Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Laurence Butler- Ch. 9: Life as a convict in NSW

Sydney 1803 by George William Evans

The Irish convicts found it difficult settling into this new way of life under English rule. The Governors of the Colony found them insolent and intractable. The following anecdote concerning Governor King illustrates that:
An old resident, Obed West (born 1807), wrote articles in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1882, about Old Pitt Street in 1816. He related that, near the present Pitt Street frontage of the Sydney Post Office colonnade, "a person named Kearns had a hotel which he called 'The Faithful Irishman', and I should explain that all the old-fashioned hotels had  a swinging sign in front, representing in some way the name by which the house was known, and in conformity with that custom, Kearns had portrayed on his signboard what was supposed to be a faithful Irishman. One day, Governor King, who had a reputation for wit, was riding past and seeing the proprietor at the door, called out 'What do you call that up there?' 'Oh, that's "The Faithful Irishman", your Excellency'. The Governor promptly replied 'Take him down Kearns; take him down and I'll have him put in the King's Store, for he's the only faithful Irishman in the Colony."  [i]
Although Irish, Kearns was transported for seven years on the Neptune in 1789, after his trial at the Old Bailey.

Governor King was very concerned about the arrival of so many Irish insurgents. On the arrival of the ‘Anne’ in 1801, he wrote: “137 of the most desperate and diabolical characters… together with a Catholic priest of the most notorious, seditious and rebellious principles which makes the members of…. United Irishmen amount to 600, ready and waiting an opportunity to put their diabolical plans in action.” [iii]

The Reverend Samuel Marsden, the notorious Yorkshire minister appointed as Magistrate for Parramatta, whose harsh judgments and punishments, particularly following the local uprisings by the Irish convicts, earned him the name of “the flogging parson”, wrote about the Irish Catholics:
“ (They) are the most wild, ignorant and savage Race that were ever favoured with the light of Civilisation; men that have been familiar with… every horrid Crime from their Infancy. Their minds being destitute of every Principle of Religion and Morality render them capable of perpetrating the most Nefarious Acts in cold blood… As they never appear to reflect upon Consequences; but to be… always alive to Rebellion and Mischief, they are very dangerous members of Society. No Confidence whatever can be placed in them… They are extremely superstitious, artful and treacherous, which renders it impossible for the most watchful and active Government to discover their real intentions… (If Catholicism were) tolerated they would assemble together from every Quarter, not so much from a desire of celebrating Mass, as to recite the Miseries and Injustice of their Banishment, the Hardships they suffer, and to inflame one another’s Minds with some wild scheme of Revenge.” [iv]

A French exploring expedition on the ‘Geographe’ arrived in Sydney in 1802. A French officer, naturalist, Francois Peron filed a report with the Ministry of Navy. His assessment of the Irish convicts is interesting:
A second class of society, more formidable still, (also much more respectable, but having most to complain about, and the most interesting class to us), is composed of legions of the unfortunate Irish, whom the desire of freeing their country from the British yoke, caused to arm in concert with us against the English Government, Overwhelmed by force, they were treated with pitiless rigour. Nearly all those who took up arms in our favour were mercilessly transported, and mixed with thieves and assassins. The first families of Ireland count their friends and relations upon these coasts of New Holland. Persecuted by that most implacable of all kinds of hatred, the hatred born of national animosity and differing convictions, they are cruelly treated, and all the more so because they are feared. [v]

Governor Hunter had taken pity on the first batch of political convicts that arrived from Ireland. He told Portland they were soft-handed and “bred up in genteel life. We can scarcely divest ourselves of the common feelings of humanity so far as to send a physician (Bryan Connor), a formerly respectable sheriff of a county (John Brenan), a Roman Catholic Priest (Fr Dixon and Fr Harold), or a Protestant clergyman and family (Rev. Henry Fulton) to the grubbing hoe or the timber carriage.  [vi]  However, distrust of these Irish troublemakers soon arose as rumors of the Irish convicts conspiring to rise up and take over the colony continually surfaced during the succeeding months and years, particularly in the farming areas surrounding the Government farms at Castle Hill near Parramatta, where most of these Irish convicts were assigned.

