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Joseph Backler

Joseph Backler, one of 178 convicts transported on the Portland, 19 November 1831

Name, Aliases & Gender

Name: Joseph Backler
Aliases: none
Gender: m

Birth, Occupation & Death

Date of Birth: 1813
Occupation: -
Date of Death: 22nd October, 1895
Age: 82 years

Life Span

Life span

Male median life span was 51 years*

* Median life span based on contributions

Conviction & Transportation

Sentence Severity

Sentence Severity

Sentenced to Life

Crime: Uttering forged notes
Convicted at: Middlesex Gaol Delivery
Sentence term: Life
Ship: Portland
Departure date: 19th November, 1831
Arrival date: 26th March, 1832
Place of arrival New South Wales
Passenger manifest Travelled with 177 other convicts


Primary source: Australian Joint Copying Project. Microfilm Roll 89, Class and Piece Number HO11/8, Page Number 225 (115)
Source description: This record is one of the entries in the British convict transportation registers 1787-1867 database compiled by State Library of Queensland from British Home Office (HO) records which are available on microfilm as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project.

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Community Contributions

Eric Harry Daly on 31st December, 2012 wrote:

Joseph Backler, convict artist and portrait painter, was born probably in 1813 in London, son of Joseph Backler, painter on glass, and his wife Jane, née Cowie. Convicted in 1831 for uttering forged cheques, the 18-year-old, who seemed to The Times ‘a highly respectable young man’, was sentenced to death, later commuted to transportation for life.

Backler arrived in Sydney in the Portland on 25 May 1832. Indents described him as being able to read and write and by profession a landscape painter. He was assigned to the Surveyor-General’s Department but, suspected of being involved in further crimes, he was sent in May 1833 to Port Macquarie. Here Backler was continually in trouble. All told he received 150 lashes, a year in irons and twenty-three days in cells. At some point, however, he also painted at least six landscape oils of the settlement—either there or soon after his return to Sydney in January 1843. Two of these views were of St Thomas’s Church of England, Port Macquarie, where he married Margaret Magner on 7 May 1842.

In February 1842 he had been granted a ticket-of-leave and from 1843 was assigned to Messrs Cetta & Hughes, frame makers and carvers in Sydney. He was granted a conditional pardon in 1847. In 1843 Backler advertised his services as a ‘Portrait, Miniature and Landscape Painter, in oils and watercolours’. It was as a portrait painter in oils, however, that he made his name. In August 1845 he visited Goulburn, advertising his availability for portrait painting. During the 1840s he visited Yass, Bathurst (where he also painted a townscape), Newcastle and Maitland despite complaining, during an 1849 insolvency hearing, that itinerant portrait painting was not profitable. Creditors claimed that in two months at Newcastle he made more than £100.

Backler rarely involved himself with the small, Sydney art world. He contributed to a commercial art union in 1850, recklessly claiming as an original design an entry which was spotted immediately as a copy after Titian. His wife died in November 1852, yet in June 1853 a ‘Mrs Backler’ had a son who did not survive long. In the early 1860s he travelled north. He was at Tenterfield in 1860 (returning in 1878), painting a number of portraits and at least two landscapes, and in Brisbane by 1863. By 1869 he had moved to Gympie where he remained for a time. By 1882 he was back in Sydney. His style was now based on photographs and more sophisticated because of it. Survived by his second wife Sarah Vincer, Backler died on 22 October 1895 at Liverpool Street, Sydney, and was buried in Waverley cemetery.

With few exceptions, his client base had been drawn from the upper working and lower middle classes: publicans, builders, millers, ship-owners, shop-owners, and farmers—people who had done well in the colonies. His portraits were conventionally posed, using well established stylistic devices, such as background columns and drapery. The most distinctive feature of his work was his careful delineation of his subjects’ faces. The apparent literalness of his portraits could be startling, and rarely flattering (which explained why few middle-class families employed him). Despite this, Backler was probably the most prolific of all oil painters in early colonial Australia. More than 120 of his works have survived; the Mitchell Library holds an extensive collection of them.

Barbara Meredith on 27th August, 2016 wrote:

Joseph Backler Jr was the nephew of my ex G. Grandfather Samuel Backler.  I have a blog backlers.com which gives more information about Joseph’s father and his ancestors. It also gives info about young Joseph’s earlier brush with the law.

Tony Beale on 24th January, 2021 wrote:

New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Convicts’ Applications to Marry, 1826-1851
Refused 12/4/1841 Margaret Magner 24 to marry joseph Backler 28 per ship Portland. Reason Both unassigned and therefore not allowed under the regulations. Male needs to be in private service Note states that Backler is a very bad character. At Port Macquarie

New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Convicts’ Applications to Marry, 1826-1851
Granted 10/3/1842 between Joseph Backler ToL and Margaret Magner ToL Rev J Cross Port Macquarie.

Convict Changes History

Eric Harry Daly on 31st December, 2012 made the following changes:

date of birth 1813, date of death 22nd October, 1895, crime

Eric Harry Daly on 31st December, 2012 made the following changes:


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