 200 women would have been working there. Each room was about 80 feet long and 20 feet wide, so there would have been about 100 women in 1,600 square feet of space, including their equipment. With the size of the looms and the dusty air it must have been cramped, as well as unhealthy.

Many of the Factory girls slept in the workrooms; there were no bedrooms as such. Women who had brought their own bedding with them from their old homes were relatively comfortable in the cramped space, while the others slept on the floor, on bales or on fleeces, or were found lodgings in town.

We have no evidence that Sarah Marshall went to the first Female Factory, but then we have no evidence of her being assigned to work for anyone either. She seems to fade out of documented history between leaving the Friendship in January 1818 and giving birth to her daughter Lucy, my 2x great grandmother, ten months later.

So it’s possible that she met her future husband, John Simpson, in the first days after she landed and lived with him straight away. I’ve talked more about how boy met girl in early colonial Australia in this post.

But it’s also possible that she spent some time at the Factory, like many prospective convict brides, and that her first days in her new home were among the clattering looms, breathing the lint-filled air and dossing down on a fleece among strangers in a cramped, dirty, rodent-infested room above the men’s gaol.

There are a lot of photos of the more famous Female Factory around but pictures of the Factory above the Gaol are hard to find. One is on this interesting website.


I’ve just squeezed this post into Women’s History Month. It’s been a fascinating time for me, reading some excellent and thought-provoking blog posts and doing research on a neglected part of my own family tree – and of history. Yes, researching most women’s lives is harder than most men’s, but it’s been hugely rewarding and I’ve got ideas for posts that will reach far beyond the month of March.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Convicts, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

What did Mary do on Monday? Women’s work

Mary Maude Wilson (Delaney) hanging out the washing at Moyne Farm
Mary doing the washing at Moyne

I love this picture of my great grandmother, Mary Maude Delaney (nee Wilson). In all the other family photos, she is posed, poised and very formal, a respectable Victorian matron. But in this one, she’s turning round to smile as she pegs out the washing. Her whole face lights up and I can understand her great-nephew, Hartley Hollier, remembering her as very loving – if a bit too fond of hugging and kissing the young lad when he visited.

I’ve decided to concentrate on the women in the family for my posts this March, which is Women’s History Month. It’s not as easy as writing about the men. There is less on the record about them. Some seem to have no story before they arrive in New South Wales, like Elizabeth Bayly (or Bayley, or Bailey), Nicholas Delaney’s wife. Or else they are ‘just’ wives and mothers and don’t do anything that gets reported in the papers, or follow an interesting career.

Women like Mary just got on with life, making the best of their marriage, cooking, cleaning and having and bringing up children. For a Delaney wife, Mary had a smallish number of babies – five that we know about – and three survived to adulthood. She also looked after the paying guests who stayed to enjoy the ‘splendid accommodation’ and ‘good shooting’ her husband Tom’s advertisements promised.

Old watercolour of Moyne Farm, Little Hartley, by Yvonne Jenkins

Watercolour of Moyne Farm by Yvonne Jenkins

Splendid accommodation! Moyne Farm, their home, was a fairly typical early nineteenth-century farmhouse, with outbuildings to house members of the family as it grew (I’m guessing that the guests got proper bedrooms) as well as the kitchen and other utilities.

Moyne is also quite special historically, having been built by John Grant (‘the Father of Hartley’) but I’ll talk about that in another post.

So back to Mary, hanging out the washing. Sheets, cloths, workwear, underwear, all the family linen. A modern family loads up the washing machine often enough – but she would have done the entire wash by hand.

Here’s an idea of what doing the laundry would have been like for a woman living on a farm in Australia between 1875, when Mary married Tom, and 1917, when they moved to Randwick, a suburb south-east of Sydney.

Old scrubbing board and tub as used in the early C19th

Scrubbing board and tub ( under creative commons)

“Wash on Monday” is the old saying, and Monday was washday in many Australian homes, perhaps so that everything was clean and dry for Sunday and church.

Some may have had a wash house in an outbuilding, but a lot of women did their laundry – hot, heavy, sweaty work – out of doors in the ‘workplace, the area by the back door that houses toilet, wood pile, and bench or lean-to with wash tubs and buckets’, as historian Kimberley Webber describes it.

Washday began very early in the morning – they would need every hour of daylight to finish the work. Water would have to be fetched, poured into large pots or, if they had one, a copper, and heated. An iron pot was less ideal for clothes washing as it could leave rust stains on the otherwise clean clothes.

