THE  “MINDEN” CONVICTS  FROM  DEVONSHIRE

 

Some time in the 1830s, my great-great-grandfather John Cawsey, anagricultural labourer from Tawstock, was drawn to Barnstaple by the start-up ofthe lace industry 14.  Many of his children and grandchildrenworked in the “Derby” lace factory during the following 70 years or so.    John Cawsey had four sons,George, John , James, William and Robert. John (my great-grandfather ) is pictured on the right.   Reports in the “North DevonJournal” of many appearances before the magistrates testify to theircolourful  lives! (Refs 1 - 9;probably not a complete list)

 

James Cawsey was in trouble from a very early age!  In November 1843 (10 years old) he camebefore the courts for petty theft 1.  In June 1844 he was jailed for theft offruit  2.  Then in July1846 he was imprisoned for a month for stealing apples 3.  And in 1847,referred to as a “notoriously bad boy”, he was before the court for assault ontwo old women but got off with a caution 4. 

 

Finally, still only 15 years old, James Cawsey was subjected to a jurytrial for a further offence of stealing apples.  The “North Devon Journal” of 6th July 1848 described thetrial at some length 5.  The jury was in some doubt because ofthe flimsy evidence presented. There had been seven boys in the orchard.  James was the only one caught by the sole witness who gavechase, but no apples were found upon him. The jury, under pressure from theRecorder, eventually found him guilty. The Recorder (probably William Praed) then passed the sentence that hebe “transported beyond the seas for a period of seven years”.  Such a savage sentence on a juvenilefor petty crime seems extraordinary to us now - but it was not abnormal at thetime.   Peter Christie hasdescribed the case of George Thorne, aged 9 15.  The judge at Barnstaple in 1836sentenced this child - “with the greatest tenderness and humanity” - to sevenyears transportation to Australia 

 

In James Cawsey’s case, the Recorder referred to his  repeated convictions by the BoroughMagistrates (more, perhaps, than the incidents I have discovered !).  Coincidentally, the N.D.J. Account ofthe case is adjacent to a report of the Quarterly Dinner of the Town Council onthe evening of James Cawsey’s trial. “The Recorder and many of the Council spent a very pleasant evening amida profusion of the good things of the table”.  Did he give a passing thought to the men he had sentenced?  Probably not.

 

Further information recently came to light from pages on theInternet  relating to WesternAustralian convicts. (Refs 10 - 13) There are full details of the voyages and the convicts on some 43 shipswhich conveyed convicts to Western Australia in the 1850s and 1860s.  James Cawsey travelled on the “Minden”

 

In 1851 the Frigate “Minden” left Plymouth carrying 301 convicts boundfor the Swan River Colony. 

 

Seven of the 301 convicts were from Devon, as follows:

 

Name                          Occupation                Age     Height Convicted at              Crime

Edwin Bott                  Tailor                           15        4‘10“   Exeter  14.3.1848        Larceny

James Cawsey             Bricklayer                    18        5‘0       Barnstaple4.7.1848    Larceny

John Drew                  Labourer                      19        5‘6“     Exeter  29.2.1848        Larceny

Robert Marshall          Servant                        19        5‘4“     Exeter  4.1.1848          Larceny

John Parr                     Thatcher                      31        5‘6“     Exeter  29.11.1848      Sheep stealing

William Searle Labourer                      20        5‘7“     Exeter  17.3.1849        Bestiality

Henry Turner              Brushmaker                 52        5‘2“     Exeter  16.10.1848      Fraud

 

All had received  7-yearsentences.

 

The ship’s doctor, John Gibson, wrote an account of life on the “Minden”which gives fascinating detail about the 85 day voyage to Fremantle.  The weather was fine, good healthgenerally pervaded the ship, and after their working day and their supper the“Prisoners were encouraged in the Diversions such as Dancing, Music, Leap Frogand the Boxing Gloves” !  (See theinternet pages for full transcript)

 

On reaching Fremantle, the convicts were transferred to the newly builtprison there.  This prison stillstands, and is a tourist attraction in Fremantle.

 

Various convict records have survived and are the original source of thetable above.  There are alsophysical descriptions of all the convicts.  James Cawsey was described as 5‘ 0Ĺ“ tall,  ‘stout’,  with sandy hair, an oval freckled face with blue eyes.  He had lost the first joint forefingeron his right hand.

 

Most of the 301 convicts on the Minden were in their 20s and 30s.  The Devon men are statistically odd inthat 5 of the 7 are aged 20 or under, and one is aged 52.  (Were the Recorders at Barnstaple andExeter particularly harsh?).  EdwinButt of Exeter was the youngest on the ship ( a mere 13 years old when he wasconvicted), and Henry Turner was, with one exception, the oldest. All the menare, by today’s standards, very short. Edwin Butt, (still only 15 years old), was under 5’ tall.

 

Many prisoners obtained their release early and entered the WesternAustralian community as much-needed workers.  The Exeter men John Drew and Henry Turner were amongthese  Sadly this was not whathappened to James Cawsey. Australia’s first lunatic asylum was built in Fremantle and opened in1865 specifically to accommodate convicts who had become deranged.  James Cawsey was one of these, and hedied in the asylum.

 

 

The old asylum is now the Fremantle Arts Centre,  reputed to be one of the most hauntedbuildings in Western Australia. There are reports of at least three ghosts who walk the corridors bothday and night!  Perhaps one ofthese is  ”5‘ 0Ĺ“ tall,  ‘stout’,  with sandy hair ........................” !

 

 

REFERENCES

 

1. N.D.J.  2.11.1843   (James Cawsey - petty theft)

2. N.D.J. 27.6.1844   ( James Cawsey - theft of fruit )

3. 16.7.1846              ( James Cawsey - stealing apples = court conviction and imprisonment)

4. N.D.J.22.7.1847   (James Cawsey - assault  )

5. N.D.J. 6.7.1848     (James Cawsey - stealing apples - sentenceto transportation )

6. N.D.J. 6.1.1859     ( Ellen Cawsey; wife of John -  abusive and violent language)

7. N.D.J. 6.12.1860  (William Cawsey - assault)

8. N.D.J. 7.3.1872     (John & Ellen Cawsey - assault case -husband and wife - in the “Union Inn”)

9. N.D.J. 20.7.1876  (William Cawsey - insulting a young woman)

10. http://members.iinet.au/~perthdps/convicts/con-wa4.html

11. http://fremantleprison.com

12. http://www.q-net.au/~ghosts/fremantle_arts_.htm

13. http://www/ac.org.au/history/

14. “Barnstaple’s vanished  lace industry” -Peter Christie & Deborah Gehan

15. “North Devon History, p157 - Deportation for boy thief” . PeterChristie