legiron.jpg (5188 bytes)

Convict Ancestors



Mary Matthews (nee Keogh)

Mary, was born about 1834, the daughter of Irish convicts, Martin KEOGH and Elizabeth (nee ARKIN). According to the family bible, Martin was born in 1793 in Bunclody, Wexford, Ireland. He gave his occupation at various times as ploughman, farm labourer, shepherd, farmer and dealer. Elizabeth was the daughter of Samuel ARKIN, born in Wexford about 1797.

The following narrative was read by Molly Frankham, a Keogh descendant, at a Memorial Service for the family held at St Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church, Pontville, Tasmania on 14th November, 1992.

"In the early 1800’s the English occupied Ireland, took over and cleared the land, burned homes and generally displaced the population. Added to this was the potato famine, caused by diseased potato crops which had failed over a number of years.

Their poverty was so great, in some instances they were even incapable of burying their dead. Those that could afford to pay a bounty, emigrated to America and the colonies. Those that were left behind were compelled to steal in order to survive.

The English were unrepentant in their dealing with the "lower class" and wished to colonize their territories overseas. They were able, by transportation, to expel a number of their patriots and surplus population.

The Keogh family then, over the next 10 years, either as convicts or emigrants arrived in Van Dieman’s Land. Only one family member failed to follow the rest of the family."

Martin KEOGH, was tried at Wexford and was sentenced to 7 years' transportation for stealing eight sheep on 19th October, 1842. On 7th July, 1843 at Dublin Castle, the parties who accused Martin signed a document declaring that they now believed he was innocent of the crime and tried to gain his release.

To His Excellency

Earl D.E. Grey
Lord Lieutenant General and General Governor or Ireland

The Memorial of Martin KEOHOE most Humbly Sheweth

That Memorialist was convicted of Stealing Sheep at Enniscorthy Sessions in the County of Wexford in October last and sentenced to Transportation for seven years.

The Memorialist is upward of Fifty-seven years of age and to the time of his Conviction maintained an irreproachable Character and has a wife and Eight children solely dependant on his Exertions for their support And as the whole of his Prosecutors are now fully convinced of his innocency of the charge and that he had only possession of the Sheep under the firm conviction that they were given to his wife by said Prosecutors to whom she is related as is attested at the foot hereof the Signatures of the Prosecutors.

Your Memorialist therefore most humbly prays that your Excellency will be Graciously pleased to extend your mercy to him by a Commutation of the sentence. When he will migrate with his wife and Family to one of the British colonies and Your Memorialist will as in Duty bound ever Pray.



We the undersigned the parties who prosecuted Martin KEHOE being now fully convinced of his innocence of the offence for which he was convicted. Most humbly beg to recommend him to your Most Merciful Consideration.

Patrick Rise (his uncle)

Martin Doyle

Martin KEOUGH Dated 27th June, 1843.

The plea for clemency was denied and Martin was transported on the ship Orator, which arrived at Hobart Town on 21st November, 1843. (It seems probable that the guilty party was in fact Martin's wife, Elizabeth).

The physical description recorded on Martin's convict papers say that he was 5'7", aged 50, a Roman Catholic, with fresh complexion, oval face, light brown hair, dark brown eyebrows, blue eyes and had a wart on the forefinger of his right hand and a scar on the back of the neck!

Elizabeth arrived on 7th October, 1848. Elizabeth stated that she had six children, one on board, our ancestor, Mary, aged 12 years. Martin's plea for clemency stated he had eight children. Perhaps two children died in the five harsh years since his departure.

Elizabeth KEOGH (nee ARKIN)'s convict records show that she was a servant in the county of Wexford, Ireland. Before transportation, her place of residence was Askintycloe (the Meadow of the Marsh) in the parish of Templeshambo, County Wexford. Stealing two geese was her third offence; she was also convicted of stealing a sheep and for assault. Elizabeth was sentenced 3rd January, 1848 at Wexford to 7 years' transportation per Kinnear. Records show that she could read, was 5'4", aged 50, with a fresh complexion, oval head, dark brown hair, high forehead, sandy eyebrows, and a Roman Catholic. What hardships and heartache Elizabeth must have endured in the five years since her husband was transported! Her daughter, Ann was transported in 1847, and after her own sentencing, she had to leave her young son, John behind in Ireland.

Transported on the convict ship Kinnear with her mother, Mary was placed in Queen's orphanage for convict children on 7th October, 1848. Children in Queen's Orphanage Hobart Town 1828-1863 compiled by Joyce Purtscher states that a Royal Commission of inquiry was held in 1867 into the institution. "Its finding were damning upon both the system and the buildings. The system was likened to the prison system rather than a benevolent institution. The Commission criticised the confinement of children behind walls, the lack of equipment and training, and noted the "listless and demoralised" character of the children. The commissioner attributed these characteristics "in the first place, to the total loss of home influences and sympathies and in the second place to the entire loss of individuality by the children being massed together"....

