The Convicts

Convict Connections - Chapter 2


Although some were political prisoners of a higher social standing (for example, the artisans who became the 'Tolpuddle martyrs'), and some were Irish rebels, most of those who were transported were poor urban and rural labourers who had committed felonies. More transportees came from cities than from the countryside.

The most common trades were 'farm workers' (20%) and 'laborers' (19%). Three-quarters of transportees were single, and their average age was 26. Seven times more men than women were transported.

Please note: The online exhibitions are best viewed on desktop PC or laptop. Some images have been removed for mobile and tablet devices.

Image: 'The bone grubber', from Henry Mayhew's 1851 publication 'London Labour and the London Poor'. This book was the result of Mayhew's journalistic investigations and brought to popular attention the plight of some of the poorest in the world's largest city. 'Bone grubbers' searched through rubbish for anything of value - bones, metals, rags - that they could sell on. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

What crimes had the convicts committed?

The British penal code of the 18th and 19th century was skewed in particular towards defending the propertied classes, and most of the crimes for which people were transported were against property. Around eighty percent of transportees were thieves. Some criminals were transported for crimes we would consider minor today. Many of the crimes for which we see people transported in the quarter sessions records involve theft of clothing.

The fact that the many of the sentences of transportation appear harsh in retrospect does not mean that transportees were innocent people - for example, sixty percent of men who were transported had previous convictions. Nevertheless, the majority of transportees were from the laboring classes, those at the sharp end of the social and economic transformations associated with the transition to an industrial, urban society.


A shortage in the colonies

Male transportees outnumbered females seven to one over the period of transportation. This led to a shortage of women in the new colony, and sometimes the authorities requested more female convicts. The first governor of the new colony, Arthur Philips, requested that female convicts be sent because he wanted freed prisoners to marry and bring up families, so making the colony viable. After a few years, reports began to circulate about a prevalence of homosexuality in the colony, which made the authorities anxious.

Over 80% of female transportees were sentenced for theft, and sentences of more than seven years were very rare. Contrary to myth, no women were transported for prostitution, which was not a transportable crime.

1 of 4. Slide to find out more.

Vulnerable but not victims

Convict women could be vulnerable to sexual predation in the colony. But we should not see female convicts as simply victims or their contribution only in terms of reproduction. Women were skilled at tasks which were vital to the development of the colony, including spinning and making textiles, cooking and domestic work. Female convicts were particularly prized as domestic servants. Nor should we underemphasize the vital importance of women's unpaid work nurturing the next generation of colonials.

2 of 4. Slide to find out more

Employment of Workhouse

Those female transportees who were neither employed on farms, in the homes of freed convicts, nor married to free settlers were put to work in the Female Factory in Paramatta, where they spun yarn from wool. This factory was a squalid gaol, and the work was tedious, though was seen by some female convicts as preferable to alternative placements; at least in the Female Factory they had the company of other women.

Female convicts who had money or could prove that they had a good education were more lucky, and might be given a ticket of leave when arriving in the country.

3 of 4. Slide to find out more.


Although punishments in the Female Factory in Paramatta, and at a similar institution in Hobart, were not as severe as for male convicts, they were cruel nevertheless. Women might be forced to work a treadmill for many hours, or their hair cut off as a punishment for misbehavior. This latter punishment was a form of symbolic violence imported from Britain as a means of punishment without inflicting pain, and was much resented by the convicts. Women did not always accept such punishments passively, and there were instances of rebellion.

4 or 4. Slide to find out more.

Download an image of the list of female convicts aboard the Friendship, one of the convict transports on the First Fleet. Image from the collections of the State Library of NSW. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Download female convicts list

Image: Augustus Earle, 'Female penitentiary, or factory, Parramata', c. 1829. From the National Library of Australia (via Wikimedia Commons).

Image: Criminal gangs of London were famously represented by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist (1837-9). 'Dodger introduces Oliver to Fagin' by George Cruikshank. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

A criminal class

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many people thought that criminals were a specific class, a subsection of wider society. This belief was bolstered by the perception that criminals operated in gangs - it was thought that criminals were naturally drawn together because they shared degenerate tendencies, and that by associating in gangs, their natural criminality was reinforced and amplified. Some historians have seen in the massive scale of penal transportation - which was in practice usually a one-way journey - a concerted attempt on the part of the British ruling classes to remove this criminal class entirely.

The convicts in this exhibition

All of the convicts we feature in this exhibition were transported for theft. Most had a criminal record predating their sentence of transportation.

William Dring

At the October Hull quarter sessions in October 1784 William Dring was sentenced to transportation for seven years for his part in a theft [1]. William went to Australia in the First Fleet, aboard the convict ship the Alexander, (which had, coincidentally, been built in Hull) [2]. William may have been born in South Shields, Yorkshire, on the 28th of December 1767, son of William and Elizabeth [3]. However, it seems that the Drings were from the East Yorkshire town of Hedon, and this is where William was living at the time of the crime. William's Great Grandfather Francis Dring was a shoemaker in the town; his Grandfather Thomas was a weaver and later owned the New Sun Inn, from where his father ran the customs office and worked as 'Tideswaiter'; some of William's relatives were mayors of the town[4]. At the age of 16, William worked as a 'Tidesman' in Hedon, boarding boats to collect excise [3]. William's prowess with boats was to prove useful during his life in the penal colony [5].

The Hull Quarter Sessions indicted William Dring along with Joseph Robinson and John Hastings for the crime of stealing 'six glass bottles filled with brandy, three Blue and White Shirts, two pair of Trowsers one pair of Red Leather Boots and several other things of the value of ten pence of the Goods and Chattels of Joseph Mitchinson'. Among these 'other things' were books - 'The Seaman's Complete Daily Assistant' by John Hamilton-Moor, 'Complete Treatise of Practical Navigation,' by Archibald Patoun along with two other books. The three men were also indicted on a separate charge of taking 'two Jackets one pair of Draweres one pair of Trowsers and one Knife of the Value of Tenpence of the Goods and Chattels of Morris Wall'. William and Robinson pleaded guilty. The pair were convicted of petty larceny and sentenced to seven years of transportation, whereas John Hastings pleaded not guilty, and may have been acquitted [6][7].

