Please see extract from my novel "Javelin Man: Ticket of Leave"; published under the nom de plume of Theo Flynn
Despite the fact that “Jones” sounded more “Welsh than Irish”, Richard Jones was an Irish Patriot. He was also, Flinn reported, a clever man and an extremely effective leader of men. Jones had been transported in 1840 for seven years on a charge of membership of a secret society, the Ribbon-men. The Ribbon Society was principally an agrarian secret society, whose membership consisted of Catholics. The society was formed in response to the miserable conditions in which the vast majority of tenant farmers and rural workers lived in Ireland. Its objective was to prevent landlords from changing or evicting their tenants. The name came from a green ribbon worn as a badge in a button-hole by the members. It had a series of quasi Masonic codes and signs and had inspired awe in the Irish peasant classes.
Jones had been a clerk in his family’s corn factor business in Dublin and his trial had caused quite a stir.[i] Flinn reported that Jones would have succeeded in persuading ten of his fellow convicts to take over the prison ship, the “Isabella Watson," on the way out to Australia had it not been for the treachery of a fellow Irish Catholic called Thomas Gorman[ii]. The bastard was a drunken former cavalry soldier who was trying to get out of serving fourteen years for threatening a sergeant. Jones had also gained the support of the military guard on the ship as sympathetic troops had promised to piss into their muskets, thus making them ineffective, when the convicts rose. Jones and his mates had then beaten a charge of piracy by a clever strategy of subpoenaing witnesses who were on a ship out of Hobart Town when the writs requiring their attendance at the trial were served upon them, thus leaving the Crown unable to proceed with the charges. [iii].
After his acquittal for Piracy, Jones had been dispatched under his original sentence to Port Arthur where he led a successful strike against the established Church. Jones inspired his fellow prisoners to refuse to attend Protestant Services, and this forced the Crown to appoint Catholic Chaplains to the prisons.[iv]Jones had refused to be cowed by the savage punishments[v] that the System threw at him and the authorities were still keeping the poor man under lock and key at Port Arthur. Flinn had traveled to Port Arthur to speak to Jones and had immediately recognized a kindred spirit. Jones was obviously very intelligent and showed the charisma and integrity that had propelled him up the ranks of the ribbon men to the position of General Secretary. The poor man’s skin was deathly pale from repeated bouts of solitary confinement and he moved with difficulty because of the results of a flogging that had been inflicted upon him. He had persuaded 165 fellow Irish convicts, most of whom were just “ordinary decent criminals” rather than political, to join the strike. Jones had realized that the commandant was not smart enough to know when to pick confrontations and he had exploited this weakness. Burgess remembered that Laurie Kavenagh, Martin Cash’s mate, had used the lack of a Roman Catholic priest at Port Arthur and the fact that he was forced to attend Protestant Services as an excuse for breaking out of Port Arthur at his trial.
Flinn’s report made it clear that Jones was tough as old boots and, despite the solitary, his mind remained sharp. Jones had said that he had been transported for membership of the Ribbon Men after charges of murdering an Orange Man and jail breaking had failed. He stated the injustice that membership of the Ribbon Society earned a sentence of seven years whereas the Orange Lodge, which was a similar organization but Protestant, had impunity. Flinn had talked about the future and Jones had said that he just wanted to return home to obscurity in Ireland after his seven years had expired. He felt that he had done his duty for the cause but he was not in it for self aggrandizement. He said that he had no doubt that other Irish Patriots would follow his path to The Colony and he said that by making the authorities see that placing political prisoners with common criminals was a folly that had enormous potential to backfire. However, he concluded that there would probably never be rebel songs written about him and his name would probably vanish into obscurity. He said, smiling ruefully, that he wondered why there was something in the Irish psyche that celebrated glorious failures but not tangible accomplishment.
Flinn also met with Charles Booth the commandant at Port Arthur, ostensibly to discuss record keeping practices, and had concluded that Booth was a decent enough man, who had probably been a competent line officer. The man was a disciplinarian but was not vicious, but he clearly did not have enough wisdom to take on a man of Jones’ caliber. Booth’s health was beginning to fade and his subordinates had gained the upper hand. As a result of Flinn’s observations to Burgess, Booth was moved to the less stressful post of governing the orphanage in Hobart Town. Flinn pitied the poor orphans but considered that this was a good solution.
