Friday 17th May 2019 – today we headed for Padova. On arrival we met our guide and walked hastily to the entry to the Scrovengi Chapel. We had to be on time, because if one misses the allocated spot, then too bad! You have to re-book and pay again. We made it in time. The entry is essentially an air-lock between the outside world and the climate-controlled chapel. We sat in the ‘air-lock’ for 15 minutes, watching a video about the Chapel. It was built in about 1300 as the private chapel for a townhouse erected in the old Roman arena (which by then had been robbed out, and the job was finished to build the house). The townhouse has long gone and only an inner perimeter wall of the arena remains. The chapel, however, has been preserved. Inside, the walls are completely covered by frescoes. The main body of the chapel was painted by Giotto (from 1303 to 1305) and tells the story of Mary the mother of Christ and of some main features of Jesus’ life and passion. The end wall shows Judgement Day. The frescoes show an early use of perspective and also of the portrayal of emotion, not found in paintings before. It is a really beautiful set of frescoes.
The Judgement Day Fresco
After our allotted 15 mins in the chapel, a bell rang and we were ushered out, and once out, the next group were allowed in.
We visited the Church of the Eremitani, next to the chapel, where there were few remaining frescoes but one set was pointed out to us as important because the painter, Mantegna, was very young when he painted them and went on to great things. His use of perspective was excellent, but he did not portray much emotion in the figures. The frescoes were much damaged when the church was hit by a stray bomb in WWII.
From here we walked into the town centre, through an old gate in the city wall (which no longer exists). Our first stop was the Pedrocchi Cafe, a landmark in Padova. It was here that student activists met in the early 18th century and where the first shots of the 1848 revolution were fired (or that’s what we were told). The first bullet hit a wall, and the nick in the plaster is now a feature of the White Room at the Pedrocchi.
We were taken into the earliest remaining part of the University of Padova, the second oldest University in Italy (after Bologna). The atrium of the building has many coats of arms of students and teachers at the university, and dates from 1552.
Atrium of University building
We walked round the City Hall to a Piazza where a market was in full swing, and we could see the Basilica (again in the old sense of a place of Justice). It was not as impressive as the Palladio facade at Vincenza, this one being more medieval in style.
The tour finished in the Piazza on the far side of the basilica, also full of market stalls, and where we had a quick lunch. We then walked down to the Cathedral of St Anthony, Padua’s patron saint. From the outside, the complex roofline gives a hint of the interesting shape of the Cathedral. There were domes, cupolas and a tower or two. The western front is highlighted in marble, but most of the place seemed to be built of brick. We entered via a cloister (there are four cloisters) and walked round the Cathedral. Richly decorated, blue starred roof and an elaborate shrine to Saint Anthony – one could queue to see a relic behind the shrine, but the queue was too long for us.
Cathedral of St Anthony
We walked a bit further to the Orto Botanica – the University Botanic Gardens, set up by the University (in about the 16th century) to grow and study the medicinal uses of various herbs and plants. It was very interesting –it had a huge old magnolia and a pine in a glasshouse that had something to do with Goethe, as well as a poison garden and several lotus ponds among the beds of herbs and medicinal plants.
In the Orto Botanico
In another section of the gardens we found a huge glass house – the Garden of Biodiversity – representing several different climate zones, with examples of typical flora from each. It was set up as an educational resource and we could have spent the afternoon there, but were running out of time.
Garden of Biodiversity
We walked back to the Cafe Pedrocchi where we met the rest of the party and walked together back to the bus. There followed a two hour bus drive to get us to Bologna, through the flat, intensively cultivated Po river valley. On arrival, after a short rest, we were taken to a famous restaurant for dinner: Donnatello’s. The walls are covered with photos of famous people who have dined there. The restaurant is so successful that they do not open on weekends! We had a lovely meal.
On Wednesday 15th May we departed Verona by train –the ticket machines operated in Italian and English, as were the announcements in the station so that was all easy. It was about a 2 hour journey and we arrived at Mira-Mirano station intending to take a taxi to the hotel. There were no taxis! A bus pulled up and our rudimentary Italian deserted us (as did my English, German and French) so we showed the driver our destination on a mobile phone, to which he responded firmly “Si!” so we climbed aboard. Asking us for money or ticket was beyond his (and our) language skills, so we got a free ride to a bus stop near the Hotel where the driver stopped and pointed out the door dramatically, so we exited with many a “Grazie, grazie!” We had followed the bus on Google maps, so were confident that we could walk to the Hotel from the bus-stop. It was only about 100 metres, and we moved quickly from drive-way to drive-way, between cars, as there was no foot-path. We made it!
