Thursday, March 18, 2010

'If you endeavour to take out...that manly confidence which ought to be cherished in every civilised human begin the work of demoralisation

A Convict in the Family Tree

The above quote is from Lawrence Frayne, a convict on Norfolk island who was my 3 x Great Uncle on my mother's side of my family. The picture is of a tombstone erected on Norfolk Island by Lawrence Frayne in memory of his friend and fellow prisoner, William Storey who died 9 January 1838 aged 29 years, a native of Dublin.
Like many Australians, I grew up with no knowledge of my convict ancestry. As with many families, mine had most probably gone to a great deal of trouble to cover the fact that we had a convicted felon on the family tree . It was not always as fashionable to 'claim' a convict in your past as it is today as we embrace our felonious foundation in Australia. To deny heritage, however, is to deny your identity.
I was quite excited when I discovered, some years ago, that the father of my great great grandmother Sarah Frayne (who married Edward Joseph Weston), was a Lawyer from Dublin. Until then most of my ancestors had been coal miners, bootmakers, farm labourers and even a law clerk but an Irish lawyer was something new to research. His death certificate, obtained from the Queensland State Archives, issued in 1878, stated that Michael Frayne had lived in the colonies for 40 years. This indicated that Michael had arrived in Australia from Ireland in around 1837 or 1838.

As I was researching several other family lines at that time and as I also knew that Irish research was difficult, with less online resources than other parts of the UK, I filed Michael Frayne in the temporarily 'too hard' basket. While I went on to discover my husband David's fascinating Royal connections, something kept bothering me about my 3 x great grandfather, Michael Frayne. If he had indeed left Ireland around 1837, this date would appear to be too early for a free Irish settler to have arrived in the colony of Australia. Daughter Sarah's birth certificate in 1868,  stated that her parents Michael Frayne and Mary Williams were married in Singleton, NSW but I was unable to find a marriage certificate for Michael and Mary in NSW. Similarly, no record of a marriage was located in Queensland where Sarah was born. Although I was thrilled to have an Irish lawyer on my tree, I was left with a niggling suspicion that all was not as it seemed.  I decided to re- examine the information I had.

When I looked again at the birth certificate for Michael's daughter, Sarah (my 2 x great grandmother), I noticed my mistake immediately. Since first 'finding' Michael, I had become much more familiar with old handwriting and poor Michael Frayne fell from grace at once, as I read that he was a 'Sawyer'..... not a Lawyer! In old handwriting, the flourishing style of letter 'S' is often easily mistaken for an 'L'. A disappointing discovery when your husband has many Kings and Queens in his ancestry. The discovery of another record verified that Michael was indeed a 'timber getter' and had nothing to do with the law.... or so I thought! My great great great grandfather was about to fall even further down the social ladder..

I had a hunch - one of those feelings we family historians get where we just 'know' something! The more I thought about Michael Frayne, the more the date of his arrival became significant. I began to suspect that my 'Lawyer turned Sawyer', 3 times grandfather may have arrived in Australia as a convict. I began to research Irish immigration and soon discovered that the first free Irish settlers had arrived in Australia in 1839, when an immigration plan was put in place to bring farmers to this country from Ireland with their families. This discovery made it vital to put a date on Michael's arrival. If Michael Frayne had indeed arrived a year or two earlier than 1839, as I believed, it seemed quite likely that this 3 x great grandfather of mine, might indeed have been connected to the law after all, but as a convict and not as a lawyer as I had first thought.
Growing up as I did, believing that I had no connections to Australia's colonial founding, this discovery was very exciting to say the least.

The next step was for me to search all convict records I could find. The Australian Society of Genealogists, (SAG), based in Sydney, had put some records online on their website. I discovered three Michael Fraynes and two other Fraynes (Peter and Lawrence) who had arrived on different ships as convicted felons. The NSW state Archives also had a considerable number of convict records such as Tickets of Leave, Pardons, Permission to Marry and Convict Bank accounts which I searched. A Michael Frayne had arrived in 1837 on board the convict ship 'St Vincent' and I suspected that I had found my 3 x great grandfather. So began my search for evidence.

My search for Michael Frayne began some years ago, and at the time there were not as many online convict records available as there are now. Now, with online records made available by organisations such as FindmyPast and, convict records in particular are easier to access. In the early stages of my research, 'Michael' was forced to sit an archive box to wait until I had time to visit the Archives or the State Library to research in person. Then, as I often do, when I 'file' an ancestor away, I climbed out along another branch of the family tree and forgot my convict as I became engrossed in the world of MI5 and 2 x great uncle Rex Morley-Hoyes who it seemed likely had been a World War 2 spy/ traitor/ illegal gun runner/  titled gentleman or all of the above.

Some time later, after a break in researching the family history, I suddenly remembered great great great grandfather Michael Frayne and decided to pursue his possible convict past once more. I discovered to my delight, that many more resources were available to me through and the Irish Archives and that the Australian Society of Genealogist's website was much improved. On this website, I found the link I needed to prove beyond doubt that my Michael Frayne was indeed the convict who had arrived on the St Vincent in 1837. I found records for the convict, Michael Frayne, which linked him to his wife Mary Williams, daughter Sarah, parents Michael 'Freyne' and Sera Phoenix as well as a step son Richard Brown and a brother Larry Frayne.

I re-examined Michael's death certificate and discovered that the witness present at his death was his step son Richard Brown. I had found the proof I needed to establish beyond doubt that my 3 x great grandfather was a convict. An exciting discovery but as is so often the case in the pursuit of family history, when one mystery is solved, others are unearthed.

Michael's death certificate stated that he had been married in Singleton in 1858. This date made little sense as Michael's wife Mary, born in around 1845, would have been too young to have married in 1858.  Searching  the NSW Births Deaths and Marriages Historical online records, I discovered that Michael had indeed been married in 1858, but to not to my 3 x great grandmother, Mary Williams. Michael's marriage in 1858 was to a Bridget Donelly and had not married in Singleton as stated, but in St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney.  (This was not the large Cathedral which stands today but it was on the same site as the current cathedral occupies. The original cathedral was destroyed in a fire and rebuilt.) So I now had two wives for Michael. Or at least I had one legal wife and a step son whose mother was a mystery. I could find no record of a child named Richard born to either Bridget nor Mary.

The marriage certificate for Michael and Bridget confirmed that Michael was born in Dublin and was aged 34 years at the time of the marriage on the 18 th February, 1858. This meant that in 1837 he was only 13 or 14 years old when he arrived in the Colony as a convict. A quick search of the BDM's showed that Bridget had died on the 29th August 1864 in Singleton aged 26 years. No marriage record has been found for Michael and Mary Williams, whose daughter Sarah was born in Brisbane Qld, 4 years after Bridget Frayne's death. The fact that Michael's death certificate states that he was married in 1858, seems to suggest that he did not marry Mary Williams.

The Irish Archives and a helpful site provided by Peter Mayberry, 'Irish Convicts to NSW 1788-1837', informed me that Michael Frayne was tried for 'burglary,robbery' in Dublin in 1836 aged 14 years. He was described as 'single' and an 'errand boy'. His brother's name was given as Larry Frayne -who arrived about 1827.' Michael's sentence was 'death', later commuted to 'life'.  I discovered that not only did I have a great great great grandfather who was a convict and a Dublin burglar, but it appeared that my 3 x great uncle Larry Frayne also arrived in the colony as a convict. I was thrilled to have several convicts on my tree. With my husband descending from almost every Royal House in Europe, this provided me with some very colourful, and significantly, very Australian colonial history of my own. Little did I know then, however, just how interesting a journey the  felonious Frayne family would transport me on.

I had previously seen a record for a convict named Lawrence Frayne who had arrived on the ship 'Regalia' in 1826, but had not realised his connection to Michael. Now that I knew they were brothers, I began to research both Michael and Lawrence Frayne. According to a record of convicts on Norfolk Island in the NSW State Archives, Lawrence was sentenced in Dublin on the 5th of October, 1825 for 'stealing rope'. He was described as a pantry boy, born in 1809. Lawrence Frayne was just 17 years old when he arrived in NSW as a convicted thief to serve his 7 year sentence.

The next record I searched was the 1838 Convict Muster. There I found Michael Frayne employed by a James Brown at a property called 'Strathallan', NSW. This record showed me that the ship 'St Vincent' had departed Cork, Ireland on the 13 September 1836 and arrived in NSW on the 5 January 1837, a voyage of almost 4 months. Strathallan is near Braidwood where there had been considerable land grants made in the 1830's and convict labour was in demand. The 1872 NSW Post Office Directory describes Braidwood as 'Distance, 186 miles south of Sydney.'

I didn't confine my search to just Michael and Lawrence as I have found it useful to research the people around the lives of ancestors such as neighbours and relatives of a wife. Every clue can be important in the search for vital 'pieces' of an ancestor's life story. A search of the S.A.G (Society of Australian Genealogists) website, revealed information about Michael's first wife, Bridget Donelly. Her parents were James Donnelly and Mary McMahon and the witness to the wedding of Michael and Bridget in 1858 was Margaret McGee. I recorded these details in case they proved useful in tracing Michael Frayne's life in NSW.

My search for convict records in Australia was far from over however I decided to try to find some record of the births of my convict forebears in Ireland. I am a subscribed member of a wonderful website called Emerald Ancestors but this proved of no use as unlike my paternal Irish family who hailed from Counties Tyrone and Londonderry in Northern Ireland, Michael and Lawrence were born in Dublin. No records are available for Dublin on this site.