For the first few years, Laurence worked as a carpenter and cabinet maker in the Government owned lumber yard in Sydney [vii].  When convict ships arrived in the Colony, government officials selected the skilled artisans for work in the government workshops, before the rest of the convicts were allocated as labourers to the rest of the Colony’s settlers, or were assigned to the Government farm at Castle Hill, Parramatta. Laurence’s skills as a cabinetmaker would have been noted, despite his advancing age.

During their term of sentence, convicts were required to work ten hours a day Monday to Friday and six hours on Saturday. Sunday was a day of rest and all in the colony were expected to attend church. Convicts were expected to complete a quota of set tasks per week. Any infringements, accusations of laziness, or insolence towards their overseers/masters often resulted in severe punishments such as lashing. Convicts were let off work at 3 p.m. and could either earn wages for out-of-hours labour, or set up their own businesses- skilled craftsmen could earn good money during this free time. All convicts would aim to be granted their ticket-of-leave, by which they no longer had to work as an assigned man, or under forced government labour.

Very few records survive of the first years Laurence spent in the colony. Fellow Wexford Rebel and close friend, Michael Hayes did write to his family in Wexford in November 1802 mentioning Laurence, saying, He is employed under Government. His trade is very good, but where sobriety is attached” (Michael Hayes' Letters 1799-1833- National Library Australia Ms246 and Mitchell Library NSW). 
Laurence would have been required to work in the government Lumber Yard for 10 hours each day, Monday to Friday, finishing at 3 p.m., and for 6 hours on Saturday, but after that, his time was his own to set up his own business. One record survives in State Archives that gives us some idea of the private work he was undertaking shortly after arrival. A rebel tried at Antrim, William Orr, a most interesting character who was transported on the 'Friendship' with several Wexford rebels, including Michael Hayes and William Gough, left behind a notebook recording his debts, and giving a short account of his involvement in the rebellion and subsequent arrest in Co. Antrim. The anonymous notebook is entitled by Archives as, “Diary of an Irish Rebel- 1 June-April 1799” (  NSW Miscellaneous records 1787-1976). His identity however, has been established as Orr, from the information given about his trial in Antrim. He came from a well-to-do family and a book written about the Orr Families of Antrim by R.H. Foy is entitled: “The Story of the Orr Families of Antrim and Their Involvement in the 1798 Rebellion”.
A summary of William Orr's life:
“William was accused (falsely as it is said to have turned out) of a number of rebel-type crimes by a neighbour, tried and convicted, before 1799 Co. Antrim, Ireland.
He escaped Sydney on an American ship, and after a series of adventures, including shipwreck in the Torres Strait, journeys totaling some 2700 miles in the ship's open longboat, and being stranded in Sumatra, finally ended up, adopting the name 'William Jamieson', in 1805, Calcutta, Bengal, India.
The authorities became convinced of William's innocence and issued a pardon and an order for his release in 1805.
He moved to Penang, or Prince of Wales Island as it was then known, off the Malay peninsular, and stayed there until 1822, accumulating a reasonable store of wealth.
Well after he had escaped, the pardon and release order reached Botany Bay in 1806,
He returned to Ireland and bought a house 'Newgrove' in 1822, at Broughshane,,Antrim, Ireland”.

On page 107 of Foy’s book-“In the NSW Archives there is a notebook with entries which Orr made around this time, describing events leading up to his arrest and trial. The notebook also contains charges for watch repairs that he carried out. Among Orr’s customers were Gov. King and army officers, as well as United Irishmen such as Hugh Devlin of Belfast and Dr McCallum. Also in the list was a Capt Wilson. The same page shows expenditure on a house, with debts incurred for “making a gate, window shutters, altering doors, a bedstead and doors (draws)’, suggesting that Orr was fitting out a house.” Apart from this notebook, there is no indication of Orr’s activities in NSW, other than he was a visitor to the house of Maurice Margarot. One of the so-called Scottish Martyrs, Margarot had been secretary of the London Corresponding Society which had strong republican tendencies and promoted Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ in England.”

Ann Maree Whitaker wrote in her “Unfinished Revolution” (p.65; ref: Margarot Journal, ML B1374 pp48-54): “Margarot’s house in Sydney was visited frequently by Joseph Holt, Florence McCarty, as well as William Gough and William Orr of the ‘Friendship’.”
Capt George Johnston described Margarot’s house as “the most seditious house in the colony”.