Stains would be dealt with by soaking, perhaps in lye (caustic soda, made from water and wood ash, which could cause nasty burns) and spot-cleaning. Ideally, soiled white linens would be boiled in a copper but if this was not possible, they would be washed like the rest of the laundry, in a wooden or cement tub or perhaps a high-sided metal dolly tub.


Soap, bought or home made from fat and lye, would be rubbed onto dirty areas or shaved into soap flakes and dissolved in clean, hot water. Then came the hardest part of the work. I’ve washed sheets by hand and it is back-breaking, time-consuming and scrubs your hands raw. Better to use a wooden implement to take the strain and do the heavy jobs of mixing, agitating and knocking out the dirt.

An old wooden manual agitator: a tool to assis...

Dolly (via Wikipedia)

Some women may still have been using a long, stout stick or bats, beetles or paddles but I hope Mary had the more modern gadgets, a posser or plunger (like an inverted cone at the end of a stick) or a dolly, which looked like a doll’s stool, again on the end of a stick with a handle. A dolly could plunge up and down or agitate round and round – do you remember the old top-loading washing machines which did that?

The there was a fairly new piece of washday equipment, the scrubbing board or washboard, with its horizontal ridges they could scrub the laundry up and down on. Later boards had metal or glass ridges but the early ones were all wood.

More muscle-power was needed to wring the dirty water out of the now heavy wet clothes. First the linen needed to be pulled out of the water with a stick or tongs. It could then be wound round a thick post or wrung by twisting, perhaps round a stick at one end – you’d need extra hands to do this. Then heat more water, rinse and repeat.

If Mary was lucky she’d have had a mangle, with two rollers you feed the wet cloth between. It would squeeze most of the water out, though you might have to feed things through more than once and trapped fingers were always a danger.

An exhibit of old laundry equipment arranged i...

Old laundry equipment at Bedford Museum (via Wikipedia)

To keep whites looking fresh, a blue bag could be added to the final rinse – the bluish tinge would cancel out any grey or yellowish tones. The same method has been used by women to brighten up their white hair, giving them the (not always complimentary) name of the blue rinse brigade. The strong Australian sun also helped by bleaching the washed whites as they dried.

Even now the job might not be quite finished, as many women went on to starch some white cotton garments and household linens to keep them looking smart and help them resist dirt.

No wonder Kimberley Webber described washing as ‘the most hated task’ women had to do (p86).

At the end of a long and exhausting day it was time to peg out the washing on the line and make a quick evening meal of cold leftovers from Sunday dinner as there was no time to prepare food on washday and the fire would have been needed to heat water.

And then later in the week when everything was clean and dry the ironing had to be tackled…


In the nineteenth century, respectability was determined by the cleanliness of your linen, such as shirts, chemises, collars and cuffs. It’s only in our modern world of washing machines and artificial fibres that outer clothes tend to be washed frequently. In past centuries they would have been brushed to remove loose dirt and spot-cleaned. At least Mary would have been spared washing all that extra heavy cotton and wool and the yards of skirt she and the other women wore.

I’m just about to put a load of clothes into the washing machine, including some really grubby jeans. The wash will take less than an hour. I remember mangling jeans and it’s not easy work. Today I’m really grateful that this ‘universally loathed’ (Webber, p99) job is so easy and quick.

This post was inspired by Cassmob’s Family History Across the Seas. Her Carnival of Genealogy post was in turn inspired by Jasia at Creative Gene. The challenge was to honour a woman from our family tree by starting with a photograph and telling the story of the photo and/or a biography of the woman pictured.

Newsflash – here are the Carnival of Genealogy posts with an introduction by Jasia. A fascinating read.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Some further reading:

Webber, Kimberley: Embracing the New: A Tale of Two Rooms in Troy, Patrick Nicol (ed): A History of European Housing in Australia (CUP 2000)

On the web:

Back in the Day in Not Yet Published

Exhibition – Women’s Work in The National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame

History of Laundry  – After 1800 in Old & Interesting

History of Washing PDF by Science in-the-box

Laundry in the 19th Century PDF by Gaeta Bell

Monday Washdays in Join me in the 1900s

Washday in UKHomefront’s Washing Through the Ages

Just out: To the Tubs: Laundry as Female Punishment from The Female Convicts Research Centre Inc’s 2012 seminar, The Working Lives of Convict Women

New post on early modern laundry in a small household (mostly 17th and 18th centuries)

And an online exibition about women and laundry from the Women’s Library


 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The cook, the thieves, the prostitute and the postillion – convicts transported to Australia

My convict ancestors were an unusual lot – but three of them were also really common. That’s the conclusion I came to after looking at a clever take on transportation statistics on one Australian website.

English: Chain gang : convicts going to work n...

