Convict! Pirate! Bushranger!

The exciting life of juvenile transportee Charles Brewer

 

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Description List: Record CON18-1-13

Born in 1821, Charles was convicted aged fourteen in 1835, of pickpocketing a handkerchief worth six-pence in Milton Street. Charles received seven years’ transportation for this offence. Previously he had been convicted of a similar offence and was imprisoned for three months. Charles’ father petitioned on his behalf.

 

Criminal Petition: Record HO17

Thomas Brewer argued that he was led to believe his son would serve out his sentence in England on the hulks. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Thomas had visited his son on-board the Euryalus three or four times and strongly believed that: “the discipline on the ship has taught him a lesson”. The authorities disagreed and Charles was sent on-board the Lord Lyndoch, in April 1836, from London to Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land. The journey took four months, during which time Charles was in the hospital for two weeks suffering from ‘catarrh’, but was discharged cured. Charles was fifteen when he first stepped foot in Australia.

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Conduct Record: Record CON31-1-3

Charles was recorded as “good” and “orderly” on-board the hulk and ship respectively. However, within just one month Charles committed his first offence; gambling while out on assignment. The following offences were minor: making a noise, bathing without permission, idleness on the works and insolence to a constable. He was at this time in Point Puer, having been taken out of assignment due to bad behaviour. Insolence to authorities and general misconduct continued. He was also in possession of items he should not have been, and was recorded as throwing stones and destroying government property entrusted to him. Charles was then under strong suspicion of attempting to kill a goat, and in August 1838 was recorded as “aiding and assisting Edward Gares in using violence to an overseer”. Charles was repeatedly caught working privately and continued to threaten and be insolent to overseers. He did not reserve his ill-treatment for overseers – he was recorded as ill using a fellow boy in January 1839.

Conduct Record: Records CON32-1-2 and CON32-1-4

 

After numerous offences, largely disorderly conduct, Charles was convicted of larceny under the value of five pounds and had his term of transportation extended by two years, which was recommended to take place at Port Arthur from 1842. Then, whilst already illegally at large, Charles was convicted of attempting to commit a felony by use of force in March 1843. For this he was re-transported for seven years. During this incident Charles, along with another absconder Michael Conway, stole the property of Mr. F. Bryant of Redlands. They tied the hands of Robert Baker and took possession of a musket, but after their flight they were both apprehended and housed in New Norfolk gaol. Before passing sentence his honour stated that the police books showed no less than between sixty and seventy charges against Brewer. He further commented that “men such as he should be kept from settled districts” and recommended that he placed for the whole term of his sentence at Port Arthur, “whither Conway should also be sent for four years” (The Courier, 1843; 2). Shortly after, Brewer and a James Smith were charged with assaulting a John Scholefield Forster, with intent to rob. On his way home Mr. Forster and his son were stopped by two men who demanded his money or his life. In the struggle one of the men took a small knife from his pocket and stabbed at him. Both men escaped. Neither victims could speak of the features of the assailants. However, two prisoners who had absconded had been seen in the vicinity. The prisoners were apprehended in Bothwell – they claimed to be free men – and one had a stab wound. They were found guilty and sentenced to be transported for life (The Courier, 1843; 2). By 1845 Charles was in chains for two months for having a pipe in his possession, this was then extended by one month for taking wood from a hut which did not belong to him. In total, Charles committed approximately eight-four separate offences in his conduct record. This was a great deal compared to other juvenile convicts. It is not surprising that Charles was unable to earn either a ToL or CP. The last offence recorded in his conduct record was in December 1846. However, this was not his last brush with the law.

A Sentence of Death!

