Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Robert Alexander Hughan-our convict exile!

Robert Alexander Hughan was born on Saturday, May 17, 1828 at Colchester, the fifth child and second son of Robert Alexander Hughan and Hannah Oakley.
Very little of Robert’s story has been passed down through the family generations, and until recently his life story consisted of three short paragraphs written in the 1980s by his great-nephew, Gordon Oakley:
“ Robert Hughan was of a restless and wandering nature. He travelled widely throughout NSW and Queensland, often droving stock on long assignments.
He must have been clever with his hands, the whip handles inlaid with lead and silver in our possession being examples of his handiwork using knives, a file and broken glass as his tools.
His later years were spent in the Cheltenham Home for the Aged. I remember him as a kindly old man, very fond of Olive, my mother. He only had one eye, having lost his left eye in a childhood accident while playing with a knife and fork.”

The truth about this gentle old man has proved to be amazing... the layers of a secret carefully kept for over 160 years have been stripped away to find a 20 year old convict exile arriving in Moreton Bay in October of 1849, having spent the best part of two years incarcerated and serving out the initial stages of his seven year sentence.

Robert Hughan had just turned 19 when he faced the Central Criminal Court in London
(formerly known as the Old Bailey)after being accused of stealing a watch from his employer. His trial was held on June 14, 1847, and Robert was sentenced to a seven year prison sentence. Transportation to Australia had all but ceased by this time, but Robert was fortunate to commit his crime in a period during which the experimental ‘exile’ system was being trialled.
In 1824 Moreton Bay was selected as the site for a separate penal settlement to house Sydney's worst convicts. Its brutality was notorious and by 1839 an official decision was made to end transportation to Moreton Bay. During the 1840s, however, convict ships continued to be diverted from Sydney and in 1849 a change in government in Britain led to yet another overturn in policy. As a result, a convict transport was sent directly from Britain to Moreton Bay, but the change in policy proved to be short lived. With transportation to all of the eastern colonies drawing to a close, the last direct shipment for Moreton Bay left Britain in April, 1850.

A major player in the Moreton Bay Exiles saga was Dr John Dunmore Lang, the first Presbyterian minister in Sydney. Alarmed by what he saw as a lack of moral standards among the population of the colony, and afraid that the increasing numbers of Roman Catholics into the colony would undermine Protestantism, Lang strongly supported free settlement and the abolition of transportation. He visited Moreton Bay in 1845 and thought the area suitable for the growing of cotton. He negotiated with a reluctant government to bring to Australia reputable free settlers, proposing that the migrants would pay the cost of their passage and in return, receive a free grant of land.

Opposition to this suggestion came not only from the government but also from the squatters, who were desperately short of labour for their properties. The squatters wanted convicts for their properties, not immigrant small farmers who would not provide a labour force. Lang however, by sheer persistence, eventually wrung from the Government the grudging assurance that immigrants whose passage he arranged would, on arrival in Moreton Bay, receive a free grant of crown land. Lang with this promise extracted lost no time in signing up his prospective cotton farmers. From 1847 to 1849, Lang toured England, Scotland and northern Ireland, recruiting emigrants for the Australian colonies. His involvement in the Sydney press and his contacts with the Nonconformist press in Britain helped him to advertise his schemes. His plans for immigration bore fruit, and many immigrants sponsored by Lang were landed in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. In 1849, three contingents of ‘Lang immigrants’ arrived in Brisbane on the ships Chasely, Fortitude, and Lima.
The immigrants were mostly English dissenters, and most were tradesmen or small farmers, rather than labourers, which was what the squatters were seeking. They preferred to live in or near towns where they could find work, set up small businesses, or start farming. Most settled in and around Brisbane and Ipswich.
These newcomers did not share the ideology of the squatters, and it was from the ranks of the newcomers that the hegemony of the dominant group, the squatters, was challenged.
It is very significant that the first issue in the dispute was labour.
During the 1840s the squatters agitated for the resumption of transportation or the introduction of indentured labour to provide a cheap labour force, and did all in their power to achieve this goal. The squatters, acting on their assumed leadership in the Moreton Bay district, angered many people in the area when two of their number presumed to represent the views of the population when, in a meeting with the colonial secretary in Sydney, they sought the resumption of transportation. The townsmen organised two public meetings in Brisbane in late 1849 at which both the action and the proposal were denounced. The idea of the introduction of either ‘coolie’ labour or convicts was condemned. The meetings were held against the turbulent background of the arrival of ‘exiles’ from England on the ship the Mount Stuart Elphinstone (one of whom, of course, was our Robert Hughan). In reply the squatters convened a meeting in Ipswich very early in 1850, but anti-transportationists overwhelmed the squatting interest in numbers and eloquence, and a proposal for equal numbers of ‘exiles’ and free immigrants to be brought in was easily defeated. No doubt this popular agitation contributed to the decision of the Legislative Council in September 1850 to vote against any further transportation of convicts to the colony. Thus the squatters were stymied by the liberal interest both locally and in Sydney.