Convicts going to work near Sydney (via Wikipedia)

Three out of four of mine were thieves, the crime committed by the largest number (41.4%) of transported convicts in the records at, the online resource based on the British Convict transportation register for ships bound for Australia between 1787-1867. It covers 123,888 convicts from an estimated total of 160,000.

The database hasn’t got the records for Atlas II, the ship on which Nicholas Delaney arrived in 1802, and there seems to be a gap where a lot of Irish rebels – or political prisoners – from 1798 should be.

English: Hanging of suspected United Irishmen.

Half-hanging of suspected United Irishman (via Wikipedia)

There were four murderers, which was what Nicholas was convicted of, and one transported for high treason. I reckon that last one got off lightly. Until 1814, the punishment for a man was to be hung, drawn and quartered. This meant being hung, but without the long drop which could cause death. After a period of strangulation the victim was cut down, stripped naked, and, while still conscious, castrated, his belly cut open and his internal organs pulled out and burnt in front of him. At last he would be beheaded and his body cut into quarters which, with his head, would be publicly displayed as a warning to others. The punishment was designed to combine long torture (and half-hanging was notoriously also used against many suspected or genuine United Irishmen in the 1790s) with ritual humiliation.

After theft, the most common offences were larceny (12.7%), burglary (6.3%), housebreaking (5.2%) and robbery (3.9%) – there seems to be a pattern there. Some convicts were a little more imaginative in their crimes, though, with one transported for riotous conduct and felony, five machine breakers, one bigamist, seven sheep stealers and four horse thieves. There is also one convicted of being a shoemaker, but I suspect that just might be a mistake.


As for their jobs, my great-great-great grandfather John Simpson, who arrived in New South Wales on the Ocean II in 1818, was one of only four tailors on the database. James Thomas Richards of Deptford, the 2x great grandfather who I’ve just begun looking at, was the only waterman.

The top three occupations of transported criminals were those of labourer (12.3%), farmer (5.7%) and at 5.1%… convict. Were these repeat offenders? James Thomas Richards was convicted of another crime while serving his time in New South Wales, but the same convict system did not operate in Britain. Were they prisoners who re-offended while in custody? Do you know the answer?

Perhaps not surprisingly, housemaids come top of the specifically female occupations with 10 (2.9%) transported. They would have had plenty of temptation and opportunities to pocket the family silver and other portables. The two nursery maids, two general maids and one plain cook/house servant would have had fewer chances but probably no less covetousness.

English: Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plym...

Black-Eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth say goodbye to their convicted lovers (via Wikipedia)

Three needlewomen, three dairymaids and three housewives found themselves bound for Australia. Maids, laundresses and housekeeper/cooks went out two by two. One nurse/midwife is on the list, and there is one book folder, a trade which was often carried out by women. Perhaps surprisingly, there is only one prostitute. It’s interesting to note that nobody was specifically transported for plying the oldest profession.*

Back to the men, and there was a mill worker, possibly one of the machine breakers – or were the three weavers responsible, with their livelihoods threatened by the new mills? We don’t know whether these were hand weavers (usually male) or steam weavers (mostly female), but if they were male Luddites, they were lucky to be transported – 17 others were executed after a trial in York in 1813.

From the professional classes, one accountant got caught fiddling the figures and was sent overseas, as was one doctor.

Some of the more unusual occupations included a miniature painter, a gilt toy maker, a leather trunk maker, a coach painter, a glover’s assistant, a painter’s boy and a wool sorter. There was a shosebinder (is this something to do with shoe-making? It could be an alternative spelling). The only whitesmith listed worked with ‘white’ metals like tin, not ‘black’ iron.

English: "A Coach With Two Extra Horses, ...

Coach driven by a postillion (via Wikipedia)

And I’ve saved the best till last. I’ve always wanted to write this – a postillion. Not struck by lightning, but dealt a heavy blow by being transported to the other side of the world. Yet at the same time fortunate, like all my convict ancestors were, to keep their lives, to escape imprisonment and to be given the chance to make a new life in Australia.

I’ve found two of my ancestors on this list – have you spotted any of yours? Are you a descendant of the shosebinder, the prostitute or the postillion?

* Since writing this, I’ve come across a passage from Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, which says: “What is quite certain, however, is that no women were actually transported for whoring, because it was never a transportable offense. The vast majority of female convicts, more than 80 percent, were sent out for theft, usually of a fairly petty sort.”

(Extract taken from



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Convicts, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Wealth for Toil – Australia Day challenge for 2012

I’ve been scratching my head over this blog post. Shelley from Twigs of Yore has challenged us to write about the work one of our ancestors did and I’ve decided to stick with Nicholas Delaney because I’ve got so much documentary evidence about his life, from his trial in 1799 and arrival in Sydney Cove in 1802 onwards.

