On 13th May 1787 the first ship of convicts sailed from Portsmouth, arriving in Botany Bay, Australia the following January. Over the next eighty years, Britain and Ireland transported around 162,000 convicts to colonies in New South Wales and Tasmania.
This took place against a backdrop of increased crime and prosecution in Britain, with both the prison buildings and the disease-ridden ships (hulks) anchored along the Thames and coast, all overcrowded. Transportation for seven or fourteen years, or life, was the lenient option for those convicted of one of the 220 crimes punishable by death.
Petty crime was rife. Having been replaced by machines, with the Game Laws preventing the pursuance of wild animals for food, destitute rural workers moved to the cities and stole food and clothing to survive. Working class political activists, including Luddites, Chartists and the Tolpuddle Martyrs were among the prisoners sentenced to death or transportation.
John Clark and David Freeman, two of the light-fingered gentry, were indicted for stealing a silk handkerchief, value 5s, the property of John Baker, from his person.
The prosecutor was passing in the Strand, at nine o’clock on Sunday night, 24th May, felt something at his pocket, turned round, and saw Clark give his handkerchief to Freeman. He seized them both, and held them until he gave them both into custody.
Wm. Bond was passing at the time, and assisted Mr. Baker in detaining prisoners.
The Jury, without hesitation, pronounced them Guilty.
– New Times (London), Saturday 27 June 1818
Any theft of goods worth more than 1 shilling were classed as grand larceny*, punishable by death or transportation. In 1824, 17-year-old Charles Wilkinson, a collar grinder from Clerkenwell, was sentenced to transportation for life for the theft of a handkerchief valued at 2 shillings – roughly one fifth of a labourer’s average weekly wage, or two and a half loaves of bread.
Following sentencing, as the convicts awaited transportation (likely on one of the aforementioned prison hulks), time could be passed by creating mementoes for the loved ones they were leaving behind. These tokens of love were defaced coins, usually cartwheel pennies or half pennies, the surfaces smoothed off and the design engraved with a sharp tool. Sometimes, a prisoner may pay a more talented inmate to engrave it on their behalf. On the following pages are a selection of these tokens, from the few hundred remaining, currently held by the National Museum of Australia (which can ben viewed here).
* grand and petty larceny were reclassed as simply ‘larceny’ in 1827.
WEAVERS’ MEETING AT COVENTRY. – Wednesday evening a numerous meeting of the Ribbon Weavers was held at the Lancasterian School-room, in pursuance to the call of the Committee.
Mr. Poole read a variety of calculations [made by Mr. Jenkins, which had been submitted to them for their consideration] showing the reduced protection afforded by the late regulation of government on the different breadths of ribbon made in the Engine-loom, and the reduction on the price of labour, which now seemed necessary to enable the manufacturer in this country to compete with the foreigner. He said that Mr. Jenkins did not propose that the reduction should be adopted, he submitted it merely for their consideration. The meeting was then addressed by Messrs. T. Goode, Johnson, Steane, Fletcher, and E. Goode, after which the following resolutions were adopted, and the meeting adjourned : –
“That the present meeting having heard the report of the deputation of Mr. R. Woodcock’s hands, consider the list proposed to be an insult to their sufferings, degrading to a man of constitutional principles, being unjust and uncalled for under the present existing laws.
“That this meeting is determined to resist any attempt to reduce the price; and that not from a pertinacious obstinacy, but from a conviction that a reduction would prove detrimental both to manufacturers and artizans. “That after the repeated and unanimous declarations that the present rate of wages is barely sufficient to supply the common necessaries of life ; if any individual should be found dastardly enough to go and take work out under this price, he will be giving the lie to the whole trade, and not only hugging a serpent to his own bosom, but fixing it on the vitale of those who possess more courage and more honesty than himself.”
