James Roach is mentioned in Edwin Ford’s book ‘The Great Berkeley Poaching Affray 1816’. A group of sixteen poachers from the Thornbury area, led by John Allen, planned a mass poaching expedition as a protest against a recent death of a local man. Thomas Till, a farmer’s son from Crossways and father of two small children, was killed whilst poaching at Priestwood near Tortworth in November 1815. John Allen’s poaching raid took place on the night of 18th January 1816. James Roach was one of the poachers. The gamekeepers were given warning of the raid and were prepared. The poachers met the the group of gamekeepers from the Berkeley Estate at Catgrove Wood. In the resulting skirmish, one of the keepers, William Ingram, was shot dead and seven were seriously wounded. The poachers escaped unharmed and returned to their homes as quickly as they could.
James doesn’t get much of a mention in Edwin’s book so it doesn’t appear as if he played a major role in the affray. He was not listed as one of the poachers who was carrying a gun, so we assume that he carried a wooden club or other weapon on the assumption that they would be meeting the gamekeepers at some stage during the night.
Following the affray, James was apprehended by John Vickery, the Bow Street officer called in to help the local officers. According to Edwin’s book, James was found during the night several days after the affray. He was in a cellar almost naked wearing only his shirt and was taken straight away to Gloucester Gaol.
James was one of the fifteen poachers tried at Gloucester Lent Assizes held in the Booth Hall at Gloucester. The sixteenth poacher, William Greenway, turned King’s Evidence against the others was allowed to go free. Four of the others had managed to escape capture and were tried in their absence. The trial started on 9th April 1816, was adjourned at 11pm and restarted at 9am on the 10th April. James was charged along with thirteen others of ‘feloniously, wilfully, and of their malice afore-thought, were present, aiding, helping, abetting, comforting, assisting and maintaining the said John Penny the felony and murder …’. Edwin’s book quotes several witnesses for the defence who vouched for his character. William Rolph said ‘I know James Roach and Thomas Morgan to be steady, industrious character’s. Osborne Whitmore said ‘I believe James Roach to be a steady, sober, industrious young man’. John Thurston of Thornbury said ‘I live very near to James Roach, and I have never heard his character impeached till now’. Richard Scarlett said ‘I know James Roach very well, and he is a sober and industrious young man’. George Luce said ‘I live at Thornbury. James Roach has borne a very good character, ever since he was a child’. Samuel Thomas, Mark Williams, James Savery, Robert Olive also said he was ‘of good character’. William Fielder said he had seen John Allen and James Roach in Bristol Market.
When the jury gave their verdict they found all the prisoners ‘Guilty of Murder’ including four who were not in court because they had absconded. They distinguished between John Penny for the actual act of murder and the others of aiding and abetting. The jury recommended mercy for the others, except John Allen the ringleader. They requested the prosecutor, Colonel Berkeley, to support the case for mercy which he did. However, when the judge addressed the court he explained that he did not have the power to remit their sentences, he only had the power to respite the execution and represent their case to the Crown.
The records of Gloucester Gaol show James was admitted on 27th January 1816. He was described as being a dealer aged 24, 5ft 10 1/2 inches, from Thornbury and able to read and write.
On 20th May 1816, James, and the other reprieved poachers had their sentences commuted to ‘Transportation for Life’. They had, it was recorded, behaved very well. On 2nd June 1816 James and the other prisoners were moved from Gloucester Gaol to the prison hulk, ‘Justitia’, at Woolwich. On 5th September 1816, James and the other prisoners to be transported were transferred to ‘Sir William Bensley’ which sailed on to Sheerness and then Portsmouth.
The convict list for the Sir William Bensley has the following details about James Roach. He was described as a labourer, aged 25, height 5ft 11 /12 inches with a fair complexion, brown hair and hazel eyes.
The ship sailed on 11th October taking 200 prisoners for the voyage to Australia stopping at the Cape of Hope. The ship arrived in Port Jackson, Sydney on 10th March 1817 with 199 convicts on board, with one convict having died en-route. They were landed in Sydney on 21st March. James and seven others, were soon on the move again. They sailed on 23rd March aboard Elizabeth Henrietta to Hobart in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania).
Edwin’s book mentions that James was given a ticket of leave, but we have found no confirmation of this. He also adds that James was accused of keeping a dog without a licence as was required by Law. This was in July 1830 but he was acquitted. Edwin had no further knowledge of James Roach.
