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The Story of John Petchey  1792 -1850 (part1)

To my Grandchildren


This is the story of John Petchey who was the nephew of your great, great, great, great, great, grandfather. He was born a long time ago (about 1790) when Australia had just been discovered, America was ruled by England and chocolate bars had not been invented!


John was born to a poor family who worked on the farms in Essex. There were no tractors in those days so horses were used to pull ploughs and wagons. Now when John was a young man many things were happening in the world which meant it was very hard to feed the horses, especially in winter.


First there had been a revolution in France, when poor people chopped the heads of the rich, powerful people and a man called Napoleon became the Emperor. Napoleon was greedy and wanted to rule England as well as France so there was a war for many years until the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Before battles were fought with tanks and planes everything was pulled by horses, and posh soldiers fought riding on horses. Horses had to be fed and war horses had the best of the oats, which is important in our story.

two labourers

The second big thing that happened was that in 1809 a big volcano exploded which meant ash blocked out the sun and started ten years of terrible winters. It was in the icy winter of 1810, when John was desperate to feed his farm horse. Then one night he met a friend who whispered in his year,

“Hey John, could you use a big bag of oats?”

“Oats? Yeh, of course I could, my old mare is starving. But how’d you come by it? I can’t pay for it, neither.”

“Ask no questions, I'll tell ye no lies. Do you want it or not?”

John thought hard about it, he was desperate, but where did it come from? In the end he gave in.

“Yeh, okay, I’ll take it.”

He picked up the sack of oats and took it home; he was so relieved he could now feed his horse. 


But a few days later there was a knock at his cottage door, it was the local constable.

“Are you John Petchey?” he asked sternly.

“Yes sir.”

“May I have a look in your stable?”

John did not argue with him and showed him the way. The constable was soon poking around with his staff when he found it, the sack of oats. After examining it closely he found what he was looking for.”

“Mr Petchey, do you know what these letters mean?” showing him the markings on the sack.

“No sir, I can’t read.”

These marks tell me this sack and what’s in it is the property of the Essex Regiment. This bag of oats was stolen from the barracks a month ago so you are in possession stolen property. John Petchey, you are under arrest!”



On 14th March 1810 poor John stood in the dock at the Chelmsford magistrate’s court. There was no long trial. His crime was read out, he was guilty and his sentence was given. Fourteen years transportation! He was to be sent to the far side of the world, to a place he had never heard of, to a place with an evil sounding name, to an island south of Australia call - Van Diemen’s Land.

prison hulk

But before the ship to take him set sail he was put in awful places that were old, worn out warships called prison hulks. The first one was called the Portland the second was called Captivity. It was only after two years, on 4th June 1812, when the ship Indefatigable at last set sail with 200 convicts on board. The voyage lasted over four months arriving in Hobart on 19th October 1812.


As John disembarked in this strange land he thought back on the last terrible years of his life. He had been a half-starved farm labourer. He had been torn from family and friends, locked up in a rat infested prison, made to sail half way round the world on an overcrowded ship and was now a convict in a wild, forbidding land. But something inside him told him not to give up hope. For here, on the far side of the world where everyone was just starting out, if he was prepared to work hard and keep smiling, what seemed like the worst thing that could ever happen to him - could turn out to be the very best!


 Chapter 2


england to vdl