Saturday, 3 March 2012

My Convict Ancestor - Joseph Cullip 1806-1888

About a year ago I signed up to Twitter.  As a complete novice it took me a while to decide on what to call myself but after several incarnations I settled on @stoleasheep.  It just seemed right.  And the reason for that is because it is a direct reference to my Great Great Great Grandfather, Joseph Cullip.

I'm sure it is the same with everyone who is researching their family tree, but there always seems to be an ancestor or two that, no matter how distant in time or how tenuously attached, jump out and attach themselves to one's psyche. For me, Joseph is one of those people.
  I've become incredibly fond of him for his determination, strength and tenacity.
Tempsford, Bedfordshire
Born in 1806, Joseph was one of seven children born to John Cullip and Mary Wilson in Tempsford, a small, agricultural village in rural Bedfordshire, England.  Life must have been tough for this family of farm workers; three of Joseph's brothers were to travel north, following the path of the Great North Road to find work and a new life in Leeds.

From a young age Joseph was a seasoned poacher.  In 1823 at the age of 16 he was to serve a three-month term at Bedford Gaol for being found in breach of the game laws.  As you'll soon learn, this period of incarceration was not to deter him from future offending.  His prison record describes him as only 5ft 2in tall with hazel eyes (must be in the genes!) and already showing signs of grey in his hair.

Two years later at the age of 18 he married Mary Williamson, a local lass from Tempsford, and together they had nine children.  Sadly, their first born was to die at less than a year old.  Joseph made his living working on the land - he could operate a plough - though life would have been hard and it would have been a struggle to find enough to sustain his large family, particularly in the winter months.

It was in 1844 that life was to change forever because, on the night of 27th April, Joseph stole a sheep.  At this point sheep stealing was considered to be a hugely serious offence.  If Joseph had been caught just a decade earlier, he would have been hung.  However, by 1844, sheep stealing carried with it the mandatory sentence of transportation.  What drove him to his crime?  Was it the need to feed his family or did a chance arise to make a quick buck?  I am, of course, biased in his favour and believe his sole purpose was to provide meat for the table, no matter what the risk.

At his trial at the Midsummer Quarter Sessions in Bedford, Joseph pleaded guilty, stating he had a large family and ‘hoped for mercy’.  His plea fell on deaf ears.  He was sentenced to transportation for ten years.  So it was that on 11th August 1844, convict 14697 Joseph Cullip set sail on the William Jardine, one of 270 convicts bound for Van Diemen's Land [Tasmania].  Now aged 38, he is described as just under 5ft 7in tall with a ruddy complexion.  He left behind seven children and a pregnant wife.

Impression Bay, Tasmania
Three months later Joseph arrived in Hobart.  He immediately undertook 15 months of 'gang work' at Impression Bay [now Premaydena] on the very lovely Tasman Peninsula.  This probation station had been established three years earlier in order to produce food for Port Arthur and to make timber pit props for the infamous Coal Mines.  Thank goodness Joseph wasn't sent to either one of those establishments which were punishment stations for hardened, repeat offenders.  I suspect that, given Joseph's 'ag lab' background, he was set to work producing food.  I was lucky enough to visit Premaydena last year and found it to be a beautiful and very peaceful part of the world.  Little remains of its convict past.  But I wonder whether the convicts noticed the stunning environment they were in, or whether they were too inured to their lot to notice.

In February 1846 Joseph 'emerged' from his gang work and was hired to work for a Mr G Smith in Muddy Plains, now known as Sandford, in the south of the island.  I've been unable to find out the exact nature of his employment, though it's likely that he would have been employed on public works or possibly as a farm labourer.  He worked for Mr Smith from 1846 to at least 1849.

In November 1849 Joseph was granted a Ticket of Leave. This meant that he could earn his own wages and live independently, as long as he regularly reported to the authorities. I was pleased to learn that "Ticket of Leave men were seen as the elite workforce. The convict was required to be sober, honest and industrious" (quote courtesy of NSW State Records). It's good to know that Joseph was considered to be of good enough character to be granted this privilege which only only 10 percent of convicts were given.

Joseph's Ticket of Leave was followed in March 1852 by a Conditional Pardon.  Six months later he was able to buy passage to Melbourne and from there continued on to Britain to be reunited with his family.

But what became of his family?  What happened to them whilst he was on the other side of the world?  The short answer is they ended up in the workhouse.  His wife Mary was unable to support her large family, especially as she was pregnant at the time of Joseph's sentencing.  Mary and six of the children ended up in two separate workhouses; their eldest daughter went into domestic service and their eldest son joined the militia.  The family had been torn apart.  Tragically, one of their children, Ann, died at the age of ten, and even more sadly, Mary's youngest boy, named Joseph after his dad, was also to die having lived much of his short life in the workhouse and having never known his father.  He was 8 years old.

But Mary and Joseph were reunited and returned to their lives in Tempsford. Joseph lived out his days as an agricultural labourer and died of old age, aged 81, in 1888.

So why am I so enamoured of Joseph?  For a start I have a gut feeling that he was a pretty solid bloke.  And I like that trait in him.  He didn't re-offend in any way, big or small, whilst he was in Tasmania, as his convict conduct record attests.  He was employed by the same person for several years following his gang work which, for me, speaks volumes about his dependable character.

And yes, he did wrong, he stole a sheep!  However, poaching would have been a way of life for him, just one of those things to do to get some extra food for the table.  But he was to pay a big price for his crime.  His family were scattered, ending up in the ‘poor house’; he lost a daughter, and a son that he never even knew.  It must have been a heart-breaking reunion when he returned.  And that’s the main reason that I like him.  Because he came back!  He braved a perilous three month sea journey to return to his family.  The lure of home and kin must have been overwhelming.  There are so many stories of men and women transported overseas who left behind their spouses and children but who didn't return.  Joseph did.  And for that reason alone he’ll always have a very special place in my heart.

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