James Warby, a soldier with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, who had fought in the Peninsular Wars at the Battle of Nivelle in 1813, hung up his boots in Hythe, married Mary Woods and raised a family. All was well until, in April 1834,his eldest son, eighteen-year-old William, was found guilty of stealing a half-sovereign from Susanna and Andrew Lawler. He had gone to the house to sell potatoes and noticed where the cash was kept. He contrived to loiter after the sale. A small child was present whom he sent off on an errand, and once alone helped himself to the money, which he changed at a butcher’s in Sandgate. He was sentenced to six months in the town gaol.
He spent his sentence alongside Alexander Swain, who had received six months for burglary. By February the next year, they were both back in the same gaol, charged with stealing a pet rabbit from a local solicitor. Swain, probably fearing a stiff sentence, persuaded a seventeen-year-old girl who was visiting her brother in the gaol to give him her clothes. He walked out of the gaol dressed in a blue gaberdine frock and a hat. Of course, he was soon missed and only got as far as Rye before being apprehended the next day.
In court, both men were sentenced to seven years’ transportation. They were removed to the prison hulk Fortitude at Chatham. William, who was reported in gaol to have been bad-tempered and violent was apparently sobered by the hulk experience and was described as ‘orderly’. The men were transported on the ss Norfolk, arriving in van Diemens Land (now Tasmania) on 28 Aug 1835. Once there, Alexander Swaine disappears from the records and probably died either during the voyage or shortly after arrival.
Van Diemen’s Land was known as a convict hell. Work was hard and punishments harsh. William received fifty lashes in September 1837 for disobeying orders.
A sketch of a Van Diemen’s Land chain gang
Henceforward, he kept out of trouble and got his Certificate of Freedom in 1842. The next year he sailed for Sydney, not just to get away from the place of his servitude, but to rejoin his family.
James Warby had brought his wife and family to New South Wales in 1839. It was not in fact, unusual for convict’s families to do this. Convicts rarely returned home and often their letters made Australia seem more attractive than England at a time of economic depression. James must have decided that a reunion on the other side of the world was the best course of action, though he could not possibly have known how it would turn out. With him, apart from his wife Mary, were his other sons, John (19), James (17), Thomas (8) and daughters Mary Ann (15) and Celia (12). They arrived at Port Jackson as Bounty Immigrants then moved on to Morpeth and finally Maitland.
All the children married.
Mary Ann married first, just before her seventeenth birthday. She and her husband had fourteen children. Celia was next. She married John Chivington, a former convict, on 13 Feb 1845. They had four children, but only two survived to adulthood. Then James married Mary Ann Blanch in 1846 in Morpeth; John married in 1855 and had seven children and finally Thomas married in 1856 in Maitland and had eleven children.
On 25 February 1851, the husband of William’s younger sister, Celia, died. William, now in New South Wales, moved in with her. In 1853, their first child together was born and thereafter William and Celia lived together as husband and wife until their deaths, days apart, in September 1900.
We cannot know whether, from Celia’s perspective, this relationship was consensual or abusive. Whichever was the case, it brought terrible suffering to their children. They had seven, four of whom had catastrophic disabilities: Noah, who lived to be forty as an ‘invalid’; Samuel, who died aged twenty-six, ‘a cripple from birth’; Thomas, who lived only a few months and died of ‘inanition’, an inability to feed or drink; John, who died aged forty-four in an ‘asylum for imbeciles’. It could be said that William’s real crimes were committed not in Hythe but in Australia.
To be continued….
Details of William’s life after leaving Van Diemen’s Land are taken from the Warby family’s site: