Pentonvillain to Aussie Pioneer…?

Well, coming from a line of dirt-poor working class folk it came as no surprise that in researching some of the characters in my ancestry I came across criminality. I have written previously on some of that related to military offenses but it still came as a bit of a surprise when I looked at Henry Barnaby.

He was the brother of my great-great-great-great-grandfather; so my fifth-great uncle.
As with many on my grandmother’s side he came from Harefield in Middlesex; born in May 1822 and baptised in the very same church as myself – St. Mary’s in Harefield, across the road from where my gran lived.

An agricultural labourer, and evidently completely illiterate, he signed his marriage certificate to Jane Thrift in Sep 1844 with a “x” as he could not even write his name. A year later they had a daughter, Margaret. But then things went very wrong. The following year, 1846, saw Henry and his elder sister, another Margaret, on trial at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey. Henry was charged with larceny and his sister with handling stolen goods.

The transcript of the trial still exists in the Old Bailey archives.

A quick note on terminology and abbreviations – the old-fashioned shorthand for currency was LSD: L (easier than writing £) for pounds, S for shillings (20 to the pound) and D for pennies (12 to the shilling)

“HENRY BARNABY was indicted for stealing at Harefield, 1 bag, value 6d (6 pence).; 1 purse, Gd.; 20 pieces of parchment, 20s (20 shillings).; 1 20l.(20 pound), 4 10l., and 7 5l. Banknotes; 1 600l., 4 10l., and 7 5l. promissory notes, and 1 order for 100l.; the property of John Ratcliff, in his dwelling-house; and MARGARET BARNABY , for feloniously receiving one 20l., and 2 5l. promissory notes, well knowing the same to have been stolen.”

The trial would have lasted only about half an hour with half a dozen witnesses for the prosecution being called. The defence had no witnesses and neither of the accused had defence counsel… consequences of being poor.

The key witness for the prosecution was a self-confessed poacher who admitted he had also been accused of the theft but stated under oath that Henry had admitted the crime to him. Henry’s sister admitted that her brother had given her some bank notes but she said he claimed to have found them and didn’t know what they were anyway as he couldn’t read.

Henry was allowed a brief statement in his own defence, quoted here in full from the Old Bailey transcript: “Henry Barnabys Defence. I gave my sister the notes, I did not know what they were.”

Henry was found guilty and his sister not guilty.

At that time, sentencing was immediate and Henry was sentenced to transportation to Australia for 15 years.

I think I should just mention here that it might seem very odd that anyone could not know what, for example, a 5 pound note would look like. However, back in the 1840s there were many local banks, each with their own style of notes and a typical note might look like this:
bank note
For someone so illiterate they could not even write their own name it doesn’t seem unreasonable that he wouldn’t know what this was.

After sentencing Henry was incarcerated in Pentonville Prison where he remained for 18 months.

It wasn’t until 9th March 1848 that Henry, together with 189 other male convicts, set sail on the Anna Maria, a 421 tonne barque under the command of Master Edward Smith.
But theirs was not to be the typical convict transportation.

Between 1844 and 1849, the British government transported 1739 convict “exiles” to the Port Phillip District of New South Wales. Unlike transportation that had occurred in other parts of Australia, the convicts sent to Port Phillip were given a conditional pardon, provided they didn’t return to England within the term of their original sentence. This was essentially a fudge to get around the local rules that convicts were not supposed to be transported to Port Phillip at all. However, cheap labour was in high demand there so the convicts were “re-badged” as “exiles”.

Some Port Phillip residents were outraged at convicts being dumped in their colony and the in-comers were labelled Pentonvillains!

Anyway, Henry’s passage to the other side of the world took three months – a fast passage for those days. First port of call, on 7th June 1848, was Hobart, Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania) where 27 prisoners, convicted of more serious crimes, were put ashore. Then the ship sailed on to Port Philip Bay where the remaining prisoners, including Henry, were off-loaded at Geelong and given their conditional pardon.

Unfortunately, that’s where the record ends for Henry. There is no record of him returning to England and I wonder if there is a Barnaby family over there that can trace its origin back to this illiterate exile?

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