An appeal for clemency was written by the Member of Parliament for Hedon, William Chaytor, to the Home Secretary Lord Sydney, claiming that William's crimes were undertaken 'on the persuasion of two other sailors who had escaped' [8]. A letter from Sir Henry Etherington, the recorder at the Hull quarter sessions, responded to this appeal for clemency by laying out the details of the crime and advising the Home Secretary against mercy:

'At the General Quarter Sessions of the peace held here the 7th day of October 1784, Wm Dring…and Joseph Robinson were convicted upon two bills of indictment of stealing several articles of wearing apparel and several bottles of Brandy the property of Joseph Mitchinson and Morris Wall, two mariners belonging this town, and were sentenced to be transported for seven years. It appears from the information taken before the magistrate who committed the above offenders, that they stole the said goods together with several other articles of wearing apparel the property of Jas Walker and Thomas Topping two other mariners (but who did not prefer indictment against them) from aboard a ship which lay in the haven of this town. From what I have been able to collect respecting the said William Dring, he appears to have been a person of General bad Character' [9].'

After being sentenced on 7 October 1784, William was kept in Hull Gaol, before arriving in April 1785 on the prison hulk Ceres, moored at Woolwich in the Thames [6] [10]. In January 1787, William was delivered onto the Alexander, the Hull-built ship which was to transport him over 15,000 miles to Australia as part of the First Fleet [6]. (William's partner in crime, Joseph Robinson, was also transported aboard the Alexander.) The Fleet spent some months moored up whilst preparations were made for the voyage; when a typhus outbreak killed eleven prisoners aboard the overcrowded Alexander in March, the survivors were taken ashore so that the ship could be cleaned and smoked. [11]. The fleet finally set sail on May 12, 1787, by which time sixteen of the Alexander's prisoners had already died. Conditions aboard the Alexander were cramped and unhealthy in the extreme, and fifteen passengers died during the voyage (the highest number of any ship in the First Fleet) [12]. During the voyage, a plot was formed between the prisoners and some of the sailors to take the Alexander. The convicts had been furnished by the seamen with an iron crowbar and other items to help them mount an attack in order to escape at the Cape. However, the crew learned about the attack from an informer and John Powers the ringleader was transferred to the Scarborough [13].

William survived the voyage and began his new life as a convict inhabitant of Britain's first colony in Australia, landing at Botany Bay in January 1788.

The new colony in which the convicts were to live was established a few miles up the coast from Botany Bay, in a natural harbour that Captain Phillip called Sydney Cove. William's life in the convict colony was eventful. He was one of a number of prisoners sent to Norfolk Island in October 1788. Captain (now Governor) Phillip hoped to establish a British colony on Norfolk Island, over 1000 miles from Sydney because it was thought that the hemp and pine trees growing on this island could be used to make sails and masts for British naval and merchant shipping. William appears in the records of Norfolk Island several times as a result of troublesome behaviour [6]. He received three dozen lashes for leaving the settlement without permission on 11 May 1789, and on 22 March 1790, he volunteered along with another prisoner, James Branagan, to swim to the wreck of the First Fleet flagship Sirius, which had hit a reef off Norfolk island in one of its journeys between the island and Sydney, in order to rescue some of the stores and provisions on board. William and Branagan opened one of the rum barrels they found on the ship and became drunk, eventually lighting a fire which got out of control and destroyed the Sirius. William and his companion were punished by the marines who guarded the convicts by being put in irons. On 15 May 1791, along with Charles McLaughlin and Henry Barnet he was sent to the nearby Nepean Island for three weeks for theft of potatoes from gardens; the prisoners were left in irons and provided with two weeks rations to last them for six weeks[6]. According to Captain Clark of the New South Wales Corps, Dring was 'the greatest rascal living' [14].

However, by the end of 1792, Dring had become a more respectable member of the Norfolk Island community. He cultivated grain on a small plot that had been allotted to him and sold this back to the colony. Dring was able to sign the receipt for this transaction, demonstrating his literacy. He became a freeman in 1793, and in 1794 apparently earned the respect of Governor King who wrote that he 'has been employed, from the time I first came to Norfolk Island, as a Cockswain, and having the care of the Boats, a very useful man, & is of the greatest service' [6].

Dring married a fellow transportee, Ann Forbes, in November 1791, and the couple had a daughter, Ann, by the beginning of 1792 [14]. William's troubles were not over, however. By 1791, the New South Wales Corps, also known as the 'Botany Bay Rangers', were keeping guard over the colony.

These soldiers were unruly and acted as de-facto rulers of the colony, with the governors of both Sydney and Norfolk Island often unable to restrain them [11]. Botany Bay Rangers would often attempt to seduce the wives of freed convicts; William's wife, Ann, was frequently found in the company of one of these soldiers, Charles Windsor and at Christmas 1793, William beat Windsor, and also hit Ann. William was given a fine of twenty shillings, but Windsor's fellow Botany Bay Rangers believed that he should have been flogged. They marched to William's farm in order to burn his corn. The governor of Norfolk Island, Philip King, had Windsor arrested; in revenge, the soldiers severely beat William with bludgeons. Governor King came down with severity on William's assailants; he gave one attacker 100 lashes, and ordered another, Sergeant Downey, to make William a gift of a barrel of rum. This incident was important in the history of the early colony, since it led to an attempted mutiny on the part of the soldiers (led by Sergeant Downey and Charles Windsor among others) against King's governorship, which King was only able to put down with the help of a militia recruited from the freed convicts. When news of this incident reached Governor Grose in Sydney, he was angry that King had allowed ex-convicts to act against the soldiers, and issued a declaration essentially stating that the New South Wales Corps were above the civil law of the new colonies [11].

William Dring and his wife Ann returned to Sydney Cove with their two children Ann and Elizabeth in 1794. Another child, Charles, was born in Sydney in 1796. There is no further information about Dring after this point, although by 1798 his wife Ann was now with another man, suggesting that either their marriage had broken down, William had left the colony to go to sea or he had returned to England [6].


