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"Australian Royalty"

Many thanks indeed to correspondent Cheryl Ianson for re-writing our original page on this topic


In the first episode of the Australian version of "Who do you think you are?" aired in 2009, actor Jack Thompson was made aware of his convict ancestry. He jokingly claimed that having a convict ancestor conferred the status of Australian royalty on a convict’s descendants. Since that time the term has become part of the genealogical lexicon, albeit very much tongue-in-cheek. Descendants of First Fleet convicts are more likely to be considered Aussie Royalty, while those stemming from all other convicts might be considered minor Royals or Aussie Aristocracy. Although family historians treasure their convict ancestors, no one takes the Royal reference in the least bit seriously. Despite the levity they do, however, appreciate that their convict ancestors were indeed criminals ranging from the petty and opportunistic to the most hardened and depraved. But how did this all come about?

Social change in "the old country"

The downside of the unfolding Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions in England, which had moved the economy from agricultural and handicraft-based into one of mass production and mechanisation, was that untold numbers lost their jobs. The disenfranchised gravitated to larger towns and cities in search of employment, but instead found poverty, social injustice, harsh and squalid living conditions, and long working hours for those lucky enough to secure work. Crime was the natural outcome as people used their wits to survive, resulting in 8 out of 10 prisoners being imprisoned for theft. Authorities responded by extending cruel punishments, even hanging, for minor crime. The dilapidated system of local prisons could not accommodate the increasing numbers of prisoners, so the use of decommissioned and converted warships was used to take the overflow, as per the picture above. Although these rotting hulks were dark and foul, prisoners were incarcerated aboard for months on end.

Now that Britain had lost her American colonies, and hence the convenience of a dumping ground for criminals, authorities were faced with unprecedented, and increasing, overcrowding of gaols. Looking further afield for a solution Britain considered establishing a new penal colony in Africa. Due to a lack of sites she turned her head to the east coast of Australia (New South Wales) which Captain James Cook had claimed in 1770. After rejecting Botany Bay, Captain Arthur Phillip established the new colony in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) on 26 January 1788. Other penal colonies were later established in Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania), Queensland and Western Australia, while South Australia and Victoria remained free colonies. Over the ensuing 60 years 163,000+ convicts were transported by the British government to the various antipodean colonies on board 800+ boats. Penal transportation to Australia peaked in the 1830s and dropped off significantly the following decade. The last convict ship arrived in Western Australia on 10 January 1868.

A woodcut of the brig, Lady Nelson

The offences and types of criminals ran the spectrum from those forced into law-breaking through difficult life circumstances to the most hardened, depraved in English and Irish society. At that extreme end 370+ convicts were transported for murder and manslaughter and 113 for vagrancy, while pickpockets numbered only 193. Sentences ranged from 7 years, to 14 years, to Life. Of the 158 identified political prisoners most were from Ireland and a few from Scotland, although it is probable others were transported under the auspices of another crime.

Impact on family structure

When convicts left Britain they never expected to be reunited with spouses and families. Given the circumstances, and the improbability of returning to their homeland, for the sake of social stability and addressing moral issues, convicts were encouraged to marry and create new families in the colonies even while they were still serving their sentences. This was official policy and was not considered to be bigamy. In some instances spouses and children did make their way to the colonies, but it was not the usual practice. Prisoners who conformed to authority gradually earned their freedom or received pardons. Conditional pardons were given to reformed convicts who had been sentenced to transportation for Life. They were never to return to their homelands although they could travel as far afield as New Zealand. In the earlier colonial years they received grants of land they could work on their day off ‘work’ even before they had their Certificate of Freedom. Although some convicts returned to their homeland most remained in Australia taking advantage of opportunities they could only dream of in their previous lives.

Once emancipated former convicts lived side by side with free settlers, however they were still considered to be second-class citizens by the rest of society. Despite their best efforts and law-abiding lives, the prejudice towards former prisoners continued until the 1850s and the discovery of gold. The influx of fortune seekers, followed in successive decades by immigrants seeking a better life, homogenised the population and the stain of convictism receded into the deep recesses of history.

The Howes, House & Howse clans were not immune to prevailing policy regarding crime, and thus a number of convicts with those names were transported to the colonies. Many have been identified by correspondent Deirdre from Victoria as having been sent to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) in the 1800s, but the list is not definitive. If you can identify anyone on the list, or contribute another person, please let us know. We will post a link to their information page, as we have already done for Swing Rioter George Howes from Cawston in Norfolk.


Surname Given Name Boat Trial Place Trial Date Sentence Arrival in colony Additional information
HOUSE Sarah Lady Juliana Middlesex Gaol Delivery 1788 May 7 Years 7 1790
HOUSE Mary Pitt Essex Assizes 1791 Mar 7 Years 7 1792
HOUSE Ralph Royal Admiral (2) Middlesex 1799 Years 7 1800
HOWES John Larkins(1) Suffolk Assizes 1817 Mar 17 Life 1817
HOUSE John Morley (1) Middlesex Gaol Delivery 1816 Apr 3 Years 14 1817 See CSC
HOWES Richard Lady Castlereagh Hertford Assizes 1816 Jul 29 Years 7 1818
HOWES John Greyhound

