Re boxing a series of old legal documents is not my idea of a fun few months. It usually involves simply pulling out the paper clips and pins that damage the old paper and re housing them into crisp white archival folders.
However, whilst re boxing our intestate wills (documents related to people who have died without a will) I discovered three letters written by George Bramwell to his then wife in England.
Still not overly exciting….until I realised George was a convict, and in amongst the polite greetings and formalities he mentions details of his life as a convict. This provides us with a different insight into Van Diemen’s Land than that of the privileged free settler or gentleman farmer.
The letters of a convict…
In the first letter, dated September 18, 1829 George tells his wife that he is on the convict transport ship the Bussorah Merchant, awaiting transportation to New South Wales. It was common for convicts to spend long periods of time on the ships in port, as gaols in England had become crammed to capacity. The ship set sail the next month:
George must have been mistaken in his destination. He arrived in Van Diemen’s Land in January 1830, after sailing for 104 days.
He describes the conditions on board saying he has:
“…situation that I am placed in I have gone through a deal of difficulties since I come here they are chained to death and worked to death and flogged the 6 at a time…”
In the second letter George asked his wife if she and the children were both well. With the arduous journey behind him, he looked to the future, telling her that he planned to speak to the Governor about getting his own land:
“I am going at after Crismas to speak to the Governors of this land to see weather I cannot get to soon my own hands to do the best for myself…”
From the other documents in the file it appears George went on to lead a successful life in Van Diemens Land. He acquired land, and became a farmer, a horse dealer and yeoman.
A second marriage and a life forged in a new land…
At some point in his life George met Margaret Miller, herself an ex-convict. Perhaps they shared a common history and bond. They married in 1840. George seemed to realise that it was illegal to marry while his wife in England was still alive, so he married Margaret under the name of George Bromwell. By this time they were both 48. He stated his trade on the marriage certificate as ‘general dealer’, and claimed to be a ‘bachelor’.
George died in 1869 aged 79, a respectable age for a man who had lived such an eventful life. Chance, circumstance and luck allow us to read his heartfelt letters, written a century ago to a loved one in another land.
See the full letters below: