There were a number of convicts sent to Australia who were born in places other than the United Kingdom or Ireland. Some made their way to England and were tried there, but others were tried in places under British rule. An example is Mauritius.
One of our members, Margaret Gregory, has a convict ancestor, Constance Couronne, who was sent from Mauritius. Just when Margaret thought she had all the information possible to glean from Mauritius, a welcome e-mail told her of a new piece of documentation! This new information was found in a box of papers in Port Louis, Mauritius, by someone not even researching Margaret’s ancestors! It had obviously been mis-filed.
Before revealing the contents of Margaret’s newly acquired information, let’s go back in time to the Island of Mauritius when it was under British rule, and then discover the fate of little.
Mauritius under British Rule
It was in 1810, during the Napoleonic wars, that Britain acquired the island known as Ile de France and renamed it Mauritius. The island had been under Dutch rule in the 1600s – but prior to that it had been visited by not only the Dutch, but also the Danes and the British for the purpose of obtaining the bark from the many ebony trees growing on the island. In 1638 the Dutch established a permanent settlement with a garrison of twenty-five men, and sent out another thirty men the following year. They introduced 105 Malagasy slaves to develop the commercial exportation of the ebony bark. The settlement was beset with constant problems such as cyclones, droughts, pest infestations, lack of food and illnesses. Despite the problems, another 95 slaves were brought across from Madagascar, along with 108 Malagasy slaves. By 1657, a decision was made to abandon the settlement. The Dutch later made another attempt to colonise the island, and once again the ebony trees were to be exported. Continuing hardships finally forced a definite abandonment in 1710.
From 1710 to 1810, the island came under French rule, but settlement did not occur until 1721. It was from 1735 to 1767, that Port Louis became a naval base and a ship-building centre under the administration of the French East India Company. From 1768 to 1810, officials of the Company were appointed by the French government.
During the Napoleonic wars the island was used as a base for mounting raids on British trading ships so Britain managed to capture the island. It was re-named Mauritius and the newcomers declared that they would ‘respect the language, the customs, the laws and the traditions of the inhabitants’.
The British brought about many changes – the greatest of which was the abolition of slavery in 1835. Sugar plantation owners received compensation for the loss of slaves. Indentured labour began with the introduction of Chinese, Malay, African and Malagasy labourers, but it was from India that most of the labourers came during British rule.
Mauritians in Australia
The British sent any unruly Mauritian slaves to NSW and to Van Diemen’s Land as convicts. Johnny Cassim was sent to Moreton Bay merely because he was from Mauritius and it was assumed that he would know something of the sugar industry which was emerging as the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement was winding down.
In 1834, John Dunmore Lang wrote – The Australian colonies are at present supplied with sugar from the Isle de France (Mauritius). It is paid for chiefly in money as Mauritius takes a very insignificant quantity of Australian produce in return.
Constance Couronne was found guilty of attempted murder and was sentenced to transportation for life. Had it not been for her tender young age she would have received a death sentence. How old was Constance? A mere nine years of age! What circumstances would prompt a child of that age to attempt to commit a murder? Who was Constance Couronne?
The census of 1832 showed that she was the daughter of Adele Couronne. Both mother and daughter were slaves of Marie Julie Melanie Deville, Dame Lasabloniere, of Grand Port, Mauritius. In the census, Constance was eight years of age, and was described as being olive in colour and of Creole/Mauritian race.
The circumstances leading up to the conviction of Constance are well explained in a letter of complaint written by the Widow Morel, a dressmaker, on 15th May 1832 regarding :-
I would like to inform you that a crime was committed against my child and myself last Friday, 11th may, by two young negresses, one owned by Mr La Sabloniere, the other by Madame Geffroy. They were then at my house attending lessons in dressmaking.
Here are the facts. At approximately 3pm I gave my child a cup of tea and asked for one myself. I found it had a strange taste and informed the named Zabeth of it. She had presented me with the cup. She replied that she did not know what it could be but suggested that perhaps that the pot had not been very clean. I was satisfied with this explanation but ten minutes later I was suffering from a violent headache, dizziness and palpitations. I collapsed on my bed and was afraid that I was going to have a stroke. I was given some “Eau de Cologne” and at this moment I started to vomit. At this moment also, my child aged three, cried out that he was about to vomit too. As a matter of fact he was as soon as sick as me. By this time I had an idea that the beverage contained something bad. I told so to Zabeth who had given it to me and to one of my negresses who had made it.