1818 See CSC On list of prisoners transported from India
HOUSE James Batavia Middlesex Gaol Delivery 1817 May 21 Life 1818 See CSC
HOUSE Susan Maria I (1) Devon (Exeter City) Quarter Session 1817 Ap 14 Years 7 1818 See CSCvOn list of convicts transferred from Maria to Henrietta and then sent to VDL
HOWES John Larkins

HOWES Charles Guildford (4) Norfolk Quarter Session 1820 Feb 23 Years 7 1820
HOUSE Jarvis Dromedary Wilts Assizes 1819 Mar 6 Years 7 1820 Alias Charles Jarvis Maybe also Charles Jarvis House
HOWES Thomas Phoenix 1 (1) Stafford Assizes 1821 Mar 15 Life 1822 Killed by natives while still in service
HOUSE James Caledonia (2) Somerset Assizes 1822 Mar 30 Life 1822
HOWES Thomas Asia III Northampton Assizes 1824 Feb 28 Life 1825 Died on voyage 5 Jan 1825
HOWSE Mary Grenada (3) Warwick Assizes 1824 Mar 27 Years 7 1825
HOWES Henry Governor Ready (1) Norfolk Quarter Session 1826 Jan 17 Years 7 1827 http://howesfamilies.com/getperson.php?personID=I48033&tree=Onename
HOWES James Governor Ready (1) Norfolk Quarter Session 1826 Jan 17 Years 7 1827 http://howesfamilies.com/getperson.php?personID=I48034&tree=Onename
HOWES Jane Sir Charles Forbes (2) Stafford Assizes 1826 Jul 13 Life 1827 Wife of John Howes
HOWES William Asia V(1) Norfolk Assizes 1827 Mar Life 1827 http://howesfamilies.com/getperson.php?personID=I136813&tree=Onename
HOWES William Governor Ready (1) Suffolk Town and Borough of Ipswich Session of Peace and Gaol Delivery 1826 Jul 7 Life 1827
HOWES John Larkins(1)

1829 See CSC
HOUSE Thomas Sir Charles Forbes (3) Somerset Assizes 1829 Aug 22 Years 14 1830
HOWES George Proteus Norfolk Quarter Session 1831 Jan 5 Years 14 1831 http://howesfamilies.com/getperson.php?personID=I22192&tree=Onename
HOWES James York 1 (2) Middlesex Gaol Delivery 1830 Jul 8 Years 7 1831
HOUSE Abraham Eleanor Dorset Special Gaol Delivery 1831 Jan 10 Years 7 1831
HOUSE James Eliza II (3) Wilts Special Gaol Delivery 1830 Dec 27 Years 7 1831 FP written (possibly later) under surname
HOWES John Lloyds (1) Norfolk(Norwich) Quarter Session 1833 Apr 9 Years 14 1833
HOWES Robert Arab (2) Middlesex Gaol Delivery 1833 Oct 17 Years 7 1834
HOUSE Ephraim Norfolk Bucks Quarter Session 1833 Dec 31 Life 1834
HOWES James Lady Nugent (1) Herts St Albans Quarter Session and Gaol Delivery 1834 Oct 16 Years 7 1835
HOWES John Bengal Merchant

HOUSE Ephraim Lady Kennaway (1) Bucks Quarter Session 1833 Dec 31 Life 1835
HOUSE James England (3) Dorset Quarter Session 1835 Jan 6 Years 7 1835
HOWES Joseph Lady Nugent (2) Essex Assizes 1836 Mar 7 Life 1836
HOWES James Moffatt (2) Central Criminal Court 1836 Feb 29 Years 7 1836
HOWSE Joseph Bengal Merchant (3) Berks Quarter Session 1836 Oct 20 Years 7 1836
HOWES John Susan (3) Norfolk Quarter Session 1837 Mar 8 Years 7 1837
HOWES Edward Bengal Merchant (4) Central Criminal Court 1837 Jun 12 Years 7 1838
HOWES Edward Thomas Arbuthnot Lincoln Special Assizes 1844 Dec 18 Years 15 1838
HOWSE John Moffatt (3) Bucks Assizes 1837 Jul 12 Years 14 1838
HOWES John Marquis of Hastings (4) Norfolk Quarter Session 1839 Jan 2 Years 10 1839
HOUSE John Mandarin Central Criminal Court 1839 Apr 8 Life 1840
HOUSE George Hindostan (3) Middlesex quarter Session 1840 Apr 6 Years 7 1841
HOUSE John Forfarshire Criminal Court 1843 Jan 2 Years 7 1843
HOWES James Equestrian (1) Norfolk (Norwich) Quarter Session 1843 Oct 18 Years 10 1844
HOWSE George Anson Central Criminal Court 1843 Jun12 Years 15 1844
HOWES James Lady Kellaway (3) Central Criminal Court 1848 Nov7 Years 7 1851
HOUSE Henry Ramillies Somerset General Quarter Sessions Wells 1852 Mar 23 Years 15 1854 PW Written (possibly later) after surname
HOWES Joseph Racehorse Surrey Assizes Croydon 1863 Aug 3 Years 10 1865
HOUSE David HMS Buffalo
1839 Sept28

HOUSE Susanna Henrietta

See CSC On list of convicts transferred from Maria to Henrietta and then sent to VDL

Paul Howes, June 2018