Flinn reported to Frank Burgess that he had been impressed with Jones’ courage, integrity and brains and had warned that his release might spell trouble for the Colony unless he was allowed to return home as soon as possible. Flinn also recommended that the Government should place Catholic Chaplains in the prison as a matter of urgency as a man who could get a gang of common criminals to follow him in acts of defiance against the authorities should not be presented with the any excuse to present any legitimate grievances against the Crown. Frank Burgess said that whilst there were only two Roman Catholic priests in the Colony the Papists had just appointed a bishop, an Englishman called Willson, who was due to arrive soon and had a very strong reputation for integrity and common sense so the Governor would probably agree to this request.
Flinn also recommended that the government should be more careful in selecting the battalions allocated to guard convict ships. The troops on the “Isabella Watson," had been from the 99th Regiment of Foot, which was notionally a Low Land Scot’s Regiment but, in fact, after many years of garrison duty in Dublin, was Irish nearly to a man. Flinn also observed heard that another detachment of soldiers from the 99th had plotted with the convicts to take over another ship,[vi] the “Somerset” on the way out to Australia and Flinn recommends that the battalion should be posted out of the Colony as soon as possible. Frank Burgess had taken all of Flinn’s recommendations to the Lt. Governor who also agreed with their wisdom and organized for the 99th to be shipped to New Zealand to fight the Maoris’, but not until after the mad Irishmen had mutinied in Sydney after their grog ration was cut. Frank Burgess also agreed with Flinn about the appointment of Catholic chaplains at the prison, and recommended to Lt. Governor Eardley-Wilmot that they be appointed as soon as possible.
"John Turner Flinn" dropped into my lap one blistering Christmas holiday in Alice Springs. The heat precluded doing anything but watching videos and my partner (at the time) and I, became engrossed by a TV gangster series set in 1920’s Sydney. My girlfriend had mentioned before that her granddad was a notorious gangster in 1920’s Melbourne and a quick Trove search confirmed this as fact.
We decided to dig further into earlier generations and rapidly uncovered a colorful array of London thieves, swing rioters, ships’ captains, a Chinese gold miner and a lot of wayward women in her family tree. I then turned my attention, to my boy Christopher’s family tree and, since his mother is also a sixth generation Australian, a similar array soon emerged.
I became a bit jealous as research into my own family tree yielded a faceless collection of Lancashire men and women who were publicans, coal miners, enlisted soldiers, cotton and silk weavers and railway men most of whom were economic refugees from the Irish potato famine of 1847. As in many Irish families, I had been brought up with the belief that I was heir apparent to dispossessed Celtic royalty but I could find no tangible evidence to support this view. In contrast to the detailed documentation available for both sets of my in-laws, all I could do is relay family legends of a High Court Judge, a French Marchioness, George Formby, Sir Joshua Reynolds and Kate Beckinsale who were supposed to be eagerly waiting to claim kinship with me. After Christmas, we returned to Darwin and the oppressive humidity of a “build-up” that didn’t end until Easter that year and the ancestor hunt became a bit of an obsession.
The Top End weather does bloody funny things to people and I recall a drunken phone conversation with my dad in England in which I lamented the lack of substance to our family tree. Jealousy led to a series of jokes based upon the theme of “checking my change” and “watching my pockets”, that weren’t funny to begin with and rapidly, became less so, as that humid Darwin summer dragged on. The response went from polite smiles to a statement that “probably a lot of my bloody relatives were also sent here in chains” and the candid advice that “for the good of my health”, I stop “acting superior and taking the piss”. I conceded the wisdom of this advice and decided have a look at the long list of “Flinny’s” who had been transported and see if any might be relatives and the first “Flynn” I had a look at on a convict history website, became the hero of this novel, John Turner Flinn.
Flinn’s convict conduct record was unusual as it revealed a “lifer” who had been a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy and was therefore a “gentleman”. There was an enigmatic reference to the “Regiment”, which is an army rather than naval term, so I “Googled” further. My search showed that his case was included in the “Newgate Calendar”, which indicated that it was big news in the 1840’s, so I followed the link and found that Flinn had given evidence for the defense at the trial of Queen Caroline for adultery in 1820. I was a bit sketchy in my recollection of Caroline’s trial, but upon refreshing my memory of Regency history via wikipedia, was struck by the parallels to the British Establishment’s attempted crucifixion by media of a more recent “People’s Princess”.
