Four condemned prisoners escape from Gloucester Gaol, 1765


Gloucester Castle keep: the old county gaol. Based on an 1819 work, from W. Andrew, ‘Old English Towns’, published 1909. Via Wikimedia Commons.

The county Assizes, held at Gloucester in March 1765, were said to have had one of the fullest calendars ever known in the city. At the end of all the trials, nine prisoners had received sentence of death, but five of them were reprieved, leaving four unlucky men to be executed.

John Conroy, who had been a grenadier in the English Fusiliers, was condemned for committing highway robbery, having attacked a man named Morgan Thomas on the highway near Shirehampton, robbing him of his money and then stabbing him in the head several times with a clasp knife. Thomas survived the attack and was able to give a description of his assailant as being very tall and having an Irish accent. John Conroy was quickly identified as being the culprit.

Two more of the condemned men were from Ireland. William O’Brien, alias Howard, and James Wall, also known as Bryan Birchagra, were found guilty of stealing money and a pair of silver and stone buckles from the Ostrich Tavern at Durdham Down, on the outskirts of Bristol. They had been committed to Gloucester Gaol for this offence in November 1764, and also were examined by Sir John Fielding, the Middlesex magistrate, concerning two burglaries in that county. There was a fourth charge against them of stealing money and other items from a dwelling house in Bath, Somerset.

The last condemned prisoner was Richard Holmes, who had been brought into Gloucester Gaol in September 1764, on suspicion of housebreaking and stealing sundry items, including clothes, a silver stock buckle and a pair of silver knee buckles from several properties in the Mitcheldean area. At his trial, Holmes was found guilty on three indictments.

The executions of the four men were scheduled to take place on Friday, 12 April 1765. In the meantime, the prisoners were held in chains in the condemned cell at Gloucester Castle, which at that time served as the county gaol. On the Sunday evening before they were due to be hanged, the men started to work on freeing themselves from their chains, using a spring saw which somehow they had got hold of. In order to mask the noise, three of them loudly sang psalms while the other one sawed at the irons. Conroy and Holmes freed themselves first, then separated O’Brien and Wall, who had been chained together. However, before they could get the latter pair’s leg irons off, the saw broke.

Undeterred from carrying on with their plan, they called out to the person who was guarding the door to their cell, saying that one of them needed to be let out to relieve himself. When the guard opened the door, they jumped on him and knocked him down. Making their way to the gate, they beat and knocked down the turnkey there, taking his key and locking the gate behind them.

Perhaps because two of them were still wearing leg irons, the prisoners only got to Llanthony Causeway, about a quarter of a mile away from the gaol, before they were recaptured.  It was said that the four had made a pact that they would all share the same fate, and so Conroy and Holmes had declined to leave their companions behind. Their bid for freedom came to an end when a gentleman who was out shooting in the area pointed his gun at them and ordered them to surrender.

Back at the Castle, the four men behaved in a disorderly manner at first, but as the day of their executions fast approached, they became more serious. On Friday, 12 April, they were conveyed to Over to be hanged. O’Brien and Wall dressed well for the occasion and prayed with great fervour, but put off giving the signal that they were ready to die until the last possible moment.


Gloucestershire Archives, County Quarter Sessions, Gloucester County Gaol Calendars, (Q/SG1, Epiphany 1765)


Gloucester Journal, 25 March, 8 April 1765

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 28 March,  18 April 1765 (accessed 15/05/2019 on



Gloucestershire’s Jack Sheppard: The Prison Escapes of Charles Buckingham

Jack Sheppard was a thief and robber, born in London in 1707. During  the year 1724, he was gaoled five times and escaped on four occasions, but was finally hanged at Tyburn on 16 November 1724. His prison-breaks made him into a national folk hero whose execution was witnessed by an immense crowd of admirers. The character of Macheath in Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera was based on him, and a fictional account of his life by WH Ainsworth was published in serial form between 1839 and 1840, then published as a novel, entitled Jack Sheppard.

Illustration by George Cruickshank, 1854, from "Jack Sheppard" by WH Ainsworth. (British Library Commons)

Illustration by George Cruickshank, 1854, from “Jack Sheppard” by WH Ainsworth. (British Library Commons)

Charles Buckingham was born in the Cheltenham area in 1781-82. By 1808, he had become a footpad – someone who committed highway robbery on foot. Like Sheppard, he proved to be proficient at escaping from prison custody, but Buckingham did not meet the same fate as the popular anti-hero.  His final escape attempt was successful and as far as is known, he was never recaptured.

On the evening of 27 August 1808, a gentleman and his wife were robbed by two footpads on the public highway, as they travelled on horse-back from Gloucester to Painswick. Charles Buckingham and Richard Sims were identified as the chief suspects, and they were captured in Bristol, after a desperate struggle. Both men were brought to Gloucester gaol to await trial at the next Gloucestershire Assizes, which would not take place until the following April.

During the night between 12 and 13 December 1808, Charles Buckingham managed to escape from his cell and get out of the gaol. A “Wanted” notice appeared in the next edition of the Gloucester Journal, offering a twenty guinea reward his recapture. Buckingham was described as being a native of Cheltenham or its neighbourhood and was aged 27. He was 5 feet 11 inches in height, with brown hair and hazel eyes, and had a large, long nose and “large whiskers”. He had been a sergeant in the North Gloucester Militia.

