Letters from Australia

The fourteen men involved in the Pentrich Rebellion sentenced to transportation to the penal colony in Australia were first held on prison hulks in the Thames them transferred to the convict ships Tottenham and Isabella for transportation to Australia. A number of letters were written by them on board ship and in Australia to families, the authorities and also to the press. A set of some of these letters in the possession of Mrs Betty Sneap are reproduced here in edited form.

About the Letters
The set consist of six written by Josiah Godber, one while on board the prison hulk Retribution, one while on board the Tottenham convict ship and four from Sidney, Australia.
There is one letter written by Godber’s friend George Brassington informing Mrs Godber of her husband’s death.
The final letter is to Mrs Godber from her landlord requiring her to quit her home or pay a yearly rent of twelve pounds.

Mrs Sneap says “The letters on the whole are in a very good state of preservation and are perfectly legible, though there are a few slight defects caused by the folds and seals.”
Though Godber was a man of some  education, the letters are difficult to follow at times because of spelling and grammatical errors. For this reason they have been edited here for clarity. Please contact the webmaster if you would like to know more about the originals.
Mrs Sneap very kindly provided copies of her typed transcriptions of the originals which are presented here in edited form. Her help is gratefully acknowledged.

On Board the Retribution Prison Hulk Sheerness
December 4, 1817

Dear Wife,
I hope that these few lines will find you in an good state of health as can be expected at this unfortunate crisis as it leaves me at the time thanks be to God for it, and I hope and pray that he will give me fortitude to bear all my misfortunes and I hope dear wife you will take it as patient as possible for I trust we shall meet again, perhaps not in our country but in a foreign. The chaplain of the ship informs us that there are favours of this kind held out to those whose former good character and future conduct deserves approbation, and I trust that myself and my fellow sufferers will merit this favour which takes place in the course 12 months or so, at which time, if it should happen, I am persuaded you will cross the ocean and follow me. If I can attain this I shall be the happiest man in the world. You will, if you can, come at the expense of the government.

 We expect to sail in the course of 15 days for Botany Bay and I hope dear wife you will delay no time in furnishing me with my clothes or a little money, my razors, scissors, a jacket knife and needles. My brother should see to Mary Huntley and Mary Knighton for a little money.  I hope I shall be able to recompence them in time, for I hope to live once more, if not in my own country. You will apply to the wives of Brassington, Wightman, McKisswick, Buston and Pittison and arrange matters to send all our clothes off together. Take them to Derby as Mr. Eaton promised he would bring any thing we had to send where he brought up the other men, but if they should not come in time for our sailing away you will send them by coach as with all the others.

Apply to old Mr. Fletcher Loscar and my friends about to send my character, as I hope it will be of great service to me in another country. Give my best respects to my brother and sisters and their husbands and family. Also to all relations and friends. I would have you persevere in the work of shortening my time with Mr. Goodwin and other gentlemen. I hope if you don't follow me into a strange country you will conduct yourself in a religious manner and if fortune should not favour us to meet together in this world, we shall meet never to part again. I should like my Brother Robt. to bring up his children to a little schooling for it is a portion which no man can deprive them of. Send me a good pair of strong shoes, also at same time send my two hones for razors. I Remembered my love to you all. Farewell and the Lord be with you all

I am dear wife
your affectionate husband

Josiah Godber

Inform Brassington's wife to get his character from his old employers. Tthere will come to Ripley Post Office a letter for John McKisswick which you will forward immediately to his wife  at Heanor. Send me a little tobacco.

Mrs. Rebecca Godber
Near Alfreton


Sheerness Jan. 25 1818

Dear Wife,
I now take the offered opportunity of sending to you once more in the hopes that these lines will find you in good health as this leaves me thanks be to God for that inestimable blessing. We sailed from here on Sunday the 11th and went as far as Deal and returned here yesterday in consequence of a misfortune befalling ship. We expect to sail again in about 10 days so that there is time for you to write immediately, which I hope you will do and I beg you will not delay as our time here is uncertain, and inform me how all relations and friends are and how and where John Moore's son is and what the sentence of the other prisoners is. We are all in tolerable health and spirits in the hopes of doing well in another country. Had I been twenty years younger I should not have been so much troubled at the quitting my native country.  But the parting with relations and friends almost rends my heart asunder.