Perusal of Flinn’s testimony at Caroline’s trial revealed that Flinn admitted that he had operated as a “spook” in 1814 and Google provided references to his employment as an Admiralty Board Agent in Edinburgh. This was a euphemism for British intelligence gatherers at the time, so I’m sure that people would have looked at John Flinn in the same manner that they look at me when I tell people that I used to work for AusAID. There were also articles about his being commissioned for gallantry by Lord Nelson, saving Launceston from burning to the ground and participation, accompanied by Sir Sydney Smith, in a fake funeral for a Neapolitan Bandit. Sir Sydney was the equivalent of James Bond’s “M” at the time. Then, the coup de grace, Google revealed that there were rumors that Flinn’s wife, Edwardina Kent was the daughter of Queen Caroline and the Prince Regent, which after the Regent’s death would make our hero’s wife the legitimate Queen of England.
I have often been advised to “write a book” when describing my work travels to “sandy places” to suburbanites, but I had always interpreted this as “change the subject Flynny; you’re becoming pissed and boring”. I read Bernard Cornwell’s advice to authors that one should attempt to produce a book that people would want to read after a hard day at work rather than create “great literature” and I began to consider that even with my accountant’s imagination, I couldn’t mess up the delivery of material like this too much. An economic downturn in the NT economy gave me sufficient “leisure time” to produce a first execrable draft and I sent a copy to an old mate from school, Brian Fillis who is a great screenwriter, for comment. I anticipated tactful advice from Brian that “I shouldn’t give up my day job” but he was actually enthusiastic about the project and encouraged me to continue.
The villain also picked himself, John Giles Price might be the Australian version of the “Sheriff of Nottingham” and the basis of Marcus Clarke’s Maurice Frere, but I have a personal score to settle with the bastard. Shortly after the end of this first novel’s time span, John Giles Price’s command of Norfolk Island began. Norfolk Island was established to punish convicts who had committed further crimes in the Colony and my partner’s ancestor, Tommy Brewster was sent there in 1850 for committing a petty theft in Hobart, after being given a seven-year sentence at the Old Bailey for pinching a cannonball from Woolwich Arsenal. Poor Tommy endured brutal torture there because John Giles Price had, like Adolph Hitler, an irrational hatred of smokers and it appears that poor Tommy could not give up the ‘baccy’. Giles Price had the poor bugger flogged and confined in solitary repeatedly for possession of tobacco. Persecution from Tommy’s great granddaughter about my similar addiction led me to ponder the intergenerational consequences of John Giles Price’s bastardry. I also reckon that in Marcus Clarke’s time, censorship would have prevented a full description of Giles Price’s depravity, which was clearly psychosexual in nature, so I hope that my story helps to kick his memory to pieces.
I have found that literature tends to make characters like governors and judges either omnipotent beings or well-meaning idiots who wander round handing out happy endings on a random basis. I have tried to portray the Governor, The Chief Magistrate and the Colonial Auditor as fundamentally decent and intelligent blokes who are faced with the task of implementing flawed policy in far-flung places. Experience in my own career means that I can readily relate to the problems they encountered.
Richard Jones, the Irish rebel and Alexander Simpson, the refractory former Jamaican slave, are also based upon real people, as are the majority of the other minor characters, many of whom are either blood relatives or “in laws”. Most of the characters in this book existed and were knocking about Tasmania during the time period. You can read about the Kings, Queens, Governors, Judges, senior bureaucrats, Chief Magistrates and famous bushrangers in books written by much better historians and writers than me and you can tell the real characters as I’ve attempted to include links to contemporary records. I made District Constable John Simmons, “Mike Symonds” because I couldn’t find anything about John, other than he must have been a good bloke as the worthy citizens gave him a very nice testimonial dinner when he eventually retired as Chief Constable of Tasmania in 1857. The reason for this was that Eardley-Wilmot, Daft Jackie, Giles-Price and Flinn were all “Johns” and it was getting confusing. Also Sergeant McMahon was made up, one of my ancestors had the same name but he was following the colors in India during the time period of the novel. In addition I have no evidence that Mary Ann Reynolds and Mary Ann Smith was one and the same person. However, Mary Ann was from our village in Lancashire and my great grandmother was a “Reynolds” was probably a relative and I do hope the poor woman found a measure of happiness after her unhappy start in the Colony.
