Oddly Enough

Australia's PM a descendant of underwear thief: church

Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd speaks during a session at the Progressive Governance Conference in Watford, central England April 4, 2008. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a descendent of a child underwear thief and a convict sent to Australia from England for stealing a bag of sugar, a new family history of the prime minister has found.

Australia’s Mormon church has spent more than a year researching Rudd’s family history, and presented their findings to the prime minister on Thursday. The Mormon church, based in Salt Lake City in the United States, has long held a reputation for the excellence of its genealogical research.

It found Rudd, like many Australians, had convict ancestors -- including his fifth great-grandmother who was sent to Australia at the age of 12 after originally being sentenced to death for stealing another girl’s dress and underwear.

“A study of our personal history helps us to respect the struggles that our ancestors endured, in a far different world than one we live in today, to give us the prosperity we now enjoy,” church elder Terry Vinson said.

While a convict past was once a source of shame for Australians, most now wear any criminal ancestry with pride.

The first European settlers arrived in Australia from Britain in 1788 to set up a British penal colony. More than 160,000 British convicts were sent to Australia until 1868, when the convict transports stopped.

The family history reveals Rudd’s fifth great-grandmother Mary Wade lived in poverty in England and survived by sweeping streets and begging. In 1788, aged about 12, she and another girl robbed an eight-year-old girl of her dress and underclothes.

Wade was caught and tried at London’s Old Bailey court in January 1789 and was sentenced to be executed, but after three months she was transported to Australia with 200 other women on the second fleet.

On the other side of the family, Rudd’s fourth great-grandfather, Thomas Rudd, was sent to Australia in 1801 for a seven-year sentence for “unlawfully acquiring a bag of sugar”. He married another convict, Mary Cable, sent to Australia in 1804 for stealing cloth.

Reporting by James Grubel; Editing by Miral Fahmy