Friday, 9 June 2017

Draig Goch or not Draig Goch? That Was the Question

Family Stories. We all have them. Sometimes they are spot on. Sometimes they are so far off the mark it's not funny, and cause a lot of confusion. Sometimes they are a strange variation of the truth and when you burrow down you can see how the version you have came about. Regardless, it's up to us, as family historians to set the record straight if we can.

Setting the record straight is not without its pitfalls. People can get quite attached to history as they think they know it. Then there's finding out that an illustrious ancestor isn't - as in either isn't your ancestor (same name, but not your relative) or isn't illustrious. Or is notorious, or odious, or whatever. We have to take the good with the bad and let everyone else sort out their own feelings on the matter.

There was a BIG family story that my father told us - many, many times. I can't remember when it wasn't told. And it can be summed up in four words - "our proud Welsh heritage". Drummed into us all from birth. I and the elder of my two brothers have Welsh first names. My eldest sister has a Welsh middle name. The younger three are not so burdened, possibly because Mum said, "Enough!"

A lot was made of the Welsh connection and Dad always valued it very highly, especially in light of Mum's Irish heritage (her maiden name is O'Toole. If you want to see my attempts to trace the O'Toole line, use the labels on the right to find my posts on the name).

The family story went like this: My grandmother's grandfather was an artist called William Davies. He was born in Hunters Hill "on the wrong side of the blanket" (I remember having to ask what that meant), and was abandoned at a very young age. His father was Edwin Amos Davies, a wealthy merchant and artist who had come out to Australia from Wales. He had a ship named the Johanna, after his wife, and traded into the South Pacific.

Around 1988 my grandmother asked Dad to look into her family. The bicentenary of white settlement had just been marked and someone in my grandfather's family had put out a book on the Ellems in Australia, traced from a First Fleeter forward (shocking book, full of errors and bias). I think Nanna wanted to find out more about her own family.

Her mother was a Manion, who I distinctly remember being told was descended from the Manions mentioned in the "Timeless Land" books (spoiler - no, she wasn't, but the real story is interesting. I'll have to write that up sometime). I suspect that may have been wishful thinking, having another early convict in the family (which wasn't going to work, as the "Timeless Land" Manion was a fictional character).

We all knew about Nanna's grandfather Davies - William, who was an artist and died "in the gutter" in Leichhardt. He certainly died of cyrrhosis of the liver from alcoholism. Nanna had been brought up by her aunts and by William's wife, Eliza,her grandmother, and seems to have asked questions about her grandfather. There are also a number of his artworks floating around the family. I have a landscape. I know Dad has a self-portrait, although I haven't seen it in years. Various cousins have sketches and such.

Dad went looking. I don't know where he looked. I don't know what he looked at, but he turned up something. Edwin had left Wales from a particular village (which I think Dad visited at some later point), leaving behind a wife and family, came out here and married without divorce or death to end the earlier union, and had a sizable family.

Nanna was not impressed. Actually, that's putting it mildly. She "went off", as the saying goes. If that was the sort of information Dad was going to turn up, that her whole Davies line was illegitimate as a result of bigamy, she didn't want to know any more. All research was to stop there and then. Which it did. I mean, where's the sense in this? William was illegitimate either way. But bigamy was obviously more shocking, so the matter was left.

On and off over the years I have gone on my own hunt for Edwin Amos Davies. The research trail has never made it out of Australia as I have never been able to find any record of him. I asked Dad where he got the name from. "William's death certificate". My priority had been and still is Mum's side of the family (there's a lot to be written up on that. I'll get to it), so I didn't get around to ordering the death certificate to check. I would occasionally do a search on Trove, or on Ancestry if I was at Family History Group or the Library, but nothing ever came up and there were always other names to chase. I looked for ships, I looked for ship owners, I did a search for houses in Hunters Hill. Never any joy, and frankly, due to the frustration involved I didn't put in a lot of effort. What I did do, however, was come to the conclusion that someone, somewhere, had got the story wrong (or at least the name) or was telling a lie to cover something else.

Eighteen months ago I did a course on convicts through the University of Tasmania. Turns out the wife of one of my cousins was also doing the course. We had to submit a list of known convicts in our family, with any details, so that everyone could see who was who, if there were ones in common, and those with no convict ancestors could pick someone to research for assignments. Jodi and I had a few in common (which was how we twigged that we were somehow related - she also had a name from Mum's side, which I still want to chase the connection. That could be interesting). She also had a name that peaked my interest - Thomas Davies, aka Edward Davies. A quick personal message on Facebook confirmed that this was, indeed, William Davies' long-lost dad. And where did Jodi find this man? On William's death certificate. She sent me a transcript (thank you, Jodi 😃), but nothing beats the original, so it's on the "to be ordered" list (I'd have ordered it last year, but in everything that has been going on I forgot. Sue me).

So what's the real story?

I'll give you the quick-ish version here and then write up bits and pieces as the mood takes me and time allows.

William was the legitimate son of Thomas Davis and Johanna Deasy. He was born in Newcastle, NSW in 1830, nowhere near Hunters Hill. Thomas and Johanna had a very large family, fourteen children in all, most of whom lived to adult-hood. Thomas had arrived in Australia in 1819, at the age of seventeen, an apprentice watch-gear maker convicted of passing forged notes. By 1828 he was working as a policeman in Newcastle and had received a grant of land, even though his sentence of fourteen years had not been fully worked out. By 1835 he was up in Maitland, right on the Hunter River and had begun trading up and down the NSW coast, and was going by the name of Edward Davies. Around 1840, Edward (as he was now exclusively known) and Johanna moved to Sydney and leased a wharf in Pyrmont, running several ships. Edward died in 1863 in Pyrmont, having never lived in Hunters Hill or anywhere near it. Johanna took over the business and ran it very successfully and it was she who ran ships into the South Pacific. After Edward's death Johanna moved to Balmain (not Hunters Hill).