Should any of my friends be disposed to send me a few pairs of cotton stockings they would be acceptable and might be of service to me at New South Wales. Likewise should you send me a small parcel, a little looking glass would be serviceable. The breeches and waistcoats I wish you to mention what quality, the leather ones I have seen. Should my sister Melisent send a neck handkerchief a little more thread would be useful as I understand it is very dear. But I don't wish you send me any thing to injure yourself. Although you don't send a small parcel, don't neglect writing dear wife. My love I send you. Give respects to Brother Robert and family, Brother Saml. & wife, Isaac Millington & Jacob & Elizabeth. To Mr. Stafford & Mrs. & family and Mr. Danah, Mr. Edward Fletcher & wife, Mr. Thos. Moore & Wife and to enquiring friends. When you send don't pay the postage as it will come sooner. Send by coach and the postage you might enclose.

I will conclude for the present.
I remain your ever affectionate husband

Josiah Godber

P.S. Let me know how trade is and how my familiar friends are situated. Respects to John Turton & Harrie Butcher and to all who put there signature to my character
Direct for me on Board the Tottenham Transport Ship Sheerness for New South Wales.

Reecca Godber
Ripley near Derby


Sydney July 21st 1819

My Dear Wife
I take this opportunity of writing you a few lines hoping to find you well as well as all my brothers & sisters. I am now going to inform you how I am situated in this Country. On my arrival here it happened I was sent to a Gentleman who keeps a steam engine so that I am quite at home, only for the loss of you. I should wish you to be certain whether there is any possibility of my getting a pardon before you leave home, But if on the contrary you think I shall not get a pardon & have a wish to follow me I should be glad to see you in this country, for I shall never be happy ‘till we meet.  I would rather come home to you as I should be among my old friends, for although this is a fine country, they are almost all such rogues that one is not safe among them though I have no reason to complain for my Master came here free as well as his nephew & they both behave exceeding well to me. I am an engine man. I get my victuals & 8/ per week so that I thank God I am pretty well off much better than you might expect. I lodge at a young man’s house that came over free along with Mr. Dickson  - for that is my masters name & he behaves extremely well to me.

I should wish you to present my best respects to my good old master & all his family & thanks to all those gentleman that were good enough to sign my character. All kinds of wearing apparel are very dear here as there are so few manufactories.  It is all brought from England & is so excessive dear that poor people cannot get it. If my Master has any old clothes that he could send me, I shall ever be thankful to him but am almost afraid of intruding too much upon his goodness. A few days ago I saw Buxton, Whiteman, Brassington, Bettington & McKissock. They are all well. The rest are up at Parramatta about sixteen miles from Sydney. They were all well when I heard from them last.

I was very much surprised when I came here to see the blacks both men & women quite naked. They are both dirty & indolent. Would sooner beg than work for a living.

 When you write to me direct as follows
Josiah Godber
at Mr. Dickson’s
Cockle Bay Sydney,
New  South Wales.

Please give my love to all relations and friends for which I have much cause to respect the same I would send dear wife in the warmest affections hoping that we shall see each other again is my anxious desire
From you ever affectionate husband

Josiah Godber

P.S. Should a favourable opportunity arise, John McKissock would be much obliged if you could let His wife or friends know that he is well in health and he sent a letter which would arrive about the middle of July the present date.

Rebecca Godber
near Derby

August 21st 1820
For Rebecca Godber

My Dearest Wife
I once more sit me down to write a few lines to you hoping they will find you my dearest wife in good health as they leave me at present. I thank God for it. I begin with very bad heart as I have written two letters and have received no answer, one by the ship Shipley one by the ship Surrey. I hardly know how to begin to write as I should like you to know how we are situated. I wrote in my former letters how we were fixed but if you have not received them, I must give you a little of the country we live in but I shall be more brief this time. As I have said before, my dear wife, what would I give to hear from you. They say that absence and length of time will wear the thoughts of one another from our minds, but my dear wife, if I could but once more enjoy your company, all the powers on earth should not part us.  0h my dear, to think that we have lived together so many years and then torn asunder at last. It almost distracts me when I think of it my dear.