After checking in and settling, we decided to go for a walk along the canal, opposite the hotel as it was a beautiful afternoon. This area of Mira is known for its Villas, country homes of Venetian aristocracy (or the rich, anyway) linked by canals to the rivers and ultimately the Venetian lagoon. There were clearly houses of the lower classes as well as modern homes. However there were a few well maintained elegant looking houses, and some that looked abandoned, or at least in need of renovation.
Houses on the canal at Mira
After our hour of walking, we rested until the meeting with our tour group, followed by dinner in the hotel. We had menus for the event, with an illustration of the canal area we had just walked along, a few hundred years ago.
Illustration of the canal villas
On Thursday (16th May 2019) we headed out in the coach to Vincenza, about an hour away. Our first stop after picking up a local guide, was at the Church of Saint Mary at the top of Monte Berico. Legend has it that a woodcutter’s wife, climbing the hill to bring her husband his lunch, was visited with a vision of the Virgin Mary. There was also a story that the plague was eliminated from Vincenza when the foundation stone for the church was laid. The approach to the church for pilgrims, is up a specially built covered path with arches in sets of ten to mimic the rosary.
There is a wonderful view over Vincenza to the mountains beyond, from the forecourt of the Church. From here, we drove away from the town a little to drive past ‘La Rotonda’, a Villa designed by Andrea Palladio in 1565. It is considered his finest work, among many. The four identical facades and round central space topped with a cupola are the main features. The Rotunda is in private ownership and while open to visitors on some days, not on this day, so we could only photograph from the road. The owner has planted trees along the road and round the building-perhaps to encourage visitors and discourage drive-bys such as ours. However, postcards are available in the town.
The Rotonda from the road
We were dropped off for our walking tour which began at one end of the main street, marked by a town house designed by Palladio for a wealthy merchant, Palazzo Cheiricati. It is impressive, in white stone, pillars and painted eaves over an upper floor terrace.
Palladian Townhouse – Palazzo Cheiricati
Vincenza has many interesting buildings from different centuries, scattered about, the Palazzo da Schio is also known as Casa d’Oro or the Golden House because it was once decorated with exterior paintings, some of which were gilded is one. It dates from the 14th century (I think). The photo was taken on an angle for variety and to get the detail fairly close-to.
In one street the facades of the houses illustrated 400 years of architecture, from the influence of Venice in the 13th century, to early Palladio in the 16th century.
Distant Venetian influence and nearer, 14th or 15th? century facade.
We also passed the house where a chap called Luigi da Porto died in 1529. He was a historian, but also unlucky in love, writing a novella called Guiletta e Romeo to express his disappointment. Shakespeare used a translation as inspiration for his famous tragedy.
We were taken into the Piazza, full of market stalls, and were told all about the Basilica – using the old meaning of place of justice. It has a facade designed by Palladio, but the interior is much older. We arranged to meet back here at 2:30, allowing us some free time. We immediately found a small cafe and had a quick but delicious lunch (prawns, cheese and pastry). We back-tracked to the Palladio Museum, housed in a building with a facade of his design, that integrated several earlier buildings into one large townhouse, round an interior courtyard. The Museum itself was on the first floor, the staircase up to which had a timeline of Palladio’s life (1508 – 1580). Inside, there were many models and drawings of the buildings that Palladio designed over his very productive life.
Walking further round Vincenza, we found at least one building with external painted decoration and got glimpses of interesting views down side streets. We continued down the street to the Piazza Matteotti. At one side of the Piazza Matteotti is the rather patchwork outer wall of the Teatro Olimpico.
We went inside the Teatro, which was designed by Palladio and heavily influenced by his ideas about how a Roman era theatre would look. Thus there was a curved bank of stone seating and a heavily decorated wall behind the main stage with painted scenery.
The central view of the stage shows the perspective view of a long street. The safety escape diagram shows that the central perspective view on stage does in fact extend into the courtyard – but not as far as the painted perspective would have us believe. This was one of the first theatres to be enclosed with a roof- so the ceiling is painted to look like the sky.
The stage and backdrop
From the Theatre, we walked back up the main street to the Piazza dei Signori, which has two columns at the north-east end, one topped by the Venetian Winged Lion and the other by a figure of Christ. The Piazza was now cleared of market stalls, and the Basilica was far easier to admire. Palladio designed the facade, which was placed around a far older building.
Our walk back to the coach took us further along the Corso Palladio and the medieval tower at the end.