I cannot find any evidence that Thomas was an artist (although there is a painting I want to ask my uncle about). As for Wales... Ha ha. No. Thomas was from Liverpool, although he was in London when he was caught and convicted. There is no Welsh heritage.

I believe Thomas changed his name to escape his convict past. It was seen as a great shame, certainly without the cache it has now. It was evidence of a prison sentence, a criminal history, and attracted a great deal of prejudice. William Redfern was the best doctor in the colony by many people's reckoning, yet he was never appointed principal surgeon specifically because he had been a convict1. There were very vocal campaigns against the promotion of anyone with a convict past (keeping the power concentrated in a very small circle, which would have been part of the idea). Having been a convict was not a good thing and could seriously impact on your life, long after your sentence was served. Thomas wanted a legitimate business and fair treatment, so he changed his name.

I can't prove it, but I don't believe Thomas/Edward passed himself off as Welsh. On his death certificate his place of birth is listed as London. His son, Frederic, was the informant, and my suspicion is that he really thought his dad was born in London. Fred was born in 1842 and may not even have known that his father had another name. I don't know who knew the truth in the family, beyond Johanna and the children born while Thomas was still serving his sentence. I doubt that Eliza King, William's wife, knew Edward's little secret. She married William seven years after Edward died. But she would have known William's mother and at least some of his siblings, as one of them was the informant on William's death certificate. So the Welsh thing probably didn't come from her.

The fact is, however, that someone in the family, at some time (possibly among Thomas/Edward's grandchildren), decided that the Davies were Welsh, and that decision stuck. And a story got passed down that had fragments of the truth in it but not much else. I wouldn't be surprised if other branches of the family had slightly different versions, or even something very close to the actual truth. I've encountered that sort of discrepency before. But I certainly know that my Dad and his siblings thought the Davies were Welsh. Sorry, everyone. Not so.

Regardless, I now have the real story, as much as one can at this remove, and while my grandmother and I didn't see eye to eye, I'm sorry I can't tell her the real history of her grandfather's parents. I think she would have found it all quite interesting and much more palatable.

1 Australian Dictionary of Biography, William Redfern,

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

NEVER Put Anything In a "Safe" Place

There was a really good article on Deseret News that came up on my Facebook feed today - "Preserve, digitise and share, but don't hoard family history". It's well worth the read. So here I am sharing. But not having hoarded. I wish it was that simple, but it isn't.

This day had to come, when I finally got up the courage to admit what has happened and to ensure that my egregious error isn't further compounded, that something lost is not lost in its entirety.

I suppose it's best to start with this:

Mary Marcella Hall, about 1871. Whereabouts of original photo unknown

That's my great grandmother, Mary Marcella Hall, taken in Balmain around 1871 when she was about four years old. And yes, the whereabouts of the photograph are unknown, but I fear the worst. At least it is out in the aether now, so it will survive in some form. Other photos will follow. Time to come clean.

My mother and I went to visit her cousin and partner, along with another cousin and partner, both cousins being on the O'Toole side of the family. The cousin who kindly hosted the day had this and many other family photos. We all had a great time. I learnt so much about Mum's family, her cousins and partners are all lovely people. I recorded the conversations, they were very generous with their time and memories.

At the end of the day, the cousin offered to lend me the photos to scan. I foolishly accepted, even though I was terrified of having these photos. I let my eagerness over-rule my judgement.

I brought them home, scanned them, put them in an archival satchel and then.... put them in a safe place.

The trouble with safe places is that they tend not to be usual places, or out in the open.

Worse than that, I forgot to write down what that place was. A couple of days later Mum said she'd take them back for me (she wanted to visit her cousin again) and I could not for the life of me remember where they were. Despite looking, they did not turn up. I realised many months later that I had, in my panic, been looking in the same places each time I looked. And by then it was too late. I am fairly certain that my spouse had thrown them out, along with a number of other items. Not done deliberately, just done. And I wasn't vigilant enough to have stopped it.

In the mean time, I had offered Mum's cousin copies until I could find the originals, but I felt weasely doing that. And she didn't reply, for which I don't blame her. I'd be livid if these were mine.

There is not a day that has passed when I don't start the day with "I should have...", "if only I hadn't...", images in my head of what I could have done at any point to avert this disaster. The day ends like this too. It makes me sick thinking about it. It makes me sick typing this, but that won't bring the photos back.

That's why this blog has been largely silent for such a very long time. I wasn't going to blog about any of the photos until they were found and returned. And then it became I can't blog at all until they are found and returned. And then I realised what had happened and doing anything with family history felt fraudulent.

And yes, I am a coward. It has taken me over a year from when I realised what had happened, to publicly admit this. If Mum's cousin is reading this, I am so sorry, and so sorry it has taken me so long to confess.

But... if I continue to mentally beat my breast and tear my hair, without publishing the photos, and something happens - to the hard drive or the backups - then those photos really are lost forever. So, for right or wrong, I'm going to publish most of them, send digital copies of all to Mum's cousin, and my eldest is going to photograph all the black and white ones, with actual film, and develop them. If you print greyscale, that's just a colour process, and colour fades. So hopefully this will help preserve physical copies too.

So if you want to abandon reading this blog because I am such an idiot, I won't blame you.

In the meantime, here's a digitally cleaned up copy of Mary Hall's photo. At least I can get that right.
Mary Marcella Hall, about 1871, digital clean up, whereabouts of original photo unknown.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Matters of Conviction - Sarah Slater, A Woman's Work...

