I’m an Aussie and proudly so. But my family story is often forgotten or lost in the melee of righteous injustices of the past, so I would like to tell you about one of my fore-fathers experiences of colonial Australia.
During the years of the Australian colonization my ancestor was taken from his country and sent to a reformatory a long way from his family. It was a harsh place with strict discipline and although there was segregation he thought himself lucky because he could be with his brother.
This story is true in every detail and well documented.
With literary licence I recount the following story in the first person, though I have not altered the facts as found in extensive research over many years and personal knowledge. My fore-father didn’t ever learn to write, though he learnt to make his mark and sign his name after a fashion.
Colonial Australia: A Letter from the Past
They took me from my family, from my mother and sent my brother and I to a place a long way from our country because they thought us thieves. We never saw our family again. I was barely 10 and my brother was 12 when we were first removed from our family. Where they took us to we had to work every day along with the other boys for many years. Every day but Sunday was the same, on Sunday we had to go to church so it was special. I had never been to church before this and I didn’t much like it because I always got into trouble and our punishment was harsh, but you get used to it in time and Sunday was the best day. My brother liked church though and everyone was punished so we were no different than others. In time when we grew stronger we were taken from the boys camp and sent to work with the men where the work was much harder. We never saw wages, but no one did so we were no different.
By the time I grew old enough to leave and was able to walk free I was 20 and I wasn’t welcome in the town because I was a man amongst many men in town who couldn’t find work, so I lived in the bush with others. There we lived off the land and learnt to hunt and had to steal to survive as there was less wild game to hunt by then and sheep were slow and easy to kill.
I became a man in the bush and lived there for years until I was sent to an island prison for stealing food. My brother was also sent there with me as we did every thing together, he was the only family I had then and although we were treated harshly, often beaten and whipped when we didn’t work hard enough, or didn’t tip our heads to our overseers or were thought to be insolent, we were at least still together.
By the time we were returned to the only country we had ever really known I was able to find work in the town, on the docks and helping colonists in their gardens. I wasn’t allowed to return to the country where I had lived before because they thought I would cause trouble with the settlers.
I met my woman in the town. She too had been taken from her country and worked for the settlers as a servant. Her first child had been taken from her once the baby was just a year old and it died soon after. So did our son who was also taken from her when he was just 14 months old, soon after that he died of starvation. They said that she couldn’t work with a child on her hip but he was too young to survive without his mother and he fretted away they told us.
Many children died in these days when they were taken from their mothers, those who worked as house servants and cooks for the settlers, they even had an orphanage where they sent the babies and most died there.
I had trouble with drinking at this time, alcohol that I got from the town people often as payment for the work I did and sometimes I was given flour or tea and salted beef. The year our first daughter was born was the year that we left the town because there was no life or freedom for us there and we wanted a better life for our kids. We wanted our children to survive and to be with us.
But alcohol was still a problem I had and it was difficult to provide for my woman and children so I ended up returning to work for the settlers, even though I was often paid only in alcohol or food, sometimes I would even be given coin now. Because I had not reported weekly to the police station as they said I should have done, even though I was free, I was thrown back into gaol again. I was also sent back to gaol because we grew small crops for a while but when they were ready for harvest we were told that the land was not ours. We never did harvest those crops. I think the settler who said he owned the land sold our crops even though we had paid to use the land with extra labour.
When I finally was released we once more fled the town but two years later I was gaoled for stealing a blanket. It was in July in winter and my kids were cold and there was no work. I spent four years in gaol for that, a long way from my family and when they set me free I was at least able to work once more to feed my kids. We had four kids still alive by then but we had lost two more, they had died while I was in gaol.
My hope is that my kids and their kids will have a better life. Perhaps in 150 years time or so my Great – Great – Great Granddaughter will write and tell of my life and you will wonder just who I am.
I am Australian, and we are a proud people.
Robert Charles was a convict, sent around the world to Van Dieman’s Land as a young child with no hope of ever returning to his family. He and his brother were sent to a land that was the only home he really ever knew. His descendants are likely of many different colours by now and if this is your country also, I would like to remind you that we are all Australian.
1823 – 1881
Robert and Peter Charles were tried in Edinburgh for theft of an infants gown in 1837. Their widowed mother had just given birth to a baby sister. The brothers were transported to Van Diemens Land, now known as Tasmania, Australia.
By 1838 the boys had been assigned to the new reformatory at Point Puer. This boys reformatory/Prison was an initiative of the Port Arthur penal settlement in an attempt to separate the convict boys from hardened criminals.
Robert and Peter both remained in Australia throughout their lives, never able to return to their native Scotland as with thousands of other transported convicts who called New Holland, home.
- To Own a Woman (janhawkinsau.wordpress.com)