Cave Dwellers of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire

Known as the ‘rock houses’ they are a well-known feature of the town of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire in the East Midlands and only a few miles away from Newstead Abbey, home of Lord Byron.

A View in Newstead Park, belonging to the Rt. Hon. Lord Byron. Print by James Mason. Yale Center for British Art
A View in Newstead Park, belonging to the Rt. Hon. Lord Byron. Print by James Mason. Yale Center for British Art

Rumour has it that Robin Hood and his Merry Men had used the rock houses as hiding places – true or not we will never know (it’s a great legend though), but either way, they were extremely old, cut into the local sandstone and were used as homes until the beginning of the 1900s.

View of the rock houses c1775. Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. British Library. Although very faint you can just see the rock houses below the windmill.
View of the rock houses c1775. Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. British Library. Although very faint you can just see the rock houses below the windmill

Robert Watson (1779-1839) and his wife Elizabeth née Moor, were one such couple who lived there in the early part of the 19th century. As Robert died prior to the first census taken in 1841, unfortunately, there is no information about his early life, occupation etc, we do however know that they had six children – William, Robert, Mary, John, Elizabeth and their youngest Sarah, who was born in 1810.

Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.
Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.

Their lives would not have been easy, all eight of them living in such a small dwelling, trying to make ends meet to avoid the poor house. It was often thought that these houses were the modern equivalent of squats, however, this was not the case as confirmed in a letter of 1843 from the Poor Law Commission Office, which stated

A habitation within a rock, for which the occupier pays a yearly rent, is such a dwelling place as would come within the meaning of the word ‘house’ and would consequently be a subject of rating to the relief of the poor.  
A habitation within a rock, for which the occupier pays a yearly rent, is such a dwelling place as would come within the meaning of the word ‘house’ and would consequently be a subject of rating to the relief of the poor.

In an 1813 newspaper report, we learn that whilst those rock houses had probably been there for a long time they were by no means safe and the newspaper article reported that

a melancholy accident happened at one of the rock houses – as Robert Watson with his family were partaking of breakfast the roof suddenly fell in and completely buried one of his children, about three years of age, it was dug out of the ruins dreadfully bruised and dead – the rest of the family escaped unhurt.

That child was their youngest daughter, Sarah. By 1841, Elizabeth Watson was widowed but remained in the family dwelling, after all, where else could she have gone?

1841 Census for the rock houses - Elizabeth Watson, widowed. Click to enlarge view
1841 Census for the rock houses – Elizabeth Watson, widowed. Click to enlarge view

By this time the small community numbered just under 100 people, many were stone masons, framework knitters and chimney sweeps. One of the main occupations prior to 1841 was that of besom maker (a broom made from twigs, tied with a stick), but by 1841 only two remained – John Cheesman and Joseph Freeman.

Illustrated London News 06 August 1910
Illustrated London News 06 August 1910

One of the framework knitters (an occupation we have looked at previously) was George Gilbert (1779-1853), who lived there with his wife Sarah and their grandson a John Day, aged 12, according to the 1841 census, their son had died in childhood and their daughter Roseanna had married the son of the neighbouring family, Robert, son of Robert and Elizabeth Watson who we mentioned earlier.

Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.
Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.

Sarah’s marriage to Robert took place at St Peter and St Paul church, Mansfield on March 1st, 1826, so, a long and happy life ahead of them, or so you might think, but this marriage was to be very short-lived.

At the end of August 1826, Robert Watson appears to have moved from Mansfield to Uppingham, Rutland, (with or without his new bride is unclear) at which time he was arrested for robbery along with a companion Henry Jones. It was alleged that they broke into the slaughter-house of a Mr Fludyer and stole a butcher’s frock, an apron and a piece of venison which was discovered wrapped in the frock. Both Robert and Henry were committed to trial at Oakham at the following session. GUILTY AS CHARGED.

Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.
Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.

Robert, a stonemason, was sentenced to transportation, despite petitions from his parents Robert and Elizabeth, of Mansfield, who stressed that he was of good character, from a large family and that he had never been in trouble before and how distressed the family would be if he were to be imprisoned.

The court was having none of it and Robert was sent to The York, a hulk or prison ship to await transportation, where he remained until April 1827 when he boarded The Marquis of Hastings and began the long voyage that was to take him to New South Wales where his sentence of seven years was to take place.  The convict register of New South Wales described Robert as 5 feet 9 inches, brown hair, ruddy complexion, grey eyes, missing one of his upper front teeth.