  1. National Archives, 'Judges reports on criminals', HO47/5/73.
  2. University of Hull, 'Far Horizons' website (accessed 16 November 2015).
  3. Lynne MacDonald writing on 'Wikitree' website, (accessed 16 November 2015)
  4. Lynne MacDonald, 26 April 20, and Cllr John P Dennis, April 24 2015, writing in the 'Hedon Blog', (accessed 16 November 2015).
  5. Journal entry by 'janilye' on Familytreecircles website, (accessed 16 November 2015).
  6. Steve Liversidge, Dring Family research, (accessed 17 November 2015, no longer live);
  7. National Archives, HO 10/7, folio 9;
  8. Letter requesting clemency written by William Chaytor, Member of Parliament for Hedon, Hull History Centre Archives CQB/6/52b.
  9. National archives HO47/5/73 - Letter from Etherington to Home Secretary (Lord Sydney), dated March 29 1796.
  10. National Archives series HO13 'prison registers' - Letter to the Sheriff of Hull asking that the prisoners William Dring, Joseph Robinson and Rob Nettleton be delivered to the hulk Ceres - copy accessed on
  11. Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore. A History of the Transportation of Convicts to Australia, 1787-1868 (Vintage: London, 2003).
  12. Wikipedia, Alexander (1783 ship), (accessed 17 November 2015).
  13. Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships, (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1983), p. 109.
  14. Lynne MacDonald writing on Fellowshipfirstfleeters website, (accessed 17 November 2015).

Charles Drewery

Charles Drewery (sometimes spelt 'Drury') was a young man from Hull transported to Tasmania in 1822 for stealing two pairs of trousers. However, like many of those transported, he had previous convictions. In 1819 Charles was committed to Hull New Gaol by Thomas Carrick Esquire, Mayor, for the crime of 'assault and ill-treating Eliz. Drury his mother' [1]. It seems he was released from the gaol at the January 1820 Quarter Sessions, at which point his age was 19 [2][3]. Charles, now recorded as 'aged 21 years', again came before the Quarter Sessions in January 1821. This time he was accused alongside William Wallis of stealing unvalued goods belonging to William Read [4]. It was at the Michaelmas quarter sessions held on 18 October 1821, that the assembled justices of the peace (including Charles Whitaker Esq, Mayor of the town, Daniel Sykes, recorder, and other aldermen of Hull) sentenced Charles (listed as aged 21) to be 'transported for seven years' for what was apparently his third offence within two years, the stealing of two pairs of trousers from James Hatfield [5].

A petition was sent to the Home Secretary on the behalf of his mother, Elizabeth, asking for clemency for Charles, on the grounds that his she was 'a poor widow, aged 60 of a weak constitution who is greatly distressed in mind'; the petition asked that instead of being sent to New South Wales, Charles be sent into the penitentiary, and that Charles 'is truly penitent and will use every means to lead a good and moral life'. The petition was also signed by James Hatfield, the man from whom Charles stole trousers, and was considered by Lord Sidmouth on 5 December 1821. It was turned down. This document gives Charles' occupation as 'mariner' [6].

Charles was first sent to the prison hulk Justitia, at Woolwich on the Thames. The prison registers for the hulk Justitia record that Charles was of 'very bad character' [7]. Charles was one of 136 convicts who set sail for Van Diemen's Land (present day Tasmania) aboard the convict ship Prince of Orange on 1 April 1822, arriving there on 23 July [8]. The surgeon onboard this ship was John Crockett, and his journal for the voyage exists in the National Archives [8]. In the New South Wales convict ship muster rolls, Charles is reported as being five feet eight and a quarter inches tall, with grey eyes and light brown hair, and his trade is given as 'sailor' [8].

In Tasmania, Charles was employed by a J.L Roberts in 1823, and was assigned to 'public work' in 1826 [9].

Charles may well be the Charles Drury who the Launceston Advertiser reported was in gaol for debt on 9 October 1834:

'In the matter of Charles Drury, a prisoner confined for debt in His Majesty's Gaol at Hobart Town. Notice is hereby given, that the above named Prisoner did on the 26th day of September last, present his petition to the Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land, praying for relief, pursuant to the provisions of an Act entitled 'an Act for the relief of Insolvent Debtors, now in custody for debt'.'


  1. Hull History Centre, Business for the Epiphany Sessions 1820, C CQB/107/35.
  2. Hull History Centre, Calendar of all felon prisoners now held in his Majesty's gaol', 13 January 1820, C CQB/107/35.
  3. Hull History Centre, list of sentences from 13 January 1820 Quarter Sessions, C CQB/107/4.
  4. Hull History Centre, Quarter Sessions records January 1821, C CQB 111/7.
  5. Hull History Centre, Quarter Sessions records from Michaelmas (October) 1821, C CQB 114/4; C CQB 114/15.
  6. National Archives, Criminal petitions, HO 17/53/47.
  7. National Archives, index to register of prisoners on Justitia, HO9/5.
  8. National Archives, ships surgeons' records ADM 101/60/9.
  9. Australia convict musters 1806-49, National Archives HO10.

John Wells

John Wells was tried in the Hull quarter sessions on July 14 1825 [1]. He was found guilty of stealing four pounds of mustard from shop of George Consitt of Hull, and sentenced to seven years' transportation. He appealed this sentence unsuccessfully, asking for clemency on the grounds that 'he was led astray by bad company after the death of his father' [2], [5]. After sentencing, he was held in Hull Gaol before being taken to the hulk Justitia on 9 September 1825 [2], [5]. The records for the Justitia state that John was aged 16 and was born c.1809.

John was transported to New South Wales aboard the ship England on 28 April 1826. The medical journals for this ship survive in the Admiralty records in the National Archives, and includes phrenological reports [3]. Phrenology was a pseudo-science which posited that a person's character and intelligence could be calculated by making measurements of their skull. The England was visited by a phrenologist Mr Deville, who examined all of the 148 convicts heads and wrote reports outlining the suggested character of each [3], [4]. The ship's surgeon's journal also records that John Wells was one of several prisoners punished on 18 May for theft and giving false evidence - he was 'to receive 48 strokes over his bare breech with a leathern thong' [4]. John Wells was a conspirator in a foiled convict plan to mutiny and take control of the ship, in order to sail it to South America [4].

