In 1993, as a surprise birthday present for my husband I organised a package weekend for us to stay at The Fox and Hounds Hotel that was situated on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania. The package deal included an evening ghost tour that was scheduled for the Saturday evening at the Port Arthur Historic Site. We found the tour enjoyable and extremely atmospheric. I don’t know whether that experience triggered a dream I had that evening. I have always taken my dreams seriously and the one I experienced was so vivid I could recall most of it — decades later.
On that night in 1993 I awoke to see a tall, grey figure of an elderly man standing by the bed. He looked frail and was slim, almost emaciated. However, he smiled so warmly at me that I wasn’t in the least frightened of his presence. I felt as if I had known him all my life and instinctively trusted him. When he reached out for my hand and I clasped his as I silently rose from the bed while my husband remained sleeping, unaware of the visitor’s presence. Without a word, the gentleman escorted me though the walls of the hotel to a dimly lit building. I assumed it was a dance hall because I could hear sounds of laughter, music and boisterous thumping of feet pounding a wooden floor.
The hall was lit with numerous flickering candles that produced a smoky atmosphere. I could make out the shapes of young females making merry. They wore long white nightgowns and their mostly dark hair flowed loosely over their plain robes. On the other hand the men appeared older and were uniformly dressed in grey suits, like my companion. Their outfits were shabby but were enhanced by the wearing of neck kerchiefs. At the back of the room a trio of fiddlers skilfully played Irish folk music.
My host introduced me to various people as we walked into the hall. The men were most respectful; they reverently kissed my hand as they welcomed me; the sparkling-eyed women were friendly as they spontaneously embraced me. With all this attention I felt a celebrity. Why was this so? I looked at my host more closely and observed his commanding presence – obviously he was a man of importance at the gathering. His grey hair was combed and his goatee beard neatly trimmed. If he hadn’t been wearing ragged clothes, one would have taken him for a gentleman.
Meanwhile the lively music played on; my feet involuntarily tapped to the beat. Noticing my interest my host gestured me to join a group of young women who were dancing frenziedly in a circle. They appeared ecstatically happy as they performed complex steps I tried to emulate and miserably failed. Laughing uproariously at my inept efforts they performed even more difficult steps. Their brazen laughter began to annoy me. Then the music stopped.
Apart from the women in the circle everyone else had vanished and the room had darkened. While I was desperately looking for my host the women had encircled me. I felt frightened as their expressions changed from joyfulness to malevolence as they moved in closer...
I was so thankful to find myself safely back in our hotel bed. The next morning I told my husband about the vivid ‘dream’: it had seemed so real. I wondered whether the night–time visitor was a convict ghost. My husband was most interested in hearing me relate the dream while we breakfasted.
Soon after it was time to leave the lovely Tasman Peninsula area and return to Hobart. (How I wished I had written down the dream on our return but I never got around to it.) Nonetheless I thought about it from time to time.
For many years I had written down my dreams and had taken them seriously. Some dreams were prophetic: others I conjectured were from past lives. Mostly I enjoyed my night-time adventures, especially the flying dreams. Occasionally I experienced lucid dreams in which I would be aware of being in a dream and test out the environment. Absolute magic!
The years passed quickly. By 2006 I had retired from my job and was at a loose end. It was then I decided to take up family history research because I knew so little about my mother’s side. Whenever I asked her about our forebears she changed the subject. Though she was still alive she would not reveal her family’s past not even her mother's maiden name.
As every genealogist knows, family research begins with the present generation: yourself. Then you trace your parents, your grandparents, your great-grand parents and so on, as far as you wish to go back, should you have the time, patience and money to do so! In the course of my family research, I slowly and methodically traced my mother’s origins, and those of her parents, grandparents and great-grand parents. The process took four years. When I discovered that two of my great-great grandparents were Irish convicts transported to Van Dieman’s Land in the nineteenth century, I was flabbergasted.
