Crime and Punishment

George Trayhurn and Joseph Birt - sheep stealers

George Trayhurn & Joseph Birt 2016-12-12T10:38:57+00:00

George Trayhurn and Joseph Birt both of Thornbury were jointly convicted of stealing sheep at the Gloucester Assizes of 5th August 1835.  They were both sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for life.  The sheep were the property of Jonathan Muckleston Key, a local landowner living at Thornbury House, who was himself mentioned in a scandal involving his brother Sir John Key and some very dubious financial dealings with the Stationery Office.  Click here to read more about Sir John Key and his family.

George Trayhurn was sent from Gloucester on 1st September 1835 to Woolwich.  He was imprisoned in the prison hulk Justitia on the Thames.  He sailed with 269 other convicts on 11th February 1836 aboard the Strathsfieldsaye to New South Wales (presumably Botany Bay).  He arrived there on 11th October.  The convictrecords.com.au website that gives this information also mentions 21 other ships by name that sailed that year.

We have found no birth or baptism record for George which is a little worrying.  We had initially assumed that George was the son of John Trayhurn and his wife, Hester (nee Rice) as their George was baptised in Thornbury in 1819.  However when George, the sheep stealer, died in Australia in 1875 aged 56, the death certificate notes his father was Thomas Trayhurn.  This would indicate that George was possibly the son of Thomas Trayhurn, the tailor and his wife, Ann.  The Australian descendents of George doubt the accuracy of the father’s name shown on the death certificate (which was provided by George’s second wife), and they favour the idea that he was the son of John and Hester.

George Trayhurn seems to have been very adaptable and later in life had more than one occupation.  His record in Gloucester Gaol shows he had been employed as an errand boy in Thornbury.  He was described as being as 17, height 5ft 4 inches with light brown hair, light grey eyes, a mole on his throat and two between his shoulders.  It was noted that he could read and write.  When he arrived aged 18 in Australia he was said to be a butcher.

We understand that he was given his ticket of leave in 1844.  He certainly appeared in the pardons and tickets of leave lists 1842-1845.  This gave him a considerable degree of freedom.

In 1846 he applied to be a publican of the Royal Oak in West Maitland.  Surety for this application was given by Peter Dean of Maitland.  The application was granted.

He married Agnes Bathgate probably on 16th July 1846.  Agnes was a Scottish woman who came as a free woman on the ship called the William Rodgers possibly on 26th September 1838.  The only record we have found of Agnes Bathgate emigrating to Australia also mentions the ship as being William Rodgers but says she was only nine years old.  It says she was the daughter of Archibald Bathgate (then dead) and Kate Cameron. According to family trees on the internet, George and Agnes had seven children between 1847 and 1860.

We are grateful to the Trove website which makes it possible to search for Australian newspaper articles and as George Trayhurn appeared in the press regularly it gives a glimpse of his life after he gained his freedom.

If George Trayhurn received harsh punishment as a prisoner he was equally capable of meting out similar punishment.  In 1855 the newspapers show that George appeared in court on assault charges.  He was fined 20 shillings for attacking his servant James King with a whip and with his fists and then kicking James whilst he lay on the floor.  The same newspaper article reports the next case which also featured George assaulting someone that same day.  This was his apprentice James Balcombe.  George’s defence was that the apprentice had not “kept out the cow”.

Although these incidents suggest that George Trayhurn was a tough and rather violent type they also reveal how well the man had done since being transported.  He now had servants, a business and at least one cow.  As well as the servant and the apprentice mentioned in the assault cases there was also a little girl who worked in the kitchen.  We know this from a very sad case in 1858 in which the 10 year old girl who was cooking the steaks for breakfasts in the household was burned to death when her apron caught fire.  No blame was attributed towards George.  George Trayhurn may also have had lodgers.  In 1859 he was charged with having sold a half glass of brandy after 10 o’clock to Joseph Davis who claimed to be a lodger at Trayhurn’s.  The case was dismissed, which might mean there was truth in this statement.  George was not just a publican and was still sometimes described as a butcher by occupation – which explains steak for breakfast.  We know that he had at least one more business because of yet another court case.  This time George was the victim of a theft of a watch (with a broken second hand) from “his shop”.