Orr’s notebook contains several pages of debts owed and paid, including several references to “Butler the carpenter”. The most interesting page (p6) is dated January 1804:

January 1804

The first part is labelled “Butler debtor to Mr Aikin”, with the third entry “paid by Mr Orr by a balance due to him £1.0s.0d”, leaving the total debt to Aikin as £1.16s.0d”.
The second part is labelled “Debtor to Butler” and lists various cabinetry items supplied by Butler to Orr:
“Making gate £1.0.0.; 
Window Shutters 10s.0d; 
Altering Door 3s.0d; 
Sash(?- sash window?) 2s.6p.; 
Bedstead 15s.0d.; 
Draws(drawers) 9s.6d. 
Totalling £3.2s.0d.”

‘Aikin’ was James Aicken, a free settler from Belfast, Antrim, who arrived on the ‘Supply’ in 1794 as a Master’s Mate, and given a grant in 1800. He plied the NSW coast, and in 1800 was appointed as Master of the schooner ‘Francis’. His most famous voyage was to Wreck Reef in 1804 to rescue Matthew Flinders and the crew of the ship ‘Porpoise’ and the ‘Cato’. Later he went into partnership with Simeon Lord. With both Orr and Aicken originating from Antrim, they may have had a close association.

There is another carpenter named in the entries, Henry Sykes. He arrived in 1790 with a 7 year sentence, and in the 1806 Muster, he was a self-employed carpenter. It would appear from the entries that Sykes was employed in building Orr’s home or premises, while Butler was engaged to supply the fittings. As monetary payments did not exist at the time, often bills were paid with goods and consumables such as wheat.
On page 12, dated May 14, 1804: Pd Butler the Carpenter- 2 bushels of wheat  £0.15s.0d

On page 19, dated May 16, 1805: paid Butler, Carpenter- 2 bushels of wheat   £0.15s.0d (a similar payment was paid to Sykes, carpenter- 1 bushel)



The following notebook entry in October 1803 is for payments to an unnamed carpenter, probably Henry Sykes, as it is more related to building work rather than cabinetry:


On the final page (33), an undated (the previous page was dated 1803) list of random and unexplained calculations and figures was followed by:
Gate (?) maker £7.16s
Butler £2
Masons £3
Sykes £2
Jud(?) £1.25s
Tinker £1 etc., totalling £17.3s.6d.

1803 (?)

William Orr’s notebook helps fill in the early years in Laurence Butler’s life in the colony, and the people he was associated with through his business. It proves that he had established his own cabinetry business soon after his arrival, and was making a good private income outside his government duties. He may have gained Orr’s business through his network of Irish rebel friends from the ‘Friendship’ who were established in the colony for two years before his arrival. As fellow Wexford rebel William Gough was known to associate with William Orr at Margarot’s house, and as William Gough sold his property to Laurence when he returned to Ireland in 1809, it may be that Gough introduced Laurence to Orr.

A convict with a ticket-of-leave could spend the rest of his sentence working for himself, wherever he pleased as long as he stayed within the colony. The ticket only lasted one year and would have to be renewed, and could be revoked at any time, on an accusation or denunciation by anyone in the colony, which kept them in a continual state of apprehension. The convict’s ultimate hope was to be granted a pardon, either absolute by which they were restored to their free status with full rights, or conditional by which they were totally free to conduct their lives as long as they did not return to Britain or Ireland.

Convicts convicted of offences within the colony, were usually transported to one of the outlying penal colonies such as the Newcastle coal mines known then as Coal River, the early settlement at Norfolk Island, and in the later years the appallingly cruel penal settlements of Port Arthur, Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania, the re-opened Norfolk Island, Coal River (Newcastle), and Moreton Bay. Treatment in these outposts was extremely harsh and the punishments inhumane and cruel. Several of the Wexford/Wicklow rebel contingent would spend time on Norfolk Island, following charges of illegal distilling or inciting unrest- Michael Hayes, Matthew Sutton, Joseph Holt and Michael Dwyer among them, while Sir Henry Brown Hayes, Miles Leary, William Maume, Florence McCarty and several other Irish dissidents were sent to the harsh Coal River settlement where prisoners worked in the coal mines, or even worse, the dreaded lime burning gangs. The early convicts who behaved themselves in the colony of Sydney generally led a reasonable existence and received fair treatment, Laurence Butler being one of them. After 1830, on instructions from the Colonial Office in London, all new arrivals faced a life of unbearable harshness, as a deterrent to would-be criminals back in Britain, who were beginning to view transportation as a ticket to a better way of life.

