We have chosen to tell the story of James Cleavor or Cleaver, even though he had no personal connection to Thornbury, apart from the fact that he broke into a house in the town. His transportation tells the story of a long forgotten scandal in England about the horrors endured by prisoners – in this case made much worse by the introduction of privatisation.
The Bath Chronicle of Thursday July 12th 1787 reported that “Monday last arrived in Bristol from Gloucester 13 transports were lodged one night in the gaol and set off at 2 o’clock on Tuesday morning for Portsmouth in order to be embarked on board the transport ships bound to Botany Bay. Amongst the convicts was the noted Cleavor the famous housebreaker. About eight years ago he broke open a house without Lawford’s Gate of which he was convicted and received sentence of death but was afterwards pardoned on condition of serving on board some one of his Majesty’s ships of war. He afterwards enlisted in a marching regiment but soon deserted came to Bristol and followed his old practice of house-breaking, he having broke open about 42 houses in the parish of St James and parts adjacent. He was tried on three different indictments last Assizes in Bristol and acquitted, was then removed to Gloucester and tried for breaking open a house in Thornbury found guilty and received sentence of death but got his Majesty’s pardon on condition of transportation.”
The convict lists show that James Cleaver arrived in Australia on the Scarborough under captain Marshall having been tried at Gloucester in July 1787.
We are confused about the various reports of when James was transported. There were two major sailing of convicts transported to Australia in this period. The First Fleet was a group of 11 ships including the Scarborough which sailed from England on 13th May 1787. This was before James had been to trial and before 12th July when he was reported as arriving in Bristol from Gloucester Gaol. We do note that a Mary Cleaver had a son called James Cleaver born during the first transport so this might explain the confusion.
James is listed as a passenger in the Second Fleet in the report of the arrival in the Sydney Cove Chronicle dated 30th June, 1790. The report shows James was tried in Gloucester and had been sentenced to 7 years, thus confirming they were referring to the same James Cleaver. However even this information conflicts with the settler and convicts lists on the Ancestry website which show that James Cleaver sailed on the Scarborough under Marshall in January 1788. From what we have been able to read elsewhere there is no record of a transport fleet sailing in January 1788 but the second fleet actually sailed in January 1790. We cannot explain this discrepancy.
The Scarborough was a 298 ton ship which actually landed on 28th June 1790, after 160 days of sailing. Out of the 259 convicts aboard this ship we know that 73 died. James Cleaver’s name was amongst those who may have arrived ashore from the Scarborough in 1790.
This sailing eventually became a national scandal. According to Wikipedia;
‘The Surprize, Neptune and Scarborough were contracted from the firm Camden, Calvert & King which undertook to transport, clothe and feed the convicts for a flat fee of £17 7s. 6d per head, whether they landed alive or not. This firm had previously been involved in transporting slaves to North America. The only agents of the Crown in the crew were the naval agent, Lieutenant John Shapcote, and the Captain of the Guard; all other crew were supplied by the firm.
They left England on 19 January 1790, with 1,006 convicts (928 male and 78 female) on board. They made only one stop on the way, at the Cape of Good Hope. Here 20 male convicts, survivors from HMS Guardian, were taken on board. The three vessels made a faster trip than the First Fleet, arriving at Port Jackson in the last week of June 1790, three weeks after Lady Juliana, and one week after the storeship Justinian. The passage was relatively fast, but the mortality rate was the highest in the history of transportation to Australia. Of the 1,026 convicts embarked, 267 (256 men and 11 women) died during the voyage.
On Neptune they were deliberately starved, kept heavily ironed, and frequently refused access to the deck. Scurvy could not be checked. On Scarborough, rations were not deliberately withheld, but a reported mutiny attempt led to the convicts being closely confined below decks.
Captain William Hill, commander of the guard, afterwards wrote a strong criticism of the ships’ masters stating that “the more they can withhold from the unhappy wretches the more provisions they have to dispose of at a foreign market, and the earlier in the voyage they die, the longer they can draw the deceased’s allowance to themselves”.’
