Creating Portraits and Facing History

On Friday I hosted an event in Cardiff for the Being Human Festival of the Humanities. The festival continues until 23 November, so check out the program for events across the UK! It almost coincides with UK Disability History Month (22 November-22 December), which you should also scope out for events near you.

Firstly I offer a big thank you to the Being Human team for their support, and to the people who participated in the event in Cardiff and at the festival launch at the Foundling Museum.

The event aimed to create imaginative portraits for a set of people who do not have them: individuals transported to New South Wales by the British penal system. I also wanted to introduce members of the public to the types of sources I am using in my broader project, and to challenge people’s understanding of who Britain sent to the penal colonies: between 1787 and 1868, Britain transported around 165,000 people to Australia, and this population shows a much wider diversity than most people realise. Transportation served a number of functions for Britain, not least of which was relieving the prison system after the cessation of transportation to America, and securing the colonisation of Australian territory following the invasion and ongoing displacement of the Indigenous peoples.

Individuals were assigned to specific positions, and were pursued if they escaped. Their descriptions appear in the New South Wales Government Gazette as weekly lists of runaway convicts, followed by a list of those apprehended since the last edition. All of these are available free online through Trove, the National Library of Australia platform. Descriptions were taken of the prisoners before they disembarked in the colony, and updated for the advertisements when possible. They give us a unique register of physical descriptions, and help us to visualise the diverse mix of people living in the Australian colonies.

The average advertisement format is as follows: name [usually ‘surname forename’], identification number, ship (voyage number), age, occupation, place of origin, height, physical description [including ‘complexion/comp.’, hair, eyes, scars, injuries, tattoos], who/where they ran from, and if they were a repeat offender.

Newspaper advertisements for runaway convicts. New South Wales Government Gazette, 15 August 1832. From scans on Trove.

I commissioned a Cardiff artist, Rosemary Baker, to create five portraits for the event. All other portraits were the result of a lucky dip in a bag of advertisements, adding an element of surprise and the ‘luck of the draw’ that faces any historian dealing with sampling. There are themes that emerged with the people drawn–the presence of international people, young people, women, people of colour, physicial injuries and disabilities, tattoos, etc–and others that were missed. The source set also creates its own gaps: for example, though very elderly people were transported to Australia, it is unlikely that I will find these people in their 80s among the runaway advertisements.

I created short biographies for these five people, especially using the amazing Digital Panopticon that pulls together a number of relevant databases.

Mae cyfieithiadau Cymraeg ar gael isod/Welsh translations are available below.

David Jaques

Jaques David, Lady Kennaway (1), 34-942, 27, county Northumberland, soldier and coal miner, 5 feet 7½ inches, brown comp., brown hair, chestnut eyes, scar under right eyebrow, blue scar left side of nose, D under left arm, small raised mole under nipple of left breast, blue scar on right eyebrow, scar inside right arm, two scars left leg, from Australian Agricultural Company, Newcastle, since October 23.

Born 1810 in Hartley, Northumberland, David Jacques bears typical scars of his coal mining occupation in the ‘blue’ marks on his face. He was originally transported to Van Diemen’s Land (Hobart, Tasmania) but was redistributed to Newcastle where coal mining had commenced in the late 1790s. David also carries a more unusual mark: a tattooed ‘D’ on his torso, indicating that he was punished for desertion from the British army. Deserters were branded until 1871, and hundreds of these tattooed men were transported to Hobart.

Mary Hely

Hely Mary, No. 32-73, Pyramus, 23, Housemaid, Limerick, 5 feet 0½, hazel eyes, brown hair, fair pock-pitted and little freckled comp. upper lip hairy, two scars on back of left hand, scar on lower left arm, finger nails small, scar on centre upper lip, from Mr. John Morris, Sydney.

Mary Hely was a Catholic woman from Limerick living in London. She was arrested in 1831 for stealing clothing belonging to Robert Challis. Robert and Mary met on Oxford Street and went to bed together in a lodging house. In the morning Robert woke to find both Mary and his clothing gone: “I missed every thing, but my shoes.” Mary protested that Robert had paid her with his clothing, but Robert argued that this was illogical when “I had no other clothes to wear.” She was transported for seven years. Mary wasn’t caught for two years, and may have absconded to marry a sweetheart under pretence of being a free settler.