The story of the Parramatta Female Factory has been recounted many times, online, in books and in the media. Dates, names of superintendants, the riots, it's all there. But what if we could find a snapshot of the place itself? Such a snapshot exists in the Colonial Secretary's Papers, with, amongst other documents, two inventories, for 1822 and 1825 (erroneously indexed as 1824 on, 2

There was a transition from the old Factory, above the men's gaol, to the purpose-built Female Factory. That transition can be seen in the sleeping arrangements for the women. In 1822 sleep was a haphazard affair, with a jumble of beds, ships' trundles, and hammocks, to accommodate 213 women, with 230 mixed blankets. By 1825 there were 505 beds and 517 blankets, all uniform.

Clothes also changed as the new order was established. In 1822, almost half of the clothes listed came from the female convicts on the Mary Ann, John Bull and Providence transports. There were also slops made from factory cloth, and eighty-one women were wearing “old factory dresses... nearly worn out”. Some of these women were without shoes, yet there were twenty-six pairs of new shoes in the stores which had not been distributed.

Ninety-six straw bonnets were listed in the 1822 inventory. They would have been similar to this one held by the National Trust in the UK. Straw bonnet, 1815-1820, Snowshill Wade Costume Collection, National Trust Images, NT1349789, retrieved June 23 2016
The clothing situation had improved by 1825. The worn-out dresses were gone, as were the transport clothes. There were instead dresses, petticoats and jackets made of India Print, shifts and caps of linen. Some were listed as old, others as new, but there was no record of “worn out” clothing. On 13 December 1822 a tender notice had appeared in the Sydney Gazette, to supply the Female Factory with “1800 yards of India Print, of the darkest hue and strongest texture”.3 The women were wearing the results.

Lots of other clothing items were also listed in 1825, particularly clothes for children, made of factory linen, along with sheets for the Parramatta Hospital and cushions for the Church. The assumption is that the women of the Factory made all these items, yet strangely there are no sewing supplies in the inventory: no shears or scissors (save one pair), no sewing needles, no thread. Were the clothes made elsewhere? In which case, why store them here? Or were needles and thread considered too awkward or insignificant to account for?

One of the aims of the Factory was that it should be a centre for cloth production. The inventories bear out that this was happening, but if the Colonial government really wanted it to succeed, there were some glaring absences and noticeable shortfalls.

There were looms, nine in 1822 and thirteen in 1825, not enough for large scale production. There were also spinning wheels, swifts, reeds, hand cards and other paraphenalia.

The looms and the only warping mill were in the men's barracks, along with some spinning wheels (for wool only). The men's barracks also had all the swifts, some hand cards, and ten carding stools. The majority of the wheels, carding equipment and reeds were in the women's factory.

Were the women doing all the wool preparation and the men all the weaving? As there were spinning wheels in the men's barracks, were the men also spinning? Perhaps it indicates the presence of women in the weaving room. In which case, were they also weaving? Flax and flax-processing equipment were all stored in the women's section, and the men had no flax wheels in their inventory. Was flax the domain of women and linen the preserve of men?4

A noticeable addition to the women's equipment between 1822 and 1825 is a “machine to tease wool” (teased wool is easier to pick clean of vegetative matter, etc). The carpenter at the Factory, James Slater, specialised in textile machinery, yet beyond the teasing machine, there were no other forms of advanced mechanisation. James had made Spinning Jennies and carding machines for Simeon Lord.5 However, his skills were less desired in Parramatta.

In 1825 there were no jennies listed, and there seems to have been no effort to import or have built knitting frames. Such items would have reduced the number of workers needed, or dramatically increased output. Had there been a willingness to invest in knitting frames on a large scale, and to allow the women to use them, it may have been possible for the Factory to provide the Colony as a whole with stockings and other machine-knitted goods.

Stocking Frame, Ruddington Framework Knitter's Museum, John Beniston, 2005, Wikimedia Commons

The Factory was producing respectable quantities of woollen cloth, with some linen and some linsey-woolsey (linen warp, wool weft), enough to supply the Hospital, the Asylum and the Native School with blankets, make clothes for the inmates and send bolts to the Kings Store in Sydney. While it has been described at times as poor quality, it was good enough for the purposes to which it was put, and in 1822 some cloth of superior quality was being produced.6 Perhaps the variable nature of the cloth reflected the government's unwillingness to truly commit to textile production at the Factory, except as a punishment regime.

There was also the problem of “commercial interests”. The English government would not allow processed cloth to be sent back home for sale, as this would have worsened the already difficult situation for the mills in England. So the only market for the Factory cloth was the colonies. Simeon Lord and others (including importers) argued strongly against the Female Factory producing cloth on the grounds of competition. So the government, instead of being smart, limited the Factory to supplying only convicts, the asylum, the Orphan School and the Native School, that is the “less deserving”. The dream of the Factory actually being viable, and teaching the women really useful skills, died for the sake of rich men's profits. Some things in New South Wales never change.

Back to the Factory.

The women convicts were also making stockings, although looking at the 1825 inventory, there were a lot of bad or indifferent knitters and only a small handful of good knitters. There were, however, only 39 sets of needles, which limited the number of women who were able to knit at any one time, and would not have allowed the inexperienced much time to practice.