The Sydney Chronicle on 30th June 1790 gave a horribly detailed report of the arrival of part of the second fleet:
‘At last the transports are here. Diabolical conditions thereon 278 died on the fearsome journey to Sydney Cove. The landing of those who remained alive despite their misuse upon the recent voyage could not fail to horrify those who watched. As they came on shore these wretched people were hardly able to move hand or foot. Such as could not carry themselves upon their legs crawled upon all fours. Those who through their afflictions were not able to move were thrown over the side of the ships as sacks of flour would be thrown into the small boats…….
Some expired in the boats others as they reached the shore.
A sight most outrageous to our eyes were the marks of the leg irons upon the convicts some so deep that one could nigh on see the bone. We learn that several children have been borne to women upon the Juliana the cause for which were the crew aboard.’
Wikipedia has another description of the scene on the shore:
‘On arrival at Port Jackson, half naked convicts were lying without bedding, too ill to move. Those unable to walk were slung over the side. All were covered with lice. At least 486 sick were landed (47% of those embarked). Of these 124 died shortly after they had landed. Of the rest the Rev. Johnson, who went among them as soon as the ships reached port, wrote:
“The misery I saw amongst them is indescribable . . . their heads, bodies, clothes, blankets, were all full of lice. They were wretched, naked, filthy, dirty, lousy, and many of them utterly unable to stand, to creep, or even to stir hand or foot” ‘.
Governor Phillip noted:
‘I will not, sir, dwell on the scene of misery which the hospitals and sick tents exhibited when these people were landed, but it would be want of duty not to say that it was occasioned by the contractors having crowded too many on board these ships, and from their being too much confined during the passage.’……………. When news of the horrors of the Second Fleet reached England, both public and official opinion was shocked. An enquiry was held but no attempt was made to arrest Donald Traill, master of Neptune and described as a demented sadist, or bring a public prosecution against him, the other masters, or the firm of contractors. They had already been contracted by the government to prepare the Third Fleet for sailing to Port Jackson in 1791.’
Again according to Wikipedia:
‘Traill and his Chief Mate William Ellerington were privately prosecuted for the murder of an unnamed convict, seaman Andrew Anderson and John Joseph, cook. But, after a trial lasting three hours before Sir James Marriott in the Admiralty Court, the jury acquitted both men on all charges “without troubling the Judge to sum up the evidence”.’
At least it seems that James did survive these horrors.
On April 1st 1794 James Cleaver appeared as a lessee of a property described as “Foot of Prospect Hill.” We know from the land registry records that this was 30 acres of land and it was shown to have been granted to James Cleaver farmer.
Trove website quotes the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of 20th Jan 1805
‘Whereas by the General Order of 11th August last the Bounds of different Commons notified therein were designed and his Excellency having been pleased to direct the necessary instruments for that purpose to be attached ….in the names of the following persons viz……..Prospect Hill Common John Nicholls James Cleaver William Kentwell.’
We believe that this gave James Cleavor or Cleaver the rights of Commonage to graze his cattle on the land, although the soil itself seems to have remained the property of the Crown.
We know from Wikipedia that Prospect is now a suburb of Sydney Australia. The article indicates that James Cleaver may have had quite a useful area of land;
‘Prospect Hill, which is about 30 kilometres (19 miles) west of the Sydney Cove settlement was featured prominently in the early history of New South Wales. It seems likely that Lieutenant Watkin Tench named Prospect Hill. Both from Philip Gidley King’s description of his walk with Arthur Phillip in April 1790 is the knowledge of Prospect Hill and the use of its name had become established within the community of British colonists by April 1790. In July 1791, thirteen grants of land at Prospect were made to emancipated convicts. In January 1794 David Collins reported that the Prospect Hill farmers were the most productive in the colony. ‘
It seems possible that James was even legally married as there was a marriage of a James Cleaver and Mary Pursel in 1811 in New South Wales. The marriage was registered in Parramatta.
James may also have become a respectable employer. On November 26th 1818 in New South Wales James Cleaver signed a statement to the effect that Joseph Knowles had been in his employ for five years. Joseph Knowles was applying for a ticket of leave as he had been sentenced to transportation for life.
On February 1820 James’s name appears in “main series of letters received” showing that he owed at least £150 as a bill drawn on the Treasury for that amount was made out in his name.
We cannot confirm that all these references relate to the same James Cleaver but we would like to think that this man who had been twice condemned to death, served in the navy and the army and then survived a notorious voyage finally managed a level of respectability as a farmer in the New World.