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 For nearly 3 months, he lived with that prospect, until on 13 July of that year the sentence was revoked and changed so that on 5 August he was on a ship heading for Sydney.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.