I must let you know a little of how I am situated. I am very well off for a prisoner,  a government man to one Master Dickson a merchant and miller who hath a large mill which goes  by a steam engine. I dress flour for him and have done ever since I came. My allowance is seven pounds of flour and seven pounds of beef or pork and seven shillings that is my weeks allowance and a very good one for a prisoner. I have my lodgings and clothes to find out of it, but I have, I think, as good lodgings as any in the town.These are with a man and wife who both came out here with master Dickson. He is his head carpenter. They take my mess and I live with them and they charge me nothing for my lodgings. I am as comfortable as possible in my situation but my dear I could like to have you with me and I should be happy.

My dear I must give you a little of the country we live in. The “Town” I should say for Sydney is a very large town concerning the length of time since it was first inhabited by the English. It stands very pleasantly situated about seven miles from the main ocean up the river with two branches of the river. The river branches run each side the town, so deep that ships of the largest burden can sail right up to the town side. The town is formed of streets and squares. The Governors house and Park, his Secretary, the Judge, some merchant’s houses and the Sydney bank form one square Called Macquare Square.There is Sharlot Square. There a Church stands in it called “Saint Philip Church” market Square. The Streets are all very open and run in a direct line from north to south, the cross streets from east to west. They run in a direct line both ways.

We have  races at Sydney. They begin about the Prince Regent’s birthday they are at Hyde Park which lies close to the town side. There are several good institutions in Sydney. There is the Male Orphans School and the Female Orphans School. There is the Benevolent Society and Bible Society. There is a very large house building for the reception of old men and cripples. There is a very large house building for a free school all of cut stone. There are two very large churches, one in King Street and one in George Street. There is very large General Hospital in Macquare Street and a very fine Methodist Chapel in the same street. There is another in Prince Street. There is a very large soldier’s barracks square a mile round which will contain two thousand soldiers. The soldier’s hospital is a very large fine building. I shall leave off with the town until I hope to see you here.

You must try to get a passage. If you cannot, I must try, as George Weightman has just got a grant for his to come by applying to the Principal Superintendent and they will send for her as a free  passenger. So my dear I do not quite despair of having you with me here. If I cannot get you, I must resign myself up to him who is able to do all things and pray for your health and happiness ‘till my time is up, and then if it please God to spare my life, I will return to you. So my dearest wife I hope you will arm yourself with fortitude and resignation. Pray to Him who is able to see all things and I hope will at last restore us to one another. 0h that we may live the remainder of our days in comfort and happiness to one another. So my dear wife I must conclude. Give my love To my sister Milley and her husband and to their little children, brother Robert and his wife and children, to my sister Mary and her husband. Give best respects to my old master Fletcher and young master, to Thomas Moore and his wife, to old Jacob Millington, Thomas Brassington and Dolley George. Brassington sends his love to you and to all my brothers and sisters and desire you will remember him to his old masters Fletcher and to all inquiring friends. My Dear, I desire you will write to me immediately and direct for Josiah Godber.

So no more at present
From your ever loving husband

Josiah Godber

I have seen my Relation John Wigley. He lives about fourteen miles up the country. We have heard that Robert Cresswell is in the country but have not seen him .John Reight of Shottle lives in Sydney and is as yours truly.

