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John Carter’s Prisoners in Van Diemen’s Land

Researching our Island history keeps many of us occupied throughout the winter. This year we will meet several to whom we owe our gratitude, for they continue to discover history of our Island waterway and they share their information. Our first historian is Dr. John Carter.

Tasmania seems like a distant land but for John Carter, Canadian historian and recently a Visiting Fellow at the University of Tasmania, Tasmania is a treasure trunk waiting to be opened.   TI Life met John last September, when he sent a simple inquiry?  Could we provide more information about a reference Paul Malo wrote in an early issue?  (see Reference here)

Several emails later… we began to learn more about the subject that fascinates John. He calls it Uncertain Future in an Unknown Place, North American Political Prisoners in Van Diemen’s Land.

John is well prepared to become an authority on the subject. He received a B.A. in History and MA in Native Studies from the University of Waterloo. He then received a Bachelor of Education in Library and History at University of Western Ontario and completed his Doctorate in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, in England. Today John is an advisor to the Ontario Ministry of Culture and lives in Toronto.  In October he was the guest editor of “Ontario History”, the Journal of the Ontario Historical Society.1 

John‘s interest in the Patriots began forty years ago when he served as curator of the John R. Park Homestead Museum in Essex County Ontario. He says, “I was interested in the series of incursions in the Western District from Michigan and Ohio in 1839. Research lead to writing a series of articles in the Windsor Star and then finally beginning trips to Australia for additional information.”

John’s subject is often referred to as the Patriot War or the Rebellion of 1837-38, and this era has been much publicized and glamorized over the years. Today’s tour boat commentators in the Thousand Islands always include stories about the infamous pirate William (Bill) Johnston and his attack on the steamship Sir Robert Peel. The captains proudly point to the land marks that are associated with Johnston’s escapades.

However, there are other stories that are equally interesting. Those taking part in the uprisings of 1837 and 1838 were, for the most part, ordinary citizens, but there were others, particularly many Americans, who had a strong belief that Canada should be like the United States and have a Republican government. Unfortunately for them, not many Canadians agreed. The revolution failed.

The final action took place in 1838 when the group known as the Hunter’s Lodges, a strong and active group, gathered to start an offensive on Canada.  The Battle of the Windmill took place in mid November 1838.  Their leaders told them that the Canadians across the river were waiting for the opportunity to join in the fight for independence from Britain.

The eventual battle at Windmill Point, below Prescott, saw the defeat of the invaders. Both sides fought long and hard and the four-day battle was described as the bloodiest fighting of the rebellion. When it was over, 13 British and Canadian troops were dead and some 30 were wounded. Twenty invaders were killed, almost as many severely wounded, and about 140 taken prisoner. The leader of the group Nils Szoltereky VonSchoultz, and nine others were executed by hanging at Fort Henry in Kingston.

Of the 60 men sent to Van Diemen’s Land (Now known as Tasmania) we know that 32 returned to North America, six died in passage, four remained in their new country and settled and 18 are listed as “fate unknown”. It was the quest to discover as much about these prisoners – those sent to Tasmania that has driven John Carter and his research.

John Carter’s first visit to Tasmania was in 1995 and he has returned seven times. He was a Visiting Fellow twice at the Australian National University in Canberra and the University of Tasmania in Hobart. This past winter he had the opportunity to visit probation stations in Tasmania with Hobart historian and archaeologist John Thompson.

What did you do in Tasmania? TI Life asked. John replied, “Visiting and recording probation stations that the North American political prisoners were held at and doing the same at estates in the midlands of Tasmania where these men worked during their tickets of leave and pardons, prior to their return to Canada and or the USA.” John also helped to mount an exhibit at the Swansea Heritage Centre (Tasmania) about "patriots" who ended up working on the east coast of Van Diemen's Land.

His last visit was last February. He presented six talks in six cities. He also completed three radio interviews with Australian Broadcasting Corporation. [Click here to hear their podcast]

John’s scholarly research is part of the “Rebellion Theme” issue of Ontario History, the journal of the Ontario Historical Society. It was published in October . (Available by contacting…) Another article was recently featured in the 2009, York Pioneer, the journal of the York Historical Association.

We asked John what is still missing? He quickly replied, “More information about American James M. Aitchison. He was born in Scotland and was 28 when he was captured and sent to Van Diemen’s Land.” John is always looking for substantive information on many of the English speaking "patriots," most of whom returned to Upper Canada or the USA. He would like to produce a documentary film thus raising awareness in Canada/UK/USA/Australia about this part of our collective heritage.