It’s finding out about what working lives were like 200 years ago that’s been the real challenge for me this January, and it’s been fascinating.

Nicholas was a landless, illiterate peasant when he got caught up in the Irish Rebellion of 1798 – a hired hand. He would have been tough and muscular then, but three years’ imprisonment and the long voyage from Cork would have wasted him.

Baudin's map of Sydney, 1802

Sydney, 1802 (KirrilyRobert via Flickr)

Still, he was strong enough for Major George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps to select him to work on his own land instead of being put to Government service like so many town-bred thieves were. He knew farming, and this is how he passed the beginning of his sentence on Australia. Johnston prided himself on reforming his convicts – and feeding them lots of vegetables. Nicholas’s luck was in.

On January 26, 1808 (the 20th anniversary of the founding of the new colony), George Johnston was involved in the Rum Rebellion, Australia’s only successful military coup. Soon after that Nicholas left his service and, in October, he married Elizabeth Bayly, a free settler and something of a mystery.  Family oral history has him working as a gardener (or butler! Where did that come from, I wonder) at Government House.

5 shovels and 3 tomahaws

Our first documentary evidence of his day-to-day work is on 9th November 1812, when the Acting Commissary issued him, ‘the Government Park Keeper’, with ‘5 shovels and 2 large tomahaws [sic] and 3 shovels’.

This shows that Nicholas, the rebel and convicted double murderer,  was now trusted to be the overseer of a gang of labourers, a job he was to do for a while, and also to look after their tools – a big responsibility in New South Wales, where there were no mines and all metal equipment had to be brought in by ship.

English: Lachlan Macquarie

Macquarie (via Wikipedia)

His luck was in again, because the new Governor, Lachlan Macquarie, was determined to smarten Sydney up and build good roads into the interior of the colony. Nicholas Delaney was the perfect man to lead one of Macquarie’s road gangs.

A report of 1812 describes how the roadbuilders were organised:

‘They work from six in the morning to three in the afternoon, and the remainder of the day is allowed to them, to be spent either in amusement or profitable labour for themselves. They are clothed, fed, and for the most part lodged by the Government.’*

However the Bigge Report of 1822 paints a picture of unruly convicts, unsupervised, drunken and thieving. John Thomas Bigge was doing his best to discredit Macquarie.

In 1816, Nicholas was involved in two prestigious projects for the Governor in Sydney. His gang was hard at work building Mrs Macquarie’s Road, a pleasant drive round the Domain designed by Lachlan’s wife Elizabeth, and taking in her favourite viewpoint, Mrs Macquarie’s Chair.

Part of the original road Nicholas and his men built can still be seen, at Macquarie Culvert.

Lachlan Macquarie's diary for 13 June 1816 (Mrs Macquarie's Road)

Lachlan Macquarie’s diary for 13 June 1816 (Original in State Library of NSW)

By a stroke of luck (or canny planning) they finished the entire job on her birthday, the 16th of June. Her delighted husband wrote in his diary that as a reward for completing ‘on this particular and auspicious Day‘, he would give ‘Delaney and his gang of Ten Men, five gallons of Spirits among them’. The Macquaries would not have been the only ones having a party that night.

Hardly had their hangovers gone before they were at work on a new project, ‘clearing and levelling that Piece of Ground in the Town of Sydney, adjoining the Government Domain called “Macquarie Place,” preparatory to its being enclosed by a Dwarf Stone Wall and Paling in the form of a Triangle!’ as the Governor wrote in his diary on 1st July.

Macquarie Place, Sydney (the Greenway obelisk). Photo: Patricia Owen

Macquarie Place. Photo: Patricia Owen

The New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage recognises it as ‘one of the most historically significant urban spaces in Sydney and Australia’, but most people know it for convict architect Francis Greenway‘s obelisk.

Later that year Nicholas was promoted to Superintendent of Road Makers at the generous salary of £91.5s a year (about £63,500 today). Wealth for toil, indeed!

Nicholas’s other construction work that we know about took place outside Sydney. He may have been one of William Cox’s supervisors during the building of the Great Western Highway across the Blue Mountains. I’m still looking into this – it would be great to know by the bicentenary of Gregory Blaxland, William Lawson and William Wentworth‘s crossing of the Blue Mountains in 2013.