The England arrived at Sydney Cove on 18 September 1826. Convict records state that John's native place was 'Edinboro', presumably Edinburgh [6]. The same records state that he could not read, was 5'3'' tall with a ruddy, freckled complexion and grey to blue eyes [6].


  1. East Yorkshire Local History Society, Transportation From Hull and The East Riding to America and Australia, taken from the Quarter Session Records (Hull, 1984)
  2. National Archives, criminal petitions, HO 17/25/144
  3. National Archives, Admiralty Records, medical journal of the England, convict ship, for 18 March to 29 September 1826, ADM 101/26/1.
  4. 'Free settler or felon?' website, (accessed 18 November 2015).
  5. National Archives, UK prison hulk registers and letter book, 1802-1849, HO9/4.
  6. New South Wales Convict Indents, 1788-1842, accessed on

Luke Dales

Luke Dales was sentenced to transportation at the East Riding quarter sessions on 31 December 1844. His prison guards estimated his birthdate as 1823 [1], and so he may well be the Luke Dales who was listed in the 1841 census as being an agricultural labourer, aged 15, living on a farm in Thornholme in the parish of Burton Agnes (ages on the census were often rounded up and down to nearest five). [2] The census lists this Luke as born in the East Riding of Yorkshire. On the night of the census he was living with four other agricultural labourers (ages given as 20, 15, 15, 13) and two 'f.s.' - presumably farm servants, in a household whose head was John Etherington, a farmer.

By the time he was sentenced to transportation, Luke Dales had at least one previous conviction at the hands of the East Riding justices. Earlier in 1844, at the Easter quarter sessions, he was sentenced to two months of hard labour in the house of correction for stealing one top coat at the value of five shillings, and one hat of the value of two pence and a pair of leggings of the value of two pence of the Goods and Chattels of one Henry Parker' [3]. In the records from these Sessions, Luke is referred to as 'late of the township of South Cave' and as a 'labourer'.

At the midsummer East Riding quarter sessions held on 2 July 1844, Luke Dales, now described as 'of the township of Bentley' was found guilty of stealing a smock frock of the value of one shilling from Joseph Hildred, and again confined to the House of Correction for two months [4].

The crime for which Luke received his sentence of transportation was tried before the Epiphany East Riding quarter sessions 1845, (actually held on 31 December 1844). In these sessions, Luke was listed as living in the parish of Leconfield. Justice Leeman sentenced him to 'be transported beyond the seas for a term of seven years' for stealing a top coat (valued at five shillings), from George Arnold [5].

The case was reported in the Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette on 3 January 1845:

Luke Dales (21) was charged with stealing at Leckonfield Parks, on 10 December, a great-coat, the property of George Arnott. Mr. Liddell was for the prosecution. The Prosecutor was a servant to Mr Almack, of Leconfield Park, and on 10 December left his top coat in the stable. The prisoner had pledged it at a pawnbroker's in Beverley. Guilty; and having been previously convicted, the court sentenced the prisoner to be transported for seven years.

Luke's age (20-21), his geographical mobility and designation as 'labourer' suggest that Luke was a yearly hired farm lad, changing his place of employment every year for a different farm - this was a usual form of employment for young East Riding men at this time.).

Following his conviction, Luke would have been kept briefly in either the borough gaol in Beverley, adjacent to the Guildhall, or in the East Riding prison which was part of the house of correction complex in the town [6].

Soon after the conviction, in March 1845, Luke was taken to the hulk Warrior, which was moored on the Thames. Records from the hulk give more details about Luke. He is listed as being age 21 when received onboard, and his birthdate given as 'abt 1823' [7]. He is described as 'single', and his literacy noted as 'imp' (presumably short for 'imperfect', since other prisoners are noted as either 'read' 'neither' 'both'); it is also noted that he had been sentenced for a second conviction and that he was 'supposed to have lived partly by depredation abt 2 years'. The entry finishes stating 'Connections bad' [8].

It is not clear how long Luke spent on the Warrior, but at some point, he was transported to Bermuda. The British had established a convict colony in Bermuda for the purposes of building a Royal Navy dockyard, and strong and healthy convicts were picked to spend some or all of their sentence here before returning home or being moved on to New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land. We know that Luke was here, since he was recorded as one of 204 male convicts loaded onto the ship Bangalore, which sailed from Bermuda for Van Diemen's Land on 28 March 1848 [9]. The ship travelled via China and arrived and arrived at Hobart, Van Diemen's Land on 14 July 1848 [10].

Luke was given a ticket of leave on 9 June 1848; this ticket was renewed in 1849 [11].

In Tasmanian convict records (which may date to 1849) Luke is recorded as aged 24, 'a single man who can both read and write, a labourer, and from Baynton Yorkshire [12].


  1. National Archives, Convict hulks moored at Woolwich. Index to register of prisoners on the Justitia HO9/5.
  2. Census 1841, accessed from
  3. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Collection (ERALS), East Riding Quarter Sessions, Easter, 9 April 1844, QSF 543/B/25.
  4. ERALS, East Riding Quarter Sessions, Midsummer, 2 July 1844, QSF/544/B/5.
  5. ERALS, East Riding Quarter Sessions, Epiphany 1845 (31 December 1844), QSF/550/B/12.
  6. East Riding of Yorkshire Council museum publication 'Criminals, Courts and Correction' (ERYC pp. 8-9)
  7. National Archives, HO9/5.
  8. National Archives, HO9/5.
  9. National Archives, transportation register of convicts bound for Van Diemen's Land on the Convict Ship Bangalore, pp. 281-293, HO11/15/281.
  10. State Library of Queensland 'British Convict transportation registers 1787-1867' online index (based on UK National Archives Home Office records), (accessed 17 November 2015); 'Claim a Convict' website, (accessed 18 November 2015).
  11. The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tasmania) 22 July 1848; National Archives, New South Wales and Tasmania Convict Musters, 1806-1849, HO10/4; HO10/5/19-20, 32-51.
  12. Website 'Came to Tasmania on Bangalore 1848', (accessed 18 November 2015, no longer live).