And thanks to John we in the Thousand Islands are learning more about those who fought on our shores and paid the consequences. Over the winter we will add several stories about these Patriots to our History Page – please check back often.

References for the Patriot’s War

John Carter2

“Events in the Western District, 1838: The Other Rebellion,” in 1837 Rebellion Remembered (Willowdale, Ontario. Ontario Historical Society, 1988).

“Introduction – Aftermath of Rebellion: Patriot Stories in Other Lands,” Australasian Canada Studies, 2, 2 (2007).

“Patriot Wars: Blazing Saga of Discontent: Windsor Start (23 January 1988).

“Patriot Wars: Rout at Fighting Island,: Windsor Star (19 April 1988).

“The Battle of Pelee Island: Third Patriot Attempt at Bloody Confrontation,” Windsor Star (30 April 1988)

“The Battle of Windsor: Last Chapter in the Patriot Wars,” Windsor Star (9 July 1988).

John Carter and Chris Raible, “Remembrances of the 1837 Rebellion: An Inventory of Known Prisoners’ Boxes,” York Pioneer, 101, (2006).

“Ontario History”

Dr. John Carter was the guest editor of “Ontario History” the Journal of the Ontario Historical Society. The Society was founded in 1888. Today they are known as an “educational organization dedicated to increasing an appreciation of Ontario's history and preserving its heritage for people of all ages and cultural backgrounds”. The Society now publishes "Ontario History" twice a year.

The Autumn Issue (Vol CI No.2), published in October, is dedicated to the history of the 1837-1838 Rebellions (also known as Patriot War). Copies are available by contacting the Ontario Historical Society: c/o. Andrea Izzo, OHS Bulletin Editor. (Annual subscription rates (in Cdn funds): O.H.S. members, $21 (incl. GST); non-member individuals, $31.50 (incl. GST).

Research presented by Paul Malo

Reference Material from the Patriot War 1837-38

In February 2008 Paul Malo presented several articles in Thousand Islands Life on the Patriot War (1837-1838).  These are transcribed into our History section, under the tag line “THE PLACE”

Pages within this series:

Highly recommended

NNY Genealogy – Stories in Stone: Patriot War 1937. One of the most important and helpful references on the Patriot War. This collection contains information on 232 participants from the North Country who participated in the Patriot War . An search option on the material will allows readers to view specific details on each individual. The site explains that “The amount of detail is being expanded as the original prison records are transcribed.” Also, readers are encouraged to use the Information Request page to obtain additional information.

Introduction & Index for Patriot War Articles.  On-going research found on  Shirley Farone's Website  RootsWeb Ms. Farone provides articles written in the Watertown Daily Times published in 1923.


There are six articles about the Rebellion of 1837-38 in the Autumn issue of Ontario History.



Detailed from the comprehensive bibliography featured in, “Bibliography of Published Woks Relating to the Upper Canada Rebellion, 1837-1838” by Chris Raible. “Ontario History” Vol CI, No 2 Autumn 2009.

Posted in: History, People
Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Shirley Farone
Comment by: Shirley Farone ( )
Left at: 10:40 AM Sunday, November 15, 2009
Reference is made to Dr. John C. Carter's (also his associates) article in Ontario History - October 2009. I've had the privilege of reading this wonderful article and want to urge others to read it.

Terrance Patterson
Comment by: Terrance Patterson ( )
Left at: 9:05 PM Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Dr. John Carter was nice enough to direct me to ths fascinating site.
My wife's great, great grandfather is Hiram Sharp, one of the few who remained in Australia after being pardoned.

