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For dealing with dissident Irishmen, there was one effective solution. Transportation.
Transportation was effectively exile: taken from Ireland and confined on an aging ship, convicts would be shipped out to Australia on varying terms, from 7 years to Life. Some were children, others elders. Very few returned, sometimes due to the cost of buying passage back but mostly simply because a lot established new lives for themselves. The crimes committed by the Irishmen and women transported to Australia are surprisingly varied, some very minor, others very serious. You can explore some of the more unusual and recurring crimes in the transportation records at Findmypast.
Looking back at the records, transportation was employed extensively against criminals from Ireland seen as a threat to the state. A lot of the cases you see range from arson and highway robbery to membership of Irish revolutionary organisations involved in rebellions against British rule. These included the Whiteboys (agrarian rioters), Fenians and other revolutionary groups. Looking through Findmypast’s registers, there were certainly a lot of them transported, as entire pages are filled with their entries!
This revolutionary instinct did not stop with transportation however. Irish prisoners were instrumental in the failed Convict Rebellion of 1805, as well as a number escaping to become Australia’s first Bush Rangers. Some even escaped British custody entirely via the Catalpa, a ship chartered by dissident Irishmen that engineered the escape of 6 Fenian prisoners from Freemantle Prison and took them to the USA in the late 1870s.
An awfully large number were also transported for relatively minor thefts of goods such as cheese or bootlaces, and simple larceny of coats, shoes and the like. Given the agrarian nature of the Irish economy at the time, a large number of thefts involved livestock, with sheep, cattle and even pig rustling charges resulting in a transportation term.
Transportation is not just a sentence that adults got either. In Findmypast’s records, you’ll even discover a thirteen year-old highwayman, who had been sentenced to a life term!
If these unfortunate Irishmen made it to Australia, they would experience very harsh conditions. Language difficulties were an acute problem, as Gaelic was the main language of a number of the convicts, and they spoke very little to no English. This was such a problem that the court established to deal with crime amongst the convict settlers had to employ a Gaelic translator to act for some of its defendants!
With a large number of Irishmen transported to Australia, a lot of Australians with Irish ancestry can trace their lines back to these Ne’er-do-wells, brigands and bandits. Ned Kelly, one of Australia’s bushrangers, is one of these. Why not have a look and see if any of your ancestors were among the unfortunate Irish-Australian settlers?
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