We do know that after his promotion Nicholas (now ‘Mr Delaney’) began work on the Parramatta to Penrith road, conveniently close to his grant of 50 acres at Emu. The work was urgent. On 23 September 1818, the Colonial Secretary wrote to the Assistant Commissary General at Parramatta that Nicholas’s 36 men had to work ‘during the whole of each Day’ instead of being free from three o’clock, and would therefore be given one and a half times the standard rations.


Rations were not always available for the hard-working men, though. On 17 January 1820, Mr Delaney and the other overseers in the Parramatta area petitioned the government to complain about arrangements for issuing rations.

It was their job to collect ‘provisions… at Parramatta and occasionally tools, slops [convicts’ clothes] and other stores at Sydney’. The problem was that the Parramatta storekeeper only turned up at 1030 or 1100 in the morning to issue meat – by which time, in the summer heat, it was unfit to eat. They suggested that seven would be a better time. The Colonial Secretary answered quickly, agreeing because ‘much time is lost, to the manifest prejudice of the Public Service, as well as to the great personal inconvenience to the overseers themselves’. Not to mention the inconvenience to the hungry labourers.

By now he was being referred to as Principal Overseer, Great Western Road. But the good times were nearly over for Mr Delaney the roadbuilder.

The end of the road

Lachlan Macquarie had been sent back to Britain in December 1821, and on 12 January, 1822, while his patron was sailing away from Australia, Nicholas was ‘displaced from his situation on the Western Road’. There is no clue as to why he was removed, but the new Governor, Sir Thomas Brisbane, cut the number of convicts working on the roads. Fewer gangs need fewer overseers.

There is another possibility. At some stage Nicholas broke his thigh. If this had happened while he was working on the Western Highway he would no longer be able to supervise his gangs.

But perhaps the simplest reason is that he had applied to the Evan Magistrates for a spirits licence in December 1821, and they had found him and Elizabeth ‘proper persons’ to run a pub in ‘his Dwelling House on the Western Road’. Whether he had realised that his career on the roads was over when Macquarie left, or whether it was a coincidence, I don’t know. But from now on, Mr Delaney was an innkeeper and a farmer.

* Wannan, Bill (ed), The Australian, Melbourne, 1954, p 135



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Convicts, Nicholas Delaney, Roadbuilder | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Family myths, cover-ups – what did Nicholas Delaney really do?

I’m researching my blog post for Twigs of Yore‘s Australia Day challenge. This year it’s about work. Shelley says:

Choose someone who lived in Australia (preferably one of your ancestors) and tell us how they toiled. Your post should include:

  1. What was their occupation?
  2. What information do you have about the individual’s work, or about the occupation in general?
  3. The story of the person, focussing on their occupation; or
    The story of the occupation, using the person as an example

I’m looking forward to taking part. Last year’s Twigs of Yore challenge – to write about the earliest document you have found relating to an ancestor –  was what started me blogging regularly (I wrote about Nicholas Delaney’s 1799 trial transcript).

Moyne, Little Hartley - the Delaney family farm

Moyne, the family farm

But who to choose? And which occupation?

Most of my Aussie ancestors were farmers. Then there’s another great-great-great grandfather, John Simpson, who was a tailor. Or I could stick with Nicholas. He ended up farming, but before that he was a roadbuilder, both as a convict and a free man, and an innkeeper. In Ireland, before the Rebellion of 1798, he was a landless labourer.


And there are the false leads, the family myths and cover-ups. Before we started to look closely at Nicholas’s life, we’d heard a few of these, the results of misinformation and the shame that used to cling to having convict ancestry. They can’t be blamed – it was all part of the idea of the ‘Convict Stain’. How times have changed.

Sydney: Government House, an 1802 watercolour ...

Government House, Sydney, 1802 (Wikipedia)

We’d been told that he’d been the Lord Mayor of Belfast (highly unlikely!). In Australia, family stories had him as a gardener and a butler at Government House in Sydney, where he had met his wife, Elizabeth Bayly, who was a maid there. Or he was a carpenter working on an extension to the (‘Old’) Government House in Parramatta.

All very respectable. But in researching family history there are often false leads. And there is no written evidence to support these stories. So, tempting as they are, they go into the bin.

So – a tailor, a roadbuilder, an innkeeper or a farmer? What’s it to be? Do come back on the 26th January and find out.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Blogging | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

What else was happening in Australia?

Reading other genealogy and family history blogs and posts is inspiring. One idea I’ve been impressed by is having a timeline of the historical background to someone’s life.

So here is what was happening in Australia during the time Nicholas Delaney was there, from his arrival in 1802 to 1810. I’ll cover the next two decades in later posts.


Approximately 6,000 people lived in the colony of New South Wales. Men outnumbered women by about 20 to 1. Philip Gidley King was Governor.

