Joseph Bradley.
Joseph Bradley.

Author finds inspiration in convict past

PETER Bradley is so proud of his convict past, he has written a book about it entitled Convicted, chronicling the long journey his great-great-great grandfather made on the First Fleet.

Convicted is a story retold through the extraordinary lives of three of Peter Bradley's ancestors: a father (James), a son (Joseph) and grandson (Roland.)

It begins in 1785 when James Bradley was convicted of stealing a white linen handkerchief worth two shillings and sentenced to seven years transportation to the colonies.

How, these many generations later, Peter Bradley came to write an insightful chronicle of James Bradley's journey to Australia on the First Fleet is some feat, considering James Bradley, like so many of his time, was illiterate.

"I had to write it making a few assumptions," Peter told an audience on the Sunshine Coast recently. "After James survived the sailing and arrived in (now) Sydney he became more determined not to be a lazy convict. He worked hard until his seven years was up and he was freed."

 

Elizabeth, Joseph's wife, with Sarah Jane.
Elizabeth, Joseph's wife, with Sarah Jane.

The arrival of the First Fleet, narrated through Peter Bradley's ancestors' eyes is told without hysteria, while at the same time revealing the unimaginable hardships of forming a fledgling colony.

Building the most basic of shelters, finding and clearing land to farm, dealing with floods, droughts and loss of harvests, all the while struggling from day to day and waiting for more ships to arrive from England with news and provisions are all detailed in the book, along with the inevitable question of dealing with a bewildered indigenous population.

Through his great-great-great grandfather's eyes, Peter Bradley has managed to show the unspoilt and spectacular beauty of Australia from its white settler beginnings as it began to slowly build itself.

Peter's research took him deep into the beginnings of our nation and revealed the vital role the Governors of the day played. Peter believes without their vision, support, and control, Australia would be a very different place today.

"The Governors - especially Phillip, Macquarie - supported the convicts," he said. "The military wanted to take the whole place over. The convicts could have ended up as slaves. We owe a lot to those Governors, they did a thankless task. The English government was clear about treating the indigenous people with respect and being friendly, but they (white settlers) still felt superior, took their land and when they reacted, then it was revenge attacks."

 

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Peter Bradley on the Coast to talk about his convict past.
AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Peter Bradley on the Coast to talk about his convict past.

James Bradley managed to shake off the shame of his convict beginnings and went on to marry Sarah, a convict on the Third Fleet, and together they raised eight children and achieved middle-class respectability.

Their eighth child, Joseph, received enough education to write a journal, a priceless document now as the then young James took to a life of whaling in his early teens.

"He risked his life every time he went after a whale," Peter said. "Whaling, abhorrent today, but it was a proper industry then. It was very dangerous. Often the smaller whaling boat that went out to harpoon the whale became lost to the (mother) ship and Joseph spent many days lost as sea, looking for small islands, for water, encountering not-so-friendly natives. He almost lost his life many times."

As the story expands, the history evolves and tells a compelling journey from convict father to whaling son and then on to union-man grandson, all while portraying the struggles, discoveries and hardships.

"This history is unique," Peter said. "To write this book I have used my own research and my ancestors' journals and imagined their emotions. I have included this detail in the story through my musings, though I recognise it can't be proven. I believe my (musings) add value to the story and the memory of my ancestors."

Roland Bradley, the third-generation person in the story, was a man of unionism and politics, and like his father and grandfather, took up the fight again the rich and powerful through his involvement with the early Maritime union.

In 1894 he wrote an account of surviving the shipwreck of the ss Kanahooka in the Gulf of Carpentaria which forced its inhabitants to wander the wilderness of North Queensland for 18 days. It all adds to the on-going story of the battles, this one family of so many like them, endured.

"My father had Roland's journal passed down," Peter said. "He dived into the family tree and found that Roland had got caught at sea in a big storm in 1894 and writes about how 16 people came a cropper, eight escaped and survived 18 days in the Queensland bush.

"Roland's journal gave me that start. My father had half transcribed it, I said I'd do the rest. It was hard because of Roland's hand-writing, but when I finished Dad gave me family files and I knew there was a big book there, starting with James, and then especially onto Joseph and his whaling stories and then on to Roland."

Peter Bradley encourages anyone who thinks they have a family-tree worth delving into to go down the path he did. He says his research and writing has given him many hours of joy and brought to vivid life the very beginnings of our country.

"I have learned with pride that my forebears didn't sit back and go along for the ride," Peter said. "Rather, they felt strongly enough to defend the rights of their fellow man and woman when circumstances arose. There were many men and women in Australia's history who fought similar battles, which allows modern Australia to enjoy the freedom it does."


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