The 1822 and 1825 inventories show a growing but half-hearted textile manufactory. They answer some questions over division of labour, but raise others. They also show the improvement in the lives of the inmates, particularly in the areas of clothing and bedding, as the new Factory established itself and moved away from the depredations of the old room above the gaol. New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1856 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2010. Original Data: New South Wales Government. Main series of letters received, 1788-1825. Series 897, Reels 6041-6064, 6071-6072. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia, Parramatta Female Factory inventory July 29 1822, accessed 20 July, 2016 New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1856 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2010. Original Data: New South Wales Government. Main series of letters received, 1788-1825. Series 897, Reels 6041-6064, 6071-6072. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia, Parramatta Female Factory inventory Nov 2 1824 [sic], accessed 20 July, 2016
3Trove, “Government and General Order”, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), 13 December 1822, p1, c1
4Linen thread is made from flax. Why the different name for the raw and processed states, I do not know. New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1856 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2010. Original Data: New South Wales Government. Memorials to the Governor, 1810-25. Series 899, Fiche 3001-3162. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia, Memorial of James Slater to Governor, 20 August 1822, accessed 12 February, 2013 New South Wales, Australia, Colonial Secretary's Papers, 1788-1856 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc, 2010. Original Data: New South Wales Government. Main series of letters received, 1788-1825. Series 897, Reels 6041-6064, 6071-6072. State Records Authority of New South Wales. Kingswood, New South Wales, Australia, Report of William Tuckwell 22 Nov 1822, accessed 20 June, 2016   

Matters of Conviction - Sarah Slater Coining

In 1812, the year that Sarah Slater began her life sentence, there were fifty cases before the Old Bailey for coining offences, ranging from making coins, down to selling them for less than their face value.1 Other years had higher numbers. The Yorkshire Coiners (1760s) were a gang that involved over 200 people directly and indirectly in counterfeiting.2

The Georgian era (1740-1830) seems to be known for its counterfeiting. But why this particular time? Why in such large quantities?

Part of the problem was the availability and value of silver and gold. Silver particularly was in short supply, which pushed up the price of bullion. This made the minting of silver coins unprofitable for the Mint as every coin struck represented a loss to the Crown. The weight of the coin meant it was worth more than its face value. Coin sizes could be reduced but this could only be taken so far. Gold coins were having similar problems. So the Mint stopped issuing currency. There was also the problem of coins being taken out of circulation and melted down to make objects or ingots.3

The melting down of existing coins and the non-issuing of new coins created a massive shortage. Foreign coins were over-stamped with the head of George III, but these didn't gain wide-acceptance. There was some subcontracting out of coin making, but not enough to solve the problem. As the government did nothing to meet demand, others stepped in to fill the gap.

Spanish eight reale (Piece of Eight) over-stamped with head of George III, Image from Historic Royal Palaces Tower of London

Coining (the specific counterfeiting of coins as opposed to notes) took a number of forms. Many old coins were still in circulation, becoming increasingly smooth as they passed from hand to hand. The simplest form was to create a smooth disc of the correct colour and size, and with appropriate aging, to mimic an old, worn coin. Coins of lower value could be altered to look like coins of higher value. For instance, gold plate a shilling to pass it as a guinea.4 With a bit more work, involving filing, re-engraving and colouring, farthings could be made to look like sixpences. Some also took brass gambling tokens and over-stamped them to look like guineas and half-guineas.

Another coining offence that was common in practice, but not as often prosecuted was clipping.5 The edges of coins were clipped or shaved and then sanded smooth, and filed to mimic a milled edge. So long as the head of the monarch was untouched and the coin still a good weight, the clipped coin could be still be accepted. The shavings were collected until there was sufficient to melt into coin blanks, or into an ingot (usually 1oz) which could be sold to a bank. The practice of clipping was detailed in the trial of Margaret Larney at the Old Bailey in 1758.6 Clipping was so widespread that counterfeiters clipped their own fakes in order to more easily pass them off as real.

James I half-groat clipped, image from Mat25 Photobucket
Coins were also made from cheaper metals. Sheets of base metal could be used to cut blanks, which were then struck with dies (using a machine press) and coloured. These varied in quality, although some were so good that they are considered to have been “inside jobs”, that is, made with official dies and the knowledge of mint officials or subcontractors. The sheets could be made of a number of metals. Farthings could be cut from brass instead of the more expensive bronze. Copper mixed with silver was popular as it felt right, was fairly hardy and could easily be treated to look like pure silver. Other metals were also used, and then “washed” with silver (silver-plating).

In the trial of Sarah Armstrong, Sarah Butler and Henry Isaacs at the Old Bailey in December, 1812, Mr. Caleb Bowell, assistant attorney at the Mint, outlined the means by which copper coins were coloured:

Aqua fortis is a particular ingredient, destroying the copper, and leaving the particles of silver which is mixed in the body of the metal, and bringing the particles of silver which are in the copper to the surface, and giving it that white colour; and after the colour of silver is given to the piece, it being too bright for circulation, the blacking ball, being a particular composition, is used to rub over it, to take off that brightness, which makes it appear as if it had been in circulation, and a flannel like this is often found in cases of this sort, to wipe off this blacking when it is used. The several things that have been described and produced are used in colouring metal, and they are sufficient to produce the colouring.7

During the 1820s, blank cutting and striking was replaced with casting in white metal.

The level of counterfeiting was finally addressed in 1816, when a re-coining was ordered. Coins were issued with a lower silver content and lighter weight, ensuring that their content did not exceed their face value. This enabled the Mint to produce more coins, thereby reducing the counterfeit market.

