The Campbelltown Convicts

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MoshPit Publishing, Oct 10, 2017 - 164 pages
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On 19 March 1818, a young man called John Champley was committed to the House of Correction in Beverley, Yorkshire, England, for two years' hard labour. He had been convicted of being a party to the theft of eighty pounds of butt leather in Pocklington on 13 December 1817.

Four months later, after an attempted escape from the House of Correction, he was sentenced to transportation to one of His Majesty's 'Plantations or Colonies abroad'.

Champley arrived in the penal colony of Sydney Cove on Thursday 7 October 1819 and was assigned to a shoemaker at Parramatta. After receiving his freedom in May 1826, Champley left Parramatta - with the shoemaker's wife.

Early in 1829, Champley and his family left Sydney to live at Bong Bong. In February 1830, following a robbery at the nearby Oldbury estate, Champley and his two alleged accomplices, John Yates and Joseph Shelvey, were sentenced to death at Campbelltown. They were saved from the gallows upon appeal by their barrister and their death penalties commuted to 'life and hard labour in irons'. Champley and Shelvey were sent to Norfolk Island, and Yates to Moreton Bay.

About a year later, two captured bushrangers from Jack Donohoe's gang made confessions concerning the robbery and Champley, Shelvey and Yates were brought home and pardoned. However, the trial and incarceration had by now reduced their lives from one of hope to one of despair.

Many Australians now take great pride in tracing their convict heritage, but this has not always been the case. Historically governments destroyed convict records and families kept their offspring in the dark about their convict ancestry which has made it difficult to establish the true stories of these convicts.

The backdrop to this story is the slavery of the convict system in New South Wales with the terror of the penal settlements of Norfolk Island and Moreton Bay.

Under this evil system excessive floggings were handed out by the magistrates. The floggings and starvation drove many convicts to abscond and take to the bush to become bushrangers. Even when the convicts were emancipated they were still treated as second class citizens.

The Campbelltown Convicts serves to record as many facts and details as possible of one story from this tragic period in our country's history. It is a timely reminder that compassion and authority do not always go hand in hand.

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About the author (2017)

I didn't know until the late 1980's that I had convict ancestry. One of my convict ancestors was John Champley who had been transported to Sydney NSW in 1819 from Yorkshire England. In the late 1980's whilst attending the State Archives I noticed an index card that stated, "John Champley under sentence of death." I thought this must have been a mistake on someone's part and I just took down the details. In the early 1990's I was supplied with information by a cousin that indeed confirmed that Champley had been sentenced to death - at Campbelltown New South Wales. After finding Champley was a convict and had been sentenced to death I accumulated of bits and pieces on him and thought that there was a story there. I knew very little about John Champley apart from the paper trail he left. In my research for the book I found that Roger Therry the legal identity in colonial New South Wales had written about Champley's trial and the confession of the bushranger Webber. Also the Sydney Gazette at the time had published its own "transcript" of the trial at Campbelltown. In addition I found that information had survived on John Champley in the Colonial Secretary's records. These records do not appear to have been touched during the destruction of convict records. The records included, the decision of the Supreme Court in favour of life for the three convicted. Governor Darling's determinations as to where to send the Campbelltown convicts after their death penalties were commuted, the petition by Mary Morris for Champley's release and the decision by Governor Bourke in granting the three pardons and various other letters. Information contained in the National Library's Trove's digitized newspapers was invaluable to my research. It was not until 2006 when I was on holiday on Norfolk Island that I started thinking about Champley and I suppose that it was after that I took the first steps to write a book. The fact that I had been a forensic accountant during my working life helped me piece together the book on The Campbelltown Convicts from a multitude of documents.

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