Thursday, January 17, 2013

Convict tattoos

Many of the convicts had tattoos usually on their upper arms and symbols such as hearts, anchors and crosses were popular. The anchor was a symbol of hope and constancy and initials of loved ones were placed nearby. Other tattoos included the date of trial, name of transport ship and date of release. Black soot from lamps was used to tone the design of the tattoo. These distinguishing marks were usually included in the detailed reports written by the authorities describing the physical appearance of the convicts. 

In 1849, James Johnson, (Guildford 1827) the ex-convict father-in-law of Thomas Gough, was arrested at Sutton Forest for the theft of some bags of sugar (about 450 kilos) worth 20 pounds sterling and a tarpaulin worth 4 pounds sterling, from a carrier's dray parked outside Field's pub, and was imprisoned in Goulburn jail. His jail entrance report describes his tattoos in detail.

left arm: mermaid; a woman and child; sun, moon and seven stars; 1827

right arm: S.J.-M.J.-J.J. tree; E.S.J. anchor; J.J.-W.J. and a bird

Any ideas on these tattoo symbols? The family initials? 1827 was his date of arrival but what was the meaning of the sun, moon and stars? Were they just decorative? Feel free to add your comment.

Source: SRNSW Gaol Description & Entrance Books 1818 -1930 
series 2229; item;6/5430; reel 1875

SMH 7 Feb 1849 p.2 report of trial at Goulburn 3 Feb - found not guilty

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