7

Thomas Duffett (baptised 1785 Stalbridge, Dorset, England) had a couple of run-ins with the law and got himself sentenced to 7 years transportation. Twice. But he never left the country.

The first time around, in December 1816, he was sentenced to death for sheep stealing. The sentence was commuted to 7 years transportation and he was transferred to the prison hulk Laurel in Portsmouth Harbour in May 1817. He next shows up in the Prison Hulk registers, first in the Laurel and then in the York. The York register shows his 'disposal' as PFP (which means a Free Pardon); the date is not very legible but looks like sometime in 1821 (which ties in with the fact that he had children born in early 1817 and then 1822).

In January 1849 he was again sentenced to 7 years transportation, for stealing timber this time. The Sherborne Mercury in October 1849 includes reference to the fact that the Government had rejected him as unfit to go on account of ill-health and the Secretary of State might be asked to remit his sentence. The Dorchester Prisons admission and discharge register shows an annotation after his original sentence of transportation showing that it was commuted to 2 years hard labour, and he was back home in time for the 1851 census in Stalbridge.

He died in 1856 in the Sturminster Union Poorhouse and was buried at Stalbridge Parish Church.

So: what determined that he spent about 4 years imprisoned in England from 1817-1821 and then received a Free pardon, when other prisoners in the same period were being transported? And what would render a man unfit for transportation in 1849, although he survived 2 years hard labour instead and survived another 5 years after that?


Sources:

  • Ancestry.co.uk. Dorset, England, Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1812 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Dorset Parish Registers. Dorchester, England: Dorset History Centre.

  • Ancestry.co.uk. Dorset, England, Deaths and Burials, 1813-2001 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Dorset Parish Registers. Dorchester, England: Dorset History Centre

  • Ancestry.co.uk. Dorset, England, Dorchester Prison Admission and Discharge Registers, 1782-1901 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Original data: Dorchester Prison. NG/PR 1. Dorchester, Dorset, United Kingdom: Dorset History Centre.

  • Ancestry.co.uk. England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors. Original data: Home Office: Criminal Registers, Middlesex and Home Office: Criminal Registers, England and Wales; Records created or inherited by the Home Office, Ministry of Home Security, and related bodies, Series HO 26 and HO 27; The National Archives of the UK (TNA), Kew, Surrey, England.

  • Ancestry.co.uk. UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. This collection was indexed by Ancestry World Archives Project contributors. Original data: Home Office: Convict Prison Hulks: Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849. Microfilm, HO9, 5 rolls. The National Archives, Kew, England.

  • Findmypast.co.uk British Newspapers. Sherborne Mercury 20/10/1849

6

These circumstances reflect the conflicting priorities of the judiciary and the Colonial Secretary when it came to transportation. To the local magistrate, New South Wales was just a big jail that happened to be further away than others, and they would happily sentence anyone to transportation (for 7 or 14 years, the only options).

On the other hand, the authorities running the penal colony needed people who could build roads, grow crops, manage animals and sail small vessels. The more prisoners they received unable to contribute to that work, the greater the chance that the colony would fail under the weight of the unproductive.

A work such as A History of New South, Wales: From Its Settlement to the Close of the Year 1844 by Thomas Henry Braim will give you a sense of the conflicts between Sydney and London over who was sent.

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3

The 1812 Report of a British Parliamentary Committee "appointed to consider the Expediency of erecting a PENITENTIARY HOUSE [...] " has a lot of useful background information about the hulks, including the information (page 147) that

The number however of the convicts transportable for seven years, who are actually transported, is not very considerable

and mentions that priority for tranportation was given first to those with longest sentences (life or 14 years) and then to repeat offenders and individuals who misbehaved during their time on the hulks. So Thomas Duffett, as a first-time offender (as far as we know) would have been likely to serve his time in England as long as he behaved himself.

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