The Labour Returns for 1800 include an entry for furniture being made at the Lumber Yard by convict artisans for Lieutenant Governor King (who governed from 1800 to 1806) and his wife. A secretaire bookcase, dated c.1805, which remained until recently in the hands of King's descendants, is attributed  to Laurence Butler. The family sold this piece to the National Art Gallery of Australia (Canberra) in 2011, and can be seen on their website. A video by Dr Robert Bell of the National Gallery of Australia, describing the features of this cabinet can be seen at:

Secretaire bookcase made for Gov. King

At one time Laurence received an injury from a falling piece of timber during the construction of St. Phillip’s Church. A carved wooden Reredos, c.1809, from the original church, presently in the new St Phillip’s Church, is thought to have possibly been made by Laurence.

St Phillip's Church completed in 1809

Reredos from old St Phillips Church, now in new St Phillips Church Sydney

Plaque under Reredos in St Phillip's Church

 A recent claim was made that Laurence acted as overseer at the Lumber Yard. No reference was given for this information, so is unconfirmed at this stage. However, the Irish rebel convicts, because of their level of education and skill, were often appointed as overseers, and it is highly likely that Laurence did act in this capacity.

Court Case involving Butler's De-facto Relationship

In the 1806 Convict Muster, Laurence was living with another convict, Mary Ann Fowles. She had been given a sentence of seven years for perjury and arrived on the ‘Surprise’ in 1794. [viii]  In Rev. Samuel Marsden’s female Muster, she was listed as a “concubine” living with Laurence Butler and having one natural child  [ix] who may have been Walter Butler, Laurence's first son who was born c.1806-1808. In October 1808, Laurence and Mary Ann, also known as Bradley/Radley (having ‘married’ Thomas Radley), appeared before the Bench of Magistrates charged with “disturbing the peace of the neighbourhood, and although required by the Constables to be quiet, still continued to quarrel and beat and abuse Ann Johnson who was turned into the streets at 12 o’clock at night- Butler reprimanded and Mary Ann Bradley ordered a weeks imprisonment,” before magistrates George Johnston, Garnham Blaxcell and William Lawson. [x]
The disparity between the two sentences would indicate that Mary Anne was the instigator of the quarrel.

 The Blaxland Furniture Orders

John Blaxland was a wealthy free settler, and brother of Gregory Blaxland the famous explorer who accompanied William Lawson and William Wentworth and were the first to cross the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. [xii]

A record from the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence titled “A Statement of Capital Advanced by John Blaxland in his concern from the 3rd day of April 1807 to the 14th of September 1808”, contains three references to Laurence Butler for payment for his cabinetmaking- notably, this occurred while he was still bound to government service:
 1.) August 29th 1807-Amount paid - Laurence Butler’s ditto £21. 2s ” and immediately above “Amount paid Captn Gardner’s Bill”. The remainder of the payments on the two pages of this document were also payments for goods and services. [xiii]
2.) April 13th 1808- Paid Butler, Cabinet-maker in full for labour £46.19s [xiv]
3.) September 14th 1808- Paid Butler Cabinet Maker labour £26.14s. [xv]

In total for 13 months, Blaxland paid Laurence £95.13s, which was a considerable amount for that time, and must have been for a considerable amount of furniture. (Comparatively, a constable was paid £10 annually for wages, and lower ranked officers in the NSW Corps were paid about £50 per year.)  It also indicates it was payment for cabinet making labour only, not for supplying ready-made furniture. Along with orders for other Colonists whom he may have been supplying, Laurence was making a considerable income outside his allotted convict hours.

Blaxland Statements of Payments

As convicts were allowed to conduct their own business in their free time, this payment may have helped towards setting up Laurence’s cabinet-making business and premises, as he was included as a "principal resident" in Pitt Row on a map of Sydney dated 1803-1810.