– Coventry Observer, Saturday 23 May 1829
RIOTS IN COVENTRY. – For a considerable time past, the trade of this City has been in a depressed state, in addition to which a reduction of the price of weaving by a few of the masters tended to create a strong feeling of dissatisfaction amongst the Weavers. – A meeting of the men was called on Monday last, to be held in Cross Cheaping. At eight o’clock on that morning, about 200 assembled, and divided themselves into parties and went through the City to collect a larger meeting. – At ten o’clock they again assembled, and adjourned to a large room in Little Park-street. At this meeting a Committee was appointed to collect information respecting the masters who had reduced the prices, and the extent of the reduction. This being done, the meeting broke up, to again assemble, at three o’clock, in Cross Cheaping. – Up to this time no apprehensions were entertained of immediate outrage, when suddenly a party of about 200 attached a newly-erected factory, situate in the New Buildings, belonging to Mr. Beck. A part of the mob having got into the factory, they proceeded to demolish some power-looms which were at work, and threw the silk and ribbons from the windows; while others were engaged in breaking the windows, and ill-using Mr. Beck, whom they beat violently, and conveyed him in a hand-card to Cross Cheaping. In about a quarter of an hour from the time of the attack, the factory was found to be on fire; and in less than 20 minutes, owing to a quantity of dry wood being on the premises, the flames rushed from all the windows of the house, the roof was soon seen to fall in, and by four o’clock, the fire had reduced the whole to ruins. A man of the name of Wood, who had been employed in the factory, narrowly escaped being burned to death. When the attack was first made, he ran up stairs to the garret, where he concealed himself behind some reels. The fire, however, reached him, the boards of the floor were burning under his feet, and there was no alternative but to perish in the flames, or descent from the window. He accordingly took a blanket from off a bed in the room, fastened it inside, and fortunately let himself down without sustaining any injury. – On the news reaching the Police Office, the Magistrates were promptly in attendance, and Messrs. Alderman Weare, Douglas, and Rotherham, hastened to the spot, where the Riot Act was immediately read by Mr. Thomas Hine, the Magistrates’ Clerk. The crowd, which was now considerable, began to disperse. A party of the 14th Light Dragoons, and another of the 7th Hussars, stationed here, were immediately called out. The shops were closed, and the City at this time presented altogether an alarming aspect. Many of the most respectable men of the City were sworn in special constables. The Theatre and public houses were closed. Soldiers were stationed in and near the premises of Messrs. Day and Dodd, ribbon manufacturers, residing in Gosford-street, against whom much indignation was felt by the weavers, owning to their having given out work at a very reduced price. In fine, every possible precaution which could be resorted to, was taken by the Mayor and Magistrates, which happily had the effect of not only preventing a recurrence of violence, but restoring the City to perfect tranquillity. By twelve o’clock at night all was quiet, and has since continued so. As a precautionary measure, the military and special constables patrolled during the night. – Five men have been taken into custody. They have also severally undergone examinations, and been remanded.
– Coventry Herald, Saturday 12 November 1831
ANOTHER OLD COLONIST GONE. – Death has, of late, been busy obliterating the living evidences of the infancy of the colony, and severing the links that bind the present to the past generation. Our obituary to-day contains the announcement of the death of a highly respectable colonist, and one, if not old in years, of long standing. Mr. Thomas Burbury, who died at Oatlands on Saturday, in the 61st year of his age, has been a resident of the Oatlands district for eight-and-thirty years, during which period he has been identified with every public movement, and was an active member of every public body. On Oatlands being constituted a municipality, he was elected a Councillor, and he has continued in office ever since. In every relation in life, he commanded the esteem and respect of his fellow men, and his conduct and opinion have always secured public confidence. The deceased gentleman has brought up a highly respectable family, of whom three sons and one daughter still survive. The late Mr. Arthur Burbury, solicitor, of Hobart Town, whose sad death caused so much sensation some thirteen months ago, was the youngest son of the now deceased gentleman, and so great was the shock caused by the fate of a much-loved son, that the old gentleman has never been the same since. His remains will be carried to their last resting place to-morrow, leaving his late residence at 2 p.m.
– The Mercury, Monday 1 August 1870
Born: 26 June 1809
Convicted: 24 March 1832
Transported: 10 August 1832 – 28 December 1832 (York)
Pardoned: 30 October 1839
Died: 30 July 1870
Burbury, a silk-weaver, took part in one of the last acts of industrial Luddism in England. He was sentenced to death for rioting and destroying the machinery and house of factory owner Josiah Beck. However, eyewitnesses said it was Burbury who had saved Mr Beck from the rioters. His MP petitioned the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne and his sentence was commuted to transportation for life. A popular man, locals raised the funds for his wife and infant daughter to join him in Australia.
On arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, Burbury began work as a sheep farmer, tending to a flock of 800 sheep across an area of 10 miles. He was soon promoted to field constable. Three years later, he caught a group of sheep rustlers red-handed which earned him his ticket of leave. Two years later, now a district constable, he caught a band of outlaws and was this time granted a full pardon.
In time he purchased land and became very prosperous becoming a town councillor in 1861.
SUPRESSION OF POACHERS. – A well-written pamphlet has lately appeared from the pen of a “Country Gentleman and a Proprietor of Game,” on the evils resulting from the present system of Game Laws in this country. The following passages from the work, devising a plan for the suppression of poaching, will be perused with interest.
“(…) it cannot be denied that three-fourths of the legitimate consumers of game to the present day can only procure it by tempting others to a positive breach of the laws; for they can get it by no other means except by purchase from those who employ the country poachers in almost every rural village in the kingdom, or corrupt the land owners’ gamekeeper, on half the extensive properties of England, to take it for them. And while the poulterer, the poacher, and the gamekeeper, are exposed to heavy and ruinous penalties for selling this game, the ultimate purchaser or consumer, who is certainly the prime mover of the whole transaction, offends against no law whatsoever (at least against no human law) in placing the almost irresistible temptation their way.
“The demand for Game in the market made by such of the highest ranks of society as can only procure it by purchase, is the main cause, both of the inefficiency and of the bad moral tendency of the Game Laws. The demand holds out a temptation too great to be resisted (…)”
– Northampton Mercury, Saturday 6 January 1816
WORSHIP-STREET. – SHOOTING WITH INTENT TO MURDER. – Yesterday David Poultney and James Bird, Warwickshire weavers, were charged before R. E. Broughton, Esq. with maliciously shooting at one of the Earl of Denbigh’s gamekeepers, with intent to murder him.
Waters, an Officer, stated, that in December last the Earl of Denbigh’s gamekeepers having heard several guns fired in the Plantation, immediately went, 16 in number, with their guns, and saw between twenty and thirty poachers, with about fourteen guns. They pursued them across the Plantation for a great distance, when the poachers finding they were closely pursued, immediately turned and presented their guns at the gamekeepers. Notwithstanding this the gamekeepers went up to them and fought for a considerable time, when one of the poachers, determined not to be taken, fired his gun at one of the gamekeepers, and unfortunately the shots lodged in his thigh, and he has ever since been in a dangerous state. Several other of the gamekeepers were most dreadfully beaten about their heads with the butt-end of the guns ; they also shot the gamekeepers’ dogs.
Thomas Garton, the chief office at this office, state, that this morning he went with Brown and Vaun to a house in Mile-end New Town, and apprehended the prisoners. They were both in their looms at work. They admitted they were two of the party, and they were at that time out of work – no bread to eat, and no money to buy any.
The prisoner Poultney said he was never there in his life before the occurrence took place.
Mr. Broughton said, that the prisoners must be tried at the Warwick Assizes ; he should therefore send an officer over with them for that purpose.
– Morning Advertiser, Saturday 21 March 1829
DEATH OF AN OLD CITIZEN. – After a residence of more than half a century in Hobart, Mr. David Poultney died at his residence, Goulburn street, yesterday, in his 81st year of age. The deceased was a well-known member of the police, in early times, when he did good service to the state. For 50 years he has lived in the locality where he died, and was universally respected by all who knew him.
Born: 31 December 1806
Convicted: 9 April 1829
Transported: 27 July 1829 – 20 November 1829 (Thames)
Pardoned (conditional): 9 May 1836
Death: 6 August 1884
Poultney, a labourer/weaver, was one of about 15 poachers sentenced to death for shooting with intent to kill while poaching. Later commuted to a 14-year sentence, Poultney was transported to Van Diemen’s Land where he was assigned to the police department as field police. He was promoted to district constable shortly before receiving a conditional pardon. He purchased property and in later life had a second vocation as a milkman.
