‘My convict ancestors’

Todmorden U3A member Sue Hayter made no apologies for having convict ancestors when she spoke at the March general meeting, in a talk entitled My Convict Ancestors – A Genealogical Journey. The story, a detailed and fascinating one, revolved around two brothers from Hereford who, having been convicted of aggravated robbery were transported to Australia in 1833. Sue also revealed that although her maiden name was Marriott, strictly speaking she should have been a Widdup. But that part of the story did not emerge until later.

Elizabeth Ann Maylard, Sue’s great grandmother married John Marriott and they had three children. Sue’s quest to trace her Maylard ancestry was prompted by hearing her great -Aunt Clara talking about the family in detail but holding back on something she told Sue to ask her father about. For his part, Sue’s father wanted to find out more about his father, Wilfred Widdup, with whom Elizabeth had a fling. Hence, Sue was really a Widdup. Wilfred went missing in about 1925 and little is known about him except that his mother’s maiden name was Maylard. Clara had also referred to a Rev. John Maylard, whom Sue could not fit into the family picture she had at that early stage. Her father was aware of a book called From Prison to Pulpit, and written about the Reverend after his death.

Sue started working backwards in time through public records to answer these and other questions she had about her family. The internet also proved a valuable aid in Sue’s search, and not just specialist websites – “googling”, found Herb Pruett, a second cousin in America, where a number of Maylards had gone in the 19th century. Herb was to provide Sue with a family tree and a transcript of From Prison to Pulpit.

Although born in Nottingham herself, Sue found forbears in Rochdale and Burnley but it’s Hereford, to where Rev. John had been traced, to continue to the story of the brothers. Sue went there to research in the library and records office. She found maps and located where the Maylards had lived, as she wanted as full a picture of the lives of her ancestors as she could glean, rather than merely compile a family tree. Sue identified Thomas Maylard and Elizabeth, nee Gough, and married in 1801, as the parents of the Rev. John.
He was one of nine children and it was two of his elder brothers, James, born 1811, and Charles, born 1813, three years John’s senior, who were transported.

John’s brushes with the law which gave rise to the title of the book about him were minor but did cause him to realise he could take his life in a wrong direction. Or it was it possibly the example of his brothers? Sue quoted from From Prison to Pulpit “On the morning of Easter Sunday 1833, when but 16 and a half years of age, he had a remarkable dream which made such an impression on him that he requested his father to allow him to leave his situation [employment] and thus remove him from the scene of peculiar temptation and sin.” This, a fortnight after his brothers’ trial. The dream lead to his decision to turn to God and he became a Primitive Methodist preacher active from 1834 until his death in 1896.

The law proved to be the restraint on James’s and Charles’s criminal activities after they undertook a burglary in Hereford with two others, stealing two silver watches and other items from Thomas Treherne. Treherne was 83 and used crutches. He was threatened with being struck with a plank – aggravated burglary in today’s terms.

They were apprehended and tried on 27 March, 1833. Previous convictions contributed to the sentence of transportation being passed. The first part of their sentence was spent in the local gaol before being taken to a hulk – prison ship. Many convicts spent their whole sentence on these hulks and only healthy young prisoners were sent to Australia. James and Charles sailed from Woolwich on the convict ship Lloyd on 19 August, 1833 and arrived in Sydney Cove on 18 December. Sue learned much about their fate and also had a quite detailed description of them from the Convict Indents which included their tattoos, which in Charles’s case were the initials and birthdays of his parents and siblings.

Convicts were made to work, the system being directed to that end. The only occupants of gaols were those convicted locally. James may have been a seaman as he was employed on steam boats. Charles was sent to a settler in Bathurst and may have been a shepherd. There were two types of pardon available to convicts: Conditional or Absolute. A conditional pardon removed all restrictions but they had to stay within the colony. An absolute pardon allowed a convict to travel anywhere. James and Charles both received conditional pardons in 1848.

Herb Pruett has two letters written by James which showed that he broke the terms of the pardon and returned to England. One of the letters conveyed the news that Charles was dead but with no details of the matter. James had seemed to have disappeared from the record until someone suggested that Sue search under his mother’s maiden name, Gough. Sure enough, Sue found a James Gough in Hampshire, with a wife from Australia and with other details that fitted. The happy outcome for all, particularly Sue’s father was a family hitherto unknown was reunited. Herb Pruett contacted Sue to tell her he and his wife planned to visit the UK with York on their itinerary. They all met there and had a celebratory lunch together.

It is difficult to do justice to Sue’s story here, as besides the story of Charles and James, the ins and outs of her research also had her audience gripped. Then there was the information, included in her talk, she has collected which provided a remarkable insight into the English penal system of the time, the history of transportation and the ships employed, and finally, the way the Australian penal colony worked. The talk was well timed for those in the audience who are watching the BBC series –“Banished”.

Sue’s story can be found in her book, My Maylard Family – The Genealogical History of an Ordinary Family, which also includes a transcript of From Prison to Pulpit.

Sue was preceded by a short talk given by Katie Whittam of Pennine Horizons who outlined their programme of history walks. This attracted considerable interest and all the leaflets were taken. There are presently eleven walks ranging in length for 2 to 8 miles. They cover a variety of interests from the wool trade; radical history, the Fieldens to woodland heritage. Look out for leaflets in your local information office or view at pennineheritage.org.uk/trails or ring 01422 844450.

The next general meeting of Todmorden U3A is at 1.30 pm on Thursday 16 April at Central Methodists, Todmorden. The main item: Summat a’ Nowt – A History of the Upper Calder Valley, a Conversation with Steve Murty. Details of group meetings are on u3atod.org.uk or phone 01422 844713 or 01706 839176

Report by John Bouttell
Picture by Gail Allaby

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