By the time of the Lent Assizes in April 1809, Charles Buckingham had not been recaptured, and Richard Sims stood trial alone. Despite the victim of the crime being convinced that Sims was one of the men who robbed him and his wife, he had a very strong alibi and was acquitted. He was then tried on another count of highway robbery, for an offence against a Mr Harris on 17 September 1808, in company with another man, supposed to be Charles Buckingham. Sims was acquitted due to a lack of evidence against him.

On 6 June 1809, Charles Buckingham finally was arrested by two Bow Street Officers in London. He was placed in the New Prison in Clerkenwell until he could be escorted back to Gloucester. Jack Sheppard had escaped from this prison in 1724, and Buckingham nearly managed to do the same, getting off his irons with a file, then using a crow-bar to make a hole in the outside wall. He was discovered by the gaoler just as he was about to leave, accompanied by twenty of his fellow prisoners. He was held in a more secure cell until someone arrived to take him back to Gloucester Gaol, to await trial at the next assizes.

Back in Gloucester Gaol, the governor and the chaplain questioned Buckingham about his escape the previous December. They had suspected that he must have had inside help and the night guard, John Brown, had been tried at the April assizes for aiding an escape, but was acquitted. Buckingham said that he had first used a knife, then later a large nail, to ease out a bar of his cell window. This had taken him a month, but then he had managed to get hold of a spoon, which he was able to use to open his cell door. (Jack Sheppard had also made use of spoons to open prison doors.) He had left his cell at 6 o’clock in the evening, when it was dark, and lowered himself down into the debtors’ yard using cut-up blankets he had tied together. He then tied two or three mops to his sheets and threw them over the boundary wall, then climbed over and ran away.

Buckingham finally stood trial for highway robbery in August 1809, nearly a year after the crime had been committed. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. However, this sentence was commuted to one of transportation for life. On 26 September 1809, Buckingham and three other prisoners (Nilus Cowper, John Thompson and James Payne) were put in a coach to be taken to the hulks at Woolwich, where they would be held until they set sail for Australia. The four men were all in leg-irons and handcuffs and were chained together. Two guards were in the coach with them, while another officer, well-armed, sat outside.

When the party reached Uxbridge early the following morning, there was a halt to change horses. One of the guards got out of the coach to get some water and Buckingham, Cowper and Thompson, who had managed to get their irons off during the night, jumped out of the coach and ran away, while Payne, who had failed to get his irons off, held the remaining guard down. The outside guard gave chase, but the three got away. Once again, a  twenty guinea reward was offered for the recapture of Charles Buckingham, and the same amount was offered for the other two prisoners.

Nilus Cowper was recaptured in Warwickshire in October after committing a robbery, and John Thompson was arrested near Cardiff in November. John Thompson (alias Grimes, alias Smith) was hanged at Cardiff in April 1810.  Nilus Cowper (alias Launcelot Cooper, alias John Jones, alias William Davies) was hanged at Warwick Gaol in May 1810. Buckingham, as far as is known, was never recaptured.

Charles Buckingham had made only one escape from prison, plus an escape from custody, and he had made an unsuccessful attempt to get out of Clerkenwell New Prison, so the Cheltenham man could not be classed in the same league as Jack Sheppard when it came to gaol breaks. However, after Buckingham’s capture in London in June 1809, some newspaper reports revealed that his time in the North Gloucester Militia (during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars) had not been without incident.

The reports stated that about two years previously, when Charles Buckingham had been a sergeant in the North Gloucester Militia, he had been suspected of helping a prominent French prisoner-of-war escape from Stapleton Prison, near Bristol. He had deserted from his duty there and after being captured he was tried by court martial and sentenced to transportation (which must mean he was ordered to serve with the army abroad). He was sent to the Isle of Wight to be taken overseas, but escaped.

Looking into this story in more detail, it transpired that the North Gloucester Militia were guarding the French prisoners at Stapleton in December 1806, when one Monsieur Dare, described as “a Frenchman of some distinction”, escaped. It was believed that he must have been helped by some of his guards, and a number of privates were arrested, while a sergeant had deserted. In February 1807, it was reported that, “the sergeant who connived at the escape of M. Dare, the French prisoner, from Stapleton, has been taken.”

Buckingham was not named as being this sergeant and nothing was found in the newspapers on a court martial, sentence, or escape from the Isle of Wight army depot. However, on 18 July 1807, a Charles Buckingham was admitted to Dorchester Prison, having been picked up “On the Road”. He was described as a deserter from the North Gloucester Militia, born in Cheltenham and aged about 24. He was discharged three days later, being “taken by the party who brought him”. If he had indeed been captured in February, then he must have been picked up on the road after escaping from the Isle of Wight. If the information on the capture in February was incorrect, this may have been the time at which he faced a court martial and was sent to the Isle of Wight army depot. Either way, no more information concerning him was found, until his arrest for highway robbery in the autumn of 1808.

Between the years 1806 and 1809, Charles Buckingham had deserted from his militia unit at least once – possibly twice –  and had absconded from the Isle of Wight army depot, thus avoiding being sent to fight in the Napoleonic Wars. He had broken out of Gloucester Gaol once, nearly managed to get out of prison in Clerkenwell, and finally escaped from a coach – while chained to three other prisoners – taking him to serve his sentence of transportation to Australia. Charles Buckingham did not become notorious like Jack Sheppard, but he did succeed in carrying off the greatest escape of all – he avoided the gallows.


