Entries in Transportation (1)


Hardy, John (c 1796 - ) & Smith, George (c 1802 - ) TRANSPORTED?

Hardy, John (c 1796 - ) & Smith, George (c 1802 - ) TRANSPORTED?


The two men whose stories we are telling in this piece are like figures caught by a car’s headlights in a dark country lane. We are unable to see where they came from, and after their brief time in the headlights, they disappear into the darkness again.

It may be that other people may recognize their stories and tell us a little more about who they were and what happened to them.



Among those who were born, worked and died in the village, Ringstead had other people who stayed there for just a short time and moved on: the navvies for the railroad, the men who repaired the church and its bells, the vicars and schoolteachers. There would also be the drift of hawkers and gypsies, itinerant labourers and vagrants. And there would be those looking for easy money, the thieves and vagabonds.

We are not sure if John Hardy came into this last category for, as yet, we have failed to find him with any certainty either before the events in Ringstead or after he left Portsmouth some four years later. We know that he was born in about 1796 but we are not sure how local was his place of his birth.

We learn from a report in the Northampton Mercury of 21st October 1837 that a James Smith, who was a cordwainer, living in Ringstead but working for Mr. Mark Sharman of Wellingborough, took some leather goods to his own home. He saw them safe on Monday 21st August but then went harvesting on the Tuesday and did not return until the Wednesday. It was on the Thursday morning that he realised that the leather goods were missing. It appears that John Weekley who was a shepherd employed by Mr Hill, a local farmer. Had seen the ‘shop’ (probably workshop) broken open on the Tuesday and found a pair of tops lying on the threshold of the door

It was alleged by Ezra Weekley that he had also had leather goods stolen. He had been in his ‘shop’ on the Sunday 20th and then, like James Smith, went harvesting with his son for two or three days. When he returned he found a quantity of leather and shoemaking materials had gone. His son, John Weekley, found the shop door open on the Tuesday morning at 7 o’clock (the newspaper states the Monday but I think this is wrong) and some pieces of leather belonging to Mr Sharman lying on the threshold

So we discover from this evidence that the men were collecting their leather, from a factory owner or dealer in Wellingborough, and making up the shoes and being paid presumably on a piece-work rate. It may be that James Smith acted for Mr Sharman and was the carrier and middleman. We also see that they combined the shoemaking with working on the harvest. One would imagine that they were working in the Ringstead open fields, soon to be enclosed, but the fact that neither returned home could imply that they had gone to a nearby village to earn extra money by bringing in the harvest.

Ezra Weekley might well have needed to earn extra money. His first wife, Susannah Major, with whom he had six children, had died in 1834 and just before the theft, on 20th June 1837, he had married Mary Bates. Mary was just twenty-five and half Ezra’s age. It seems possible that Henry, a child born to Mary two years before Susannah’s death, was Ezra’s child and certainly he has the surname Weekley in 1841. Ezra went on to have five children with Mary before his death. In 1841 Ezra is put down as a labourer although in subsequent censuses he is a ‘shoemaker’. Did the Ringstead Enclosure of 1841 make it difficult for him to combine his shoemaking with other jobs as he had done previously?

John Hardy, after leaving Ringstead, had travelled to Tansor, further up the Nene beyond Oundle, and tried to sell the leather goods in the White Horse there. Unfortunately for John, the person he tried to sell the leather to, was John Garner, the local constable. Garner may also have been a shoemaker for he realised that the goods were worth some three times the fourteen shillings that Hardy was asking for them. He told John that they must be stolen by him or by somebody else Hardy insisted that they were his own property and, in some desperation, offered them for ten shillings. The constable whereupon took the goods off him and detained Hardy while he made enquiries.

The jury did not believe his story that he had found the goods and he was found guilty. On the 19th October 1837, he was sentenced to transportation for seven years and taken back to the Northampton gaol. Later, the convicted men were taken from Northampton to Portsmouth ready for transportation. Along with John were John Sykes and George Baker sentenced to life, John Bird and Matthew Brown for ten years, John Clare for fourteen years and Samuel Clare, James Suitor, John Tirrell, James Coalbeck, Joseph Loveridge, George Butler and Joseph Tomlinson for seven years.

We are not sure how they were all taken to Portsmouth although it is possible that for part of the journey at least they were taken by the new ‘railroad’ for we know that in 1833 this method was used. On the 8th November 1837 they were put on a prison hulk called the Leviathan to await transportation. The Leviathan had been launched in 1790 and fought in the Napoleonic Wars. At the Battle of Trafalgar, she had been near the front of the line led by Nelson in the Victory. When the wars finished she, like many others, was taken out of service and she would have been sailed to Portsmouth and anchored and much of her gear taken away. As always, it seems, the prison population was too large for the normal gaols and these hulks were used as floating prisons, especially for those who were to be transported.

Most people’s remembrance of the hulks will be from the episode of the escaped convict Magwitch, near the beginning of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Luckily we also have a firsthand account of the Leviathan by a man who was a prisoner on the hulk, in the summer of 1833, some four years earlier than John Hardy boarded her in chains. J. F. Mortlock in Experiences of a Convict writes:

At any rate I was no longer shut up in gaol, to me the most dreadful of punishments, now, I hopes, done for ever. This, however, as will be seen, turned out to be a mistaken expectation. The hulk, an old (Trafalgar) ninety-gun ship being very full, contained more than six hundred convicts (from starvation and discipline, tame as rabbits), housed on the three decks, which were divided into compartments, separated from each other by bulkheads, and from the gangway down the centre, by iron bars giving the appearance of a menagerie. Owing to the height of the wharf, alongside of which she lay, the larboard row of cells on the lower deck, was nearly in darkness and insufficiently ventilated. ‘New Chums’ therefore in their location down below breathed very foul air. . .  A pernicious habit also existed of sluicing out all the decks every morning with salt water… The chilly dampness arising from this proved a fertile source of sickness. 

. . . As a reward for three months of good behaviour, a light ring (called a basil) above the ankle, scarcely to be felt, succeeded the irons. Upon losing the weightier decorations my foot in walking used to fly up in an odd manner for some time afterwards, till the muscles got used to their lighter load. . . I found the carrying of timber and other hard work very irksome at first, although labour is not a severe punishment to a strong man well fed; but we suffered from a lack of sufficient food… Hence the mortality was great, it being whispered that the head doctor at the hospital ship, enjoyed a contract for supplying surgeons in towns with bodies for dissection at six guineas a piece.


The Prison Hulk Register for the Leviathan tells us that John Hardy was single and that he could both read and write. It also confirms that he was a labourer. Under the heading, ‘Gaoler’s Report’, it just states, ‘Unknown’. This may mean ‘not known’ but it may also be that this was John Hardy’s first offence. When we look on the same page of the register we see the prisoners described as:


            As bad as can be

            Bad. In Prison before

            Character and Connections bad

            Before transported


If John was new to crime and prison this must have been a daunting experience, locked up with hardened criminals in a rotting hulk of a ship. J. H Capper, who was Superintendant of the convict hulks, when answering questions from members of the House of Lords on 17th March 1828, gave the official view of the strict daily routine on the hulks in Portsmouth harbour. A gun was fired at a quarter to six to summon hands, followed at six o’clock by the prisoners lashing up their hammocks and breakfast a quarter of an hour later. When the dock workers started work the convicts were sent ashore although some remained on board to clean the ship for inspection at half past nine. The convicts were:

. . . mustered out of the ship in gangs, and received on shore by the officers, quarter-masters and guards; the latter (under the inspection of the two former)  strictly searching their persons to prevent the concealment of anything tending to facilitate an escape, or contrary to the rules and orders of the ship.

So the day continued with the prisoners going back on board for dinner at half-past twelve (taken, it appears, in their cells]. They started work again at a quarter to twelve. Supper was at quarter past six and, in ‘divisions’, the men then went to evening prayers in the chapel. The last group attended prayers at quarter to eight and all the prisoners were locked up in their cells for the night. 

The work they did was:

. . . everything that is most laborious the Navy Board give them to do and at the Ordnance, the painting of ships in the harbour, removing ballast out of and into the ships, cleaning all the ships out, taking up the mooring chains, removing the timber, clearing the mud from the docks, etc.

To do this work each convict had a weekly allowance of 1lb 12 oz of barley, 1lb 5 oz of oatmeal, 8lb 12 oz of bread, 3lb 8oz of beef, 12 oz of cheese, 3½oz salt and 7 pints of small beer. There seems a good deal of beef and a complete lack of vegetable and fruit. In general, the food was probably served as stew or ‘slop’ and the beef would be the least desirable parts of the animal.

