My 3rd great grandfather George Wills was baptised on 13 Jul 1806 at Illogan to Richard and Susanna (nee Scoble).

  • On 11 Jan 1834 he married Frances Angove at Illogan.
  • On 10 Jan 1836 George and Frances baptised Frances Elizabeth at Illogan
  • On 17 Feb 1839 George and Frances baptised Mar Jane at Illogan

In the 1841 Census he was recorded as being a Miner, aged 30, living at Illogan with his wife Fanny (25), children Frances (5) and George (1) and a John Thomas (Miner; 25; who was with the family in 1851, 1861 and 1871 too, before marrying Fanny in 1875 after George died in 1872).

During the 1820s and 1830s he appears to have spent some time in prison but how do I interpret the following records, of which not all may belong to him?

  1. The Cornwall, England, Bodmin Gaol Records, 1821-1899 at Ancestry.com have:

Name:   George Wills
Age:    26
Marital Status: Single
Occupation: Miner
Birth Year: abt 1806
Abode or Birth Place:   Illogan late Redruth
Discharged Date:    1832
Prison: Bodmin Gaol
Notes:  * Transported 7 years.
Registration Number:    4290
Volume Number:  AD 1676/4/1

I have only seen the transcript, and no images above. I am particularly interested to know what the * Transported 7 years. note might mean. Perhaps the asterisk means that transportation did not happen but maybe it means that he served it and came back.

  1. At FindMyPast in the England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935 record set there are 26 images of quarterly behaviour/health reports for a George Wills, aged 26 convicted and sentenced to 7 years for Stealing Pork on 3 Jul 1832 at Bodmin before they end with a note to say Discharged 18 Dec 1838. This seems unlikely to be the George Wills that married Frances/Fanny in 1834 and baptised daughters in 1836 and 1839.

  2. Another Ancestry.com record:

Name: George Wills 
Admitted Date: 10 Jul 1832 
Prison: Bodmin Gaol 
Sentence: 7 years 
Notes: Charged with stealing a side of pork from a cart in Redruth, property of Jn. Peak. 3 white spots on left shoulder. Brother to Thomas Wills [no. 4289], Mary Wills [no. 4291] and Jane Wills [no. 4260]. 
Moored Location: Devonport 
Registration Number: 4290 
Volume Number: AD 1676/4/1 
CRO Class Number: AD 1676/4/1 
Hulk: Captivity Hulk

This seems to explain more about the 1832-1839 sentence but it still seems that this George Wills cannot be the same as "George, Miner, of Illogan late Redruth" (discharged in 1832 and in 1839 of a different offence). Of the siblings above only Mary is found in the siblings I have for my 3rd great grandfather.

  1. Ancestry.com has another record that may be for my 3rd great grandfather:

Name: George Wills 
Age: 33 
Marital Status: Single 
Occupation: Miner 
Birth Year: abt 1806 
Abode or Birth Place: Illogan late Redruth 
Discharged Date: 1839 
Prison: Bodmin Gaol 
Notes: Assaulting Jn. Teague, mine agent. Acq. 
Registration Number: 941 
Volume Number: AD 1676/4/2 

I'm not sure what to make of his marital status being recorded as Single but his wife Frances/Fanny came from a family with many Miners so perhaps George's offence was a source of some shame.

  • 1
    genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/3446/… may be relevant
    – user104
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 7:47
  • Regarding "maybe it means that he served it and came back", The Victorian Crime and Punishment site notes that "there was no procedure for return after the sentence expired" and "Only a handful ever came back to Britain". So I doubt he returned, it's more likely that he never went in the first place.
    – AndyW
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 8:51
  • Based on George's Registration Number of 4290 in both #1 and #3, I suspect that the "discharged date" in the Ancestry transcription is an error, and should be "admitted date". Or it indicates that transportation was "discharged" and replaced with imprisonment. A TNA record has George, Thomas and Mary in the same indictment, hence consecutive numbers for those three (and Jane just above). So #1, #2 and #3 refer to the same man, who was jailed from 1832-1839ish and (probably) did not marry in 1834.
    – AndyW
    Commented Apr 18, 2017 at 8:59
  • Thanks @AndyW I think your comments are enough for an answer that I would accept.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 10:01
  • 1
    @JanMurphy Yes - I do attribute that to him - the Paynter's Lane End address is where he was for several censuses.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 22:36

3 Answers 3


Regarding "maybe it means that he served it and came back", The Victorian Crime and Punishment site notes that:

"there was no procedure for return after the sentence expired"
"Only a handful ever came back to Britain".

