History and Wine Part 1: 717 Convicts

This is the first of two posts that I’m writing about wine, history and convicts! And I must say, that this topic is my newest fascination addiction.

So let me introduce you to the “717 Convicts”wine.

Made by Darren and Suz Westlake of Westlake Vineyards. They run a small, family operated business in the heart of the Barossa Valley, South Australia’s wine country. And their range “717 Convicts” is one of their brands, and is a tribute to the First Fleet, and tribute to Darren’s ancestors.

The story starts back in the county of Devon in England where Edward Westlake was tried for stealing 40 pounds of mutton to the value of 10/-., back in 1786. He was found guilty, and was sentenced to 7 years transportation, along with his father in law, John Mortimer and brother-in-law Noah Mortimer. All three got their “free ticket” to Australia aboard the “Charlotte”, which one of the 11 ships in the First Fleet., which left England in May 1787. You can read more about the ships (and the convicts ) here.

Edward, John and Noah were just three of the 100 males, 32 females and 30 crew aboard the “Charlotte” for a total of 252 days – that’s an incredible 8 months, 1 week, and 1 day. I’ve been on cruise ships and by day 12 I tend to get stir crazy – and that’s pure luxury compared to the conditions that these ships would have been, so there is no comparison. After all they were prisoners, and were treated like it too.

Anyway all three survived the voyage to New South Wales (not everyone did), and by March 1788 all three were then transferred on to Norfolk Island, as part of the founding group of prisoners sent there. You can read what the Westlake Vineyards writes about their convict history here.

Well-known Australian historian, Cathy Dunn who knows everything there is to know about Norfolk Island history, has a whole article on Edward Westlake, which you can read here.

Anyway back to the wine … there are four varieties available, although the first two were hard to find (but if you’re interested, keep an eye on ebay) …
The Felon (Shiraz)
The Warden (Shiraz)
VP Durif
VP Shiraz

the front of the bottles

The back labels on both The Felon and The Warden bottles have the following written …

“This wine is a tribute to the 717 convicts that survived the voyage to Port Jackson as part of the First Fleet in 1788. Edward Westlake was one of those convicts arriving aboard the “Charlotte”. Their stories of survival and hardship in this unforgiving land are an inspiration to us all … whether free of condemned man.”

While the VP Durif and VP Shiraz bottles have actual entries of Edward Westlake and John Mortimer with all the date of trial, place of trial, accused, age, sex, residence, crime, value, verdict, sentence and so on printed on the back label.

and the back

As a family historian, and one particularly fond of convicts (well, who isn’t eh) …. I find this totally awesome, and it’s such a nice way to not only remember their history, but honour their ancestors as well.

Spending 8 months on a boat, then arriving in a place that had basically nothing meant that both the officers and convicts faced starvation as supplies ran low, particularly when little could be grown on the land. While I don’t know the exact population of Sydney in 1788, I image it wasn’t much more than the 717 convicts who arrived, plus a number officers … but by¬†1800 Sydney had a population of around 3,000.

Edward Westlake survived the hardships that life threw at him. He married, had a family, and lived till to the good ol’ age of 76. And in 2017, 189 years after his death … he would have thousands of descendants. And despite the fact that he was a convict, he was a founding member of Australia’s history. Afterall, the convicts helped establish our country, making Australia what it is today.

And just one last comment, us genie folk totally love our convicts. To us having a convict in the family tree is “Australian royalty”. And if you’re lucky enough to be descended from a First Fleeter then that is “True Australian Royalty”.

So I’d like to say next time you visit your local liquor store why not pick up a bottle, but I doubt you’ll find it there. So if you’re interested why not buy one from Westlake Vineyards themselves, and support a small Australian business as well.

And for more info on the First Fleet, check out Wikipedia, as it has great page with a lot of stats.

2 Responses to “History and Wine Part 1: 717 Convicts”

  1. Barb says:

    Love this post and associated links!

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