He seems to have remained a publican of the Royal Oak until 1859.  In 1860 he applied for the licence of the Royal Arch in Devonshire Street also in West Maitland.

It is possible there is an explanation for George’s success, apart from hard work and a fierce determination to get his way.  In 1862 there was a newspaper article about the Lachlan Diggings located near the present town of Forbes and about 300 miles away from Maitland.  This was a gold mine and the information in the article was provided by a “townsman” of Maitland who had returned from a seven months’ stay in the Lachlan Diggings.  This was of course George Trayhurn and his stay there was not as a tourist.  The article says that George had had “experience on other gold fields.”  Had George stayed in Gloucestershire a journey of 300 miles would have been a huge adventure, and almost as unlikely as working in a goldfield.
George’s wife Agnes died in 1863 and her death was registered at Williams River.

George remarried in 1871.  The marriage was registered in Muswellbrook.  His second wife was called Frances Cannon.  When the widowed Frances remarried in 1879, her late husband George Trayhurn was said to be a store keeper of Fords Creek near Mudgee.

The Trove website has a telegram from Australia in the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser which gave the news of George Trayhurn’s death.  He died at Ford’s Creek on 12th January 1875 aged 56.  His death was an accident.  His spring cart apparently hit a tree and he died of a broken neck almost instantly.

He was buried at Gulgong cemetery. His father’s name according to the burial record was Thomas.

Joseph Birt was also convicted with George Trayhurn. He was born about 1819. He was aged 16 when he got into trouble. Together with a friend, George Trayhurn who was aged 17, he was charged at Gloucester Summer Assizes on 13th July on suspicion of a felony. The charge involved stealing on 9th July one ewe sheep of the value of twenty shillings, the property of John Mucklestone Key Esq.

Joseph was baptised in Thornbury on 14th February 1819.  He was the son of Joseph Birt, an agricultural labourer, and his wife, Mary (nee Littlejohn).

Joseph was described as having light brown hair, grey eyes, round visage, fresh complexion, cut on forehead, mole under right arm, mole on right side, seven moles between shoulders, large scar on right thigh, scar on right leg.  He was a labourer but the record says that he could read and write.  His height was 5ft 2½ inches and his conduct was considered ‘indifferent’.  They were found guilty on 15th August 1835 and the sentence was to be transported for life.

He was sent from Gloucester on 1st September 1835 to Woolwich.  He was imprisoned in the prison hulk ‘Justitia’ on the Thames.  He sailed with 269 other convicts on 11th February 1836 aboard the Strathsfieldsaye and arrived on 11th October.  The convictrecords.com.au gives this information and mentions 21 other ships by name that sailed that year.  Joseph’s occupation at this stage was said to be a “stable boy.”

We have another description of Joseph, presumably made at a later date than the one made at Gloucester as it gives his age as 25. This entry describes him as being 5ft 3.25″, ruddy complexion, light hair, blue eyes with small dimple in chin, short necked, round scar near right check, two moles, left collar bone, blue mark inside lower right arm, scar back of right thumb, sun, ‘J.B.’ and fish inside of left arm. It appears in the Newcastle Gaol records for New South Wales.  He appears in the gaol’s entrance record for 1842 and was listed there in 1843.

Joseph received a ‘ticket for leave’ on 20th February 1846.  A ticket of leave was a document of parole issued to convicts transported from the United Kingdom who had served a period of probation, and had shown by their good behaviour that they could be allowed certain freedoms.  Once granted a ticket of leave, a convict was permitted to seek employment within a specified district but could not leave the district without the permission of the government or the district.

Joseph was granted permission to marry on 11th July 1850 and he married Elizabeth Clayson (nee Coward) on 21st August 1850 at Christ Church, Hexham.  Elizabeth had gone to Australia as a bounty immigrant in 1840 on board the Mary Ann.  Bounty immigrants were free immigrants whose passage was paid by the colonial government under the ‘bounty scheme’ which aimed to encourage suitable skilled and tradespeople to ship out to the new colony.

Joseph’s sentence expired on 9th 1851.  We know that Joseph and Elizabeth had five children: Susannah born in Hexham in 1851, Henry Joseph born there in 1853, Jemimah in 1855, George Joseph born in Raymond Terrace in 1857 and William Robert born in Alnwick in 1862, although in his case we understand that no father’s name was shown on the birth certificate.

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