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Transported to Australia

The leaders of the Pentrich Rebellion together with several of their followers were tried for High Treason in October 1817.The three leaders were sentenced to hanging while some 14 were sentenced to transportation to a penal colony in Australia. A vivid picture of life for those who were transported can be gained from some unique letters which are reproduced in edited form on this site. (Click on “Letters from Australia” button to the left)  

The Convictions

Following the trials of the Pentrich Rebels, the three leaders, Jeremiah Brandreth, Isaac Ludlam and William Turner, were executed by hanging and beheading at Derby. Of the remainder, some six were jailed in England with sentences varying from 6 months to 2 years, several were released without trial, and of the rest:

 The following were tranported to Australia for life:
James Bacon, 64, Framework knitter, Pentrich.
John Bacon, 54,        ditto
George Brassington, 33, minor, Pentrich.
German Buxton, 31, miner, Alfreton.
John Hill, 29, framework knitter, South Wingfield.
Samuel Hunt, 29, farmer, South Wingfield.
John Mackesswick, 38, framework knitter, Heanor.
John Onion, 49, iron worker, Pentrich.
Edward Turner, 34, stonemason, South Wingfield.
Joseph (Manchester) Turner, 18, clerk, South Wingfield.
George Weightman, 26, sawyer, Pentrich.

The following were transported to Australia for 14 years:
Thomas Bettison, minor, Alfreton.
Josiah Godber, 54, labourer, Pentrich. (see the letters)
Joseph Rawson, 31, framework knitter, Alfreton.

The Transportees

At this time (1817) it was usual to send to Australia  those guilty of the most violent crimes as soon as possible, thus avoiding any violence they might cause on the prison hulks held at Sheerness in the Thames estuary. The Pentrich Rebels were found guilty of treason and therefore regarded as dangerous criminals. They were however very different from those in whose company they found themselves. They were mostly loving family men, honest workmen and God-fearing. They had very little time for their fellow convicts who they held in very low esteem. These days, the Pentrich men might have been labelled “terrorists” or “freedom fighters”, depending on the point of view. They certainly seemed anxious to be of good behaviour, obtain a pardon if they could, or else to make as good a life as possible in a strange new land. Some succeeded very well in the new colony.

The Prison Hulks

Prisoners due for transportation were held temporarily on “Prison Hulks” moored at Sheerness. They were regularly brought ashore in work gangs. “Manchester” Turner in a letter to the Derby Mercury newspaper described life on board: “We are ironed and go out to work; we were told our sentence on Tuesday night by the chaplain of our ship. We have barley and oatmeal night and morning and beef for dinner four days a week and the other days bread and cheese. There is a school and chapel in the hulk which are regularly attended and it is far from being a reprobate place as we were led to believe at Derby, for if a person is inclined, every encouragement is allowed him to improve his morals.”

The Pentrich rebels were held on the hulk “Retribution” to await the arrival of the convict ships.

The Convict Ships

The American War of Independence (17775 – 1783) brought to an end the shipment of convicts to America. By 1787 it was agreed that they should be sent to the new colony of New South Wales, Australia. Convict ships such as the Tottenham and the Morley (pictured right) took between seven and ten months to complete the voyage to the colony. The Tottenham, carrying 10 of the Pentrich men, left Sheerness on 6th February1818. Struggling with storm damage and many delays, she finally arrived in Sydney harbour  on 18th of October. The other four Pentrich men  travelled on the Isabella which made better time, arriving in Sydney Cove on the 14th September. However , the regimen on this ship was very harsh with beatings and near mutiny.

The Tottenham carried 200 prisoners. Each was issued with a suit of clothes, a change of linen, a flock bed, a pillow and a blanket. On board were thirty-four soldiers under Lieut. Mitge. Mr Hazard and his wife travelled as free settlers. The ship’s surgeon-superintendent was Robert Armstrong, a kindly man it would seem, who was responsible for the prisoner’s welfare. Ten of the prisoners, none from Pentrich, died before the ship left England. They were probably sick before embarking, as the conditions on board, apart from bad weather, were comparatively good.

The food was cooked in a galley shared with the seamen, soldiers and prisoners. The rations included flour, beef, pork, peas, rice, raisins, oatmeal, butter, sugar and vinegar. Each man at sea received lemon juice as an anti-scorbutic. Each was allocated 120 gallons of water and 2 gallons of wine for the voyage. Tottenham and Isabella both put into Rio for fresh water, fruit and vegetables. The Tottenham’s sick bay was well supplied with tea, chocolate, sago, scotch barley, ginger, black peppers, allspice, port wine, rice and pearl barley.  A barrel of tar, brimstone and vinegar were provided for fumigation. A bathing tub, urinals and spitting pots were available for cleanliness and comfort.

 In spite of the food and equipment on board being better than many convicts experienced at home, conditions on a long and hazardous voyage were highly unpleasant for men who had lived their lives very far from the sea.

In Australia

On arrival the prisoners were served with fresh fruit and new convict clothing consisting of a yellow kersey jacket, black trousers, shirts, shoes, stockings and a cap. They were then mustered for inspection by the colony’s governor Lachlan Macquarie. They were then assigned to government work or to private businesses as labourers. Many were subjected to a harsh and brutal life with lashings for the slightest misdemeanour. But others lived a comfortable life - when they could overcome the pain of homesickness and loss of family and friends. Edward and Joseph Turner, among others died very well off.

Some of the less satisfactory prisoners were sent to the colony of Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania), but many of those who stayed in Sydney enjoyed a modestly prosperous life. The letters of  Joseph Godber to his wife give a vivid picture of life in the new colony and provide interesting details of a number of the Derbyshire prisoners. The pain of his homesickness and longing to have  his wife by his side cry out from the pages, and the poignancy of his friend’s letter reporting Godber’s death is most touching. 
PLEASE CLICK on the Letters from Australia button above to the left to see them.

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