The Torrione di Porta Castello
Our tour departed Vincenza to return to Mira, where we had a little time to ourselves. We walked to the Villa Widmann Rezzonico Foscari next door, as it is open to the public. It has amazing decoration in the entrance hall.
The front view of the Villa Widmann Rezzonico Foscari.
Looking down into the entrance hall from the upper level gallery.
We walked for dinner to the Villa Francesca and walked back after a lovely meal. The Villa Francesca is similar in design to the Villa Widmann.
A quieter day today, we started off with beverage and pastry at Cafe Wallner, just off the Piazza Bra. Nearby is the Museo Lapidario Maffiano. A chap called Maffiano collected all sorts of Greek, Roman and Etruscan sculpture and inscriptions, many being grave markers, in the 17th to 18th centuries. His collection is now on display on two floors of the Museo and outside in a courtyard. Unfortunately most of the material on display has no provenance, that is, no-one is sure where it came from, and in some cases whether it is even genuine. Still, there are some interesting pieces. I liked a sculpture of a reclining boy, made for his sarcophagus. There was also a long inscription, over 5 panels, of a wealthy woman’s will. In one sense he was ‘grave robbing’, but in another, preserving material that otherwise might have been built into a wall.
After the Museum, we walked to Castelvecchio, in order to take another look at the Gavi Arch and to see if a better photo could be taken of the wheel marks worn into the paving stones from under the arch. We crossed the bridge again, took more photos and found the Arsenale. Here, the main buildings were built by the Austrians in the 18th century. There is not much there to see, just the buildings which appear to be in need of repair. While I have seen photos of the interior, we could only walk through the short axis of the central building.
We revisited the area that we walked through last night on the moonlight walking tour –although it took a bit of exploring to find it. The house with frescoes was easier to see, and also I guess this means that the building has not been repainted in 500 years or so…
A frescoed house
After lunch near the Piazza Erbe and a rest at ‘home’, we found the energy to visit the Hotel Milano and go up to the 5th floor rooftop terrace (there is a lift/elevator). Here there is a view of the Arena, or at least, the Ala (‘wing’), last remaining part of the external wall. We indulged in a drink and enjoyed the sunshine and warmth, both lacking in the last few days!
The ala of the Arena
Later, we had dinner at a local pizzeria. Despite being a quieter day, I still got in my 10,000 steps and 9 floors.
Tomorrow we move on to Mira to meet up with a coach tour down the east coast, so a last look at the Arena:
The Arena, Verona
There was a lot planned for today! We started by walking along part of the medieval walls across the Verona isthmus, then along the rather later walls enclosing an area on the east bank of the Adige River. The latter were either erected by, or renovated by, the Austro-Hungarian occupiers. There is a dry moat in parts, along which we saw a gun embrasures and two rather impressive gates to the city. We went through the second of these, the Porta Vescova.
We then walked through the town to the Giardino and Palazzo Guisti – beautiful gardens of trees, statues and low clipped hedges.
We climbed up the hill to a spiral stair which took us even higher to a Belvedere, so we looked down the axis of the gardens to the middle of the Palazzo, and with a great view across to the city. Beyond, we could just make out some snow capped mountains.
View from the gardens
Once we were back at ground level and could look up at the Belevedere, we could see it has the form of a snarling beast! Later, I read that it was designed to ‘breath fire’ at night.
As part of our entrance fee we were able to look over a former apartment of the Giusti family within the Palazzo. The large rooms are now sparsely furnished but housed wonderful potted plants! The drawing room had elaborate red wallpaper, and a sofa in matching fabric, it looks a bit bizarre but worked.
The Red Room
I also liked the bedroom with an elevated terrace above and behind the bed – different.
We walked through the music room, a dining room and a room in which were cacti growing in hollowed out books. There were some interior rooms that we could see but not access, that were perhaps once areas for servant access, and also, there was no apparent kitchen! Overall it was a really interesting and intriguing set of rooms.
It was nearing lunchtime, so we walked along to and crossed the Ponte Pietri and found a cafe with a terrace overlooking the river, and the old bridge. Originally built by the Romans, it was rebuilt after being blown up in WWII.
View from our lunch spot
Restored, we made our way back across the river and to the Museo Archeologico al Teatro Romano. Here we saw a model that recreates what the Roman theatre was thought to have looked like in its prime, based on drawings done by Andrea Palladio (famous 16th century architect). There is not a lot left of the theatre, just the lower banks of seating, and much of that covered by modern seating for theatrical performances.
