Free Settler or Felon
Convict and Colonial History

Michael Keane - Botany Bay Hero

Michael Keane / Kain was born in Tipperary c. 1795. He was court-martialled for desertion in 1818....

Fort William, Saturday 9 January 1819

Private Michael Kain of H.M. 59th Regiment placed in confinement by my order on the following charge:

For deserting on or about the 28th of November 1818, after repeated commissions of the same crime and not returning until sent back by the Magistrate of the Suburbs of Calcutta on or about the 17th December 1818. Signed A. McLeod, Lieut.Col 59th Regiment.

Sentence - The Court having maturely weighed the evidence before them find the prisoner guilty of desertion after the Commission of the same crime, but the Court acquit the prisoner of repeated commissions of the same crime and do not find the remaining part of the charge. The Court having thus found the prisoner guilty do adjudge him, Private Michael Kain of His Majesty's 59th Regiment to be transported to New South Wales as a felon for life.

Michael Keane arrived on the Seaflower in 1820 and spent two years in Newcastle working in the Gaol and Limeburner's gang in the years 1820 - 1822. He was transferred to Port Macquarie in February 1824. In 1828 he was admitted to Newcastle gaol from Parramatta under a charge of absconding and robbery. He was sentenced to 3 years in a penal settlement. [2]

In a letter in a Sydney newspaper in 1826 describing his experiences as a convict, he referred to himself as a Botany Bay Hero -

Autobiography of a Botany Bay Hero

A memorandum of the corporal punishment and solitary confinement that I underwent sence the 5th June, 1805, untill the 26th September the yeare 1826: -


The 5th June, the yeare 1805, I listed in the 25th, lying at that time in the Castle Barrack's in Limrick, in Iriland; I very soon fell in with companions that lead me into all kind mischeiff, which brought me sooner to feill the affecttes of punishment then I should have dun if I had kep my owne companey; I was indused by two of them to stop out of Barrack's a day and a night, and losing a fife, I recavid seventy five lashess on the britche; the went to Formoy, and on my routh there 1806, for losing a bealt and drum, which was stoel from me at Broff, I recavid one hundred lashess on the britch, and this I got through a yeoman drummer takeen them from the house I was billited at; the went to Charealfield and Dowearalle, I stopet at the halfe way house, and for getting drunk the drummajor struck me, and I struck him with the fire poker, It was tryad at Charealfield, and sentaince to receive three hundred lashess, but I got one hundered and and fifty on the bak and britch; I often thought to desart, but I did not, this hapened in the yeare 1807.

I came to Formoy the second time, and I was fifer of the main guard, I was absent when the Captain of the day came round, and stopeted away for two days and nights, I then came into the Barrack's wheare I was soone taken prisnor, and put in the guard house, I was tryad by a al Court Martiall, I was sentaince to recavid three hundered, but I got only one hundered and seventy five lashess.


I saild from the cove of Cork the 6th December 1807, for Medearia, and on Chrismmas day we took that place from the Portageese, and on the 27th saild for the Weast Indias, wheare I landed the 22 February, 1808; I continued from any punishment the remander of that, for I drounk no grogg.

Martinique 1809

On the 2nd January 1809, there was orders came from the Cammander-in-Chieff, that the 25th was to got to assiste in taken Martinquaeso from the Freinch; I was one of the number, I underwent a good dail of hardship there for three months in the field, three days and nights without eating any thing only the duice of sugear cane, and for taken some floure, beef and rum from a native, I was not tryad, only tiad to a tree and recavid two hundered and fifty lashess; and in two or three houres after I was woundid in the nee; the Island of Marinquaeso (Martinique)was taken from the French after three months and seventeen days, at the loss of nine thousand foure hundered and six men killed. I went to the Island of St. Kitts, wheare I was transfeared from the band to the ranks.

Guadaloupe 1810

The yeare 1810 in the month a Janry, I went into the field agen, for the captuear the Islands of Guadaloupe, St. Martin, Sante Eustatue from the French and Dutch; I landed the 27th January 1810 at Guadaloupe and a villion sergeant Hall swore I was drunk. I was tryad and sentaince to recavie five hundered lashess, I got foure hundered, and I got this through refusing this Hall a drink a water at the taken Martinquaeso; I recavid two wounds at the taken of this Island, one in the arm, and on the charge one in the hip, this Island was taken after two months foure days at the loss of six thousand seventy men killed. I went to St. Kitt's agen, for it was head quarters for the . I went then with the to the captuear of St. Martin's, Sante Eustatue, which was taken without one shot been fired.

They went to Guadaloupe 1811 and I went into hospital through my wounds getting bad, I came oute and got a pass, and stops away one day and a night and losing my clothing, I was tryad by a General al court Martial, and sentaince to recavie nine hundered lashes, I got seven hundered; this hapend the yeare 1812. The yeare 1813 I was lying in my hammock, the Sergeant Major was in the Barrack room, Sergeant Jones let me doun, and I struck him with the baynot and abused the Sergeant Major; I was tryad by a General al court Martial and sentaince to recavie eight hundered lashes, recavied sevean hundered.

Promotion and Punishment 1814

I was several times as far as corproal, but never no farther, untill 24th January 1814, I was appointed sergeant and drummajor 25th under the command of Lieut. Con., Alexander Ferquinson commanding the at that time in the Island of Guadaloupe,; I went to the town of Bastoa, and I remaind there a day and a night and at Brousy Taveran, I took from a native woman, a ring of hear finger, while she was sleeping. I was taken prisonor, and tryad by a al court Martial, and sentaince to be redused to the rank of a private soldier and to recavie the corproal punishment of three hundered lashess which I got; in the cource of time I went on pass to the town of Bastoa agen, and same sergeant Hall that got me punshed before, confind me in the bridge guard house and I was sent to the Regiment a prisnor; he swore that I was drunk and abusfull to him when on Duty, I was tryad by a court Martiall and sentanice to recavie two hundered lashes, which I got.

Discharge from the 25th Regt., 1815

In the month January 1815, I was discharged from the 25th Regiment, and in the month of April I landed in Chatham wheare I was left without the second shirt to put on, I did not like to be in such state; I listed the second time and joynd the 59 th.

59th Regiment and Bengal

I was removed to Tibuary Fort, wheare Lieut. Conb. Payne gave me every indulgence he could; I got my prize mony sent me from London; and on the 29 June, 1815 I went on board the H.C. shipp Astill, to joyne the 1st battion of the 59th, which was at that time in Bengal. East Indias; during my passedge I out a small roap on the boombs and a vilion swore I was drunk and that I should say I would cut all the roaps on bord the ship; the roap was to tow a paire of trowsers over. I was put on the forastle and tryad next day, and sentaince to recavie three hundered lashess, I recavid two hundered and twenty five; I landed in Bengall the 30th December 1815, and recavid the ballence of my pay; I was sent up the countary on command before I was with the three months for I wanted no drill the same as a young soldeer; while I was an command, the was called into the field of battle. I joyned them at Delia and remaind in the field for foure months without much loss.


At the Captuer of fort, I recavid a blow with the but ind of a firelock in the head, which allmost killed me; I returned to the garrison of fort William, and I went to Calcutta to see a name seake and a countary man, and through him telling me he would get me a good place, I took to disarting, I disarted foure times, and every time was taken prisnor, and for the three first times, I recavid nine hundered lashess, and the fourth time I was sentaince to ninty three days in the solitary cells, I came out of the cells after serving the ninty three days, and to my missfortune the whole of my pay was stopet; when I came out of the cells I came to Calcutta, and there I remaind untill I went to Cournghprough, where I remaind for eighteen months at a indgoo factory, and I would be there long enaugh if it had not been a soldier belonging to the 14th Regiment that new me and tould the soldiers on guard that I was a disarter from the 59th .

Fort William

I was taken prisnor and sent to fort William, wheare I remaind but five days before I was tryad by a General court Martial, and sent to this countary for life; - I would never have desarted from the 59th, only for one sergeant Doyle who oftun got me in trouble without any ocasion, through telling him he was afread to go into the field of batle, for whenever the regt. was orded into the field, he was shuare to go into Hospital. I did not remain long in Calcutta goal after I receivid my sentaince, but sent to this cauntery.


I landed in Sydney the 2nd May 1820 wheare the mother of misfortuane kep close to me, and still remains a companion of mine, for I had not been long in Sydney before I was taken before the Magistrates, and recavid 50 lashes for stoping out of barracks one night. In a very short time after I was sent to the police for gone oute of the ranks to buy some tubacoo and for not tipping the overseer when I joynd the gang, he took me me before the Magistrates, and I was sentaince to be put in the solitary cells for 14 days, for the above crime, which I served and when I came out of the cells, I went to wheare I had my cloths and I came to the Dog and Duck on the Brickfield Hill where I remaind drinking untill six o'clock in the evning and then came to the Barracks. I went to my work next day, wheare I was not long before there was a constable sent for me - I was brought to the police and tryad for taking from the singe of the Dog and Duck an irion axel tree, which I never did, but through been there so late, and the knowne that I had no right to be oute of the barracks that houre, I recavid sentaince of two years to Newcastle.


I was sent to Newcastle wheare I landed the 17th September, and through been a long sentaince man, I was left in the gaol gang untill farther orders. I was not long before I was sent to the limburners for mending a paire of trousers in government houres, and then I begone my hardship at that place. I never dun any work in my life before, I did not no how to get on, I was sick and I was sent to the Hospital, and the place the Dacter put me was in the dead house, wheare I remaind for five days upon halfe pound a bread and one pint of grual a day.

I was almost dead in this place for the two years that I was at NewcI was almost dead in this place for the two years that I was at Newcastle I underwent a grate dail of hardship - through starvation neakedness and solitary confinement sometimes on the bar for 7 days and some times in the cells for 14 and 21 days at a time without any kind of covering only on the coald flagg stone withaut any kind of clothing. I was deprevid of all aid, for the two years that I was there I recavid one thausand faure hundererd and 75 lashess, and one hundered and 23 days in the cells upon a pound a bread a day, my time was up

Port Macquarie

I was orded to Sydney wheare I did not remain long before I was orded to joyne a gang up the countary, but I never did, through a fellow prisoner tilleng the constables at Liverpool that I sold two government blankets on the road, I was taken prisoner and thraugh not having the blankets to show I was sent to Port Macquarie for the remainder of my sentaince and that was life. The first 12 months that I was there I recavid no corproal punishment but I was put in the cells for 23 days for neglect of work foure times, but the last two years that I was there I did go through a grate dail of trouble through the villainry of the overseers and constabls which was in the gang, I stepet sometimes 5, 15 and 20 miles from the settlement and whenever any of those villains wanted to come to camp all they had to do was to put me from one gang to another untill they all had a raund turne at me, overseers and constables, untill they brought me all most to deaths door through flogging and starvation. was at Portmacquarie I recavid one thausand 5 huFor the two years I was at Portmacquarie I recavid one thausand 5 hundred and 25 lashess, and 28 days in the cells on bread and water.


At last I came to Sydney and for getting drunk and stoping out of Barracks I got 4 days on the treed mill and when I came off I got liberty to go to see a friend and a barbor on the rocks swore at the Police Office I stoel several articles which I never did, I got three months to a irion gang, wheare I could not stop through the tyranny of the overseer and halfe starved; I was taken prisnor for runing away and was sent 14 days to the treed mill, I have been cruley used in this countary, through tyrints of overseers and constobles that was at Newcastle and Port Macquarie that I was under; and now for life in the countary, after been 15 years in the army, foure time wounded in the field of Battle, and now poor and miserable and despised by every one above me. The corproal punshment that I recavid sence the 5th June, 1805 untill the 26th September 1826, is sevean thousand two hundered and fifty lashess, and three hundered and foure days in the solitary cells between the army and been a prisoner.

I still remain, the same Michael Keane, Altho' not so well in health and strenth, as I would wish to have beane.


[1] New South Wales Government. Musters and other papers relating to convict ships. Series CGS 1155, Reels 2417-2428. State Records Authority of New South Wales. (Ancestry)

[2] State Archives NSW; Roll: 851 Source Information New South Wales, Australia, Gaol Description and Entrance Books, 1818-1930