John Baker - death certificate

On information available in this death certificate, you’d assume that a man named John Baker farmed in the Hawkesbury district, having lived a relatively long life (for the times) of 62 years.  He was born in Kent.  He was married to his wife  Mary Ann for 24 years.  They had 6 children, 2 of whom were living when he died of  ‘natural debility from old age’.  According to this certificate, he had been in New South Wales for 38 years.    

There is, of course, more to his story.  Convict records show that he arrived in Australia on 6 November 1822 on board the ship Eliza with 159 other male prisoners.  The ship had left England three months prior.  He apparently behaved himself on the voyage out as, according to the Colonial Secretary Papers,  he was on a list of men who by their good conduct whilst on board the “Eliza” deserved to have religious books given them.

The records describe a fresh and “little freckled” man of 5′ 10″ with brown hair, gray eyes and a ruddy complexion.  He had three tattoos on his right arm -  MGC, an anchor and JB – presumably for his own initials.   

Until recently, I had no details of his crime.  When he arrived in Australia, records indicated he had been transported for life at Kent Assizes.  The recent online release of the England & Wales Criminal Registry 1791-1892  revealed further information that makes it all the more miraculous that he found himself in New South Wales.

The record below (dated 18 March 1822), shows John Baker was convicted of burglary and sentenced, not to transportation, but to death.   For nearly 3 months, he lived with that prospect, until on 13 July of that year the sentence was revoked and changed so that on 5 August he was on a ship heading for Sydney.  It is no wonder he felt inclined to behave himself on the voyage.  His death from old age in Lower Portland in 1862 was the wonder.

John Baker - death R

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mary-ann-hughes-convict-transportedGovernment Gazette     WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 10, 1836

Colonial Secretary’s Office,  Sydney, 9th February, 1836

NOTICE is hereby given, that Families who are in want of Female Servants, may be supplied from the Prisoners arrived by the ship Henry Wellesley from England, provided they apply according to the established forms, on or before Twelve o’Clock of Tuesday the 16th instant.   The Assignees will be required to enter into the usual engagement, under a penalty of forty shillings to keep their servants for one month, unless removed by due course of law.   Printed forms of application may be obtained at the Office of the Principal Superintendent of Contracts

By His Excellency’s Command     ALEXANDER McLEAY.

A sixteen year old called Mary Ann Hughes was one of 118 female convicts on this ship. Her sentence was 14 years transportation for the crime of pledging.  In other words, she probably helped a few stolen items fall into the hands of a pawnbroker.  This house maid from Liverpool was apparently quite good at pledging as this was not her first offence. 

From her date of sentencing (13 April 1835) to the date of the ship’s departure from Portsmouth, England on 23 September in the same year, she is likely to have spent some months in a hulk. 

We know from convict records that she was 5 feet 2¾ inches tall, had sandy flaxen hair, hazel grey eyes and a fair, ruddy and freckled complexion.  When she arrived in Sydney, she was sporting two scars over her left eyebrow and a scar on her upper lip.  The bell of her right ear was split. 

Mary Ann was always going to be easy to identify from her tattoos.  She arrived in the colony with a string of indelible marks on both arms.  It’s likely these skin punctures were made on the voyage and stained with lamp soot or ink.  She was recorded as being able to read.  We might also surmise from the nature of the tattoos that she could also write.  Her left arm and hand markings were recorded as follows:

HRTTHJHSPJHWMHBODS nine dots HOAG, fish mermaid, TW on left arm; five dots, star and two rings – left hand

On her right arm:


Convict tattoos often recorded the names of family and loved ones as a way of remembrance.   Some initials on Mary Ann’s arm coincide with the names of other women on the ship. The letter H (for Hughes) is well represented.

Our grandmother’s great grandmother lived in the colony for another 50 years.  There’s more of her story on the record and in future posts on this blog.

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