Snowden Dunhill

Snowden Dunhill was an East Riding resident transported for seven years in 1823. His life is particularly well documented because he wrote his memoirs whilst living in Tasmania. Snowden Dunhill was something of a criminal celebrity in the East Riding, where he had lived on the proceeds of well-organised criminal activities for many years, and both unabridged and abridged versions of his memoirs published in the 1830s by a Howden publisher sold very well here. The details of his story reproduced below are taken from a 1987 reprint of the abridged version of the Life, and from the introductory essay by historian David Neave that appears in that edition [1]. An unabridged edition can be seen in Goole library.

Snowden was born on 14 September 1766, son of William and Rosomond 'Dunning' of Knayton, near Northallerton. His mother died when he was about six years old, and the young Snowden accompanied a farmer and his family to Spaldington, near Howden. In his Life, Snowden recalls playing by the moat of Spaldington Hall as a child and claims that he saved the life of another child who fell in. According to the Life, the two met again as old men in Australia, and it was this childhood friend who took his memoirs back to Howden for publishing.

As a young man, Snowden was a farm servant in Spaldington and claimed that petty crime was 'generally practised by farmers' servants', who were not educated to know that this was wrong. It was on his marriage to Sarah Taylor, eight years his senior, and widow to a man who had been shot whilst committing a crime, that Dunhill turned more seriously to a criminal career; 'had it been my fortune to have met with an honest and industrious woman' he wrote, 'my destiny might have been different'. Snowden and Sarah had several children, and the Dunhill family were often blamed for petty crimes which took place in Spaldington. To escape the suspicion and accusation, they moved to a small cottage outside of the village. Dunhill became involved in burglaries, although his most lucrative line of criminal activity was stealing grain from farmers, which he sold on through 'a secret understanding with two or three millers'. Dunhill did well out of his criminal activities, living a prosperous lifestyle and even becoming a money lender to farmers in the area. He led a local gang of criminals and became notorious in the East Riding.

The Beverley magistrates fined Snowden for minor offences in 1800 and 1807 [2], and he received his first custodial sentence in 1812 when he was caught stealing wheat from Barnard Clarkson of Holme House, Holme on Spalding Moor. Snowden was sentenced to seven years' transportation by Mr Justice Le Blanc at York Lent Assizes in March 1813 and was sent by coach to the hulks on the Thames. However, for reasons that are not clear, he was not transported, instead serving six years of his sentence aboard the hulks.

Whilst he was imprisoned, most of Snowden's family were caught for various crimes and transported. In 1819 Snowden's wife and daughter Rosanna were convicted at the East Riding quarter sessions for stealing geese, with Snowden's wife Sarah sentenced to transportation and Rosanna, who was pregnant, sent to York Castle. Snowden and Sarah's son George was sentenced to seven years transportation at the same sessions for stealing wheat. Snowden's son William was also transported for thieving.

Therefore upon his release from the hulks, Snowden had no family to return to. He moved to Hull and resumed criminal activities. At the Lindsey quarter sessions on 15 April 1823, Snowden and an accomplice, James Edwards, were found guilty of stealing linen, cloth and lace from a Brigg grocer, John Brown, and sentenced to seven years transportation. Just over a week later, Snowden was transferred to the hulks at Woolwich. The records for the hulk Justitia lists Snowden Dunhill as a prisoner and states that he had 'been transported before' - but it is likely that the entry means 'been sentenced to transportation before', since we know from Snowden's Life that his previous sentence of transportation was not carried out [3]. Snowden was one of the 150 prisoners of the ship's surgeon's journal records being transferred from the Justitia to the convict transport Asia on 15 July 1823 [4]. This was the full complement of the ship's convict passengers, and Asia departed on 19 July 1823 and arrived in Van Diemen's Land on 19 January 1824 [5]. The New South Wales convict ship muster rolls record that Dunhill was born c. 1764, was aged c.60, 5 feet 11 inches tall, with blue eyes, and grey hair, and that his native place was Northallerton. Snowden's trade is recorded as a farmer's labourer [6]. The journey was eventful - Asia suffered a fire on board during the voyage, and the convicts had to help put it out.

Dunhill was no longer a young man - 57 years old when disembarking at Hobart on Van Diemen's Land - but was in trouble a number of times during his Tasmanian captivity. He gained extra punishments for drinking, gambling and being absent from work without leave. Snowden claimed to have sought transportation in order to find his family, and he began the search for them when he completed his sentence in April 1830. One son, William had died, and another, George had been executed for theft of lambs. An article in The Hobart Town Courier on 28 June 1828 reported:

'Sarah Stanhope, another daughter of the notorious Snowden Dunhill, was sentenced to transportation at the last Hull Sessions for stealing a pocketbook with money. This, including George Dunhill who was lately executed in this town, makes the tenth member of the same family who has committed crimes and punished by transportation.'

A description of George Dunhill's execution in the Hobart Town Gazette, 7 July 1827, suggests that Snowden Dunhill was there when his son was executed. George was hanged at the same time as eight other men. Regarding Dunhill it reads:

'George Funning or Dunhill, aged 24, a handsome young man, about 6 feet 3 inches high, with a fine regular countenance. He had lately become free and was observed during the session of the Criminal Court to be present at many of the trials. His father Snowden Dunhill, who is now in the Prisoners' Barracks, a prisoner for life, for returning from transportation, was later tried for stealing in a dwelling-house, and his unfortunate son was observed to pay the most marked attention during his whole trial. The old man visited his son on Monday night to take a last farewell. Both at first bore it with considerable composure, but when the moment of parting came, the son laid his head against the wall and sobbed bitterly. Dunhill's family and connections were numerous and most of them have been either executed or transported, having been long the dread of Yorkshire, noted as Snowden Dunhill's gang.'

