Frewins in Tasmania

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Posted by Bob Frewen on 18 February , 2000 at 23:02:28:

In Reply to: Frewins in Tasmania posted by Jack Hutcheon on 29 January , 2000 at 11:41:16:

There was at least one Irish Frewen in Tasmania/Van Diemens Land at the end of the 1800's. He was William Frewen/in, who died about November 1899 (see The Mercury, Hobart, 2 December 1899.) A well researched article by Richard Davis in "The Old Limerick Journal" covers his fascinating story.

In the late 1840's, following the Famine in Ireland, there was a great deal of public disorder, petty theft, etc. In 1848 the authorities brought in tough legislation to control the masses.

The family of a character called William Ryan (nicknamed Puck,) neighbours of the Frewens, was evicted from its 3 acre farm and Puck turned to a life of crime. One crime was the murder of a farmer (paid for by an adversary), another was the murder of a brother of the new tenant of the former Ryan farm. A short time after the last murder Puck briefly visited the Frewen household.

A former servant of the Frewens reported this and the Frewens were charged with harbouring a criminal. This was considered a very serious offence under the new legislation. Found guilty, William Frewen was transported to VDL for life and two other brothers, one called John, spent time in jail in Ireland. The transportation sentence and the Government's handling of the affair elicited a huge amount of adverse publicity in the national press of the day.

I have been researching the story of William's less fortunate brother, John. He served his 6 months jail time and returned home. Some months later he heard a shot and cries for help from the roadway. He carried a wounded neighbour, a landlord's agent called Nash, back home, where he later died of gunshot wounds. There had been "bad blood" between Nash and the Frewens over rights to cut turf in a bog so it was not a big surprise later when John was charged with this murder.

A doctor gave evidence that Nash's wounds were identical to those inflicted by the gun of Puck in the earlier murders. Very dubious witnesses, all of whom had been offered free passage to America after the trial, gave evidence for the prosecution. Although the judge said that there was no ground for conviction, the special jury (local big landlords) found Frewen guilty. There was a strong possibility that the murder was carried out either by Puck or by a man called Stritch, who fled to America. Up to his last day John Frewen maintained his innocence and wrote the following poignant note, which he read from the scaffold in front of Limerick jail on the morning of his execution.

I most solemnly declare, in the presence of God,
before whose judgement I am about to appear, that
I am not guilty of the murder of Peter Nash, for
which I am about to suffer, nor any other murder.
I was in my own house with Thady Brien, William Horgan,
William Meehan and my sister at the time of the murder
and only left it to carry the murdered man to his own
house. I also solemnly declare that I never entered a
conspiracy for the murder of Peter Nash; never during
my life went to take arms, or joined in any other
whiteboy offence. I wish to state that I never at any
time mentioned the name of Stritch as the person who
fired at Nash. I am entirely resigned to the will of God.
I unite my sufferings with those of my Redeemer, in
whose merits all my hopes are fixed. I freely from my
heart forgive my prosecutors who swore falsely against
me and I pray God to forgive them their wicked perjury.
I most earnestly beg the prayers of all who read this my
solemn declaration.
"John Frewen"

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