1Search of Old Bailey Online, “Royal offences>coining offences; January 1812 to December 1812”,, accessed 18 June, 2016
2 For more information on the Yorkshire coiners, and an interactive game with information on coining in general, visit The Last Coiner (don't forget to play Coins and Nooses)
3Inglis Lucy, " 'Brass Money, Broken or Whole': The Counterfeiting Trade of Georgian London, Part I", Georgian London blog, 26 January, 2010,
4Oddie Gary, “500 Years of Counterfeit Coins”, Counterfeit, 18 no4 (200?) 8, accessed 17 June, 2016
5Rock Robert S., "Criminal Skill: The Counterfeiter's Craft in the Long Eighteenth Century", Coins, Crime and History: A Numismatic and Social History of Counterfeiting blog, 30 March, 2014,
6Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2), January 1758, trial of Margaret, wife of Terence Larney (t17580113-32), accessed 18 June, 2016
7Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2), December 1812, trial of SARAH ARMSTRONG SARAH BUTLER HENRY ISAACS (t18121202-52)., accessed 18 June, 2016

Matters of Conviction - Sarah Slater Benefit of Statute

Benefit of Clergy, as it was more commonly known, was a legal hangover from medieval times, when clergymen could demand to be tried by an ecclesiastical rather than a civil court. Over the centuries it had changed from a privilege extended only to the clergy to one available to all first-time offenders who had not committed an exempting crime. These included rape, murder, highway robbery, pickpocketing, sacrilege and poisoning, and also the refusal to enter a plea. Later, many property crimes were added to the list of exemptions.
Under Elizabeth I, the benefit was no longer applied before a trial. Instead it was requested after conviction but before sentencing, with the outcome of one year in gaol rather than execution, and a branding on the thumb to identify previous claimants. Joseph Cope and Sarah Slater each received one year in Newgate at their first trials, after begging the Benefit of the Statute.1 Branding had been abolished in 1779, so perhaps they each hoped that the second claim would be overlooked by the courts. Perhaps neither realised it was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, for first offenders only. Perhaps they were just desperate: what else was there to lose?
Joseph and Sarah's crimes would probably have attracted a death sentence, or at the least transportation, as neither were first-time offenders when they fronted the Courts in 1810 and 1812 respectively. Their application for Benefit of Clergy all but assured that they would face the hangman outside Newgate's walls. On the records for each this is placed beyond doubt:
         51 Joseph Cope
         footnote: “for not being intitled [sic] to Benefit of Clergy... Death”2
         107 Sarah Slater
         sidenote: “not being intitled [sic] to Benefit of the Statute... und[er] sentence of Death.3
Benefit of Clergy was partially abolished in 1823 and 1827 and finally denied to peers, the last remaining group able to claim the benefit, in 1841.4
A list of all statutes governing the Benefit of Clergy can be found at New Advent: Benefit of Clergy,

"The Old Bailey", The Microcosm of London or London in Miniature, Volume II, London: Methuen and Company, pp. Plate 58, Wikimedia Commons

1Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 7.2), July 1808, trial of JOSEPH COPE (t18080713-15), retrieved May 31 2016; Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 6.0), October 1810, trial of SARAH SLATER (t18101031-16), accessed 13 March, 2013
2TNA, HO77, Newgate Prison Calendars 1782-1853, piece 17, “Middlesex Prisoners upon Orders”, FindmyPast, ROBERT BUTT MARY WALTON CHARLES WALTON JOSEPH COPE SARAH SLATER, accessed 12 June, 2016
3TNA, HO77, Newgate Prison Calendars 1782-1853, piece 19, “Middlesex Prisoners upon Orders”, FindmyPast, SARAH SLATER, accessed 12 June, 2016
4The Statutes of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, 7 & 8 George IV, 1827, (London: His Majesty's Statute and Law Printers, 1827), CAP XXVIII 165-168, e-book edition

Matters of Conviction - Sarah Slater Respite During Pleasure

How was it that Sarah Slater (and Robert Butt, for that matter) avoided the hangman's noose after being sentenced to death?

There is a tradition in England, and now throughout the Commonwealth, known as His or Her Majesty's Pleasure. Essentially, it acknowledges that government authority derives from the Crown and that the monarch of the day may appoint, detain or pardon subjects, as he or she sees fit. In practice, such matters are granted on recommendation of officials and through petitions.

In the Georgian era, it was common for the convicted to petition the Crown for clemency.1 Everyone had the right to petition, but not everyone did or could take up this right. Success of a petition for clemency depended largely on the judge involved making a favourable report.2 Judges also had the discretion to generally recommend clemency for capital prisoners, to “demonstrate the exercise of merciful justice”.3

It was just such a report that saved Sarah and had previously saved Robert.

The Recorder at the time was John Sylvester, also known as Gallows Black Jack.4 He was a stickler for the application of law and a strong supporter of capital punishment, but also, it seems, aware of the need for justice to be seen to be tempered by mercy (there may be a petition for Sarah, but as yet one has not been located). On 4 March 1812, “Mr. Recorder” made a report to the Prince Regent, detailing the cases of a number of capital prisoners in Newgate.5

A full pardon was not granted, as that could encourage others in similar crimes. Instead, as was the common practice, the prisoners were respited, that is, they were offered relief, their sentences reduced, in this case from death to transportation for life, at the Pleasure of the Prince Regent.

The formal record appeared in the “Correspondence and Warrants", held by the Home Office.6

Respite of Thomas Kite etal, TNA, HO13, Home Office: Criminal Entry Books 1782-1871, “Correspondence and Warrants”, Piece 22, page 384-385, FindmyPast, SARAH SLATER, accessed 12 June, 2016