And the thieves
ROBBERY FROM THE PERSON. – Polly White, alias Angel, alias Mary Ann Fulcher, was brought up on a charge of having, with Thomas Locke and others, robbed James Riches, of Wymondham, of £3 10s. – Our countrymen, it appears, will incur all risks in keeping company with the most abandoned characters when they come to Norwich on market-days. The complainant, one of this class, had known Polly before to have been up to all sorts of tricks, short of such as would send her abroad at the expense of her country; but he could not give up the acquaintance. On the previous Saturday, after finishing his business in the market, he went to see some friends at a public-house in St. Stephen’s. Subsequently, he thought he would be extravagant enough to buy a rabbit for Sunday dinner. Accordingly he went and bought a fine fat rabbit at Mr. Bagshaw’s noted shop. Polly had her eye upon him; and when he came out of the shop, she came up to him like an old friend, asked him how he was, how his family was, &c., &c. He, of course, gave a civil answer, and casting his eye askant at Polly, thought her not a bad looking wench, and allowed her to entice him to a certain place called the Lame Dog yard. Here Polly asked point blank for some money. He not being inclined to “disburse,” thought to secure his cash by taking it out of one pocket and putting it into another. Just at this moment, two men rushed upon him. One got hold of his collar; another rifled his pockets; and Polly ran off. The defendant could not say whether she or the men robbed him. Only one thing he knew, his purse was gone and £3 10s. – Mr. SPRINGFIELD gravely observed, “What an imprudent man you must have been, to keep company with such a character.” – The complainant evidently felt the force of the observation, and looked as if he would know better another time. – The prisoners were remanded.
– Norfolk Chronicle, Sat 1 Feb 1845.
Frederick Buck, a genteel-looking young man, about 20 years of age, was yesterday charged with committing the following serious robbery: –
Mrs. Christopher, the landlady of the Rose and Crown, Spitalfields, stated that the prisoner entered her house on Friday evening last, about eight o’clock, where he remained until the time it was her intention to close the business of the house, which was about a quarter to 11 o’clock. A few moments before that time she examined the contents of the till (her usual practice), and left the bar for a few moments to speak to a gentleman in the parlour, who resides in the house. On being informed by the latter, who left her for a short time, that he had seen the prisoner inside the bar, she ran to the till, and found all the silver she had let, amounting to 34s, had been taken away, but the prisoner had then left. No other person being in the house at the time but she and the lodger alluded to, she was convinced the prisoner must have been the thief; and having called in a police-officer, gave to him a description of his person.
Mr. Soudet, a German, deposed to his having, almost instantly after the prosecutrix entered the parlour, left it for a few moments, when he discovered the prisoner with his hand inside the till, and in his hand a shilling. Witness asked him what he was doing there; the prisoner replied that he wanted to get pence for his shilling. Witness desired him to replace the shilling, being convinced he had taken it from thence, and returned into the parlour to inform the prosecutrix what he had seen. On returning, the prisoner had decamped.
Police-constable 115, H. stated that, from the description given to him by the prosecutrix of the prisoner’s person, he succeeded, after a whole day’s search, in apprehending him, at five o’clock on Sundy morning, in bed at his father’s house, who is a most respectable man, holding a responsible situation in a mercantile house. On asking the prisoner what could have induced him to have committed such an act, he replied that he was drunk, and knew not what he was doing, and was then sorry for it.
The mother of the prisoner, a respectable old lady, here advanced, in tears, and stated to the Magistrate, Mr. Broughton, that that she never knew her son to have done wrong until the present moment; and implored, in a pathetic appeal to his feelings, that he would take a merciful view of the case, by discharging him with an admonition.
Mr. Broughton said he was extremely sorry to see so respectable a young man as the prisoner placed in such a situation; but it was his duty to commit him for trial.
The prisoner, who evinced during the examination an apparent apathy, was taken from the bar without offering a word in his defence, and without even bidding an adieu to his aged parent, who had swooned away.
Committed to Newgate.
Mary Ann Whitlock, for stealing a purse and 6l. from the person of Isaac Barber, 14 years’ transportation. – This woman was tried at Thetford for the murder of her bastard child, and acquitted.
– Bury and Norwick Post, 19 October 1831
James Thurtell, aged 18, for stealing a quantity of shoes, highlows, &c. from the house of Mrs. M. Chapman, St. Peter’s per Mountergate; seven years’ transportation.
