‘A Convict’s Tale’




This is a work in progress as you will find.



A Convict’s Tale – John Clish

What commenced as a cursory look up for the details of the death of a  miner found a story of  a man who , I would argue ,typified the tragedy of the English working class – the ‘common people ‘.The research was prompted by the press report of his death in the Maitland Mercury. The Mercury reported on the 28 December 1844, 

‘Yesterday an accident of a dread-ful nature occurred to a ticket of leave holder named John Clish, in the employ of the A. A. Company. As the poor fellow was preparing to ascend the shaft of the pit, which is of great depth, a pick fell from the top, the point of which entered his head, and report says there is but small hope of his recovery’

I thought what a terrible way to die.

What I found was the sad history of a man who was baptised 23 June 1782 in Newburn, Northumberland. He was the son of Thomas Clish and Mary Goodall .At his christening his name was given as both John Clish and John Goodall, so it is likely that his parents were not married which by no means unusual with an indicative  cost of marriage by bans being 7s 0d and by license 13s 0d. Many choose to ‘live in sin’. His father’s occupation is not stated but given the location it is highly probable that he was coal miner .This is supported by his son attestation on discharge from the army. His son most likely being  employed at a young age in the coal mines. The use of young boys as miners working the narrow seams of the  Northumberland coal measures is well documented.

In 1803  at the start of the Napoleonic wars, he joined the the army   and served in the Royal Artillery Drivers for 11 years. The Corps of Artillery Drivers was established in 1793 and was responsible for the movement of guns, ammunition wagons and supplies. At Waterloo (1815) about half of the 5,300 artillerymen in the Duke of Wellington’s army were drivers.

His attestation on discharge states, ‘Served in the said Regiment for the space of Eleven years and 23 days but in consequence of a Reduction hereby discharged: having first received all just Demands of Pay, Clothing, etc. from his entry into the said Regiment, to the Date of Discharge as appears by his receipt on the back hereof. Description: He is about 30 years of Age, is 5 feet 4 inches, brown hair, grey eyes, fresh complexion and is a collier. Discharged 25th July 1814, Woolwich. He was then 32 years of age.

The historian, E. P. Thompson writes ‘The Wars (Napoleonic) ended amidst riots. They had lasted with one exception for twenty-three years. During the passing of the Corn Laws (1815) the Houses of Parliament were defended with troops from menacing crowds. Thousand of disbanded sailor and soldiers returned to find unemployment in their villages.

So John Clish like many other demobilised soldiers and sailors on return to their homes found chronic unemployment and underemployment.

John had a chequered record with the law.

1815 – acquitted on the charge of rape at the 1815 Northumberland Summer Sessions.

1818 –  Northumberland Midsummer Sessions charged with possibly the ‘procurring bad money to.. ( see notes below) . He was sentenced to six months imprisonment.

1823 – found guilty , at the Durham July sessions ,of larceny receiving another six months imprisonment.

1826 – charged for larceny and convicted  at the Durham October Session and sentenced to seven years transportation. I can not find any details of his arrival in NSW. However there are records of his transfer to two prison hulks.


Convicts perform hard labour at the Woolwich Warren. The hulk on the river is the ‘Justitia’. Prisoners were kept on board such ships for months awaiting deportation to Australia. The ‘Justitia’ was a 260-ton prison hulk that had been originally moored in the Thames when the American War of Independence put a stop to the transportation of criminals to the former colonies. (Source: Portcities London)

On the 4 Nov. 1826 the records for the Justitia moored at Woolwich  note that John Clish, aged 41 received 4 Nov. 1826 ,convicted 16 October 1826, Durham, offence theft of two shirts, transferred to Ganymede’. Then further the Justitia gaoler’s report notes ‘1472 John Clish, disposed of to Ganymede, Bad Character’.

Yet again his propensity for larceny caused him to be tried at the Durham Quarter Sessions on the 30 June 1834 and sentenced this time to 14 years transportation. He was then aged 51 .He arrived on the Bengal Merchant in Sydney in 1835. There had been 77 cases of scurvy during the voyage and whilst three men had died there were no deaths due to scurvy. On arrival eight men were confined to hospital . (Bateson.c, The Convict Ships. p.271)

I have no record of he having married other than notes made by another researcher, whose records I can no longer acces.

All his ciminal records are  somewhat contradictory to the judges comment when he was charged with assault and drunkenness in the Maitland Court.  At that trial he was addressed by the judge ‘in very feeling and appropriate language’ and ‘ the judge told him he was sorry to perceive a man of his advanced age, and who had for so many years borne a good character, charged with such gross misconduct‘ He then was 63. The best that could be said is that they are with one exception, crimes against property rather than crimes against person. The severity of the sentences reflecting the severity of the then English penal system.

He died on …dec 1844 in he same county that he was he baptised in albeit but a different country.



He was assigned to AA company. I note on jenny willets site that he was a witness against a fellow AA employee a Edward Stewart who had a long criminal record .Did he drop the pick??    I can’t acces yet the details of that trial yet.

