Convict Histories

Michael Cawthorne (c1821 – ?) (Reg. No. 4868)

By Irma Walter, 2020.

Michael Cawthorne (Cawthorn), aged 35 years, was described as ‘a middle-aged man, dark, and of repulsive appearance’ when charged with the murder of Mark Cunningham at Newcastle on Tyne in Northumberland on 1 December 1856.[1] Due to evidence of provocation, Cawthorne was convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years’ transportation.

The Court heard an unsavoury tale of an argument which developed between two drunken men over a game of dominoes at the Sun Inn in Hexham. Michael Cawthorne was described as a travelling hawker, while Mark Cunningham travelled the county as a mender of old chairs.[2] After being refused service at the inn the argument continued at a lodging-house where they had been sharing a bed for a week. The wife of the lodging-house keeper gave evidence that Cunningham struck Cawthorne across the face. Cawthorne, who by this time had armed himself with a knife, stabbed Cunningham three times. He died a few days later.[3]

Michael Cawthorne was described as a papermaker by trade, married with one child. He was received at Portland Prison from Millbank on 23 November 1857, prior to being taken onboard the convict ship Lord Raglan.[4] The ship left Plymouth for Western Australia on 5 March 1858. Cawthorne’s behaviour was recorded as good while in Solitary Confinement and at Public Works.[5]

After arrival in WA on 1 June 1858 Cawthorne’s conduct was recorded as good/excellent. He was appointed as Constable of a working party on 16 December 1858.[6] He served again as a Constable from 7 May 1859.[7]

He received his Ticket of Leave on 1 February 1860. Soon afterwards he was employed as a cook by Marshall Waller Clifton of Australind. Clifton’s journal shows that Cawthorne’s employment was short-lived:

31 October 1860 – Michael went to Bunbury to have his finger attended to by Dr Sampson.[8]

23 November 1860 – Row in the kitchen between Michael & David Furie[9]

24 November 1860 – Lectured most thoroughly David & Michael but forgave them.

23 January 1860 – Michael Cawthorn came in & gave me warning [notice of resignation?].

5 February 1861 – Very angry with the Cook & John both.

15 February 1861– [Following trouble with the men after a drinking spree.] Michael Cawthorn in defiance of his Engagement told me that he would not cook another thing, & would not light the fire in the Morning.[10]

Whether Cawthorne remained in the Wellington District at that stage is not known. He received his Conditional Pardon on 30 August 1862.[11] Rica Erickson records Cawthorne as employing 11 Ticket of Leave men at ‘Rosamel’ in the Leschenault area between 1864 and 1872, though in what capacity is unknown.[12] [‘Rosamel’ was part of John Septimus Roe’s grant, leased by Marshall Waller Clifton for some years before he purchased the property and it was leased to John Allnutt (jnr) until 1865, when it was taken over by John Edward Martin Clifton. Cawthorne’s connection to ‘Rosamel’ may have been through another expiree David Cundell[13], who also came to WA on the Lord Raglan, and lived with his wife at the property for several years, advertising ‘Rosamel’ as a stop-over for travellers to or from the Swan. Cundell died in 1872.]

Michael Cawthorne was given permission to leave Western Australia at the end of 1876:

Register of Expirees and Conditional Pardon Holders who have left the Colony during the Quarter ending December 31st, 1876.

Michael Cawthorn (4868) left Fremantle for Port Adelaide on the Edith Havelin (Haviland), on 6th December. Description: Stout, age 54; 5ft. 5in. high: dark brown hair, dark hazel eyes, long visage, dark complexion; scar both sides of neck; paper maker.[14]

Cawthorne’s journey to South Australia coincided with one of Western Australia’s most famous shipwrecks which occurred in 1876. On 24 November the steamer Georgette took on a load of timber at Bunbury before sailing to Fremantle where it loaded further cargo. There were 50 passengers on the ship, two for Bunbury and 48 bound for Adelaide. Two short stops were made in Bunbury and Busselton.[15] The ship was found to be leaking badly about 35 miles south of Cape Naturaliste. The water levels rose and extinguished the fires, rendering the pumps unworkable. The master of the ship, John Godfrey, decided to off-load the most helpless of his passengers into a longboat, a decision which resulted in a loss of two women and five children when it crashed against the side of the ship.[16] The second boat with fourteen people on board eventually came ashore about fifteen miles south of Cape Naturaliste. Help was sought and finally arrived the next day and took them to Mr Yelverton’s timber station.

The Georgette itself was blown onto a sand bank near Calgardup Brook, south of Redgate Beach. The third lifeboat was launched in an attempt to take a line ashore but was swamped. It was recovered and headed for the shore with some passengers but was swamped again.[17] The heroic tale of how Sam Isaacs and young Grace Bussell rode their horses out through the surf and rescued these survivors has become part of WA’s history.

Michael Cawthorne’s name was published among the names of the Georgette passengers who eventually arrived in South Australia on the Edith Haveland (Haviland).[18] However it appears that he was not a passenger on the ill-fated Georgette. The South Australian Maritime Museum confirms that Cawthorne joined the Edith Haviland at Geographe Bay on 9 December 1876 and arrived in Adelaide on 20 December that year.[19] Whether he stayed there is not known. It is of interest that a William Cawthorn was seeking information about Michael many years later in 1892:

LOSS OF THE GEORGETTE – MICHAEL CAWTHORN, who arrived in Adelaide on January 10, 1877. Any information of him will be thankfully received by W. Cawthorn, office of this paper. 274-50.[20]


[1] London Daily News, 5 Dec. 1856.

[2] Newcastle Journal, 6 December 1856.

[3] Newcastle Courant, 5 December 1856.

[4] Convict Department Registers (R33/1-33)

[5] Ibid.

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

[7] Convict Establishment, Casual Sick Registers (CS4 – CS5)

[8] Dr John Sampson, Convict Reg. No. 4305.

[9] David Fury, Convict Reg. No. 4649.

[10] P. Barnes et al, Eds, The Australind Journals of Marshall Waller Clifton 1840-1861, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park WA, 2010.

[11] Convict Department Registers, General Register (R1)

[12] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians, at, p. 502)

[13] David Cundell, Convict Reg. No. 5003.

[14] WA Police Gazette, 31 Jan 1877.

[15] WA Museum, Shipwrecks Databases at

[16] Inquirer, 27 Dec 1876.

[17] Ibid.

[18] South Australian Register, 30/12/1876.

[19] South Australian Maritime Museum, Passengers in History,

[20] South Australian Register, 1 Oct 1892.