The prison hospital in Portsmouth dealt with the diseases that the conditions in the hulks worsened or caused. At times, the nineteenth century can seem very close to us but occasionally a statement, like the one given below in July 1831 by the chaplain, William Tate, in the half-yearly Parliamentary Report on Conduct of Convicts in Portsmouth Harbour, reminds us that it was a different age.

In the Hospital the mortality has been greater than usual; but in nearly all the individuals whose cases were considered dangerous, the marks of deep remorse and sincere penitence were very striking and consolatory.

The Register also records that John was pardoned in 7th May 1841. Most of the others have VDL (Van Diemen’s Land now Tasmania) in this column so it seems that he was never transported but stayed on the hulk for four years before being pardoned. How this might be so was answered by J.H. Capper in the House of Lords. When asked whether all those sentenced to seven years transportation were sent, Capper replied:

Those that have been on the hulks before, or have been in gaol more than once, are usually sent abroad; but those who are not known to have been convicted are generally detained for employ in the dock-yards, and remain in the hulks for certain periods, till the Secretary of State thinks fit to recommend them to the King for pardon. 

Mr Capper goes on to say, however, that many men sentenced to seven years transportation were sent abroad because they formed a high proportion of the total convicts on the hulks. The ‘Not Known’ on the Hulk Register was significant in keeping John Hardy in this country. The Superintendant also states that:           

No prisoner is discharged till he has served one moiety of his sentence; and it is very rare that this is prior to four years.

He reveals that the officers on the hulks recommended a certain number of the convicts quarterly, on the basis of exemplary conduct throughout, vouched by the chaplain and the officers. John Hardy had obviously kept out of trouble and worked well on the docks, for he seems to have served the minimum period possible. This policy of not transporting those sentenced for the shorter period may seem a humane one but actually the Governor of New South Wales had found the seven-year convicts less tractable and more troublesome than those sentenced to longer sentences. He stated that they believed that they would get home after some six years no matter how well they worked whereas those with longer sentences were hoping good behaviour would give them some mitigation of their sentence.

What happened to John Hardy next? He would have only been some forty-five years old although life on the hulk may have injured his health. Did he return home? He should be in the 1841 Census somewhere but so far I have been unable to trace him, in this or later Censuses. This may be due to our lack of knowledge of the origins of a stranger who, one day, passed through Ringstead while the men were away harvesting and decided to look for easier money than labouring provided.

In 1833, some four years before John Hardy’s fall from grace another man was caught stealing in Ringstead. This was a more complicated case and our man was almost certainly a more practised thief than John. His name, among others, was George Smith and there are two George Smiths born in Ringstead about the right time: one was the son of Thomas and Dinah who was baptised on 15th September 1800 and the other was George Peter Smith the son of William and Sarah born on 21st February 1802 and baptised a few months later. We cannot be sure that either is our man.

William Coleman, a farmer in Ringstead had a mare which he kept in a fenced yard close to his house. The gate was not locked and on the 7th (or 9th) of January 1833 he found that she had gone. He had bred the mare and knew that she had a distinctive mark on her leg which he recognized when he went to Guyhirn, in the Isle of Ely, to see a mare in the constable’s possession. He had once employed a certain George Smith to take this mare and three others to market in Higham Ferrars although Coleman insisted that Smith was not authorised to do anything but get them to the market. Two of the three were sold but the mare and another one were brought back. He had wanted twenty-five pounds for the mare and would not have accepted anything less than twenty-four.

Leonard Freeman, who lived at Leverington, gave evidence that on 9th January a William Foskett had come to him saying that he had a horse to sell. Freeman went to Guyhirn, where Smith and Foskett had the horse and bought the mare for fifteen pounds. The Northampton Mercury report of the trial is a little confused but it appears that, at this point, Robert Oldfield, the constable at Guyirn impounded the mare and took Smith into custody. At the trial, in the Isle of Ely Lent Assizes, Smith claimed that Coleman had told him to sell the horse as he ‘had not a shilling left’. Foskett, on the other hand, made no defence but called two witnesses to give him a ‘good character’.

It may be that Foskett’s policy was the right one for he was acquitted whereas George Smith was sentenced to transportation for. It is almost certain, however that the jury thought that George Smith was the prime mover in this theft and also that this was not his first offence. A George Smith was given three months imprisonment in 1831 in Northampton for, with eight others, feloniously breaking a threshing machine. This was part of the agricultural riots which started in 1830 and often known as the ‘Captain Swing Riots’ in protest against the new machines and farming methods that were impoverishing many farm labourers. We do not know if this is the same George Smith and he was not the leader of the machine-breakers because other accused men received 12 months in gaol.

