A Sydney-based photographer has come up with a stunning new take on family history. Mine Konakci gathered the descendants of 47 convicts transported to Australia for petty theft and photographed them with a representation of the stolen items.
The ‘First Fleet‘ of 11 ships which arrived in New South Wales in January 1788, with orders from London to begin the European colonisation of Australia, had around 700 convicts on board. Most were young men and women convicted of the petty theft of items such as shoes, clothing, handkerchiefs and pocket watches. Their prison sentences were usually for 7 or 14 years, to be served in the colonies “beyond the seas”. Over the next 80 years they were joined by a further 160,000 people – almost all of whom chose to stay in Australia at the end of their sentences.
Turkish-born Mine said: “As a photographer, what interested me was the impact that the theft of objects—most of a relatively small value—could have on people’s lives. I wanted to show the link between the convict ancestor and contrast that with the relative prosperity of their descendant.”
One of the subjects, librarian Catherine Mulhall, is pictured above wearing a bonnet and surrounded by a shawl, a gown, a cap, a petticoat, stockings and a shift – the items stolen by her 3 x great grandmother Elizabeth Bridges from Kent. In 1823 these few items were enough to see her transported for a term of 7 years. Elizabeth had been working as a housemaid for a parish priest when, one morning, she was discovered missing along with two outfits of clothing; she was eventually tracked down to a local pub. In Australia she went on to marry another convict, a horse rustler called James Maloney, and together they bought a farm in the southern highlands. Two of her sons became bushrangers, but one shot the other accidentally in a police ambush then turned the gun on himself.
Another subject, interpreter John Benson, is pictured below at the grave of his ancestor Paul Benson who, in 1831 at the age 16, was sentenced to 7 years’ transportation for stealing a handkerchief.
When Mine photographed John at the cemetery, she took along a few handkerchiefs as props for the night-time picture.
She said: ”After we had got the photo he put my handkerchief in his pocket. He seemed a bit preoccupied, maybe he was sleep-deprived. I called him and said, ‘I think you still have my handkerchief.’ I think he should keep it!”
When confronted, a laughing Mr Benson said: ”I stole it by accident. It’s true. I lifted it. Just like, Paul, my ancestor. She can have it back!”
My personal favourites are the following three:
At the age of 15, Matthew Everingham was sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing two law books. He arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788. Pictured is his descendant, Benjamin Haire, a student at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
At the age of 21, Ann Marsh was sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing a bushel of wheat. She arrived in Australia with the Second Fleet in 1790. Pictured is her descendant, Emma Doberer, owner of an animal supplies business.
At the age of 17, William Bellamy was sentenced to 7 years transportation for stealing six pairs of leather shoes. He arrived in Australia with the Third Fleet in 1791. Pictured is his descendant, Samuel Hodgkinson, a museum manager.
Mine Konakci’s work will go on display at a Museum of Sydney exhibition called A Convict in the Family? which opens on 13 April. For those who can’t make it to Australia in time, the full collection of her photographs are on her website For a Pittance.
Source: Brisbane Times