Aussie Outlaws: Extraordinary stories of those sentenced in Derry and forced to go to Australia in 1800s uncovered

Early picture of convicts in Australia. (File picture)
Early picture of convicts in Australia. (File picture)

From descriptions of the father of Australia’s most famous outlaw, Ned Kelly, to details of a vast array of convict’s crimes and the length of their sentences, the stories of Derry’s transported convicts have come to light with recent research undertaken by Ancestry.com.

Some of the documents outline that crimes which carried a sentence of transportation, included potato stealing, shoplifting and perjury.

The convicts were sentenced at the same Derry courthouse on Bishop Street which is still used today. The courthouse was completed in 1817, with the front modelled on the Athenian temple of Erechtheus.

The convicts were sentenced at the same Derry courthouse on Bishop Street which is still used today. The courthouse was completed in 1817, with the front modelled on the Athenian temple of Erechtheus.

Research undertaken into Captain Cook’s voyage from the UK to discover Australia revealed some additional stories of those who followed in the subsequent years. Records show details of the convicts’ crimes, the length of the sentence they received, and the name of the ship they were transported to Australia on.

According to the National Museum of Australia, between 1788 and 1921 about half a million Irish people are believed to have been transported to Australia. This is 12% of all transported convicts to the country. Today, Australia is the most Irish country in the world outside Ireland.

Typed records and hand-written documents provide first-hand accounts of the details of the convictions and sentences some of those transported from Derry to Australia faced.

Convicted for street robbery

On 29 July 1839, Anne Marshall and Bridget McGonegal were both convicted for street robbery in Derry.

Records do not state whether or not these two women committed this crime together, however they both received seven years in prison for their crimes and they were both transported to Australia in the following year to fulfil their prison sentence via the Isabella ship.

Anne Marshall was detailed as having lived and worked in Derry her whole life before she was sent to Australia.

She was recorded as having worked as a child’s maid for a wealthy family. Other records state that she was a 22-year-old, single Catholic woman who had been formally educated. Prior to her conviction, she had served no previous time in prison.

Anne Marshall was described as being 5’ 4”, being ruddy in complexion, freckled and pock-pitted. She was detailed as having sandy brown hair with hazel eyes. She was also described as having a short nose and a scar on the left side of her forehead.

Bridget McGonegal’s details area almost identical to Anne Marshall in detail, as she too grew up and pursued a career as a child’s maid in Derry. She shares the same age and status as Anne Marshall, however, she had been previously imprisoned three times before being convicted for street robbery.

She was described as being 5’ 1” and ruddy in complexion. She was detailed as having brown hair and dark grey eyes.

She was also recorded as having lost a front upper tooth, and having a small scar on the left side of her upper lip, and two on the centre of her lower lip.

Imprisoned for stealing flax

Despite this crime sounding somewhat petty, conviction carried with it a prison sentences of up to seven years.

This was certainly the case for nineteen year old John Lagan who was found guilty of stealing flax on 26 June 1839. In the year following his conviction, he was transported to Australia by the Nautilus ship to serve the remainder of his sentence.

Prior to this conviction, he was recorded as having served a prison sentence of two months. John Lagan is listed as a single Catholic man who had lived and worked as a labourer in Derry prior to his conviction. He was recorded as having previously served two months in prison prior to his conviction for stealing flax.

John Lagan was recorded as being 5’ 4” and having a ruddy and freckled complexion. He was also detailed as having dark brown hair and hazel eyes. He was said to have a scar on the left side of his head with freckles across his arms.

Found guilty of sheep stealing

John Doherty was found guilty of stealing sheep on January 4, 1840. Doherty was originally from Donegal but was tried in Derry for his crimes.

He was detailed as being a 15-year-old Catholic boy who had not been formally educated. Prior to his conviction, he worked as an errand boy for a local farm in county Donegal. He was recorded as having served a previous sentence of five months prior to his 10-year conviction for stealing sheep.

Additional records detail him as being 5’ 1” and being fair and ruddy in complexion. He was also described as having flaxen hair and blue eyes. Records detail him as having a small mole on his left cheek near his ear.

In the same year, he was transported to Australia to serve the remainder of his sentence by the Pekoe ship.

Convicted for burglary

Hugh Wray was convicted for burglary in Derry on March 21, 1839.

For this, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. He was recorded as having served no previous criminal offences. He was described as being a 21-year-old Presbyterian who had been formally educated in his teen years.

Records detail Hugh Wray as being 5’ 4” and sallow and pock-pitted in complexion. He had light brown eyes and grey hair. Further physical descriptions illustrate him as having lost a front tooth on the right side of his upper jaw and having a mole outside of his right eye. He was also described as having large pockmarks on his legs and arms.

In the following year, he was transported to Australia on the Middlesex ship to serve the remainder of his term.

Found guilty of cow stealing

On March 18, 1840, Bernard Bradley was found guilty of cow stealing in Derry.

For this, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was recorded as having no previous criminal convictions prior to this sentencing.

Records state that he was a 24-year-old, single Catholic man who had been formally educated in his younger years.

In the same year, Bernard Bradley was transported to Australia on the Pekoe ship whereby he served the remainder of his sentence.

Bernard Bradley was physically described as being 5’ 7” and having a dark, sallow and freckled complexion.

As well as this, he was described as brown eyes and grey hair.

He was also described as having bushy eyebrows and a scar over the outer corner of his right eye.

Imprisoned for stealing fowls

Stealing animals in the Famine era was a crime in which had serious repercussions.

Sally Kelly, a 22-year-old single Catholic woman was found guilty of stealing fowls in Derry on 29 October 1839.

She received seven years in prison.

Prior to this criminal conviction, she had previously served two months in prison.

Records detailed Sally Kelly as being a house servant and having an illegitimate son. In the year following her conviction, she was transported to Australia via the Isabella ship.

Records physically detail Sally Kelly as being 4’ 10” and being ruddy and freckled in complexion.

She was also described as having brown hair and hazel grey eyes. Other physical descriptions state that she had a small scar on the top left hand side of her forehead and a small mole under her right ear.

Found guilty of stealing butter

Philip Kelly was found guilty of stealing butter on April 1, 1840.

For a somewhat absurd and petty crime, he received seven years in prison. Prior to this conviction, Philip had previously spent six months in prison for unknown crimes.

Records detail him as being a 17-year-old single Catholic man who had been formally educated. He lived and worked in Derry as a labourer before he was imprisoned for his crimes. In the same year, he was transported to Australia on the Pekoe ship where he served the remainder of his crimes.

Other records detail Philip as being 5’ 1” and ruddy and freckled in complexion. He was also described as having brown hair and hazel eyes. As well as this, he was also described as having big eyebrows and scars on his hands.

Joe Buggy spokesperson for Ancestry.com commented that:“Many Irish took the same journey as Captain James Cook when they were transported to Australia for crimes committed at home. This led to families becoming separated and many starting a new life in their new country. The Australian Convicts Collection allows families to answer some of the unanswered questions about how and why their relatives ended up in Australia”.

Now it is possible to search for a name or county and have the results shown on the Ancestry database. Family history has never been easier.

Ancestry is the world’s leading family history site containing the largest collection of family trees with over 100 million from over 100 countries. In previous years they have completed new research into Irish collections including Famine Relief papers from 1844-1847 and a look at Irish first names that are becoming endangered.

To search the convicts collection log onto www.ancestry.ie
The records are searchable by name, date and the county in which they occurred.