Dani's Niche

Family history. A novel idea.

Fans and Convicts

The Language of Fans
“She noticed girls ogling him or using their fans to get his attention.”(Stone’s Hope)
“She understood their fanned messages. She noticed them flashing their eyes at potential suitors.”(Stone’s Hope)

The fan was used not so much to create a breeze as to convey a message. Here are a few:
Fanning slowly: I am married
Fanning fast: I am engaged
Drawing across forehead: We are watched
Drawing across cheek: I love you
Carrying in left hand: Desirous of acquaintance
In right hand in front of face: Follow me
Drawing through hand: I hate you
Twirling in left hand: I wish to get rid of you
Twirling in right hand: I love another
Closing it: I wish to speak with you
Drawing across eyes: I am sorry
Open and shut: You are cruel


note: “The convict” refers to Richard’s brother in Stone’s Hope.

The Sessions House in Spilsby was a tall building with Greek pillars. Quarter Sessions were held in the courthouse four times a year and since the first session of the year was in January, a convict taken into custody around that time would not have to wait long isolated in the prison behind a high brick wall. Some poor souls waited more than three months, and by the time the sessions began, the prison was overcrowded and conditions were miserable.
The accused would not be permitted to testify. He would have stood before the judge in the Lindsey District Court Quarter Session. The reading of the law proclaimed, “ By an Act of Parliament passed in the fourteenth year of the reign of King George II, for the security of farmers and graziers, it is thus enacted … ‘If any person, after the first day of May, seventeen forty-one, shall feloniously drive away or in any manner feloniously steal any sheep, or shall willfully kill one or more sheep, with intent to steal the whole or any part of the carcasses, the person or persons so offending shall suffer death, without benefit of clergy.’”
By law, the judge had every right to punish the convict by death, but if it was a common crime, committed under dire circumstances, the judge, believing his judgment to be humane and lenient, might have banged his gavel and declared him guilty then sentenced him to Van Dieman’s Land., “Guilty of killing a sheep with intent to steal. You are hereby sentenced to be transported to Van Dieman’s Land for fifteen years hard labor.”
From Spilsby Richard’s brother may have been taken to London and held in a floating prison hulk harbored on the River Thames, waiting for transportation by convict ship to a distant prison colony. Each prisoner was held in a small compartment furnished with a mat, blanket and a metal basin for water, fed oatmeal gruel, bread and potatoes, and given daily work. He might have been taken to the oakum room packed with hundreds of unfortunates who sat in enforced silence untwisting old rope into corkscrew strands, then unrolling each strand to loose the mesh.
This convict escaped the misfortune of some who labored there for a year or more before they were put aboard a ship. After only four months from sentencing, on April twenty-fifth, he boarded the Maria Somes in London for the ninety-nine day voyage. Two convicts died on the way, but in spite of ill health along with the filth, vermin and overcrowding, he was not one of them. The motley, malnourished, disheartened survivors reached Hobart on Van Diemen’s Island on July in the year 1844 to pay for their crimes and never saw the shores of England again.
The “transported” convict, like a slave, did hard labor in the work gangs at Oyster Bay, south of Hobart, for one year and nine months probation. Then he was assigned to work for two different farmers over the course of five years without wages, marrying or owning land.
After seven years separation, previously married convicts were permitted to remarry  as long as their spouse was abroad, even if they were still living. The Government encouraged marriage, upon approval by the Convict Department, between convicts as it was seen as a means of rehabilitation.
Richard’s brother was granted a Ticket of Leave which meant he could not own land, had to report to authorities regularly, attend worship each Sunday, and confined to a named area. In 1853 he was granted a Conditional Pardon. He was treated as a free person, subject to remaining in the colony. We have no documentation after he was released to make his own way in a new country, perhaps with a new family. By the end of “transportation” in 1857, about 40 percent of the English-speaking population of Australia consisted of transported convicts.

2 thoughts on “Fans and Convicts

  1. Hello Danyce, this is Sherrill Larson, my cousin Rodney gave me your email address. I am not sure if this is the place to send an email, but I hope so. My husband and I are now living in Birmingham, AL. We have been here for four years now. I am the Director of Academics for Highlands College connected with our church, Church of the Highlands.


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