Thomas Parsons – Convict Ancestor By Les Parsons


Thomas was born in Portishead Somerset a small village on the seafront facing the Bristol Channel. He was born about 1808 but I am unable to find a birth record for him to establish who his parents were and if he is in fact an ancestor.

At age twenty one he was still single and had no children. He resided in Portishead where he was born. His occupation was a laborer, most probably an AGLab (Agricultural Laborer) even though he was literate as he could read and write. This I would have thought would put him in good standing to have these skills in the early 1800s.

Then the next thing we have is a record showing in the Description Book for Ilchester Goal on August 27, 1829, Thomas Parsons is described as being 21, height 5’ 5 1/2”, of slender build, fair complexion, oval face with brown hair and grey eyes and he had a cut on the forehead over the right eye.

He was convicted of burglary, house breaking and stealing bacon and had a death sentence reprieved to seven years transportation.


He was actually taken to a prison or convict hulk ship called Captivity#2 formally known as “The Bellerophon” anchored at the Dock-Yard and Harbor, Devonport, Plymouth on October 5th 1829. These ships were old galleons or war ships which were used to house prisoners waiting to be transported to Australia. The conditions on board these floating prisons were appalling and the standards of hygiene were so poor that disease spread quickly. Many of the prisoners were held on these ships for up to two years waiting for a ship to take to their new home for up to seven years.

Britain was transporting prisoners to colonize America up to 1776 prior to their independence. The first fleet to take prisoners to Australia was in 1787 to colonize Australia.


Eleven ships left England on May 13, 1787 for a voyage that would continue halfway around the globe. This first fleet carried 730 convicts, including over 100 women. In January of the following year, the prisoners landed in New South Wales and founded the settlement that would become Sydney, Australia.

After being on the hulk ship Captivity since October 5, 1829, I believe that my ancestor Thomas Parsons was put onto a transport ship called John 1 with 200 convicts on it which had left the Port of London on the October 14, 1830 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land now called Tasmania on January 29, 1831.

I can only imagine what the conditions were like on the hulk ship for a year for Thomas and also the conditions for the convicts on board during their trip to Australia which would take about three months. Convicts were housed below decks on the prison deck and often further confined behind bars. In many cases they were restrained in chains and were only allowed on deck for fresh air and exercise. Conditions were cramped and they slept on hammocks.


Although the convicts of the first fleet arrived in Australia in relatively good condition, the same cannot be said for those following like Thomas during the rest of the century. Cruel masters, harsh discipline and scurvy, dysentery and typhoid resulted in a huge loss of life.

They arrived in Port Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land now Tasmania at the end of January. They may not have been able to leave the ship right away so the time on the ship may have dragged on.


I do not know anything about Thomas’s time serving his sentence of seven years, he must have served it well and behaved himself as in 1837 he was a convict who were eligible to apply for Tickets of Leave. These were given as the first step to being a free man. His was given to him on April 20, 1837 as published in the Launceston Advertiser Tasmania in April of 1837.

The next thing I know about Thomas is that I believe he got married to a Millborough Trilloe in Morven on the April 4, 1846 when he was aged 40 and her aged 42. It is interesting to note that Morven is a long way from Launceston in Tasmania.


My first question at the moment, is this an ancestor? Need a birth record to prove this. If it is, where can I find more information on him? Either in England or Australia.