Convict Histories

‘D’ For Deserter

By Irma Walter, 2021.

Prior to 1879 deserters from the British army were forcibly branded after capture, with a permanent tattoo in the form of the letter ‘D’ punctured on their left side. Initially this was done by means of a hot iron or tattooing, before a tool was invented which imprinted the ‘D’ symbol by means of a spring-powered mechanism which punctured the skin with needles.[1]

The custom eventually came to an end due to increasing public outrage over branding people like cattle.

Keep Military Museum Display.[2]

Among the convicts sent to Western Australia in 1858 onboard the ‘Lord Raglan’ were a number of former soldiers who committed crimes while stationed at various British outposts, including Bermuda, Gibraltar, Malta, Barbados and Halifax in Nova Scotia.

The following stories highlight the lives of a group of six young deserters from the 62nd Regiment, based at Halifax in Nova Scotia, on the far eastern coast of Canada. This Regiment had previously spent several years in Ireland before being commissioned as part of the Second Division, sent to the Black Sea area where they waged battle against the Russians in what became known as the Siege of Sevastopol. The battle lasted for almost a year and the retreat of the Russians signalled the end of the war in 1854. Following the signing of a Peace Treaty, the troops were returned to England, with their numbers severely depleted. It was not long before they were put on notice that they would be going to Nova Scotia in Canada, to defend British territory from the French.

When these young men joined up is not known, but as several of them were Irish, it is likely that they signed up in Ireland, in the aftermath of the Great Famine, when people were still suffering from unemployment. It is not surprising that many of the young recruits soon became totally disillusioned with life in the military and sought ways of escaping the harsh discipline imposed upon them. In order to maintain discipline, deserters were relentlessly pursued and severe punishments were imposed on the perpetrators.

These six convicts spent time in English prisons before being transported to Western Australia, arriving here on 1 June 1858. The physical characteristics of all convicts were carefully recorded for identification purposes. They all had the letter ‘D’ stamped on their left side, indicating that they were deserters – one had ‘DD’, which indicates absconding twice.[3]


(1) Charles Shelmardine (c1834 – 1917) (Reg. No. 4982)

Charles Shelmardine was born to parents Joseph and Phoebe (née Harrison) and was baptised on 23 July 1837 at Collegiate, Manchester (later known as Manchester Cathedral). At the time of the 1841 census Joseph and Phoebe’s family consisted of Charles (8), William (4) and Alfred (1). They were living in Johnson Street, Salford, Manchester.

It is not known when Charles joined the armed forces. By 1856 he was a member of the 62nd Regiment of Foot Soldiers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. On 6 October that year he was facing a charge of desertion at a Court Martial and was found guilty along with John Parsons, Michael Quinlan and George Byrnes. Three of them were given sentences of eight years’ transportation, while Quinlan received ten years.

When admitted to Chatham Prison in Kent on 17 November 1856, Charles’s next of kin was listed as Joseph Shelmardine, of Hulme, Manchester. Moved on to Millbank Prison, Charles claimed that he had already spent time in Separate Confinement at Halifax for 22 days and onboard ship for 21 days, but no deduction was allowed by the prison authorities. Almost a year later on 26 October 1857 Charles was moved to Portland Prison.[4] From there he was taken onboard the convict ship Lord Raglan, described as a labourer and soldier, aged 23, single, a Protestant, and unable to read or write.[5] His physical description on arrival was – aged 24, 5’6¾”, with light brown hair, grey eyes, a long face, fair complexion, middling stout. Markings – pockmarked, ‘D’ on left side, A.H. and Union Jack on his right arm, an anchor, two flags, and A.H. on his left arm.[6]

The ship arrived at Fremantle WA on 1 June 1858.

Charles Shelmardine’s Record in WA

31/12/1862 – Fined 5/- for drunkenness & bad language, by George Eliot, RM Bunbury.

20/8/1863 – Ditto, drunk, George Eliot, Bunbury.

22/10/1860 – Ticket of Leave.

30/6/1862 – Labourer, £2 per month, Wellington, J. Symmonds.[7]

31/12/1862 – Ditto, EG Hester.

30/6/1863 – Ditto.

16/9/1863 – Conditional Pardon received from RM Bunbury.[8]

Charles was employed as a labourer or as a brickmaker. He married Mary Ann Standish at Bunbury WA in 1867.[9]

Their family was as follows –

Charles James, born in Perth in 1875. He died in Perth in 1878, aged three.