After what had probably been an horrendous voyage, Elizabeth served six months below decks on the HMS Anson, a floating Female Convict and Probationary Establishment, anchored in the Derwent River. She received a third class discharge on the 13th April, 1849. Her Ticket of Leave was granted on 8th November, 1853 and a full pardon would have been granted in 1855. After receiving her pardon, Elizabeth made application for their youngest son, John to come to Tasmania.

Martin was released from the first stage of probation on 25th January, 1845. A Ticket of Leave was granted on 8th June, 1847 which enabled him to apply for his wife and family to join him. On 2nd August, 1848 he made that application and stated his family to be Patrick, aged 20 years; Margaret aged 12 years; Mary, aged 9 years and John aged 8 years. Martin must have been unaware that Elizabeth was on her way.

After obtaining his freedom, Martin collected Mary from the orphanage and became a farmer at Pontville, Brighton, Tasmania, where he died on 20th August, 1871, aged 84 years of "old age". He is buried at St Matthew's Cemetery. Elizabeth died on 23rd September, 1887 at her daughter, Margaret's home at Bourke Street, Launceston.

Small Flowers

Walter (Thomas) MATTHEWS

Thomas was born about 1824. He was tried at the Central Criminal Courts, London on 6th July, 1840 for embezzlement and sentenced to seven years' transportation. His gaol report indicated he had been convicted before. The prison hulk report noted that he was orderly and single. It stated "this offence, stealing two sovereigns from my master - Mr. Gardener, once embezzling 25".

Although just 16 years of age, and 4’7" tall, he was transported and imprisoned with adults and was not afforded the more favourable conditions of the Parkhurst Scheme for juvenile convicts. Thomas was described as having a fair, freckled complexion, round head; and light brown hair. It also noted that he had no whiskers; a high forehead; light brown eyebrows; light hazel eyes, with medium nose, mouth and chin. He could read and write and was a Protestant. On 28th September, 1840 he embarked on the "Hindostan" and arrived in Tasmania on 19th January, 1841. As well as the features above, the following information is recorded on his convict papers: Trade: labourer; Native Place: Clerkenwell. Period of Probation: Two years. Station of Gang Rd, Pt Puer. Remarks: 11/42 Tailor orderly good ... 6/42 do, do 7/42 do do 1/42 fair 4/5/44 .... 1/7/44 RW.

The vessel sailed on 7th October, 1840 from Sheerness and the voyage took 104 days. 210 convict males embarked and one lost his life on the journey. George Lamb was the ship's Master and Andrew Henderson, its Surgeon. 30 guards of the 96th Regiment acted as escorts. The "Hindostan" was a ship of 424 grt, built at Whitby, England in 1819.

Thomas served two years at Point Puer before receiving his Ticket of Leave on 24th July, 1844. Point Puer (Latin for boy), was on a narrow peninsula one mile across the bay from Port Arthur and adjacent to the Isle of the Dead. Under strict discipline boys were taught trades from shoe and boot making, carpentry, blacksmithing, baking, sawing, boat building, gardening and book binding. The site was badly chosen, having a poor sandy soil and no supply of fresh water. Water, fuel and supplies were delivered daily by the "old hands" from Port Arthur, who it was feared would upset the moral reformation of the boys.

Port Arthur 1830 - 1877 by Ian Brand, FCIS notes that "most of the Port Puer boy convicts were young thieves, and all were potential hardened criminals. The boys were under strict discipline, rising at 5 am. After stowing their hammocks and bedding, they attended prayers and a scripture reading. Between then and breakfast at 7 am, they washed and were allowed time for relaxation within a specified area outdoors. Work was from 8 am till 12, with lunch being at 12.30 pm. Work recommenced at 1.30 until 5 pm. Supper was served at 5.30 pm, then they attended school from 6.15 to 7.15 pm. Schooling ended with a hymn, scripture reading and prayer before bed.

On arrival, the boys were employed initially in the "Labouring Gang", cultivating ground, carrying sawn timber, making roads, cutting and carrying firewood, washing, cooking, and barrack duties. Most of the Point Puer buildings were erected by these boys.

The daily food ration was:

No work was done on Saturday afternoon except by boys under punishment. On Sundays, they attended prayers at 9 am, were issued with a clean shirt and the week's soap ration (3 l/2 oz), then attended Divine Service at 10.30 am. School was also held on Sundays from 2 till 4.30 pm and this session was devoted to reading, spelling and the Church Catechism. A second service took place at 6 pm. After each service the boys were questioned on their understanding of the sermon.

Breaches of the regulations were strictly punished and boys under punishment for minor offences were not allowed any amusements. Most serious breaches resulted in confinement to the cells outside working hours, and their meals had to be taken in their cells. Talking in cells was forbidden. They were, however, permitted to attend school. The next grade of punishment involved solitary confinement on l lb of bread and unlimited water daily. These solitary cells were 5'6" x 3'6" and boys were normally confined for very short periods only, mostly three days or less, although periods up to seven days were awarded. They were not permitted to work while undergoing solitary confinement.

The aim of Point Puer was to train boys to be useful members of society by providing them with trades. They were not allowed to leave the station until they were familiar with their chosen trade and then only if their behaviour had been good. They went from Point Puer to the hiring depot at New Town, where they worked on the farm at the Queens Orphan Schools, until they obtained work at their trades". [Thomas's future wife Mary was first placed in Queens on her arrival in 1848].

