Friday, September 22, 2017

My convict ancestor

We first heard that we had convict ancestors in 1990 when we received news that a group of family members in New South Wales and Queensland had researched our family's history and produced a book, A Battle against the odds, about pioneers of the Hawkesbury River, Box Hill and the Nelson regions outside Sydney.

In the book we found information about my great-great-grandfather, John Smith, who  was convicted of burglary and  theft on 3rd April 1816 in London. John Smith was sentenced to death but was granted a reprieve and was transported to New South Wales on the convict ship the Sir William Bensley.

Proceedings of his 1816 trial at the Old Bailey make fascinating reading: Ref t18160403-4

My great-great-grandfather was nineteen when he stood on the dock of the Old Bailey in London and heard the presiding judge, Lord Ellenburough, read his sentence.

 Lord Ellenburough, the presiding judge at the trial of John Smith

John was accused of entering the house of Edmund Simkins with the intention being to steal a looking-glass. He was convicted on the evidence of Edmund Simkins who apprehended him and took him to the local police station with the assistance of a passer by.

 An excerpt of the trial transcript is here:

"EDMUND SIMKINS. On the 17th of February last, in the evening, at about a quarter past seven o'clock, I was sitting in my kitchen with my family, at my house, No. 24, Greenfield-street, Commercial-road, at the parish of St. Dunsten Stebonheath, and I was alarmed by something over me, as if something had dropped; some one of the family exclaimed, there is someone in the parlour; that was the room above. I immediately ran up stairs, and discovered the prisoner with a glass, resting on the ledge of the window; it was a looking-glass; the window was open; the shutters had been put to; the sash was thrown completely up. I was in the room not ten minutes before; it was then down. I have not a doubt but that the prisoner at the bar, who was in the room, had opened the window; the sash is fastened down by a catch, or a window drop. I found this catch forced from the window, and lying on the floor. This is part of the catch; that had been entire, and fastened to the window, and I found this knife also in the room; it was not there ten minutes before. I found the prisoner at the bar getting out at the window, with the looking-glass resting on the ledge; the glass was removed from its place. There is a little wooden railing outside, that he might have rested his foot on in getting out; he might have got out without breaking the glass or damaging himself. When I saw him getting out, I gave the alarm of stop thief; he had got one foot on the chair, and the other on the table. The watch was not set. I gave the alarm of stop thief, and a young man was passing, and saw him coming from the window, and threw him down into the kinnel, and I found him in his custody, when I secured him; this was about a quarter after seven o'clock, it was dark. When I went up, I had not a candle with me, but I knew the prisoner was the same man when I went round, because I have a lamp just opposite to me, and another by me. The prisoner is the same man whom I saw in the room. He begged very hard for mercy, and hoped I would let him go. I am sure the window was down when I went up about ten minutes before. No person could get in at the window, or force it up, without forceing this catch off."


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