Model of the Theatre
The Theatre today
We took the lift up into the actual museum, housed in a former monastery looming above the theatre site. The museum houses an extensive collection of Roman remains which were just amazing, especially in showing how a few fragments can evoke the full statue, shown in an accompanying drawing. A side benefit was that we were able to see the structure of the monastery. The monks’ cells, have lovely views across the river, the refractory was decorated with a fresco of the Last Supper and floored in repurposed Roman mosaic and the Cloisters provided a haven of quiet between the Monastery and the Church of Saint Jerome.
The Monastery, Church of Saints Siro and Libera, and the Theatre
The Church, Chiesa Santi Siro e Libero, intrudes into the Theatre, built on top of part of it. There were many other buildings on the site, which were removed during excavation of the site in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some rebuilding took place then, as well as archaeological investigation.
Our next stop was the Cathedral . The Baptistry, which we entered first, is unusual in being in Nave and Apse format rather than symmetrical in the round. The focal point was the font, large enough for full immersion baptism and carved out of a single block of marble.
The Font in the Baptistry
Next we were guided into a 12th century church with an excavated fourth century church under its nave. From there, we entered the cathedral itself. It is huge, amazing, elaborately decorated, and colourful.
The Cathedral interior
Outside, the Cathedral has striped side walls, in two colours of stone, while the west front is a bit of a patchwork, mostly one colour but two areas of striping.
The West Front of the cathedral.
Back to the apartment for a rest before going out to dinner, and then joining a Verona by Moonlight walking tour. We met up at Piazza Erbe, where the setting sun, falling below the clouds, lit up the Torre dei Lamberti (Lambert Tower).
Illuminated Torre dei Lamberti
The tour took us to less known sites round the city, churches that have been repurposed, one now a wine shop has a lovely frescoed ceiling, buildings with frescoed walls, ammonites in the pavement on Via Borsari and a Roman column still supporting the corner of a building. We also saw Roman era grave stones built into walls.
We crossed the Victory Bridge and walked along the other side of the river to the ponte Scagliari (or ponte Castelvecchio) which we then crossed. The guide pointed out that the wall next to us as we passed through the castle, actually pre-dates the castle and is part of the original 12th century city wall. The Castle, built in the 14th century simply included the wall. Initially, the Scala family lived in the western section (outside the City wall) and their retainers and army lived in the larger eastern section. The bridge was the family’s private escape route from the city. The walk finished in Piazza Bra, where the Arena was illuminated in a light pink colour.
It was an active day, my fitbit indicating that we had walked just over 15 kilometers.
Today we started with a visit to Castelvecchio. We had walked past it on our walking tour, and as it houses a museum/art gallery, we were able to go inside today. I was excited to be able to visit because we had not even got close when I was here two years ago, and I do like exploring castles! Being a Sunday, only about 9 am and wet, there was not much traffic nor many tourists about, so I got a better photo of the entrance than before.
The entry opens into a courtyard, with the buildings of the castle across on the other side of the garden, above the river, and to the right of the entry. The building to the right is now an exhibition space, but could have been the ‘Great Hall’ in the past (or the stables!). There was an impressive doorway.
Door from Courtyard
The Museum entry is in the far right corner of the courtyard. The layout directs visitors along the lower floor to the left, under a public footpath that leads to the Ponte di Castelvecchio (also know as Ponte Scaligero), up a tower, round the battlements, then over above the public footpath and along the upper floor of the main building, down into the exhibition hall and exit via the Museum entry and shop. A display board on the ramparts shows the castle layout.
The museum houses some impressive examples of medieval and renaissance religious statues and artworks. The walls of the museum themselves are works of art, as some of the decorative paintwork survives. There are also examples of frescoes removed from walls elsewhere and now housed in the museum.
At the end of the lower level, visitors are directed that the excavation of the moat can be seen through the floor and indeed there appeared to be a channel down there, but that would put the moat on the inside of the castle wall – which is a bit unusual. Perhaps it was a source of water for use in the castle, rather than intended as a defensive feature (as I think of moats usually being). It looks as if the castle was extended to the west, as along the west side is the moat, a wall, then the path to the bridge, a garden, buildings and a tower and the outer west wall.
Course of the moat inside the inner west wall.
Area between the inner and outer west walls.
The walk upon the ramparts allowed for great views over the castle and the river. There is also a small rooftop garden (giardino pensile) next to the clock tower (Torre dell’Orologio).
There is a particularly good example of an ammonite fossil on the ramparts, that is raised rather than worn flat to the slab.
