Ship ahoy…

This is an unusual request, which I think we’ll have to address carefully, but it is, nevertheless, of great interest to historians and I feel some hereabouts may be able to contribute to what we collectively know.

The thorny issue of criminal ancestors is common – way more common than many imagine. I have known several friends and acquaintances who’ve delved into their genealogy and found relatives who were caught on the wrong side of the law – a discovery that often causes shock and surprise.


Transportation was very grim indeed, and many prisoners died before ever reaching Antipodean shores. Image from The Welders Dog site, which contains some grim descriptions of the subject. Click on the image to visit the site.

Andy Dennis recently covered this in his sensitive and honest story of Eunice the Menace.

Our question is simple: Can anyone out there help with this topic? Have you found a black sheep in the family you didn’t previously know about?

Obviously, I appreciate the sensitivity, and please don’t comment about folk still alive or within living memory, but the criminal past of out forebears is grimly fascinating, particularly the ones who found themselves planting roots in another continent.

A couple of weeks ago, Andy sent me the following message:

Hello Bob

Some time ago I found out that one of my ancestor’s relatives was transported to Tasmania for the terrible crime of stealing two geese, though he did have a lengthy previous record. I was able to find out quite a lot about his imprisonment and journey and wondered if anyone locally had suffered a similar fate?

The nearest I could find was when two men from Tamworth in Walsall Wood violently robbed Elijah Owen, a resident of Brownhills, of a silver watch and eighteen shillings. One was transported for fifteen years to Western Australia. This was in 1856-57 and he was among the last to be transported, but there are no online details of critical parts of the story, such as which hulk ship he was on and what were the conditions he endured.

If there was someone else local, there could be an interesting tale to tell.


The contributors here often talk amongst themselves on big topics, and Andy spoke to both David ‘now rebuilt successfully’ Evans and Peter “Pedro’ Cutler, and there was some chin scratching afoot.

Subsequently, Peter sent me the following:

Hi Bob,

I see that young David Evans and Andy Dennis are interested in ‘Transportation’. One of Andy’s ancestor’s relations was transported to Tasmania. It reminded me of something I came across when delving in to the early Harrison Empire.

 In the article Harrison: the Early Years here

It can be seen that the Harrison family originated in Cheshire. Around 1840 Harrison was in partnership with George Strongitharm in the lime business, and there is circumstantial evidence that the families are connected by marriage, and, that the Strongitharm Family may also have originated from Cheshire. 

Strongitharm stayed in the Lime business around Rushall, and it does not seem as if the family had the same fervent desire for ‘Gentrification’ as the Harrisons.

Minerva Leaving Cork Harbour 11

A remarkable 1818 drawing of a transportation ship Minerva leaving Cork Harbour for Australia. Image from the remarkable ‘Just one Austrailian’ blog. Click to visit the article concerned.

From the Staffs Advertiser of 20th March 1830 we see at the Crown Court the case against a William Darby for stealing a ewe sheep, at Rushall, the property of George Strongitharm…

It was proved that on the night of 14 September, a ewe sheep was killed and stolen from a herd of 43, in a field at Rushall, and the skin left behind. The ground was soft, and there were footmarks (which were rather peculiar, from the number of nails in the shoes, and a deficiency of two nails in the corner of the heel of one of them), traced from the field to Walsall, and thence to within a few yards of the prisoner’s home in Doveridge. In the course of the morning the prisoner’s house was searched, and there was found a quantity of mutton, recently killed and cut up in an awkward manner, consisting of two shoulders, two loins, a heart, and some lights. The shoulders, which were cut off at the knees, corresponding to the feet left in the field. When the house was entered, the prisoner’s wife came out of it, and he, who was barefoot, was noted to take a pair of shoes from his bosom, and throw them through a hole in the pantry; these shoes which were thickly nailed on the bottom, were found to correspond exactly with the footmark spoken of; there were also other indistinct footmarks, something like a woman’s worn out shoes. The prisoner was found guilty and sentence of death was it recorded against him.

It seems that, at the time, many death sentences were given out, but most were reduced to transportation. On checking I found that William Darby was one of the 200 passengers on the John during its voyage to Van Diemens Land on the 9th October. Staffs Assizes had reduced the sentence to 14 years.

So, I throw it open. If you have anything to add, comment here of mail me on BrownhillsBob at googlemail dot com. Thanks.

This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Ship ahoy…

  1. Warren Parry says:

    ooohh, this could get interesting.

