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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.