JRS Whiting, Prison Reform in Gloucestershire, 1776-1820 (1978)


Bath Chronicle, 4 Dec 1806, 12 Feb 1807; Gloucester Journal, 29 Aug 1808, 19 Dec 1808,  20 March 1809, 2 Oct 1809, 2 April 1810, 23 April 1810; Oxford Journal, 5 May 1810, Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 12 June 1809; Bristol Mirror, 5 Aug 1809, 4 Oct 1809. (All accessed via

Dorchester Prison Admission and Discharge Registers, 1782-1808 (accessed via

© Jill Evans 2016




An Atheist in Gloucester Gaol, 1842-3

At the Gloucestershire Assizes held in August 1842, George Jacob Holyoake, a socialist lecturer, was sentenced to six months in Gloucester Gaol for committing blasphemy, after saying at a lecture in Cheltenham that he did not believe in God. I wrote about his case in a previous post, which you can read by clicking here. In Holyoake’s own account of the trial, published in 1851 (The History of the Last Trial by Jury for Atheism in England), he described his time in prison.

George Jacob Holyoake, in later life.

George Jacob Holyoake, in later life.

Holyoake first entered Gloucester Gaol in June 1842, after being committed there by the Cheltenham magistrates to await trial, and remained there while he tried to organise bail. After his trial, Holyoake was returned to the Gaol and put in the “Fines” section (where most of the inmates were there in lieu of paying a fine or sureties). It is clear that the authorities were puzzled as to how to treat their new “guest”, who was not the usual sort of criminal. On his first morning, when everyone else went to prayers, Holyoake refused to go, and said if they wanted him to attend, they would have to carry him to the chapel. He also was disinclined to wear prison clothes, and said that if he must wear them, the guards would have to dress him every morning. He was left to wear his own clothes, and only attended chapel on Sundays, when a sermon was preached.

Holyoake had as little as possible to do with his fellow prisoners, although he spoke of a small gesture of kindness made to him when he first entered the prison to await trial. On going into the “general room” on his first morning:

“The prisoners surrounded me, exclaiming, ‘What are you in for?’ As I made no reply, another observed, ‘We always tells one another’. ‘Oh! blasphemy’ I replied. ‘What’s that?’ said one. ‘Aren’t you ‘ligious?’ said another…Seeing my loaf unbroken, and that I could not eat, ‘Here’, said four or five of them at once, ‘Will you have some of this tea, zir?’ – which was mint-tea, the reward of some extra work, and the nicest thing they had too offer.”

When Holyoake returned to the gaol as a convicted prisoner, he avoided the company of his fellow inmates, as he disliked having to listen to “recitals of depravity such as I had never heard before, and do not wish to hear again.”

Holyoake had some interesting comments to make on the officials he came into contact with at the gaol. The Governor at that time was Captain Mason, who held the post from 1836 to 1862. Holyoake wrote that Mason was:

“A type of gentleman, official and conventional, whose qualities were instructive. Bland, imperturbable, civil and firm, he was never weak and never rude…I watched his manners with pleasure – he governed the gaol like a drawing room, excepting that the desserts were not quite the same…Possibly he had nerves and sensibility, but these articles were not in common use. They were kept under lock and key, and never brought out in the routine of official duties. As blandly and courteously as he wished me good morning, he would have conducted me to the gallows had instruction to that effect reached him. He would have apologized for the inconvenience, but he would have hung me while I was still saying, ‘pray don’t mention it’.”

The Visiting Magistrates who supervised the running of the prison took a great interest in Holyoake, and some of them asked for interviews with him in order to question him about his beliefs and to try to persuade him to see the error of his ways. Gloucestershire’s Senior Magistrate then was Mr Bransby Cooper, who had formerly represented Gloucester in Parliament. Cooper had many conversations with Holyoake, who wrote of him (in The History of the Last Trial…) that he was:

“A man of venerable and commanding aspect, generous to a fault in matters of humanity, harsh to a fault in matters of religion…One minute he would growl at me like an unchained tiger – the next he would utter some word of real sympathy…He had the voice of Stentor, and though at first his savage roar shook me, at last I acquired an artistic liking for it, and his voice was so grand that I came to the conclusion that he had a natural right to be a brute.”

In a later work, Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life (published 1892), Holyoake described Cooper as, “A man of great stature, great tenderness, great humanity, and like Lord Byron, a man of tumultuous passion, with a voice like the Plymouth Sound.”

The Prison Chaplain was the Reverend Robert Cooper, who was the son of Mr Bransby Cooper. The Revd Cooper served in the role from 1822 to 1850. In Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life, Holyoake wrote of the Chaplain that he:

“Had the kindly nature, but none of the force of character of his father. He was merely a regulation clergyman, who believed he had spiritual duties to discharge; but his piety was like cold water – it gave you the discomfort of dampness, and when dry again you were as you were before. Still I retain respect for him. He had none of that spite of piety I had hitherto experienced, and was only disagreeable as a matter of official duty.”

Of the Prison Surgeon, Mr Thomas Hickes, Holyoake had little to say, except in an article he published in the Oracle of Reason after his release (reprinted in The History of the Last Trial…). Holyoake’s health had suffered in part due to the poor prison diet and he had been frustrated by the surgeon’s refusal to order additional food for him, without first referring to the Governor. In the Oracle of Reason he wrote:

“I gladly admit, that his manner was always very kind, but I complain that his answers were always very indecisive. What he recommended he seldom prescribed and professed that he must consult the governor when he should have consulted only himself.”

