History and serendipity covered the story of how Timothy Millett’s collection of convict love tokens were bought by the National Museum of Australia. Prior to the sale, Timothy had tried to research the history of convicts named on the tokens. This had been difficult because people were reluctant to acknowledge their convict ancestors.
It would be interesting to know if this reluctance related to previous generations or contemporary families or both. Likewise was this restricted to British families or Australians as well.
Respectable people worried about the future of a community composed so largely of men and women who belonged to it because they had been caught stealing. The convicts’ morals, it was feared, accompanied them to freedom and comfort, and infected other members of the civil and military population…How a man happened to have come to New South Wales was the most delicate of topics in colonial conversation. The word ‘convict’ came to be forbidden from general discourse.
At some point, though, this changed for Australians. When actor Jack Thompson discovered, on Who do you think you are, he had convict ancestry, he joyously announced he was descended from Australian royalty. You can also get bumper stickers along similar lines — Descended From Australian Royalty and Proud of It.
Hopefully, this more favoured view of convict forbears will lead to more of the convict love tokens at the National Museum of Australia being matched to the convicts who gave them to their loves ones.
When do you think Australians moved from shame of their convict relatives to celebration of convict ancestry?