The Convict And The Cattleman By Allison Merritt

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The History Behind The Convict and the Cattleman

I hadn't written anything creative in about five years when I started searching for ideas for a historical romance novel. Historicals have always been a favorite of mine and it seemed natural to write one. I was looking for something unique and I'll be the first to admit I thought Australia was mostly desert, full of dingos, kangaroos, and sheep. I knew it was settled by a large convict population, but I didn't know why or how or what penal colonies were like.

Captain James Cook was one of the first Englishmen to set eyes on the continent in 1770. He declared the territory New South Wales. First Fleet were the men who made up the first settlement in the territory on Botany Bay. They moved into Sydney Cove for better camping conditions a few days later.

Parramatta was selected as a place suitable for farming, where the river turned into fresh water. It played host to a penal colony across from Sydney. It housed correctional facilities beginning in 1798. The Factory Above the Gaol had housing for about 60 women who slept among bales of wool that they fashioned into material.

The Parramatta Female Factory (which is not a place where they build females) was a prison especially for convicted women and kept separate from the male prison, although there were male gaolers and plenty of male convicts who worked around the area. Construction started in 1818 and it continued to serve as a prison, infirmary, orphan home, and sanitarium until 1847--seven years after transportation to New South Wales ended. Afterward, it was turned into a mental asylum. The women who lived at the Factory were taught valuable trades until they could be assigned to work in households. They cooked, carded wool, made textiles, cared for the infirm, and sometimes found husbands at the gaol.

Besides Parramatta, there were 13 other female factories as expansion into the country continued. The undisputed worst place to be sent was Van Diemen's Land, known to us as Tasmania. The inmates sent to Van Diemen's Land were the worst of the worst, sentenced to the most vile jobs. Often pardons were granted at the end of a convict's sentences. Many of them were for seven years if they weren't particularly violent crimes. Once an ex-convict was absolved of his crimes, they were issued 40 acres of land and sent out to settle the territory.

Early in transportation, if a convict had the right connections, or relatives who had something to bribe officials with, he or she could get a pardon from the territorial governor. By the end of 1840, when my heroine Bridgit had served a year and a half of her sentence, it was already becoming more difficult to obtain a pardon without serving a full conviction. Many convicts who displayed good behavior after serving a couple of years were issued a Ticket-of-Leave, which allowed them to move around the territories and farm or start their own businesses. The hero Jonah manages to obtain a conditional pardon for Bridgit, which means she's a free woman, but she can never leave New South Wales. With an absolute pardon, the convict was allowed to return to England or his home country, but many chose to remain.

One of the characters in The Convict and the Cattleman pushes for the end of transportation. Moreton Bay was one of the first colonies to end the practice, declaring it would take no more convicts after 1839. Transportation ended in 1868 with the last convicts arriving in Western Australia. By the end of 1868, there were over 160,000 convicts on the continent.

The Convict and the Cattleman is littered with a variety of characters, many of them ex-convicts and others who came to Australia willingly. I think I've provided a good blend of them to keep it interesting. Certainly the practice of transportation shaped the way the colony formed, because after the American Revolution, the States adamantly refused to take anymore British convicts. Without the labor provided by the men and women shipped overseas, Australia might have taken a much longer time to colonize—for better or worse.

Excerpt from the book:
His thumb passed over a tender spot. Bridgit stiffened. He nodded to himself, certain he’d found an overstretched muscle. A hole in the wool above her ankle revealed a whitish-pink mark. A scar left by chains, like the ones on her wrists. He caressed the scar. How could anyone consider her dangerous enough to shackle? Inching his fingers up her leg, he massaged the lean muscles and tendons. He rarely ever indulged in getting to know a woman’s legs so well.

He couldn’t help admiring the feminine curve of her calf. His gaze continued along the limb, running up her calf to her knee and the dark shadow cast by her skirt. As she bent closer, her breath stirred his hair. Was she frightened by his touch, or did the thought of the snake still bother her?

At the base of her knee, he stopped exploring. If he let himself go any farther, he’d not stop until the skirt was bunched around her waist. He frowned. The very thing he feared most was happening--if he desired his employee, what would prevent his men doing the same thing?

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