In his article in the Oracle of Reason, Holyoake made observations on the conditions inside the gaol. His worst recollection was of the state of the reception cell in which he spent his first night, sitting on the edge of the bed:

“Those are happy who are ever preserved from the reception cells of Gloucester Gaol. Of the one in which I was put, the floor was filthy, the bed was filthier, and the window was filthier still, for in the window was – what I sicken to write – a rag full of human excrement. And of the bed, a prisoner assured me that when he lay in it the lice crept up his throat off the corners of the blanket which covered him.”

Holyoake wrote that the prison diet consisted of bread, gruel, and potatoes, with boiled rice substituted for potatoes twice a week. “After I had been in prison nine weeks I was, by the rules, allowed a small portion of salt beef on Thursdays and Sundays. The gruel was little remarkable for its delicate and little celebrated for its nutritious qualities, and known by the luxurious cognomen of ‘skilly’. The rice had a blue cast, a saline taste and a slimy look. The beef I could not often taste, seldom chew, and never digest.”

He also complained of the lack of exercise inside the prison walls:

“The yard in which I walked was so small, that I always became giddy, through the frequent turnings, before I became refreshed. The governor sometimes permitted the “Fines-Class” in which I was, to walk in his garden; but the occasions came seldom and lasted not long – and I was previously so enervated by confinement, that the unusual exercise thus taken, threw me into a slight fever.”

As for the Chapel, Holyoake described the building as “a cold place” and sympathised with the prisoners who, unlike himself, were not able to get out of attending prayers every morning:

“The prisoners are assembled every morning to hear prayers, on empty stomachs, after sixteen hours’ confinement in their night cells. On the ‘long prayer’ mornings, they are detained in chapel three-quarters of an hour, and the penitentiary men, on their return to their cells, find their gruel on the floor, gone cold in their absence.”

George Jacob Holyoake was released from Gloucester Gaol on 6 February 1843, having served his six months’ sentence. In a letter he wrote to the Cheltenham Free Press (reprinted in The History of the Last Trial...) he wrote:

“How my imprisonment is supposed to affect me toward religion I cannot tell. I only know that I have no change of sentiment to own…After this, I can only say, that I have greater difficulty than ever in believing that humanity is the associate of piety; and if Christianity has no expounders more attractive than those I have fallen in with, the day of my conversion is still distant.”

The Prison Chaplain’s attempt to present Holyoake with a bible on his release from the gaol failed.


G.J. Holyoake, The History of the Last Trial by Jury for Atheism in England: A Fragment of Autobiography (1851). (Available as an e-book from Google Books and other sites)

G.J. Holyoake, Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life (1892). (Available on

© Jill Evans 2015

The last woman in England hanged for arson: Charlotte Long of North Nibley, 1833

Hay-making, from Birket Foster's 'Pictures of English Landscape', 1863 (Internet Archive Book Image)

Hay-making, from Birket Foster’s ‘Pictures of English Landscape’, 1863 (Internet Archive Book Image)

On the night of 25 July 1833, the hay-ricks of three farmers in North Nibley were set on fire. Each blaze was quickly extinguished and no great damage was done, but it was suspected that an arsonist had been at work, and the culprit was soon detected.

Charlotte Long was a native of North Nibley, born Charlotte Bendall in 1799. In March 1819, she married John Long, and the couple had two children. In August 1829, John Long got into trouble with the law and was tried at the Summer Assizes in Gloucester, charged with stealing bacon. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years’ transportation. Charlotte remained in North Nibley with her children, until in April 1833, it came to the attention of the parish authorities that she was pregnant. As the child was clearly not her husband’s, it was thought likely that she would become a burden on the parish rates when the child was born, so she was questioned as to her place of legal settlement, and it was decided that this was Alkington, near Berkeley. (I have been unable to find out why Alkington was chosen. It may have been the birth place of John Long, or he and Charlotte may have lived there for a while.) A magistrate ordered that she should be removed to Alkington, and she was sent on her way, escorted by North Nibley’s parish officer, Henry Excell. By July of the same year, she had returned to North Nibley, now with an infant son.

Soon after the arson incident, a woman called Betsey Burford stated that it was Charlotte Long who was the culprit. Henry Excell subsequently went to Charlotte’s home with a warrant to arrest her, on charges of setting fire to hay-ricks belonging to Jesse Organ, Thomas Gilman and James Nicholls. When Excell told her that Betsey Burford had sworn that Charlotte was responsible for causing the fires, she replied, “Betsey Burford has dug a ditch for me, and I shall fall into it”. She protested that Burford had put her up to committing the crime.

On 9 August, Charlotte Long was committed to Gloucester Gaol. She took her breast-feeding infant into the prison with her. Betsey Burford had also been committed to gaol, charged with  having “procured, counselled, commanded and abetted” Charlotte Long to commit arson. The assizes were already underway at Gloucester, and Charlotte’s trial took place the next day, before judge Baron Gurney. Betsey Burford was not tried alongside her, however, because she had “turned King’s Evidence”, meaning she had agreed to give evidence against Charlotte in return for not being prosecuted.

