Monday, 3 September 2012

Convict blood - thanks to a horsewhipping

I've just been playing with the online offerings of FindmyPast Australasia ( as part of my world subscription on, and was surprised to make an unusual discovery about the husband of one of my family members. David Bell was the husband of Helen Paton, the sister of my three times great grandfather William Paton, the couple having married in the Scottish city of Perth in 1836. In 1849 both David and Helen emigrated to Queensland on board the Chaseley with their family, and to this day at the city's Kangaroo Point there exists two streets named after them, Paton Street and Bell Street. Two years ago I actually managed to walk down both streets, as I recalled some time ago on this blog at

David Bell initially worked for a Captain Robert Towns for several years after his arrival, his obituary many years later stating that he did this in the 'early fifties', where he managed punts between Brisbane and Ipswich, before building his own hardware store in Stanley Street in 1863. In 1868, when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Brisbane, David was one of the fully costumed Brisbane Highlanders to personally greet him at Queen’s Park. A newspaper article from May 1871 showed that as part of his Highland outfit, David had commissioned a local Brisbane craftsman to make him an expensive ornamented dirk, to promote the talents of the settlement’s skilled silversmiths. David clearly had some standing in the community - which makes the following story all the more remarkable!

The site has surprisingly revealed that David was briefly imprisoned on December 5th 1856, the entry confirming that it was the correct person by noting his arrival on the Chaseley in 1849 (Brisbane Gaol. Register of prisoners admitted & discharged 1856 -1859, PRI 1/25, Column Or Folio:267). The record notes him to have been a storekeeper at this point also, though he was clearly still working for someone else, as identified from the following newspaper article from the Moreton Bay Courier of Saturday December 6th 1856, which explained what happened:

POLICE COURT: Yesterday, David Bell and James Bryon were charged by Mr. Souter, of South Brisbane, with assaulting him on the 28th of last month. It appears, though the facts did not come out at the Police Court, that Mr. Souter had had some differences with a gentleman, also resident in South Brisbane, and had taken the liberty of chastising him with a horsewhip, which he borrowed for the purpose from one of the defendants, but without informing him as to the use to which it was to be applied. Both defendants are in the employment of the party alluded to; and the one who lent the whip to Mr. Souter, feeling exasperated at being made the innocent instrument in the chastisement of his employer, took the first opportunity of making an attack on Mr. Souter, in which he was assisted by his fellow employee. Mr. Little appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr Ocock for the defendants. The assault being proved, both defendants were sentenced to two months' imprisonment.

Either David or James had lent a horsewhip to Souter, who immediately began to assault their employer with it! In retaliation they struck Souter - and they were the pair convicted of assault! There's justice for you...

It's not many who can claim a badge of honour by stating that they have family that gained convict blood after it reached Oz. But all credit to David and James - I think I would probably have done the same!

NB: for newspaper coverage in Australia, visit the excellent Trove website at


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