After a number of investigations, a search of a site called the Online Irish Records System proved successful in providing me with a record of Michael's baptism. Michael Frayne was baptised at St Paul's Arran Quay, Co Dublin on the 4th of June 1821. His parents were recorded as Michael Frayne and Sera.. 'surname not recorded.' Sponsors for the baptism were James Gerety and Margaret Hoey. A surprise discovery was another brother Peter Frayne, baptised at St Pauls Arran Quay Dublin, on the 7th of July, 1822. Sponsors for this baptism were Michael Tierney and Elisa Farrell. A new question arose in my mind. Was the convict, Peter Frayne, I had found earlier in my research, the brother of Michael and Lawrence? Were three brothers tried and convicted of crimes in Dublin Ireland and sentenced to transportation to Australia?

A search of the convict records of a Peter Frayne who served his time in Tasmania have as yet proved no connection and this lead is still a work in progress.

Both the NSW State Archives and provide an online search facility for convict records. In the 1828 Muster, I found that Lawrence Frayne was sent to Moreton Bay for 3 years to be served in the employment of the Government. He was later granted a Ticket of Leave in Maitland, NSW in 1845. This was reported in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Adviser on Saturday 10 May 1845, 19 years after he arrived to serve a 7 year sentence. A further notice in the Maitland Mercury dated August 15, 1845 read that, 'The tickets of leave belonging to the under mentioned prisoners of the crown have been cancelled for the reasons stated opposite their respective names....... Lawrence Frayne absent from district, Maitland bond.'

A Ticket of Leave was a document given to convicts to allow them the freedom to live and to work in a given district before they were pardoned or before their sentence expired. With a TOL, a convict could hire him or herself out for employment but had to remain in the district for a stipulated time. To leave the area, permission was required and 'passports' were issued to allow convicts to move between districts for the purpose of employment. Church attendance was required. How or when Lawrence left the Moreton Bay Penal Colony remained to be discovered.