The 1837 muster report him as age 56 assigned to the Aust. Agric. Company in Newcastle and was most likely working at one of their collieries.

His ticket of leave, number 41/521 was issued to him in March 1841 in Newcastle.

Ticket of Leave Sydney Herald 24 March 1841

County of Northumberland. Brisbane Water. William Dixon, York ; John Sheering, John. Dungog, William Curlett, Providence. Maitland. Joseph Bailey, Lady Harewood ; John Corey, Earl Gray ; Richard Eaton, Parmelia ; Michael Farrell, City of Edinburgh; George Jervice, Bussorah Merchant ; Robert Oliver, Minerva. Newcastle. John Clish, Bengal Merchant. Singleton. Peter Adamson, Camden ; Patrick Dunn, Roslin Castle ; John Green, John ; Peter Garden, alias George Jarman, Strathfieldsaye; William Palmer, Planter; Robert Stretch, John ; William West, Mary.

Maitland Mercury 26 October 1844

John Clish, a ticket of leave holder “in the employ of the A. A. Company, at Newcastle, was charged with being drunk, and with assaulting William Barker, an assigned servant belonging to the same Company, on “Saturday last. Constable Lane deposed that on Saturday last he was sent for by Mr. Becke, to take Clish up for having assaulted some man by cutting open his bead with a stone, in the street opposite Mr. B.’s door. Witness apprehended the prisoner, and lodged him in the watch house. Mr. Kemp then gave evidence to the effect that between 5 and 6 o’clock on Saturday evening he was in his garden, when he heard two men quarrelling, and making use of very gross language ; on looking over the fence he saw the prisoner Clish, with another man whom he did not know ; each of them had a large stone in his hand, and they were both drunk ; he then lost sight of them for a few minutes, when they both came close to his premises, and were struggling with each other, when the other man fell down, on which Clish picked up the large stone which he now produced (weighing about four lbs.), and as the other man lay on the ground Clish threw the stone on him, and struck him with great force on the head, cutting it open and causing it to bleed profusely; Clish then kicked the man severely several times, as he lay on the ground. In the meantime Mr. Kemp ran round to the spot, and came up to Crisp and said, ” You villain, you will kill that man.” At this moment Mr. Becke, whose residence is opposite the spot where this scene took place, came up to Clish, took him away, and then sent his man after a constable. The wounded man was taken to the Doctor’s. This being the whole of the evidence, the worthy magistrate, addressing Clish in very feeling and appropriate language, j told him he was sorry to perceive a man of his advanced age, and who had for so many years borne a good character, charged with such gross misconduct; that notwithstanding the previous good conduct of the prisoner, and the re- commendations in his favour, he (Major Crummer) had a duty to perform which nothing could put aside ; and he therefore sentenced him to 14 days’ solitary confinement on bread and water, and should recommend the immediate cancellation of his ticket of leave. (Not- withstanding the good character of Clish, his old age, and the many years he has held the indulgence of a ticket of leave, the decision of the magistrate was a very proper one.)

(Before Majors Crummer (Whose) … integrity, impartiality and urbanity which had inspired great affection in Newcastle

Maitland Mercury 28 dec 1844

Accident.-Yesterday an accident of a dread-ful nature occurred to a ticket of leave holder named John CliSh, in the employ of the A. A. Company. As the poor fellow was preparing to ascend the shaft of the pit, which is of great depth, a pick fell from the top, the point of which entered his head, and report says there is but small hope of his recovery  (Note! most lillely one of the pits at Cooks Hill ( A , B, or C)

Maitland Mercury 4 Jan 1845

The unfortunate miner John Clish, whose dreadful accident was noticed in your last week’s Mercury, expired on Friday last. All that the skill of Doctors Brooks and Bowker could suggest was tried, but without even restoring the poor fellow to his speech or senses. (Note! Dr. Bowker was the surgeon at Newcastle Hospital)

January 1st.


i. Larceny is a crime involving the wrongful acquisition of the personal property of another person. It was an offence under the common law of England and became an offence in jurisdictions which incorporated the common law of England into their own law.

ii. Details of the charge dispayed in the records are difficultt to read



3 thoughts on “‘A Convict’s Tale’

  1. I am a descendent of Richard Clish, born Woolwich, Kent circa 1804 baptised Ringmer 1807. Son of John Clish and Elizabeth. Two John Clish's born in Newburn Northumberland one in 1782 other to a James Clish in 1784. Although some facts fit convict Clish He seems to have married a France's Ramsey in 1803 he could not be in two places at once even allowing for his crafty nature. I cannot find any trace of the Clish family till Richards marriage in Whitehaven Cumbria in 1830
    Any suggestions
    This is real head scratcher

    • Hi Laura, so sorry for not replying sooner. Yes I agree somewhat of a 'head scratcher' .

  2. This story is really fascinating and I am looking forward to know the answers to your questions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.