HMS York shown in Prison-ship in Portsmouth Harbour with the convicts going on board. Plate from Shipping and Craft by E W Cooke, 1829
HMS York is shown as a Prison-ship in Portsmouth Harbour with the convicts going on board. Plate from Shipping and Craft by E W Cooke, 1829

Quite how good his conduct was we may never know, but it can’t have exactly been exemplary, as six years into his sentence in 1833, he was sent to Norfolk Island, for life. This was however rescinded at the beginning of 1841 and he was given a Certificate of Freedom.

Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.
Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.

So, what of his new bride? Did she await his return? Well, it appears that Roseanna continued to live in one of the rock houses but wasted little time finding a replacement for Robert, clearly, she felt he would never return.

A little over two years after Robert’s departure Roseanna presented her first child for baptism, at the same church in which they had married, so clearly the child was not Robert’s son and no father was named in the register, a performance which she repeated virtually every two years until 1844, on each occasion Roseanna gave her address as Rock House, so she had obviously remained there after husband had been transported. At some stage, she took up with a John Day, as to whether he was the unnamed father of her children, who knows, but her eldest son, named John, was with his grandparents on census day in 1841.

People continued living in the rock houses until the turn of the century, they are now sadly derelict and overgrown – such an interesting piece of local social history, all but disappeared.

Sources

Nottingham Gazette, 18 June 1813.

Draft letter from the Poor Law Commission to Richard Goulding. MH 12/9360/63

The Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, Friday, September 01, 1826

New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Freedom, 1810-1814, 1827-1867

Featured Image

Rock Houses by A.S Buxton. With thanks to Mansfield Museum who hold the copyright.

The Arsenic Poisoner

Elizabeth Hinchcliff, aged 14, stood before the court at the Old Bailey, on September 19th, 1810, indicted, that, on August 16th, 1810 she administered a deadly poison, arsenic, with the intent of murdering her employer, Ann Parker, two children in her employer’s care, Christopher John Stanley and Samuel Smith.

The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.
The Old Bailey. Microcosm of London.

Ann Parker was a spinster living a quiet life at 14, Tavistock Row, in the heart of Covent Garden, she also ran a school and a shop which sold perfumes and medicines.

A Perspective View of Covent Garden. Courtesy of Yale Center British Art
A Perspective View of Covent Garden. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

According to Ann Parker, Elizabeth had been telling her for a couple of months that the lower part of the house was overrun with rats, so Elizabeth sent her off to Mr Midgley in the Strand to fetch some poison to deal with the situation.

Cries of London: buy a trap, a rat trap, buy my trap. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Cries of London: buy a trap, a rat trap, buy my trap. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

When Elizabeth returned Ann put the poison in the back locker of a large writing desk but did not lock it and sent Elizabeth off to make tea for her and the school children. Elizabeth returned with the tea and was then sent to buy some mortar to put over the rat-holes after the poison had been administered. Ann then prepared food for the children, poured her cup of tea which was left to cool during this time. When she finally came to drink it, it tasted normal whilst in her mouth, but as soon as she removed the cup she felt a sort of heat in her throat and exclaimed ‘there is pepper in this tea’.

 Taking an emetic. Courtesy of Wellcome Library
Taking an emetic. Courtesy of Wellcome Library

The children continued taking their tea as Ann became more unwell, with pain in her stomach, back and thighs. During this time two of the children were also taken ill. There was no sign of Elizabeth, Ann assumed she was still out buying the mortar and initially thought that Elizabeth had added pepper to the tea as a trick, but she checked that the poison had not been opened, just to be sure and convinced herself that it hadn’t. Elizabeth returned and was confronted by Ann and denied having tampered with the tea. Ann quickly put on her hat and pelisse and rushed to the chemist to ask how the poison had been packaged to make sure it had not been tampered with and en route she was violently sick. She was worried that both she and the children would die before she could get to the chemist.

Mr Midgley, the chemist was summoned to appear before the court to give his account of the packaging:

I am a chemist and druggist in the Strand. On the 16th of August, I received a note from Mrs Parker, the prisoner brought it; she says, I will be obliged to you to favour me with some more poison to kill the rats, as I am overrun. Upon which I put up a parcel of two ounces of arsenic. The prisoner requested to have more than the usual quantity, as they were dreadfully overrun. I put up two ounces in one parcel, that was all that she had; it was marked on the outside, poison, on the outer paper, and the inside paper, arsenic, poison.