I knew by now that Lawrence Frayne had been originally sentenced to a 7 year sentence which began in 1826 on his arrival in NSW. It appears that he was first sent to Yass to work and then to Moreton Bay. Lawrence was transported to Norfolk Island in 1830, sentenced by the Supreme Court, Sydney for stealing from a dwelling house. From his ticket of leave I know he was working in the Maitland area in the Hunter Valley NSW in 1845 and the Certificate of Freedom pictured right shows that he obtained his freedom in 1846. Below is a copy of the original documentation for Lawrence Frayne's Pardon in 1846, 20 years after his arrival in NSW to serve a 7 year sentence. I was very interested to learn the reason he had ended up with a 20 year sentence and so planned to do more research on my convict, 3 x great uncle.
The Certificate of Leave for Lawrence Frayne was an especially exciting discovery for me as it described his physical appearance. He was 5 feet 7 1/2 inches tall, had brown hair and hazel eyes. The colour of his eyes was significant as both my mother and sister have hazel eyes but no one else in the family seems to have them. Perhaps they are inherited from the Frayne family. The record states that Lawrence had a scar in the corner of his right eye and another on the bridge of his nose. It is obvious from this description that Lawrence Frayne had endured a rough life. I knew that Michael Frayne had died in Brisbane in 1878, 10 years after the birth of his daughter Sarah in September 1868. From a Courier mail article dated Thursday July 9th, 1868, I discovered that he had been fined 10 shillings in the Central Police Court before Mr G Petrie for 'drunkeness'. A website called Trove which has digitalised quite a few Australian newspapers, provided me with a picture of Michael's life in Australia. Any hope that he had been reformed in this penal settlement was dashed when I read that Michael and wife Bridget were frequently in Court, in Sydney, in 1858and 1859, on charges which included 'stealing shoes and boots', drunkeness, drugging a man named Donald Cameron Dingwall and robbing him in their home and stealing money from a number of people, just to list a few crimes. Michael was taken before the court on Thursday, 20 September, 1860, charged with 'being a prisoner of the crown illegally at large'. He was charged and returned to the service of the Crown. The same year, his wife, Bridget then aged 22, was charged with 'keeping and maintaining a disorderly house for lucre and gain'. I can only imagine what that means!! The address given for the Fraynes was York Street, Sydney. It appears that Michael and Bridget Frayne just could not stay out of trouble as they were again brought before the Police Court, this time in Maitland, 11 August, 1864. Bridget was charged with use of obscene language on Sunday 31st July and find 10 shillings or 24 hours imprisonment in default. Michael, now a Publican, was charged with allowing disorderly conduct in his premises on the same day. The scene described in the Maitland Mercury tells that between 7 and 8 o'clock in the morning on the said Sunday, Bridget was observed from outside the Public House through the open front door an open bedroom door, to be half naked and half in and out of her bed in a 'state of beastly intoxication.' When asked to put a stop to his wife's behavior,Michael told the attending policeman, ' What the ____ has that got to do with me. There is a keg of rum for my wife to drink if she choses to drink it' and that he would do in his own house what he thought proper. Living the life that Michael and Bridget Frayne lived, it is little wonder that Bridget died two weeks later, at the young age of 26 years. I know little of Michael Frayne's life after Bridget died. He was declared insolvent on Thursday 15th of May, 1866 by the Supreme Court of NSW, his address given as 139 King Street Sydney. How or where he met my 3 x great grandmother, Mary Williams is a story waiting to be discovered. Two years later, in 1868, Michael and Mary Frayne were living in Edward Street Brisbane and that is where daughter Sarah was born in the September of that year. I may never know who was the mother of Michael's step son Richard Brown. Richard later changed his name to Frayne and died under that surname in Queensland in 1912. If I had thought the life of my 3 x great grandfather to be interesting, if not sad, nothing prepared me for the journey I was about to go on with his brother Lawrence. Through a Google book search, I discovered that Lawrence Frayne was mentioned in a number of books, including 'The Fatal Shore' by Robert Hughes, which devotes almost an entire chapter to Lawrence and his time on Norfolk Island. Another book written by Carol Baxter, called' Breaking the Bank' also makes mention of the apparently notorious convict Lawrence Frayne. I discovered that there exists a CD of songs by artist Martin Curtis which features, 'The Ballad of Lawrence Frayne' which I am eager to obtain a copy of. it was becoming very apparent that lawrence was something of an interesting character and my curiousity well and truly aroused, I went searching in earnest to discover more about my convict great great great uncle. In a sermon, entitled, 'God with a Human Face', by the Reverend John C Purdy, which I found on the internet, I found the following story,' Lawrence Frayne, irishman, kept a written account of his captivity. He was originally sent to Australia for theft. For attempting to escape, he was sentenced to death. That sentence was commuted and he was sent to Norfolk .(Island) As he lay at night chained to the stone floor of his cell, his back scarred with hundreds of lashes, his mind numbed with months in solitary confinement, he despaired. Because he had been reared a Catholic, suicide was unthinkable. For comfort, he clung to verses of the bile that he had memorised as a youth. Night after night, over and over, he recited the words of Psalm 88. The 14th vrse reads, 'Oh Lord why do you cast me off, Why do you hide your face from me?' From my research I have discovered that Lawrence Frayne was the only convict to leave a written account of his treatment on Norfolk Island. The quote at the beginning of his blog is from that account which is held in the NSW State Library as part of the 'Colonial Papers'. The 'biography' of Lawrence Frayne reflects a well read man. For a period, Norfolk was under the command of Alexander Mcconochie, a man who encouraged the prisoners to read and to educate themselves in orderto become better equipped to live as free men in society. This was an unusual attitude towards convicts at that time but one that obviously benefited Lawrence Frayne. Lawrence included in his writing, a 'point by point denunciation of transportation and a laying out of his own ideas about penal reform. Given Frayne's personal history, it is unlikely that he read Paine, Cobbett and Owen before he came to Norfolk Island and Maconochie is the most likely person to have passed these writers on to him.' One day soon, I hope to spend some time in the NSW State Library. reading the long document, written by my 3 x great uncle, in which Lawrence poignantly wrote of the demoralization of harsh treatment of convicts, saying of it that,' you make him (the convict)regardless of himself, and fearles as to the cosequences of doing wrong to others.' In 1833, Lawrence Frayne was involved in a convict rebellion on Norfolk island. He was granted a Ticket of Leave, according to the Maitland Mercury, on Saturday 10th of May. 1845. On August 15th 1845 his TOL was cancelled, the reason given, that he was absent from the Maitland district. As with all of my family history research, the Frayne family tree is a work in constant progress. I have yet to discover what became of my famous convict great uncle, Lawrence Frayne. His whereabouts, after 1845 are completely unknown to me and there is much more to his life story that I would like to discover. As with all historical research, family, local or world, there are always facts to find and new stories to tell. Hopefully, soon, I will have much more to add to the story of my convict ancestors Michael and Lawrence Frayne.


  1. Sharn what a great story, thanks so much for sharing that with us all, I really become inspired to do more with my tree when I read stories such as yours, please keep us posted
    Best wishes

  2. Hi my great grandmother was annie maria donnelly, who is bridget donnellys sister, we no nothing about bridget, would you be able to contact me on my email-

  3. Hi there Sharn, I am a Researcher on a television show called Coast Australia. I would love to chat to you about Laurence Frayne as part of my research.. If you have time perhaps you could e-mail me with a suitable phone number, and time I could reach you? My e-mail address is I look forward to hearing from very soon! Regards, Anya Hohnbaum, Great Southern Film & TV.