In 1853 he appeared in the newspapers described as a thirty-one-year-old labourer sentenced to death. In a capital trial, Charles Brewer, Quinn, Bridget Stokes and John Twitty were accused by Mr. William Jones. Both Quinn and Brewer cross examined the witness at length. Quinn, in particular, stressed the civility he had displayed throughout the transaction. However, Gardiner, a victim, pointed out that he was under the impression that they would have injured him if he did not comply – but did confess they were very kind. For example, in being asked to light their pipes Quinn replied; “with pleasure” and “good night, friend”. They did not have counsel in the trial. Brewer referred chiefly to some apparent improbabilities in the evidence, but stated nothing material against general tenor, a course which was also pursued by Twitty. The female prisoner remained quiet throughout. His honour pointed out the evidence was incontrovertible in respect to the male prisoners but slight in respect to the female (The Courier, 1853a; 3). The newspapers described the ‘celebrated’ Quinn and Charles as bushrangers. They were captured thanks to an officer who discovered them using a house in Murray Street. A body of armed police were put on standby and then burst open the door with an axe and charged at the prisoners with a bayonet. Both prisoners were apprehended in “respectable clothing and armed with two pistols capped and loaded to the muzzle” (The Courier, 1853b; 3). They were capitally convicted. Fortunately for them, this punishment was mitigated to a life of transportation at Norfolk Island. However, in January 1854 when Charles and twenty other prisoners were being conveyed to the Island, on board the Lady Franklin, they took the ship.

Seizure of the Lady Franklin!!!

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The party of convicts, reportedly headed by Quinn, Brewer and Twitty, seized the ship on the night of the twenty-eighth of December. Captain Willett was suddenly awakened and over powered by prisoners. They took complete mastery of the ship. Three of the crew were employed in working her; the master and mate being confined to the cabin. On the eighth of January they order the crew to launch the long boat and cutter which were laden with provisions. They embarked having confined all the crew except one man at the maintop to liberate them when they made a signal from the boat, and threatened to shoot him if he descended before the signal was made. The ‘desperadoes’ also cut the sails and part of the rigging: disabling the ship. The prisoners were able to take the ship because, after breaking from the prison into the hold they got possession of some old fire arms which the crew were not aware were useless. All the crew and soldiers, excepted two sergeants, proceeded to run below deck, and the prisoners therefore got peaceable possession of the vessel. They also tried to take a Sydney schooner but failed (The Courier, 1854a; 2: The Courier, 1853b; 2: The Argus, 1854; 4). The Lady Franklin and her prisoners were never recovered. The newspapers reported that it was likely that they perished in a storm on route to Fiji. Charles had had his sentence extended by two years twice, by seven years once, was given a life sentence and had a death sentence commuted to a life sentence. He was approximately thirty-three when the pirate ship was reported lost at sea. The actual outcome is unknown, but it is likely that these ‘pirates’ did indeed die at sea.

 

As can be clearly seen in this life-narrative, Charles’ offending increased in severity and he offended up until his death. Evidently, Charles had an eventful life but it must be stressed that he is not representative of juvenile convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land – his life was extraordinary.

 

Newspapers (available at Trove)

The Argus, (1854), “Shipping Intelligence”, (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848 – 1957), 1/2/1854, p.4

The Courier, (1843), “Supreme Criminal Court”, (Hobart, Tas.: 1840 – 1859), 28/4/1843, p.2

The Courier, (1853a), “Supreme Court”, (Hobart, Tas.: 1840 – 1859) 22/10/1853, p.3

The Courier, (1853b), “General Intelligence”, (Hobart, Tas.: 1840 – 1859) 26/9/1853, p.3

The Courier, (1854a), “Seizure of the Lady Franklin”, (Hobart, Tas.: 1840 – 1859) 27/1/1854, p.2

The Courier, (1854b), “Seizure of the Lady Franklin”, (Hobart, Tas.: 1840 – 1859), 28/1/1854, p.2

 

Digital Resources

 

Australian Newspapers Online, Trove, Found at: http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper

 

State Library of Queensland, Convict transportation registers database, Found at http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/resources/family-history/convicts /

 

Tasmanian Government, Tasmanian Names Index, Found at http://linctas.ent.sirsidynix.net.au/client/en_AU/names/

 

The Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court, 1764-1913, Found at http://www.oldbaileyonline.org//

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