“Uncle Henry” was one of my relatives and I’m pretty confident of that because Neacy is such a rare name. I couldn’t find out what happened to Constables Agar and Thomas after they received their free pardons. I would like to say they both returned home, renounced a life of crime and spent the rest of their lives teaching Sunday School and singing in the Church Choir; but somehow I doubt this and I’m prepared to bet that their descendants are happily hiding out on the “Costa del Crime” in Spain or are sitting in London investment banks creaming off PFI deals. However, I simply don’t know. The rest of his story, I’ve made up, it’s a novel not a history book, but I do hope Flinn pulled a blonde nymphomaniac who owned a pub.
I did not think that I would finish writing this book until I read about Richard Jones and his struggles and felt that I had a duty to finish. If you’re Irish and reading this book, do me a favor? Have a read of the chapter about Richard Jones again, he was our Nelson Mandela and I can’t work out why we aren’t crying into our Guinness listening to songs about him in Irish Pubs. I would ask you to write to your T.D, Taoiseach, MP, Prime Minister, Congressman, Senator, President, Cardinal or Bishop demanding recognition. The man was an Irish patriot who shoved two fingers up at the British Empire, won and lived to tell the tale (I hope). He was a martyr for the faith and I reckon should be nominated for canonization or at least have a Dublin or Boston Park named after him. I don’t know what happened to Jones after he was released but I like to think he made his way to New York, made friends with Patrick Breslin and helped to plan the Catalpa rescue but that’s pure speculation on my part.
I'm thinking of a trilogy and the first novel that you’ve just read, covers the period 1843 to 1845 and coincides with Flinn getting his ticket of leave with the back story (told by letters to his son) explaining why he was transported. I envisage a second novel based involving Flinn and the “Young Ireland” activists who were transported for sedition because their stories are incredible with a back story of Flinn chasing Napoleon's brother in law all over Europe after Waterloo. This period coincides with Flinn getting his conditional pardon.
The final part of the trilogy will cover the period after Flinn was awarded a conditional pardon and moved to Melbourne. John Turner Flinn also had a wayward daughter Edda, who married a US Navy officer from a family of Boston blue bloods; dumped him and appears to have screwed her way through half of New York; that’s got to be worth a few words.
The bastard Giles-Price’s ugly head will re-emerge in each of the novels so you’ll have to excuse me while I try to work out how I can extract from his seemingly hopeless position at the end of this story and into the commandant’s job at Norfolk Island.
Anyway, please have a look at the book and let me know what you think.
Richard Jones was sent to Tasmania for being a member of an illegal society - this was probably the only way they could get him convicted, he escaped from Newgate Prison in Dublin with many witnesses but the jury would not convict him and they had to discharge the case! He was far from being a hero and in fact they tried to try him for the murder of my 4 x great grandfather Andrew Ganly. He was a poor Egg Factor in Dublin Green Street Market the only protestant there so an easy target for these ribbonmen! They beat him to death and he died 3 days later leaving a very poor widow with 5 children. Even if he did not physically do it he certainly was responsible (read the trial notes). Sometimes when you live outside Ireland you can have a 'romantic' idea of Irish Freedom. I live in Dublin and our family has had to live with the consequences of this terrible event! Richard Jones returned to Dublin over eight years later as noted in the Pilot Newspaper what happened next I don't know but we wont be singing any songs in the streets about him that is for sure.
Thanks for getting back to me.
I would love to see the actual transcripts of Richard Jones’ trial for membership of the Ribbonmen and transcripts of prior trials for Jail Breaking and murder. The only account that I was able to obtain was a rather lurid and partisan “True account of the trial"of Richard Jones that was clearly of a propagandist nature. One of the things that struck me in researching my novel was the significant differences between popular accounts of trials and the contents of reliable reports like court transcripts or Hansard. I am planning to post an article about this very subject on my blog at a later date.
