Convict Histories

Cornelius Bradnum (1827 – 1898) (Reg. No. 2942)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

Cornelius Morley Bradnum (frequently called Bradnam, or Bradman) was born on 23 March 1827 to parents Joseph Bradnum, market gardener, of Kirby Cane, Suffolk, and his wife, née Dinah Morley. The 1841 Census has Joseph, fruiterer (33?), his wife Dina, (43), living in the Row, at Kirby Cane, with their 11 children, ranging in age from 18 years to two months.

An Early Life of Crime

In 1844 Cornelius Bradnum (16), and his older brother William (18), were found guilty of stealing a horse at Mettingham and were each sentenced to three years’ imprisonment.

Soon after their release from Ipswich Prison in 1847 they went on a stealing spree, visiting several towns across two counties and stealing articles of clothing and a pistol, before being arrested and remitted to Norwich Castle to await trial. When convicted on 21 July 1847, Cornelius (20) and William (22) were sentenced to transportation for life. Another older man was found guilty of assisting the two in selling the stolen clothing, and received a sentence of one year.

Brother William’s Record.

William Morley Bradnum was transported to Van Diemen’s Land in 1851 onboard the Lady Kennaway, leaving on 30 January 1851 and arriving there on 28 May. His Gaol Report there states that he was a morose, dangerous, ungovernable character, who had knocked down his guard and would have killed him, had not other convicts come to his rescue. William had previously struck the Turnkey at Norwich – his conduct described as very bad.[1]

The Tasmanian Gaol Report states that William was previously sentenced to three (?) years for stealing wearing apparel and was sent to Gibraltar, but was removed for violence. The Surgeon’s Report (during the voyage to Van Diemen’s Land) – ‘Very Bad. Broke into the hold and threatened to stab the Surgeon.’ William spent eight years in a work gang on Norfolk Island and received his Conditional Pardon on 7 August 1860.

In 1875, the death of William Morley Bradman, aged 50, of heart disease and bronchitis, was reported at Campbelltown in Tasmania.[2] [See more details of William’s record in Tasmanian Convict Records CON33-1-102, Image 33.]

Cornelius Bradnum’s Record

Cornelius’s conduct during incarceration was far different from his brother’s. His quarterly returns while in England and at Gibraltar show that his conduct was Very Good. According to his own account later, when he faced an English Court in 1865 when charged with absconding from Western Australia, Cornelius Bradnum was placed in Millbank Prison before being taken to Portsmouth. On 4 January 1849 he was sent to the convict hulk Europa at Gibraltar[3], where he was employed at Windmill-hill for around four years in building works. After reporting to the quarter-master that he had heard of a plot to kill two officers, he was rewarded with a reduction of his sentence to 15 years. He was taken back to England and was then transported to Western Australia onboard the Ramillies, arriving at Fremantle to serve out the rest of his term.[4]

On arrival in WA he was described as aged 26, a gardener, single, 5’9”, with dark hair, grey eyes, a long face, fresh complexion, and of slight build. He had ‘Cornelius’ and blue marks on his left arm and the mark of a seaton(?) on his breast.

His WA convict records available on Ancestry are few, probably indicating good behaviour. On 25 February 1859 Cornelius Bradnum was awarded his Conditional Pardon.[5] He was discharged 31 August 1864.[6]

Not long afterwards, he was back in England, employed as a market-gardener at Kirby Cane, where he married Louisa Brown on 23 January 1865. All seemed to be going well for this reformed convict when he was suddenly arrested a few days later on 6 February and charged with having returned early from his term of transportation in Western Australia.

In the Norwich Court, Cornelius denied the charge, giving a harrowing account of his misadventures following his departure from Western Australia. He told the Court that he had sailed for Callao in Peru and found work there. One evening he was standing on the shore when he was taken by some fellows and put on board the Swallow, an American ship. The Captain refused to release him, saying that he had paid 65 dollars for his head. Cornelius was thrown down into the hold, receiving a broken leg in the fall. It wasn’t until they arrived in Hamburg that he received medical treatment. While in hospital there he wrote to the British Consul, telling him the story of his mistreatment, and requesting that he take action against the Captain and his mate. The Consul said that it would be too costly, and took no action over the matter. He did, however, arrange for Cornelius to be taken to England via a steamer. Cornelius said that on his return he had written to the authorities in Western Australia, informing them that he had lost his release papers, but had not yet received a reply. His Lordship then advised the jury that, seeing that this evidence was not available to the Court, they should show leniency towards the prisoner. Cornlius was acquitted.[7]

Unfortunately, he was still inclined to commit the occasional petty crime. In 1865 he was charged with stealing bullocks’ food and straw, and was sentenced to a term of three months.[8] Then in January 1866 he was convicted of stealing six yards of sheep netting, and due to his previous record he was sentenced to seven years. He was taken from Norwich Castle to  Millbank Prison, where his next-of-kin was listed as his wife Louisa, of Kirby Cane, Bungay, Suffolk.[9] He was released on Licence (similar to the Australian ‘Ticket of Leave’) on 21 August 1871.[10]

The couple had a daughter Jane Dinah Bradnum, born at Loddon in Norfolk in 1872.[11]

In 1877 Cornelius was employed as a market gardener on a property, with a house provided for him. He had been given permission to take sufficient produce for his own use, but was charged with taking excess produce when he was seen with a wheelbarrow load of vegetables late one night.[12]

Cornelius Bradnum was described as a widower and a pauper, born in Beccles, Suffolk, when living in a workhouse at Oulton, Suffolk, at the time of the 1891 Census. He died at Yarmouth in 1898, aged 70.[13]


[1] Tasmanian Convict Records, CON33-1-102, Image 33.

[2]  Tasmanian Death Register,

[3] Institutions & Organisations, Prison Registers, Register of Prisoners on hulk Europa at Gibraltar, Series

  SCOM2, Piece No.137.

[4] Sheffield Independent, 8 August 1865.

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

[6] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges, (Rd1-Rd2)

[7] Sheffield Independent, 8 August 1865.

[8] Norfolk News, 11 February 1865.

[9] Millbank Prison Registers, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 50.

[10] Prison Registers, Convict Hulks, etc., Series HO8, Piece No. 189.

[11] UK Birth Index,  Reg. No. 4b 205.

[12] Yarmouth Independent, 5 May 1877.

[13] England & Wales Death Index, January Quarter, 1898, Vol.4, p.8.