Sunday, February 21, 2016

Some aspects of marriage and convicts

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Byter Maureen, aka Mazza and Maz, sent me a couple of items, which makes her the guest contributor today.
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Item 1:

Maz sent me a link to the following item:

A most unusual marriage ceremony

I've seen some interesting marriage register entries in my time, but this one takes the biscuit!

From records in the custody of the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York; reproduced by kind permission of Findmypast


Not only does everyone who took part in the marriage ceremony - the groom, the bride, the witnesses, even the vicar - have the same surname, they all shared a grandfather. Joseph and William Beckett, the witnesses, were brothers of the groom - as was the vicar - whilst the bride was their 1st cousin.

Talk about keeping it in the family! 

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Item 2:

A female and male convict, in a watercolour by Juan Ravenet in 1789–94. 
State Library of NSW

Maureen is descended from a First Fleeter (a cause of shame when I was a kid, a source of pride today) and has a fascination in all things historical from those days.

From Maureen, an article written by her for a First Fleet publication:

18th Century Marriages and the First Fleet

It started back when I was in primary school learning about early Sydney Cove. How could the Reverends marry those who open confessed to still having spouses in England? Did they have their religious beliefs drop overboard as they came into Sydney Heads? I have now discovered that was more likely while they were still on the Thames in London. But it was to the new colony's benefit that they did.

Upon arrival into Port Jackson Governor Phillip had the most trustworthy felons ashore to build the important structures such as the governor’s canvas house, hospital tent, housing (tents) for the women, a storehouse and fresh water tanks. On Wednesday 6th February these arrangements were sufficient as to allow the women convicts ashore. 

The next day, 7th, at 11 o’clock, all were summoned to be present to hear the Governor’s Commission read and the Commission constituting the Court of Judicature. Phillip was agnostic. The Reverend Richard Johnson had earned his retainers by ministering to convicts on the hulks on the Thames. He was a man of the world and the overnight rampant revelries had convinced both that marriage was to be recommended. Phillip was anxious that all present would realise this was reality, and return to England was no more than a dream. He proclaimed that any marriage in England did not preclude marriage in Port Jackson. Fourteen marriages were solemnised during the first week. 

By the middle of the eighteen century in England all that was required for a marriage to be considered legal was mutual consent of both parties provided the boy was 14 years of age and the girl 12. Without parental consent the age for both was 21. A man could promise to marry a woman at a future date, and if they consummated their relationship they were considered married, no formal ceremony required. Marriage was more about financial arrangements and inheritance than romance. 

Near St Paul’s Church, London, at the foot of Ludgate Hill there was the Fleet Ditch and famous marriage houses, such as the Hand and Pen, by the Fleet Bridge. Clergy and tavern keepers sent out flyers to tout for their strange trade. The clock in the establishment was permanently stuck at 9 o’clock, as weddings were only legal if performed between 8am and noon.

Marriages were taxed at a specific rate by imposing a stamp duty on the licence. Whosoever the Fleet ‘parson’ he came with counterfeit marriage certificates that lacked an official stamp. A so-called Fleet marriage would cost only a few shillings in total. A wife with a marriage certificate could not be sued by her creditors. Her ‘husband’ received all of her possessions, and her debts. If the creditor could not find the husband the wife was not to blame. Many Fleet marriages often did not even have witnesses so how to prove or disprove the marriage? They could be back-dated to legitimise bastard children and confirm their right to inheritance. Same sex marriages were not unknown and often husband and wives never met again after the groom was paid to sign. When the Marriage Act was introduced in 1753 it was estimated that up to that date in England at least one-third were Fleet marriages. (Statistic from 1700: Scenes from London Life by Maureen Waller)

Thanks, Maureen (Mazza, not Maureen Waller)
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An item from me:

There was a custom hundreds of years ago amongst families of sailors who were setting out on long voyages, to rub down the side of a penny coin and scratch or engrave a message or picture thereon. This was pre-photographs and trhere was no social networking. The coin custom came to be extended to families and loved ones of convicts sentenced to transportation, who would most likely remain separated for good and never see each other again.


Convict love token made from a 1797 Penny, National Museum of Australia
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