I can understand that you feel protective of your ancestor’s memory and initially I felt uncomfortable about casting Jones in a favorable light when I read about the murder of Andrew Ganley because it was truly horrible. It was clear that the Ganly family had stirred up a lot of bad blood as Andrew’s brother James suffered a similar beating in Longford the same year. I notice that on your online memorial to your ancestor you say that Andrew had been a policeman in Galway and I’m wondering if this might have been the cause of antipathy to the family.
However, I concluded that Jones’ connection to these incidents must have been very tenuous because the courts acquitted him both of the murder and the prison break. As General Secretary of the Ribbon Order, it was pretty clear that Dublin Castle “was out to get him”. I am reminded of the fact that Nelson Mandela was originally sentenced for terrorist crimes in South Africa, based upon his holding a leadership position in the ANC.
Having grown up in England during the bombing campaigns of the 70’s and 80’s, I don’t have any sympathy for anybody who targets innocent civilians for political ends and make that point clearly in the novel. However, I remain in awe of Jones’ resilience and defiance in captivity especially in leading a prison strike to force the appointment of Catholic chaplains in Port Arthur Prison. Thanks for the reference to the Pilot Magazine, as I would love to find out what happened to Jones after his release.
However, I do apologize if my interpretation of events that occurred one hundred and eighty years ago has caused your family distress. I think it’s a Celtic trait that we carry the past with us; for instance my novel is dedicated to one of my tribe, Michael Flinn who was hanged in Galway Jail in 1883 for the murder of an English Bailiff and his nephew that I believe he was innocent of. However, that again is a story for another blog.
Thanks for the reply, and to be fair to Richard Jones it seems that he was the 'fall guy' as Andrew Dardis who was the President of the Society seems to have got off any charges (unless I am mistaken). You are quite correct about the Ganly family, there was trouble in Longford. James Ganly (brother of murdered Andrew Ganly) was accused of shooting into a crowd at a local election from his shop/pub and resulting in the death of William Bambrick. A trial took place and he was found not guilty but a local woman Ann Quinn who testified against him was had up on charges of perjury!! All this would have not gone down well and James Ganly became a target, and resulted in his brother Andrew being killed. We may never know the truth of who organised the attack but it would probably have been passed by the Ribbon Society before hand! Indeed at the inquest letters had been sent prior to his murder threatening those who dealt with Andrew Ganly and also referring to the shooting in Longford! Findmypast.ie has good access to newspaper reports of the time. Susan
Great story this, well done.
To end the story of Richard Jones - he died at beginning of 1864 he had led a quiet life as a gardener and lived alone with his elderly aunt. He is buried in Mulhuddart Cemetery Dublin according to the Freeman's Journal Sydney he was a hero.
Here is a poem written about him in 1864.
RICHARD JONES Waterford Chronicle 08 January 1864
While pen and tongue may vie in praise of high-born, noble deeds,
The peasant-martyr sinks forgot, yet never vainly bleeds;
So shall be known the untold wrongs of him the good bemoans
That a generation yet unborn may hear of Richard Jones.
One honoured name has tribute paid, and raised the dusty veil,
Which cold neglect o’er virtue hang, our hero to conceal;
Oblivion may not hide the gem, nor envy reach the bones,
That lie in Mullahedder-the remains of Richard Jones.
The sculptor may carve out the form of saint or aged chief,
Of patriot sinking in the strife amid a nation’s grief;
Yet, not alone on pillar high, or monumental stones,
Do a nobler martyr hold a place then humble Richard Jones.
Far from his own dear native isle he fought for conscience sake,
‘Gainst brutal la?h and felon-doom his life did freely make;
For the old faith he mangled stood till Heaven heard his moans,
The Church another triumph gained by faithful Richard Jones.
And when the fester’d flesh had healed, and limbs unfettered stood,
He turned toward his own old land to aid the brave and good,
To strike and end the robber rule ‘neath which our island groans,
But failure met the exile’s gass, alas! Brave Richard Jones.
Oh! Lowly labour’s honest sons, displaced and cast aside,
Think of your comrade brave and true, arises in manly pride.
Preserve the fame beyond all price, above earth’s gilded thrones,
Go mark the grave, lift high the name of noble Richard Jones!
Thanks Susan, I'd love to see a copy of the journal.
You can search Trove Australian Newspapers free to view on line that is where I found reference to his death.