This article may be a bit controversial but it’s a common topic of conversation amongst backpackers and travellers that Australians are all convicts! It is no secret that Australia was established as a penal colony and the banter will never wear thin so I compiled a list of 5 famous Australian convicts transported from the UK and how Australia made them famous just so you have some facts to show off with the next time the topic comes up.
Top 5 Famous Australian Convicts
1. Francis Greenway
Francis Greenway arrived in Sydney in 1814. His friends apparently told him to plead guilty to forging a document when he went bankrupt. Always good to have your friends around you. Francis Greenway didn’t really do too badly for a convict as it wasn’t long before his architectural skills were soon noticed. Some of his work includes The Government House and St, James’s Church both in Sydney. For a man who survived transportation across the globe, he died in his bed of typhoid.
2. Mary Wade
The youngest ever convict to be transported to Australia at the age of 11. Her hideous crime was that she stole another girls clothes and for that she was sentenced to death by hanging. Luckily for her, an issue relating to George III and his mental health meant that all the women on death row had their death sentence changed to living in Australia. Mary spent her life in Australia reproducing and made it to 21 offspring.
Mary Wade is considered to be one of Australias founding mothers who at the time of her death had 300 descendants. One of her most famous descendants is former Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd! You can learn more about Mary Wade in Canberra at The National Library of Australia.
3. John ‘Red’ Kelly
John Kelly was sent to Tasmania for seven years for stealing two pigs, apparently. When released, John Kelly stayed in Australia and is famous for being the father of Ned Kelly. You can find out more about Ned Kelly at the Ned Kelly Museum in Glenrowan, Victoria.
4. Mary Bryant
Mary Bryant was arrested for highway robbery although it sounds a lot more impressive than it actually was. She was famous for being one of the first people to escape the penal colony that she was in with her husband and children by stealing a governor’s boat and sailing off to Timor. The family were eventually found out to be convicts and put back on a boat to Britain where her entire family perished. Mary however, randomly managed to make it back to Britain where a bit of publicity ensured that she spent one more year in prison before being pardoned.
5. Frank the Poet
I’m not really sure what he was originally convicted of but it appears that dear Frank never really felt the need to live life within the realms of the legal system. Why is he famous? I believe he wrote some poems. Possibly the most famous being “A Convicts Tour to Hell“. The beginning of which is:
“You prisoners of New South Wales,
Who frequent watchhouses and gaols
A story to you I will tell
‘Tis of a convict’s tour to hell.”
Here’s the celebrated veteran Australian actor, director, folklorist, and author Peter O’Shaughnessy giving us his definitive performance.
“A Convict’s Tour to Hell” By Frank The Poet”
These are just a few of the notorious and famous convicts transported to Australia. Ned Kelly I think everyone has heard of, if not there are many films, paintings and music that all depict his infamous life. Some of the other Australian convicts mentioned here you may not have heard of but they certainly lived interesting lives.
All I can say is that I’m glad our penal system is no longer as harsh. Imagine becoming famous for being an Australian convict just because you were sent away from your family and your country for the heinous crime of stealing another girls clothes like poor 11 year old Mary Wade!
Now that you have mastered your Australian convict history, freshen up your Aussie Lingo and read our Beginner’s Guide to Speaking Australian.
The landing of convicts: By Unknown – http://www.gastonrenard.com.au/Descriptions/41752.htm, Public Domain, Link