Between 1804 and 1853 the British Government transported around 76,000 convicts to the colony of Van Diemen’s Land (now called Tasmania).
One of those was Matthew Fagg, a farm labourer and hop grower from Barham in Kent.
Matthew was born in the village of Barham in 1822 and christened in the local parish church of St John on 14 April that year. He was the fifth of six children born to William and Sarah Fagg.
At the age of 22 Matthew married Frances Rousle (also in the parish church) on 29 Dec 1844. Frances already had a son, aged two, called James Rousle, and just months after their wedding Frances gave birth to a daughter whom they named Sarah Ann Fagg.
On 24 May 1848 Matthew was convicted at the Maidstone Assizes in Kent of stealing a sheep. It appears that because Matthew had previously spent 6 weeks in gaol for stealing a rabbit he was this time sentenced to transportation to Tasmania for 10 months.
The convict records show that Matthew sailed for 97 days on board the ‘Rodney‘, arriving in Tasmania on 28 November 1850. The ship had left England with 312 convicts on board of which four died during the voyage.
Matthew and his family would have arrived at the infamous Port Arthur penal settlement (shown in the photo above, as it was in about 1850), established in 1830 to replace Macquarie Harbour. Although known in popular history as a particularly harsh prison, in reality its management was far more humane than Macquarie Harbour or the outlying stations of New South Wales. Experimentation with the so-called model prison system took place in Port Arthur. Solitary confinement was the preferred method of punishment.
Many changes were made to the way convicts were handled in the general population, mainly in direct response to British public opinion on the harshness of their treatment. Until the late 1830s most convicts were either retained by Government for public works or assigned to private individuals as a form of indentured labour. From the early 1840s the Probation System was employed, where convicts spent an initial period, usually two years, in public works gangs on stations outside of the main settlements, then were freed to work for wages within a set district.
Transportation to Tasmania ended in 1853
The convict records from Port Arthur describe Matthew as being around 29 years old, five feet 4 1/2 inches tall and able to ‘read and write a little’. He was listed as married with two children, and his religion was Church of England. Matthew’s wife Frances and two young children travelled with him.
However, Frances died in March 1858 in Richmond, Tasmania aged just 35. Interestingly, Richmond is around 80km from Port Arthur.
It wasn’t until the end of 1862 that Matthew met a woman who would later become his second wife. Jane Gossett was born in 1836 in Suffolk, England and she and Matthew were married in Hobart, Tasmania on 7 March 1863 and their first child was born on 14 September the same year whom they named Matthew. A second son – William Herbert – was born in January 1870. All this time Matthew was still serving his ten-year sentence.
Matthew and Jane remained in Tasmania after he had served his sentence – Matthew died 10 July 1908 in Beltana, Tasmania aged 86; his wife Jane died 19 June 1914 aged 78.