Highway Robbery At The White Bear

David LeffmanUncategorized 1 Comment

On 30 June 1831 James Noad, a fuller from Westbury aged around 50, was assaulted at Devizes, a busy wool-market town in Wiltshire. Noad had been drinking at the White Bear inn and was found at 3am dead drunk on the road, mumbling that he had been off with a girl at the churchyard when she robbed him, but he didn’t want his wife to find out.

The White Bear Inn on Monday Market Street, Devizes, five hundred years old and still going strong.

Noad had come to Devizes to beg for donations so he could afford to visit the hospital at Bath (his right arm was in a sling, but what his injuries were – or whether he really had any – is unknown). After a profitable day he retired with his takings for refreshment at the White Bear, a low-ceilinged pub on Monday Market Street, where around 9pm he fell in with Jemima Chapman. A redhead with freckles and grey eyes, Jemima had been born at the nearby village of Semington in 1810; she was described as well-bred and respectably educated, though baptism records suggest she was born out of wedlock. With her were James Jeffries, aged 22, an ostler, and farm hand George Rose, 20.

They got talking and Noad treated all three to several rounds of beer. As he was paying, Jemima snatched up one of the coins and ran off; Noad gave chase to The Green, an unlit, open spread of lawn beyond the houses at the edge of town. Rose appeared and attacked Noad, throwing a punch at his head. But Noad “returned it so earnestly as to knock his aggressor down”, and would probably have escaped if Jeffries hadn’t arrived on the scene; Jemima took off as the two men beat Noad and robbed him of his hat, one-and-a-half gold sovereigns, and a handful of silver coins.

The Green: a perfect place for mugging flirty old men

Jemima, Jeffries and Rose were arrested the next day and sent for trial; according to the Devizes & Wiltshire Gazette, the two men were already known to be of “notoriously bad character… members of a gang which has long infested Devizes”. Rose and Jeffries denied the charges: Rose said he had left the White Bear at 11pm with a friend, Richard Hampton; Hampton confirmed this but said he had left Rose at the nearby King’s Arms shortly afterwards. Jeffries, still dressed in his bloodstained clothes, was dragged out of bed denying he had even left home the night before. For her part, Jemima claimed that Noad had asked her to take off with him but she had refused.

Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, 21 July 1831

The Green is several streets away from the pub, and it’s hard to believe a drunk, fifty-year-old with his arm in a sling really chased a young woman that far if she didn’t want him to catch her. Perhaps this part of the story was invented by Noad to save face with his wife; more likely Jemima suggested the two of them went off to The Green and he agreed.

On 14 July, Jemima, Jeffries and Rose were convicted of Highway Robbery at the Devizes Assizes and sentenced to transportation for life to the penal colony of New South Wales (Jeffries’ brother Nehemiah was already there, serving seven years for theft). The men were held at Gosport gaol, Portsmouth, before being shipped aboard the Asia on 29 September. On reaching Australia in early 1832, Jeffries was assigned as an ostler to agricultural innovator Reuben Uther in Sydney; while Rose was posted to pioneering landowner William Ogilvie at Hunter River as a ploughman. Both vanished from the record afterwards.

Wiltshire Assizes, in Devizes. Derelict, but there is talk of turning it into a museum.

Jemima was imprisoned at Fisherton Gaol in Salisbury, then transported from Woolwich with 148 other female convicts and their children aboard Pyramus on 8 October. They were storm-bound off Ireland for a month, and two convicts died on the voyage, but ship’s surgeon James Rutherford wrote that the women were treated fairly well; they had ample water for washing and drinking, and nobody aboard developed scurvy.

Pyramus arrived at Sydney on 4 March 1832. There was a shortage of home help in town, and the government office advertising the women as servants was overwhelmed with requests. Jemima – who according to her Indenture record could read and was married – was taken as a needlewoman by Robert Campbell, a storekeeper in Bligh Street. There’s no other evidence that Jemima was married when she arrived in Australia, or any explanation to why she claimed to be.

At any rate, Jemima didn’t waste time. Within a year she was involved with convict William Augustus Watt, a former haberdasher’s clerk who had been transported in 1828 for embezzling over two hundred pounds from his employers. Described as talented, industrious and sober, Watt had fudged the company’s books to cover his fraud and led the police on a chase between London and Edinburgh, where he was finally wrestled to the ground by an officer. Handcuffed, he nearly escaped during the coach trip back to London to stand trial.

Now in his late twenties, black-haired and handsome, Watt had impressed the Sydney authorities with his lively intelligence and – after an unusually short period – had become a journalist and sometimes editor for the Sydney Gazette, Australia’s first newspaper, under the ticket-of-leave scheme. This gave parole within a certain district where convicts could find their own work, marry and buy property; the ticket was re-issued every year, or revoked if conditions were breached.

Their relationship didn’t last: after noisily falling out with Watt one night in January 1834, a pregnant and homeless Jemima was sent to the government-run Paramatta Factory – a womens’ prison which included a hospital and a cloth factory (see Melanie Long in Comments below for more about the harsh conditions at the Factory). In April, Jemima and Watt’s daughter Jane was born, but died young. Jemima was to have at least four children.

In 1835, just a year after breaking up with Watt, Jemima applied to marry former convict James Farmer. Nothing seems to have come of it, but by late 1835 Jemima was back in the newspapers, this time as a witness against Watt, who was on trial for slander.

At the time the country was divided over how to treat convicts: disciplinarians felt they had been sent to Australia to be severely punished, while reformers believed they should be rehabilitated. Not surprisingly Watt spoke up for reform, and his Sydney Gazette articles often attacked wealthy landowners who treated their convict workers as slaves, feeding them poorly and handing out floggings for the most minor breaches of rules.

Some two years earlier, Watt had “acquired” two unpublished articles from the rival Sydney Herald which were later used as evidence in a slander case against the paper. The paper took Watt to court, but lost the case.

During this trial Watt had apparently made “some most improper, untrue and unjust statements” against Major James Mudie, a former Marine who – having bankrupted himself in Britain – had emigrated to Australia with his family as a free settler. Attracting a wealthy patron, Mudie set up a successful estate but soon gained notoriety for the unforgiving treatment of convicts he employed there. In 1833 a party of them ran off; they were duly caught and hanged, having been refused permission at their trial to show scars on their bodies from floggings inflicted by Mudie’s son-in-law and overseer, John Larnach.

Under the alias “Humanitas”, Watt now expanded his claims against Mudie in a pamphlet, Party Politics Exposed. Mudie promptly took Watt to court, accusing him of “gross and wilful falsehood, with cohabiting with a female convict, and with general bad conduct”, hoping – at the very least – to get Watt’s ticket-of-leave revoked.

The charge of Watt making “unjust statements” against Mudie at the earlier trial was rejected – or rather, Watt admitted that he had made them, but only because the judge had insisted he do so. That left Watt’s affair with Jemima (referred to as “Mary” in court) as Mudie’s strongest case, at a time when cohabiting was considered a form of prostitution.

Mudie’s bitter rant against just about everybody in Australia

Mudie had plenty of witnesses. One of them remembered Watt living “in Kent Street with a female… I saw the female I speak of about a fortnight ago purchasing something from a dealer named Daley, in the market place; she asked me what had become of Watt, the prisoner; I told her I understood he was in gaol… I was not aware  that she was in the family way at the time she was living with the prisoner… she had the appearance of a lady, being dressed genteelly, and wore a black lace veil, and carried a green silk parasol”.

Another witness recalled the pair living together as man and wife; yet another that Watt had introduced him to Jemima, who was then heavily pregnant, as “my better half”, and that Jemima used to sleep at the Gazette office and took her meals with Watt. A constable was sent to bring Jemima as a witness, but she couldn’t be found.

Mudie  next accused Watt of not having “mustered”, or presented himself for his regular ticket-of-leave assessment. Watt tried to get this charge dismissed, but the magistrate ordered him to prove his ticket-of-leave was current. Watt claimed that he had lost it but in any case believed that he didn’t need to muster, as he was such a public figure there was no chance of his absconding. The magistrate countered that attending muster was a condition of the ticket-of-leave parole.

Mudie rested his case, having done a good job of proving that Watt and Jemima were in a relationship, and that Watt had missed muster – both breaches of ticket-of-leave regulations. Nor had Watt endeared himself to the court either, dragging out the case over three weeks with his continual hair-splitting, and even attempting to call five hundred witnesses in his defence. So Mudie was understandably outraged when all charges against Watt were dismissed, the judge deciding that they had happened so long ago that he couldn’t now be prosecuted.

Watt promptly married Ann Howe, proprietor of the Sydney Gazette, and a vindictive Mudie sued her instead for “scandalous and misleading libels” in the paper (including calling him a “bog-trotter” and for claiming he had “improper intercourse” with Jemima), seeking damages of £1000. This time Mudie won but – after the court took into account Howe’s numerous children, who would have been put in the workhouse if she were bankrupted – was awarded just £50.

Disgusted, Mudie sold up in Australia and returned to Britain, where he published his own version of events, The Felonry of New South Wales, quoting incriminating personal letters and accusing several influential figures of protecting Watt, especially the pro-reform Australian Governor-General, Richard Bourke. This lost him all support in Australia, and on his one return trip he was literally horsewhipped in a Sydney street by one of the men he had defamed. For his part, Watt drowned in 1838, aged just 31.

Meanwhile, as Mudie was busy suing Ann Howe in early 1836, Jemima absconded from her workplace and the New South Wales Government Gazette published a warrant for her arrest: “The undermentioned prisoners having absconded from the individuals and employment set against their respective names, and some of them being at large with stolen Certificates and Tickets of Leave, all Constables and others are hereby required and commanded to use their utmost exertion in apprehending and lodging them in safe custody. Any person harbouring or employing any of the said Absentees, will be prosecuted as the law directs.” She was soon caught and given two months at North Parramatta gaol.

In January 1837 Jemima applied to marry John Jackson, a former shepherd from Ely who had been convicted of stealing a cart mare in 1823. Jackson was a good prospect; he was a long-time ticket-of-leave holder and, his fourteen years served, was due to be granted a conditional pardon. There might have been other reasons too: that October – almost nine months to the day after applying to marry Jackson – Jemima gave birth to another daughter, Harriet Rosina Chapman. Presumably Jackson was the father.

Harriet Rosina Chapman

Jemima and Jackson never tied the knot, but she was luckier next time around: in 1840 she asked to marry Robert Barton, who had been convicted at the age of sixteen for stealing a “handkerchief, value 2s., the goods of William Felix, from his person” in London. Barton was starving and homeless, and had taken the handkerchief to get a night in the lock-up, but ended up being transported.

Convicts needed permission to marry, however, and it took three years – by which time Jemima herself had a ticket-of-leave. She and Robert settled down at Fish River, Bathurst, and had two children together before she died, possibly in childbirth, in 1845, aged 35.

In 1860 Jemima’s daughter, Harriet Rosina, married Robert Davison; and in 1889 their son Francis Robert Davison (1865–1957) married Fanny Elizabeth Brook (1867–1949) – Narrell’s great-grandparents.

Fanny Brook and Francis Davison

Fanny Brook’s mother was Elizabeth Winsper (1848–1928), whose parents were William Winsper (c.1815–?) and Mary Ann, a Wiradjuri aboriginal. William Winsper had been convicted of stealing a purse in London in 1833, aged 18, but did alright for himself in Australia: he won a ticket-of-leave in 1840, and nine years later bought 2,560 acres of land. In 1860 he was publican at the Shearer’s Arms, Peel (outside Bathurst), and treasurer of the Peel Races. There’s no record of him after 1862, and the pub license was returned in 1865 – presumably after his death.

Elizabeth Winsper, daughter of William and Mary Ann

Comments 1

  1. This is a nice summary. Harriet Chapman is my 3 times great grandmother. I’d just say that your description of the Parramatta Female Factory makes it sound like a pleasant place. The Parramatta Female Factory was a women’s prison. All convict women were sent there to work unless they were on consignment to land holders. If a woman found herself pregnant and unmarried she was sent back to the factory and assigned to third class. Third class women in the Factory had their heads shaved, and were given the hardest work (breaking stones for road building or picking oakum). They were often starved or given very limited rations. There were notable riots occuring at the Factory due to the poor conditions. Jemima would have been desperate to leave the Factory as Harriet approached her 4th birthday, by which time she would have been taken from Jemima and sent to the orphanage. Jemima had already lost 2 babies in the Factory. They most likely died from the poor conditions.
    In reference to marriage;To apply for marriage, the women were lined up in the Factory and men with Tickets of Leave were able to pick out a women they wished to marry. Although the women had to consent to the marriage, there are many reports of women returning to the Factory after being beaten and possibly raped by their husbands. The Parramatta Female Factory is a largely overlooked part of Australian Women’s History.
    I’d love to see the evidence that you used for your statement “after noisily falling out with Watt one night in January 1834” would you mind sharing?

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