In the Exhibition Hall was a collection of works by the Veronese artists of the late 16th to mid 17th centuries. I particularly liked the ‘Cena di San Francesco’, by Giovanni Battista Rovedata, painted in 1605. I like the different attitudes of the monks, and the intent look of the reader towards the observer (at the far right of the picture).
Cena di San Francesco
Leaving the castle, we walked back along the Via Roma to the lovely cafe that we visited the day before with the tour – Cafe Walter (I think) for a cuppa and a croissant. We walked back across the Piazza Bra and round to Via Leoncini where we are staying, but we kept walking. At the far end of the street is a little piazza with a fenced off view down to the Roman street level and the excavation of the Porta Leoni, one of the gates into the Roman city. The foundations of a hexagonal tower and the wall of a barbican type guarded entrance are on view. The other side of the gateway has been built over, except that the inner face of one of the two the inner archways is still to be seen, built into the side of a much more recent building.
The Lion Gate
After a short break in our apartment, we walked back to Piazza Bra to join a tour of the Arena. Our guide spoke a bit about the history of the Arena, built in about 40 AD, about 40 years before the Colosseum in Rome. She had a drawing of how it may have looked before the outer ring wall was pulled down (or fell down, depending which story is true). One version is that there was an earthquake, which caused the outer wall to fall, another version is that because the Arena was higher than the Roman Walls, and thus could lend advantage to an invader, a further wall was built beyond the Arena and the outer wall of the Arena provided the materials to build this wall (or some of it).
The Arena as it was
Inside, the main corridor that circles the Arena is huge, with gate 1 (the VIP entrance) supported by impressive columns. The inner walk, is low and dank, water is seeping in through the stones above.
The Main corridor at Gate 1.
The arena itself is currently being set up for the forthcoming opera season (although Elton John appears for two nights in a few weeks time!). We climbed up to the top-most seating for a spectacular view.
By then it was time to think about lunch, so we headed down a random street (Via Oberdon) on which there were few cafes, we did not want a restaurant meal, just something light. We found ourselves back at Porta Borsari, with much better photo opportunity than before, so more photos were taken. Through the Piazza Erbe – no market stalls and few people!
Piazza Erbe with Fountain of the Madonna, painted house and winged lion on a column.
We found a cafe further down on the corner of Via Masini. After a rather delayed luncheon, we took Via Mazzini back to the Arena, and it was crowded. We dropped into Benetton to admire the mosaic floor again, then home. The hem of my skirt was drenched from forgetting to hold it up when descending the wet Arena steps. It had been raining or drizzling most of the day, so umbrellas were required- but we still got about. We dined at one of the restaurants facing Piazza Bra, and had another early night – still recovering from jet-lag.
This year I am spending six weeks in the northern half of Italy, a week in Graz and two weeks in England. Door to door it took about 34 hours to get to Verona from Newcastle. We flew Etihad from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, Rome and finally Verona. I had a window seat for the second leg and was able to admire snow-covered mountains somewhere in eastern Turkey. A bit later, I was also delighted to be able to see that we were flying over the island of Hvar, and spotted the Golden Horn on Brac that we visited last year. Cloud obscured Split, away in the distance.
Golden Horn opposite coast of Hvar
Shirley had arranged for us to be met at the airport, so it was an easy ride to our apartment. It was only on arrival that I realised how central the apartment is – we can see the Arena from the front door! There is also a nice little restaurant/bar on the corner where we had a meal, and no doubt will be frequenting during our stay.
The back of the Arena
On Saturday morning we joined a food and wine walking tour of Verona. We met the guide and two couples near the entrance to the Piazza Bra, outside the Farmacia Internationale. We walked just round the corner to a cafe where we had second breakfast, tea or coffee with a typical Verona pastry (in my case a chocolate filled little cake)while chatting to our fellow tourists and learning a little about Verona from our guide.
A short walk away, we admired the Castelvecchio and a Roman Arch (Arco dei Gavi) that used to stand in the middle of the road outside the castle. The Arch has been moved to the side, along with the flagstones of the roadway that led under it, complete with wheel-ruts worn into the stone over time.
Arco dei Gavi
From the riverfront behind the Arch, we could see the Ponte di Castelvecchio, the arches outlined in white stone and the top decorated with ‘fishtail’ merlons.
Ponte di Castelvecchio
From there we walked along the Corso Cavour, and stopped briefly at Chiesa di San Lorenzo. Originally the church was plastered inside and out, but at some point the plaster was removed, and the interesting patterns of brick, tufa and stone has been revealed. Inside, the striped patterning is more obvious. A local volunteer told us about the church and gave out brochures about the selection of churches that are open to the public throughout the area.