It would be wonderful to be able to contact any other descendants of the "Patriots".
Norm Howard
Comment by: Norm Howard ( )
Left at: 1:02 AM Wednesday, November 25, 2009
We met John Carter in Hobart,Tasmania last March during a visit there to research our greatgranfather, Linus Miller, an American, who was one of North American patriots imprisoned in Van Dieman's Land. When we were kids we were told the story, so curiosity finally brought us to Tasmania, where we had the good luck to meet John and benefit from his research. The story has a universal attraction because of its themes about justice, the British prisoner transportation system, and the attempt to export the ideals of the American revolution to Canada. It provides great material for a historical documentary or historical fiction. I am looking for anyone else who has ancestors who were participated in the the 1837-45 patriot adventure.. Norm Howard,
Suzanne Karakyriakos
Comment by: Suzanne Karakyriakos ( )
Left at: 10:30 AM Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I commend John Carter for his wonderful research & interest in my birth state of Tasmania, Australia. It was a great privilege to meet John at Campbell Town in February 2009 & learn more about the political prisoners who were transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1838. My great great grandfather John Cocker, who was in the British Army & fighting in the rebellion in Canada was also transported: first to an hulk in the Thames River, England & then to Van Diemen's Land. John Carter has done much to enlighten & entertain anyone with an interest in history, politics & convict transportation. And, he has educated many Tasmanians about a part of their history that should not be forgotten.
Helen Burnet
Comment by: Helen Burnet ( )
Left at: 3:03 PM Thursday, November 26, 2009
Dr Carter's ongoing studies of this group of political prisoners transported to Van Diemen's Land has uncovered some fascinating elements of our island's history. John's travels whilst in Tasmania often take him to old farms and homesteads where the patriots were indentured, and it is with this dedication that he has brought to life some of the stories which would otherwise be forgotten forever.
I look forward to welcoming John back to our shores again, and hearing more of the history that links Canada and Tasmania.
Helen Burnet
Deputy Lord Mayor of Hobart
Suzanne Karakyriakos
Comment by: Suzanne Karakyriakos ( )
Left at: 8:04 AM Friday, November 27, 2009
My comment made November 24th.
Pauline Buckby
Comment by: Pauline Buckby ( )
Left at: 9:12 PM Saturday, November 28, 2009
"I found this article by Susan Smith very interesting and read the comments. I am indebted to Dr.Carter for information about the Political Prisoners. I am writing the history of my late husband's great grandfather who was one of the Political Prisoners sent to Tasmania and remained here to raise a family. The name on his records is 'Chauncey Bugbee' but because he was illiterate there have been a number of spellings of his name - Bugbie/Bugbee/Bugby. On the birth certificates of his children the name is spelt Bugbie but his son, William, went by William Buckby and now this spelling is accepted by the family. Chauncey Bugbee was arrested aboard a schooner at Millen's Bay and was sentenced to death, but eventually was sent to Tasmania aboard the 'Buffalo' in 1840. Chauncey was 22 years of age and a native of Jefferson County, New York. I would be very interested to hear from anyone who may be related, or have information about this man.
I am an author of 4 Tasmanian histories, have just finished my autobiography and would like to continue the story of my late husband's family."
Pauline Buckby
Mary Ramsay
Comment by: Mary Ramsay ( )
Left at: 12:34 AM Friday, December 4, 2009
The Bothwell Historical society has been involved in researching many of the political prisoners who were sent to Bothwell as convict. For many years we thought we had only Irish freedom fighters, English chartists and Englsih machine-breakers so it was with delight that we heard from Dr Carter that some of the Canadian exiles had also been sent to work in our small village in the Tasmanian countryside.Look up our website to find out more about our area.
Mary Ramsay
Ian Hundey
Comment by: Ian Hundey ( )
Left at: 10:31 PM Sunday, December 6, 2009
I was pleased to read your article about John Carter's fine work in shedding light on the history of the North American political prisoners in Tasmania. The subsequent comments clearly reflect the fascination in this topic, both in North America and Australia.
As John knows, I share his interest in James Milne Aitchison. Aitchison was the son of a wealthy Edinburgh brewing family who was sent out to British North America, settled in London Upper Canada, fled to the U.S. in the face of mounting debts, and was captured in the final Patriot Raid at the Battle of Windsor in December, 1838. He was transported to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), laboured at several of the probation stations described by John and was pardoned in 1844. He was reported to have left Tasmania for 'mainland' Australia but neither John nor I have been able to trace him. Did he stay in Australia or did he return to Scotland or North America? Should any readers have any information on Aitchison - especially in his post Tasmania years - please contact me at
Maureen Martin Ferris
Comment by: Maureen Martin Ferris ( )
Left at: 3:17 PM Tuesday, December 8, 2009
The Glamorgan Spring Bay Historical Society and the Swansea Heritage Centre were delighted to host John Carter on his visit to Tasmania with his presentation on the North American political prisoners. We had a great turn out and the locals were very interested to hear about those prisoners in our area.
We look forward to John's next visit so we can expand our display. In 2010 we will be opening our new museum/historical society/visitor information centre redevelopment. Our municipality 'Glamorgan Spring Bay' will be celebrating it's 150th year - we are the oldest rural municipality in AUSTRALIA.
Maureen Martin Ferris.
David Freeman
Comment by: David Freeman ( )