The effectiveness of the anti-transportation agitation was aided by the only newspaper in the Moreton Bay district, the Moreton Bay Courier. The founders of the paper, editor A.S.
Lyon, and owner, James Swan, parted company over the transportation issue - in fact Lyon spoke in favour of it at the squatters’ meeting. Swan, a Baptist, remained committed to the ‘liberal’ cause and his paper was to be its voice for many years. In the light of the squatters’ failure to win popular support the squatters launched their own paper, the Moreton Bay
Free Press, with Lyon at the helm. According to Clem Lack, the paper only lasted while transportation was a burning issue.

‘Exiles’ were convicts who had served two-sevenths of their sentence at one of the new penitentiaries (or ‘Pentonvilles’) and/or a period of hard labour at Gibraltar, Bermuda, or the
naval dockyards. They could receive a conditional pardon if they agreed to voluntary exile to
the colonies, where they would be absorbed into the free workforce.

The result of this was that between December 1848 and November 1849, the little settlement at Brisbane, numbering around 800 people and already short of supplies, found itself inundated with an influx of immigrants: Firstly the Artemesia, a government sponsored ship with 240 immigrants; then Lang's first group of 253 on the Fortitude, followed by his second group of 225 on the Chaseley; then came 45 convicts on the Hashemy and a further 225 on the Mount Stuart Elphinstone; finally Lang's third group of 84 immigrants arrived on the Lima.

When the Fortitude arrived, Captain John Wickham, Police Magistrate in Brisbane, found himself with the problem of what to do with a large quantity of immigrants of whose arrival he had no warning.

A timeline of events makes it easier to understand the series of events that was unfolding in Moreton bay around the time of Robert Hughan’s arrival on the ship ‘Mount Stuart Elphinstone’:

1848 December 13 First Government emigrant ship "Artimesia" arrives Moreton Bay

1849 January 21 Migrant ship "Fortitude" arrives Moreton Bay

1849 October 31 First exile ship "Mount Stuart Elphinstone" arrives Moreton Bay

1849 Migrant ship "Lima" arrives Moreton Bay

1849 Migrant ship "Chaseley" arrives Moreton Bay

Surname First Name Age Ship Year Sailed From Trial Shire Trial

City/Town Trial Date Sentence Charge TL District
HUGHAN Robert 20 Mt Stewart Elphinstone 1/11/1849 Cork (to Moreton Bay) Middlesex CCC 10/5/1847 7 yrs - Moreton Bay

A Ticket of Leave entitled a convict to live where they wished within a given Police District. Working for wages for themselves as though they were free, they had to report to the authorities regularly at the Ticket of Leave Muster.
On occasions people received a ticket of leave upon arrival, as was the case with the Moreton Bay Exiles, or after working for a limited amount of time for only one master. A ticket permitted you to work for yourself within a Police District as specified by the Bench of Magistrates which recommended the Ticket. A ticket holder could change the district upon application to the Bench of Magistrates. If their business involved travel outside the specified Police District they could apply for a Ticket of Leave Passport. Ticket of Leave holders had to keep their ticket on their person at all times and present it to a constable if requested. Tinsmiths made slim waterproof tins to hold Tickets of Leave. Ticket of Leave holders also had to attend the annual ticket of leave muster or forfeit their ticket.
The Ticket of Leave lasted for a year at a time and was renewed provided the person had behaved themselves. If they were convicted of any offence while they held a Ticket of Leave, they could have it taken away from them. It was easy to lose it. If they went outside the prescribed district without a passport, did not carry their Ticket of Leave, overcharged for work or were drunk and disorderly in town, they could be reported and charged and lose their Ticket of Leave. If they committed a colonial offence they not only lost their Ticket of Leave they could be sentenced to a chain gang or a penal colony.
A ticket-of leave was an instrument that granted a convict limited freedom including : the right to work for private employers rather than the Government; to lease (but not to own) land; and to be free to move within the police district where the ticket was issued, and with permission (by the issue of a passport) to move outside the area. To obtain a passport which was required for absences from the prescribed district, consent was sought for periods to a maximum of 14 days from a Justice of the Peace. If a longer absence was necessary permission was gained from the Principal Superintendent of Convicts (later the Convict Branch of the Inspector-General of Police.)
The example of Robert Hughan’s Ticket of Leave bears the notations “ PP 9th March 1850” and “PP 16 July 1850”. This indicates that on these dates he was issued with a passport to move out of the Moreton Bay district. The family story says that he was a drover in Queensland- perhaps these two passports were issued to allow Robert to move stock out of the area for his employer.
The details on his Ticket of Leave Passport are as follows:
Robert Hughan, ship Mt. Stuart Elphinstone, arrived 1849, tried CC Court 14 June 1847, sentenced 7 years. Allowed to remain in the service of M.C. O'Connell, Esq, Burnett, 12 months."
This “M.C O”Connell Esq”, of Burnett, was in fact Maurice Charles O’Connell, grandson of Governor Bligh and son of Sir Maurice Charles O’Connell who commanded the military forces of NSW from 1838-1846.
When Robert Hughan’s mother Hannah died in Melbourne in 1860, Robert had been in Queensland for eleven years. It is not known whether he saw his mother and siblings during this period- he was supposedly droving cattle from Queensland through NSW into Victoria at some stage, but as yet a date has not been specified for these activities. His mother’s death was registered by Henry Edmiston, the husband of Robert’s sister Marion, and when naming Hannah’s children he neglected to include Robert amongst them.
I had originally believed that this was just a mistake, but after discovering Robert’s convict past, I now believe that one of two scenarios took place:
1. Henry did not name Robert as Hannah’s child because of the shame involved in having a convict in the family , or
2. Henry did not know of Robert’s existence, the family hiding him to the extreme extent that they did not discuss him even with those who had married into the family.