In court, Charlotte appeared in the dock with her baby in her arms, but as he began to cry, she handed him over to her sister. Burford said that Charlotte Long had told her that she was going to set fire to the hay-ricks of Henry Excell, in revenge for him removing her to Alkington. She had gone to Excell’s field, but then the thought struck her, “that if she set his ricks on fire, she should be found out, because she said to him when he removed her, that she would serve him out when she came back, and if he bit her finger she would bite his thumb.” So, she had decided to set fire to the ricks of a few other people first. Henry Excell was then called and said that when he took Charlotte to Alkington, she had made no threats in his hearing.

Because Charlotte Long had admitted to setting fire to the hay-ricks, the jury had to find her guilty, but after delivering their verdict, the foreman of the jury added, “We beg leave most strongly to recommend the prisoner to mercy, because we think she must have been set on as a tool of some other person”. Two of the victims of her crime also asked the judge to show mercy, but Baron Gurney replied, “I am sorry that I cannot attend to these recommendations. I have considered the matter very much. There were three ricks fired all on the same night. The prisoner is not a young girl, and I find that her husband has been transported.”

Unfortunately for Charlotte Long, setting fire to hay-ricks had been made a capital offence under the Black Act of 1723. In more recent times, agricultural riots had made landowners fearful for their property and the courts were determined to treat incidents of criminal damage severely. At this assizes, another arsonist, Thomas Gaskins of Deerhurst, had also been found guilty, and he was brought up to stand beside Charlotte in the dock as both were sentenced. If Charlotte hadn’t had her character tainted (in the judge’s eyes), firstly by being married to a criminal, and secondly by giving birth to an illegitimate child, her life might have been spared, and Gaskins left to be made an example of, but Gurney sentenced them both to death.

The Gloucester Journal commented, “The impressive effect of the Judge’s sentencing was heightened by the loud and frequent interruptions of the female prisoner crying for mercy, and she was removed from the bar in a most pitiable state.”

Other newspapers gave an even more dramatic description: “During the passing of the sentence a most distressing scene occurred. The female prisoner was crying and begging for mercy, almost every person present was in tears, and the learned baron himself was so overcome that at the conclusion of the address to the prisoners his voice evidently faltered, and as soon as the fatal sentence had been passed, the female prisoner dropped on the floor and was carried out of court moaning most dreadfully.”

Although the judge had told Gaskins and Long that there was little hope of their sentences being commuted, petitions on behalf of both of them were sent to the Home Office, but no reprieves were issued. Charlotte Long’s infant son had remained in the care of his aunt, who had him baptised and named William at Dursley Parish Church on 24 August. Unfortunately, the Dursley Parish Registers reveal that William was buried four days later. According to newspaper reports, when Charlotte was told that her child was dead, she said she was glad, because she would see him soon in heaven.

Charlotte Long was executed alongside Thomas Gaskins on the roof of the prison gatehouse on Saturday, 31 August 1833. On 3 September, she was buried in the churchyard of St Martin’s Parish Church, North Nibley – the same church where she had been baptised and married.

Charlotte Long was the last woman to be hanged in England for committing arson. The last man to be hanged in England for the same offence was Daniel Chase, who died at Ilchester, Somerset, on 31 August 1836. Most forms of arson were removed from the list of capital crimes in 1837.



Jill Evans, Hanged at Gloucester (The History Press, 2011)

Gloucester Journal, 17 August, 21 August, 7 September 1833

Gloucestershire Chronicle, 17 August 1833

Bristol Mercury, 17 August, 7 September 1833

Gloucestershire Archives:

County Gaol Registers, Summer 1833 (Q/Gc5/4)

Poor Law Records: North Nibley, Removal Orders, 4 April 1833 (P230 OV 3/2/157)

Parish Records: North Nibley Parish Registers: Baptisms, 1799; Marriages, 1819 and Burials, 1833 (P230)

Parish Records: Dursley Parish Registers, Baptisms and Burials, 1833 (P124)

© Jill Evans 2014


Gloucester convicts on the First Fleet to Australia, 1787-88

On 13 May 1787, a convoy of ships set sail from Portsmouth, carrying over 700 convicts to the British government’s new penal colony in Australia. Among the transportees were a number of convicts from Gloucester prison.

Britain had previously transported convicts to the American colonies, but this could no longer be done from the mid-1770s, when the American War of Independence began. Prisoners were still sentenced to transportation after that, but they were either kept in their local prison or sent to work on hulks on the Thames, while a new place could be found which was suitable for a penal colony. In January 1787, it was announced in Parliament that Botany Bay in Australia was to be the destination for Britain’s transportees.

For several months, convicts were removed from their prisons and sent to hulks at Portsmouth and Plymouth, before being put on board one of the convict ships. They then had to wait for the weather to be good enough to set sail. On 13 May 1787, the fleet finally left Portsmouth, led by the flag ship Sirius, carrying the new colony’s governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, and followed by six convict ships and several other vessels carrying supplies. The journey, via Tenerife, Rio de Janeiro and Cape Town, took eight months, with the first ship reaching Botany Bay on 18 January 1788. Unfortunately, for various reasons, Botany Bay was found to be unsuitable for setting up a colony, and a better area was found at Port Jackson, 12 kilometres north. The First Fleet re-embarked and arrived at Port Jackson, quickly renamed Sydney Cove, on 26 January 1788.

