The Tin Ticket

The Tin Ticket[i] was one of my purchases from Gould Genealogy at the Qld Expo recently. I selected it because while I have no convicts in my own tree I thought it would be an interesting read.

In essence the book aims to illustrate the life experiences of three female convicts who were sentenced to transportation to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) for seven to ten years in the 1830s. Two were Scottish teenagers who’d been living on the streets for some time, Agnes McMillan and Janet Houston. The other was Ludlow Tedder, a literate housekeeper who’d been sentenced for pawning her employer’s silverware. Ludlow’s young daughter Arabella was also sent out with her.

All three were confined to the Cascades Female Factory for part of their sentence and were there for some overlapping periods.

Pros

I found the book interesting for what I learned about the horrors of Newgate Prison in London and the conditions at the Cascades. It is appalling to think how little clothing and food these women were given, the shockingly unsanitary conditions under which they lived, and the double standards of the time. The story of Elizabeth Fry’s work to improve their conditions at Newgate was also interesting. I’d liked to have had more information on life as a female convict towards the end of transportation era to see what conditions had changed: the nod to Irish convict Bridget Mulligan was to my mind cursory and subject to stereotyping.

From our family’s perspective, the references to Oatlands in central Tasmania were also informative as Mr Cassmob’s Irish convict, Denis Collins, was there for part of his sentence.

Cons

As a reader I found this book difficult and “stumbling” to read. The writing style was excessively florid with superfluous adjectives at every turn, and some phrases repeated ad infinitum, in a way which worked against the story as a whole.  I didn’t need to be told more than once or twice that Agnes was a “grey-eyed girl” or that she came from Glasgow, nor did I need the words “convict maids” to be always conjoined. The hyperbole made me sceptical about the accuracy of the content and would have benefited from a severe editing. I also found it irritating to read Americanisms in a book written about Australia and the UK. It does highlight how important it is to have a local reader do at least one edit.

These convict women were strong and resilient, whatever their faults and convictions, and I’d have liked to have known even more detail about their lives after gaining their Tickets of Leave as this is when they contributed to the development of Australia. No doubt this was partly due to the lack of documentary evidence for this period of their lives, in marked contrast to the detail from their convict period.

Summary: Worth the read to learn about life as a female convict in the early-mid 19th century, and of special interest to anyone with ancestors who may have been at Newgate or the Cascades Female Factory in Hobart.  A more balanced, edited writing style would have been more convincing rather than leaving me wondering about the validity of some of the statements.

You may also be interested in an article by the author in from The Huffington Post this week about Cascades and its female convicts.

[i] Swiss, Deborah J. The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women. New York, Berkley, 2010.

X is for X-Trailing into the distance

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

Since we got our Nissan X-Trail about four years ago, it’s taken us on some long adventures, though to be honest its 4WD facility hasn’t had much of a workout.

Heading for ruin, but I loved this old building seen en route to Townsville. © P Cass 2008.

The first long trip we took in the X-Trail combined genealogy and travel very nicely. We drove to Cairns in Far North Queensland visiting family sites such as Hughenden, Charters Towers, Townsville and Ingham along the way. Many were the cemeteries we explored for family plots and photos. We also visited a whole raft of family history centres, mining them for the indexes specific to the area. Oh yes, and we did have a holiday, exploring Magnetic Island which I used to visit as a child, and the mountains-to-reefs of the Cairns area. All in all we had great fun, and a very productive time indeed.

Peter's grandparents' gravestone in the Ouyen cemetery. © P Cass.

The longest trip the little X-Trail has achieved was Darwin to Tasmania (Tassie) via Adelaide and Melbourne. I think we notched up around 9,500 kms on that drive which was to celebrate a “special” birthday for us both. Despite the long drive Darwin-Adelaide, we had a lot of fun in the holiday sector of our journey. We ate lots of great fresh food in Tasmania, drank equally good wine and whisky, saw the yachts from the Sydney-Hobart race and admired some wonderful natural scenery. Of course what is any trip without a genealogy aspect, so we stopped along the way at a couple of places in western Victoria where my husband’s family has links: Ouyen, Horsham and North Laen.

A view in Oatlands showing the historic windmill. I loved that the stone walls near it were restored by women who learnt the skills. © P Cass.

In Tassie we visited the town of Oatlands where my husband’s convict ancestor spent some of his sentence. Oatlands has a wonderful array of old Georgian buildings and we fell in love with its vibe. A visit to the archives in Hobart revealed a few more clues about his ancestor and eliminated a possible migration record for my O’Briens.

Last year we drove Darwin-Brisbane-Canberra return and had quite a lot of genealogy fun. The timing of the trip was for us to attend the Not Just Ned exhibition and for me to enjoy three days of fun at Shamrock in the Bush 2011. As always, archives, family history centres, and cemeteries featured in our itinerary as well as seeing the countryside looking very green and lush after the early 2011 floods throughout the west.

The Murphys Creek railway station, of importance to the Kunkel family history. Murphys Creek was severely affected by the 2011 floods. © P Cass

On St Patrick’s Day 2011, we took Ms X-Trail for a quick skip down the Stuart Highway and I wrote about the scenery and the birds we saw here.

The X-Trail has given us a ton of fun, as well as a solution to the “X is for…..” conundrum.