Michael Nowlan

Nowlan Michael. 14, Norfolk (3), No. 82-14, Errand Boy, Kilkenny, 4 feet 5¼, brown hair, brown eyes, ruddy freckled comp. scar over right eyebrow, heart, dart, and M N right arm; 2d time of running

Michael arrived in New South Wales aged 13 after he was convicted in Kilkenny of robbing a till and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. Children as young as 9 were transported, but most were over 13. Michael is listed on 3 April 1833 alongside three other boys who have run from Carter’s Barracks, suggesting that they may have joined forces—perhaps under the leadership of ten-year-old John Dwyer, who had run away four times already.

‘Black Tom’

Tom Black, No. 28-1592, Bussorah Merchant, 26, Sailor, Owyhee [Hawaii], 5 feet 3, brown eyes, black hair, copper coloured complexion, COSSACK, O P A C, 28 figures with 2 long lines on right arm, A C, anchor and 7 stars on left, wears ear-rings, from No. 11 Road Gang.

“Thomas, commonly called Black Tom” is one of the many people of colour who passed through the British justice system into the penal colonies. People came from other British colonies, or like this Hawaiian sailor might have travelled for economic purposes. The ‘figures’ on Tom’s arm are probably traditional Polynesian tattoos. His crime is a mystery. The ship’s register notes that he was delivered from Middlesex Gaol to sail on 24 March 1828 with 170 other passengers.

William Wright

Wright William, Lloyds, 33-3410, 23, Monmouth, boatman, 5 feet 2 inches, ruddy comp , light hair, blue eyes, slight scar on left cheek, W, two anchors, fish, WW RTR inside lower right arm, mermaid, anchor, WRM lower left arm, blue ring left middle finger, from J. Cobb, Maitland, since September 6.

Monmouth-born William Wright was sentenced to life transportation aged 19 at his local assizes on 25 March 1833.  He pleaded guilty to breaking and entering the house of John Phillips of Cwmcarvan and stealing clothing. The Monmouthshire Merlin newspaper reported that when told that his death sentence would be commuted to life transportation, “the incorrigible young rascal answered, ‘Thank you, my lord, for the next; I am sure of this.’

The Public Portraits

The advertisements tally in the thousands, and are giving me lots to think about and work through. Just under thirty portraits resulted from the event. I was a little worried going into the evening that people would automatically draw them as Dickensian “criminals”, especially after several people assumed that I was after “mug shots”. I’m relieved that apart from a couple who, as one attendee put it, are “a bit Jean Valjean/Hugh Jackman”, most of the images are decidedly un-mugshot!

Blunt photographs from the later 19th century do survive, and some have recently been put on display in Hobart as composite/averaged faces. I confess that I was more interested in drawing the individuality of each person from the mass of newspaper listings, so am delighted with the idiosyncratic depictions that were produced at the events.

The portraits are shared here with thanks and enthusiasm.

If any attendees would like their portrait removed or individually credited, please contact me.

Bywgraffiadau Cymru/the Welsh biographies

David Jaques

Jaques David, Lady Kennaway (1), 34-942, 27, swydd Northumberland, milwr a glöwr, 5 troedfedd 7½ modfedd, gwedd frown, gwallt brown, llygaid gwinau, craith dan yr ael dde, craith las ar ochr chwith y trwyn, D dan y fraich chwith, man geni bach dan deth y fron chwith, craith las ar yr ael dde, craith ar ochr fewnol y fraich dde, dwy graith ar y goes chwith, o’r  Australian Agricultural Company, Newcastle, ers Hydref 23.

Ganwyd David Jacques yn 1810 yn Hartley, Northumberland, ac mae ganddo greithiau nodweddiadol o’i alwedigaeth fel glöwr yn y marciau ‘glas’ ar ei wyneb. Fe’i trawsgludwyd yn wreiddiol i Van Diemen’s Land (Hobart, Tasmania) ond cafodd ei ailddosbarthu i Newcastle lle dechreuwyd cloddio am lo ddiwedd y 1790au. Mae gan David farc mwy anarferol hefyd: tatŵ ‘D’ ar ei dorso, yn dangos iddo gael ei gosbi am wrthgilio o fyddin Prydain. Byddai gwrthgilwyr yn cael eu llosgnodi tan 1871, a thrawsgludwyd cannoedd o’r dynion hyn â thatŵs i Hobart.