This negress, named Belise reminded me at once that I had drunk two cups of the beverage in the morning and that I didn’t experience any discomfort. Zabeth claimed again that it must have been the pot which had not been cleaned properly. I gave myself and my child some “Ayapana” which had been prepared for a dressing. Soon we became so ill that I sent for Mr Cox, the doctor. He found us very sick. Later I had a talk to Belise who had prepared the beverage and I told her that she had been negligent and that she had probably put something bad in it and that if we had died she would have been responsible. She repeated her previous statement, adding to it that she was sure that all the ingredients used in it were good. Then turning towards Zabeth, maintained that it was not so. Then, continues the other, we will see who could have done harm to Madame. I insisted on accusing them both of negligence. The next day at approximately 8 o’clock Mr Cox came to see us. He found us much better and had dinner with us. The meal was nearly over when Belise entered the room.
“Well,” she said, “You have accused me Madame, however, Constance, the young negress from Mr de la Sabloniere, has just been kneeling at my feet admitting that she did put some powder in your tea but pleaded with me not to say anything. She confided in me because Helene had seen her pouring the powder into the beverage and had threatened to come and tell you if Constance herself did not come to tell you.” I was so shocked that I could not ask any questions. I told the negress to go and talk to Mr Cox. He then asked the negresses to come to him and he interrogated them separately. Constance admitted that she had used the powder contained in a small flask and knew that it was arsenic because Madame, having one day given it to her, had taken it back immediately telling her that she feared her orders would not be followed precisely and that she could poison herself. The flask was then brought in and Constance recognized it. It was an emetic. Asked if she had any accomplices she admitted that the idea was hers and that she only had told Zabeth about it and had asked her if she should use this arsenic. She was told yes, adding that after I died they could go back to their Quarters and wouldn’t need to learn to work any more.
Helene, a child of seven, told us she had heard this conversation between Constance and Zabeth and she had seen the first pour some powder in the palm of her hand in a large quantity and then ask of Zabeth if it was enough of it. She replied, “Yes”. Then she threw it in the pot. Zabeth then admitted to charges laid against her. The young negresses were put under surveillance whilst I informed Madame Geffroy of the facts.
After two hours Constance accused Zabeth of having started it all of her own accord by putting in my tea, every day, sometimes urine, sometimes saliva. Then she said she heard four months ago Belise tell one of her friends that she was leaving and that on her return she would find “Her” dead. Constance assured me that Belise was talking about me. I have no suspicion against this negress and do not believe this accusation which I believe came from a desire for vengeance. However, as I do not understand the mentality of these people, especially in these terrible circumstances, I beg you, Sir, to come and take Belise away. Strong reasons force me to act in this manner as I have seen my daughter being taken from me five months ago. Never has a death been more cruel or more extraordinary.
I beg pardon for daring to suspect that the crime of these two young negresses was committed in cold blood. I ask that the investigation be complete and thorough as to discover the truth.
I am, Sir, Your Servant,
(Signed) Widow Morel.
Constance was eight years old and Zabeth was eleven. There was some consternation as to what to do with the young girls. Some seven months after the trial it was decided that they would be shipped to New South Wales.
The Dart carried the girls to Sydney and they arrived on 9th July 1834. They were taken to Hyde Park Barracks and both were assigned as servants to Miss Marcia Lucy Jane Wilson of Prince Street, Sydney. Correspondence shows that Mr Wilson had applied to have them assigned to his family.
Mr Wilson’s daughter, Elizabeth, married in 1837 and moved to her husband’s property at Nubryggin. It seems that Constance went with them as an assigned servant.
In 1841, Constance received permission from the Governor to marry Robert Trudgett. She was 16 years old and required permission not because of her age, but because of her convict status. She continued to work on the property while Robert worked as a stockman for the same family. Constance received a Ticket-of-Leave in 1845 and a Conditional Pardon in 1848. By then she was working for a Mr Griffin. Her description says she was 4’4” tall with black complexion, black hair and black eyes – and a pug nose. Her trade or calling was listed as that of dressmaker.