We were fortunate that the Internet enabled us to track down details of James’ death. He died aged 76 on 13th October 1870 and was buried at Back River Methodist Church, New Norfolk, Hobart. We are fairly confident that this is the same James Roach as he was buried in what appears to be a grave adjoining his parents and his sister (see below) who joined James in Tasmania in 1832. The image on the right shows a report printed in the Bristol Mercury on 21st April 1832 confirming that they were encouraged to join James who had done well for himself.
There is an obituary in the Hobart newspaper, The Mercury, reporting his death. It says ‘on the 13th October, at Back River, New Norfolk, after a long and painful illness which he bore with Christian fortitude, James Roach in the 76th year of his age, an old and respected colonist of upwards of 50 years, and member of the Wesleyan Society of upwards of 30 years. The funeral will take place from his late residence at the Black River today, Monday the 17th, at 2 o’clock, friends are respectfully invited as no circulars will be issued’.
Locating where the family were buried enabled us to track down other records. The earliest reference was printed in the Launceston Advertiser dated 9th June 1836. This shows James was farming 42 acres 1 rood in the parish of Arundel in the County of Monmouth. We understand this to be quite close to New Norfolk.
The Cornwall Chronicle dated 15th November 1845 includes a reference to James Roach being granted land at Back River. The Launceston Examiner dated 25th October 1851 reported that James Roach had been appointed pound keeper at Back River replacing Mr Bradshaw. The Cornwall Chronicle dated 1852 lists James Roach yeoman of Black River as one of several people petitioning the Lieutenant Governor of Van Dieman’s Land not to stop sending convicts to the colony. They felt that given the large increase in the immigrant population and the labour shortage caused by men going off to the gold mines, farmers might be ruined and famine might result.
On 5th May 1856 James applied to be included in the electoral register. He was qualified through his ownership of the freehold at the farm at Wildfield (or Wildefield), Back River. He was subsequently included in the register.
There are two other newspaper reports with references which might apply to James. They refer to land sales in which a ”Mr Roach’ is occupying properties, both quite close to Back River. The sales were included in The Courier printed on 5th March 1857. The first is a sale of ‘valuable land at Bridgewater having a frontage of 152 links on the main road with the wheelwright’s shop, cottage and other buildings thereon, as the same is now occupied by Mr Roach’. The second sale refers to a property situate at Black Bush near Brighton including 200 acres occupied by Mr Roach whose lease expires in July 1859.
James’ family background.
Based on his age when transported we believe that James was the one born in 1792. He was the son of Solomon and Esther Roach. Solomon married Esther Allen in Thornbury on 7th October 1791. There were several persons with the unusual name of Solomon Roach born around the Thornbury area in the late 1700’s. Based on when he was married we assume that Solomon was the one christened in Tytherington on 3rd January 1760, the son of Timothy Roach and his wife, Mary (nee Wonman).
Solomon and Esther had a son, James, born on 8th January 1792 and baptised on 29th January 1792 and a daughter, Esther, born on 25th September 1796 and baptised on 23rd July 1797.
This Solomon was shown as the tenant of the property now known as 39 High Street in 1796, 1797 and 1800. We have no further record of Solomon in Thornbury after 1800. It seems as if he got into trouble. In 1805 there is a report of a Solomon Roach being convicted of larceny in Gloucestershire and sentenced to one year in prison. We cannot say for sure that this is the same person.
We also discovered that there was a Solomon Roach, late of Thornbury in Gloucestershire, charged at Wiltshire Assizes with stealing 3cwt of cheese. This Solomon was transported to Australia on the General Hewett in August 1813. We had assumed that this might have been James’s father until we found that this Solomon was aged 29 when transported.
However it does seem that Solomon took his wife and daughter to join James in Australia. We don’t know when they moved, but they are recorded as being buried in the same churchyard at the Back River Methodist Church that James was buried in. Solomon died on 30th June 1843 aged 85 and Hester died on 12th February 1857. They are buried in the same grave. Their daughter (and James’ sister) Esther (or Hester) never married. She is mentioned as living in Back River in a newspaper report dated 18th December 1877. She reported having been robbed of 45 sovereigns, two half sovereigns and other smaller coins stored in a box tin in her bedroom. Two sisters were accused of having stolen the money. They had been employed by Hester and were doing some housework there when the money disappeared. The tin was found in the garden broken open. Hester gave evidence in support of the sisters saying she thought them to be honest and not believing that they could have stolen the money. The court found that they not prove a case against the accused and they were discharged.
Hester’s death was registered at New Norfolk on 17th September 1879. She was said to be aged 79.