Snowden met up with his wife Sarah in Hobart, who had also served her time. For some of their time together in Hobart, the Life records that Sarah baked pies for Snowden to sell, whilst she taught in a day school. However, colonial records suggest that Snowden was sometimes involved in criminal activity. On 6 March 1834, he was convicted of receiving a stolen coat and put in prison in Port Arthur. During this imprisonment, Snowden's Life, written earlier during his time in Tasmania, was taken back to England by an East Riding man Snowden had met by chance. The manuscript was published in Howden, became popular and was reprinted many times. The account given by Snowden of his own life is corroborated by such documentary evidence as exists and appears largely reliable. Snowden became a part of folk memory in the East Riding - in addition to the stories contained in the Life, stories were passed down orally. Snowden died in prison in Port Arthur, Van Diemen's Land, on 2 June 1838.

The crimes and punishments of the Dunhill family were widely reported in England at the time, and the family appeared to exemplify ideas about a 'criminal class'. For example:

'Committed to the East Riding Prison, at Beverley, Yorkshire, Mrs Snowden Dunhill (wife of the once celebrated Snowden Dunhill) and her youngest daughter, for having in their possessions, knowing them to be stolen, two geese, belonging to Mr. Watson, of Newland, near Howden. On her committal, she bewailed much the misfortunes of her ancient family, as she termed it, and said, she thought the very name of Dunhill that was unlucky. Her husband was transported for stealing wheat, her eldest son for burglary, one daughter was imprisoned for aiding therein, and now herself and another daughter are committed for trial, leaving only a son and daughter who have not suffered some punishment (Manchester Mercury, 24 November 1818):

At the late East Riding Sessions, held at Beverley, in Yorkshire an unusual number of atrocious criminals were brought up for a trial, and sentence of transportation passed on the greatest part of them. Amongst them was the mother of Snowden Dunhill, whose gang was for many years the terror of the East Riding, and who owed the greatest part of their crimes to her instruction- her first husband having been hanged and her second transported. At the bar, she presented something of the grotesque and dreadful figure of Meg Merrilies, and after a sentence was passed on her by the Chairman, she threw up her hands towards heaven, and hoped 'the Almighty would sink the whole Bench to perdition!!' In this profligate state she was taken back to the gaol, to receive her future punishment, should her advanced age allow a continuance of life to undergo it (Hampshire Chronicle, 25 January 1819).'


  1. Snowden Dunhill The Life of Snowden Dunhill of Spaldington, East Riding (1766-1838). Abridged. Edited with an introduction by David Neave (Howden: Mr Pye, 1987). For an online transcription.
  2. East Riding Council Museums Service 'Criminals, Courts and Correction. A History of Crime and Punishment in Beverley' (ERYC).
  3. National Archives, index to register of prisoners on Justitia, HO9/5.
  4. community page.
  5. 'Convict Records' website (based on Home Office records from the National Archives), (accessed 17 November 2015).
  6. Copy of New South Wales, Australia Convict Ship Muster Rolls and related records, 1790-1894, accessed on, (accessed 18 November 2015).

Sarah Anne Sharp

Sarah Ann Sharpe was sentenced to seven years transportation at the Midsummer East Riding quarter sessions in Beverley on 27 June 1837. The quarter sessions records state that she was a 'singlewoman' from Brandesburton. She was found guilty of stealing 'one straw bonnet of the value of one shilling and one pair of cloth boots of the value of two shillings and one cotton handkerchief of the goods and chattels of one Ann Wallace', also of Brandesburton [1]. Sarah pleaded not guilty, but was convicted and sentenced to 'be transported beyond the seas for the term of seven years'. A report in the Yorkshire Gazette on 1 July 1837 gives more details:

'SARAH ANN SHARPE (20) charged with stealing, at Brandesburton, on 24 April, one straw bonnet and a pair of cloth shoes, the property of Ann Wallace. Prisoner went to lodge at the house of prosecutrix; she stated that she had come out of Beverley jail. She remained there a week; on her going away, the bonnet and boots were missed. A Bridlington constable apprehended her with the articles in her possession. To be transported for seven years.'

The criminal registers state Sarah's 'degree of instruction' as 'imp' (presumably 'imperfect') and that she was 20 years old [2]. It appears that she had a previous conviction, as the Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette of 21 October 1836 reported:

Sarah Ann Sharpe, charged with stealing on 12 October at Bridlington, one pair of boots and one pair of stockings, the property of John Emmerson. Pleaded guilty. The prisoner at the time she took the articles was a servant in the house of prosecutor. To be imprisoned six months.

After being sent to the hulks at Woolwich, Sarah was transported to Van Diemen's Land as one of 133 female convicts aboard the ship Nautilus, departing from Woolwich on 25 April 1838 [3]. The ship's surgeon reported that Sarah was aged 19, and was a servant: she was on the ship's sick list for a month between May and June with 'gastrodynia' (a stomach complaint) [4].

The Nautilus arrived in Van Diemen's land on 29 August 1838 [5]. The True Colonist, a Van Diemen's Land newspaper records the arrival of the Nautilus, stating its master as J Newcombe, the weight of the ship at 400 tons, from 'Downs 2 May' with 132 female prisoners and government stores [6]. Tasmanian convict records contain descriptive information about Sarah, including that she had brown eyes, brown hair, had been a farm servant before her conviction; these records state that she came from 'Stockson nr Scarborough' - presumably Stockton-on-Tees [7]. It was usual for farm servants to move around to find employment.

A letter from the principal superintendent of convicts, Josiah Spade, written to the Colonial Secretary on 14 September 1838, detailed the distribution of the convicts from the Nautilus - 120 were assigned from Hobart (where the ship docked), two forwarded to Launceston, five were not fit for the assignment, three were sick, and one (Jane Brown) died onboard [8]. Seventeen seamen from the ship were charged in the Hobart court on arrival with disorderly conduct and refusing to work on board, claiming they had not sufficient rations, 'which was most satisfactorily contradicted' [9].

