The story of William Brodribb (sometimes spelled Broadribb but we will use the former spelling for convenience) is a particularly interesting one. William once lived at Morton near Thornbury and was one of those tried after the Poaching Affray of 1816. He stands out on our list of those people from the Thornbury area who were transported to Australia because of his occupation. He was a lawyer rather than one of the usual labourers and unsuccessful tradesmen. His crime was so interesting that books and papers have been written about it. These include the “The Great Poaching Affray of 1816” by Edwin J Ford and an article in the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society by W.J Lyes called “William Adams Brodribb, a Transported Attorney.” These excellent publications and the many pages on the internet describe the crime and the background to it in more detail than we could hope to here. We can only outline the story. The parts that are immediately interesting to us are not only the details about Thornbury at that time but also (and perhaps more so) what happened when William arrived in Australia. It is particularly interesting how quickly his wife and their first four children (one of whom was born very shortly before she set sail) joined him. William and his family became so successful and influential in this new life that there is a river named after his son to this day. This is the Brodribb River in the Australian State of Victoria.
William was the son of William Brodribb and his wife Elizabeth nee Adams. It seems that he was baptised at St Sampson’s Church in Cricklade, Wiltshire on 25th September 1789. He was educated for the law and admitted as an attorney at Westminster. He married Prudence the daughter of George Keene at Horfield near Bristol on 19th September 1808. The couple must have continued to live in London at first because their son William Adams Broadribb junior was said to have been born in London on 27th May 1809. We have been told by Jenny Stiles who has researched the family that this first child was baptised on 8th September 1810 at St Andrew’s church in Banwell, Somerset.
William then became a clerk to an attorney called William Hasell of Cross in the parish of Compton Bishop in Somerset on 21st Jan 1811. From later reports we believe that Mr Hasell was related to William Brodribb. William’s father was at this time said to be of Stapleton in Stanton Drew. William and Prudence’s first daughter Lavinia Zenobia Hasell Brodribb was apparently born in Horfield in March 1812. They must have moved to the Thornbury area by 1813 as we have been told by Jenny Stiles that their third child Albert Eugene Brodribb was born at Morton on 11th October, although he was baptised at Banwell in Somerset.
Lavinia Zenobia was actually baptised in St Mary’s church in Thornbury on 3rd August 1814. We know from later newspaper reports that the house they lived in was in Lower Morton. There is a report in the Bristol Times and Mirror of 8th January 1876 that describes the house as old fashioned and thatched and sheltered by the spreading branches of tall elms. However this description is included in an account of a meeting of the conspirators at Brodribb’s house something that did not take place and it was written long after those involved were dead and so we have to accept that it might be more colourful than accurate. We understand that Gloucester Archives has a plan created for use at the trial that shows Brodribb’s house was the one now known as Morton House in Butt Lane. A copy of this plan is also reproduced in Edwin Ford’s book.
The accounts of the crime that occurred in 1816 are not impartial and so some of the details may be wrong or exaggerated but the basic facts are relatively simple. The death of Thomas Till in November 1815 had caused much feeling in the neighbourhood. The man was poaching in Prestwood, a game preserve near Cromhall, when he was killed by a spring gun set as a trap for poachers by the local landowner, the Earl of Ducie. Spring guns and the notorious man traps both became illegal 10 years after this incident in 1826. About two months after Till’s death, a group of men from the Thornbury area decided to band together and to poach on the land of another landowner the Duke of Berkeley as a sort of protest against spring guns and other traps.
On the night of 18th January 1816 the group met at the house of John Allen in Moreton. They were joined there by William Brodribb. With William were two companions – Dr John Keene from Bristol who was William’s brother in law and another attorney William Purnell Hassell who was a second cousin of William’s. William Brodribb was later to claim that he had called into Allen’s house on business whilst on his way home from Mr Cullimore’s house.
We cannot be certain of what exactly happened that evening in John Allen’s house. The fullest account must be considered as biased as it comes from one of the prisoners, Greenaway, who gave evidence against the others in exchange for a pardon.
It does however seem certain that Brodribb was asked to take an oath from the men and that, reluctantly or otherwise, he did so. One of the odder aspects of the evidence showed that Brodribb did not use the New Testament as would have been the usual book on which to swear a solemn oath but a book called “The Young Men’s Best Companion”. It seems that Brodribb may have felt that an oath on another book than the Bible would be less legally binding. He also claimed that he omitted the usual phrase of “so help me God.”
As an attorney William would be fully aware that to swear and oath like this was an offence under a statute intended to prevent people from “engaging in any mutinous or seditious purpose or to disturb the public peace, or to be of any association society or confederacy formed for such purpose.” The act of taking the oath seems to have moved the crime from poaching (which was serious enough and for which people have been hanged) to sedition which was treated even more seriously.
In court, (according to the Ipswich Journal of 20th April 1816) Brodribb was adamant that he did not know there was a party of men assembled at John Allen’s house until he actually saw them there. He maintained that he took no part in the discussion but sat quietly until asked to take the oath from the men, at which point he tried to dissuade them. He knew nothing more of the events of the night or of the death of the gamekeeper until the next day when he was told that Greenaway had shot him. According to Brodribb, Greenaway had visited his home the morning after the affray and been shown into his study by Prudence Brodribb. The two talked about the night’s events and during the course of the conversation Greenaway three times admitted that he had fired the shot that killed Ingram.
