In November 2009 TI Life profiled Dr. John Carter in John Carter’s Prisoners in Van Diemen’s Land … The Story had a remarkable number of comments from Tasmania as well as from North America, thus kindling more interest in the military history of the war called: The Patriot War or the Rebellion of 1837-38. We asked Dr. Carter if he would provide additional information, this is the first of his articles.
Four Who didn’t Come Home
During a twelve month period between December 1837 and December 1838, ten incidents of incursion from the United States into Upper Canada occurred. These events of armed invasion ignored neutrality laws established by the American government and violated the sovereign authority of Canada.
These uniformly disastrous actions by members of the "Patriot Army" resulted in the eventual capture, incarceration and transportation of ninety-three English-speaking political prisoners. They were sent to the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) in 1839-40. Of this group, sixty-three men came from Jefferson, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oswego, Chautauqua, St. Lawrence, Lewis, Genesee, Monroe, Niagara,Erie, Madison, and Warren counties in upper New York State.
Following trials in Canada and England for piratical invasion, these North American political prisoners sailed to Hobart Town in three batches. There they were immediately assimilated into the Van Diemen's Land penal system. On direct orders from Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Franklin, the Patriots were separated from the "usual class of thieves." They were sent to work at probation stations located throughout the island. Over a period of two years the Patriots were engaged in road building and in the construction of buildings associated with these stations. They spent varied periods of time in work gangs at Sandy Bay, Lovely Banks, Green Ponds (now Kempton), Bridgewater, New Town Bay, Jericho, Jerusalem (now Colebrook), Brown's River, Saltwater Creek, Rocky Hills, Victoria Valley, Seven Mile Creek and Marlborough probation stations. Those attempting to escape were sent to Port Arthur as second offenders.
Under the probation system, prisoners were awarded tickets of leave (a form of probation) for good conduct following two years of hard labour. Many of the Patriots received this indulgence in February of 1842. The possession of a ticket of leave allowed the holder to leave a probation station and to seek private employment. Those who continued to be on good behaviour would eventually receive a conditional pardon and ultimately their freedom. The first pardon was granted to John B. Tyrrell on September 23, 1843. An entry in Patriot prisoner Elijah Woodman's diary indicated that by November 1844, forty exiles had received free pardons. He added that twenty-eight of his compatriots were still residing in Van Diemen's Land. This information was corroborated in an article published by former Patriot "General" Thomas Jefferson Sutherland in the November 18, 1844 edition of the Rochester Republican. Sutherland noted that thirty-nine "American citizens" had been pardoned, while forty-two were still imprisoned.
Freed Patriot Linus Miller, a former resident of Chautauqua County, confirmed that twenty-eight Patriots who had been pardoned still remained in Van Diemen's Land. In a letter to the editor published in the Northern (Lowville, NY) Journal of February 5, 1846, Miller wrote that most of his comrades had been pardoned through "the kind intercession of the American Government." He concluded that he had every reason to hope "that all are now free." This echoed previous positive reactions about the fate of the Patriots published in the Brooklyn Eagle on March 2, 1844. It was recorded "that there is reason to believe that particular applications made to the British Government in their behalf, through that of the United States, will meet with respectful consideration." Proof of some success to this end was noted in the February 10, 1845 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle. An article reported that "thirty-eight of the Canadians exiled to Van Dieman's (sic) Land" had arrived in St. Albans, Vermont. However not all of the Patriots formerly from counties in New York State returned home.
While working at Ballochmyle, James Maclanachan's midlands estate near Tunbridge, Thomas Stockton, a native of Rutland, Jefferson County became ill and died. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Oatlands Cemetery. Two other Jefferson County inhabitants made the decision to remain in Australia. Chauncey Bugby of Lyme married Elizabeth Hughes in July of 1846. The couple first lived in Hobart Town and had several children. The family eventually moved to Circular Head in the far north-west of Tasmania. Chauncey and his family (now Buckby) had a long and prosperous life there. Ira Polly (Polley), also from Lyme, left Van Diemen's Land aboard the Stieglitz on October 12, 1844 and sailed to Hawaii. He then returned to Sydney, married and had a family and farmed in the Illawara region of New South Wales. He died on January 1, 1898 at Dapto and was buried in the Congregational Section of the Wollongong cemetery. Hiram Sharp(e) from Salina, Onondaga County left Van Diemen's Land on the Belle in August 1846 and sailed to Sydney. He met and had a family with Mary Black, settling in Kiama, New South Wales. Sharp(e) lived there from 1850 until his death at Crankies Plain, Bombala, New South Wales in 1859.
These three Patriots who made a decision to stay in Australia and not to return to New York State, settled in their adoptive country and had families. Today some of these relatives continue to take an interest in the shared history of Australia, Canada and the United States, which is inexorably linked together by the individuals and events of the "Patriot Wars."
John C. Carter, "One Way Ticket to a Penal Colony; North American Political Prisoners in Van Diemen's Land," Ontario History (Autumn, 2009), v. 101, # 2
Cassandra Pybus & Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, American Citizens, British Slaves (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2002)
Stuart D. Scott, To the Outskirts of Habitable Creation (New York: iUniverse, 2004)
Also see Thousand Islands Life’s History Page: Reference Material from the Patriot War 1837-38
In February 2008 Paul Malo presented several articles in Thousand Islands Life on the Patriot War (1837-1838). Pages within this series:
By Dr. John C. Carter, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. John C. Carter is an authority on the subject of the Rebellion of 1837-38. He received a B.A. in History and MA in Native Studies from the University of Waterloo. He then received a Bachelor of Education in Library and History at University of Western Ontario and completed his Doctorate in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, in England. Today John is a Museum & Heritage Advisor for the Ontario Ministry of Culture and lives in Toronto. In October 2009 he was the guest editor of “Ontario History”, the Journal of the Ontario Historical Society. John can be contacted at email@example.com.