A Belated Australia Day Post - John Weatherstone (Convict)

Firstly, to those readers who have been checking for new posts, let me apologise for the extended and unplanned blog-oliday. With travelling overseas for Christmas (more on that later), going on a great Australian road-trip to show off our beautiful nation to a friend from the UK, and having a house full of international guests for almost a month, I just ran out of time!

On the morning of 26 January, when I logged on, I had planned to write a special Australia Day post about one of my convicts. Then I started writing the post and got distracted by Ancestry's new records in their Convict Collection (New South Wales, Australia, Convict Indents, 1788-1842 and New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1825) and never finished my post about my convict... so, belated as it is, introducing one of my first Australians:

John Weatherstone* (Convict)

John Weatherstone was probably born in 1806 in Gloucester. Various unsourced research has named his parents as William Weatherstone and Mary Clutterbuck. Indeed, in the Parish records of St Mary-de-Lode in Gloucester a William Wetherstone and Mary Clutterbuck were married by licence on 12 February 1788. Whether or not this couple are the parents of John Weatherstone is yet to be proven. In fact, on John Weatherstone's death certificate (the only document to mention his parents) his father is listed as John, a farmer, and his mother as unknown. This is to be expected considering the amount of time that had elapsed (more than 50 years) since John Weatherstone's arrival in Australia.

John Weatherstone was tried on 4 March during the Lent Assizes at Worcester in 1826 for Larceny. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years transportation. After his trial, John Weatherstone was transferred to the prison hulk Retribution, moored at Woolwich, on 29 April 1826, where the gaolers report listed him as having "Bad Connections. Behaviour Bad."

Retribution on left in this drawing of prison hulks by John Grieve National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

The HMS Retribution began life as the 74-gun HMS Edgar in 1799 before being converted into a prison hulk in 1813. After almost 18 months on board the Retribution, John Weatherstone was transferred to Bermuda on 22 October 1827. On 25 May 1830, almost three years later, and now four years into his seven year sentence, he returned from Bermuda and was received on board another prison hulk, the Leviathan, moored at Portsmouth. The HMS Leviathan was also a 74-gun ship, she was launched in 1790, fighting in the Battle of Trafalgar before being used as a prison hulk between 1816 and 1848. A month later, on 26 June 1830, John Weatherstone was transferred to the Royal Admiral bound for New South Wales.

On 28 June 1830, the Royal Admiral left Portsmouth, bound for Sydney, arriving on 9 November 1830. There is no mention of John Weatherstone in the surgeons journal, so we can assume that he at least had a healthier trip than some of his fellow convicts. This was the Royal Admiral's third trip to Australia with convicts, and on this journey she carried 193 male English convicts, all of whom survived the journey, which is a credit to the ship's master Fotheringham, and the surgeon, Rutherford.

In the Muster taken by the Colonial Secretary on board the Royal Admiral on 15 November 1830, we see our first description of John Weatherstone, and are given much more information about him. He was 24 years old, could read and write, was a Protestant, and was single. Gloucester was his native place, and his trade was Gardener. It refers to his trial on 4 March 1826, for the crime of robbing a wagon, and that he had already served 2 1/2 years in Bermuda. He was 5' 4 3/4" tall, with brown hair, blue eyes, and a ruddy freckled complexion. John Weatherstone had a large diagonal scar across his left cheek and tattoos on both his arms.

Upon his arrival in the colony, John Weatherstone was allocated to Mr Cornelius O'Brien, a pioneer in the Illawarra region south of Sydney. It was now that he started his habit of absconding, and it appears that whilst he was good at escaping, he wasn't so good at remaining escaped. Tracking John Weatherstone in Trove from his time of arrival to his Certificate of Freedom has been an interesting journey, the Colonial Secretary's Office listing him as absconded from both the No. 26 Road Gang and Hyde Park Barracks on numerous occasions, until they finally describe him as "a notorious runaway" in The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on 31 March 1832.

Classified Advertising. (1832, March 31). The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1803 - 1842), p. 4. Retrieved February 2, 2012, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2205789

On 11 March 1833, seven years and one week since his trial in Worcester, John Weatherstone received his Certificate of Freedom. In the preceding seven years, he had spent more than two years on ships, in addition to his 2 1/2 years in Bermuda, where he was in all likelihood housed on a ship when he wasn't working on the docks during the day.

John Weatherstone's habitual marriage to Irish immigrant Catherine Morgan was registered at St Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Sydney on 6 July 1837, the same day that their first son (also John) was baptised. Their son's sponsors were Cornelius and Jane Dempsey.

John and Catherine went on to have at least six children together, settling land in Parkesbourne near Goulburn, where they were an integral part of the early community there, and where their decedents still reside. Interestingly, considering his past, on 24 August 1838, John Weatherstone was appointed as a Police Constable in Goulburn, marking him as a respectable and trustworthy member of the community.

John Weatherstone died on 18 August 1883, after intentionally taking arsenic. His death certificate states that he was 77 years old, that he had been in the Australian colonies for 57 years, and that he was a Laborer. He predeceased his wife Catherine, and five of their six children (John 47, William 44, Elizabeth 42, Richard 40, and Catherine 32). One of their daughters, Mary Ann, had died in 1868, leaving behind her young husband and children.

John Weatherstone was buried on 21 August 1883 in the Parkesbourne church cemetery (now a Uniting Church, it began as a Primitive Methodist Church, the current building erected in 1886). There was no Minister present at the burial, and John's son William is listed as the undertaker.

Despite the hardships that faced John Weatherstone, convict and labourer, he is the foundation stone of an Australian dynasty that has dispersed across this great nation. There are still Weatherstone's in Parkesbourne, and nearby Goulburn, but the Weatherstone diaspora also spreads into every other Australian state. My own branch went to Tamworth and then to the Hunter Valley.

Whilst settling in Australia, and unwillingly at that, would have been a difficult and life-altering experience, the decedents of convicts and pioneers (for they were both) like John and Catherine Weatherstone should be grateful today that we live in a wonderful, blessed nation. We have a higher quality of living, a stronger economy, and a safer community than not only England then, but England now. Both John and Catherine lived to more than double their life expectancy, had they stayed in their respective England and Ireland. I, for one, am glad they faced the hardships they did so that I could grow up in Australia.

Spelt variously in records as Weatherstone, Wetherstone, Wetherston, Weatherston

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