He was asked how the package was tied and if it had been altered:

The knot was twisted when it was returned by Mrs Parker; it was tied in my usual way, a double knot, not twisted. When I arrived at Mrs Parker’s, the child Stanley was very sick. I tasted the tea, it had a strong metallic taste, I boiled some arsenic in the same herbs, which I bought of Mr Butler, the appearance of the tea is not altered by the infusion of arsenic.

Elizabeth was immediately found GUILTY of attempted murder and sentenced to death. It was asked that the court should show her mercy because of her age and her parents being honest people. The jury did take account of her age and her sentence was changed to transportation.

 

Elizabeth left England on May 9th, 1812 on board the convict ship, The Minstrel, which, accompanied by another convict ship, The Indefatigable, sailed via Rio de Janeiro to New South Wales, arriving almost four months later. We have no idea what her life would have been like on board, but certainly not an easy one, certainly according to ship records there were deaths during that passage.

A convict ship entering Sydney harbour. National Library of Australia.
A convict ship entering Sydney harbour. National Library of Australia.

The following year, on July 24th, 1813 Elizabeth was issued with a Ticket of Leave, but for some unknown reason, it was subsequently withdrawn, until it was reissued on January 6th, 1820.

Whatever the reason, Elizabeth remained in Australia and she obviously did find happiness though, as in April 1824 she received permission to marry fellow convict, George Greenhill, a young man, slightly younger than her.

South view of Sydney, New South Wales, 1819, taken from the Surry Hills [picture] / J.L. pinxt. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
South view of Sydney, New South Wales, 1819, taken from the Surry Hills / J.L. pinxt. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
George too had demonstrated good behaviour and had been appointed to the post of a police constable. He was described in the records as being five feet eight inches, with light brown hair and blue eyes. Sadly, we have no physical description of Elizabeth.  George had arrived onboard the Hadlow, having been sentenced to death for burglary, commuted to transportation, in 1818.

Liverpool, New South Wales [picture] / I. Lycett delt. et execute. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
Liverpool, New South Wales I. Lycett delt. et execute. Courtesy of National Library of Australia
The couple married at the recently opened St Luke’s church, Liverpool, on the outskirts of Sydney. The only other sighting of the couple was on the 1828 census when George’s occupation was that of a labourer and in 1829, George was issued with a Ticket of Leave, then in 1836, he was given a conditional discharge. Elizabeth remained in Australia with George until her death at aged 50, in 1846.

No record of the couple having had any children remains, so we can only assume that there were none. Shortly after her death George, who had become an upstanding member of the community, remarried and lived out his days in Sydney.

Sources used

Old Bailey Online

Convict registers for Australia

Featured Image

A woman suffering the pain of colic. Etching after G Cruikshank. Courtesy of the Wellcome Library

 

Guest author : Naomi Clifford – The Story of Rebecca Hodges

Today we return from our summer break and are delighted to welcome back to ‘All Things Georgian’ one of our previous guest authors, Naomi Clifford, author of the true life Regency mystery, The Disappearance of Maria Glenn.

616ASr+2WoL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_Naomi is presently researching women who went to the gallows in the late Georgian period for her next book. During her research she came across the story of Rebecca Hodges, so we will have you over to Naomi to tell more.

The Georgian justice system, inconsistent, brutal and stacked against the defendant as it was, still had room to accommodate those whose actions were beyond their own control. During my research into the women who were hanged in England and Wales in the late Georgian era, I came across a case which would now probably be prosecuted as stalking.

In 1818 Rebecca Hodges was indicted for setting fire to hayricks at Ward End near Aston and appeared before Judge Garrow at the Warwick Shire Hall. It was a notable case, not because rural arson was especially unusual but because of the long and disturbing history between the accused, Rebecca Hodges, a servant, and Samuel Birch, her former employer.

B1975.3.1044
A Farmhouse, by William Henry Hunt, courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

One Saturday in 1802, Rebecca left Birch’s farmhouse to fetch water. On her return on Monday, Birch dismissed her for being absent without permission. She decided that she would exact revenge. Over the next seven years, unrecognised because she dressed in men’s clothes, she followed him. On 27 February 1809, having bought a horse pistol and moulded her own bullets (she pressed lead with her fingers), again dressed as a man, she travelled to Ward End, on the way encountering a young lad at the turnpike house of whom she asked several questions about Birch, including whether he had gone to market and what horse he rode. Then she stalked Birch around his farm, hiding in an outbuilding until the moment was right. At around ten o’clock in the evening, she, peered through the kitchen window to check that Birch’s housekeeper and niece Sarah Bradbury had gone up to bed, lifted the latch of his farmhouse, crept up behind him as he slept in a chair and shot him twice, one of the bullets lodging in his head.

