A Rebel Redeemed

Robert Walpole passed the Black Acts in response to poaching in windsor Forest in the early 18th century. The law should have been a short term one, but was not repealed till many decades later. A wide range of former misdemeanors or traditional rights were converted to capital punishments, but they were often converted to transportation for 7 or 14 years to the colonies of North America, then led to the founding of the colony of New South Wales. Few ever returned, and in some cases, their punishment seems to have brought out the best in them. This is from a small local history pamphlet, Medical Matters in Trowbridge by K.H. Rogers:

William Redfern, who, although he never practiced medicine in Trowbridge, deserves a place here because of his subsequent career. He is believed to have lived with his brother (doctor Thomas Redfern) in his youth. He passed the examination of the London Company of Surgeons in 1797 and joined the navy as a surgeon’s mate. A few months later his ship was involved i the mutiny on the Nore. Redfern was identified as one of the leaders, court martialled, sentenced to death, and reprieved because of his youth. After 4 years in prison he was transported to New south Wales, where he was quickly employed as a doctor, pardoned, and became an eminent medical man whose career is described at length in the Dictionary of Australian Biography. He was the first man to receive an Australian medical qualification, the first to teach medical students there, and the promoter of important reforms in the convict transport ships.

As can be seen from this article, conditions in the fleet were horrific, as one commentator noted, the ‘wooden walls of England were about to crack’


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