Tho[ma]s Kite etal
Whereas Thomas Kite, George Lister, Tho[ma]s Wells, W[illia]m Fowler, Tho[ma]s Hunt, Mary Carroll, Philip Barnard, Richard Woodhatch, Charles King, Tho[ma]s Culliver, Sarah Slater & Giovanna Astarda were at a Session holden at the Old Bailey in January
last tried and Convicted, the said Tho[ma]s Kite, Geo[rge] Lister, W[illia]m Fowler, Mary Carroll of stealing in a Dwelling house the said Tho[ma]s Wells & Tho[ma]s Hunt of Highway Robbery, the said Philip Barnard and Giovanni Astarda of privately stealing in a shop, the said Rich[ar]d Woodhatch of returning from Transportation and the said Charles King and Tho[ma]s Culliver of stealing Goods on the River Thames and the said Sarah Slater of uttering Counterfeit Coin and had Sentence of death passed upon them for the same; We in Consideration of some favorable Circumstances humbly represented unto us in their behalf are graciously pleased to extend our Grace and Mercy unto them and to grant them Our Pardon for their said Crimes on Condition of their being transported to the Coast of New South Wales or some other of the Islands adjacent for and during the term of their respective natural Lives: Our Will & Pleasure therefore is that you give the necessary directions accordingly and that they be inserted for their said Crimes on the said condition in Our first & next general Pardon that shall come out for the poor Convicts. And for so doing etc Carlton House
4 March 1812
To Our Trusty & Well beloved                        }              By the Command
Our Justice of Gaol Delivery for                     }                R Ryder
the City of London & County of Middlesex     }
The High Sheriff &c                                        }
In the Name &c
George PR

1Phillips Nicola, The Profligate Son: Or a True Story of family Conflict, Fashionable Vice & Financial Ruin in Regency Britain, (New York: Basic Books, 2013), p.205
2King Peter, "Decision-Makers and Decision-Making in the English Criminal Law, 1750–1800", The Historical Journal, 27, pp 25-58 doi:10.1017/S0018246X00017672, (1984), 42-51, accessed 2 May, 2016
3Phillips Nicola, The Profligate Son, p. 205
4A prominent actor, John Kemble, was already known as Black Jack, hence the distinction of Gallows. The Monthly Mirror: Reflecting Men and Manners; with Strictures on their Epitome, the Stage (London: Vernor Hood & Sharpe, 1810), Vol VI, 364, e-book edition
5British Library Newspapers, Part I: 1800-1900 (through utas Library site), “RECORDER'S REPORT” (1812, March 5), Morning Chronicle (London, England: 1770-1865), p3 c3, accessed 13 May, 2016
6TNA, HO13, Home Office: Criminal Entry Books 1782-1871, “Correspondence and Warrants”, Piece 22, pages 384-385, FindmyPast, SARAH SLATER, accessed 12 June, 2016   

Matters of Conviction - Sarah Slater

It is difficult to say who Sarah Slater was before she appeared before Lord Ellenborough and The Recorder, John Sylvester, at the Old Bailey. What little is known of her and her life is defined by and recorded by the men she encountered, from her first brush with the law to the last moment of her life. People called her Mrs. Slater, but where was her husband? Was she married at all? Or, at the age of 35, old enough to be referred to as Mistress rather than Miss? Who were her parents? Where was she from? I have strong suspicions. But all that stands is her fifteen years of record under the law, and those records are incomplete. Too much is blank, lost in time. This is what I know:

On 15 January, 1812, Sarah Slater stood before the court in the Old Bailey and was found guilty of selling counterfeit coins at less than their face value.

So it was back to Newgate, and she'd just got out for an earlier coining offence. And now they were asking why she shouldn't “die according to law”.

So she made one last desperate decision: “I beg benefit of the statute

Just like Joe.

Of course they found the records of her last trial. Of course they knew she'd begged the benefit before. That it hadn't worked didn't matter. This was the second time, so it was a death sentence. Sarah Slater was taken down and delivered to Newgate to await her fate.1

Sarah had been part of a coining gang. There were Joseph Cope and herself (known as Mr and Mrs Williams), Robert Butt and his lover Mary, who called herself Butt, but was really Walton. And later there was Mary's real husband, Charles, who came down to London when he deserted the Surrey militia, and had no choice but to accept his wife's new arrangement. There was another member, a “boy Joe learned up”, but he was never caught and his identity is currently unknown.

Robert had a cutting engine and made blanks, but Joe was the boss. He organised everyone, shared out the blanks and showed them how to “finish” the coins. He also had last word on who the coins were sold to. It had all gone well until they met William Stafford, another deserter like Charlie. William made himself a friend to Robert, helped him move house from down near the Mint to up near the Barracks. Robert was careless enough to give him the cutting engine to carry. Stafford visited him in his home, watched him and Mary cut blanks, joined everyone for regular drinks.

The group operated in and around Grub Street (now Milton Street), in the pubs mainly, selling fake coins. The military was a good source of custom. Soldiers seemed particularly "down to the queer” (slang for counterfeit money), it's probably why Robert shifted premises to opposite the barracks and why Stafford was so readily accepted by the group. Joe Cope, the only member who had done time inside for counterfeiting, and who understood better than any of them the risks they were taking, had lodgings over a mile away, and neither he nor Sarah told anyone where they were. He and Sarah were also the only ones to use an alias at the lodgings. Their landlady had no idea of their real names until they were caught and brought to trial. Joe was also the only one who knew the identity of the boy who turned the blanks into coins. Robert's free and easy ways with Stafford must have been driving him mad.

From John Wallis's map of London, 1797. Chequer Alley is marked in red, Peter Street in green, and Newgate Prison in blue (the Old Bailey is right next door. Handy). Hooper street, where Robert Butt had lived is near the Tower of London, where the Mint was housed (not shown here). Map from Old Maps Online
Stafford was finding it hard on the run. He was working on and off as a shoemaker, his profession outside the military, but at some point he decided life would be better back in uniform. He turned spy for the Mint, to ease his own case, and turned them all in, giving chapter and verse. That was August, 1810.