Chiesa di San Lorenzo
Continuing with the tour, we came to the Porta Bursari – the remaining Roman gate in the original Roman wall. It is decorated on the outer side, but the inside face is plain. Walking along the street to the right, we came to our next scheduled stop, a sweet shop Teresina. Here we were told about the Italian tradition of serving ‘confetti’ to guests. These are sugared almonds, with different colours of sugar coating used for different celebrations – white for weddings, different colours for different anniversaries, pink or bale blue for births, and so on. Other small sweets were available, including chocolate covered cocoa beans and a lemon liquor filled yellow sugar ball. We sampled five different kinds, they were very nice, and a few purchases were made.
Walking on, we cut through an alley-way to see some remaining pieces of the Roman wall built into a modern building.
Old and new
Rom there, we went into the Benetton shop, which conceals in its basement, the mosaic floor of a Roman house! We also passed a Bank with similar subterranean Roman remains.
Mosaic floor in the Benetton shop.
We walked further, came out in Piazza Bra, walked round the Arena and ended up in the Boulangerie La Botteghetta, next to our apartment building! Here we sampled a white wine and ate bread, cheese and salumie.
Aperatif at la Botteghetta
We proceeded further, and passed various interesting buildings in a variety of styles. Red brick and pointy windows indicate Venetian influence. One house had gargoyle-like statues outside, against the walls. Most buildings were stuccoed, and some had balconies. We reached piazza Erbe, originally the Roman forum, then medieval market place, now packed with stalls selling souvenirs to tourists. The fountain in the middle was working, when I visited two years ago it was stopped due to drought. The buildings facing the piazza are medieval, and one still has traces of decorative painting on its upper walls.
Proceeding through a narrow alleyway, we were able to see the back of the painted house, with its balconies and window boxes, as well as an elevated walkway, which allowed the nobility of the house to move between buildings without mixing with the commoners in the streets. Now we were at the corner of the piazza di Signori with a statue of Dante in the middle. Dante was from Florence but spent 15 years in exile in Verona. The main course of our lunch was served in The Arches, a restaurant in what was once the stables of ‘Romeo’s House’ on via San Giorgio (I think). Lunch was pasta with a veal sauce and more wine. After lunch, we walked a little further and found a wine shop where we tasted a lovely red, Amarone, accompanied by a selection of cheeses, and then a sweet red wine, served with a crumbly buttery slice, a regional speciality.
Feeling very full, we waddled to the Ponte Pietra and crossed over the river(flowing very fast) and took the funicular up to the Castel San Pietro. From there we had lovely views of the river and city, between the cypresses.
Castel San Pietro from Ponte Pietro.
View of Verona
Walking back down the hill, we got a look into the Roman Theatre, mostly ruins, but housing a modern open air theatre and a church, the Chiesa Santi Siro e Libero.
Atthe bottom of the hill, we said goodbye, and wandered back through the city to our apartment. We spent the rest of the afternoon sipping fruit a smoothie each, at the corner restaurant, planning the next few days of sightseeing.
A rose bush on the steps.
I have just completed a course on tracing all the documentation for convicts who were sent to Australia in the convict period – 1788 to the mid-nineteenth century. The actual stopping point varies by colony within Australia. Western Australia was still accepting convicts up until 1868, some years after the other areas ceased.
Sometimes trials were reported in newspapers of the time, so using an online newspaper archive can be helpful. For trials in England, we had access to British newspapers (https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/). While serving time in the colonies, convicts were sometimes mentioned in the colonial newspapers, for which access to Trove is really useful (https://trove.nla.gov.au).
I discovered that there are many documents carefully preserved, about this period. Tasmania, especially, seems to have almost all convict registers and these are available on-line through Libraries Tasmania, which hosts the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office. Another source I found easy to use and with quite good coverage, was ‘convict records’ (https://convictrecords.com.au), at least to identify individual convicts and the ships on which they were transported. Ancestry.com seems to have access to most of the documentation as well.
The final assignment of the course was to write up (in only 1000 words) the convict experience of an ancestor. I do not have any convict ancestors, as my family emigrated long after the convict period, so I borrowed the convict ancestor of a friend. I had contemplated picking out a Friend convict, 12 people with the surname Friend were transported, but decided to go with a convict transported to Tasmania, whom I knew had an interesting life! It was hard getting everything I wanted to say into 1100 words (there was a 100 words lee-way and I used it!). I found it interesting that we were encouraged to include pictures and maps; not something I have been allowed to do in other academic courses, and I seem to have lost two of the pictures already. I do not yet have a grade for the assignment, but here it is, regardless.