The First Fleet entering Port Jackson, Jan 26, 1788. Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

The Gloucester prisoners

No definitive number of convicts who sailed on the First Fleet has ever been decided upon, and likewise there seems to be no agreement as to the exact number of transportees from Gloucester. According to the Gloucester Journal of 16 April 1787, 30 to 40 convicts were sent from Gloucester’s County Prison to Portsmouth or Plymouth to await transportation, but fewer than this appear to have sailed for Australia. In the various available indexes and databases, the number of prisoners who were said to have been tried at Gloucester is between 21 and 25, while another 21 to 23 are thought to have come from Bristol. From my own research, I believe there were 21 Gloucester prisoners.

The names of the transportees from Gloucester Prison (in alphabetical order) are:

Samuel DAVIS; Samuel DAY; Samuel GRIFFITHS (alias BRISCOW and BUTCHER); George GUEST (or GESS); Joseph HAINES; Henry HATHAWAY; Elizabeth LOCK; Joseph LONG; John MARROTT (or MERRITT or MARRIOTT); Betty MASON; Richard MORGAN; William OKEY; Elizabeth PARKER; James PRICE; Edward PUGH; Edward RISBY; Isaac ROGERS; Daniel SMART; Richard SMART; John SUMMERS; William WHITING.

The University of Wollongong First Fleet database gives some interesting information on some of these Gloucester convicts.

All but one of the male prisoners from Gloucester sailed on board the Alexander. This ship was the largest, but not the most hygienic, of the transports, and it had already lost sixteen people to an outbreak of typhus before the fleet left Portsmouth. Ten more convicts died on the journey. Two Gloucester transportees who died before or during the voyage on the Alexander were Isaac Rogers (condemned and reprieved March 1785 for highway robbery, commuted to 14 years transportation), and Richard Smart (sentenced to 7 years transportation at Quarter Sessions, January 1786, for stealing wool). Richard Smart’s brother, Daniel Smart, who was convicted for the same offence, survived the journey, but did not last long in Australia, dying some time in 1788.

Samuel Davis, aged about 17, (sentenced to transportation for 7 years in July 1785, for stealing a silver watch), was killed by Aborigines some time in 1788. William Okey (condemned and reprieved for burglary, March 1784) also was killed by Aborigines, in 1792.

The three female transportees from Gloucester all had interesting stories.

Elizabeth Lock, who had travelled to Australia on the Lady Penrhyn, had been sentenced to 7 years transportation at the Assizes in March 1783, for burglary. She married a fellow Gloucester convict, Richard Morgan, on 30 March 1788. However, Morgan was sent to Norfolk Island in 1790 and he lived there with another woman, before eventually settling in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). Elizabeth Lock left New South Wales in 1795.

Betty Mason had been tried in March 1785 and found guilty of stealing money and a purse. She was condemned to death but reprieved, and sentenced to 14 years transportation instead. With her on the Friendship was her one-year-old son (presumably conceived and born in Gloucester gaol), who sadly died during the journey. She married convict Richard Hawkes on 14 Feb 1790.

Elizabeth Parker, who was tried in March 1785 for burglary, travelled on the convict ship Friendship with her daughter, who had been conceived in Gloucester gaol, and the child’s father, Edward Pugh. Elizabeth became ill during the voyage and was transferred onto the Charlotte at Cape Town. Unfortunately, she died soon after landing, being buried on 19 February 1788 (as Elizabeth Pugh). Edward Pugh married another convict in June the same year.

To finish on a happier note, some of the Gloucester convicts made a success of their new lives in Australia. A good example is John Marrott (also written as Merritt or Marriott) who was convicted at Gloucestershire’s Lent Assizes in March 1784 of breaking and entering, and stealing a large quantity of cloth. He was condemned and reprieved, then sentenced to 7 years transportation. According to the website Fellowship of First Fleeters, in January 1794 he was granted 50 acres of land in the Prospect district, and went on to become one of the Colony’s most successful emancipist farmers. He died in May 1812, aged 69.



Irene Wyatt, Transportees from Gloucestershire to Australia, 1783-1842 (Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaelogical Society, 1988)

Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore (1987)

A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts & The Colonies (1966)


University of Wollongong First Fleet database

Fellowship of First Fleeters (Information on some of the Gloucester transportees)

Australia’s First Fleet (this gives a slightly different list of convicts from Gloucester than the Univesrity of Wollongong database)

The First Fleet – Project Gutenberg Australia (useful information on the voyage)

© Jill Evans 2014





The last woman burnt at the stake in Gloucestershire.

On  Friday, 13 April 1753, two men and a woman who had been condemned to death at the Gloucestershire Assizes were taken from Gloucester Castle to Over, the execution site for county prisoners. The two men, Walter Crabb and William Webley, had been found guilty of theft, and were hanged. The woman, Anne Williams, had been condemned for murdering her husband. Under English Law, this offence was a form of petty treason, and the punishment for a female who committed this crime was to be burnt at the stake.

The crime of petty treason had been defined in the reign of Edward III, under the terms of the Treason Act, 1351. It applied to a wife who killed her husband, a servant who killed his or her master or mistress, or a clergyman who killed his prelate. Murder in any of these circumstances was regarded as an act of betrayal and disobedience. In the case of marriage, a wife was subordinate to her husband and must obey him, just as the king must be obeyed by his subjects.

While the punishment for men found guilty of petty treason was to be hanged, for women, the punishment was to be burnt at the stake. Females were also burnt if condemned for producing counterfeit coins, which became an act of high treason by the terms of the 1351 Act.