It became apparent during the report of the trial that William Brodribb had been taken to Berkeley Castle on 27th January. His statements there seemingly differed from his statement on oath at this trial. His explanation for any confusion in his recollection of the events of that night was that he was “not quite himself” at the time. We understand that this is a reference to the fact that at the initial enquiry at Berkeley Brodribb had supported Allen’s alibi. John Allen said that he had gone back to William Brodribb’s house after the gathering of people at his own home and that he joined Brodribb, Keene and Hassell there smoking and drinking a lot of port. Apparently this was true but in fact John Allen only went to Brodribb’s home after the poaching incident, something that William Brodribb did not make clear in his first statement. Brodribb had also made the mistake of telling the magistrates Lord Ducie and the Rev Mr Cheston that the landowners had bought it all on themselves by setting these traps. This was not a statement likely to win over the landowners present.
According to Babette Smith in “Australia’s Birth Stain,” Brodribb claimed that during the questioning at Berkeley it was strongly implied that he himself would not be prosecuted. This was later denied by the magistrates.
Brodribb was called back to Berkeley Castle the next day, the 28th January. This session of questioning seemed to be based very much on Greenaway’s testimony. Greenaway had been taken into custody on January 20th and and was soon brought to Berkeley Castle where he stayed several days (until January 31st). During his time there, and presumably before 28th January, Greenaway admitted ” King’s Evidence” in order to save his life and that of his step-son. There were also claims that the poachers (except for John Allen) were offered 200 guineas to give evidence. Whatever his incentive, Greenaway began to testify against his confederates. His story was very detailed and differed much from the accounts of the others in the case. His testimony had included Brodribb’s part in the affair. The interrogation now revolved very much around the matter of the oath that Brodribb took from the poachers. Brodribb now had a case to answer and he was detained at Gloucester Gaol. According to Edwin Ford’s account Brodribb was not imprisoned with the other men but in the debtors’ quarters where conditions were rather better.
When the court sat at Gloucester on 11th April, after the trial and conviction of the poachers, Brodribb pleaded “Not Guilty”. The prosecutors seem to have made much of the fact that Brodribb was an educated man and even a man of the law. He should have not only refused to be involved in the affair but should also have dissuaded the others from taking an illegal action that could lead to bloodshed. It is noticeable that the poachers had called a long list of respectable people from the area to give witness to their characters. William Brodribb seems to have been without this support.
The result of William’s trial was probably inevitable. On 11th April 1816 he was convicted at the Gloucester Assizes of administering unlawful oaths and he was sentenced to be transported for seven years.
On 22nd April 1816 a few days after the trial and conviction, William and Prudence’s fourth child was baptised at Thornbury. We believe that Prudence gave birth in February while her husband was awaiting trial. The confusion and stress of this time may partly explain the odd fact that this child was apparently baptised twice, the second time on 1st September 1816 at Banwell.
William was first sent to the prison hulk “Justitia” at Woolwich and then transported to Australia on 9th October 1816. He sailed there from Spithead on a ship called “Sir William Bensley”. At this time he was said to be 27 years of age, 5ft 10 ins in height with a sallow complexion and brown hair and hazel eyes.
Apparently the “Sir William Bensley” called in at the Cape of Good Hope on its way to Van Diemen’s Land and this gave William the chance to write to his wife, Prudence.
It seems that luck was now on William Brodribb’s side. The new Lieutenant – Governor of Tasmania, William Sorrell, was on the same ship with his family and the official party. Sorrell was apparently the most sympathetic of the early Governors of Van Diemen’s Land towards emancipated prisoners. The steward on board the vessel became ill and William Brodribb was told to assist with the issue of rations during the voyage. This gave him the chance to meet and get to know William Sorrell.
Brodribb arrived at Sydney on the 10th March 1817. It seems that his social position and profession made him an asset in Tasmania. We have learned from Wikipedia that “because of his legal training, Governor Lachlan Macquarie sent him in the suite of Lieutenant-Governor William Sorell to Hobart Town”. On April 8th 1817 he sailed with Sorell on the Cochin. We understand that the ship arrived at New Wharf Hunter’s Island at Van Diemen’s Land on 29th April 1817. On May 1st it was announced that William Brodribb was appointed clerk to the bench of magistrates.
On 3rd July 1817 Prudence set sail on a ship called the Friendship to join her husband. It is hard to imagine the enormity of this enterprise. She was a carefully brought up young lady of certain status in society and must have led a very sheltered life. She was now sailing across the world with four small children with an assortment of convict’s wives and 101 convicted women to a world she could barely imagine. In the event Prudence’s gamble seems to have paid off. We have found records showing that in 1817 William Adams Brodribb was granted land in Van Diemen’s land in the district of Argyle. By February 1818 Prudence arrived at Hobart. The family settled on a farm near New Norfolk on the Derwent river and eventually five more children were born.
On 21st December 1818 William Brodribb’s name was mentioned in a letter requesting conditional pardons for 10 prisoners. In 1819 he was appointed “pro tempore” Attorney of the Supreme Court in Hobart. He was even allowed to practise privately as an attorney before he was granted a full pardon on 7th August 1821.
He seems to have become very wealthy. By 1823 he had become a shareholder in the Bank of Van Diemen’s Land and on 1st February 1839 he bought 928 acres of land in Tasmania at one farthing per acre.
We even have an idea of what the couple looked like. William had his portrait painted by the convict artist Thomas Wainewright and this is shown at the top of the page. Wainewright also painted other members of the family, including Prudence (seen here above on the right). We are grateful to Jenny Stiles for allowing us to use these images.
William died on 1st July 1861 aged 72 and was buried at St Andrew’s churchyard at Brighton in Victoria.