The reason that it seems likely that he had indulged in criminal activities before is that at his trial he is said to have an alias, John Allen, and later we see that he was also known as John Hill. A law-abiding farm labourer would have been unlikely to have had two aliases. There is a story to be told here but for the present we can only infer his criminal past.

The court sentenced George to transportation for life. He was just thirty years old when, on 13th April 1833 he was received on the prison hulk, Justitia on the Thames at Woolwich. The Justitia had originally been built in Calcutta and named the Admiral Rainier. She was taken into the Royal Navy in 1804, re-named the HMS Hindostan and fought in the East Indies where she carried out escort duties. She became a store ship and then a troopship again and saw action at Charlestown before taking troops, in 1809, to restore order after the Rum Rebellion in New South Wales. In 1811 she again became a store ship and in 1819 was renamed Dolphin. In 1824 she was hulked as a prison ship at Woolwich and finally renamed Justitia. This list is a simplification of her many incarnations but this was not unusual at this time, with constant changes of name and function often happening, especially among the smaller ships. Wooden ships were much easier to fit and re-fit than their steel descendants.

Convicts being rowed out to a prison hulk, probably the Justitia c. 1835 

(after work by George Cook, Samuel Prout)

© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK. All rights reserved.

Conditions on the Justitia for George Smith would have been similar to John Hardy on the Leviathan although George would have probably have been more severely treated. We know that the hulks were unhealthy places to be, as J. F. Mortlock told us in his Experiences of a Convict and we have further proof of this in the Surgeon’s Report of one of the Convict ships taking men to New South Wales in 1833. A. Ferguson, Surgeon on the convict ship Jupiter, kept a Medical and Surgical Journal from 24th December 1832 to 1st June 1833. His report includes the following:


There were 28 cases of herpes and 16 of itch among the convicts in February 1833. The diseases appeared to have been brought from the hulks, particularly the Justitia.

The convicts were in [tolerably] good health and [mostly] middle aged but weakened by diarrhoea. Cholera existed in both the hulks at Woolwich and was probably the source of the bowel complaints.

We know from the Hulk Register that George was transported with many of his fellow inmates on 10th June 1833. It is likely that the ship would have sailed round to Portsmouth to pick up further convicts from the hulks there and there may have been some delay before they finally embarked on the long journey to Australia.

On August 25th of that same year the convict ship Amphitrite ran aground at Boulogne. The female prisoners, who were battened down under the hatches broke away the half deck hatch and rushed on deck, pleading with the surgeon and captain to let them go ashore in the longboat. The captain, who had refused assistance, did not feel able to liberate prisoners entrusted to his care. The broadside of the disaster continues: 

About seven o’clock the flood tide began. The crew, seeing that there was no hopes, clung to the rigging. The poor 108 women and 12 children remained on deck, uttering the most piteous cries. The vessel was about three quarters of a mile from shore, and no more. Owen, one of the men saved, thinks that the women remained on deck in this state about an hour and a half.

All the women and children and many of the crew were drowned. But in all only five convict boats were wrecked, so it seems unlikely that George was lost in this way, and, unfortunately, this is where our story of George must end. Of course, there are many George Smiths who were transported during this period but none of them seem to fit the facts about our George, as we know them. Did he escape, or die, or are his records lost?

So we have two men convicted of stealing from people in Ringstead in the 1830s who were sentenced to transportation. John Hardy was pardoned but we have been unable to find him again and George Smith seems to have disappeared from the records.



Censuses 1841, 1851, 1861,1871

Ringstead BMD

Northampton Mercury 30th March 1833 & 21st October 1837

England & Wales Criminal Registers 1791-1892 (

UK Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books 1802-1849 (

HMS Leviathan (1790) (

Experiences of a Convict. J.F. Mortlock.

House of Lords Sessional Papers 1801 – 1833 (

Half Yearly Report on conduct of Convicts in Portsmouth Harbour July 11th 1831. ( Parliamentary papers Volume 33: House of Commons ( )

Convict Ships to Tasmania 1812- 1853 (

Loss of the Amphitrite ( )

Medical and Surgical Journal of His Majesty’s convict ship [Jupiter] 24 December 1832 to [1] June 1833. (National Archives Catalogue ADM101/39/7)

Lists of the convict ships and their passengers at