Left at: 3:23 PM Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Susan Smith has written a wonderful 'taster' article here regarding the political prisoners of North America. Let me encourage others to follow through on the various references to Dr John Carter's extremely well researched articles. They are much more than a desk-top study. As a descendant family of one of the prisoners, Ira Polley, who never made it home and returned to Australia, we have a real interest in understanding the horrors of those years and their unjustified exploitation. Dr Carter has connected an unknown and forgotten part of inter-continental history into a very readable and well-referenced article which I must highly commend. Well done.
Brian Rieusset
Comment by: Brian Rieusset ( )
Left at: 7:10 AM Thursday, December 10, 2009
It was a great experience to meet John in Hobart on several occasions and show him around and discuss our site where so many of the Patriots spent time either in the prisoners barracks or attended services in our chapel.
But to have Norman and Cordelia Howard, Great grand children of Linus Miller unexpectantly walk in my historic site door back in March 2009 was an amazing day to remember. Especially as, unknown to them, John was giving his talk on the patriots that evening in Hobart.
Linus Miller wrote much about our barracks and chapel during his time in Hobart and it was my deep honour to be able to erect a humble stone monument bearing a poem he wrote back in 1844 dedicated to the Patriots buried in our prisoner's burial ground.
Brian Rieusset, Curator, Penitentiary Chapel Historic Site
Hobart, Tasmania
Norm Howard
Comment by: Norm Howard ( )
Left at: 12:11 PM Thursday, December 10, 2009
It was indeed an inspiration for my cousin Cordelia and I to meet Brian at the Hobart Chapel Prison. Brian is an enthusiastic and talented historian with a wealth of information to share. He guided us thru the inner passages of the prison where our ancestor, Linus Miller, and the other patriot prisoners actuallly had walked. One highlight was the chapel itself, where Linus desscribed a hilarious church service:"..they (prisoners) came pouring in,pushing,and crowding,horrid blasphemy and abominable obscenity made the building ring...sone spinning yarns, some playing pitch toss, gambling,several crawling about under the fellow carrying a bottle of rum which he was serving to those with a sixpence...." The other highlight was Brian taking us to the previously unmarked grave yard of prisoners and setlllers , where he arranged for the city of Hobart to errect a marker. Site now under an elementry scholo plarking lot. Norm Howard
R F (Bob) Minchin
Comment by: R F (Bob) Minchin ( )
Left at: 4:15 PM Friday, December 11, 2009
On one of John Carter's visits to Tasmania it was my pleasure to drive him to Symmons Plains to visit the site of the capture of bushrangers by a party of convict police that included Aaron Dresser and Stephern Wright, two of the North American Political Prisoners. Both were granted Free Pardons for their efforts. I came across the information on Dresser and Wright during research which resulted in my publication of four books on bushrangers of Van Diemen's Land. On another occasion I soent an enjoyable day with John driving around the Eastern Marshes on visits to Ashgrove and Fonthill where some of the political prisoners had been stationed.
Kathy McGlinchy
Comment by: Kathy McGlinchy ( )
Left at: 2:01 AM Tuesday, December 22, 2009
My nephew Terrance Paterson of Berowra NSW Australia was good enough to guide me to this site. My Great Grandfather was Hiram Sharp and he was one of who stayed in Australia. He met an Irish girl by the name of Mary Casey. They Lived in a little town called Bombala in NSW until his accidental death. Most presumed that he returned to the USA.
I thank Dr Carter for the information that he gave my nephew and how it has filled a void in my family history.
Peter Fielding
Comment by: Peter Fielding ( )
Left at: 6:13 PM Saturday, January 2, 2010
For the past 10 years I have been researching the bushranging activities of Kavenagh, Jones and Cash, notorious bushrangers of NSW and Van Diemen's Land. Bushranger researcher, Bob Minchin, introduced me to John Carter. It was a delight to discover more about the North American prisoners who were compelled to be manhunters in pursuit of bushrangers. John'a illustrated lecture in Oatlands Rown Hall gave a wonderful insight into the life and times of the North Americans. Some of these men became part of the Oatlands community, surviving with the practised cunning which most soldiers of fortune possess.
Moira Saunderson
Comment by: Moira Saunderson ( )
Left at: 10:25 PM Saturday, January 9, 2010
I have just discovered this wonderful site dealing with the Patriots sent to Tasmania and found another notch to add to the family tree. Agnes Scott (McCash her husband's name) arrived in VDL in 1838 on the Nautilus. IN 1846 she married Samuel Washburn ( a Patriot) at Campbelltown. A year later in 1839, Agnes Scott's daughter Mary Ann McCash arrived in NSW as a convict and in 1846 Mary Ann was married to another convict William Harris. In 1847 Samuel Washburn and Agnes left Tasmania for Port Albert in the Gippsland area in Victoria. From then on no further info can be found.
Susan W. Smith
Comment by: Susan W. Smith ( )
Left at: 11:39 AM Friday, January 15, 2010
A terrific subject and thanks to Dr. Carter, we now know a great deal more.
Max Linton
Comment by: Max Linton ( )
Left at: 7:45 AM Monday, January 18, 2010
Since John Carter contacted me some years ago I have again met with him on his more recent visits to Tasmania. I have learnt to appreciate his interest in the Patriots from Canada and to understand the research effort he has put into the subject. In this sense he has made a valuable contribution to the history of Van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) and in particular the convict period. My particular interest was the fact he was able to establish a connection between the Patriots and the Masonic fraternity in the State. As Librarian for the Grand Lodge of Tasmania we were able to establish that the brethren of one of our earliest Lodges had contributed financially in assisting one of the Patriots E.C. Woodman on his return trip to Canada. Unfortunately he died on the trip home.