Suddenly the ‘convict’ dream I had experienced in 1993 came to mind. Could there actually be a connection? Time travel? I was greatly intrigued by the coincidence. No one in my family had ever hinted of convicts being in the family tree. Moreover I was born in New Zealand. When I asked my mother about the convict ancestry she was vehement she had never heard her immediate family talk about convicts. However, she knew there was some scandal in the family and it had something to do with Tasmania. That’s all she knew. It was a mystery.
I returned to the photocopies of the convict records I had kept for the purpose of comparing and contrasting the descriptions of the relevant convicts in my family. By doing so, I hoped to discover a match for the man in my dream. It was incredibly difficult deciphering the faded, spidery handwriting on the photocopied pages of the convict registery.
The first Tasmanian convict who is related to me is Terence Lynch (no.6321). He was sentenced to seven years for larceny and was tried at County Cavan on 28 February 1842 and was transported from Dublin on 2 May 1842 to Van Dieman's Land on the Isabella Watson arriving with his older brother William who was his accomplice in stealing 6 geese. They received the same sentence. The ship docked in Hobart 3 August 1842.
In the Convict records Terence's occupation was listed as a gent's servant and was aged 20 at the time he was sentenced. He was a Roman Catholic and was illierate.His physical characteristics were as follows: height 5ft 5 and a quarter inches; black whiskers; dark brown hair; a large nose; grey eyes and his left leg showed 2 scars and his right leg one scar from being 'ironed'.
Once Terence arrived at the colony he must have behaved himself because he was issued with a ticket of leave on 17 March 1846. In the Baptism Records of 1860 a female baby by the name of Rosa Lynch was registered. The baby is listed as the eldest of four progeny that Terence Lynch sired with a woman going by the name of Mary Sullivan . Their relationship was officially in listed in the. Colonial Tasmanian Family Links Details..
Now I shall proceed to identify my other convict forebear: James Clarke who adopted the pseudonym James Cleary at his trial. He came from County Cavan in Ireland. In the Convict Records he is listed as no.21157. He was tried for bygamy in Dublin on 24 October 1846 and was sentenced to seven years for being married to two women. He arrived on the Pestongee Bomanjee vessel on 2 January 1949. His religion was listed as Roman Catholic. By trade he was an engine smith, could read and write and was 28 years old. His height was five feet 10 and a quarter inches, had a fair complexion, with light brown hair and reddish whiskers and grey eyes.Later, he changd his name to James Lloyd Cleary.
At this stage I conjecture that his appearance and manner resembles that of my ghostly visitor back in 1993. In Tasmania James Lloyd Cleary began a relationship with Emily Ann Bonney. They produced five children: three boys and two girls. Their eldest son William James was born in Hobart in 1855.
In 1891 he married Rosa Helena Lynch (my great-grandmother) at the Church of St. Matthias in Sydney. I gather that that James Cleary and Terence Lynch were builders who worked in Hobart. They must have worked together on various sites and formed a strong bond with each other. James Lloyd Cleary produced six children from their union. They preferred to live in Sydney than return to Tasmania.
My grandmother, Violet Tasma Cleary was born on 29 December 1894. She married John Joseph Lee on 28 January 1914. Their only child - a daughter was named Violet May Lee was born on 2 May 1914.
From the snippets I have gleaned my grandmother Violet was stigmatised by her in-laws for not being raised Catholic and also for having convict ancestry (her in-laws came to Sydney as free settlers.) My late mother never told us children about her convict ancestry but when I informed her a few years before her death she faked surprise. Nontheless her life was affected by the tragic consequences of the convict stain - especially in her primary school years.
Nowadays most Autralians are proud of their convict ancestry and actually boast about in conversation. I am honoured to be a fourth-generation Australian. My forebears can be proud : their struggles did not go in vain. What an infinite pleasure it is to be living in Tasmania discovering at last my family's convict connections with this jewel of an island. As for the dream: I am still puzzled by it but do appreciate it led me to undertake family history research on the maternal side of my family. There was a common thread - afterall.