Eva, born in Perth 1879, married Frederick John Hilton in 1897 at Perth.

Mary Ann, born 1872 in Perth, married George Isaac Brown at Perth in 1891.

Phoebe Ellen, born in Perth 1869, married Robert Worth Fry at Shark Bay in 1887.[10]

Charles Shelmardine lived a crime-free existence in Western Australia, apart from being regularly fined in the Perth Police Court for drunkenness. He made an attempt to give up alcohol in 1875 by becoming a member of the Rose of Perth Lodge.[11] This was a Temperance Society with a big following in those days, especially among the convict class. His good intentions didn’t last long, however, and his name once again featured regularly in the Perth Courts List of the newspapers. In 1883 it was noted that as he had not faced the Court for five months, he was let off with a caution instead of a fine.[12] In 1885 his appearance before the Perth Magistrate was reported as follows –

A man rejoicing in the cacophonous name of Charles Shelmardine, was fined 5s. for having been drunk.[13]

As Charles grew older, his convictions became even more frequent. In 1890 it was noted that – Charles Shelmardine, an aged man, was charged with wasting his estate in constant drinking. There were nineteen previous convictions against him, but he was let off with a fine of 5s., time being allowed him to get the money.[14]

The WA Electoral Rolls for 1903 have Charles Herbert (?) Shelmardine, gentleman, and his wife Mary Ann, housewife, living at Suburban Road, Victoria Park, in the Fremantle District. In 1916 the couple still lived at the same address, then in the District of Canning. In 1917 their address was Garland Street, Victoria Park, Fremantle, in the Sub-Division of Canning.

On 20 August 1917 Charles Howard Shelmerdine [sic], aged 87, died at Claremont, WA,[15] (possibly at the Old Men’s Home). His wife Mary Ann Shelmerdine died a year later, aged 79. Both were buried at Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth, WA, in Grave No. 0305.[16]

His daughter Phoebe posted a memorial the following year:

SHELMARDINE.— In loving memory of our

dear father and grandfather, who departed this

life at Claremont, August 20, 1917.

Gone but not forgotten.

Inserted by his loving daughter and grand-

children, Mrs. R. Fry and family.[17]


(2) John Parsons (c1833 – ?) (Reg. No. 4983)

John Parsons was born in Ireland. He was convicted of desertion on 6 October 1856 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, along with Shelmardine, Quinlan and Byrnes, and was sentenced to eight years. They were moved from Millbank to Portland Prison on 26 October 1857.[18]

He arrived in WA on the Lord Raglan in 1858, described as single, aged 25 years, height 5’ 7¾”, with dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, a prominent visage, dark complexion, and middling stout. His markings were a cross on his right arm, a fish on his left arm and a ‘D’ on his left side.[19]

John Parson’s Record in WA

2/7/1858 – One of six Pro. Prisoners sent to Bunbury

5/3/1859 – Received back at Fremantle Prison from Bunbury.

9/3/1859 – In Solitary Confinement, tailor, aged 27, treated for Ophthalmia.[20]

28/5/1859 – RM Bunbury – Absconding – Sentence 3 months.

10/8/1859 – To Champion Bay.[21]

15/4/1861 – Received his Ticket of Leave.

30/6/1862 to 31/12/1864 – Employed as a farm labourer, general servant and in reaping, in the Victoria District under various employers.[22]

7/3/1865 – Awarded his Certificate of Freedom.[23]

April 1871 – Expiree, pleaded guilty to stealing a chisel and a marlin spike, the property of the Government – sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour.[24]

Details of John Parsons’ death are not known.

[Note: See further details of John Parsons at the Midwest WA Heritage Convict Register website:]


(3) Michael Quinlan (c1838 – 1889) (Reg. No. 4905)

Michael Quinlan, soldier and labourer, was convicted at Halifax of desertion from the 62nd Regiment on the same day as Shelmardine, Parsons and Byrnes, but was sentenced to ten years. He was sent from Millbank to Chatham Prison on 26 October 1857.[25] While at Portland Prison awaiting transportation to Western Australia, he was visited by his parents, John and Jane Quinlan, who gave their address as ‘Royal Fort’, Grange Road, in Bermondsey. Michael’s brother-in-law also visited him.[26]

The 1851 English Census shows the Quinlan family living in Southwark, London. Michael and his parents were born in Ireland –

Residence – Glovers’ Place, St Mary Magdalen, St James, Southwark –

John Quinlan, head, aged 37, labourer in glue yard, born Ireland.