  2. morturn says:

    One of my ancestors, who was a Birmingham man, was allegedly transported.

    I am sure that there must be others who have found out similar stores about their family pasts.

    Are there any records around of the name of the people who were transported?

  3. pedro says:

    There is an interesting Podcast by the National Archives lasting around 50 minutes that deals with “Transportation to Australia”….

    “Estimated over 162,000 British and Irish transported between 1787 and 1868”

    • pedro says:

      In the above Podcast the life of a 15 year old boy is followed through. A
      John Jobson from Birmingham who was sentenced for stealing 2 pistols.

  4. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    From my own exploration…Ancestry does have the Australian ,transportation listing details…, names, court, sentence, ship, destination..but this info does not show home towns. The 1841 and 1851 census details are on line. and later ones. Walsall family history site lists part of Walsall wood census for 1801 and1841. This gives a three point base and.this example may be be useful as a model for other local well as here.
    My thanks to Andy and to you for the sensitive approach to this topic

  5. Andy Dennis says:

    Thanks, Bob (and everyone who contributes).

    I found a record of a William Arblaster sentenced to 7 year’s transportation in 1853 for “stealing a fixture”, but no evidence that the sentence was carried out. A man of the same name ran the Jolly Collier, but I’ve found nothing to confirm a connection.

    I can find a bit more about William Darby and will pursue this.


  6. Pedro says:

    The Lent Assizes that tried William Darby included some familiar names!

    The learned judges arrived late, and after not attending Church as was hitherto the custom, they carried out their duties. Mr Baron Bolding presiding in the Crown Court…

    On Sunday the judges attended divine service at St. Mary’s Church, Stafford, where a very excellent sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Twemlow, the High Sheriff’s Chaplain, from the 7th and three following verses of the 18th chap. of Jeremiah. The Rev. preacher Illustrated his text by referring to the example of some of the most flourishing nations in ancient times, which had fallen into decay because wickedness abounded in them; and he strongly enforced the advantages of the practice of true religion in our own country as the surest means of averting national calamities and of obtaining the favour of God.

    The Grand Jury…

    Sir Thomas Cotton Shepherd… Foreman.

    Henry Chetwynd
    Phineas Hussey
    Edward Puller
    William Sneyd.
    Francis Tremlow.
    Henry Cockett
    Edward Trafford
    William Parker
    Charles Mainwaring
    Thomas Henry Lister
    George Weilden
    Edmund Wigan
    Francis Eld
    William Bradley Pershouse
    Clement J Sneyd Kinnersley
    Josiah Wedgewood
    Charles Clark
    Ralph Hadderley
    Hugh Henshaw Williamson
    John Edmunson Mollineux
    Henry Horden
    Richard Butler

    • Pedro says:

      Also amongst those tried at the Assizes…

      Simeon Locket transported 7 years for stealing half crown piece.
      James Eccles death sentence for stealing gelding.
      John Hawkins death for highway robbery.
      John Loone, John Stokes and James Cash death for house breaking.

      Five men were sentenced to death for maiming and shooting at Gamekeepers.

  7. morturn says:

    This is getting interesting; I have posted this on the Birmingham History Face Book page;

  8. Pedro says:

    November 1864…

    The Daily News says that the Government has taken a decided resolution on the subject that has recently so agitated the free colonies of Australia. It abandons it’s recent policy, and transportation to the Australian colonies is to be entirely abandoned.

  9. Not a transported job family history wise, but I’ve a Bromsgrove late Victorian newspaper. One article talks about my third cousin three times removed, Mary Carpenter of the Red Lodge, Bristol. She created the reform system for girls and was a well respected Victorian activist in improving the lot of young girls at the time. Yet on the back page of the same paper, another Bromsgrove Carpenter cousin was in court for poaching a rabbit for feed his kids. First offence and was let off with a fine! Just shows that you can find absolutely anything about the ancestors, which makes it such a fascinating subject.

  10. Clive says:

    If you have relatives in the past that, lets say went on holiday to australia in the past have a look at this web site;
    may be of use for research!

  11. Clive says:

    In my family tree research i have found one ancester in Stafford prison, two went on holiday in Australia (the judge insisted the sunshine and work would do them good) i wonder what othier suprises await me!

  12. David Oakley. says:

    In searching through convict records for Australia, transported between 1787 and 1867, mildly interested, I turned to the ‘O’ surnames. Out of a total of 296 surnames, ‘Oakley’ had the 4th highest transportation rate of 39 transportees, during that period. Think I’ll stop digging !!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.