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True Patriots All - Convict Transportation from Lancashire

'True Patriots All'- Convict Transportation from Lancashire by Eric R. Wilkinson MA

From distant climes o'er wide spread seas we come, Though not with much eclat or beat of drum, True patriots all; for be it understood We left our country for our country's good; And none will doubt but that our emigration Has proved most useful to the British nation.

This wry piece of doggerel was written in the early years of the nineteenth century by Henry Carter. It serves as a reminder that over three hundred and fifty years many thousands of men, women and children fell victim to one of the most dreaded facets of the British criminal system-transportation to the Colonies.

Many visitors to Lancaster Castle are aware of the part played by the courts here in the sentencing and removal of convicts to Australia. Australia plays the largest and best-known part in the history of transportation, but convicts were transported long before the discovery of that continent. An Act of Parliament of 1597 for the "punyshing of Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars" directed that such persons should be "conveyed to such parts beyond the seas...as shall be assigned by the Privy Council." Persons so banished who returned to England without permission would be hanged. There seems to have been no finite limit for the term of such banishment.

By the reign of James I the mechanics of transportation were in place, and from 1618 a steady stream of convicts was being despatched to the colonies of Maryland and Virginia, with the port of Annapolis being used as a major centre for the reception of convicts. After the English Civil War many Royalist prisoners were similarly removed, and it is likely that men from Tyldesley's and Houghton's regiments were among them. Recent research indicates that some 660 Lancashire people were sent to the American Colonies or the West Indies between 1614 and 1775. One of these, James Dane, was fortunate: charged with the offence of "having been at large... after sentence of Transportation to America for the term of seven years" Dane faced the Death Sentence. He was acquitted, probably because of the political situation in the Colonies at the time.

One of the effects of the American Revolution was that Britain was no longer able to dump its 'convict dross' on the Colonies. This posed serious problems for the government. A Hulk Act was introduced in 1776 which enabled felons to be placed aboard the dismasted and rotting hulks of former warships and set to hard labour, dredging the River Thames and building and repairing the naval dockyards at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. Introduced as a temporary measure, prison hulks were to remain in use until 1858. A 'striding chain', used to remove more than twenty prisoners at a time, is still on display in the Castle.

Overcrowding and disease caused serious problems on board the hulks-problems which were partially relieved by the immediate use of New South Wales as a penal colony. The first transportees arrived in January 1788, with Lancashire men and women among them. William Fraser and his wife Ellen were sentenced to seven years each at Manchester Quarter Sessions. Otwell Hindle received a similar sentence from Preston Magistrates, while their colleagues at Ormskirk sent William Hindly (alis Platt) for the same term. From Lancaster Frances Anne Hughes, Samuel Midgely, William Shore and Thomas Smith were accompanied by two child prisoners: brother and sister Elizabeth and George Youngson were thirteen and twelve years old respectively when they received their seven year sentences. A second fleet was dispatched in 1790, with Lancashire prisoners on board. Twenty- three had been sentenced to seven years, but two men, Peter Collier and Henry Sayers had received fourteen -year sentences. Others seem to have been treated leniently - Thomas Bateman and Patrick Connor were sentenced to five years and Ellen Gott and Elizabeth Jones only three.

The Second Fleet was a disaster. Badly managed by private contractors, 278 convicts died on the voyage. We do not know if any of the Lancashire convicts were among them.

By the early years of the nineteenth century, the process of removing transportees had become bureaucratic and almost mechanical. Early Removal Orders, issued by the High Sheriff to the Castle's governor had merely specified the numbers of prisoners, male and female, to be removed. From 1812 pre-printed forms were issued, with the names of the prisoners listed in the margins and a receipt, signed by the mate or master of the hulk endorsed for each prisoner. Documents for female prisoners also listed the spare clothing to be provided at government expense-

  • One spare jacket or gown.
  • One spare petticoat.
  • Two spare shifts.
  • Two spare handkerchiefs.
  • Two spare pairs stockings.
  • One spare pair shoes.

Increasing industrial unrest in Lancashire in the early nineteenth century led to savage reprisals. Thomas Holden was sentenced at Lancaster Assize to seven years transportation in 1812 for attempting to administer an illegal oath. The same year, following a riot at West Houghton, a Special Assize was held. Eight people were hanged and seventeen transported as a result. In 1826 a riot took place at Helmshore in Rossendale, and at the subsequent trial ten people, including two women, were sentenced to transportation.

Others were transported for more mundane offences. Jane Hoste, sentenced to death for stealing six silver teaspoons, six silver tablespoons and a silver mustard pot, had her sentence commuted to transportation for life. John Greenhalgh was sentenced at Lancaster for forging banknotes in 1820, and was lucky to escape the gallows, while Samuel Terry, tried in 1800, was convicted of the theft of 200 pairs of stockings, one piece of linen paper and a truss.

Precise numbers for those transported to Australia from Lancashire are uncertain, but may exceed three thousand.

The last convict ship to Australia, the Hougoumont, arrived in Freemantle, Western Australia, with 279 prisoners in January 1868. Thereafter the transportation system and the penal colonies were gradually wound down. We do not know when Lancashire's last transportees left, but some were removed form the Castle in 1845. The subsequent fate of these men, women and children is largely unknown to us, but lists published on the Castle's website, together with published data have elicited some valuable information. Jane Hoste, the spoon thief, married a fellow convict, William Skin, who became a respected landowner. They had three children, but Jane died in 1822 following a fall. Mary Haydock, transported at the age of thirteen for horse theft, married a free ship owner and trader, Thomas Reiby, in 1794. Thomas died in 1811, leaving Mary with seven children. But Mary revealed a talent for business. She increased her husband's shipping and warehousing holdings, purchased several farms and lived to a respectable old age.

The case of Samuel Terry, the truss stealer, is well-documented. He worked hard and prospered, had interests in breweries, banking and shipping, and acquired considerable property. At his death in 1838 the "Botany Bay Rothschild" was allegedly one of the wealthiest men in Australia.

Perhaps the strangest twist of fate relates to Leonard Cheetham, transported for life in 1817 for sheep-stealing. After obtaining his Ticket of Leave he married a fellow convict. One of their descendants is now a High Court Judge in Australia.

In the eighty years during which Transportation to Australia was in operation, 158,702 men, women and children were sent into enforced exile there. To this figure should be added 50,000 persons who were removed to the American Colonies or the West Indies between 1614 and 1775.

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