Birch did not at first realise that he had been wounded, but his niece and housekeeper Sarah Bradbury, alerted by the gunshot, came downstairs and saw that his head was ‘all over blood’. Mr Vickers, a surgeon in Birmingham, was fetched. He trepanned Birch’s skull and retrieved the bullet. The patient survived but suffered lifelong effects.

103293
Courtesy of the National Army Museum

Still dressed in male attire and carrying the loaded pistol, Rebecca was arrested in Birmingham, probably for showing some sort of erratic behaviour, and taken to Birmingham Gaol: William Payn, the gaoler, said later that he thought she had ‘broken out of a place of confinement’. He offered to send for her relatives in order to get her properly cared for, but she said it would be no use as she would just be arrested again.

‘For what?’ asked Payn.

‘For shooting a man,’ she replied.

In the courtyard she walked obsessively in a figure of eight and hung her head.

Later, once the connection between her confession and Mr Birch was known, she was brought to the Birmingham police office where she encountered Mr Vickers, the surgeon who had treated Birch. She said, ‘He [Samuel Birch] is not dead, I hope?,’ and when asked whether Birch had ever ill-treated her, replied, ‘No, never.’ She claimed that they had had a romantic relationship and, although she liked Birch very much.

Sir John Bayley, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery by William Holl Sr, after William Russell, stipple engraving, (circa 1808)

Rebecca was tried in front of Judge Bayley. It was clear that she had committed the deed and that there had been a large degree of planning, but the question was whether she was in her right mind. Francis Woodcock, a magistrate living in Worcestershire, told the court that she had lived in his household for three years and had shown symptoms of insanity, talking to herself, going missing, dancing alone in barns and fields and picking up sticks in one place and laying them down in another. He said she was ‘virtuous but harmless’. Her sister also gave evidence, describing her walking without shoes or wearing only one of them, going out with few clothes on and on one occasion trying to hang herself. Justice Bayley thought that she was not in her right mind and told the jury that if they had any doubt they should acquit her, which they did. She was ordered to be incarcerated in Warwick Gaol as a criminal lunatic. In 1816 she was transferred to Bethlehem Hospital in London, where after fourteen months she was discharged, the doctors there declaring her perfectly healthy.

Bethlem Hosptial at St George's Fields 1828

After Rebecca returned to Birmingham in early 1818 she lived a hand-to-mouth existence of casual employment, possibly combined with part-time prostitution. She often got drunk and was locked out of her lodgings. One constant was her resentment of Birch and after writing letters to him, pleading and threatening by turn, she once more travelled to the farm at Ward End intent on revenge. This time she fire to his haystacks, another capital offence.

Tennant, John F.; Loading the Hay Wagon; Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/loading-the-hay-wagon-18819
Tennant, John F.; Loading the Hay Wagon; Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

She was soon arrested and the circumstantial evidence against her was overwhelming. Witnesses spoke of a woman wearing a long dark cloak and bonnet; similar clothes were found in her lodgings. A linen draper, called as an expert witness, confirmed that a section of purple spotted scarf found near the fire matched one in her possession. A tinder box that had been discarded on the road contained small pieces of cotton resembling the material of one of her gowns.

Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held in the Harvard Law Library

During the trial Rebecca loudly and repeatedly berated and insulted the witnesses, each time Garrow patiently exhorting her to wait until it was her turn to question them. But despite his instruction to the jury to ‘keep in mind… the dreadful punishment that must necessarily follow a conviction’ they did not even pretend to discuss her possible innocence and within three minutes delivered a guilty verdict. While Rebecca screamed for mercy (‘My Lord, have mercy upon me! … Oh spare my life! Only spare my life, my Lord! I’m innocent! I’m innocent!’) the judge sentenced her to death and warned her not to entertain hopes of a respite.

In law there were four kinds of insanity: perpetual infirmity of mind from birth; the result of sickness, grief or other accident; intermittent (classed as insanity when it manifested and at times of lucidity not so); and a state arising from ‘vicious acts’ such as drunkenness. Rebecca Hodges’ gun attack on Mr Birch may have had been planned well in advance but her erratic behaviour before this  showed that she was not in her right mind and was enough to persuade the judge.

e008299403-v6
Courtesy of the Library and Archives, Canada

Rebecca did not go to the gallows. She was respited and her sentence commuted. In 1819 she was transported for life on board the Lord Wellington in the company of two other Warwickshire women, Elizabeth and Rebecca Bamford, who had themselves narrowly avoided execution. They had been deeply involved in the family business of forgery and uttering and their sixty-year-old mother, Ann Bamford, had been hanged the previous year.

