Convict Histories

John Anderson Christie (1818 – 1883) (Reg. No. 5711)

By Irma Walter, 2020.

John Anderson Christie was born on 26 May 1818 in Avoch, Scotland, to Alexander Christie, a builder, and his wife Mary Urquhart.[1] John was described as a master mariner when he married Martha Robinson, daughter of Edward Robinson, cabinet maker, on 21 April 1850, in the Parish of St George in the East, Middlesex.[2]

After his marriage John Christie continued his life at sea. In 1858 he was convicted of the manslaughter of a crew member, resulting in a sentence of penal servitude for life. His trial told the story of John Christie, aged 40, the master of the barque Elizabeth on a voyage along the African coast. In June 1857, a month after leaving Calabar, he commenced kicking and beating a Spanish crewman named Francisco Rodriquez (Roderico). On one occasion when Rodriquez fell down the stairs and accidentally dropped the binnacle lamp, he was grabbed by the neck and beaten all over. From that time the Spaniard complained that his spine was broken and that he could no longer stand upright. Other crew members saw a large lump on his back. He was unable to work so was kicked again. After 14 days of agony Rodriquez died in his bunk and his body was thrown overboard.

When the ship arrived in Liverpool on 9 November 1857 the matter was reported to the ship’s owners. During the trial which followed it was found that the cause of Rodriquez’ death had been recorded in the ship’s log as scurvy, written at a later date at the insistence of the owners. Evidence was given that during the voyage Rodriquez had threatened more than once to report Christie for the earlier death of another crewman named Joseph Mitchell, said to have been hit over the head with a spy-glass. In response to this accusation Christie warned Rodriquez that he would never reach Liverpool. At the conclusion of John Christie’s trial on 20 March 1878 he was found guilty of manslaughter, resulting in a sentence of penal servitude for life.[3] His chief mate James Millard played a part in the beatings and also faced trial.

Christie was held at the Portland Prison before being taken on board the convict ship Palmerston in 1860. He landed at Fremantle on 11 February 1861. On arrival he was described as aged 42, height 5’8¼”, with light brown hair, grey eyes, an oval face, a sallow complexion and a stout build. He was married, but childless.

He received medication in 1861 for rheumatism and was employed at York in September that year. He received his Ticket of Leave on 17 March 1862. In November that year he was employed as a boatman by the Fremantle harbour master, with the restriction of not being permitted to work outside the bar. In 1863 he was employed at a rate of £5 per month by R Harford in Fremantle.[4] At the end of that year Christie was employed by Chapman & Co. in the Victoria District. While at Champion Bay in 1864 Christie became an associate of William Miles (Convict Reg. No. 7194). When employed together on the cutter Hope at the Abrolhos Islands, they were wrongly suspected of trying to steal another boat.[5] They had a lot in common, both being Scottish mariners by profession. The two men had been convicted of similar crimes at sea before being sentenced to terms of transportation to WA.

In December 1864 Christie was back in Fremantle, employed as a mariner by H Chapman and paid £6 per month. By 22 May 1865 he was a self-employed boatman at Fremantle. He was employed by J Bateman at Fremantle from July 1865 at 6/- per day. At the end of 1865 he had shares in a boating business with W Bickley, before briefly becoming self-employed in Fremantle, then worked for J&W Bateman in 1866. He did piecework for J Herbert in Fremantle in 1867.[6]

By 1869 John A Christie was master of the Bungaree, sailing from WA for Singapore with a load of sandalwood, potatoes, sheep, etc. Over the next few years he was master of a number of vessels, including the Adur, the Azelia, the Water Lily, and the Clarence Packet, plying the north west coastal trade. In 1876 he took the Hope and then the Mary Ann to Esperance, employed by William Miles in delivering supplies to the teams involved in the construction of the telegraph line to South Australia.

In the early 1880s we find John Anderson Christie employed as a ship’s captain in South Australia. In 1880 he was employed as master of the ketch Napperby by owner John Martin, who was taken to court for failing to pay Christie his proper wage. Martin gave evidence that Christie was drunk and incapable of performing his duties, but the verdict was in Christie’s favour.[7] In 1881 Christie was master of the Crest of the Wave, travelling between Hobson’s Bay and Moonta.[8]

John Anderson Christie died on 14 March 1883 by drowning, not at sea but in a waterhole in the Tam O’Shanter Creek near Port Adelaide in South Australia. An inquest was held, resulting in a verdict of suffocation from accidental drowning. There was no proof of suicide, but evidence seemed to indicate that he may have been in a confused state of mind prior to his death.

A licensed victualler Joseph Hains gave evidence at the inquest that Christie had lived with him for the past eight years and was a temperate man. He didn’t know a lot about his background, but said that Christie suffered from a serious skin complaint, erysipelas. Another acquaintance, James Glannan, carpenter, of Adelaide, said he had known the deceased in Western Australia about five years before, when he was captain of a vessel. He had met him a few days before his death, when Christie had told him that he was feeling very unwell. Glannan believed that Christie’s wife was dead, and that he may have owned some property in WA.[9]

John Anderson Christie’s body was buried in Cheltenham Cemetery.


[1] Ancestry, Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950

[2] Ancestry, London, Eng., C. of E. Marriages and Banns, 1874-1932 & 1844- 1852.

[3] Morning Chronicle, 27 March 1858.

[4] Note: In 1868 Richard Harford died at sea with his crew in the barque Emily.

[5] Bicentennial Dictionary

[6] Convict Dept. Registers, General Register for Nos. 8127-8190, 5497-5894 (R3-R4)

[7] Port Adelaide News, 12 January 1881.

[8] Argus, 7 November 1881.

[9] South Australian Weekly Chronicle, 17 March 1883.