Destination Australia

Botany Bay, Australia, where convicts were transported for the minimum sentence of seven years. The obelisk marks the spot where Captain Cook landed in April 1770.
Botany Bay, Australia, where convicts were transported for the minimum sentence of seven years. The obelisk marks the spot where Captain Cook landed in April 1770.

Written by Dr Jack Binns

By the 1830s punishments meted out to the borough’s criminal offenders had changed. Instead of public whippings and exposure in the market stocks, the town’s magistrates were now using money fines, imprisonment and, even in minor cases, transportation to Australia.

The first convicts sent to Australia arrived in Botany Bay in 1788, many of them in two Tindall ships, the Scarborough and the Friendship, but there were no Scarborians amongst them or the many shiploads that followed in later years. As late as the 1820s, convicted thieves were imprisoned in Scarborough’s notorious house of correction where they were forced to do hard labour, even though it was far too small and insecure to fulfil its purpose.

For instance, in April 1820, John Greeves had been found guilty at the Easter quarter sessions of “uttering base coin in the form of shillings”. The magistrates sentenced him to “twelvemonths impressment [but] he broke out of the House of Correction after being about six months confined”.

So it became increasingly the custom to send Scarborough’s felons to Northallerton’s own house of correction to serve sentences there of up to two years. This was the sentence passed on two men who had stolen a ship’s rudder from a wreck in South Bay in 1829; on Rachel Monkman, who had pilfered cloth, combs and brushes from one of Scarborough’s Thursday-market stalls; on Francis MacDonald, for stealing napkins from the Bull Inn; on Catherine MacNaff, a tramp and match vendor, for stealing the shawl of a cabinet maker; and on a servant girl called Turner, for concealing the birth of a child she had had by her employer Richard Edmondson of Prospect Place.

The first record in Scarborough’s quarter sessions of transportation for seven years, the minimum period, occurred in October 1829. Michael Emmerson and his wife were charged and found guilty of receiving a five pound note from Hannah Cains, knowing that it had been stolen. Hannah confessed to taking the note and got away with a month in prison, but the couple were sent to the other side of the world.

George Yates was sentenced to the same destination in January 1833 “for stealing jet from George Franks’ warehouse in Bird Yard belonging to two Whitby men”. And from then on transportation became the standard penalty for theft of almost anything.

At the following midsummer sessions of June 1833, John Wilson was transported for seven years for “stealing wood” and John Lightfoot received the same punishment for taking cloth from John Epworth, a clothier, out of Mrs Hutchinson’s Talbot Inn.

Four years later, two women, Ann Duesbury and Jane Wilson, were dispatched to Australia for robbing Jonathan Featherstone of £90, a huge sum in those days; but Ann Barry got the same harsh penalty for taking only “a sovereign from a country man”. Perhaps all three might have preferred the bellman’s whip or a spell in the stocks.

However, by January 1836, as a result of the legislative reform of local government throughout the land, Scarborough borough had a new, elected council and a new police force. The self-chosen 44 were replaced by 24, elected by more than 500 rate-paying male, adult residents. Yet whereas the new councillors were nearly all reformers who had stood against the old Tory guard and defeated them, there was no immediate change in the personnel of the law-enforcement regime. William Thornton and William Simpson, who previously had been serjeants-at-mace, were sworn in along with William Robinson and C Peckett to form the borough’s new constabulary.

No longer were they required to whip vagrants or “loose women” out of the Liberty, or burn bad meat or fish at the market cross. Nor were they paid extra allowances for arrests and escort duties, only an annual salary of £24. Nor were they permitted to carry out “free-lance services”, such as collecting private debts or rents. Even official duties, such as “reading the writ previous to the [parliamentary] election on the [Common] Hall steps, market cross, Tanner Street and end of the [Newborough] Gates” in July 1837 earned William Simpson no additional bonus.

Nevertheless, higher standards of efficiency and discipline were now expected of Scarborough’s new constabulary. In October 1839, constable John Ramsden was taking four convicted prisoners from Scarborough to Northallerton but allowed one of them to escape at Malton. The following January Ramsden was discharged from the force and replaced by Thomas Worsnop.

One important duty still incumbent on the new police officers as it had been historically on the old serjeants and sub-bailiffs was to keep the peace at election times. Before the parliamentary reform of 1832 and the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, only the 44 privileged members of the Common Hall had votes, yet the whole unenfranchised town took part for several days in an orgy of drinking and demonstration. After the reforms, there were many more voters to bribe, more alcohol to treat, and more street violence to prevent as Tory Blues clashed with Whig Oranges. Until the Secret Ballot Act of 1872 and later a legal limit imposed on candidates’ expenses, Scarborough’s police officers were busily employed in and outside public houses and beer shops and especially on market days quelling and dispersing rioters.