As a crime historian, I have often read about people who were sentenced to transportation at Gloucestershire’s courts of Quarter Sessions and Assizes. In most cases, I know nothing of the lives of those who were sent to Australia once they left British shores, but recently a reader got in touch with me and told me a fascinating story about how his ancestor, after serving out his sentence in his new country, went on to become a pillar of his local community. Geoff Pike sent me lots of interesting information about his great-grandfather Joseph Pike, who was sentenced to 14 years transportation at the Gloucestershire Lent Assizes in 1829. I thought his story would be of interest to readers of this blog, as it demonstrates that for some convicts, being sent to the other side of the world allowed them to make a fresh start and lead a better life.
Joseph Pike and his accomplice George Burchill were admitted to Gloucester County Gaol on 30 September 1828. Pike was described in the gaol register as a nineteen-year-old labourer from Malmesbury in Wiltshire, who could read and write. He and Burchill were charged with breaking into the dwelling house of Giles Little Edwards and Edward Strange at Tormarton, Gloucestershire, and stealing two cash notes value £2 and three silk handkerchiefs, the property of Edwards, and a silver watch belonging to Strange. Pike’s behaviour while in gaol was described as being “indifferent”. This may have been due in part to the six months he had to wait to be tried at the Gloucestershire Assizes, which began on 1 April 1829.
The indictment against Joseph Pike and George Burchill presented at the Assizes differed slightly from the original charges made against them, as they were accused of breaking into the dwelling house of Giles Little Edwards (no mention of Edward Strange) in the parish of Tormarton, and stealing a gold half sovereign, a shirt pin, a purse, a handkerchief and two bank notes worth one pound each. They both were found guilty and the value of the goods and money they had stolen meant that they were given a mandatory death sentence. Consequently, the ominous words “to be hanged” were written against their names on the indictment.
At these Assizes, judge Sir James Parke sentenced a total of seventeen men to death. However, before he left Gloucester, Justice Parke commuted the sentences of fifteen of the condemned, leaving the two worst offenders to face the hangman. Luckily for Pike and Burchill, the chosen pair were the notorious highwaymen, brothers Matthew and Henry Pinnell. Joseph Pike and his accomplice had their sentences commuted to fourteen years’ transportation. Joseph remained in Gloucester Gaol until 11 May, when he was taken to his ship. He sailed on the “Claudine” for New South Wales, arriving in Sydney on 6 December 1829.
An obituary posted in the Kiama Independent and Shoalhaven Advertiser after Pike’s death in 1886 gives the reader useful information on how he spent his first years in Australia (but skilfully avoids any mention that he had been a convict). On his arrival, Joseph was “engaged with a doctor attached to one of the Imperial regiments then in Sydney, and in this service he passed the first few years of his life”. The doctor stayed on after the regiment left, becoming a sheep-farmer and putting Joseph Pike in charge of his flock. The venture failed and Joseph returned to the penal settlement at Parramatta.
Although Joseph had been sentenced to a term of 14 years, in 1836 he was released on a ticket of leave (like parole). In 1838 he married a fellow convict, Mary Talbot, who was from Staffordshire. The wedding took place in the schoolhouse at Parramatta. After their marriage, Joseph and Mary moved to Dapto in New South Wales, where Joseph became a farmer, and in addition turned his hand to property investment, buying and renting out farms and building and renting out stone cottages. The Pikes later moved to Kiama, on the south coast of New South Wales, where Joseph’s pioneering spirit came forth again when he became the first shop-keeper there, opening a general store on Pike’s Hill on 1 January 1847.
After settling in Kiama, Joseph Pike became a leading member of the community. When his adopted town became the Municipality of Kiama in 1859, Joseph became one of its founding aldermen, and served in that capacity until his death. During that time, he was Mayor four times. He donated all the stone to build Christ Church in Kiama, and was its senior Churchwarden from its establishment in 1860 until the end of his life. Geoff Pike says that his ancestor was “identified with practically every political and public improving movement in Kiama”.
Joseph Pike died on 5 December 1886. He had ten children by his wife Mary, five of whom survived him. His obituary said he had “more than a fair share of public spirit, and served the people in the capacity of alderman for 37 years, and as mayor for some five or six years, with all the energy, business tact and singleness of purpose that could possess any man.” There had been a large attendance at his funeral, even though it was held the day after his death. The writer of the obituary had known Joseph Pike personally for forty years, and described him as a “blunt, outspoken, straight forward, honest Christian citizen”. Quite a commendation for a man whose life had once been considered so worthless.
Gloucestershire Archives, County Prison Register, Lent 1829 (Q/Gc5/3)
National Archives, Assize Records, Oxford Circuit, Indictment, provided by Geoff Pike
Bath Chronicle, 16 April 1829
Obituary, Kiama Independent and Shoalhaven Advertiser, 10 Dec 1886 (provided by Geoff Pike)
Notes of Geoff Pike