In the years 1789 – 1842 approximately sixty men and women from the Forest of Dean were transported to Australia mostly for committing minor crimes against property. The lists briefly outline the stories behind their transportation. This is ongoing research so there may be mistakes. I plan to add to more convicts and expand on their stories with further research.
The Justices of the Peace (JP) or magistrates had responsibility for law and order in each county. The post of JP started in medieval times, but became more important in Tudor times. They were unpaid and usually took on the role for prestige. JPs were usually landowners from the county who were appointed annually to the role. However, many did the job for years. The role also included a organising road and bridge repairs, checking weights and measures in shops, licensing ale houses, d supervising poor relief, etc. A JP had the authority to arrest a suspect on suspicion of a crime and interrogate them for three days.
Responsibility for the day to day maintenance of law and order still lay with local communities through the Parish Constable. The Parish, or ‘Petty’, Constable was appointed by the JP for a year. The post was unpaid and done in addition to the person’s usual day job. They were usually local tradesmen or farmers, which meant that communities were ‘policing’ themselves.
The majority of constables’ time was taken up with reacting to information given to them in the form of reports of crimes, or warrants issued by justices of the peace. They were obliged to execute all warrants for arrest and orders given through the courts, justices of the peace, sheriffs and coroners for their jurisdiction. In addition, they were expected to respond to allegations and reports of felonies committed, and arrest those who they witnessed committing felonies and misdemeanours.
The Parish Constable was expected to perform all of the main duties associated with local policing.
- Keep order in inns and ale houses.
- Keep the peace in the parish.
- Send illegitimate children back to their original parish.
- Impound stray farm animals.
- Arrest people who have committed crimes.
- Prevent crimes such as trespassing and poaching.
- Carry out punishments such as whipping vagabonds.
- Watch the behaviour of apprentices.
- Look out for vagabonds.
Local people were duty-bound to help the Constable if he requested it, keeping the community responsible for enforcing law and order.
Public prosecutors, empowered by the state to pursue the prosecution of criminals in England, were not introduced until as late as 1879. Prior to this, the victim had to find the perpetrator and detain them, often with the help of a local watchman, or constable, collect evidence and bring it before a JP, return to the jurisdiction for the trial, and provide witnesses if there were any. This was a time-consuming and costly process and so, for a private citizen to pursue a prosecution they must have been sufficiently motivated and/or wealthy enough to do so.
However, in 1818 an Act was introduced which empowered the courts to award an allowance for loss of time and expense to prosecutors and witnesses in the cases of felony. In 1926 another Act was introduced to extend this system to cover most misdemeanors.
The more minor offenses such as petty theft were dealt with summarily by magistrates at the petty sessions. For more serious cases such as murder, assault and theft, a larger number of JPs would meet four times per year at quarter sessions.
The most serious cases, such as murder and rioting and serious crimes against property, would be passed on to the assize courts, where a judge and jury would pass judgment and this could lead to a sentence of transportation or death. The sentence was usually fixed by the mandatory penalties of England’s Bloody Code, a series of statutes that prescribed capital punishment for many forms of theft and transportation for others.
Tickets of Leave and Pardons
There were only three ways in which the law might release a convict from bondage before the end of their sentence. The first was the ticket-of-leave. The convict who had been given a ticket-of-leave no longer had to work as an assigned man for a master and was also free from the claims of forced government labour. He could spend the rest of his sentence working for himself, wherever he pleased, as long as he stayed within the colony. The ticket lasted only a year and had to be renewed, and it could be revoked at any time. The second was a conditional pardon, which gave the transported person citizenship within the colony but no right of return to England. The third, though the rarest, was an absolute pardon from the governor, which restored him or her to all rights including that of returning to England.
A Certificate of Freedom
A Certificate of Freedom was a government-issued document given to a convict at the end of their sentence. This stated that the ex-convict had been restored to all the rights and privileges of a free subject and could seek out employment or leave the colony. Certificates of Freedom were introduced in 1810 and were generally granted to convicts, who had served their 7, 10, or 14-year sentence. Convicts who had received a life sentence could receive a pardon but not a Certificate of Freedom.