Sarah was one of a number of prisoners given 'memoranda of conditional pardon …until Her Majesty's pleasure be known' in October 1841 [10] - another source records that Sarah received a ticket of leave from the Colonial Secretary's Office at the same time (15 October) [11]. Sarah was given a further ticket of leave two years later [12]. The Colonial Secretary's Office announced on May 24 1844 a list of prisoners whose periods of transportation had expired and who could therefore collect a certificate of freedom, including Sarah Ann Sharp [13].


  1. ERALS, East Riding Quarter Sessions records, QSF/516/B/3.
  2. National Archives England and Wales Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, copy accessed on
  3. Queensland Library, British Convict Transportation Registers online database, (accessed 17 November 2015).
  4. National Archives - Sick List of Nautilus, ADM 101/56/1A/2 Folios 1-5
  5. 'Convict records' website, based on records taken from National Archives HO11/11, (accessed 17 November 2015).
  6. The True Colonist Van Diemen's Land Political Despatch, and Agricultural and Commercial, Friday 31 August 1838, viewed on Trove Digitised Newspapers Website, (accessed 15 November 2015).
  7. 'Founders and Survivors Storylines' website, (accessed 17 November 2015); see also Tasmanian Archives CON 19/1/4, descriptions of female convicts - online images, (accessed 18 November 2015).
  8. 'Female convicts' website, (accessed 17 November 2015).
  9. Hobart Town Courier Friday 7 September 1838, viewed on 'Trove' digitised newspapers website, (accessed 15 November 2015).
  10. Colonial Times (Hobart) Tuesday 12 October 1841, viewed on 'Trove' digitised newspapers website, (accessed 15 November 2015).
  11. The Courier, Hobart Friday 15 October 1841, viewed on 'Trove' digitised newspapers website, (accessed 15 November 2015).
  12. The Courier, Hobart Friday 13 October 1843, viewed on'Trove' digitised newspapers website, (accessed 15 November 2015).
  13. Colonial Times (Hobart) Weds 5 June 1844, viewed on 'Trove' digitised newspapers website, (accessed 15 November 2015).

Maria Fay

Maria Fay was a persistent thief in the villages of the East Riding, and spent prison sentences in the East Riding house of correction, in 1848 and 1849 before finally being sentenced to transportation in 1851.

Maria Fay was sentenced to transportation for theft at the East Riding quarter sessions in Beverley on 8 April 1851. She is recorded as living in the parish of Kirkella, married to John Fay, labourer. She was found guilty of having stolen 'two hempen sacks of the value of sixpence each and two other sacks of the value of sixpence each…of one Joseph Watson' on 3 January 1851. The crime took place in Kirkella, and Maria was sentenced to ten years of transportation, an unusual number since sentences were usually seven years. The unusual sentence may reflect Maria's persistent criminality [1].

Maria had several previous convictions, and previous names (she also had a previous 'husband', the labourer John Scott, although he may not have been married to her in the full legal sense since the records before and after this prefer to refer to her as husband to James Fay or Feeney - it seems she was widowed from one of these husbands, perhaps Fay, since she is named as Maria Fay, widow, in the Tasmanian documentation). The indictment for which she was transported mentions an earlier conviction of 3 July 1849, for a felony committed under the name of Mary Scott [1].

The record of this earlier conviction [2] shows that in 1849 Maria had been living with John Scott in Preston, East Yorkshire. She had stolen a 'skirt of the value of one shilling' from Elizabeth Carter, and was sentenced to twelve months hard labour in the house of correction. At the same sessions, she was also charged with stealing twelve bottles of the value of one shilling, one halter valued at sixpence, and two linen cloths valued at six pence, from John Fewson in Preston [3]. Both indictments refer to a yet earlier conviction of 4 April 1848, and an alternative name, Mary Feeney.

This first conviction came at the East quarter sessions on 4 April 1848. In the documentation for these sessions, Maria is referred to as 'Mary Feeney otherwise called Mary Fay', and her husband is given as 'James Feeney otherwise called James Fay' (suggesting that this marriage preceded that to John Scott, and that James Fay may have been her legal husband, since his name was given as husband in the final indictment of 1851). At this quarter sessions, Maria was described as 'late of the parish of Winestead', and was found guilty of stealing 'two sheep nets (?) of the value of ten shilling and one brush of the value of six pence…of one John Thorp'. She was sentenced to 'be confined in the house of correction and kept to hard labour for the space of three calendar months for this crime, a sentence that was to be 'computed from the expiration of the sentence passed upon her on the indictment preferred against her by one Catherine Hildyard' [4]. This last comment refers to Maria's sentencing for a separate crime at the same sessions. On the same day she had stolen the sheep nets from John Thorp, 25 March 1848, Maria had also stolen 'one copper boiler of the value of five shillings and fourteen pounds weight of copper of the value of five shillings…of one Catherine Hildyard' (also of Winestead) for which she was sentenced to 'be confined in the House of Correction and kept to hard labour for the space of three calendar months' [5].

So it was at Maria's third appearance before the justices of the peace in as many years that she was given the unusually harsh term of transportation for ten years. Maria was first taken to Millbank prison in London; the records for this prison list Maria as 'Fay or Fieney or Scott' and her occupation as 'Rag gatherer', her age as 28 and birth year as 1851. Her crime is given as 'larceny after previous conv.', she is described as 'single' and able to neither read nor write. The register states that she was received from Beverley Gaol on 2 October 1851 and removed on 16 March 1852 to be transported aboard the Sir Robert Seppings [6].

Maria was one of 220 female convicts transported on the Sir Robert Seppings to Van Diemen's Land, departing on 17 March 1852 [7]. In this ships' surgeon's records, Maria's age is given as 27 and she is recorded and being taken ill on 14 May with 'contusio', which is a condition associated with head traumas and gives headache symptoms. It appears not to have been serious in Maria's case since she was discharged three days later on 17 May [8].

Tasmanian convict records give a large amount of detail about Maria, including that she was from Lancashire and that she was also known as Maria Turner. The website suggests that Maria was widowed, and gives details of her convictions that sometimes do not match up with the details in the quarter sessions records (the Tasmanian records state 'six months for a candlestick'). Maria was a Roman Catholic, was freed in 1861, and could read but not write [9]. Maria had a 'fresh' complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, and was freckled, with a blue mark on the wrist of her right hand. Her stated offence is 'stealing one corn sack' - perhaps some of these details are self-reported, as she was indeed transported for stealing sacks, but more than one. The prosecutor is given as 'Watson, near Hull' [9]

In July 1854, Maria was given a ticket of leave [10].