The gang was tried at the Old Bailey. There wasn't enough proof of counterfeiting.2 However, Robert got an automatic death sentence for the cutting engine3. The Waltons got off, but Charles was sent up to face trial for Desertion.4 Sarah and Joe were found guilty of passing counterfeit coin. Sarah begged the Benefit and got a year inside. Joe begged the Benefit, but he'd done this before. Eight days later he was found guilty of this further, more serious, offence and sentenced to death.5 Newgate was a den of many things, including gossip; Sarah would have heard when he was hanged. Robert, meanwhile, was respited on 8 March 1811 and sent to New South Wales.6

And here was Sarah again, less than three months after her release, up on the same charges, making the same mistake as Joe, receiving the same sentence.

On 23 January, 1812 she entered Newgate for the last time.7 Unlike Joe, her end did not come quickly. She was still waiting when on 4 March, 1812 the Prince Regent respited her sentence, on the understanding that she would spend the term of her natural life in New South Wales.8 Now Sarah waited again, for a transport to the other side of the world.

Newgate Prison was not an easy place. How well one was treated depended on how much one could pay. There was little restriction on who could enter, nor on the activities of the inmates. Contemporary reports reproduced by Henry Mayhew and John Binny spoke of “extensive burglaries and robberies... plotted in Newgate and notes were forged and coining was carried on within its gloomy walls”.9 At least Sarah could have kept up her coining skills, and possibly made new contacts.

Newgate was frequently overcrowded and this was true during Sarah's incarcerations. “Among the women, all the ordinary feelings of the sex are outraged by their indiscriminate association...When the female prisoners lie down on their floors at night, there must necessarily, at least in the women's wards, be the same bodily contact and the same arrangement of heads and legs as in the deck of a slave-ship. The wards being only forty-three feet wide, admit by night of two rows to lie down at once in a length of thirty-seven feet; that is to say, twenty-five or thirty women, as it may be, in a row, having each a breadth of eighteen inches by her length.”10 This overcrowding was still the norm in 1817 when the Society of Friends (the Quakers), led by Mrs Elizabeth Fry, stepped in to try to ease conditions for the women.

The Minstrel left Portsmouth on 4 June, headed for New South Wales. On board with Sarah were 125 female convicts, the new Lieutenant Governor of Hobart, Thomas Davy, and his family, some officers and soldiers. They travelled to Rio de Janeiro, then around the Cape of Good Hope and across the Indian Ocean, coming through Sydney Heads on Saturday, 24 October, 1812.11 Where Sarah was assigned after disembarkation is unknown, as unfortunately no record survives. It is likely she would have been put to work as a servant for some family in the town, cooking, cleaning, washing, whatever was required.

"Sydney in all its Glory", Edward Charles Close, 1817, watercolour, State Library of New South Wales, SAFE/PXA 1187, Digital ID a2821022 & a2821023

Domestic work is often undervalued. The number of people (mainly men) who think it a simple matter and not worth anything (until they have to do it, when it suddenly becomes onerous and unfair) is just ridiculous here in the 21st century. But we are lucky with the ways in which domestic work has been eased. It is an ongoing thankless task, but it is nowhere near as hard work as it was.

No vacuum cleaners, no washing machines, no temperature controlled ovens, no refridgerators. Washing clothes was done when you could, rarely once a week. Sarah would probably have been joining other women at the Tank Stream (it eventually became horribly polluted), scrubbing the clothes by hand, beating them with sticks. Lye soap, also known as black soap, if it was out of stock, would have to be made. There are frequent requests in colonial correspondence for black soap to be sent from the English government in greater quantities, and calls for tender for its production and supply within the colony. Clothes were hung to dry on fences, sticks, jerry-rigged lines, and had to be watched to guard against theft. The men of the Hyde Park Barracks, when they washed their shirt, would drape the wet garment over their own backs to dry, as the only means of ensuring they still possessed it when it was ready to wear again.

If a rug was owned, it was taken out of the house and beaten to remove the dust and dirt.

Some houses in the colony had ovens, which would have been wood or coal fuelled, others relied on open fires. My paternal grandmother had a wood-fuelled oven until the 1980s. To this day I do not know how she regulated the temperature (she was a terrible cook, by the way, but nothing was ever burnt). Anyone able to bake on such a thing, or over an open fire, has my admiration. And that's before you get to making your own gelatine from horn or hoof. Keeping meat fresh and fly-free must have been a thing to itself, particularly in the summer months.

Working as a convict servant would also have had components of animal husbandry. Livestock was kept by most households. Funny to think that now, when one wanders up George Street, but most houses kept chickens at the least, and many had a cow. So Sarah would have been feeding the animals, collecting eggs, probably milking.

Why do I think Sarah was assigned to a family in Sydney Town and not somewhere further afield? Because somehow, in the bustle of Sydney, Sarah met up again with her old partner in crime, Robert Butt. He was working in the Government Lumber Yard (in Bridge Street), in his non-criminal profession as a carpenter. They decided to embark on a new enterprise together: marriage.12 From this time forward Sarah was assigned to Robert, and appeared in the records as “Sarah Slater, wife of R. Butt”. While this may appear initially as sexism, it is actually an economic note. Sarah was reliant on Robert as her master for supplies, as any assigned convict would be. He, as a government-assigned convict, was reliant on the government for supplies.

In church records Sarah was Sarah Butt, but for government purposes she remained Sarah Slater.
Ironically, the convict system gave women an identity that was otherwise denied to them. Free women, both in the colonies and back in Britain, lost their identities when they married. Think of all the birth records that list a child's parents as father's full name and mother's first name. Convict women were recorded as individuals, their names on conviction consistently kept in the records, even after marriage. This was not, however, a sign of progression or a mark of female emancipation, but a bureaucratic necessity to facilitate tracking through the system.