1821 Sent my Letter February the 26

for Rebecca Godber
Ripley near

Sydney. March 11th 1821

Dear Wife

Your letter came duly to hand and I am very happy to bear you are all very well as this leaves me at this time thanks be to Almighty God for it. It gives me the greatest of comfort to hear that you are so situated under the present distressful times that you are not in want of the necessaries of life. I still remain with Mr. Dickson at his mill and am pretty comfortable. There are great expectations amongst prisoners here that something will be done for them at the Coronation of George the 4th. The news of that event hath not reached us yet whether it hath taken place in England but the country as we hear by English papers being in such a confused state I hardly know whatI think of it. [Again I much wish I could get a few Bottles of your good strong Beer J.G.]  If it were only obligation of sentence it would be a happy thing for those who are for 14 years & life. You mention of coming.  If you knew how to procure your passage, think of this. I can inform you nothing as it rests with the Minister at home. Be assured dear wife, if it could be so ordered that we could meet again the enjoyment of you would be to me the greatest of all earthly blessings. With respect to what you say about getting our pardon, I am afraid that can never be effected, but if the Ministry of England knew the sincerity of our attachment to our sovereign we might be represented as thorough converted subjects and worthy the notice of an offended country. We now too plainly see our madness in attempting or engaging in that affair which entailed such misery upon ourselves wives & families. A man must be born again as it were when he comes to this country before heiIs able to live here, for in depth of villainy the generality of the country exceed all description. Drunkeness, lewdness and all manner of vice is so grafted in the mind of the greater part of prisoners that in spite of all the means that are taken to reform  them, it is all of no service. We unfortunate men from Derby  have no more communication with the others than we can help.

Inform Jock Lawsons friends that he  died about months ago. Inform Robt. Creswell,s wife that I have heard he is doing very well at Derwent about 400 or 500 miles from Sydney. I hear that Jno. Wigley is doing very well. He lives about 14 miles from me. Inform Turners of Wingfield that Edwd. is now just on the recovery from sickness of which he hath been confined to bed about a fortnight. Josh Turner is well. All the rest of my unfortunate sufferers are well and all desire to be remembered to their friends. My respects to Mr. & Mrs. Fletcher hoping the enjoy good health,also Jno White & my cousin Jackson to whose goodness I am greatly indebted, also my dear brother Robert whose goodness I hope the Almighty will reward. My respect to all relations and friends.

I am dear wife your sincere husband

Josiah Godber

Direct at Mr. Dickson's Mill,  Sydney.

P.S. D. wife You say in your letter if you knew where to take those few articles you would send them, therefore I have got Mr. Dickson's brother’s address viz Mr. Jonothan Dickson Engineer Holland Street Bank Side London. In addition to those I have already mentioned for be so kind, tell my Brother Robert to send me a few pairs of plain cotton stockings. You told me to inform you what part of England Mr. Dickson came from. He came from London here, but is a native of Scotland.

P.S. I trust you will write as soon as you receive this informing me all particulars of the country. German Buxton desires you to enquire of his brother whether they have received none of his letters as he hath had no answer. He particularly desires his brother John to write to him.

To Rebecca Godber

August 9 1822

My Dear Wife
I once more sit down to write a few lines to you hoping that they will find you and all my brothers and sisters all in good health as they leave me at present, thank god for it.  I received your letter Dated Feb. 13th 1821 and was very glad to hear that you are all well, but was very much grieved to hear of so many of my town’s people snatched away by Grim Death but it is a debt we must all pay and the sooner we begin to prepare for it the better, as we have not one moment to call our own. So my dearest wife I hope you will prepare to meet that God with joy, in whose presence we must all appear in that dreadful Day of the Lord and rely upon his goodness for all the rest, and you may rest assured that He will not deceive us. My dear wife you seem to have a desire to come to this country. If you think there is no chance of getting me a free pardon, as I could come into my own country once more and enjoy your company, send me word and I will do all in my power to get you a passage as it is a deal easier to get a free passage since the new governor came into this country. The Governor’s name is Sir Thomas Bresbenn [Brisbainel Baronet.  I am still at master Dickson’s & working the engines and receive 8 shillings a week and my maintenance. I am pretty well off considering my situation. I did think of trying to get a situation in a brewery, if you would bee so kind as to get me a few particulars with respect to the internal parts of it. I wish my old master James Fletcher was here with his Brewers as the ale that is made hear is not fit to be named on the same day with Engilish ale and they charge nine pence a quart for it making theirs barely as cheap as in England. They pay no kind of duty for malting or brewing only for a licence. English Ale sells at 2 shillings a quart. The Government has given a grant for distilling spirits in this country Nobody has begun at present but it is expected very soon to begin.

My dear wife you desired me to find Joseph Joke’s father. I have not heard anything of him at present but I will make all the enquiries possible for him. John Bullock of Belper is well and lives  close to me. Robert Cresswell is doing well at the Vandemans Land.  Several young men from Belper are here.     one of old Ryley’s sons is a framesmith at a little town about a mile from Somercotes, I have forgotten the name. George Brassington sends his love to his father and mother and to his wife  and children & sisters and friends, to his old master James Fletcher and all his family and to all my brothers sisters and To you my dear wife. George Brassington and I are always totogether when we have an opportunity and I feel more attached to him than to any of the rest. I think it is through both coming from one town.

 so now my dearest wife give my love to all my sisters and brothers and to my old Master Fletcher and his family and to all relations and friends, and God Almighty bless you with health and prosperity ‘till we meet again in another, this country or old England, if it be his Blessed will and that is the prayer of your most loving and affectionate husband

Josiah Godber.

To Rebecca Godber


His Majesty’s Hospital
Sydney, New South Wales.
July 6th 1823

To Rebecka Godber

Dear Friend
I take this opportunity of writing a few lines to you hoping they will find you in good health as they leave me at present. Thank God for it but the news that I have to impart is of such a nature that I feel grieved for you my dear friend, but you must keep up your spirits and pray to God to keep you in this world so that you may be happy with Him in the next world, where I hope your husband is gone before.  Josiah Godber died in my arms in the hospital at half past three o'clock in the morning on the nineteenth day of November 1822.

I have had the misfortune to have my leg broken in the stone quarry, but it is got well and I am acting as potter at the hospital gates, Josiah came to the gate to me and he says “My lad I have got the disentery very bad dost thou think I had not better come in to the hospital.” To be sure I said to him but he was very bad, for he did not live above eight days. The last night he called me to his bed side and said to me my Lad I shall not Live till morning thou wilt send my beck and my Brothers and Sisters word that “I am dead, and tell them that I should like to have seen my wife and all my relations once more but it is not the will of the Almighty, that I should tell my brother Robert and my sister to comfort my wife but I know they will, so God almighty bless them all together. What things I had on when I came in do thee keep them and what things I have at mistress Hobkins tell her to give them to little Betty that is a little child of theirs because they have been so very good to me. Give my love to all my companions both here and at home.” The day before he died he said to me “ I should like a bit of English cheese if thou can get me a bit”. “ I will anything thou canst eat” I said. So I sent for two pounds and he was very much pleased. English cheese is very dear in this country. Half a Crown a pound at the shops, and some three shillings.

The Government buries all that die in the hospital with out they have any friends that wish to bury them. We removed him to his lodgings me and Gerrman Buxton and John Mackeswick and waster Bobkins. We got him a good leaden coffin and the pall and we invited all of our friends there. There were no more of our companions left in the town and we made a very fine burying of him. There was plenty of biscuit, wine, rum and bndy for or all that was there. We are going to put a headstone over him. I did not know his age exactly but we put upon his coffin plate 55 years of age. 

Now my dear friend I must close this sorrowful narrative with my best respects to you, Milly and her husband, to Mary and her husband, to Robert and his family. Give my best respects to master Fletcher and his family, John Tint and his family, to Thomas Moors, Robert Article, Samuel Knowles and their families and to all my rioter friends and acquantances. I Desire you will send me a letter how you all are in Ripley and whether you think there is any likely of us getting a pardon or our sentences mitigated. 0h what would I give to be once more at Ripley. Give my love to my dear father and mother and to my brothers and sisters and tell them I have written a letter for them by the same ship, with one enclosed for Mistress Hares. Tell them there will another ship to sail in a months time and I shall write again. If you will be so good as to write me a letter directed for His Majesty General Hospital, Sydney New South Wales.  I desire you will tell my parents to tell my brother-in-law James to write me a letter. I should take it as a very great favour if he would so do. I must conclude. God Almighty bless you all in Ripley both rich and poor.
 So I remain your sincere well-wisher

George Brassington.

To Mrs. Rebecea Godber


Thursday morning
25th March 1824

Rebecca Godber

I hereby inform you, that if you do not quit the house, shop, garden and premises you now hold under me in Ripley this twenty fifth day of March one thousand eight hundred and twenty four, having received legal notice for the same, I hereby inform you and give you notice that your yearly rent for the house shop garden & promises you now hold under me in Ripley, will from this time or date be Twelve Pounds a year.

William Kirkland.

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