  1. ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, Easter (8 April) 1851, QSF 571/B/33.
  2. ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, midsummer 1849, QSF/564/B/25.
  3. ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, midsummer 1849, QSF/564/B/27.
  4. ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, Easter (4 April] 1848, QSF/559/B/21.
  5. ERALS East Riding quarter sessions records, Easter (4 April] 1848. QSF/559/B/22.
  6. National Archives, Millbank prison registers: female prisoners vol. 3, HO24/13.
  7. Queensland Library, online British Convict Transportation Registers, (accessed 14 November 2015).
  8. National Archives, Admiralty records, Sir Robert Seppings medical records, ADM 101/68/4/3 Folio 4.
  9. 'Founders and Survivors Storylines' website, (accessed 14 November 2015).
  10. The Cornwall Chronicle, Launceston Tasmania, Wednesday 16 August 1854, consulted on 'Trove' digitised newspapers website, (accessed 14 November 2015).

Image: Some of those transported were sentenced for political crimes, such as the Luddites who smashed machines in protest at unemployment - but most transportees were thieves. 'Frame Breaking', 1812, (licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).

Image: An old wooden ship at the entrance to Hedon Haven. William Dring worked as a 'tideswaiter' at Hedon, boarding ships to collect excise duty. Photo by Andy Beecroft. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Hedon, showing the church in the mist. Photo by Andy Beecroft. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Image: One of the books stolen by William Dring was Hamilton-Moor's Seaman's Complete Daily Assistant.

Image: The First Fleet entering Botany Bay in 1788. Image held by State Library of New South Wales. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 au via Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Philip King was the governor of the convict colony on Norfolk Island when William Dring was a prisoner there. Image Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Image: William Dring was sent to salvage supplies from the wreck of the Sirius, flagship of the First Fleet, but ended up setting fire to the ship. The Melancholy loss of the HMS Sirius off Norfolk Island, March 19, 1790 by George Raper.

Image: Letter from MP William Chaytor 22 March 1796, following up on an earlier petition to the Home Secretary for clemency for William Dring. From the collections of Hull History Centre.

Image: The New Gaol, Castle Street Hull, 1789. Charles was incarcerated here prior to his transportation. A wall still extant at the Hull Trinity Burial ground may have been the wall of the New Gaol prison yard. Image from the Gott Collection, A1.91 9/46.1.

Image: Hobart, Tasmania. Charles may have ended up in prison here for debt. Photo by CSIRO. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Entry from Australian Convict Musters (National Archives HO10) showing that Charles Drewery arrive aboard the Prince of Orange and in 1826 was assigned to 'public work'.

Image: Hull as it looked from the River Humber when John Wells lived here in the early 19th century. Image from the Gott Collection, A1.91 8/30.3.

Image: An illustration of the Warrior convict hulk, on which Luke Dales was held prior to his transportation. Taken from the Illustrated London News 1846 (image held by National Archives, ZPER 34/8).

Image: Bermuda Dockyard, built by convicts like Luke Dales. A convict hulk can be seen to the left. Image extracted from Bermuda, a colony, a fortress, and a prison; or, Eighteen months in the Somers' Islands by Ferdinand Whittingham. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Leconfield, the East Riding village in which Luke was living when he committed the crime for which he was transported. Parts of St Catherine's Church, Leconfield, date back to the twelfth century.

Image: Sessions House, Beverley, where Luke was tried and sentenced.

Image: The House of Correction in Beverley, c.1860-1870, where Luke Dales was probably incarcerated prior to his removal to the Warrior and Maria Fay spent several prison sentences. East Riding Archives and Local Studies Service, DDX734/4.

Images: Luke Dales' East Riding quarter sessions indictment for stealing a top coat in 1845 (ERALS QSF/550/B/12). Records for the East Riding quarter sessions are held by the East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Local Studies Service.

Images: Excerpt from a published ballad about Snowden Dunhill, held by the Bodleian Library.

Image: An East Riding quarter sessions criminal indictment for Snowden Dunhill in 1807 (ERALS QSF/402/F/7). Records for the East Riding quarter sessions are held by the East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Local Studies Service.

Images: Quarter sessions document from East Riding Archives and Local Studies collection showing that Snowden Dunhill was convicted in 1800 for selling ale without a license.

Image: Extract from New South Wales Government convict musters (CGS 1155, reels 2417-2428) giving details about Snowden Dunhill, including his trial date and place (Linsdey Quarter Sessions, April 15 1823), his sentence (seven years) his age (60) his occupation ('farmer's lab.'), height (5'11''), eye and hair colour (blue and grey).

Image: The East Riding quarter sessions indictment for Sarah Dunhill, Snowden's wife, who was found guilty and transported. ERALS QSF 446/B/5.

Images: Sarah Ann Sharpe's East Riding quarter session indictment of 1837 for stealing a bonnet and a pair of boots (ERALS QSF 516/B/3). Records for the East Riding quarter sessions are held by the East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Local Studies Service.

Image: The East Riding village of Brandesburton, where Sarah was living before she was transported. Photo by J. Thomas. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Images: National Archives Criminal Registers entry for Sarah Ann Sharpe, detailing her sentence (7 years), age (30), crime (larceny), place of sentencing (East Riding quarter sessions), and that her literacy is 'imp' ('imperfect').

Images: Maria Fay's East Riding Quarter Sessions indictment of 1851 (QSF 571/B/33). Records for the East Riding quarter sessions are held by the East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Local Studies Service.

Images: Excerpt from Millbank prison registers held by the National archives HO24/13, giving details about Maria's crime, age, occupation and literacy.

Images: Kirkella, the village in the East Riding of Yorkshire where Maria Fay committed the crime which brought her the sentence of transportation. Photo by Paul Harrop. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons.