The wives of Transported Convicts

When a man was convicted of a major crime in the 19th century he was often transported to Australia, leaving his family without means of support.  When this happened, his wife and children usually ended up in the local workhouse and there are records of a few couples, whose fate this was, in Guildford, Surrey.  

In 1844 George Woods aged 35, was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for 7 years after entering enclosed land unlawfully, carrying a gun.  George and his wife had three daughters and a son.  At the Surrey Sessions in Newington, evidence was given that he had threatened James Puttock with a gun while on his way to poach game.

Another local labourer, Thomas Jackman, was transported for 10 years in 1846 for sheep stealing.  At the time. Thomas was 25 and he and his wife Elizabeth had a baby son, Jeremiah.

In fact, although their sentences would hopefully expire while they were still alive, they were not provided with a return passage to England, so it was effectively a life sentence.  Their wives Ann Woods and Elizabeth Jackman entered Guildford Union Workhouse.

 By 1861, Elizabeth Jackman, describing herself as a widow, was living with her son and her father in nearby Worplesdon, working as a dressmaker.  Soon she married Thomas Baker, a grocer and baker and they rapidly had three children.  Elizabeth's son Jeremiah Jackman died in 1861 and she was widowed again by 1891.  Obviously a strong healthy woman, Elizabeth Baker can be found on the 1911 census, aged 89, living in Streatham, south London with her grand-daughter Daisy Baker.

Another Surrey resident who had shared this fate was Nathaniel Longhurst, who was born in Ewhurst, in 1785.  Nathaniel was a farm labourer who, by the time he met 16 year old Rebecca Wood from Shere, was already a widower.  Despite a 25 year age gap, they were married in St Nicholas’ Church, Guildford on 22nd November 1829.  Within a year, Nathaniel had been arrested for offences against the Game Laws and was imprisoned for 6 months.  In 1831 Rebecca and Nathaniel had a daughter Sophia.  A son, William, was born in 1833 and another son, Robert, in 1834 but sadly at that point, Nathaniel Longhurst was arrested for poaching, a very serious crime.  He was convicted and sentenced to transportation for 14 years.  Rebecca had no choice but to enter Guildford Union Workhouse.

Prison Hulk 
After being kept on a prison hulk in the river Thames for a few months, Nathaniel was transported to Australia on the "Bardaster" along with 240 other convicts, arriving in Tasmania on September 7th 1835.

By 1841 Rebecca had left the Workhouse and was living with her father James Wood, in Shere. In another part of the village Rebecca’s children Sophia, William and Robert were living with her mother Martha.  In 1851 Rebecca was sharing a house with both her parents, accompanied by her daughter Sophia and her sister Esther Wood and nephew Benjamin.  Her father, James Wood, was a grocer so he was probably able to feed this extended family.  Rebecca would have heard nothing from Nathaniel since he departed for Australia in 1835 and she would not have known whether he was alive or dead.

It is probably not surprising therefore, that on 27th April 1856 in Mickleham, she married Thomas Gadd, a widower.  Rebecca Longhurst described herself as a widow, although we now know that was not the case.  Of necessity, Nathaniel had remained in Australia after serving his sentence and he never remarried.  Rebecca's husband, Thomas Gadd was a rake maker in Newdigate and by 1871 Benjamin Wood, Rebecca’s nephew was working for him.  Thomas Gadd was seven years older than Rebecca and by 1875 he had died.  Unknown to Rebecca Gadd (Longhurst), Nathaniel had died in Australia in 1867, aged 82 so she now really was a widow twice over.

At the age of 62, on February 5th 1876 in Newdigate, Rebecca Gadd married for the third time, on this occasion to 64 year old widowed farmer, James Sanders.  Three years later, Rebecca died, while her third husband James Sanders outlived her by another 10 years.

A new Life in Canada

One Saturday in May 1885 nine children were taken from various parts of Guildford Union Workhouse into the handsome oak-lined boardroom.  There they stood nervously before the twenty seven grand gentlemen and one lady of the Board of Guardians.  The Board included Miss Augusta Spottiswoode, one of the first women to be voted on to a Board of Guardians.  Miss Spottiswoode was anxious to break the spiral of poor or orphaned children following their parents’ path into pauperism and crime by giving them an industrial education and removing them from the workhouse by boarding out.  Now she espoused the cause of sending orphans to start a new life in Canada.

Guildford Union Workhouse
One of the children standing in front of her was Walter Shires, an 11 year old boy from a tragic family.  He can be found age 7, amongst the inmates listed in Guildford Union Workhouse in 1881 and next to him, the name Mary Ann Joyce, age 12, who was his step-sister.  Both children had been orphaned two or three years earlier, but only Walter would be part of the small party of children sent out to Canada to begin a new life.

Walter’s mother Kate May married William Joyce at St Nicholas, Guildford in 1866.  He was an Agricultural Labourer and by 1871 they were living in the area of St Catherine’s with their three children, William John Joyce, age 4, Mary Ann Joyce, age 2 and newly born Kate Elizabeth.  Sadly, Kate died within a few months and a year later their father, William Joyce, was buried in St Mary’s churchyard, aged 26.

The young widow, Kate Joyce, married again next year, this time to labourer Walter Henry Shires.  Their son, also called Walter Henry Shires was born shortly afterwards but there is no evidence of any other children born to the couple before Kate’s death in 1878.  At the age of 30, her funeral was held at St Nicholas’s.  With three young children to look after, Walter Shires senior entered Guildford Union Workhouse where he died a year after his wife, aged 37.

By 1881, the eldest boy William John Joyce was 14, so he was working as a farm servant in Hambledon.  The next time we find Mary Ann Joyce is in 1891 when she is living in Spitalfields with three other girls, all with no occupation, in the household of a Docker and a Laundress.

Meanwhile, young Walter Henry Shires was part of an experiment which hoped to give young people an opportunity of a better life in Canada than was possible, given their unfortunate start, in England.  By 1884 many stories were told by well-meaning ladies such as Miss Maria Rye, Miss Ellen Belborough and Mrs Burt about the success of taking destitute children via Liverpool to Canada where they were needed for employment as servants.

John T Middlemore and some of the young immigrants
Miss Spottiswoode was particularly eager to give some of the children from the Union Workhouse this opportunity.  She believed, ”that if all unions adopted the means at their disposal for promoting the emigration of children, it would do much to stamp out pauperism in the country.”  She had been told by John T Middlemore of his receiving home in Ontario where he had begun to send children from his Children’s Emigration Homes in Birmingham.  He undertook to arrange transport of children from poor Law Unions in Guildford, Bermondsey and Wolverhampton via Liverpool.

Despite opposition from other members of the Board, based on the young age of the emigrants, the advantage of separating the children from mixing with the children of casual paupers, outweighed the arguments.  The nine orphans, aged 3 to 9 years were summoned into the Boardroom where they were asked whether they were willing to go to Canada.  The six eldest children, including Walter Shires, Alfred Curtis and John and Annie Walker, agreed, but it was decided by the Board that the youngest three should remain in Guildford.

Guthrie Home
Just over a week later the children set sail on “The Lake Winnipeg” en route for the Guthrie Home in London, Ontario.  From there, 12 year old Walter was sent to live with J D Crane, a farmer in Chatsworth, Ontario.  Each child was subject to one inspection to check that his new home was suitable.  Walter Shires was reported to be both honest and untruthful, stubborn, sulky and a source of trouble.  He was, however, “showing signs of slight improvement,” in his behaviour, although suffering from scalp disease.

In later years Walter married and had 2 children, before his death in 1937.  He was one of over 5000 children taken to Canada by the Middlemore Homes but there were many more children who were expatriated by Barnardos, the Children’s Friend society and other organisations adding up to approximately 100 000 emigrants.

It seems fitting to conclude with a quotation from the journalist of Guildford Jottings in the Surrey Mirror in 1885,

Although one feels almost guilty of expatriating the poor little ones by deciding to send them from our shores, it does not follow that it is not in reality, the very kindest thing it is possible to do for them.  They are at a premium in Canada, they are a discount here.  It’s just as well to get a premium on one’s wares where possible.”

Surrey Mirror May 1885 via

You can read more about children sent from Guildford to Canada here