BEYOND THE TREE | Our grandad was a highwayman

This exhibition at Liverpool Regional Museum includes a growing community tree and you can add your own family story. Bring in photos of your family moments to be scanned, printed and mounted. In conjunction with Liverpool Genealogy Society. Volunteers help with research and family enquiries Tuesdays to Saturdays. The Champion is running a series of family stories tying in with it. It seems there's something romantic about a colonial highwayman, not that the law would agree. Pat's still proud to call the nefarious Robert Rhodes her great-great-great-grandad.

The wind was a torrent of darkness amongst the gusty trees, The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, And the highwayman came riding, riding, riding, The highwayman came riding up to the old inn door . . .

THOSE immortal lines by Alfred Noyes conjure up romantic images of my great-great-great-grandfather, convict Robert Rhodes, born in Yorkshire in 1804. A tailor by trade, he was married with two children. At 25, he was charged with highway robbery at Sheffield. He'd stolen four shillings in silver, a watch key and a chain. He was transported to Australia for seven years, landing in Sydney on May 29, 1830 on the convict ship Lord Melville. He was sent to Campbelltown.

He took up with another convict, Sarah Harris Jones, and they had three daughters: Ellen (1837), Elizabeth (1839) and Sarah (1841). And here the romantic highwayman bubble burst! Seems our Robert really was a bad guy. He got his Certificate of Freedom in January, 1841 but it was cancelled due to another court case on December 2, 1840. Robert and Margaret Quinn were in Campbelltown court charged with larceny and receiving stolen goods. One of the crown's witnesses was Sarah Jones, the mother of his children.

Both Robert and Margaret were convicted. She got 12 months' hard labour at the Female Factory. Robert was spared his sentence of seven years' transportation to Norfolk Island because he was "affected with severe ophthalmia and in danger of losing the sight of both eyes". Instead, he was transferred to Parramatta hospital as a pauper in July, 1846. He seems to have stayed there until finally, nearly 40 years later: "Robert Rhodes was admitted to Liverpool Asylum on July 21, 1883 at 78. He was discharged December 24, 1884. Reason for discharge: death." He was buried in the old Liverpool Cemetery.

I still admire this man, our highwayman, slowly going blind. Life must have been hard as a tailor for which your eyes are so important. Despite his crimes I'm proud to be his great-great-great-granddaughter.

  • Do you have someone notorious in your family? Share your story at Beyond the Tree at Liverpool Regional Museum, 462 Hume Highway. 8711 7126. Free. Tues to Sat, 10am to 4pm. Extended due to popular demand.
This story Our bandit great-grandad first appeared on Liverpool City Champion.

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