English: Pemulwuy

Aboriginal man (via Wikipedia)

June After a twelve-year guerilla campaign, Eora leader Pemulwuy was shot and killed. His son Tedbury would continue the resistance for eight more years.

October 30 Nicholas Delaney, aboard the convict ship Atlas II, arrives in Sydney Cove along with 189 other Irish political prisoners. Nicholas was assigned to Major George Johnston of the New South Wales Corps.


By now a total of 2086 Irish convicts were in Australia.

A second major settlement was established, in Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania.

May 15 James Dixon, Irish priest convicted of ‘complicity’ in the 1798 Rebellion, conducted the first Catholic Mass in New South Wales.


The population of the colony neared 7,000. One third were dependent on Government rations.

English: A painting by an unknown artist depic...

Battle of Castle Hill (Vinegar Hill) via Wikipedia

March 4 The first armed uprising in the colony, led by veterans of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, took place at Castle Hill. Also known as the second Battle of Vinegar Hill, it was put down by troops led by Nicholas’s master, George Johnston. Reprisals were swift and brutal.

One consequence was the Catholic Mass being banned. 1798 had a long arm.

In England to be court-martialled, John Macarthur of the NSW Corps convinced the British government that farming sheep for wool on a large scale would be beneficial.


The explorer Matthew Flinders, the first to circumnavigate the continent, proposed that it should be named Australia. The new name proved popular.


August William Bligh arrived as the new Governor, intent on cutting Government expenditure and curbing corrupt practices including the trade in spirits carried out by the ‘Rum’ Corps. His authoritarian attitude made him unpopular – not for the first time in his life.


Bligh decided that small crop and livestock farmers were the future of the colony, not large landowners or sheep breeders.

May Elizabeth Bayly arrived on the Brothers as a free settler.


A propaganda cartoon of the arrest of Governor...

Arrest of Governor Bligh (propoganda cartoon)

26 January The ‘Rum Rebellion’. The NSW Corps under George Johnston arrested Bligh and installed a new government.

For two years the colony was to be under military rule, headed by Lieutenant-Governors William Paterson and, later, Joseph Foveaux.

Nicholas Delaney’s term of service with Johnston ended; he became a Government overseer in Sydney.

October 17 Nicholas and Elizabeth were married by Major Abbott.


In England, it was decided that naval officers were not the best men to govern New South Wales. The Rum Corps was to be replaced by the 73rd Regiment of Foot and Major-General Lachlan Macquarie was to be the next Governor.

December Nicholas was told he had a free pardon and was granted a lease of land.

The next decade would bring a new regime for Australia and a new life for Nicholas.

I’ve used several sources for this timeline, including those cited in full in A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798: From Ireland to Australia. The most detailed online is Australian History Timeline, and the Australian Dictionary of Biography and Wikipedia are useful.
If you spot anything I’ve left out, do let me know and I’ll add it.
PS: I’ve been trying to remember if there was one specific blog which inspired this timeline. It may have been Olive Tree Genealogy Blog, Family History Fun – or another. It could well have been a discussion on the Australian Genealogy Facebook page.
Has your blog or website got a timeline?



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2011 – what a year it’s been!

What a year – and what a lot I’ve learned in this first full year of blogging.

When I started this blog in November 2010 I knew I wanted to talk about topics related to the life of my great-great-great grandfather, Nicholas Delaney. But I didn’t want to just repeat what is already in the book my mother and I wrote about him, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798: From Ireland to Australia.

1798 memorial, Ballyellis (from A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798)

1798 memorial, Ballyellis

That wouldn’t inspire me, and if I’m not excited about what I’m writing about it won’t be interesting to anyone else – especially those who have read the book and won’t want repetition.

So I decided to expand on topics in the book, and write around the history and the family events I knew about as well as exploring new angles. More of this soon.


I was hugely lucky this year because BBC TV showed two programmes which couldn’t be closer to Nicholas’s story and the lives of the people he knew.

English: Lachlan Macquarie

Lachlan Macquarie (image via Wikipedia)

On Australia Day (January 26) they screened The Father of Australia, a drama-documentary about Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who Nicholas worked for as a road gang overseer and who mentions Nicholas in his diaries.

Then in the spring, Fergal Keane’s five-part series, Story of Ireland, was broadcast and on May 30 it covered the Irish rising of 1798, where Nicholas’s story begins for us.

But what really kick-started my blogging was Twigs of Yore‘s Australia Day challenge – and this was one of the real revelations of 2011 for me; the online genealogy community.


I knew about a few people on Facebook, like Irish Wattle, but it was only when I started looking at other genealogy blogs (and there’s no better place to start than Geneabloggers) and adding to my Facebook contacts that I realised how many others there were with vast experience to inspire me.

