Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Prisoner of Sir John Franklin

As someone who has spent the last 20 years researching the final Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin, I must admit it came as a bit of a surprise to me to discover that my great-great-grandfather was, in 1841, sentenced to ten years transportation to Van Diemen's Land, becoming (at least in the official sense) a prisoner of Sir John's. I have always read that Franklin was, in every way that he could be, a humane man when dealing with the transported convicts of the territory, indeed perhaps too much so, such that the settlers resented what they saw as favoritism. I will certainly hope that this was true at any rate!

My ancestor, William Henry Brunt, was known to his descendants as "Bill." My grandfather used to recite a rhyme about him, although alas by the time I asked him to repeat it so that I could write it down, all he could remember was this:

Bill Brunt was a thief, and that we all know,
He stole John ... ... ...
But they caught him down below.

But John who? And what? Happily, the Old Bailey project solved the mystery, declaring in a few words that:
WILLIAM HENRY BRUNT was indicted for feloniously breaking and entering the dwelling-house of John Grace, and stealing therein, 1 blanket, value 6s.; 1 pair of trowsen, value 5s.; I frock, value 2s.; 2 handkerchiefs, value 1s.; and 1 knife, value 6d.; the goods of William Henry Stevens; to which he pleaded GUILTY. Aged 21.— Transported for Ten Years.
So the rhyme ought to have gone "he stole John Grace's trousers" or something along those lines. In any case, off he went aboard the "Tortoise," which sailed on the 28th of September 1841 for Van Diemen's land. Of his ten years there I know nothing -- now I'll have to see what I can find out -- but I do know that, once his sentence was up, he emigrated to Canada, where homesteads were being offered for those willing to try a living off the land; his plot was near the town of Durham, Ontario, just south of Georgian Bay. Apparently, it did not turn out to be a profitable endeavor, but during that time he married and started a family, into which my great-grandmother, Mary Ann Brunt, was born on 16 July 1860. The whole family headed west to Vancouver, and from there to the little town of Sedro-Wooley, Washington Territory.

The photo above shows Mary with her son, my grandfather, Ralph Potter, and was probably taken around 1930, when Mary would have been 70 years old, and my grandfather a youthful 35. Mary had married his father, Miles Potter, in 1883, and would live to see my father, Ralph Miles Potter, who was born in 1927.

Who knew!


  1. Incredible! Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Incredible conection. That kind of thing supports the phrase that says "All is conected". It seems that justice those times was a little bit hard, the supposed crime doesn´t seem so.

    It would be nice to get some writting of your ancestor, perhaps a letter.