Convict Ancestor – William Knibbs (later Nibbs)
Towards the end of his life, William Knibbs wrote in the family Bible “Mine has been a chequered life, But it has been one of much Mercy from a Mercyfull God and to him all his due”.1 William Knibbs, born in Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire in 18092, was a rural labourer in England, a convict in Van Dieman’s Land, and finally a farmer. His was a chequered life, indeed, and the trouble started with his involvement in the Swing Riots.
In the autumn of 1830, unrest spread through the farming villages of southern and central England. The summer had been wet and the harvest poor, labourer’s wages were low and fears were held that winter work would be scarce.3 Rioting labourers demanded higher wages and broke threshing machines. In some places, other industrial sites were vandalised, for example in Buckinghamshire paper-making machines were targeted.4
William Knibbs was one of over 2000 men arrested nationwide.5 Tried in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, in January 1831, the rioters found guilty of damaging paper-making machines, including Knibbs, were all sentenced to death.6 After appeals for clemency, the death sentences were commuted to transportation; Knibbs for seven years.7 The convicts were transferred to the hulk ‘Hardy’ in Portsmouth Harbour, on 9 March 1831,8 boarded the Proteus and sailed on 12 April 1831, for Van Dieman’s Land.
The voyage south was bearable, however while crossing the Indian Ocean, the weather deteriorated. Below-deck conditions were dark and wet: the main hatchway was battened down and water leaked in.9 The convicts must have been relieved to finally arrive in Hobart on 3 August 1831.
On arrival, a description of each convict was recorded. William Knibbs was five foot six and one quarter inches tall (or 168.3 cm). He was described as swarthy in complexion, with light brown hair and eyebrows, dark blue eyes, a long visage and high projecting forehead, short nose and broad chin. He had a mole at his cheekbone and letters tattooed on his arms.10 These may have been initials of family members.11 It was noted that Knibbs could read and write.12 Figure 1 shows Knibbs in later life.
Figure 1: Photograph said to be of William Knibbs in later life. Source: Ancestry, Family Tree of Rebecca Kate Hall, downloaded 15/04/2019
Knibbs was assigned to Joseph Hone.13 Hone was a prominent lawyer and Master of the Tasmanian Supreme Court.14 All proceeded well for several years. The Conduct Record for Knibbs indicates that he was admonished before the Chief Police Magistrate on 28 November 1832, for being absent without leave and going to Bodicin’s Public House on a Sunday.15 Mr Hone spoke in support of Knibbs, indicating Bodicin was more to blame.16
Knibbs’ assignment came to an abrupt end in September, 1834, when he was reported for ‘gross immoral conduct in the service of his master’. The Magistrate ordered him to the Westbury Road Party for 12 months.17 This would have been a huge change for Knibbs. After three years as a domestic servant, he was sent to physically demanding road building work. He lasted about 7 weeks, before he absconded. He was caught and was brought in front of a magistrate on 12 November 1834. A penalty of six months was added to his sentence and it was recommended he be placed in chains. Chained or not, he absconded again the following month. As a result, on 20 December 1834 he was sentenced to 50 lashes. Then, almost three weeks later, he was reported for idleness, but possibly he was still recovering from the whipping. On 16 January 1834, the penalty imposed was to sleep in the cell for seven days and to work four Saturday afternoons. Thereafter, he appeared to have behaved well because his Conduct Record shows no further offences. He received a Free Pardon on 5 April 1836. 18 Figure 2 shows the Conduct Record for William Knibbs.
Figure 2: Conduct Record for William Knibbs CON31/1/26
Knibbs remained in the Westbury area, working as a labourer for some years. He purchased an acre of land in Westbury in 1842.19 Figure 3 gives an impression of the rural nature of the Westbury area. In September 1845, permission was granted for him to marry the convict Mary Ann Tumney (also known as Timoney).20 Mary, aged 20, had arrived on the East London in 1843.21 They married on 22 September 1845 with William recorded as Nibbs, the spelling he used thereafter.22
Figure 3: View of Westbury in 1895. Source: Ancestry Tree of Lorraine Wisener, downloaded 15/04/2019
By 1852, Nibbs was the overseer on Mr Bishton’s farm near Port Sorell. One day in February, five bushrangers descended upon his fields. Nibbs sent one of his own workers to the nearby public house to get help, then approached a bushranger near the farm house and bravely attempted to wrestle away his gun. However, this man pulled out a pistol, Nibbs desisted and was ‘brutally abused’, but survived.23
Later, Nibbs took up tenant farming, leasing a property at Pardoe, in the Port Sorell region.24 Mary died in childbirth in1867 and William finally retired to Westbury, where he died in 1884, survived by eleven of their twelve children.25
1 Bruce Brown, The machine breaker convicts from the Proteus and the Eliza, Masters Thesis, University of Tasmania, 2004, p. 340.