Constance bore eleven children – all of whom survived to adulthood – and it was said that she worked alongside her husband in their paddocks until her labour commenced, then would retire to the shade of a tree and deliver the baby. After nursing the babe and having a reasonable rest, she would return to the paddock.
Although she had never learned to read or write, Constance wore a large signet ring with the initials C.T. engraved on it. It is said that if she had to sign any official documents, she would use the ring to stamp a seal.
Constance smoked a clay pipe well into her latter years. When not in use, the pipe was placed in the top of her knee-high stockings! She died at the age of 67 years and was buried with her husband at Orange.
So now to the latest piece of information! The following letter was written in French in 1826 and has been translated.
To All of Noble birth and those of Note, the holder of this warrant Constance Couronne is my granddaughter. I Morin Patron de Lasablonniere Duc Gaton of Mon Tresor at Grand Port and of Port Louis of the Isle of Mauritius grant her my protection and the courtesy title of Viscountess Gaton for which she is entitled, be it by half blood, to which there are no lands or monetary gains attached. I do this knowing of her illegitimacy born by my son Gabriel Henry Isidore Lasablonniere Marquis Gudin to Adele Couronne his mother Marie Julie Melanie De Ville’s property. I grant this title of Viscountess Gaton for her protection not only from my wife and my son but from others who may wish to harm her as a half caste after I am no longer.
9 June 1826
What an incredible document!!! Constance was born in 1825, so her grandfather was quick to acknowledge her and felt the need to protect her. To whom did Morin Patron de Lasablonniere Duc Gaton give the warrant? Did Constance ever know of its existence?
So now Margaret had the name of not only Constance’s father, but also her grandfather and grandmother!
A copy of the 1830 slave register held in the Public Record Office, written in French, shows the slaves belonging to Marie Julie Melanie De Ville Lasabloniere of Mon Tresor, Grand Port, and to Gabriel Henry Isidor Lasabloniere of Rose Belle, Grand Port.
Adele Couronne is not listed, but Lindor Couronne, aged 61, an Indian, is listed at Mon Tresor, along with Claudine Couronne, a domestic servant, aged 18. Both were described as being of olive colour.
The notation says that Lindor was the father of Adele Couronne, and that Claudine was the sister of Adele and Estelle Couronne.
Margaret and her fellow researchers believe that the father of Adele Couronne was an American Indian – and not from India. Madame Marie Julie De Ville came to Mauritius from America, possibly as a young widow. She was contracted to marry Gabriel Henry Isidor Lasabloniere, and the slaves were part of her dowry.
What an interesting ancestry! You can read more about Constance and her descendants in a book at GSQ called “Gum Flat”. It was written by Desley Nunn.
Convicts from Russia.
Russia is not a nationality one would probably expect to see in the convict records.
Constantine Milkov was tried in London and transported for 7 years. He was a native of Moscow, 33 years old, and a breaker by trade. He stole 17 pounds of bacon valued at 11 shillings. It is not known how he came to be in London. Perhaps he was a seaman or an adventurer, or maybe he was a Russian soldier who had remained in Europe after the Napoleonic wars.
John Potoki (1762-1824) was a native of Belorussia and claimed to have been in the Russian Army. He found his way to England and married an Irish lass in 1800 and they had a son. In the winter of 1801 he was convicted of petty theft in Sussex and was sentenced to seven years in exile. He arrived in Tasmania in 1804 and gained his freedom in 1810 and became a successful farmer. In 1823, two Russian ships called at Hobart, and they recorded that they were surprised to find that there were four people there who could speak Russian.
Joseph Aurora said he was from Russia, but his ethnic origin is not clear. He was born around 1770 and said he was a sailor. His name was probably an alias. He was arrested in London in 1812 for stealing a pair of stockings. He resisted arrest and the testimony of the policeman may have accounted for the sentence of death. He was pardoned as ‘a foreigner who was not acquainted with the law of the land of England’ and was transported for life. He arrived on the Earl Spencer in 1813, but it is not known what became of him. Perhaps he changed his name, or died, or escaped…..
