Originally an inhabitant of Clontuskert in County Galway, John Madden was one of the many generations of Irish dispossessed by English rule of Ireland. Ever since the days of King Henry VIII the native population of Ireland had to cede control of their land to English overlords only being allowed to work small holdings as cottiers paying exorbitant rents. Although he was a “brogue maker” (i.e a shoemaker) he sympathized with the suffering of the rural poor and joined a secret society called the Ribbon Society.
The Ribbon Society was an secret agrarian association of rural Irish Catholics formed in response to the miserable conditions in which the vast majority of tenant farmers and rural workers lived in the early 19th century Ireland. Its objective was to prevent landlords from changing or evicting their tenants. Members of the society called Ribbonmen also attacked tithe and process servers and sometimes burned the barns of landlords. They were called Ribbonmen because of a green ribbon worn as a badge in a button-hole of their jackets.
In March 1820 John Madden was arrested, put on trial and convicted for being a Ribbonman.
At the conclusion of this trial, John Madden travelled from Galway to the port city of Cohb in Cork awaiting boarding the convict ship the “Dorothy” for transportation to New South Wales.
In preparation for boarding the prisoners entered the meticulous record keeping of the British Empire. It is for this reason that we know from the convict indents that John Madden was:
- born in 1792;
- was 5 feet 4 inches tall;
- was of sallow complexion;
- his hair, dark to grey
- his eyes hazel
- and that he had a scar over his left eyebrow.
Between April 20 and May 5, 1820, convicts from many parts of Ireland were assembled in Cobh ready to be taken onboard the Dorothy in batches. Last to board the Dorothy were the five convicted Ribbonmen.
On May 5, the “Dorothy” weighed anchor. Roughness of weather as the Dorothy sailed away from Ireland led most of the prisoners to be sea-sick. By 29 May the Dorothy had made the Cape Verde Islands. Discipline was harsh even for minor infractions – such as smoking at night and many prisoners (and some of the crew) were administered up to 30 lashes for the most feeble of reasons. (Fortunately, John Madden was not recorded as receiving any such punishments.)
Surgeon Espie gradually removed the leg irons from the prisoners and by June 1 it was John Madden’s turn. Presumably because the Ribbonmen were considered dangerous persons they were among the last group to have their shackles removed.
On 14 June a mutiny by a small group of prisoners was planned with the intention of seizing the ship and setting sail for South America. However, the plot was discovered and all the perpetrators were severely flogged
The Dorothy reached Rio de Jeneiro on 25 June and stayed for 10 days in Rio Harbour to refresh and re-supply. None of the convicts were allowed onshore and the daily routine proceeded as usual. At least the convicts would have been relieved from experiencing the constant motion of the ship.
The Dorothy left Rio de Janeiro on July 7 and by July 30 was rounding the Cape Of Good Hope
Storms often forced the prisoners to remain below deck throughout the day and endure the heaving of the ship against colossal waves. However, trade winds ensure that the Dorothy made rapid progress across the Indian Ocean.
Three months after leaving Rio de Jeneiro the Dorothy arrived at Port Jackson:
After disembarking in Sydney John Madden was housed in the newly constructed Hyde Park Barracks. He was kept at the Barracks rather than being employed in a convict gang or assigned to a free settler since at that time Governor Macquarie reserved the work of “mechanicals”, such as shoemakers, for government use bribing such convicts to stay at the Barracks with additional rations. Evidence for the fact that John Madden was one such is found in the Nominal list of all Persons Victualled from HM Magazine where John Madden (Shoemaker) residing at Hyde Park Barracks is listed as being issued with one and half rations.
However, in June 1822, after Commissioner Bigge published his report, The State of the Colony of New South Wales criticizing Macquarie’s retention of skilled convicts for government service combined with vociferous agitation by wealthy landowners such as John McArthur, the prisoners in Hyde Park Barracks were dispersed to landowners as a cheap labour force. Thus on 19 July 1823. John Madden was assigned to Rev Thomas Reddall in the Airds district (Campbelltown).
John Madden, worked first on the property Smeaton which Thomas Reddall rented from Charles Throsby while he waited for the completion of his house at Glen Alpine.
By 1830, Reddall’s house at Glen Alpine was ready for occupation. John Madden may well have worked on the construction of this house.
With support from Thomas Reddall, perhaps as a reward for dutiful work carried out on his properties, John Madden was issued with a Ticket of Leave on 30 October, 1830. This Ticket of Leave allowed him to work for himself provided that he remained in the District of Airds (Campbelltown), reporting regularly to local authorities and attending divine worship every Sunday, where possible. He could not leave the colony.
Now a partly free man, in 1834 John purchased three-quarter of an acre of land from Paul Huon. It became known locally as Madden’s Hill.
As a ticket-of-leave man, John Madden was entitled to apply to have his wife and family sent out to New South Wales at government expense which he did so in 1836
In the meantime, with the re-union of the family yet to be accomplished John Madden was granted a Conditional Pardon on 30 Oct 1837. Conditional Pardons were given to well-behaved convicts who had been transported for life them giving them the freedom to move around the colony on the condition that they did not return to Ireland. John Madden preferred, however, to remain in the Campbelltown area.
Finally, as a consequence of the government’s approval of John Maddens’ petition, his sons, Patrick and John embarked from Dublin for New South Wales on the Elphinstone, a male convict ship on 22 July, 1838. They arrived in Sydney Cove on 5 January, 1839.
Two days before the Elpinstine departed, on 20 July, 1838, Bridget, John’s wife, sailed from Dublin on the female convict ship, the Margaret. Unlike her sons for whom the Elphinstone’s surgeon’s journal contains no entries, the Margaret’s surgeon records that Bridget suffered from scorbutus a condition caused by deficiency of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in the early part of her journey and pneumonia in the latter part. Despite leaving Ireland before her sons, Bridget’s ship, the Margaret, arrived in Port Jackson just over a week after the Elphinstine on 14 January, 1839. Unfortunately, Mary, John and Bridget’s daughter had died before either journey had begun. However, with the arrival of Bridget in New South Wales the family was re-united once again.
John Madden died on the 12 February 1851 having made his last will and testament the day before. In this document he bequeathed to his wife, Bridget.
All that piece and parcel of land …containing three quarters of an acre more or less… one mare and colt and filly, one cow and one calf and a cart.
His Death Certificate records that he was a shoemaker (as does Bridget’s Death Certificate where she is described as a “shoemaker’s wife”). This is probably how he made most of his living as his little holding although possibly well farmed would have been too small to sustain himself and his re-united family.
There is irony in the fact that John Madden had been transported to New South Wales for opposing the landless state of the Irish peasantry only to become a landowner himself. While we admire this achievement, I wonder, through the growing awareness of the colonial alienation of the land of local aborigines whether his great-great-great-great-grandchildren’s generation will see the occupation of the land at Sugarloaf Mountain as dispossession of the indigenous population an irony that John and his family were probably unable to see.
A video presentation of the life of John Madden can be found at: