John Ambury (alias John Harwood, alias Docky) from Joyford was born in 1808. He first appears in court on 1821, when at the age of 13 he was sentenced to one month in prison for running away from his service as an apprentice. On 30 August 1827, he was sentenced to 12 months in prison for an assault with an attempt to commit a rape on Henrietta Pewter. In October 1828, he was sentenced to three years in prison for assault with the intent to commit rape on Rebecca Bennett from Milkwall.
On 16 April 1835, he was arrested for stealing a cock and held on remand until 30 June 1935 when he was acquitted. On 28 June 1836, he was sentenced to two years of hard labour in prison with the last month in solitude for assaulting a police officer, William Watkins, in Coleford.
On 21 Dec 1840, he arrested, along with William Harris and Samuel Jones, for burglary of the turnpike gate house of Thomas Davies of Newland and stealing a silver watch, a coat, a sovereign and cash. Davies worked for the Commissioner of Roads at the turnpike gate at Trow Green and the cash was the toll takings. Ambury was brought before Gloucester Assizes on 31 March 1841. The Cheltenham Chronicle 8 April 1841 reported:
“John Ambury, alias Harwood, 30, charged with burglariously breaking open entering the dwelling house of Thomas Davis, on the ICth Sept. 1839, Newland, and stealing a watch, sovereign, and other monies, his property. In this case, the prosecutor, who is a poor old man with only one arm, kept a turnpike gate near Newland, and on the night in question, he was awoken by a knocking at the door, and someone asked for a light for his pipe; he refused to give it, and soon afterwards his windows were broken, and four men entered his house; one of them took him by the neck, forced him down on the bed, and put a towel over his eyes. Having lighted a candle, they begin to ransack his pockets and box and took all his money and clothes. Two of the men have already been tried and convicted, and the prosecutor swore positively as to the prisoner being another, as he had the opportunity of seeing them all, the towel not wholly covering one of bis eyes. The prisoner was found guilty, and, after a suitable address from the Judge, was sentenced to transportation for life.”
On 4 May 1841, he was moved to the hulk, the Leviathan and was later transferred to the Tortoise which set sail from Plymouth on 28 September 1841 which arrived in Van Diemen’s Land on 19 Feb 1842. He told the authorities there that he was an engineer and that:
“I have been six years in prison altogether; once for 2 years for assaulting a constable; similar offence 2 years; 3 years for snowballing a young woman; flogged for abusing a chairman 372 lashes; it was for contempt at court that I was flogged”
He added that had also been in prison for:
“housebreaking and stealing 360 pounds from the commissioner of roads; I took the money from a box”
In March 1849, he absconded from Launceston and somehow made his way back to the Forest of Dean where the police eventually received a warrant for his arrest. The Gloucestershire Chronicle 8 May 1852 reported:
“William Matthews, of West Dean, and John Morgan, of Cinderford, the former a labourer and the latter a collier, were brought before P. Ducarel Esq., Coleford, charged with receiving the 26th ult a most notorious character, and an escaped convict, named John Ambury. alias Harwood, alias Docky, from the custody of P.C. Green, of Coleford. It appeared that Docky was tried at our spring assize, 1841, for a burglary committed at a tollgate in the parish of Newland, in 1839, and was sentenced to transportation for life, but he escaped and returned to his home at Joyford, in the Forest of Dean, a few months ago. It was generally thought had got leave, until a few days ago, when a warrant for his apprehension was put into the hands of the police and on Monday, the 26th ult., P.C. Green found that ho was at a beerhouse a short distance from Coleford, where he found him drinking. The constable told him his business, and took him by the collar to get him out the house, and tried to handcuff him. but Docky resisted, and Matthews, who has but one arm. swore he should not be taken, and took hold of the constable, who released himself from Matthews and got Docky the door, opened it, and got him outside, when he with his knife tried to force the policeman’s eye out—happily the knife struck above the left eye and cut him very badly. He then threw Docky to the ground, knelt upon him. and drew his staff. The two prisoners, Matthews and Morgan, then came up and rescued Docky by taking hold of the constable’s staff, which he held in his right hand while holding with his left; and Docky cut the policeman’s left thumb, by which he still held Docky by the collar. This obliged the constable to loose his hold, the men dragging his staff from him. The policeman did not wait for his staff, but ran after him, but could not afterwards find him, neither has yet been retaken, although a 20/- reward is offered for his apprehension. The prisoners, Matthews and Morgan, were committed for trial at the next assize.”
However not long after he was caught and was back in Gloucester prison on 28 May 1852. The Gloucestershire Chronicle 5 June 1852 reported:
“A man named John Ambury, who is known also by the names of Harwood and Docky, was on the 28th ult. brought before J. P. Brickdak. Esq, Coleford, charged with being an escaped convict. It appeared that at the Spring Assizes of 1841the prisoner was tried for committing a burglary Trow Green tollgate and being found guilty, was sentenced to be transported for life. In pursuance of that sentence, he was sent to one of the penal settlements, from which, however, he subsequently contrived to escape, and returned to this country about twelve months ago since when he is believed to have committed several robberies. On the 26th of April last information of his escape was received from the authorities; a search for him was therefore instituted and he was arrested by P.C. Green at a beerhouse near Coleford. The convict then drew his knife and tried to “gouge” out the officer’s eye, and succeeded in cutting his hand very badly; other persons came to the brutal fellow’s rescue and he escaped, and though the most diligent search was made for him, he contrived to elude detection up to the 23rd ult., when he was arrested by the police at Wrexham, Denbighshire, from a description of him published in the Police Gazette. He was fully committed for trial at the ensuing assizes the charges of being an escaped convict and of having maliciously cut and wounded P.C. Green.”
On 5 August 1852, he was brought before Gloucester Assizes and sentenced to be transported for life for “being at large before the expiration of a term for which he had been transported” and maliciously wounding Mark Green on 26 April 1852 when attempting to make an arrest. He was held on a hulk but eventually transported on 16 April 1855 on the Adelaide which arrived in Western Australia in 1855. He is recorded as absconding on 22 September 1857.
He was given a ticket of leave on 21 December 1859 and a conditional pardon on 11 February 1861.