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


A son in Denmark

Even as a toddler, Oluf showed great promise as an artist. Obviously inheriting the creative gene from his father, Oluf’s talent grew and grew.  So much so, that by the time he was seven, the Carlsen family already saw a glittering future ahead of him as a master painter, a successful man.

His father, Peter, had recently fallen on hard times as a result of the war, and wanted better for his eldest son.  Choosing to build a new future in Australia where the lure of land (and financial recovery) awaited, Peter made a heartbreaking decision; the Carlsen family would emigrate – leaving Denmark, and Oluf, behind.

In the capable hands of his wife’s parents, Peter felt safe in the knowledge that his son would continue his education. That his son would one day become the artist they all knew he was destined for.

And they all lived happily ever after.


Creative license?  Who me?

In reality, the story of how seven-year-old Oluf Carlsen came to be left behind in Denmark when his family emigrated may never be known. In fantasy, it involves a caring father, a tough decision, and the promise of a brighter future for a much-loved son.

Perhaps the reality was much different, even harsher…but what’s a little bit of rose-coloured fiction between friends, right?

What we do know is that Oluf was definitely ‘a son in Denmark’ – the son Peter Oluff Carlsen wrote about four years after he arrived in Australia. Translated, this section of Peter’s letter reads:



Born on 17 June 1864, Niels ‘Oluf’ Martin Carlsen was only three when his mother and younger brother died. No doubt a terrible blow and tragic loss for the little family. By the time he was six, not only did Oluf have a new stepmother, but also a little sister, Frederikke and brother, Wilhelm.  They were two brand new siblings who Oluf would only know for a short time.

When the Carlsen’s emigrated in 1871, young Oluf stayed behind in Ålsø, Randers, with his stepmother’s parents, Jens Mikkelsen and Marie Cathrine Jensdatter.  Perhaps they were related to little Oluf?  Peter’s second wife, Ane Jensen, certainly had the same last name as his first, therefore there may have been a family connection.

Or maybe the Mikkelsens simply loved Oluf like their own child, and wanted the best for him.


[Let’s conveniently ignore at this point that 15-year-old Oluf’s role in the 1880 Mikkelsen household was ‘Domestics’ (that little snippet doesn’t fit nicely into our rose-coloured story). Ok?  Good. Moving on… 😉 ]


When we catch up again with Oluf in 1901, he is 37 and married with five children of his own.  Obviously doing well for himself, Oluf owned their house in Grenå, Randers and was working as a master painter fulfilling his father’s dream, and neatly rounding out our fantasy scenario.

It would be nice to think that father and son kept in regular touch, and imagine the many letters sent back and forth during the years they were apart; snippets of their lives, family news, and perhaps even photos.

Of course, we may never know for sure, but Peter was in contact with his sister in Copenhagen, so it’s not much of a stretch to include his eldest son among those family members he exchanged letters with – distance being no real barrier to keeping in touch.  In addition, a further hint that this was the case appears many years later at the birth of Oluf’s son, Peter Oluf Holger Carlsen, in 1892.

Like the letters, it would be nice to think that little Peter was named in acknowledgement and fond memory of Oluf’s father.

A son in Denmark, a father in Australia, and another generation to bear the family name.

In the absence of knowing their real story, the events of the past, or how ‘a son in Denmark’ came to be, all I can do is hope for the best and send them warm wishes from the future.


And they all lived happily ever after.



Special thanks to Niels at My Danish Roots for not only translating the Danish letter, but for also solving the mystery of Maren Jensen (Peter’s first wife) and finding Oluf Carlsen (born Niels Oluf Martin Carlsen). With this additional information, I was able to locate Oluf on the 1870 Census living with (*drumroll*) Ane Jensen and Frederikke Carlsen. This then led to finding Ane’s birth parish, her baptism, and parents – who also just happened to also be in the same household in 1870. Great stuff.

For a copy of Peter’s letter, click here.

Convicts and stumps

As a result of having my DNA tested earlier this year, two stumps have been cleared and seven more ancestors warmly welcomed into the family tree.

One of these stumps was a known convict, and the other was…also a convict as it turns out!   My little family of ‘criminal’ ancestors has now grown to 16, and I love it.  DNA testing has certainly kept things interesting, along with some great connections with distant cousins made along the way.

It may seem like a large number of convicts to some people, and I’m often asked if they are direct ancestors or whether they just ‘married into the family’ or were perhaps siblings.

Nope – definitely direct.

And when you think about it, we have in excess of 200 possible ancestors once we reach the 8th generation (fifth great-grandparents).  So it’s actually only around 6% of the total.

Known Ancestors
My ancestor scorecard has grown, now showing 120 ‘known’.


See?  Quite possible indeed!  Especially if you live in Tasmania, where 13 of my convicts were transported to. The other three were sent to New South Wales – the earliest arriving in 1797 on the ship Ganges.

Being a very visual person, I’ve put together a bit of a snapshot to illustrate how these 16 relate to me.  The visual shows seven generations in full, and at generations eight and nine, only my NSW convicts have been squeezed in.

Convict Ancestors
Light green indicates known ancestors, dark grey are current stumps. Only surnames of convicts are included.


My mother’s DNA result are due back any day now, and I’m excited to think of what other discoveries we may find.  Having her results will help narrow down which line of the family tree a match belongs to; if someone matches with both of us, I can rule out ancestors on my father’s side in looking for a connection.

Great stuff.


Look out, stumps – we’re coming for you.

