This morning I was looking at a list of street names for Burnie and came across several names that may be familiar to some readers. One name in particular is Rockliff, which I believe came from George William Rockliff, who owned a cordial factory in Cooee.
Both George's maternal grandparents were former convicts: Francis Fitzmaurice and Mary Ellen McDonnell of Cork, Ireland.
Francis Fitzmaurice was a native of Dublin sentenced to seven years transportation for stealing clothes. He first arrived in New South Wales on 25 October 1835, and over the next seven years was subjected to severe punishment, which included two years in irons, hard labour, solitary confinement and in excess of 80 lashes. In 1842, he escaped and became a bushranger, disappearing into oblivion for about ten months. When arrested, he was transported to a penal settlement for life.
Reaching Hobart in 1843, Francis was sent to Port Arthur. He absconded the following year and just as he was about to board the Eliza for South Australia, he was captured. He had been a free man for eight months and when found, he was well dressed, had a handsome watch in his fob, a pocket compass and a pair of double barrelled pistols loaded to the hilt. He also had in his possession a large sum of money.
When brought before a judge in Hobart, Francis was asked if he had anything to add to the charges of robbery against him. Francis replied that he had never used violence and had taken to the bush in order to regain his liberty, to which he had very nearly accomplished.
The judge deemed it necessary to order the sentence of death, however, in passing judgement, the judge said he was inclined to recommend to the Executive Council that Francis’ life be spared. The judge then added that Francis should expect to be “transported beyond the seas for the term of his natural life,” and therefore hoped that this leniency would have its due effect.
Several weeks later while imprisoned at the city gaol awaiting transportation to Norfolk Island, Francis was among fifty prisoners who began singing. The gaoler called in reinforcements who then quelled the prisoners and placed the ringleaders in irons. A couple of days later, the prisoners began singing again and while doing so, an isolated attempt was made to break out from one of the cells. As a result, the ringleaders, including Francis, were meted out with corporal punishment. One of the most notorious bushrangers, Martin Cash, was among the prisoners but he was not one of the ringleaders.
No sooner had he boarded the Governor Phillip to Norfolk Island, than Francis became involved in an unsuccessful mutiny, which transpired on 1 January 1845. With various implements such as razor blades and scissors, almost half the prisoners had managed to break free from their irons and chains. The intent was to cut a hole to the deck and overpower the sentries and secure the Captain, whose life they were determined to sacrifice. The attempted mutiny failed.
Later several prisoners were found guzzling port after they had managed to cut their way through to the cargo hold.
Francis was one of the sixteen prisoners who were committed to trial for the attempted mutiny. Although he had already been given a life sentence, Francis’ sentence was extended by four years.
In January 1851, Francis was returned to Hobart and five years later he received his conditional pardon. He had been a convict almost 18 years. Ten years later, in 1866, Francis was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for larceny, that is, for the theft of a coat from Samuel Davies at Deloraine. His end finally came one cold winter morning in June 1883. The cause of death was exposure to the elements. He had been found lying by the roadside just outside of Deloraine.
If there was a convict who can say he has been to hell and back, Francis was the man. Norfolk Island, Port Arthur and Macquarie Harbour were each known as “Hell” among “old hands,” as the convicts were called after transportation had been abolished. Remarkably, Francis managed to survive all three.
Francis’ grandson, George William Rockliff, may have had a vague recollection of his grandfather, however, his life would take on a different dimension only his forbears could ever hope for. George was an entrepreneur, and for many years was associated with the cordial factory at Cooee. Early in his working life, he had been a manager at the factory and later entered into a partnership with Frederick Wilson. The factory was originally owned by Captain William Jones but it changed hands either after a fire in 1905 or after the Captain passed away in 1907. Today vintage ginger beer bottles bearing the Rockliff name can be found in various private antique collections.