Then Google+ started up and I joined Twitter and… well, I could spend hours reading about history and genealogy – if I had a double to do everything else.

Sarah Simpson's grave. Photo by Michael Wood

Sarah Simpson’s grave (Michael Wood)

Some of my most popular posts have been the ones about Nicholas’s trial, about 1798 and his work building the infrastructure of early Sydney. But one was completely unpredictable – the discovery that my 3xgreat grandmother on another branch of the family tree is said to be a famous ghost. What can I learn from this?

And now…

So, that’s enough looking back, what about 2012? Unlike many more experienced genealogy bloggers I’m not going to make any resolutions, since so much of what happened last year was a pleasant surprise.

Instead I’ll promise myself to keep my mind as open as my eyes and continue to ask –

More Irish history? More about the early days of colonial Australia? Or something completely different? What would you like to see here in 2012? I’d love to hear from you.

And a happy New Year to you and yours!



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in A Rebel Hand, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

How’s your family tree?

Flourishing? Many-branched?

Or lop-sided (mine is a bit, at the moment)? A seedling? Not yet started?

If yours needs a bit of nourishment and care, now is a good time to start looking after it –

It’s Start Your Family Tree Week in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

English: Ahnenblatt Family Tree Example

Family tree (image via Wikipedia)

And there are sites to give us tips, encouragement and even competition prizes. I’m going to be looking at Findmypast Ireland and UK and at Chris Paton’s British GENES as well as Ancestry UK’s Family Tree.

Do you know any others?



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

My first Christmas – a link with the past

I treasure this photograph.

It’s of my grandfather, Laurence Thomas Delaney, holding me on his knee on my first Christmas Day.

Photo of Laurence Thomas Delaney and me

Laurence Thomas Delaney and me

He’s my link to all the generations of Delaneys (and Marshalls, Simpsons, Wilsons and Henleys) in Australia over two centuries.

Pop, as we called him, was born on the family farm, Moyne, in Little Hartley, New South Wales, but left to go adventuring, breaking the long tradition of working on the land. As a journalist, he went to Hong Kong and South America and ended up in London where he worked in the entertainment industry.

He died when I was three years old and I wish I’d known him better.

So this Christmas I’ll be thinking of my family; the ones who are no longer alive as well as the ones who make this time of year so precious.

I wish you and yours a very merry Christmas.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Australia | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Did Nicholas build the oldest bridge in Australia?

If you visit the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney, take a few minutes to look for a small bridge over a stream near the Wollemi Pine, ‘Australia’s homegrown Christmas tree’, close to the information booth.

This is Macquarie Culvert.

The two brick arches were built as part of the construction of Mrs Macquarie’s Road, which Nicholas Delaney and his gang finished on her birthday in June 1816. They had a double purpose: a drain for the creek’s water, and a bridge.


Built from sandstock brick, the culvert is both typical of early 19th-century drain construction and historically significant, the historian Anna Wong says. But at the end of the 20th century it was in a state of disrepair, with most of the mortar gone and a rare giant fern’s roots threatening to damage it further.

And the original road was covered with two centuries’ worth of sediment. “It is one of the oldest-known sections of road in Sydney, but its existence surprised archaeologists and heritage architects from the Department of Public Works and Services when they began to dig,” says the Sydney Morning Herald.

A joint team from the department and the RBG set out to conserve and restore Macquarie Culvert and the surface of the road Nicholas and his men laid nearly 200 years ago. Then the road was re-covered to preserve it for the future.


Of course, it’s exciting for me as a descendant of Nicholas Delaney to know that his brick bridge still exists and has been restored, but how important is it as part of Australian history?

As Anna Wong points out, “The age and material used within its historical context makes it a significant item. Other culverts and bridges were built during the early nineteenth century, but most have collapsed or were dismantled due to poor construction and inadequate knowledge.

“This brick culvert appears to be the only brick example from this period.”


So – did Nicholas build the oldest bridge in Australia?

The Richmond Bridge in Tasmania, convict-built between 1823-5, has a claim, and the Lennox Bridge, also called the Horseshoe Bridge, convict-built in 1832, is known as the oldest on the mainland.

But Macquarie Culvert beats them both. True, it’s not so big or so well-known, but at a date of 1816 at the very latest, it is certainly the oldest surviving bridge in Australia.

Not a bad achievement for an illiterate peasant and transported convict.


When we were writing our book, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798, the reconstruction was still to take place and several of Nicholas’s descendants were lobbying for the preservation of the stretches of his original road that still existed. It exciting to think that this part is safe for at least  the next 100 years, according to the Public Works and Services department.

