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Edward Hartnett, 1816-1882

Updated on December 27, 2016
Convict | Source

Gardeners boy, convict, gold miner, settler

It is exciting enough to find out that you have one convict in your family. To find another convict amongst the ancestors is amazing indeed! I would like to tell you about him here.

His name is Edward Hartnett and he is described as being: 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 marked the top of his left eyebrow and his right cheek bore scars as well. So says the description on Edward's Certificate of Freedom, given on 12 June 1843. With this amount of information it easier to picture what Edward looked like.

So who was Edward? why was he a convict? and what did he do, once he landed in Australia and realised he was going to be here for the rest of his life!



The Hartnett name is an Irish name, a variation of O' Hartnett or O'Harney. A short and Anglicized form of Gaelic à hAirtnéada which means 'descendant of Airtnéad'. Traditionally, families of this surname were mainly from the Counties of Cork, Kerry and Limerick. There are of course many variations in spelling.

Edward Hartnett was born in Cork City, Countie Cork, Ireland in 1816. A Roman Catholic, his father was William and his mother Susan McGrath (baptised 1793). Edwards siblings were Eliza (bap. 1814), Ellen & Mary (bap. 1821), John (bap. 1823), Robert (bap. 1825), John James (bap. 1827), Thomas (bap. 1830) and Michael (bap. 1834).

The family's local church was St Finbar's south church, Susan and all of her children were baptised there. This church was built in 1776 and is the oldest church in the City of Cork.

Photo of St Finbar's courtesy of Cork City Library.

Looking for the meaning of an irish surname?

Ireland was one of the first European countries which developed a system of surnames as we know them today. The earliest names incorporate a prefix of "Ã" or its earlier form Ua, meaning "grandson".


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.

In more recent years, it has been extensively restored, is now a heritage centre and one of Cork's most popular tourist attractions. Featuring life like figures, like the one pictured here. Visitors can wander around the gaol and get a feeling of what it would have been like for the inmates.

Photo of Cork City Gaol courtesy of Oliver Bruchez

Cork City Gaol

The gaol is located 2 km from the centre of Cork City. So many of the prisoners incarcerated here were guilty of petty crimes, theft mainly. Governments have a shameful history of punishing those for being poor.

Photo courtesy of Oliver Bruchez

Starting to look for information on a convict relative? - this database contains a wealth of information

Peter Mayberry has compiled a detailed database, from primary and secondary sources, giving many details of Irish convicts who were transported to New South Wales during the period 1788 - 1849.

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.

I wonder what was going through Edward's mind as he saw the coast of Ireland fade into the distance. Did he know that this was the last he would see of home?

Photo of Irish coast courtesy of Wordridden.

Iron Gang

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?

It seems that once in the colony, convicts were often sentenced to work in an iron gang or road gang as a disciplinary measure. These convicts were set to work, cutting down trees, taking out stumps, moving large rocks, and splitting stones.

A chain gang convicts going to work nr. Sidney N.S. Wales / Edwd. Backhouse (Print). Image courtesy of the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

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.

Photo courtesy of robynejay

Convict built wall

This is a convict built wall supporting the Great North Road, near Wysemans Ferry, New South Wales. An engineering masterpiece of its time, it still looks good today.

Photo courtesy of Robynejaye

Convict precinct on Cockatoo Island, New South Wales - photos by ashroc

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cockatoo Island was established in 1839 after Governer Gipps chose it to be the site of a new penal establishment.Part of the large enclosed courtyard of the convict precinct.Overseers quarters.Overseers quarters.  The convict precinct of Cockatoo Island was closed In 1869.
Cockatoo Island was established in 1839 after Governer Gipps chose it to be the site of a new penal establishment.
Cockatoo Island was established in 1839 after Governer Gipps chose it to be the site of a new penal establishment.
Part of the large enclosed courtyard of the convict precinct.
Part of the large enclosed courtyard of the convict precinct.
Overseers quarters.
Overseers quarters.
Overseers quarters.  The convict precinct of Cockatoo Island was closed In 1869.
Overseers quarters. The convict precinct of Cockatoo Island was closed In 1869.


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. Interesting to note the date. When you add his sentence of seven years to the year he arrived in Australia, which was 1835, you get 1842. So what did he do to get the extra 12 months added to his time?

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.

Photo of Gundagai scenery courtesy of Cimexus.

Gold mining

at Adelong and Batlow

Gold was first found at Adelong Falls in 1852.

In 1853 gold panners found more gold nearer to Reedy Creek (the early name for Batlow) than Adelong, and this area became known as Upper Adelong. Reedy Creek was later inundated with gold prospectors and gold was discovered there in 1854. In the 1850s and 60's Reedy Creek was home to two or three thousand people.

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?

Further reading

Batlow: The growing years from gold to apples
Batlow: The growing years from gold to apples

A history of the town of Batlow and its pioneer settlers.



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.

Do you have a convict or settler ancestor?

From the arrival of the first convicts in 1788, to the end of transportation in 1868, over 160,000 people were sent to Australia for their crimes. Hundreds of thousands of free persons emigrated from Britain and Ireland to the Australian colonies. Few returned home as it was too far to go, and the descendants of many of them live in Australia.

Bound for Australia: A Guide to the Records of Transported Convicts and Early Settlers
Bound for Australia: A Guide to the Records of Transported Convicts and Early Settlers

Discover how to find your ancestors in the many records that survive from Australia's early days.


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      Dave 2 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.