Wikipedia also states that a released convict "had to make his own way back", which would presumably be unaffordable for most ex-cons. So I doubt he returned, it's more likely that he never went in the first place. The linked question from @ColeValleyGirl is relevant to that scenario.

Edit: Or, far more likely, I know nuffin'. See the update at the end of this post, where there is information that George Wills was indeed transported and returned.

A TNA record of "Sessions held at Bodmin" dated 3rd July 1832 appears to cover two indictments of the Wills family under section QS/1/12/187:

Jane Wills of Redruth, singlewoman, indicted for stealing 20lbs. of bacon, property of Joseph ?Honey Mead and another: six months' hard labour in Bodmin gaol.


George Wills, Thomas Wills and Mary Wills, all of Redruth, labs., indicted for stealing 500lbs. of pork, property of John Peak: George Wills transported for seven years. T.W and M.W acquitted.

Your Ancestry record #3 gives "registration numbers" for four people:
Jane Wills: 4260
Thomas Wills: 4289
George Wills: 4290
Mary Wills: 4291

I'm not certain exactly what the registration numbers are but they appear to correlate with the person's position in the session record. Thomas, George and Mary are grouped in a single indictment and have consecutive registration numbers. Even acquitted people received numbers, so they presumably derive from the court sessions not the jail. The chances of two George Wills receiving the same registration number look slim.

Your record #1 also has that registration number of 4290 for George Wills, and the same 7-year transportation sentence. They surely refer to the same man. The "discharged date" of 1832 makes no sense in that case, so I suspect that it is in error, and should be an "admitted date" or "convicted date". Or it could, perhaps, indicate that transportation was "discharged" and replaced with imprisonment, but that's a rather speculative interpretation.

The dates, sentence etc in FindMyPast record #2 appear to match #1 and #3. So it looks like #1, #2 and #3 refer to the same George Wills, who was jailed from 1832-1839ish for porklifting.

This means he probably did not marry in Frances Angove in 1834. (It may be worth checking if prisoners could wed during their sentence, but also having two children in that period makes it all rather unlikely.)

I'm not sure what to make of #4. The birthdate and birthplace look like the same man. But the registration number is different. That may simply reflect a different offence, perhaps just after his release from the above sentence, and given a new number in the relevant sessions. Or there could be errors in that record. Or it might mean this was a different George (in which case he could be the one who married Frances Angove...). I don't think there's enough information here to decide either way.

Update: As @JanMurphy smartly notes, the alleged assault on John Teague might not have gone unnoticed by the press. I have found three transcriptions on RootsWeb of articles dealing with the attempted murder (!) of a Captain John Teague of Illogan. The articles are from Feb 08 1839, Mar 01 1839 and Apr 05 1839 and appear to be from the West Briton newspaper.

Of particular note is a line in the third article:

[Wills] admitted that he had been transported for seven years, and returned the day after Christmas-day

That is evidence that, despite the challenge, George Wills returned from transportation once his sentence expired. It's worth going back to the FindMyPast record set in that case. See if there's any indication of where those quarterly updates came from, and who signed them off. You may be able to identify prison authority figures as being from a particular location, for example. If they are all from a local hulk or jail, then he must surely have stayed in Britain. But if they are from colony records, or transcribed from the same, then his transportation is certain. In which case his marriage to Frances is implausible.

It's probably worth trying to locate the original articles. The first states:

On Saturday, George Wills, a recently . confessed Thomas Adams, his brother-in-law, and he had been involved.

The gap in "recently . confessed" is probably a transcription error. I think it's likely that, given the dates, "recently" will be followed by a description of George's release from captivity, and would be useful for comparison with the transportation information. And Wills, initially a suspect, was "cleared" and turned informant, which seems to tally with the "Acq." (for "acquitted") in the Ancestry record #4.

The articles also say that Thomas Adams, the other suspect, was Wills' brother-in-law, having married George's sister. So there's a familial link to probe there.

There is more newspaper coverage, judging by a quick search on FMP/BNA, including one (rightmost column) that suggests that Teague had helped bring Wills to justice the first time around...

Update 2: In fact, there's a Prison ship (Hulk) Registers Transcription entry for George Wills on FMP, which states:

How and when disposed of: Bermuda 8 August 1833

Bermuda... how awful. :) Actually, convictvoyages.org has a page on Bermuda, with an interesting snippet:

One distinctive feature of convict transportation to Bermuda, compared to other sites in the British Empire, is that ex-convicts were not allowed to settle on the islands. Though some tried to gain entry to America (and were often turned away), the overwhelming majority returned home, or went on to Western Australia.

So George's return starts to make sense.

  • 1
    You've uncovered some amazing information to help decide whether any of it belongs to my ancestor. Thank you for the effort it must have taken.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 11:49
  • @PolyGeo No problem :). I've been working on a couple of jailbirds lately and so this piqued my interest.
    – AndyW
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 10:57
  • 1
    Well done, Andy! For your "transcription error" above, it may be that the newspaper was illegible, and didn't use a standard method to note missing letters, or the notes got corrupted when uploading to the web. Once again showing why we should purse the original images when we can, and use the transcriptions / extracts as an aid.
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Apr 26, 2017 at 21:38

This is a suggestion for further research, so it will by necessity be a stub of an answer. My plan would be to set the records aside for a period of time, and then review all the collected material as a group -- and here's the important part -- with the assumption that each record belongs to a different George Wills until you have information that suggests otherwise.

Services like Ancestry and Findmypast encourage us to match records by name, and there is a tendency to match up records and presume they belong to "our people" in advance of doing a thorough analysis of what we have.

Take each record and examine it using the guidance in Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Analysis Process Map. Keep in mind her advice in QuickLesson 1: Analysis & Citation.

Each time we find a source, we must analyze it to determine what it is. Then we identify it. That physical analysis and identification of our source is expressed as a citation. At publication stage, that citation is typically stripped down to the bare minimum needed to relocate the source. But, in the research phase, the details we capture in that citation provide the foundation for evaluating or analyzing the information that source provides.

For instance: when looking at the Bodmin Gaol Records at Ancestry, there is no image -- the graphic says "No Image / Text-only collection". Ancestry also gives us this note:

Original data: Data provided by Patricia T. Fawcett and Sally J. Pocock. Cornish Prison Records. Cornwall Record Office, Truro, Cornwall, England.

You say "I have only seen the transcript...." But we don't have the original images to compare this data to, so we can't say if this a transcription -- it might be more accurate to say this is an extract from the original records. In particular, we don't know what the asterisk means, and I don't know how we could possibly tell from looking at only this database unless we looked at the entire database and correlated the entries with other records, or compared the extracts to the images.

So whenever I find records on any website, the next thing I do is try to find information from the archivists who actually hold the records, to see if I can learn more. All three of the extracts you cited are from Cornwell Record Offices record group AD 1676, Cornwall Gaol Records -- link to their catalog page.

At the end of the scope and content listing, it says:

Many prisoners were transported, for terms of seven to twenty years and the register gives details of the hulks to which they were sent to await transportation. [Information from (and see also) 'The Inmates of Cornwall County Gaol at Bodmin' by Pocock, S, in the Cornwall Family History Society Newsletter number 123, March 2007.]

The catalogue entry tells us that when people were admitted to the Bridewell multiple times, sometimes the later entries will refer back to the first entry number. You can see these notations in the entries for George Wills from Truro that turn up when searching by name at Ancestry.

Here are all the search results for an exact name search, including the ones you've already discussed:

enter image description here

Let's look at George Wills from Truro to compare and contrast the entries for your George from Illogan late Redruth. Putting them in order of admission, we see:

  • 1866: Reg Number 416, Notes: Removing straw from parish of St. Erme to parish of St. Clement contrary to Qtr. Sessions Order made Feb. 1866. Scar on right elbow. R.C.R. M[ilitia]
  • Dec 1870: Reg No. 5545, Notes: M+1 2nd time, see 418 RCRM
  • Jul 1871: Reg No. 5603, Notes: M 3rd time, see 5545

These three entries clearly belong to the same person, since the later entries are cross-referenced to the earlier offenses. Note that in all three, there are new registration numbers each time (as opposed to what you can see in the National School Admissions registers, where students are re-admitted with the same number instead of being assigned a new number in the sequence).

Now let's look at the remaining search results. The two search results for George Wills, Reg No 122, seem to refer to the same man -- one is for a man from Devon, and the other has this note:

See separate list of foreign seamen and men from other counties and countries

For the remaining records, I would agree with the previous answer that the records for George Wills, registration number 4290, who was convicted and sentenced for 7 years for Stealing Pork all refer to the same person. We see from the extract that one of your George Wills was sent to the Hulk H.M.S. Captivity. Of the Captivity, Wikipedia says:

The ship was taken into Sheerness Dockyard in April 1826, and was fitted out for the journey to Plymouth. She arrived there in June and spent the last eight years of her working existence as a convict hulk in Plymouth. By 1834 the rate of penal transportation had been drastically increased to clear out the old hulks. When the last convicts had left Captivity, she was handed back to the Navy Department, who put her up for sale.

The Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland gave notice that they would offer several vessels for sale on 21 January 1836, including Captivity, of 1613 tons, then lying at Plymouth. She sold on that day for £4,030. Advertisements in the local Plymouth, Devonport and Stonehouse News in September 1836 announced the auctioning off of her timber.

If her timber was auctioned off in 1836, what happened to the prisoners whose terms hadn't yet expired? This is earlier than the discharge date you found of 18 Dec 1838.

It might be worthwhile to take a look at the registers again and compare the entries for George Wills to the other prisoners in the same registers and to the other prisoners named George Wills who are a different age or committed a different offense, just to get a feeling for the records. If you have 26 quarterly entries in the registers, that does seem consistent with an intake date in July 1832 and a December 1838 discharge.

That leaves George Wills, Reg No. 5941. A register entry for an offense in 1839 is consistent with someone being released in December 1838, if it is a new offense -- but we have no cross-reference in our online database. If we could look at the original entries, we might get a physical description, but since we aren't in the Cornwall Record Office, how could we get more information, either to help us decide whether to order the records, or while we are waiting for record copies to arrive?

Search for other source types

Another issue with the question is that you've started from the standard base of church records, civil records, and census records. Now you're trying to evaluate the Gaol records against this bare framework. For criminal records, the easiest way into finding the information that may have been discarded or is otherwise lost to us -- what happened during the trial -- is to look for newspaper accounts of what happened during the criminal sessions. Note that in one of your entries, you have this crime:

Assaulting Jn. Teague, mine agent. Acq.

An assault on a mine agent sounds like just the ticket for a newspaper editor to fill the 'newshole' on a slow news day, and you have the advantage of another name to look for in addition to the accused.

Put all of the records you have so far into a timeline, sorted into different columns where you can determine you have a group of records that belong with each other. Then mine your records for clues, starting with the records at the time of death (or later, if you have probate records) and working backwards. Investigate any details you find and gather more information for context as needed.

Some records at TNA (referred to as Digital Microfilm) are free to view online and to download. Some of these records from the Home Office (HO) deal with prisons and convict records, including the hulks. A search for "hulk + Captivity" yielded 154 results including petitions for mercy for lists of prisoners and other correspondence. Some of the catalog entries list the names of individual prisoners and others merely mention the name of the hulk. Filtering those results by 'Available for download only' plus the time period of 1800-1899 reduced this list to two record groups:

  • HO 9/3: Description: HO 9. Convict hulks moored at Woolwich and Devonport: Captivity, Ganymede, Discovery: Register of prisoners. Date: 1821-1833
  • HO 9/8: Description: HO 9. Convict hulks moored at Portsmouth: Portland, Captivity, Leviathan: Register of prisoners. Date: 1802-1836

There may be other freely-available records in other series, and other records at TNA regarding this case, but these two free collections seem to be right in the ballpark for this question.

UPDATE: see TNA's research guide on Criminals courts and prisons and the search page at findmypast for England & Wales, Crime, Prisons & Punishment, 1770-1935 for links to further resources. In the right-hand column on the page, one of the links under Useful links and resources is Prison Ship (Hulk) Registers which will take you to the search form to search registers dated between 1811 and 1843 which have been indexed by findmypast.

  • Those two free collections certainly look like they would be interesting to look at but being 372Mb in size I am going to hold off on downloading them unless the evidence steers me back towards thinking my actual ancestor may have been on one of those hulks.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 4:52

The answer by @AndyW mentions that the George Wills imprisoned at Bodmin, who was also transported to Bermuda, had siblings named Jane, Thomas and Mary, and also a brother-in-law Thomas Adams. I am confident that I have now identified that family, and that my 3rd great grandfather George Wills is a different man.

This appears to be the birth family of George Wills the felon:

  • Thomas Wills (baptised 16 Nov 1766 at Camborne) married Constance Cowling (baptised 5 Aug 1770 at Camborne) on 28 May 1791 at Illogan.
  • Thomas and Constance baptised at least four children at Illogan:
    • John on 29 Jan 1792
    • Thomas on 27 Jul 1794
    • George on 22 Aug 1802
    • Mary on 18 Mar 1810 (born 23 Feb 1810). Mary (a Sojourner) married Thomas Adams (baptised 4 Feb 1810 at Redruth) on 2 Aug 1832 at Redruth.
  • there appears to have been another child in the family:
    • Jane Wills, aged 54, is living at Redruth for the 1851 Census with her brother George, aged 50. Both were recorded as being Copper Mine Laborers born in Illogan, so it seems Thomas and Constance had a daughter Jane in about 1797.

This family seems to match the one described in the Bodmin Gaol Records near perfectly. The only slight discrepancy is George's age of 26 in 1832, when it seems likely that he would have been about 30 years old.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.