Joseph Davis (c1760-1823) was a convict found guilty of high treason on Dublin in 1798 and sentenced to transportation for seven years. He was one of a large number of men who had been apprehended for administering an unlawful oath (considered a rebel offence by the authorities) on 1 October 1797. The group were given time to put their affairs in order before leaving the country. While on board the Minerva in Cork harbour awaiting transportation to Sydney, Davis penned an emotional love letter to his wife. The letter survives to this day.
My dear Mary,
This day I received your letter and it gives me great satisfaction to find in the post circumstances that you, my mother and the four children are well. I hope little young John will get over the cough. I am myself tolerable well in health.… I often think of our mutual attachment to each other and my children but them times are over. I am very sure we will soon sail. Every preparation denotes it. However let me be in my part of the world, you, your mother and the children will be my chief concern. I wish I could in some measure think my health be better. I am exactly nine months on board this day and 18 months in confinement. …I hope you have fortitude to withstand this great trouble and distress for tho we may be separated in this life, we should get happiness. Pray keep up your spirits we may meet again. I am extremely sorry to hear a complaint of [my daughter] Sally, I thought she promised to have better times and I strictly desire for her to mind her schooling and every other thing you or her grandmother desire for her to do. She must know how such things put me in my present situation. Not being with her, therefore inform her if she has any respect for her father, that she will mind his direction or she will repent when it’s too late.I have not a sufficiency of words to acknowledge the kindness of your mother to you and the children, she has my prayers. I don’t know what might have been the consequences only for her, and I request she will continue her kindness and to pay a strict attention to the morals of the children.…The complaint of that lump in my belly is much the old way, no tenderness here will do any service. The reality I can’t say I got my health very bad but is entirely unable to bear hardship, sometimes weakness bordering on fainting attacks but wear off again.When you have an opportunity, give my best respects to Mr and Mrs Spencer, your sister Anne… Give my respects to the two Goodmans and Mr Donney with them, let them know Brady and Mulhall [also on board the Minerva] and the remainder of us seven are well. It gives me great pleasure to hear from you and often wonder at your neglect (I forgive you) and your mother has me affection with you the same as ever…Show this letter to my friend and cousin, [he] is next to your mother and the children… grant him peace in this life and happiness in the next. Give my duty to your mother, my love and blessings to the children and I hope Sally will be an ornament not a discredit to me. Many times I think of them, therefore I desire that they will take your advice on every particular and mind their education, particularly if in any way able to give it them and the blessing of God almighty be with you and mother is the wish of your ever loving husband. Jos. Davis.
N.B. If anything comes relative to my pardon or any attention in the family send me and if we go away too suddenly I am afraid you or your mother will not survive to see the children provided for but I pray God you both may… I would be contented if you write, don’t forget the directions, Capt Cox, Minerva, love from me.
This is an extract from the forthcoming book by Barbara Hall on the convicts of the Minerva, which arrived in Sydney in 1800. The book is scheduled to be published by Irish Wattle in 2012. Stay tuned for more soon!