My “Convict” History
I admire a former convict, an ancestor of mine. Okay, you may think, yeah, of course, she’s an Australian—these days they wear their convict heritage like a badge of honour.
No, actually, my great-great grandfather lived in Silesia which is now part of East Germany or Poland today. Rubber borders, you see. His crime was trivial by our standards today in the West. But then, so were the crimes of shiploads of convicts who were transported from Britain and Ireland to Australia in the early nineteenth century.
My great-great grandfather Friedrich spent less than three months in prison for this trivial crime he may or may not have committed, but I admire the way he handled his dire situation.
How did he get into this trouble?
According to the family history book of this particular branch of the family, in the town in which my great-great grandfather studied as a medical student in the 1820’s, the military came to power and enforced strict and arbitrary rules. I might add here that my ancestor had already endured hardship, having been orphaned as a child, suffered poverty and then, his older brother who was his guardian, died from typhus. I imagine, these events spurred him on to be a doctor.
Anyway, the university students protested against their restrictions to their liberty by reacting against the ridiculous laws the military had brought on the town. Some of these laws were that there be no singing in the streets, no wearing of caps and waving of flags. The students protested by marching in the streets to the town square, singing and waving flags. All went smoothly and peacefully with no trouble from the authorities.
Then some of the young men, probably after drinking a few beers, became silly as young men do. They threw rocks at windows; action that got the authorities’ attention.
The military swooped and arrested many of the protestors. My great-great grandfather was walking past the action and was in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time.
Arrested and tried, though otherwise of exemplary character as a good Christian belonging to the Moravian Brethren, Friedrich was convicted and sentenced to prison for six months.
It seems by his account and letters, a certain beadle in town had it in for my great-great grandfather Friedrich.
Yet Friedrich accepted his time in prison and made the best of the situation both for himself and others. He studied, enjoyed the view of the valley from his prison room (I think he was in a low security prison) and used his medical knowledge and skills to help those around him.
Great-great grandfather Friedrich’s quiet conduct and enrichment of the prison community was noticed by the authorities and they released him less than three months into his term.
Released, Friedrich’s ordeal was not over. The university where he’d been studying banned him from returning to study there. His reputation tarnished, the villagers shunned Friedrich.
However, Friedrich did not give up. He moved to Berlin and keeping a low profile, completed his studies and graduated as a Doctor of Medicine. He had a heart for the poor, having been poor himself, and would treat those in need without demanding payment.
My great-great grandfather demonstrated those godly qualities I admire—justice, mercy and compassion. And perseverance, even in the face of adversity.
Philippians 2:14-15—Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe…
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: The Cry of the Convicts, Sarah Island Ruins © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2011
Note: Sarah Island situated in the Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania, imprisoned the worst of the worst convicts transported to Australia in the early nineteenth century.
I have visited Sarah Island as part of the Gordon-Franklin River Cruise, both in 2001 and 2011. I highly recommend this cruise—a bucket list for travellers—history, wilderness, rare beauty of unspoilt rivers and rainforest and…excellent food.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016