Abraham van Brienen is an interesting convict. He was a merchant by trade and very well educated, speaking English, German and French, but was born in Archangel, Russia. He was living in London when he was sentenced to 7 years in exile. On arrival in Sydney in 1820 he sent a letter to Governor Macquarie with a reference written in French from the Russian Ambassador in London! It claimed he was from an important elitist Russian family. He did not seem to get preferential treatment and was sent to Emu Plains and then Port Dalrymple. By 1822 he was a clerk in Parramatta and sought mitigation of his sentence with the Ambassador’s reference from Governor Brisbane. He seemed to be enjoying a high society life in Sydney when he forged a cheque and sent to Port Macquarie. He returned to England in 1828. He returned to NSW on the Surry in 1834 with a life sentence for forging a document. This time his name was recorded as Alexander Brannon! He was 45 years old by then, and died in 1844.
Although a number of convicts gave their native place as Russia, some were from Latvia, others were from Poland. One was from Lithuania, another from Finland, one from Slovakia, and another from Russian America. Around 30 convicts claiming to have been Russian have so far been noted. No doubt there are more yet to be identified.
John Johnson was born in Archangel, Russia around 1783. He claimed to be a sawyer. He was arrested in for stealing a hat in 1816 and was transported for 7 years. He arrived on the Morley in 1818. It is certainly not a Russian sounding name!
It is interesting to read about convicts from other places, and wonder how and why they ended up being transported to Australia. Today we are proud of our convict ancestry. Incredibly it is not always realized that descendants of convicts from other places can show that their countrymen also can be considered as true founders of Australia!
For further information and more comprehensive reading about these Russian convicts, look at the web-site of Elena Govor who has done considerable research on this topic.
Canadian Rebels to Van Diemen’s Land 1840.
In the early 1800s, British North America was divided into two sections – Upper and Lower Canada. Those in power were an elitist group who were loyal to Britain and its governmental system – but they were the wealthy families and those with commercial interests in the province. Bordering British North America, of course, was the newly independent United States.
In Lower Canada, there was dissatisfaction with the ruling elite, and rebellious groups formed to oppose them. Before long, settlers in Upper Canada also began to question the style of government and those running it. The early rebellions which took place lacked proper leadership and organization, so they were easily squashed by the British troops. A major conflict however took place on the St Lawrence River in 1838, with casualties on both sides. As a result of this conflict, many of the rebels involved found themselves being transported to Van Diemen’s Land over a two year period.
HMS Buffalo left Quebec in September 1839 with 140 rebels on board. There were 82 Americans who had been arrested in Upper Canada, and 58 French–speaking prisoners from Lower Canada. The latter were set on to Parramatta, but the American Canadians were disembarked to serve their sentences in Van Diemen’s Land. Many of these men were well educated, unlike most of the convicts already incarcerated there. The rebels were not well liked in their new surroundings. They were looked upon as traitors of Britain and they suffered as a result, both with the hard labour they were ordered to undertake and the treatment they received.
An article in the Australian Heritage Magazine, Spring 2008, by Reg Watson gives a more detailed description of the lives of some of the rebels during their time in VDL. We find in this article that one of the Americans, Billy Gates, wrote the following about his arrival –
We had been escorted to shore in a large boat, something like a scow propelled by oars. On shore we were received by a number of her queenship’s most dutiful minions, wearing blue runabouts, with a badge on one arm and carrying a bludgeon in the other hand, an insignia of their office – the constableship
…We had gone but a short distance when we passed four scaffolds upon which as many men were just about to be executed! And little further along, beyond the town, we passed a gang of criminals – some two hundred in number – working the road in heavy chains; and yet a little further along another gang, without the chains…
In late 1844, twenty-nine of the Canadian/American exiles were granted a pardon by Queen Victoria, and soon after left the Island. One wrote – Mount Wellington alone was seen towering above the ocean. I gazed upon this last landmark of misery’s abode until it was lost in the darkness of night. Adieu, detested land of unmitigated wretchedness!
Another wrote – We had seen misery in all of its varied forms: we had seen how prone man is to tyrannize over his brother, when clothed with ‘brief authority’, and we had learned to cherish the institutions of our own beloved country, our native land. We had thought of the moral influence exerted upon the minds of children of the free population by being associated with, and surrounded by so many of the most vicious human beings the world ever saw; we had in countless instances seen total depravity personified.