Map of Sydney c1807- Laurence Butler’s property in Pitt’s Row [xvi]

We know that Butler was supplying private orders for cabinetry from early after his arrival, as evidenced by the William Orr Notebook, and this payment by Blaxland concurs that Laurence had established his commercial business, and was providing furniture to the free settler elite. By November 1809 he was employing an apprentice, James Ezzy, [xvii] at his Pitt’s Row premises.
The Old Registers contain the Indenture:
Indenture of Apprenticeship dated 6 November 1809 James Ezzey son of Wm Ezzey of Hawkesbury hath put himself apprentice to Laurence Butler cabinet maker of Sydney for the term of three years to learn his art &c.
Executed in the presence of John Lawrie and James William Ezzey.[xviii]

© B.A. Butler

Contact email address:  butler1802  (NB. no spaces)

Link back to Introduction:

Links to all the chapters in this blog:

The 1798 rebellion
Laurence Butler's trial for his role in the Rebellion
Analysis of Butler's trial
Laurence Butler at the Battle of Tubberneering
Laurence Butler's imprisonment
Butler's life and family in Wexford
Laurence Butler's transportation to Sydney in 1802 on the Atlas 2
Conditions on Convict Ships
Life as a convict in Sydney
Laurence Butler's property investments in Pitt Street Sydney
Sydney Town in 1800-1810
Laurence Butler's petitions to the Governor
Laurence Butler's 100 acre land grant in District of Petersham
Butler's membership of the Commercial Society of Sydney
Laurence Butler's court cases
Laurence Butler's business interests in Sydney
Laurence Butler's cabinet making business
Laurence Butler's property investments in Sydney
Laurence Butler's colonial family
Laurence Butler's death in 1820
Laurence Butler's issue- Walter, Lawrence Junior and Mary Ann
The Catholic Community of Sydney up until 1820
Genealogy- Butler's possible ancestry and possible descendants in Ireland, and BDM records
Butler's fellow Irish rebels transported to Sydney
Conclusion about the life of Laurence Butler

[i] Edward West Marriott, The Memoirs of Obed West- A Portrait of Early Sydney, Carcom Press 1988, p.1
[iii]  King to Portland “Historical Records Australia” iii:8-9
[iv]  Joseph Holt, A Rum Story: The Adventures of Joseph Holt, Thirteen Years in New South Wales (1800-1812), edited by Peter O’Shaughnessy; published 1988 Kangaroo Press. (taken from Holt’s Memoirs – first edited version by Thomas Crofton Croker in 1838 p.20
[v]  Ernest Scott- The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders RN, pub Sydney, 1914,  pp.454-6
[vi]  Hunter to Portland Mar 20 1800 Historical Records Aust. ii: 223
[vii] Carol J. Baxter (Ed), Musters of New South Wales and Norfolk Island 1805-1806, ABGR in assoc SAG, Sydney 1989
[viii] Old Bailey Proceedings Online  (Date accessed 29/3/09), December 1792, trial of Mary Ann Fowle (t17921215-122)
[ix] Carol J. Baxter (Ed), Musters of New South Wales and Norfolk Island 1805-1806, ABGR in assoc SAG, Sydney 1989
[x]  SRNSW: Bench of Magistrates; COD231; [SZ770, p.295]; Disturbing the peace, 29 Oct 1808; Reel 657
[xi] Old Bailey Proceedings Online (Date accessed 29/3/09), December, 1804, trial of  Ann Johnson (t18041205-10)
[xii] Gregory Blaxland was famously part of the ‘Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth’ team who first crossed the Blue Mts.
[xiii] SRNSW: Colonial Secretary; [4/1727, p.201]; Statement of Capital Advanced by John Blaxland from 3 April 1807 to 14 Sept 1808; payment 29 Aug 1807; Reel 6043
[xiv] Ibid, p.207, payment 13 April 1808
[xv] Ibid, p.214, payment 14 Sept 1808
[xvi] Bryan Thomas, part of map Early Sydney 1803-1810: The Principal Residents, 1979; however, refer to analysis of the Pitt Street properties in the chapter on Properties- NB John Connell’s property should have been adjacent to Butler’s, not Kearn.
[xvii] G. Douglass & L. Legge, Along the Windsor Richmond Road: The Early Days of the Ezzy Family, Sydney, 1985
[xviii]  SRNSW: Old Registers One to Nine, DVD, Book 5 page 111 No 714, pub Kingswood Sydney 2008