Robert continued to work as a carpenter at the Lumber Yard while Sarah worked out her sentence in their home. In September 1815 a daughter was born, Ann Maria.13 This would have seen an increase in Sarah's workload, and hopefully an increase in the rations Robert received from the government.
They lived in the heart of Sydney, kept out of trouble, led a quiet life for a couple of years, until the Muster of 1817, when Sarah was listed as “Public Factory”.14

This was the factory at Parramatta, later to become the FemaleFactory. It was in actuality a work room above the male gaol, where the women carded and spun fleece for weaving, but it was without any accommodations. The women who stayed there (and many, it seems, preferred to rent rooms in Parramatta) slept on the floor under the machines, making what beds they could with sacking and fleeces.15 Samuel Marsden wrote furious letters trying to get accommodation within the walls of the Factory, as he realised that many of the women were having to prostitute themselves in order to meet their rent.16

I don't know why Sarah ended up in the Factory. She'd have done something wrong, but the records are gone. It could be for a misdemeanour as simple as being somewhere she shouldn't be, or it could be for something we would recognise as an actual crime. Regardless, she was in the Factory. I cannot find out where Ann was. Did she stay with her father (and how did he manage, working and caring for a toddler), or was she sent to the Orphan School for her mother's sentence?

Musters came and went. Held over several weeks every year, they were an indispensable means of recording the movements and conditions of the inhabitants of the colony, free and convict, on and off stores. Men were mustered separately to women, free separately to convicts.17 They are not perfect documents, only as good as the clerk recording the details,18 but they can allow us (just as they allowed the government) to see what people were doing and where they were stationed.

Sarah moved between Sydney, living with her husband and child, and Parramatta, always listed as a convict, never with a ticket of leave. In her final muster, 1825, the letters “fs” (free by servitude) appeared beside her name.19 However, it is not possible for a Lifer to be free by servitude.20 Sarah's purported freedom was an error.

In the end, there was one final record:

Burials in the Parish of St. Philips Sydney, in the County of Cumberland N.S.W. In the Year 1826
No. 19 Sarah Butt of Sydney, buried 18th April 1826, age 50 years, ship Minstrel, quality or profession blank.21

Blank, as so much of her life has become. But finally, at last, she was free.

1Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 6.0), January 1812, trial of SARAH SLATER (t18120115-124), accessed 13 March 2013
2Old Bailey Proceedings Online (, version 6.0), October 1810, trial of ROBERT BUTT MARY WALTON CHARLES WALTON JOSEPH COPE SARAH SLATER (t18101031-1), accessed 13 March 2013
3The Statutes at Large, From the Magna Charta, to the End of the Eleventh Parliament of Great Britain, Anno 1761 [continued to 1806], (London: Danby Pickering, 1764 1808) Cap XXVI, 86-87, e-book edition
4TNA, HO77, Newgate Prison Calendars 1782-1853, piece 17, “Middlesex Prisoners upon Orders”, FindmyPast, ROBERT BUTT MARY WALTON CHARLES WALTON JOSEPH COPE SARAH SLATER, accessed 12 June, 2016
6TNA, HO13, Home Office: Criminal Entry Books 1782-1871, “Correspondence and Warrants”, Piece 21, page 305, FindmyPast, ROBERT BUTT, accessed 12 June, 2016
7TNA, HO26, Criminal Registers: Middlesex and Home Office 1791-1849, piece 18 Page 98, FindmyPast, SARAH SLATER, accessed 12 June, 2016
8TNA, HO13, Home Office: Criminal Entry Books 1782-1871, “Correspondence and Warrants”, Piece 22, page 384-385, FindmyPast, SARAH SLATER, accessed 12 June, 2016
9Mayhew Henry & Binny John, The Criminal Prisons of London, and Scenes of Prison Life, (London: Griffin Bohn & Company, 1862) p.593, e-book edition.
10Sir Richard Philips, “Letter to the Livery of London”, 1808 in Mayhew and Binny, ibid., p. 593
11Trove, “Postscript”, The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Monitor (1803-1842), 1812, 24 October, p.3 c.2, accessed 1 June, 2016
12State Records Authority NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, 1787-1856; NRS 12937 microfilm, Reel 5002, 624/1839 V1839625 23A, ROBERT BUTT SARAH SLATER, accessed 10 June, 2016
13State Records Authority NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, 1787-1856; NRS 12937 microfilm, Reel 5003, 3697/1815 V18153697 1B ANN MARIA BUTT, accessed 16 May, 2013 New South Wales, Australia, Settler and Convict Lists, 1787-1834 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.
Original Data: Home Office: Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania; (The National Archives Microfilm Publication HO10, Pieces 1-4, 6-18, 28-30); The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England., accessed 13 July, 2013
15White Charles, Early Australian History: Convict Life in New South Wales and Van Dieman's Land, (Bathurst: C & GS White, 1889), accessed 30 May, 2016,
16Marsden is a complex character. He was brutal and cruel when he thought punishment was needed (I'd have hated to be his child), but he was also genuinely concerned for the welfare of those under his care, particularly the women of the Factory. It is worth the time to read widely about him. And yes, I do think he was a closet Methodist, a charge he always denied.
17For instance, Trove, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Monitor (1803-1842), 1817, 25 October, 1, col 1-2, accessed 13 June 2016,
18One muster for Sarah, everyone on her page has a sentence of 7 years, which is wrong, and Sarah is listed as a Publican, a “fact” I must regard with a grain of salt. New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia Convict Musters, 1806-1849 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007.
Original Data: Home Office: Settlers and Convicts, New South Wales and Tasmania; (The National Archives Microfilm Publication HO10, Pieces 5, 19-20, 32-51); The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England, 1825 Muster Sarah Slater, accessed 13 July, 2013
20Kristyn Harman and Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, email message to author, 16 June, 2016
21State Records Authority NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, 1787-1856; NRS 12937 microfilm, Reel 5003, 1126/1826 V18261126 44B SARAH BUTT, accessed 10 June, 2016