‘Quite forgotten’

Just two little words on a marriage record. Two little words that made me feel terribly sad for Eliza, who on her wedding day, had forgotten a name.

And even sadder still for her mother, whose name it was that Eliza had quite forgot.

Eliza Clayton

If I’d ever questioned my reasons for writing and sharing family stories or having a public family tree, those two little words were a powerful reminder of ‘why’.

Why sharing information about our ancestors is so important.

Why it can help to ensure they are remembered – and that they will continue to be.

Not hidden away in a box, photo album or diary.

Not ‘quite forgotten’ like Eliza’s mother.

Or so she thought.

Dearest Eliza, I know you couldn’t remember your mother’s name on your wedding day, but that’s OK. Her name was Olivia Bateman, and she married your dad, John Clayton, in 1821. I know you also couldn’t remember your age when you married William (or maybe you just ‘adjusted’ it a bit as he was younger than you?), but you were born in White Hills, Tasmania, eight years after your mum and dad married. You had many brothers and sisters, and I’m sure you were quite loved. I’m also sure that your mum would have been so happy for you on your wedding day, had she still been alive.

Dearest Eliza, you’d been married and widowed prior to meeting William, and saw five of your own children die before you. How terribly sad that must have been. I’m so glad you found happiness again – even if it was only for a short time. Even though you were only married to William for eight days, trust me that you were his ‘beloved’.

He described you that way when you died – did you know that?

Dearest Eliza, I know that you couldn’t remember Olivia’s name then, but we know it today.

She is remembered, and so are you.

There are many Eliza’s and Olivia’s out there whose stories are yet to be written, and whose families are yet to come find them. They will come, you know – it’s only a matter of time.

By sharing what we know, they may just find them…when they are ready to look.

By sharing what we know, we can help to ensure our ancestors are not ‘quite forgotten’, but rather, ‘fondly remembered’.


I have a feeling they’d be pretty OK with that.


The perfect family photo

I’m slowly starting to get together a little collection of old family photos, and can spend hours at a time just flipping through them. There’s one in particular that I keep getting drawn back to, and it never fails to make me smile.

Alexander Bannister Family at Osterley
Members of the Bannister family, c1923.

There’s just so much going on, and so much to love:

  • The crying, squirming baby.
  • The crying, squirming baby’s mother looking a bit frazzled.
  • The ‘missing’ heads of father and child.
  • The two women chatting and sharing a joke.
  • The people taking it very seriously – some more than others.

Today we have our digital ‘do-overs’; we click, we check, and we keep at it until the perfect shot is captured. But this one – from my great grandmother’s photo album – was (quite possibly) their ‘one chance’ for a group shot that day.

Sure, it didn’t go to plan, but it’s officially my new favourite.

I also can’t help but invent stories wonder about the follow-up after the photo was developed:

  • Ada (mum with crying baby) protesting that she wasn’t about to say ‘the F word’.
  • Errol (back right) lamenting his height, hoping that one day, somewhere, a photo of his head exists.
  • The photographer (unknown) is teased about his ‘skills’ at every family get-together thereafter…and made to sit at the kids’ table each Christmas.

They may well be other versions of the photo out there – where everyone’s included, smiling, and looking straight at the camera.

Perhaps this wasn’t their ‘one chance’…

…but I like to think that this version made it to the family album because my great grandmother loved it as much as I do.

The perfect family photo.

More than a mystery

I was always an avid fan of mysteries as a child.  I couldn’t get enough of books like ‘The Famous Five’ – to the point where (for a time) at school, a group of us would “play” (ahem) the characters at lunch time. I have no idea what we did – possibly solving ‘The case of the stolen marbles!’ – but I do know that I always wanted to be George. Possibly because she was a tomboy with the amazing Timmy the dog.

Then there was T.A.C.K. Another series of books about a group of kids solving problems. To this day, I can still tell you:

  • how to know if a skunk has left your circus tent (while you’re not watching),
  • how to get a jammed truck out of a tunnel (that overestimated the clearing space above), and
  • how to transport four people in a two-seater canoe without getting wet or leaving anyone behind.

All useful stuff; hit me up if you’re ever in need.

If I wasn’t reading, there were jigsaw puzzles to solve, or other games to play – including a favourite: ‘follow the clues’. I would write and hide the clues (they always rhymed for some reason), and my brother would patiently go from location to location until he found the prize.

So I guess it shouldn’t have come as any real surprise that I am now here, (many) years later, totally immersed in this consuming ‘business’ of finding folks in my family tree.

I am still on the trail of a good mystery, and what better than one that links you back to the past. What I didn’t expect was to feel so strongly for some of these people. To want to know their stories, and to want to find out more about their lives.

My journey so far had been full of questions and full of stumps, but also full of richness, happiness, pride and sadness. Their stories are worth being told – or at the very least, remembered.

Arthur Carlsen
Private Arthur Carlsen.

I want to remember Arthur; the Anzac soldier who died at Gallipoli in World War 1 following the battle of Lone Pine.

I want remember Archie; the ‘Tap Boy’ who was convicted of pick pocketing at Glasgow and sentenced to transportation to Australia as a 12 year old.

I want to remember Ann; the Irish lass who committed Arson in order to escape a life of poverty for the hope of a better one in a distant, unknown land.

There are so many stories waiting to be told, and so many mysteries still to solve.

I hope that over time, I can do just that.


Photo: Tasmania Weekly Courier, 30 Sep 1915.