2 William Knibbs, Proteus, 1831, Indent, 1824-1853 Male Convicts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office (henceforth TAHO), CON14/1/3 9.
3 Brown, The machine breaker convicts from the Proteus and the Eliza, p. 24.
4 Ibid, p. 26.
5 Ibid, p. 41.
6 ‘Special Commission for Bucks’ Morning Post, 18 January 1831 p. 4.
7 Ancestry, England and Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 for William Knibbs, England – Buckinghamshire – 1831, Home Office: Criminal Registers, England and Wales, Series HO 27; The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England, Accessed 19 March 2019.
8 Ancestry, UK Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849. Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books; Class: HO9; Piece: 9; TNA, Kew, Surrey, England. Accessed 19 March 2019.
9 Brown, The machine breaker convicts from the Proteus and the Eliza, p. 105.
10 William Knibbs, Proteus, 1831, Description Lists for Male Convicts, TAHO, CON18-1-18, 184
11 Candace Sutton, ‘Marked men: The secret codes and hidden symbols of Australian convict tattoos’, https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/marked-men-the-secret-codes-and-hidden-symbols-of-australian-convict-tattoos/news-story/0b140e2d75166c4d30cdc193f31523fe Accessed 21 March 2019
12William Knibbs, Proteus, 1831, Indent, 1824-1853 Male Convicts, TAHO, CON14/1/3 9
13 William Knibbs, Proteus, 1831, Appropriation Lists, TAHO, CON27/1/5, 70.
15William Knibbs, Proteus, 1831, Conduct Registers, TAHO, CON31-1-26, 71.
16 Police Report, The Tasmanian, 30 Nov 1832, p. 6.
17 William Knibbs, Proteus, 1831, Conduct Registers of Male Convicts arriving in the Period of Assignment, TAHO, CON31-1-26, 71.
19 Tasmania, Australia Deeds of Land Grants, 1804-1935. RD1\1\012 – RD1\1\014.
20 William Knibbs, Proteus, 1831, Permission to Marry, TAHO, CON52/1/2 52.
21 Mary Ann Tumney, East London, 1843, Conduct Registers of Female Convicts arriving n the Period of Assignment, TAHO, CON40/1/10 138.
22 Ancestry, Australia Marriage Index, 1788-1950, Accessed 14 March 2019.
23 Local News, The Courier, 18 February 1852, p. 3.
24 Brown, The machine breaker convicts from the Proteus and the Eliza, p. 340
25 Ancestry, Death Records for Mary Nibbs and William Nibbs, Australia Death Index, 1787-1985, Accessed 14 March 2019
Appropriation Lists, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart, CON27/1/5.
‘Australia Death Index 1787-1985’, Ancestry, Accessed 14 March 2019.
‘Australia Marriage Index’, 1788-1950, Ancestry, Accessed 14 March 2019.
Australian Deeds of Land Grants, Tasmania, 1804-1935, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart.
Brown, Bruce, The machine breaker convicts from the Proteus and the Eliza, Masters Thesis, University of Tasmania, 2004.
Conduct Registers of Male Convicts Arriving in the Period of Assignment, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart, CON31/1/26.
Conduct Registers of Female Convicts Arriving in the Period of Assignment, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart, CON40/1/10.
Crisp, Peter, ‘Joseph Hone (1784-1861)’ in Australian Dictionary of Biography, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hone-joseph-2195, Accessed 8 April 2019.
Description Lists of Male Convicts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart, CON18/1/18.
‘England and Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 – 1831’, Home Office: Criminal Registers, England and Wales, Series HO 27; Ancestry, Accessed 19 March 2019.
Indents, 1824-1853 Male Convicts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart, CON14/1/3.
Permission to Marry, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, Hobart, CON52/1/2.
Sutton, Candace, Marked men: The secret codes and hidden symbols of Australian convict tattoos, News.com.au, Accessed 21 March 2019.
‘UK Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802 – 1849’, Home Office: Convict Prison Hulk: Registers and Letter Books. Ancestry, Accessed 19 March 2019.