Rebecca Hodges Transportation record
Rebecca’s transportation record

In Australia, Rebecca continued to cause concern. She was first placed in the factory at Parmatta, later sent out to work as a domestic servant. Her propensity to go missing landed her in trouble in 1824 and she was punished with another spell at Parmatta. She was described in 1827 as ‘incompetent to any kind of work’. In 1838 she was granted a conditional pardon. Her date of death is unknown.

Sources:

Bury and Norfolk Post, 8 March 180; Northampton Mercury, 25 April 1818.

Willis, W., An Essay on the Rationale of Circumstantial Evidence (1838). London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green and Longmans.

On Insanity: Mr Amos’s Lecture on Medical Jurisprudence. London Medical Gazette, 2 July 1831.

Unknown (1818). Trial of Rebecca Hodges. Warwick: S. Sharp.

A new life in Australia for prisoner Sarah Bird (1763-1842)

Convicts_in_New_Holland
Drawing of convicts in New Holland, 1793

In light of the controversy surrounding the television programme ‘Banished‘  I decided to share this letter that I came across in the Chester Courant 13 November 1798.

It is a fascinating letter from a daughter to her father after she was transported to Botany Bay and gives an insight into life in Australia from a female perspective, and shows how incredibly astute she was in her determination to succeed as a businesswoman.

Sarah seems totally undaunted by the fact that she has been sent thousands of miles away from home without a man to support her. She may well have had someone, possibly an officer keeping a watchful eye over her and possibly writing her letter for her, but there is no indication of that in the letter.

Would she have had the same opportunity had she remained in England? possibly not. Draw your own conclusions from her letter. If she wrote the letter herself then it would imply that she was from a good family and reasonably well educated, which begs the question as to why she should have stolen.

The letter is simply signed SB . . .

I take the first opportunity of informing you of my safe arrival in this remote quarter of the world, after a pretty good passage of six months. Since my arrival I have purchased a house, for which I gave 20 shillings and the following articles, three turkies at 15 shilling each, three sucking pigs at 10 shillings, a pair of pigeons at 8 shillings, a yard dog, also two Muscovy ducks at 10 shillings each, three English ducks at 5 shilling, a goat, five guineas, six geese at 15 shilling each.

I have got a large garden to the house and a licence. The sign is the ‘Three Jolly Settlers’. I have met with tolerable good success in the public line. I did a little trade in the passage in a number of small articles such as sugar, tea, tobacco, thread, snuff, needles and everything I could get anything by. The needles are a shilling a paper here and fine thread is sixpence a skein.

I have sold my petticoats at two guineas each and my long black cloak at ten guineas which shows that black silk sells well here; the edging that I gave 1 shilling and eight pence per yard in England I got 5 shillings for it here.  I have sold all the worst of my cloaths as wearing apparel bring a good price.

I bought a roll of tobacco at Rio Janeiro at 54lb weight, which cost me 20 shillings which I was cheated out of: I could have got 12 shillings a pound for it here. I likewise bought a cwt of sugar there and also many other articles. Rum sells for 1 shilling and sixpence per gallon there, and here at times 2 shillings.

Any person coming from England with a few hundred pounds laid out at any of the ports that shipping touch at coming here are liable to make a fortune. Shoes that cost 4 or 5 shillings a pair in England, will bring from 10 to 15 shillings here.

On our passage here we buried only two women and two children; the climate is very healthful and likewise very fertile as there are two crops a year of almost everything; and I really believe with the assistance of god, by the time I have paid the forfeit, according to the laws of my country, I shall acquire a little money to return home with, which I have not the smallest doubt of, and to be a comfort to you at the latter end of your days.

Any person that should have a mind to come here as a settler, by applying at the Secretary of States office, may have free passage and likewise two men and a farm here, which is great encouragement.

I should be very glad to hear from you at the first opportunity. I live by myself, and did not do as the rest of the women did on the passage, which was, every one of them that could, had a husband. I shall conclude with giving my kind love to my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, so am dear father, your ever dutiful, loving and affectionate daughter, till death. SB

The Costumes of the Australasians watercolour by Edward Charles Close
The Costumes of the Australasians: watercolour by Edward Charles Close

Okay, so I was hooked, a fascinating letter but who was SB . . . well, the answer was Sarah Bird.

