The Elegant Spade


1. Alexander WILSON - Convict No 3769

by Beryl Tyler © All rights reserved
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My maternal great grandfather was transported to Western Australia in 1856, having been convicted of forging and uttering. He received his ticket of leave on arrival, but was re-convicted on 05.10.1859, again for forging.

On 26th October 1864 he married Sarah MAGUIRE who had arrived on the Strathmore some months earlier from Ireland.

When I was a child my grandfather, Alexander's eldest son, Theo used to tell me that his father had made the trowel which was used to turn the first sod for the construction of the railway. He urged me when on our school visits to the Perth Museum to ask to see it. This I did, and the teacher assured me that it was at that time housed in the State Library and promised to show it to me. However, due to a changeover in classes I did not get to see it then.

In 1992 when we were involved in the celebrations at Armadale for the electrification of the suburban rail system we made enquires about this trowel and found it was actually a spade, beautifully made and with a silver shield suitable engraved on the handle.

We must have impressed Museum officials as being respectable citizens although of convict stock, because we were permitted to borrow it and have it on display.

There were no other markings on it so we don't really know it the whole thing were Alexander's work or just the engraving. He seems to have been a pretty handy sort of fellow so quite possibly he did it all.

According to the official report of the ceremony - "Governor Ord formally commenced the
work of constructing our original railway from Fremantle to Guildford passing through Perth by
turning the first sod on 3rd June 1879 as part of the programme for celebrating the 50th
anniversary of the Colony of Western Australia".

The report in the WA Times on 6th June 1879 said, "The elegantly made spade (he used)
was subsequently presented to His Excellency in the name of Mr Robb"
. (the man who had
secured the contract to build the railway).


The Elegant SpadeADVANCE AUSTRALIA The Elegant Spade Shield carved in the wood across the top.
Swan at top of shield

Presented to
His Excellency Major General
Sir Harry St George Ord R.F. 
K.C.M.G. C.B
on the occasion of his turning the first sod of
the "Eastern Railway"
Western Australia 3rd June 1879
and thus contributing to celebrate
the 150th Anniversary
of the Foundation of the Colony

First Printed in Convict Links, Vol. 15, No. 4, October 2001 - Newsletter of the Convict Special
Interest Group, Western Australian Genealogical Society Inc.

Last Updated on Sunday, 06 October 2013 10:33