Kathy Lette: To mark Australia’s bicentennial in 1988 my parents, who are proud members of the First Fleet Society, gathered with all the other convict progeny under the banner of the Scarborough, the ship on which our ancestor was transported to the colo When I moved to London 20 years ago, my Aussie accent meant I spent my life looking up nostrils. Australia was seen as a recessive gene; the Irish of the Pacific.
It was socially desirable to have arrived on the First Fleet, but only as a soldier, sailor, botanist or doctor.
The convicts appeared to have made their own way to Botany Bay under assumed names. A convict past is now a badge of honour, and, if you don’t have a convict branch in your family tree, you quickly graft one on.
When we Aussies – including two prime ministers, John Howard and Kevin Rudd, Germaine Greer and the novelist Thomas Keneally – brag about our record collections, we’re talking criminal, not classical.
To mark Australia’s bicentennial in 1988 my parents, who are proud members of the First Fleet Society, gathered with all the other convict progeny under the banner of the Scarborough, the ship on which our ancestor was transported to the colonies in 1788 from Portsmouth.
There were tears of joy and celebratory hugging among Australia’s crème de la crim.
So my knowledge of my convict lineage is based on extensive documentation – in the form of some stuff my relatives once told me.
But the dean’s inquiry to find a personal link to the university set me off on a journey.
For weeks now I have been scouring the convict court records made available online for the first time last year.
I discovered that, on March 8 1785, Joshua Peck, 30, was sent to jail at Exeter for the theft of uniforms from the house of Col John Simcoe.
My great-great-great-great-grandfather obviously went to prison for something he didn’t do: run fast enough.
Sentenced to transportation, he became part of a squalid and pitiless project to relieve overcrowding in British prisons by establishing a “colony of thieves”.