She was the daughter of Thomas Bird and his wife Anne and was baptised on 24th April 1763 at Nutfield, Surrey and had at least 3 brothers and 3 sisters according to the baptism records.

I found a burial for one of her siblings, Amy who died in 1767; unfortunately, the writing on the gravestone is extremely badly worn away now, but both parents are named on the stone so obviously, Thomas and Anne were able to provide a stone for their daughter.

http://www.gravestonephotos.com/public/gravephoto.php?grave=290668&requestee=42036&scrwidth=1300 Courtesy of Charles Sale

She was convicted of stealing a handkerchief at Middlesex and was sentenced on the 19th of July 1794 to transportation for 7 years.  The court records described her as being aged 26, height 4 feet 6 inches, dark hair, grey eyes and according to the Oracle and Public Advertiser of 11th July 1794 her actual crime was that of stealing 4 handkerchiefs, a cotton curtain and a tablecloth, property of her employer William Bryan, an attorney of  George Street, Westminster.

Sarah’s name appears on the record on the ship The Indispensable, on her maiden voyage as a convict ship carrying 133 female prisoners, under the command of Captain William Wilkinson. The ship left Portsmouth in November 1795.

Botany Bay by Charles Gore, c.1798
Botany Bay by Charles Gore, c.1798

We know from the ship’s route and from Sarah’s letter that it called at Rio de Janeiro for provisions en route and that the ship lost  2 prisoners during the journey.

On arriving, Sarah, as she states in her letter, set up her own business and was the first woman in New South Wales to hold a liquor licence. It appears that despite the predicament she found herself in she was determined to make a good life for herself whilst there but retained plans to return to her father and family in England.

However, it seems that this plan to return home after her 7 years sentence was over didn’t happen as she became involved with a most unpleasant man, John Morris:

In January convict John Morris stabbed the gaoler before escaping from the gaol, to run home and cut the throat of his partner, Sarah Bird, from ear to ear. He was quickly recaptured, Sarah Bird and the gaoler survived their injuries. However, in March, Morris was tried, found guilty of attempted murder, and sentenced to hang. On reviewing the evidence placed before the court, Foveaux requested that the Judge Advocate carry out another investigation, paying attention to the personal involvement of Captain Wilson in the abuse Morris received on the day of his recapture. It was confirmed that Wilson had ordered that Morris’ head be shaved; on the way to the triangle, Wilson had repeatedly beaten the prisoner with a metal tipped stick until his body was welted, before the flagellator was called upon to administer 100 lashes. After the flogging, Captain Wilson directed that salt water be thrown over the lacerated prisoner, and then commenced to beat him again with his stick until Morris was double ironed using hot rivets that burnt his skin.
Foveaux declared that Morris had already received excessive corporal punishment and that the capital sentence was unwarranted. The trial verdict was therefore suspended pending further directions from England. Foveaux forwarded a copy of the evidence and advised Lord Hobart that as:
. . . much doubt has arisen in my mind concerning the propriety of putting the sentence of the court into execution, and as I conceive several other unjustifiable modes of punishment were exercised on the person of this wretched man, by throwing salt water over his back after having been flogged, his having been beaten with a stick by Captain Wilson in person and subsequent thereto, and as an additional torture irons were fastened on him with hot rivets, by which the unhappy culprit’s legs were burned. I have therefore judged it most expedient to suspend the execution of the sentence and to submit the merits of the case to His Majesty.

An article in the Sydney Gazette of 1804 said that Sarah had been in her bed when Morris ran into the house they had shared and, with his knife, he had slashed her across her throat from ear to ear.

She tried to fight him off, receiving a wound in her left arm, extending downwards in an oblique direction across her wrist, cutting through sinew, all the while shrieking for help.

Prior to this event, which led to John being sentenced to 30 years hard labour, the couple produced two daughters, Sarah & Ann(1802 – 1842). Ann followed in her mother’s footsteps as a businesswoman and became a newspaper proprietor.

So, despite the letter home to her father, Sarah remained in Australia and established herself as a successful businesswoman until her death in Sydney, in 1842 aged 79 which ties in perfectly with the baptism we found for her.

Black-eyed Sue and sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany Bay
Black-eyed Sue and Sweet Poll of Plymouth taking leave of their lovers who are going to Botany Bay, Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Header image

A View of Sydney Cove, New South Wales, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

 Sources used:

Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History

The Trial of the Twenty One

Old Bailey online

New South Wales State Archives and Records

Ann Howe, Australian Dictionary of Biography

Ann Howe, Wikipedia