Jane Quinlan (nee Connors), wife, aged 38, ditto.

Michael Quinlan, son, 12, Ireland.

John Quinlan, son, 8, Surrey, Bermondsey.

Patrick Quinlan, son, 5, ditto.

Others in house – Son-in-law Patrick Geary, his wife Mary and son Patrick, and brother-in-law David Conners.

Following his conviction Michael Quinlan was sent back to England and was held for a short time in Chatham Prison in Kent. He was described as a labourer, aged 18 years, with dark hair, a fair complexion, hazel eyes, stout build, 5’5¾”, with seven blue dots on his left hand, marked ‘D’. From there he spent time in Millbank Prison before being sent to Portland Prison to await transportation to Western Australia.[27]

He arrived on 1 June 1858 at Fremantle onboard the Lord Raglan.

Michael had mental health issues. By January 1862 he was in the Fremantle Lunatic Asylum, where he was still recorded as an inmate on 31 December 1870.[28]

Michael Quinlan died at the Asylum in 1889, aged 55 years. He was buried at St Patrick’s Cemetery at Alma and Skinner Streets, Fremantle.[29]


(4) George Byrnes (c1834 – ?) (Reg. No. 4984)

George Byrnes was probably born in Wexford County in Ireland. At the age of 22 he faced a Court Martial in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was convicted on 6 October 1856, the same day as Shelmardine, Quinlan and Parsons. George was sentenced to eight years’ transportation and was sent back to Chatham Prison in Kent. From there he spent time in Separate Confinement at Millbank Prison, before being taken to Portland Prison to await transportation. He was visited there by his mother Mrs W. Byrnes, of County Wexford.[30]

His description on arrival in Western Australia was as follows – Labourer, aged 24, single, 5’6¾”, Roman Catholic, with dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, a prominent visage, dark complexion, middling stout. Markings – M.B. and fish on right arm, G.B. and wreath on left arm, ‘D’ on left side.[31] Was able to read and write well.[32]

George Byrnes arrived at Fremantle on 1 June 1858 onboard the Lord Raglan. His previous conduct while in Solitary Confinement and on Public Works was Good.[33]

George Byrnes’ Record in WA

1/7/1858 – To Bunbury.[34]

15/12/1860 – Ticket of Leave, Bunbury.[35]

29/8/1863 – Conditional Pardon sent to RM, Bunbury.

21/9/1863 – Conditional Pardon received.

6/10/1864 – Certificate of Freedom received.[36]

5/5/1876 – Discharged from Prison.[37]

No more is known about George Byrnes. He may have left the Colony.

[Note: In 1890 a George Burns (?) died in WA aged 60. (Reg. No. 293). No further details provided.[38]]


(5) Edwin Payne (c1831 – 1896) (Reg. No. 4976)

Edwin Payne, labourer, was convicted of desertion from his Regiment at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on 10 September 1856 and sentenced to six years’ penal servitude. He served time at Millbank Prison before being removed to Portland Prison on 21 October 1857.[39] He was taken from Portland Prison to the convict ship Lord Raglan, which arrived in WA on 1 June 1858.

Description – aged 25, single, unable to read or write.[40] He was a farm labourer.[41] Height 5’7½”, hair dark brown, eyes hazel, visage oval, complexion dark, middling stout, age 29(?), ‘BW’ on left arm, ‘D’ on left side.[42] In Separate Confinement his character was Good and at Public Works, Tolerable.

Edwin Payne’s Record in WA

7/7/1858 – Granted his Ticket of Leave.

2/11/1859 – At Toodyay. Discharged on Ticket of Leave from the Toodyay Depot.

12/11/1859 – Reported employed by H Edmond Hooberdale (?) as labourer at 30/- per month.

June 1860 – Employed by (indecipherable) in farm service.