Michael Nowlan

Nowlan Michael. 14, Norfolk (3), Rhif 82-14, Negesydd, Kilkenny, 4 troedfedd 5¼, gwallt brown, llygaid brown, gwedd gochlyd â brychni, craith dros yr ael dde, calon, dart, M N braich dde; ail waith yn ffoi

Cyrhaeddodd Michael Dde Cymru Newydd yn 13 oed ar ôl cael ei ddedfrydu yn Kilkenny i saith mlynedd o drawsgludiad am ddwyn o dil. Roedd plant mor ifanc â 9 oed yn cael eu trawsgludo, ond roedd y rhan fwyaf dros 13 oed. Rhestrir Michael ar 3 Ebrill 1833 ochr yn ochr â thri bachgen ifanc arall a redodd i ffwrdd o Farics Carter, sy’n awgrymu eu bod efallai wedi uno â’i gilydd – efallai dan arweiniad John Dwyer, oedd wedi ffoi bedair gwaith eisoes.

‘Black Tom’

Tom Black, Rhif 28-1592, Bussorah Merchant, 26, Morwr, Owyhee [Hawaii], 5 troedfedd 3, llygaid brown, gwallt du, gwedd lliw copr, COSSACK, O P A C, 28 ffigur gyda 2 linell hir ar y fraich dde, A C, angor a 7 seren ar y chwith, yn gwisgo clustdlysau, o Road Gang Rhif 11.

“Thomas, a elwir yn gyffredin yn Black Tom” yw un o’r nifer fawr o bobl liw a aeth drwy’r system cyfiawnder Prydeinig i’r gwladfeydd cosb. Daeth pobl o wladfeydd Prydeinig eraill, neu fel y morwr hwn o Hawaii, gan deithio o bosibl am resymau economaidd. Mae’n debyg fod y ‘ffigurau’ ar fraich Tom yn datŵs traddodiadol Polynesaidd. Mae ei drosedd yn ddirgelwch. Mae cofrestr y llong yn nodi iddo gael ei ddanfon o Garchar Middlesex i hwylio ar 24 Mawrth 1828 gyda 170 o deithwyr eraill.

Mary Hely

Hely Mary, No. 32-73, Pyramus, 23, Morwyn, Limerick, 5 troedfedd 0½, llygaid brown golau, gwallt brown, gwedd olau, ôl brech ac ychydig o frychni, gwefus uchaf flewog, dwy graith ar gefn y llaw chwith, craith ar waelod y fraich chwith, ewinedd bach, craith ar ganol y wefus uchaf, o Mr. John Morris, Sydney.

Roedd Mary Hely yn fenyw Gatholig o Limerick yn byw yn Llundain. Cafodd ei harestio yn 1831 am ddwyn dillad oedd yn perthyn i Robert Challis. Cyfarfu Robert a Mary ar Oxford Street a mynd i’r gwely gyda’i gilydd mewn tŷ lojin. Yn y bore deffrodd Robert ond roedd Mary a’i ddillad wedi mynd: “Roedd popeth ar goll ar wahân i fy esgidiau.” Protestiodd Mary fod Robert wedi ei thalu gyda’i ddillad ond dadleuodd Robert nad oedd hynny’n rhesymegol pan “nad oedd gen i ddillad eraill i’w gwisgo.” Fe’i trawsgludwyd am saith mlynedd. Ni chafodd Mary ei dal am ddwy flynedd ac efallai iddi ffoi i briodi cariad gan esgus bod yn anheddwr rhydd.

William Wright

Wright William, Lloyds, 33-3410, 23, Mynwy, cychwr, 5 troedfedd 2 fodfedd, gwedd gochlyd, gwallt golau, llygaid glas, craith fach ar y foch chwith, W, dwy angor, pysgod, WW RTR ar ochr fewnol gwaelod y fraich dde, morforwyn, angor WRM gwaelod y fraich chwith, modrwy las bys canol chwith, o J. Cobb, Maitland, ers Medi 6.

Dedfrydwyd William Wright a anwyd ym Mynwy i’w drawsgludo am oes yn 19 oed yn ei frawdlys lleol ar 15 Mawrth 1833.  Plediodd yn euog i dorri i mewn i dŷ John Phillips o Gwmcarfan a dwyn dillad. Yn ôl papur newydd y Monmouthshire Merlin pan ddywedwyd wrtho y byddai ei ddedfryd o farwolaeth yn cael ei newid i drawsgludo am oes, “atebodd y dihiryn ifanc diedifar, ‘Diolch f’arglwydd, am y nesaf; rwyf i’n siŵr o hyn’.”

One thought on “Creating Portraits and Facing History

  1. Pingback: Accessing the Past | Facing the Past

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