Max Linton, Hobart Tasmania, Librarian Grand Lodge of Tasmania
Michelle Sharpe
Comment by: Michelle Sharpe ( )
Left at: 10:58 AM Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Thank you John for your absolutely intriguing research. Hiram Sharp is my husband's great grandfather and until researching the Sharp family tree I was unaware that prisoners were sent by the British to the penal colonies from the US. Patriots - all of them. I have been following your references and have even been in contact with other members of the Hiram Sharp family thanks to John.
Don Aitchison
Comment by: Don Aitchison ( )
Left at: 4:08 PM Tuesday, January 26, 2010
I first learned of James Aitchison from the diaries of the Revd William Proudfoot, a Presbyterian missionary in London, Ontario, who was married to James' aunt. As I did further research to try and determine whether we were related or not I became fascinated with his life story. It was great to meet John Carter and discover our shared in interest in the fate of JA. Still don't know if we were related, though!
Shaun McLaughlin
Comment by: Shaun McLaughlin
Left at: 8:04 AM Sunday, January 31, 2010
The Tasmanian convict records related to their conduct are now available online through the Tasmanian Archives. For example, view the records for Daniel Heustis and Garret Hicks. You can find an account of all Americans who arrived in Tasmania by searching on the date (Feb 1840) and the ship (HMS Buffalo).
Shaun McLaughlin, editor website Raiders and Rebels
Denise Gaulin
Comment by: Denise Gaulin ( )
Left at: 1:34 PM Friday, February 5, 2010
A most interesting article on an intriguing part of our history. Your magazine is an example of what should be done more often in local publishing. Not just a tourist publication, but a source of information for local residents as well.
Betty Radcliffe
Comment by: Betty Radcliffe ( )
Left at: 2:59 AM Tuesday, September 28, 2010
My great-great grandparents were Hiram Sharp and Maryanne Casey. As far as I am aware from my reading, Hiram joined a whaling expedition in the Southern Seas (not sure from which Australian port) on board an American whaling ship following his pardon in 1844, but returned to Australia at the conclusion of the voyage and did not ever return to the US. This information has sent me back to re-read "Moby Dick" (researched by Melville around this time) so that I can try to get a different feel for Hiram's life. Would be happy to hear from other descendents of Hiram and Maryanne.
Suzanne Karakyriakos
Comment by: Suzanne Karakyriakos ( )
Left at: 8:55 PM Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Hello Betty in Sydney. There were numerous whaling voyages out of Hobart for New Zealand, Twofold Bay (NSW) & Kangaroo Island (South Australia). I have just discovered some great (perhaps not GREAT) stories about Maori cannibalism in NZ of at least two whaling expeditions in the 1830's, where all the crew members were eaten.. There are even stories of shipwrecks on Macquarie Island where whalers & sealers were stranded for months. Try Google & also searches in Australian National Library/Archives & newspapers.
Also check the Tasmanian Archives website & Shipping Departures: books by Ian Hawkins Nicholson & Graeme Broxam from 1803-1850's. Happy hunting!!
christine davey
Comment by: christine davey ( )
Left at: 7:56 AM Friday, December 31, 2010
hello to all fellow Hiram Sharpe descendents. He was my great, great grandfather. His daughter, Catherine was my great grandmother. Would be nice to be in contact with some other descendents. What a life he had! And all of it in 44 years. It's been fascinating to read about the Battle of the Windmill.
Comment by: KELLY OCALLAGHAN ( )
Left at: 11:10 PM Monday, November 21, 2011