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Edward Hartnett, Convict and Adelong Gold Prospector

Updated on July 19, 2018
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A librarian, family historian and artist, Jen loves to travel and take photographs

Edward Hartnett : 5 ft 6 3/4 inches in height with a ruddy and freckled complexion. His hair is a reddish brown and his eyes are grey. Three scars mark the top of his left eyebrow and his right cheek bears scars as well.

— Edward's Certificate of Freedom, given on 12 June 1843.


Edward was tried in Cork on the 12 December 1834 for the theft of a cloak. His occupation at the time of the crime was given as a gardener's boy. He was sentenced to transportation to Australia for 7 years. Edward was 19 years old.

Edward left for Australia 6 months later. It is highly likely that he would have spent these six months in Cork City gaol. This gaol opened in 1824, so would have been relatively new in Edward's time. Impressive in its architecture, the gaol would have been intimidating to its prisoners.

Cork City Gaol


The voyage to Australia

Edward came to Australia on the ship, the Blackwell (or Backwell). The ship left Ireland on 12 June 1835. It would have departed from the port of Cobh (pronounced Cove). Cobh is famous as being the last port of call for the Titanic.

Arriving at Port Jackson on 29th September 1835, the voyage took 109 days. Edward was one of of 150 male convicts. Two convicts died on the way.

The man in charge of the Blackwell was Captain Dalrymple Dowson. Surgeon superintendant Dr John Love was responsible for the well being of the convicts. Along with a number of passengers, there were twentynine soldiers from the 17th Regiment. Also on board were seven women and ten children.

This was Dr Love's last voyage as a surgeon superintendent on a convict ship. It is unfortunate, but it seems that his Journal, written on this particular voyage, has not survived.

Iron Gang

A chain gang convicts going to work nr. Sidney N.S. Wales
A chain gang convicts going to work nr. Sidney N.S. Wales | Source

Edward was sentenced to serve in an iron gang. Convicts in iron gangs worked generally on the roads. Definitely a sentence of hard labour, and they would be in iron leg chains. Was this because Edward had a prior conviction of 4 months on his record? These convicts were set to work, cutting down trees, taking out stumps, moving large rocks, and splitting stones.

Hard labour


The great north road was built by convict labour. This road was built to link Sydney to the agricultural district of the Hunter Valley. Parts of the road still survive and are preserved in National Parks. This sign gives you a bit of an idea of the sorts of tools they used and techniques employed to build it. This road has been listed as a world heritage site as a significant example of the convict era in Australia.

Convict built wall

convict built wall supporting the Great North Road, near Wysemans Ferry, New South Wales.
convict built wall supporting the Great North Road, near Wysemans Ferry, New South Wales. | Source


The 1837 convict muster shows Edward as being assigned to work for John Eccleston at Liverpool. John Eccleston had been a convict himself, transported in 1819 for armed robbery. Eccleston settled into servitude well and was considered to be honest, industrious and of good character.

By 1828 Eccleston and his wife owned 200 acres at Minto,120 of which was cleared and 50 acres cultivated. He also had 2 horses and 11 cattle. They later owned an Inn, somewhere between Liverpool and Campbelltown.

The Government Gazette shows that John Eccleston was assigned 2 convicts in 1841 by special request. I wonder if Edward was one of these convicts?

Certificate of freedom

Once a convict had completed their sentence, they were issued with a Certificate of freedom. This meant that they were now a free person and could look for employment.

Edward was granted his Certificate of freedom on 12 June 1843.

Marriage and children

Edward married Ellen Coyle on the 4th May 1844. The marriage took place at St Johns Catholic Church, Campbelltown, NSW. This was Edward's first marriage. Ellen was born in 1828 in Ireland.

On reaching Gundagai he obtained employment at Darbalara Station a few miles up the Murrumbidgee River from Gundagai. Tragically, in June 1852 Ellen died, presumed drowned in the Murrumbidgee River after floods, leaving Edward to care for a family of four young children, Edward Jnr b. 1845, Andrew b. 1846, Susan b. 1848 and Mary b. 1851.

On a trip to Melbourne, Edward met Margaret McCooey from Belfast, Ireland. Edward married Margaret in 1855 at St Pauls Pentridge (Co, Bourke), Melbourne, Vic. Margaret was born in 1834, so was many years younger than Edward.

My family is descended from Edward and Margaret. Their children were Sarah b. 1856, Margaret 1857-1927, Robert 1859-1942, James b. 1860, Catherine 1862-1901, Thomas b. 1864, Ellen Margaret b. 1866, John b. 1868, Francis b. 1870, Jane 1872-1898 and Julia b. 1875.

Gold mining

at Adelong and Batlow

The Adelong gold field was declared in 1855. The town of Adelong sprung up as a result of larger gold finds in 1857. Sometime in the late 1850s Edward and his family moved to Reedy Flat. Edward's land was located on the banks of the main Adelong Creek. He cleared the land, built a home for his wife and children and started looking for gold. Edward was well known for his mining activities. He found enough gold to care for his large family of six girls and five boys.

In Batlow: the growing years from gold to apples, Edward is said to have been born in 1820 and arrived in the colony in 1842. I wonder if he was ashamed to have been a convict and if his family ever knew the truth?


Margaret predeceased Edward and died of acute inflammation of the lung and throat in July 1881 at Hydes Creek, Tumut district. She was only 47. An inquest was held. What a difficult time this would have been for Edward. It must have been hard for him to outlive two wives.

Edward Hartnett died on 27 Feb 1882 at Upper Adelong, NSW, aged 66. The register of Coroners Inquest's records Edward as committing suicide by hanging. According to an account in the newspaper, Edward was thought of as "a respected resident of Upper Adelong', who had been in a low state since the burial of his wife". The inquest found a verdict of temporary insanity in Edward's case.

© 2014 Jen Wood

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      5 years ago

      Excellent piece. I'm descended from Edward's son Edward jnr, from his first marriage to Ellen Coyle. Ellen's story is worthy of publication in itself. She arrived in Australia from County Cavan and worked at a pub in The Rocks called the Coach and Horses. She was caught stealing from the owner and went to gaol in the old Sydney Prison at Darlinghurst, before ultimately marrying Edward and heading off to Darbalara.


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