The latter is supported by the infamous Joseph Bishop letter that was written to his nephew Henry Bishop in 1862. Henry had just announced his engagement to Bertha Hughan, the youngest of the Hughan children, and Joseph took it upon himself to advise Henry in a letter which was scathing in its assessment of Bertha’s family...

“ To Bertha personally I have not the least objection- she is I believe a shrewd, sensible, clever girl- not accomplished as you say- but would pass better in society than many ladies who are considered to be, and I think will make a good careful wife.... is the duty of every man before he selects or makes choice of a partner for life to OBSERVE WELL not only the lady herself is everything his heart could wish or desire, but that her connections or relations are of such stamp and respectability that they too are congenial to his own feelings and wishes- that rather than lessen or humble him in the scale of society that they should rather LIFT up or EXALT HIM among his fellow men. In this respect, my dear Harry, you have in my opinion stumbled at the onset. Who but Mrs McCallum is there that as a relative of your future wife you can even respect.
The elder brother “Oscar” is a great scamp- a worthless vagabond, an actor, a loafer, that would if the least encouraged live upon you, EAT you, SMOKE you, DRINK you up, RUIN YOU and CARE NOT.
Fergus YOU know, no punishment or privation or pain this fellow may undergo will give him half his desserts, because I look upon him as the cause of all the trouble and misery the family have for years suffered, struggled with. This wretch had an appointment as Clerk on the Bench at Kyneton which from his degraded drunken, smoking habit he lost- and from that circumstance their troubles commenced. And what has he done or been since? Look at him now and say.
Allan and his wife you know and have yourself in my opinion truly characterized. Then there is Edmiston, his wife and their children- that will always and forever be an expense and trouble to Mrs McCallum and perhaps you.
When my dear Harry, a man selects a wife from a large family that are poor and want help, depend upon it he will be a poor man himself and perhaps want help too. You may say and think you will avoid it, but you cannot, your wife cannot nor is it natural she should.”

The fact that Robert Hughan is not mentioned in this tirade against Bertha’s family to me is proof that the Hughans themselves hid his existence...Joseph Bishop would have had a field day throwing up a convict in Bertha’s family!

I am not for a moment casting dispersions over the Hughan family’s love for their son and brother- they did after all travel to the other side of the world when Robert was sent here as a criminal. I think it was a common reaction of a respectable but poor family to want to hide the stain of a convict in their midst, and that they did so by keeping Robert’s existence to themselves.
When Robert settled in Victoria in the late 1870s-early 1880s, so many years had passed that it would have been easier to gloss over his past and in particular his early exile days in Queensland. And so my great uncle and grandfather knew of Robert and a little of his story, but I am positive that they knew absolutely nothing of his convict status.
According to the information on Robert Hughan’s death certificate, he arrived in Victoria in c. 1879 and spent the following 36 years in the state up until his death in 1915. That leaves us with a thirty year gap to fill in, presumably spent in Queensland and perhaps NSW. An article in the 'Queenslander' newspaper on December 14, 1872, states:
" Mr Oscar Hughan has shown us a few opals which he received from his brother who found them on the Queensland border. These stones have a beautiful appearance, and we think, in the hands of a lapidary, would soon be made valuable." This brother of Oscar Hughan was of course Robert Hughan.

As well as his droving lifestyle, Robert Hughan was also in some way involved in the coach business. Various documents have described him as ‘coach proprieter’, ‘Coach driver’ and ‘coach painter’.
Robert Alexander Hughan and his mother Hannah Oakley Hughan were buried in the same grave. It is located in the Presbyterian Section of the Brighton Cemetery in Victoria. Hannah was buried first in 1860, and her son Robert 55 years later in 1915.

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