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Westaway Jigsaw

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Transported for Life

The Victoria Police Academy stands high on a hill in Melbourne's eastern suburbs and is a landmark for miles across the country where city and farmland meet. Ecclesiastical in appearance in extensive grounds, it was built in the 1960s by the Catholic Archdiocerse of Melbourne as a Jesuit seminary, Corpus Christi. An architectural anachronism when it was built, within a decade the church realised its error and it was sold to the Victorian Government for a police training college.

At Corpus Christi there were two lay people on the staff, both women, the librarian and the secretary who was a friend of mine. She told me they were cataloguing a vast library which had been bequeathed to the college and was concerned that it included many historical records which should have been in the public archives but would remain the property of the seminary because of the terms of the bequest. Among these were extensive shipping records which included convict transports which she gleefully perused in the hope of recognising a name. At the time admitting to a convict ancestor was infra dig in Australia but the 1988 Bicentennial changed Australian attitudes forever and now it seems that unless a family can produce a few convicts, one doesn't make the grade.

My friend recognised one name only - mine. William Searle Westaway arrived in Sydney, 15 March 1832, aboard the 'Isabella' . He came from Ashburton, Devon, and was tried for stealing plate on 4 April 1831, when he was sentenced to transportation for life. His age was given as forty five: he was married with six children (three boys and three girls). A protestant who could read and write, he had a sallow complexion, grey eyes and brown hair mixed with grey.

The details didn't mean much to my husband Peter and his brother John, who had grown up in Australia with very little knowledge of their Westaway families and when asked, always said they had no relatives here. Peter and I happily took William Searle under our wings raising a few eyebrows as we did so and tried to find out more about him. Access to records if they existed was difficult so it's been a slow process. Searches for his wife and children, a Ticket of Leave or a Pardon, were all in vain but I found a number of Westaways in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. In twenty five years I'd found only that he'd been assigned to Mrs Harper at Maitland, NSW (1837 Convict Muster NSW) and appeared to be the son of Susanna Searle and Benjamin Westaway who married 18 February 1787 at Ashburton. The death index shows that William Westaway, a bricklayer living at Maitland died 2 July 1854 aged sixty four and was buried the the next day.

In 1995 I was contacted by Judy Grant of Melbourne, who was also researching Westaways. She identified many of the Victorian names as her husband's family and was delighted when I gave her William Searle along with the information which Ron Upham from Somerset had been sending since 1990. Judy confirmed the information I already had on William Searle and we decided to share the hefty cost to obtain more information from the Archives Authority of New South Wales. She also discovered two Westaway convicts in Tasmania.

In May 1997 Sheila Yeo sent me several family trees, censuses and wills. One chart was headed: William Searle Westaway married Grace, with a notation of William's transportation. What a find! Grace and her children did not come to Australia but the censuses of 1841 and 1851 showed that she was a laundress and her son John born 1814 was a mason. Did he learn his trade from his father? The children Elizabeth, James and Maryanne all baptized 2 June 1826 were triplets. Perhaps it's no wonder poor William succumbed to pinching other people's property! His sentence also indicates that he had at least one prior conviction.

The Convict Research Service results arrived in October 1997 and sold us only a little more than we knew. I'd hoped to have the records of the trial but the information given is that he was charged at Devon Assizes with larceny in a dwelling house. He was sentenced to death which was commuted to transportation for life. The volume of copies of Condtional Pardons for the period is blank.

On arrival in NSW William appears to have been assigned to William Harper at Oswald (near Maitland). Presumably Mr Harper died and William was assigned to Mrs Harper. He obtained a Ticket of Leave 3 June 1840 which allowed him to remained in the district of Maitland and was recommended for a Conditional Pardon in 1844. The New South Wales Government Gazette shows that he received a Second Class Conditional Pardon dated 2 March 1846 and had to pay 5 shillings and 6 pence for it. Second Class signified that he was never to return to England.

William lived in Australia for twenty two years. Was it a comfortable peaceful life? Did he find a companion to share his ten free years? Did he think of Grace and his children? How did Grace react to the death sentence? Was transportation for life any better from her viewpoint? Did William write to his family?

Because of his masonry and bricklaying skills I hope he had some happy productive years and contributed not a little to a rapidly developing community. His Condition of Pardon carried five signatures of recommendation including that of GM Harper. I like to think that it marked some measure of esteem for William Searle.

Shirley Westaway

Last updated : Saturday, 02 July 2005 at 18:52