1/6/60 – Conditional Pardon.[43]

2/5/61 – Conditional Pardon.[44]

10/4/1861 – Has passport for seven days in Perth.[45]

10/3/1869 – Certificate of Freedom.[46]

Edwin Payne appears to have kept out of trouble. He worked as a labourer in the Guildford area and in 1870 married Amelia Valentine Glanville, daughter of William and Sophia, at Perth. Their children were:-

Sarah Annie Amelia (b.1871), Margaret Sophia Glanville (1873), Maria Julia (1875), William Edward Gomez (1878). All were Wesleyan.[47]

Edwin died in 1881, aged 50.[48] No details of his burial place have been found.

His wife Amelia Valentine Payne died in 1912 at the age of 64, at Cottesloe and was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery.[49] The following obituary gives a fascinating insight into her family connections, though no mention of her husband –


Another old and respected colonist; of the State has passed away, in her 64th year. A colonist of 61 years, the late Mrs. Amelia Valentine Payne was born in Bristol, England, on February 14, 1849, and came to Western Australia in 1851 with her parents in the prison ship, the first, Pyrenees. Her father, Mr. William Glanville was officer in charge of the men on board. Soon after arrival, he went to the Mount’s Bay Road Depot to take charge, and afterwards was transferred to Toodyay, and for a while was acting superintendent there. In October, 1852, his wife died at the birth of their second son, the first son being born on the voyage out from England. He was left with five children and two step-daughters, the late Mrs. Marie Antonia Goldwyer (widow of the late William Henry Goldwyer, who was murdered by blacks, in company with Panter and Harding, explorers in the Roebuck Bay district), and Mrs. Anne Gribble, and his two daughters, Mrs. M. Dore and the late Mrs. Payne, and one son (William Pyrenees), who was drowned in the Perth School Pond, St. Georges Terrace, now the Techni-cal School in November, 1859.

Mr. Glanville left for England in November 1864, and intended sending for his children, but on arrival there, war had broken out in the Crimea, and he again joined the warders and went to Bermuda, and from there to England. The late Mrs Payne was adopted by the late Alfred Carsen [Carson] until his death, which left her to struggle along alone, but by the help of many kind friends, especially the Wesley Church members, who helped her financially, she was able to provide for herself and children. In April 1896, death claimed her eldest daughter, which shock she never recovered from, and at last came a nervous breakdown, which lasted till her death.

The funeral, which left the residence of her sister, Mrs. M. Dore, ‘Glanville Villa,’ Venn street, Cottesloe, and proceeded to the Presbyterian portion of the Karrakatta Cemetery, was very largely attended. The chief mourners were: Miss Sophia Payne (daughter), Mrs. M. Dore and Mrs. A. Gribble (sisters), Mr. H. J. G. Edwards, Mr. Harold Dore, Mr. W. Goldwyer, Mr. C. Haynes, Mr. W. J. Smith, and Mr. Geo. Morris (nephews), Mr. Phillip Dore and Mr. W. J. Gribble (brothers-in-law), Mrs. W. J. Smith, Mrs. Geo. Morris, Mrs. Harold Dore, Mrs. W. W. Edwards (nieces), Mr. H. C. Glanville (cousin), Mr. A. Brown, Austin and Haywood Smith, Masters W. Edwards, Victor, Herbert, Bevil and Glanville Edwards, Master Bevil and Bernard Morris (grand-nephews), Victoria Morris (grand-niece), Mrs. Daniels, Mrs Bergen, and Mr. Fleming. The pall-bearers were: Messrs. W. J. Gribble, P. Dore, H. Dore, H. J. G. Edwards, Geo. Morris, W. J. Smith, A. Brown, and Mr. Fleming. Wreaths and floral tributes were received from many friends of the family. The Rev. Alex. McCarlie officiated at the grave, and the funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr. Donald J. Chipper, of Perth and Fremantle.[50]


(6) John McDonald (c1828 – ??) (Reg. No. 4922)

John McDonald, a soldier in the 62nd Regiment of Foot, was arrested earlier than the other five offenders. He was convicted of desertion at a General Court Martial at Halifax on 1 June 1854, soon after his arrival there, and received a sentence of eight years. He went from Millbank Prison to Lewes Prison in Sussex on 2 September 1857.[51]

He arrived at Fremantle onboard the Lord Raglan on 1 June 1858.

His description – aged 30, 5’7¼”, brown hair, hazel eyes, a round face and a sallow complexion, middling stout. Markings – three dots and ring on his right hand, a crown on his left arm, a musket and ‘72d Reg., J.M.M.’ on his left hand, and ‘DD’ on his left side.[52] Conduct Very Good.[53]

The fact that John McDonald was twice marked with the letter ‘D’ on his left side indicates that he was convicted twice of the offence of desertion. The tattoo on his left hand shows that he was formerly in the 72nd Highland Regiment, so was probably born in Scotland.[54]

John McDonald arrived in WA onboard the Lord Raglan in 1858.

John McDonald’s Record in WA

17/12/1858 – Received back at Fremantle from Toodyay, Green Mount.[55]

18/12/1858 – Ticket of Leave.[56]

24/3/1859 – Perth to Toodyay.

12 April 1859 – Date of Ticket of Leave, Toodyay.[57]

12/4/1859 – Licensed to J. Sinclair as shepherd.

9/6/1859 – In service of W. Barnes at £2 per month.[58]

28/9/1863 – Certificate of Freedom.[59]

No more records of employment have been found.

John McDonald appears to have avoided trouble in WA. He is said to have left for South Australia on 11 December 1865.[60]


[1] Keep Military Museum website,

[2] Ibid.

[3] National Archives UK, Millbank Prison Registers, Male Prisoners, Vol. 7., Series HO24, Piece No. 7.

[4] National Archives, England & Wales Crime, Punishment & Prisons, 1870 – 1935, Series PCOM2, Piece 38.

[5] Convict Department Registers, Character Book R8.

[6] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict Lists (128/1 – 32)

[7] Probably John Symmonds (Simmonds, Simmons, Perkins), bootmaker (Convict 6440, re-convicted as Colonial Prisoner (No. 10126), charged with larceny at Bunbury in July 1867 – three years’ imprisonment. (Inquirer, 23 October 1867)

[8] Convict Department, General Register (R1)

[9] R. Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, at p.2791.

[10] WA Department of Justice,

[11] Inquirer, 4 August 1875.

[12] Daily News, 12 April 1883.

[13] Daily News, 8 January 1885.

[14] Inquirer, 7 February 1890.

[15] Metropolitan Cemetery Board,

[16] Ibid.

[17] West Australian, 21 August 1918.

[18] National Archives Prison Registers, Millbank, Vol.7, Series HO24, Piece 7.

[19] Convict Department, Estimates & Convict Lists, (128/1-32)

[20] Convict Establishment, Fremantle Casual Sick Registers (CS$-CS5)

[21] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD3-RD4)

[22] Convict Department, General Register (R1)

[23] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD1-RD2)

[24] Herald, 8 April 1871.

[25] National Archives Prison Registers, Millbank, Vol. 7, Series HO24, Piece 7.

[26] National Archives, England & Wales Crime, Punishment & Prisons, 1870 – 1935, Series RCOM2, Piece 38.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Convict Department General Register (R1)

[29] Alma & Skinner Streets Burial Records, City of Fremantle,

[30] National Archives UK, Millbank Prison Registers, Male Prisoners, Vol. 7., Series HO24, Piece No. 7.

[31] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict Lists (128/1 – 32)

[32] Convict Department Registers (128/38-39)

[33] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[34] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD1-RD2)

[35] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[36] Convict Department General Register (R21B)

[37] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD9 and RD9A)

[38] WA Department of Justice,

[39] National Archives Prison Registers, Millbank, Vol.7, Series HO24, Piece 7.

[40] Convict Department Registers, Character Book (R8)

[41] Convict Department, Superintendent Orders (SO6 – SO8)

[42] Convict Department, Ticket of Leave Register (R6)

[43] Ibid.

[44] Convict Establishment, Stamp Books (S1-S3)

[45] Convict Department, Ticket of Leave Register (R6)

[46] Convict Establishment, Stamp Books (S4-S6)

[47] R. Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, at p.2435.

[48] WA Department of Justice, Reg. No. 10907,

[49] Metropolitan Cemeteries Board,

[50] Daily News, 30 October 1912.

[51] National Archives Prison Registers, Millbank, Vol. 7, Series HO24, Piece 7.

[52] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict Lists (128/1 – 32)

[53] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict Lists (128/38-39)


[55] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (RD1- RD2)

[56] Fremantle Prison Convict Database,

[57] Convict Department, Ticket of Leave Register (R6)

[58] Ibid.

[59] Fremantle Prison Convict Database,

[60] Ibid.