By the time Anne Williams was burnt at the stake, it had become common practice for the hangman to tie a rope around the prisoner’s neck and strangle her, before the flames had reached high enough to burn her alive. The following illustration of Anne’s execution in The Newgate Calendar therefore uses as a certain amount of artistic licence, as it shows her fully conscious and praying.

The execution of Anne Williams, from The Newgate Calendar. (

The execution of Anne Williams, from The Newgate Calendar. (

The first indication that something was amiss in the Williams household is recorded in the Gloucestershire Gaol Calendars, which in the mid-eighteenth century often listed prisoners held in the various houses of correction, as well as in the main county gaol. In October 1750, a certain Giles Swain was committed to Cirencester House of Correction, to await trial at the next county quarter sessions, “William Williams having taken his Corporal Oath that he Goes in Danger of his Life.” Swain presumably was released at the next Quarter Sessions, perhaps on entering recognizances to keep the peace. Then, in June 1752, Anne Williams was admitted to Cirencester House of Correction, being suspected of poisoning her husband, William Williams. Giles Swain was admitted on the same day, also on suspicion of poisoning William Williams. At the Trinity Quarter Sessions, held in July, Anne Williams was ordered to be held for trial at the next assizes, but there was no further mention of Giles Swain.

Anne had to wait until April in the following year for her trial, at the Lent Assizes. The trial was reported in the Gloucester Journal, but no details were given of where the family lived, or the reasons for the murder. The evidence against her was that she had sent the servant, Richard Painter, to buy some white mercury. After her husband died, she told Painter that she had given her husband the poison in some “pap”, and in a drink, and he was immediately seized with “violent Vomitings and Purgings.” William Williams sent for his sister and told her that Anne was a wicked woman, and that he had been very well “till after she made him eat some Pap, which (he said) had done his Business for him, and that he should die.” Indeed, he did die, the following morning, “when his body appeared as if mortified.” Anne Williams had little to say for herself and called no-one to speak for her. She was found guilty and sentenced to death, but the sentence was respited for a few days. The Gloucester Journal reported that she “pleaded her Belly, but, a Jury of Matrons being sworn, she was found not quick.” [Meaning she said she was pregnant but on being examined was found not to be.]

On 13 April, Anne Williams was put to death in the manner prescribed for petty treason. Her execution was recorded in the Gloucester Journal, and copied in many other newspapers, even being considered worthy of a paragraph in the Gentleman’s Magazine. It was reported that the two men hanged on the same day behaved well, acknowledging the justice of their sentences and asking for God’s forgiveness, but Anne Williams, “who was burnt at the stake, protested her Innocence of the Fact for which she suffered with a Behaviour quite unbecoming her melancholy Departure.”

Less than a month after Anne Williams died, her reputed lover, Giles Swain, appeared in the Gloucestershire Gaol Calendars again, having been committed on 4 May, for “Stealing a Dragg Chain from a Waggon, the property of the Widow Webb, and a great Coat the property of William Boulton, both which facts he on his Examination Confessed.” He was tried at the Michaelmas Quarter Sessions in September 1753 and sentenced to 7 years transportation. The Gloucester Journal commented, “This Swain is the Person who kept Company with the Woman that was burnt here, at our Lent Assizes, for poisoning her Husband.”

Anne Williams was the last woman in Gloucestershire to be burnt at the stake, but another 19 women in England and Wales endured this punishment after her. 4 of them had been condemned for coining, 2 for murdering their mistresses, and 13 had been found guilty of murdering their husbands. The last woman to be burnt at the stake was Catherine Murphy (also known as Christian Bowman), who died in London in 1789. This form of punishment was abolished in May 1790. The category of petty treason was abolished in 1828.


Gloucestershire Archives, Gaol Calendars (Q/SG1), Epiphany 1750/1, Trinity 1752, Michaelmas 1752, Epiphany 1753 and Trinity 1753.

Gloucester Journal, 10 April 1753, 17 April 1753, 4 Sept 1753.

Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume XXIII, April 1753, ‘Historical Chronicle’, p.198.

Information on petty treason can be found on

The punishment of burning at the stake is discussed on Richard Clark’s site,

© Jill Evans 2014

Elizabeth Parker, the Swing Riots, and the Tetbury parish clerk

Tetbury, 1807 (

Tetbury, 1807 (

The Swing Riots were disturbances which took place in 1830 and 1831, mostly in the southern counties of England. Agricultural labourers, who were already suffering due to low wages and a lack of work after several years of bad harvests, rose up when their employers introduced threshing machines into their workplaces. The riots got their name from the threatening letters which were sent to farmers and other employers, which were signed “Captain Swing.”

The riots spread into Gloucestershire in November 1830, with the Tetbury area seeing the worst of the disturbances. Amongst the many people arrested afterwards was one woman, Elizabeth Parker. She has sometimes been cited as one of only two females who were transported for taking part in the Swing Riots. In fact, she was sentenced to be transported for this crime, but never sailed, as she was pardoned a few months after being convicted. However, less than a year after being released from Gloucester Gaol, she was back, awaiting trial for another offence. The circumstances in both of the cases she was tried for reveal an intriguing relationship with one Daniel Cole, parish clerk and assistant poor law officer in Tetbury.

Elizabeth Parker was committed to Gloucester Gaol on 4 December 1830. In the Gaol Registers, she was described as being 23 and a “labourer”. She was in fact a prostitute, and she was unusual for the time in that she could read and write. She was charged on the oaths of Daniel Cole and others with having been among a mob which destroyed a threshing machine belonging to Jacob Hayward, at his farm in Beverstone, on 26 November.

At the County Quarter Sessions, which began in Gloucester on 3 January 1831, Elizabeth took the stand at the court room behind Shire Hall, along with 23 men. Witnesses who had been sworn in as special constables on the day of the riots gave their evidence, and described coming across a mob of over 100 people on Beverstone Road, many of whom were armed with sticks, pick-axes and sledge-hammers. They were being addressed by four magistrates, who tried to persuade them to go home, but they announced that they would go to Beverstone to break the machine there. The constables followed them to Mr Hayward’s yard, where they witnessed some of the mob attacking his threshing machine.

John Tidcomb, a farmer of Tetbury, identified Elizabeth Parker as being part of the mob, and stated that he heard her say, “Be d—-d if we don’t go to Beverstone, and break the machine!” Daniel Cole stated that he had seen the mob in Mr Hayward’s yard, attacking the machine. He said Elizabeth Parker was not actually hitting the machine when he saw her, but she was holding a sledge-hammer. Isaac Hayward, the nephew of the prosecutor, Jacob Hayward, stated that he had seen Elizabeth Parker and some of the men in the act of breaking the machine. When it came to the defence of the accused, all of the men produced character witnesses, but Elizabeth Parker had no-one to speak for her. The jury deliberated for 5 minutes, then found all the defendants guilty.

When all the rioters were gathered together for sentencing at the end of the trials, the Chairman of the Quarter Sessions said that a distinction had been made between the leaders of the mobs and the rest. Elizabeth Parker was singled out as a leader: “A woman, the only female prisoner, who had, by violent language and by every means in her power, been active in stimulating her companions to acts of outrage, and had even personally assisted with a large sledge hammer.” Along with the other “leaders”, she  was sentenced to be transported, in her case for seven years.

Elizabeth Parker was granted royal clemency in July 1831 and was released from prison. She returned to Tetbury and presumably continued in her usual occupation, but on 27 March 1832, she was committed to Gloucester Gaol again. This time, she was charged with stealing 2 five pound notes, 5 sovereigns and 5 half sovereigns, from the person of Daniel Cole.

Elizabeth was tried at the Lent Assizes which began on 28 March, 1832. The details of her trial were reported in the Morning Post. Daniel Cole was in the “Boat Inn” (meaning the Boot Inn, I think) in Tetbury, when Elizabeth Parker came in. Cole “accompanied her down the yard”, where he stayed with her for about half an hour. The next morning, he realised that all his money was gone. One of his five pound notes was identified by him in a shop, where Parker had bought some items.

Under cross-examination, Cole said he was the assistant overseer of the poor and collector of public taxes of the parish of Tetbury. He was married with one child. He went in to the inn at about 9 pm, and stayed about 2 hours, drinking in the parlour, with the landlord, Elizabeth Parker, and two others. He was not drunk, but he was “rather fresh.” He gave the prisoner no money. He saw Elizabeth Parker next morning at the Prince and Princess public house. He didn’t drink with her or give her any money. He did give her a shilling after she was committed. He never said that he would not have prosecuted her “if it was not for her own tongue”. (Presumably meaning he couldn’t trust her to keep her mouth shut.)

Henry Aldguard, a constable, stated that he apprehended Elizabeth Parker at her mother’s house, on 24 March, and sent for Mr Cole. Cole came and said Parker had got his money, and he was going to take her before a magistrate. The prisoner then said to Cole, “Come with me into a private room only for two minutes.” They went into another room, and before long Cole called the constable. When he went in, he saw Parker with her arms around Cole’s waist. When Cole insisted that he would take her before a magistrate, she cried, “Oh, don’t take me, and I’ll send for my mother, and she will sell everything she has to give you back your money.” She was subsequently taken before a magistrate and committed to Horsley gaol, before being transferred to Gloucester for her trial.

In her defence, Elizabeth Parker said that Cole had given her the money, and on the next day told her he did not care about the money, but was “apprehensive that he would lose his character as parish clerk.”

Parker was found guilty, and in addressing her, the judge said, “he was sorry to perceive that she had made such a bad return for the royal clemency which she had so recently experienced.” He sentenced her to be transported for life. The judge showed his disapproval of Daniel Cole’s conduct by not allowing his expenses as prosecutor to be waived.

Although Daniel Cole had not been the only witness to give evidence against Elizabeth Parker at her first trial, it might be expected that he would have kept out of her way after she was pardoned and returned to Tetbury. Perhaps the parish officer was one of Elizabeth’s regular customers. Certainly he seems to have found her hard to resist when he was inebriated (despite her being missing two front teeth). Did she know this, and get him to “accompany her down the yard” with a view to stealing from him to get her revenge? It seems more likely that she knew that Daniel Cole had a great deal of money on him that night, and took her chances when she found him the worse for drink, hoping that if she was found out, he would not prosecute her, because of the damage it would do to his reputation. Perhaps she also thought that she could use her feminine wiles to persuade Cole not to prosecute her. If so, she was wrong, and was sent to start a new life, in Tasmania.

Sources: Gloucestershire Archives, Gaol Calendars (Q/Gc 5/4); Gloucester Journal, 8 Jan and 15 Jan, 1831 at Gloucestershire Archives; Morning Post, 6 April 1832, from the British Newspaper Archive website.

© Jill Evans 2013