John Fitzgerald was arrested in London at the age of 25 for theft with violence, allegedly for his part in a highway robbery during which he stole “a watch, three seals and a key”, worth about £7.7s. During his trial at the Old Bailey in 1818, he had an interpreter. The transcript of his trial reported: “The prisoner being deaf and dumb, had the evidence communicated to him by an interpreter…”. He received a life sentence and arrived in Sydney Cove as a convict on the Baring in June 1819.
Fitzgerald had trained as a shoemaker in London. While he was a convict in Sydney he worked in the government stores as a shoemaker, and possibly as a labourer in Sydney Cove. He was later sent to work in an Iron Gang, on the construction of the Great North Road in the Wiseman’s Ferry area. Placement in an Iron Gang was for convicts who were hard to control, and the conditions in the Iron Gangs were very harsh.
In 1822, Fitzgerald sent a letter to the Governor pleading for a Ticket of Leave (similar to parole). In this letter he asked the Governor to take into consideration his “unfortunate Case of being Deaf and Dumb”. His request was not successful. He eventually gained a Ticket of Leave in 1843, which allowed him to work independently as long as he remained in the Patricks Plains area (around Singleton). Five years later, in 1848, he received a Conditional Pardon, which gave him freedom to move around NSW, but did not allow him to return to England or Ireland. After 1848 there are no surviving records about John Fitzgerald, and his date of death is unknown.
Old Bailey – court transcription
Musters and Census of NSW
NSW Archives (certificates and shipping indent)