The 13-year-old convict

Johanna Finlay was only nine years old when her family received the dreaded news; her brother, Archibald, had been caught pick-pocketing in the streets of Glasgow. Barely a teenager, the future for this fair-haired, blue-eyed Scottish lad had taken a dramatic, uncertain turn. Sentenced to transportation for 14 years for his crime, Archie no doubt thought he would never see his family again. The year was 1828, and his term was lengthy.

We’ll never know if Archie was able to farewell his entire family, or receive one final hug from little sister Johanna before leaving them behind, but it would be nice to think so. Or perhaps nicer still to include a scenario where the Finlays all stood on the docks with ‘their Archie’ – not saying goodbye, but rather, until we meet again. As the eldest son, he would no doubt be missed.

It’s hard to imagine how a boy of only 13 would have felt or even coped with being taken away from his home at such a young age. No doubt apprehensive, and likely a little frightened. Picking pockets as a ‘skill’ took a fair dose of courage and determination, so perhaps Archie also clung onto this as he made his way into an unknown future.

Archie turned 14 on the voyage from Glasgow to England, where he was received on the ‘floating prison’ Retribution at Woolwich. After being washed, inspected and issued with clothing and other ‘essentials’ including a blanket and eating utensils, he was transferred to the Euryalus – a convict hulk specifically for boys. The youngest to take up residence on this particular hulk was recorded as being aged only nine. Difficult to comprehend, but a harsh reality of the time. Like Archie, many of these boys were also awaiting transportation to Australia for their crimes.

Convict Hulk Euryalus
Model of the ship Euryalus from

Moored at Chatham, conditions on the Euryalus were less than ideal and often reported as being a cause for concern. Regardless, it remained Archie’s new ‘home’ for the next two years. His days would have likely been spent labouring on shore in a work gang for 10-12 hours a day; possibly stone collecting, cleaning the river, or general dockyard work.

With many boys from the Euryalus being described as leaving the hulk ‘more hardened than they arrived’, it’s easy to speculate that Archie may have been included among these, and perhaps that this was also how he came about the scars on his forehead that would later appear on convict records.

Description of Archibald Finlay from his Convict Indent Record; ship Lady Harewood (Ancestry)
Description of Archibald Finlay from his Convict Indent Record; ship Lady Harewood (Ancestry)

After almost three years since his conviction, Archibald Finlay finally arrived in Sydney Cove, New South Wales on 4 March 1831. Disembarking the ship Lady Harewood and promptly marched toward Hyde Park Barracks to commence the next stage of his convict assignment, he no doubt took in the starting differences in his surroundings. He was indeed a long way from home.

Just two months’ shy of his 17th birthday, the boy from Glasgow was by now almost a man.


Part two to come: The sister left behind


Escape from reality

As a young girl, Agnes would often daydream. Her vivid imagination opened up adventure-filled worlds on the Scottish moorlands with ease. There was so much to discover! So much to explore!

But Agnes wasn’t young anymore.

Now a widow with no income, the family’s future was uncertain, their hope all but gone. These days she needed her imagination more than ever; escaping into memories could sometimes quiet her grumbling stomach, quash her fears.

Agnes closed her eyes, searching. Settling on one memory in particular, she smiled, gently unfurling it like a precious treasure wrapped in the lightest, most delicate tissue paper.

There he was! Peter. Slouched in his faded green chair; collar undone, hair rumpled, and the hint of a beard on his face. The lingering aroma of dinner filled the air, mingled with smoke from the crackling fire. Their little house was warm, their bellies content.

Sitting cross-legged at his feet were Archie and Johanna, wide-eyed in anticipation of story time.

‘Da?’ Archie said hesitantly.

‘Aye, laddie?’

‘Will ye tell us of the time you and Mam met?’

‘Aye. She was a verra pretty lass,’ began Peter.

‘Still is, ye ken!’ Peter laughed, catching himself and glancing at Agnes. His laugh was low and deep – a sound she missed dearly.

Hearing Peter tell their story with such love filled her heart. Their bairns looking up at Da in wonder, eager for more.  She was safe here, not ready for reality just yet.

A booming knock yanked Agnes back to the harsh present. Someone at the door had other plans.

Opening her eyes, it all flooded in. There was no Peter, no chair, no furniture at all. The starkness of the empty house made it bigger somehow. Colder. The delicious smells so easily recalled moments earlier were replaced by those of dampness and mould.

The knock came again.

With a regretful sigh, Agnes opened the door.


The Police Returns List of destitute people in Glasgow, March 1841 recorded Widow Findlay at 95 Old Wynd with 4 children. This piece of flash fiction is based on that moment in her life – the day the police came to her door, finding her in a 14 x 10 house without furniture or bedclothes.