– Bury and Norwich Post, 13 May 1829
John Bloxidge and John Willcock, assaulting John Wigley, and robbing him. Fifteen years.
– Birmingham Journal, 6 July 1839
Thames Police. – Robbery and Murder on the River. – On Wednesday, James Kitley, William Kennedy, Daniel Lyon, and William Brown, four youths of notoriously bad character, were charged with the murder of Mr. William Wilkinson, clerk to Messrs William, Jacob, & Co. merchants. Mr. T. W. Smales, a stationer, stated that he and Mr. Wilkinson had hired a boat on the preceding evening to row up the river. They had got as far as Vauxhall-bridge, when they observed that two boats were rowing after them, they endeavoured to keep a-head of them but failed to do so, and one of the boats passed them. They were about to top opposite the Spread Eagle, Thames Bank, when the boat which had previously passed run athwart them, and the more witness and his deceased friend tried to get clear, the further alongside the boat came. At length one of the men in the boat, whom the witness identified as the prisoner Kennedy, snatched their two coats out of the boar, and then the strange boat separated and made off. “The deceased,” continued the witness, “made a spring from the boat, and darted six or eight feet, and caught their boat with his hands. He clung to the gunwale, and struggled to get into their boat, and seize the parties who had attacked us, but they struck him over the head and hands with their sculls, and he was ultimately compelled to let go. He then attempted to swim towards the boat, but was again struct on the head, and failed in his endeavours to reach it. [The witness here burst into tears, and it was some time before he was enabled to proceed.] During this time I put out a scull and an oar, but could not reach him, and he disappeared, while the parties in the boat rowed away as fast as possible. During the whole of this business I was calling out, “Murder!” and was at length heard from the shore by the Jack-in-the-water at the Spread Eagle, who called the waiter, and they both put off in a boat, but were unable to save my friend, who was struggling in the water altogether nearly ten minutes.
Information was given to the Thames Police of the robbery and murder, and drags were procured, but the body was not found. The witness could not swear to the other man in the boat, but he very much resembled the prisoner Brown.
Mr. Alexander Mitchell, a surveyor of Thames Police, said that while making inquiries respecting the murder, he ascertained that a boat and scull had been stolen from Mr. Moore’s, a boat-builder, at Lambeth, whose premises were at a short distance from a public-house which the prisoners frequented. He had since found the boat at Nine Elms, Battersea, on the Surrey shore; he had no doubt that the men who committed the robbery and murder rowed away as quick as possible when they saw Mr. Wilkinson in the water. The prisoners were apprehended on suspicion. They gave contradictory accounts as to the manner in which they had spent their time. The prisoners were remanded.
Mr. M. Mitchell, and White and Judge, officers, proceeded in a boat towards Lambeth, to make further inquiries. On their way, they met Mr. Bean, the keeper of the beer shop. Mr. Bean communicated to Mr. Mitchell, that he had been informed by his son that the prisoners sent a man named Flack for a lighted candle, and commenced burning some papers. On learning this fact he picked up some of the fragments, which he produced, and the hand-writing upon several bits of paper was immediately pronounced by Mr. Smales to be that of the deceased. One bit contained a line of poetry, and Mr. Smales said that his friend and another gentleman had been jointly engaged writing poetry. Mr. Mitchell immediately proceeded in pursuit of Flack – the body of Mr. Wilkinson was found at half-past two on Thursday morning, on the shore opposite the Spread Eagle public-house.
On Friday another examination was held, and the jack-in-the-water at the Spread Eagle, and Mr. Adams, a gentleman who passed in a boat immediately after, corroborated parts of the testimony of Mr. Smales. John Bean, the son of the landlord of the beer-shop which the prisoners frequented, deposed, that he saw Kennedy and Kitley there on Wednesday morning with a pocket-book; they took out some papers, tore them up, and threw them into the fire-place; they sent John Flack out to get a light, and set fire to the pieces but they were not entirely consumed. The father of this witness said that he gathered the fragments of paper from the fire-place and gave them to the police. Mr. Smales identified the hand-writing of the deceased on these fragments; and a lady, name Nicholls, identified two of the bits of paper as part of a note she had written to the deceased. The prisoners were remanded for a week.
– Northampton Mercury, Sat 28 July 1832