From Convicts, Databases and Curriculum - The Point Puer Resources by Malcolm H Mathias: "Transport of convicts to Tasmania started with European settlement in 1803 and lasted until 1853. A unique feature of this period was the establishment of a boys' prison in Van Diemen's Land, as Tasmania was then called. Clothed in tanned sheep-skins and boots made by themselves (but with no socks), the teenage prisoners aroused conflicting responses both then and now.

From its inception in 1834 to its closure in 1849, Point Puer on the Tasman Peninsula was the only juvenile penal station outside Britain in the British Empire. On a wind-swept point opposite Port Arthur, the adult prison started in 1830, Point Puer and its parent settlement functioned as "sawing stations". The heavily forested peninsula provided sawn timber for government projects in the south of the island.

The total prisoner population to pass through Point Puer was approximately 3,500. Most lads were from 15 to 17 years old, a smaller number were under 15 and a very few were 12 and under. The population rose from 161 youths in 1834, 473 in 1838 to 800 in 1842, the peak year…

The conclusion by Malcolm H Mathias notes "… I was soon struck by the unique nature of this chapter in Australian history. Here was a group of boys, many the same age as children I have taught in Victorian State High Schools, but these boys were many thousands of miles away from home, without their parents, and subject to the harsh discipline of the British penal system, in an environment quite unlike anything that they had ever experienced. … The Point Puer boys attended school and learned a trade. However, they were also subject to an extremely harsh code of discipline and many suffered from periods of solitary confinement, reduced rations and beatings. On my visit to Point Puer and Port Arthur I saw the hand-made bricks which the Point Puer lads had made over 150 years ago. I put my thumb in the thumb prints made by the lads as they pushed each brick from its mould. At the Latrobe Library in Melbourne I inspected a woollen cap not unlike a modern day football beanie: it was grey in colour, made of a coarse wool, small in circumference, and labelled as Port Arthur relic. It was clearly a hat which had been worn by a boy. I stood lost in thought about a boy who had once worn the hat I held in my hands.

Some of these boys were only 9 years of age when convicted in England. Many were undoubtedly "children of the street", and perhaps never knew what it was like to have parents and a home of their own. For many a life of crime was the only way to survive. It is not surprising that many judges passed a transportation sentence on these boys in preference to jail or perhaps the gallows in England… As I sit and write these comments I feel immense sympathy for their suffering but marvel at the resilience displayed by their very survival.…."

On 24th July, 1844, Thomas was granted a Ticket of Leave and an offence "Absent from place of residence" was recorded on 29 July. He was at Oatlands in March, 1845 and made "Free of Servitude" on 6 July, 1847. He gained his "Certificate of Freedom" that year and was employed as a shepherd and later was a squatter/farmer in the Bothwell, Brighton and Green Ponds areas. He gave his age as 23 when he married 17 year old Mary Keogh in 1851. No birth records have yet been found for him, but according to his convict papers, he would have then been 26. Mary signed the certificate with an "x" her mark.

Thomas's death entry reads suicide by strychine poisoning. He 51 years of age. One wonders if he suffered the long-term anxieties of being brutalised emotionally and physically at Point Puer, or whether the strychnine was used as a hangover cure. Many ex-convicts died of strychnine poisoning after inadvertently taking a drop too much. A notice in the "Mercury" newspaper appeared on Friday, 3rd September, 1880:

MATTHEWS: On Aug 10th at Rosebanks near Spring Hill, Thomas Matthews aged 51 years. Deeply regretted by all that knew him.

Thomas is buried at the Church of England Cemetery, Kempton. His headstone reads: "To the memory of Thomas W. Matthews who died 10th August, 1880 aged 51 years. In death lamented as in life beloved".

Some time between 1880 and 1888 Mary moved to Melbourne, Victoria and married James CLARK, a widower and father of seven children. Oral family history relates that Mary’s children were sent to a convent as James did not want them. Perhaps Mary had to look after his children. James’ will left no provision for Mary.

Mary died on 3rd April, 1909 at her daughter, Charlotte's home in Prahran, Melbourne aged 75 years. Her death certificate shows her children as: Annie 58 years; John 55 years; Charlotte 52 years; Jane - dead; Walter - dead; Amy - dead; Georgina - 38 years; Elizabeth - 35 years and Ada 32 years.

Small Flowers

Our family are proud to claim convicts as ancestors and our family history is enhanced because of them. We are indebted to author, Margaret Siegmann and researcher, Kathleen Xepapas for sharing their work Wexford to Van Dieman’s Land - The Kehoe Family in Tasmania from 1843. "My Family's Convict Ancestors" pages form part of the web site"Convicts to Australia - A Guide to Researching Your Convict Ancestors". This site was designed by Joan O'Donovan, a fellow member of the Virtual University's Online Genealogy Course.

bflower7b.gif (11116 bytes)
Home Page

Webmaster: Sirrah Computing

Date : March 1999
Copyright 1997 by Gail Dodd. All Rights Reserved.
All trademarks or product names mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.