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Friday, October 03, 2014

Part 1: Jane Ogden's Long Journey to Van Diemen's Land

Since discovering that one of my male ancestors had been  transported to Van Diemen's  Land to serve a seven year sentence for theft in 1832, I've discovered that in 1845 he may have married a woman who had also been transported for petty theft.  While I'm not sure whether the man Jane Ogden married was actually my ancestor, John Lovell, or  someone else with the same name, I found her story to be fascinating and have decided  to write about what I've discovered here. This is the first installment of Jane Ogden's story.

Jane Ogden, a 24 year old house servant, stood  five feet tall.  She had a fresh complexion, a large head with a broad visage, a long nose, short chin and a large mouth.  Her  hair was dark brown and her eyes were hazel. In April of 1842 she stood trial in the Lancaster, Liverpool Borough Quarter Session  in April of 1842, accused of stealing several items including an umbrella and a purse.  She was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to seven years  transportation to Van Diemen’s Land, now  known as Tasmania, Australia.
(Image from the  digitised records section, Archives Office of Tasmania)

Jane was transported to the port in Woolwich and delivered to the  British convict ship Royal Admiral on May 2, 1842 to begin the long journey to Tasmania as one of 204 female convicts and  seventeen of their children .  Between 1803 and 1853  more than  24,960 convict women were transported to Australia. Of those, almost 12,500  were transported to Van Diemen's Land, mostly for petty theft. Many of those who arrived would be sent to work in one of the female  factories set up to house the  women, and provide them with work. It's hard to imagine what the women on these voyages of over 12,000 miles endured and the deprivations and hardship they suffered as they were forced to leave behind   family, home, country and everything familiar to face the unknown  in a strange land.

We can get a glimpse of  life aboard the Royal Admiral from the extensive medical records kept by the ship’s surgeon and  from the Journal of His Majesty’s Convict Ship Royal Admiral written by the ship’s surgeon, Mr. J. R. Roberts, between February 23rd. and October 14th 1842. Mr. Roberts wrote that most of the women arrived at the ship after  being transported long distances by train, deprived of necessary sanitary conveniences. They therefore arrived on board “in a distressed and filthy state . . . . In several instances, they came with only the clothing they had on their persons, being informed at the prisons, that if they took more, those who had them, they would be either taken from them or destroyed, depriving them thereby of many essentials during their voyage.”

 Because of their lack of adequate clothing, the changes in the weather as they sailed, the change in diet, and other factors, many of the women fell ill during the voyage, requiring medical treatment. Ailments listed in the medical reports include colic, rheumatism, cardiac problems, infections, pleurisy, and many cases of diarrhoea. There were also a few cases of  syphilis. Mr. Roberts writes that “the prisoners were kept clean by scraping and dry combing and when weather permitted washed with hot soap and water, and the airing ___? and all the convicts being kept on deck until __ fully dry, as they __? were daily, and in hot weather under awnings, taking their meals there.” (there were evidently problems in transcribing Mr. Robert’s handwriting in several places.)

At least two women died during the voyage and Mr Roberts notes that there were seven births, but that none of the infants survived  past eleven weeks and at least one of the children on the voyage died also: “two of the mothers of these infants, shortly after their delivery, were attacked with dysentery and one with hemoptysis, being deprived therefore of the power of lactation, the digestive powers of these children became disordered, although every means the ship afforded to remedy the deficit was adopted, and they died in convulsions from ages of seventeen days to eleven weeks. One child died in convulsions on the sixth day from its birth, the mother quite healthy, and another died also in convulsions from dentition, aged eighteen months.” That there were no more  deaths and that  the majority  of the women apparently survived the voyage in relatively good health is a testament to the diligent  work of the  ship's surgeon who was responsible for their care under less than ideal conditions.

Mr. Roberts stated that despite many trying circumstances,  the women all behaved “exceedingly praiseworthy and orderly.” The same cannot be said  for the crew, however. Some  crew members   were drunk and disorderly on more than one occasion and several were insubordinate or refused  direct orders. Roberts wrote that  “ On our arrival, thirteen of the crew were taken by the Police in handcuffs to prison and were afterwards sentenced to three months at the Tread Mill.”

I cannot  find any record  of Jane Ogden needing or receiving medical treatment during the voyage, and  she arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on September 24, 1842 to begin her seven year sentence.* There is little documentation of those seven years, but what I have discovered  will be the subject of my next post.

*10/8/2014: In  this post  I originally  noted that I could find no record of Jane Ogden having received medical treatment during the trip.  Since going back  over the available records, I've discovered two entries, one for Jane Odger, age 24, who was treated for bronchitis on April 7, 1842, and another  for Jane Hogdon, age 25, treated for diarrhea on June 11. After comparing these two names  against the list of convicts transported on this voyage, I’ve concluded that an error was made in transcribing the original record and that these two entries do actually pertain to Jane Ogden.  

 Mr. Roberts’ Journal  has been transcribed and can be found  at 

More detailed information on the voyages of the  female convicts can be found in this scholarly work by Ian Brand & Mark Staniforth:

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