Discovery of a Convict – Rowland Allsop – Part 1

Very early in my family history research my mother-in-law, Lola Preston, and I were overjoyed to discover there was a convict in the family.  The year would have been about 1979, just a few years before it became “cool” to be descendent from convict stock, but we wore the news proudly telling any family and friends about the information we had uncovered. In those days I can’t even remember there being an internet.  If there was, then there were no home computers, so I didn’t have access to the internet to do any of our research.  Lola and I would write to the State Archives in Sydney, or to family in England, and patiently wait for weeks to see if a researcher was able to find some titbit of information for us.

Rowland Allsop is my husbands great, great grandfather on his mother’s side.  Rowland was born in Carsington, Derbyshire, England and was baptised on 22 May 1814, the 7th child of Thomas Alsop and Hannah nee: Holbrook.  His mother and father had 4 girls – Elizabeth, Sarah, Hannah and Rachel, and 4 boys – Thomas, Samuel, John and lastly Rowland.  We don’t know anything about his early.  We don’t know if he was a clever child, a tear-away, whether he had a quiet disposition, or preferred to “hang from the rafters”, however it is almost certain that Rowland was born into a lower to middle class family of hard workers who had little money to spare.  We do know that by the age of just 19 years he had married Hannah Slack at Brassington, Derbyshire on 31 March 1834, and settled into married life in the small English village.

Parish Entry of Marriage -Rowland Allsop & Hannah Slack
Parish Entry of Marriage -Rowland Allsop & Hannah Slack

One would assume that Rowland and Hannah married for love as no baby was delivered until a son arrived, William Henry Allsop, born approximately 14 months later in 1835, quickly followed by the young couples daughter Mary Ann in 1836.

Perhaps Rowland felt the responsibility of being a provider too keenly because on 7 Nov 1837 he was caught and thrown into jail for “steeling, taking and driving away” 4 ewes and 1 lamb, the property of a Mr John Watson.  If he was trying to feed his family it would have made more sense to steal just the lamb, not a small group of animals, so maybe Rowland was a “plain old criminal”.  He was tried at the Derby Quarter Sessions in January of 1838 and was sentenced to deportation for 10 years “to such place or places, part or parts beyond the seas”.  I wonder if he saw Hannah and the children before being tried? Did Rowland promise Hannah he would send for her and the children?  Did he tell her he would return to her, just as soon as he was able?  We will never know what was promised, or the heartbreak they endured over being separated, but they never saw each other again.

Between his trial in January and his departure from England in April of 1838 it is most likely that Rowland was held on a prison hulk. His life aboard the prison hulk would have been very harsh, starting each day by 5.30 am he spent the entire day in irons which were checked by the guards at least 3 times each day, followed by a search “upon their person”.  During this time he would have been assigned to work long, difficult hours on the maintenance of the Hulk, or perhaps – if he was lucky –  he would be sent ashore to labour on the docks – always under armed supervision, and in irons

A Prison Hulk
A Typical Prison Hulk
The Wash Room on a Prison Hulk

On 2 April 1838 Rowland set sail aboard the Lord Lyndoch with 329 other convicts, bound for Australia.  The convicts slept in hammocks which were dismantled each morning so cleaning of the floors could take place, and then set up again each night.  They were required to bathe once a week on a Saturday evening, ready for “services” on deck on the Sunday.

The Master of the ship was W. M. Stead and the Surgeon was Obediah Pineo who kept a Medical Journal that year from 11 March 1838 to 6 Sept 1838.  The voyage on the Lord Lyndoch did not go smoothly at all.  Illness began within two days of sailing from port when one case of tuberculosis and one case of smallpox broke out.  On 16 April a case of Scurvy was diagnosed with 3 more cases diagnosed by  June. A full 150 men were to be affected before the Lord Lyndoch reached Sydney.  It is not know if Rowland was diagnosed with scurvy during the voyage, but his chances by this stage of contracting the illness were greater than 50/50.  Symptoms of the disease, which could have been largely prevented if the prisoners had had access to fresh fruits and vegetables, include lethargy, painful joints, bleeding gums, blistering rash, and if untreated the sickness fatal.

On 20 May an accident aboard ship left 16 men severely injured when they were accidentally scalded with burning tea, however, fortunately for Rowland he was not listed as one of them.

Upon arrival in New South Wales the Sydney Gazette gave the following account of the outbreak of scurvy on the voyage of the Lord Lyndoch.  The article appeared in the paper on Saturday 11 August 1838, Page 2.

After the vessel had left the Cape and the cold weather began to set in, the sickness increased rapidly, and the hospital was soon crowded, as well as the berths contiguous to it, with prisoners labouring under the effects of scurvy. Every precaution was taken to prevent the disease spreading, and all the usual remedies applied in such cases, but it had got too much ahead to be easily mastered. Nineteen deaths occurred within the last eight weeks the Lord Lyndoch was at sea. On Wednesday evening 8th October, the sick men were landed from the vessel; sixty eight were forwarded to the General Hospital. at that time, and nine the next morning. On Thursday thirty more were sent to the Prisoners Barracks to be put under medical treatment. One of the men admitted into the hospital on Wednesday died shortly afterwards. The disease was confined to the prisoners, there were no deaths among the guard or crew.

Another article appeared in The Sydney Monitor Friday 10 August 1838, Page 3.  This article only outlined the Passengers and gave no mention to the horror’s of the journey.

Shipping Intelligence, The Sydney Monitor
Shipping Intelligence, The Sydney Monitor

Our first convict ancestor had survived one of the harshest voyages to Australia against all odds.  Sixteen men were seriously scalded on the journey, 150 men were affected by the illness scurvy, and there were singular cases of smallpox and tuberculosis.  A total of 19 prisoners died on the voyage.  The sighting of land must have been a godsend for those poor unfortunate soles.

You can almost hear Rowland say to himself as he walked down the gang plank, “If I’ve survived that, I can survive anything”.  And survive, he did.  An Account of the voyage of the Lord Lyndoch can be found on the website “Free Settler or Felon?”.  This report gives a wonderful and valuable insight into how difficult the convict voyage could be.  Other reports on the voyage can be found at Trove.




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