James arrived in the port of Hobart in Tasmania or Van Diemen’s Land, as it was known then, during the governorship of Sir George Arthur - who built and gave his name to Port Arthur - the notorious prison for hardened convicts. Under his regime extensive records of the convicts were kept, punishment was harsh, but those who behaved well could expect reasonable conditions. According to Robert Hughes, Arthur insisted that every convict
“should be regularly and strictly accounted for, as Soldiers are in their respective Regiments ... The whole course of the Conduct ... The Services to which they are sent, - and from which they are discharged - the punishments they receive, as well as instances of good conduct they manifest - should be registered from the day of their landing until ... their emancipation or death” The result was ‘The Black Books” - “ponderous leather-bound tomes three feet high, containing the name, physical description, sentence, details of transportation and assignmnet, jail and surgeon’s reports, punishment and conduct record of every convict sent to Van Diemen’s Land. By 1830, Van Diemen’s Land had the most thorough files on its inhabitants, bond and free, of any community in the world - a mastaba of paper raised on the miseries of skewed, truncated lives, falling or rising through the levels of Arthur’s system.”
Thanks to the Tasmanian Archives these books have been preserved and I have photocopies of the records pertaining to James Dearman (convict no. 706) - and not only do they tell us about his time in Tasmania but they also give valuable information about his family and prior history - information which enabled me to identify his parents and confirm that this was indeed our man, for prior to seeing these records I was unsure whether I had the right James of the two possibles.
The first bit of information we have is an actual physical description. Of course I only have a photocopy and then I scanned it, so the image shown here is not very clear so I have provided a transcription of it.
Head: Large, round
Whiskers: Brown, thin
Visage: Long, narrow
Forehead: High, perpendicular
Eyebrows: Brown, overhanging
Mouth: Large, lips projecting
Remarks: Long scar over left eyebrow
Tantalisiing eh? One can almost see him and no doubt one of those police artists could make a stab at it. How did he get the scar I wonder? Not awfully tall, but then, no doubt the average height in those days was somewhat less than it is now.
So here he is in Hobart town - a bit wobbly after the voyage, and the first thing that happens is his record is taken down.
Remember - these are taken from those huge Black Books and my scanner has not done too brilliant a job of the photocopies - a third hand reproduction. Also, as it so huge I have had to break it up into 3 - the Archives broke it into 2. Our James is at the top of the page - so it’s the first item across the top of each of these pages. I will transcribe for you.
First of all we have the basics:
Height 5 7 3/4
Tried, Middx Gl ... (?)
9 Dec 1830
Sentence - 7
Native place (birthplace) - nr. Hertford
I can’t quite make out the court - but I am sure it was the Old Bailey - Middlesex General ...? - might have been its official name. So we have his birthplace confirmed - Essendon is about midway between Hatfield and Hertford.
Then we have the section on relations and where he was last residing - and this is the really informative bit, which told me which William (I had a choice of 2) was his father. Again I will transcribe:
“Wife Catherine at Ponders End
2 B (brothers) transported
Josh and Jno (Joseph and John) Josh about 3 yrs ago from Leviathan, John about two years ago.”
Of my two potential families only one had sons called Joseph and John, whose stories we have briefly referred to already. Perhaps, most importantly though, it confirmed that his wife was Catherine.
And the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that confirms that all those trials I found pertain to the same person, is the summary of his offences.
“This offence stealing wheat
Once for stealing potatoes 6 months
Again for butter - tried and acquitted”
After the convicts details were taken down each convict was assigned an employer. In James’ case it was Richard Dry. Now Richard Dry was an ex convict himself - though a political prisoner, from Ireland, rather than a criminal, and notable enough to have an entry in the Australian National Biography. I’m reproducing it below because it’s all sort of interesting really -
“DRY, RICHARD (1771-1843), public servant and pastoralist, was born near Wexford, Ireland, the son of a gentleman farmer, and became a woollen draper. A Protestant, he was convicted in Dublin in September 1797 on a political charge and sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for life.
He arrived at Port Jackson on 11 January 1800 in the Minerva. He was later transferred to Norfolk Island and returned to Port Jackson in 1805. From there he went to Port Dalrymple where Paterson appointed him a store-keeper in 1807, ‘which responsible situation he … fulfilled with much propriety, and having Married a Woman born free in the Colony’, namely Anne Maughan, on 11 April 1809 he received a free pardon. In December 1817 he became a commissariat clerk but, despite Governor Macquarie’s recommendation, this appointment was not confirmed and when he was relieved by Thomas Walker rather than return to his former post, he resigned from the public service in November 1818. Though Macquarie regretted losing ‘so useful and honest’ a man, he told Lieutenant-Governor Sorrell to reward Dry’s service with a grant of 500 acres (202 ha) in addition to land he already had, with rations for himself, his family and three convict servants for twelve months. The grant, part of Quamby’s Plains, near Westbury was called Belle Vue (later Quamby) and was the residence of his son, Richard. Although his salary had been only £50, by this time Dry and his tenants were farming more than 300 acres (121 ha), and he had nearly 4000 cattle and 7000 sheep. In 1820 he received some of the merino rams Sorell had bought from New South Wales and by 1827 he owned about 12,000 acres (4856 ha), most of which had been bought, for his applications for additional grants were always refused.
Dry was a respected citizen of Launceston. He had shown his political independence in October 1815 by expressing his disapproval of Davey’s declaration of martial law against the bushrangers; less than a month later Howe’s gang killed some of his sheep. Ten years later his property was attacked by Brady’s gang. In 1822 Dry became assistant secretary to the Port Dalrymple branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society. In 1828 he was one of the founders of the Cornwall Bank and in 1832 of the Tamar Steam Navigation Co. He lived from 1830 until his death in 1843 at his farm, Elphin, near Launceston. He also bought the Adelphi estate from Alexander Clerke and Hagley from the Lyttleton family. Of his three daughters, the eldest, Harriett, married Dr Thomas Landale and lived at Elphin; of his two sons, Richard became a distinguished politician, and William was the first Tasmanian-born to receive holy orders.”
I believe the son who was a politician was the first premier of Tasmania.
I couldn’t find a picture of Elphin Farm, but here is a view of his other estate as it is today (a very posh B&B). I believe the wine cellars of the current establishment are what was used as the convict quarters.
Richard Dry sounds like a reasonable man - you would think a previous convict would have sympathy for his convict workers - but maybe not. Maybe it’s like the case of abused children becoming abusing adults.