“The best thing is that the culvert is not high and dry in a museum,” the Gardens’ acting curator, Ian Innes, said at the time. “This is still working as a culvert.”


I haven’t got a picture of Macquarie Culvert to show you, unfortunately. A few weeks ago I emailed the Royal Botanic Gardens to ask if they would let me use one of their photos but I haven’t heard back from them and I haven’t found one under Creative Commons on the net. (Update: Jeff Farrar’s photos now posted here)

But here are some links to pictures of the culvert from Stone Mason & Artist, Oceanskies and zuctronic.

Anna Wong's AHA article about Macquarie Culvert, built by Nicholas Delaney and his convict gang c1816

Anna Wong’s AHA article about Macquarie Culvert

I found useful information about early nineteenth-century drains in Anna Wong’s paper in Australasian Historical Archaeology, 17, 1999 and about the restoration of Macquarie Culvert in James Woodford’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald of June 24, 2002.

The AHA article also has an old photo of Macquarie Culvert before restoration.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Macquarie, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

1798 – the television programme

United Irishmen

United Irishmen – Image via Wikipedia

Here at last! A link to the episode of BBC TV’s Story of Ireland which deals with the Rebellion of  1798 and the United Irishmen.

Earlier this year, this four-part series presented by Fergal Keane took us at some speed through the history of the island of Ireland.

I posted my thoughts at the time it was transmitted (May 30th, 2011) but I’d love to know what you think.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
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Tombstone Tuesday: Sarah’s haunted grave

At last I’m posting a photograph of the grave of my great-great-great grandmother, Sarah Simpson, who arrived in New South Wales as a convict on the Friendship in 1818.

Sarah's grave (Michael Wood 2011)

Sarah’s grave (Michael Wood 2011)

Sarah Marshall, as she was then, was lucky to be sentenced to seven years’ transportation. She had been caught stealing clothes to the value of fivepence – but theft was still, in those days, a hanging offence.*

As I’ve written about earlier on this blog, Sarah died in December 1838 and local legend says that she was murdered and that her ghost haunts Castlereagh Cemetery to this day.

The reason this photo is so special is that it arrived in my inbox today, sent by my cousin Michael Wood, who is descended from Nicholas and Elizabeth Delaney’s son William (9th January 1817 – 14th December 1881).  Michael has just got back from visiting the graveyard, where he took this picture.

Thank you, Michael!

* That makes three of my ancestors lucky to escape the gallows, and who knows, I may discover more.

What’s Tombstone Tuesday? you may ask. It’s an idea by the excellent people at Geneabloggers to prompt genealogy bloggers to write. If you’re one, do visit their website – it may inspire you, too.



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Convicts, Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

I’m one!

Cropped version of a PD birthday cake image, s...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s hard to believe, but… its one year since I began this blog.

At first I was nervous, and posted, oh, once every two months or so. Big mistake. It’s like everything else; the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

And what to post about? Nicholas Delaney, of course, and family history, but I didn’t want to replicate what’s already on the website. And I didn’t want to just repeat what’s in our book, A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798. That would be dull for anyone who’s already got it.

Then I realised this gave me the freedom to go farther and wider, and talk around the story.  For instance, when I came across the mystery of my other great-great-great grandmother, Sarah Marshall, BBC TV’s series Story if Ireland and finding the Who Do You Think You Are? clip where Graham Norton hears about his yeoman ancestor in Carnew.

Twitter feed for ARebelHand (A Rebel Hand: Nicholas Delaney of 1798)

ARebelHand’s Twitter feed

Or to pick up inspiration from other bloggers, like Twigs of Yore‘s Australia Day challenge,  West in New England‘s Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge or National Family History Week from the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations. Geneabloggers has lots of inspirations, too.

I got busy on Facebook and I’ve recently started tweeting as @ARebelHand and joined Google+.

And I’ve got a huge amount to learn still.

But the most important thing I would like to find out is – what would you like to read more about?



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Now that’s a plus!

The battle lines are drawn up. As of yesterday, Google+ has pages, much as Facebook does. Who will win the social media struggle?

I’m quite happy to use them both, so I’ve jumped at getting a G+ page. If you’re on Google+, come and join me here

Or if your prefer Facebook, here’s our page

Or come and chat with Rebel Hand. I’m friendly!

In a hurry? Tweet me @ARebelHand

What do you like about this blog? What can we do better? What else would you like to see?

I’d love to hear from you!



 © Frances Owen and A Rebel Hand, 2010-2014
Posted in Nicholas Delaney | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment