Convict Histories

George Bliss (1843 – 1924) (Reg. No. 7344)

George Bliss was one of a large group of convicts sent to Western Australia convicted of setting fire to hay or grain stacks. Firing of stacks in England in the early 19th century was mainly a form of protest against the social conditions being experienced by rural workers, brought about by a combination of events.

The Enclosure Laws from the 1770s took away approximately six million acres of public open space, traditionally used by peasant farmers to supplement their low wages by keeping a cow, a few pigs or some poultry on the public land, but instead had been transferred to the ownership of the landowners who employed them.

The mechanisation of farming began around the same time, with seasonal workers no longer required in such large numbers to do the reaping and threshing of crops. Many of them, particularly the younger generation of rural workers, were forced to roam the countryside looking for work, sleeping wherever they could find a resting place, often on private property near hay stacks. They were frequently turned away by farm owners when asking for work or begging for food, and the temptation to take revenge by setting fire to grain stacks before moving out of the district was too hard to resist.

When arrested and charged with arson, it was not unusual for the culprits, often in tandem, to freely admit their guilt, the reason often given was lack of food, saying that a stretch in prison would be preferable to the conditions they were suffering ‘on the tramp’. Some had been turned away from relief at workhouses and expressed their wish to be transported, in the hope of starting a new life in Australia.

George Bliss’s excuse for being involved in such a crime is not known. He came from a farming family and there appears to be no obvious reason for his crime.

He was born in the North Aylesford District, Kent, in the September quarter of 1843.[1] He was baptised at Ifield, Kent, on 1 October 1843. His parents were George and Sarah Bliss. His mother Sarah died in the September Quarter, 1847.[2]

In the 1851 Census for Meopham, Kent, his father George was listed as a widower, aged 36, with two children George (7) and Emma (6?). Also in the house were a servant to care for them and two agricultural workers.

In the 1861 Census – George Bliss (snr), widower, farmer of 103 acres of Bloomfield Farm, in Meopham Parish, Kent, employer of four men, was living with his son George Bliss (17), Emma (15), and John G. (5), with servants.

[George Bliss (snr)  was still at Bloomfield Farm at Meopham in 1880, advertising for a waggoner’s mate.[3] A farm of the same name still operates today, selling fruit and other produce.[4]]

Why George was not employed by his father on the farm is not known. He seems to have fallen in with bad company. In December 1861 George Bliss (jnr), aged 18, was convicted at the Maidstone Assizes of firing a wheat stack, along with William Wicks, aged 33, (WA Convict No.7581).

A newspaper article entitled ‘Arson at Norfleet’ described how the prosecutor’s bailiff found the two men roasting potatoes and told them to put out their fire, as it was dangerously close to a stack of wheat. As a disgruntled Wicks kicked out the fire, he told the man that he might be hard up himself one day. After a fire was discovered the next day in a stack of wheat on the property, Bliss and Wicks were arrested and admitted that they had laid down near the stack and probably started the fire when smoking their pipes. Bliss had a piece of paper on him that was damaged by fire.[5] They each received sentences of seven years.[6] [WA Convict records show sentences of eight years.]

George’s description – a shoemaker, single, aged 21, 5’5½”, with brown hair, blue eyes, oval face, a fair complexion, middling stout, with anchors tattooed on both hands.[7] Both men were given a harsh penalty as a warning to others, as there had been five similar incidents in the Court that day.

George spent four months in Separate Confinement at Maidstone Prison before being transferred to Millbank on 14 April 1862, where he was described as an 18-year-old laborer, single, religion Church of England, with no previous convictions. A visitor at Millbank was his sister Harriette Sutton, of Pottersburg (or Potterspury?), near Stony Stratford in Northampton.[8]

On 25 April 1862 George was removed to Pentonville, along with his co-offender William Wicks.[9] On 17 February 1863 they were transferred to Portland Prison.[10]

The Portland Prison Register states that George Bliss was able to read and write imperfectly and had made slight progress at School. He had one summary conviction previously against his name for stealing a fowl, but that charge had been dismissed.  His prisons of detention were listed as follows –

Maidstone Prison – 2 December 1861 to 26 September 1861 (four months 12 days) – Good.

Millbank Prison – 14 April 1862 to 24 April 1862 (11 days) – Good.

Pentonville Prison – 25 April 1862 – to 16 February 1863 (nine months 23 days) – Good.

Portland Prison – 17 February 1863 to 17 September 1863 (seven months) – Very Good.[11]

To Western Australia

Bliss and Wicks were taken from Portland Prison and received on board the convict ship Lord Dalhousie, leaving for Western Australia on 25 September 1863 and arriving at Fremantle on 28 December 1863.

On the shipping list, George Bliss was described as a laborer, aged 18, single, able to read and write imperfectly, religion Protestant, convicted at Maidstone on 2 December 1861 of maliciously and feloniously firing a stack.[12]

On 30 September 1864 George was discharged to Bunbury.[13] His only possession recorded in the Prisoners’ Property book was a photograph, which was later sent to him at Bunbury on 3 March 1865.[14]

George received his Ticket of Leave on 5 March 1865. By this time he was described as a shoemaker, single, Protestant, aged 21, 5’5½”, with brown hair, blue eyes, an oval face, a fair complexion, and middling stout in build. He had anchors tattooed on both hands.[15]

On 27 November 1866, while in the Fremantle Division, he was admitted to hospital, suffering from Rheumatic Gout.[16] He was discharged from the North Fremantle Hospital to Ticket of Leave, on 27 December 1866.[17] On 26 December 1866 he left hospital with a bill of £2-2-0, which he was able to pay on 10 December 1867.[18]

No records of law-breaking have been found after George’s arrival in Western Australia. On 10 March 1868 he received his Conditional Pardon at Bunbury.[19]

George would have been delighted to learn that a family member would visit him at Australind in 1916. It was his nephew, probably the son of George’s sister, Harriett Sutton –

Health Inspector Sutton, of Broome, is on a holiday to Bunbury, as the guest of Mrs Wright, of Australind, where he is joining his uncle, Mr. Geo. Bliss.[20]

George Bliss led a contented life at Australind, popular with the locals and supported by members of the Wright family. [See Charles Wright, Convict Number 6762 on this website]

He died there in 1924 –

At the age of 81 years Mr. George Bliss died during the week at Australind, after a residence of 61 years in the State. At one time employed by the firm of Bateman and at Fothergill’s, Fremantle, he came to the South-West many years ago and was very well known throughout the district. Through a slight error in a will he just missed inheriting £15,000 some years ago.[21]


[1] UK Birth Indexes,, Vol. 5, Page 370.

[2] UK Death Indexes, Vol. 5, Page 310, (

[3] Kent Times, 27 March 1880.

[4]  Bloomfield Farm, Meopham Kent, 

[5] Maidstone Journal, 10 December 1861.

[6] East Kent Gazette, 14 December 1861.

[7] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict Lists (128/1-32)

[8] Millbank Prison Registers, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 45.

[9] Millbank Prison Registers, Series PCOM2, Piece No. 45.

[10] Pentonville Prison Registers, Series PCOM2, Piece No.69.

[11] Portland Prison Registers of Prisoners, PCOM2, Piece No.377.

[12] Convict Department Register, General Register (R26-27)]

[13] Convict Establishment, Receipts and Discharges (Rd3 – Rd4)

[14] Convict Establishment Miscellaneous, Prisoners Property Book (V14)

[15] Convict Depot, General Register (R29).

[16] Convict Establishment, Receipts & Discharges (Rd5-Rd7)]

[17] Ibid.

[18] Convict Depot, General Register (R29).

[19] Convict Registers, General Register (R21b)

[20] Southern Times, 20 April 1916.

[21] West Australian, 1 July 1924.