Tragedy and Farce – The Hyhams

James and Anne Hyham had four sons and a daughter, born between 1798 and 1810. James, a shoemaker,  died young in 1812, but his widow managed to bring up her children without asking for parish relief. Anne received an annual gown each December from Mrs Ward’s charity, set up in 1751 to provide clothing for poor people of Hythe who received no help from other sources. It was perhaps her only new dress each year (1).

John, the eldest surviving son, was born in 1800 had a chequered career which stretched from the ineptly criminal to the farcical.  He became an agricultural labourer  and in 1825 married Elizabeth Brizeley. They had a son, James, in 1828 but Elizabeth died soon afterwards. John and James lodged at Redbrooke Cottages in Saltwood, until John decided one day in 1845 to pose as a pig dealer at Ashford Market. There he met a  Canterbury butcher, Mr Minter, offered to sell him two pigs, took Minter’s money and promised to deliver the animals the next week. Having no pigs, he went to Mr Rayner’s farm in Burmarsh, about five miles from Hythe, and stole two, got them into a cart and travelled all night to Canterbury to deliver them. Mr Rayner offered a £50 reward for information leading to the return of his animals and this yielded results. John was tried at Dymchurch and sent to prison for a year.

Ashford Livestock market in 1856

On his release, he married Martha Crapnell in 1847 and the couple went to live in Chapel Street, Hythe, where John worked a cordwainer (shoemaker), but he changed tack again and by 1861 was in charge of the canteen at Fort Montcrieff in West Hythe, a Coastguard station.  Then in the 1860s he was appointed Hythe Town Crier.

Perhaps life was a little dull, as in June 1868 he (aged 68)  and Isaac Hogben (53), a local fish dealer, decided to have a race to Canterbury.  Money – £5 each – was put on the race – and they set off up Stone Street in their horse-drawn carts. On arrival, each claimed victory.  John persuaded several people to swear (after a trip to the Flying Horse Inn) that he had won, but Hogben still denied it. To make matters worse, they were both arrested for ‘furious driving’ on the last leg of the race along Dover Road and fined £1 each

The Flying Horse Inn, at the end of Dover Road in Canterbury, the finishing point of the race.

The next month, he got involved in a fracas with a bill poster. John was working delivering advance publicity for a travelling circus and came into conflict with Richard Back, a local photographer who was equally keen to promote the annual Forresters’ fete at Brockhill. Each kept pasting his posters over those of the other. To quote the local newspaper:

On the morning of the fete, the rival bill-posters met under the market, each with a paste-pot and brush, defying each other. As soon as Back put up a poster, Hyham tore it down. The latter struck Mr Back and threw the contents of his paste-pot over him. Mr Back put up his arm to defend himself and somehow his paste brush ended up in Hyham’s mouth

Each of them was fined £1 16s.

It may be no coincidence that later that year, John retired as Town Crier.  He died ten years later.

His sister Elizabeth was the next oldest child. She was born in 1804 and married Edward Dixon Clarke in the town on 11 January 1830. Edward was a shoemaker but also worked for the Hythe town council as Town Sergeant and coal meter  (weighing coal which was delivered to the stade by collier boats), but was removed from office in 1838. Some suggested this was because he had voted for Conservative councillors rather than the Radicals (later Liberals) who now had the majority – votes were not then secret. His case was taken on by Edward Watts, formerly Town Clerk and himself at odds with the council. He was finally, in 1842, offered £25 compensation and in 1844 was reinstated with a salary of £5.16s a year.

He died two yeas later aged only forty-two, leaving Elizabeth pregnant with her ninth child.

After her husband’s death, Elizabeth remained in their Hillside Street home.  Like her mother before her, she managed to bring up her family without relying on the Overseers of the Poor, by taking work as a monthly nurse, caring for women and their new-borns in the weeks after childbirth.  She died herself in 1853

Elizabeth’s grave in St Leonards Churchyard

She is buried with her husband and an infant daughter

All her children’s ups and downs would have been a worry to their mother, Anne, but it was her youngest, Thomas, born in 1807, who must have broken her heart.

Thomas became a shoemaker, but on 6 January 1827, when he was just nineteen, he was convicted at a Hythe Sessions of the Peace of Highway Robbery and sentenced to death.

On 1 November the previous year, he had been drinking in the Bell public house along with a seaman of the Coastal Blockade, John Pendall and several other men. Pendall left before the others to return to Fort Twiss, where he was based, but was attacked by two men, pushed to the ground and relieved of his silver watch. He did not know his assailants’ names, but recognised one of them from earlier in the evening.  The description he gave the constable to whom he reported the attack was enough to lead to Thomas’s arrest.  He escaped at first and threw the watch behind some bushes, but was soon re-captured. The other man was never found and Thomas did not give him away.

Thomas was removed to Maidstone prison to await execution.

His mother got up a petition to appeal to the King for clemency. The grounds were that Thomas was young; that he had got into bad company and was drunk when the offence, which was his first,  took place. He was, the petition said, truly repentant. The petition was signed by seventy-one Hythe citizens and eleven of the jury  who had tried him and was accompanied by a supporting letter from Stuart Marjoribanks, the town’s M.P. (2). On 13 March, Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, wrote to the Maidstone magistrates whom managed the prison that the King, George IV, was pleased to extend his mercy and pardon the crime, providing that Thomas be transported for life to Van Diemen’s Land or New South Wales.

His mother had saved his life, but must have known that she would never see him again.

He was sent first to the prison hulk the Dolphin, moored at Chatham. Hulks were decommissioned ships, no longer fit to go to sea and were convenient temporary holding quarters for convicts awaiting transportation to Australia and other penal colonies. During the day the convicts laboured in the Chatham dockyard. Thomas’s gaoler reported that he was from a respectable family and that his behaviour was ‘orderly’.

The hulks were overcrowded and disease-ridden and it may have come as a relief to set sail on 24 May 1827 on board the SS Champion , arriving in New South Wales 17 October 1827. Thomas was one of a hundred and twenty-eight passengers, fifty seven of whom had had life sentences. On arrival, he was put to work in a road gang. He waited nearly seventeen years for his Ticket of Leave, which gave him some limited freedom, by which time he was in Goulbourne in the southern tablelands of New South Wales. It had a population of about seven hundred. He petitioned for a conditional pardon 1849, which was refused, and again in 1855(3). The outcome is unknown and from then on Thomas disappears from the record.

His mother died as a Sister of St John’s Hospital in Hythe. The title ‘Sister’ referred back to the hospital’s medieval religious origins. It had always accepted Hythe men and women of good character who had fallen on hard times. Anne ended her days in relative comfort, at least.

  1.  Kent Archives: H1205
  2. National Archive: HO 17/25/182
  3.  New South Wales Archives 4/4185; Reel 951
Advertisements

Two Ways To Get From Hythe to Australia

Two West Hythe brothers, John and Benjamin Cheeseman, both ended their days far from Kent, in Australia, but they made very different journeys there and had very different experiences.

John Cheeseman was born in West Hythe in 1814 and baptised in Burmarsh church on 27 November that year (West Hythe’s own church, St Mary’s, had long since fallen into ruin).

Image result for st mary's church west hythe kent

The remains of St Mary’s church, West Hythe…

See the source image

… and All Saints’ church, Burmarsh, where John was baptised

He was the eldest child of his parents, John and Mary and received some education as he was, as an adult, recorded as being able to read and write. He married Mary Ann Hobday on 17 June 1832 in Folkestone and the couple had two sons, Charles in 1833 and John in 1835. When he arrived in Australia in 1839, he described himself as a shepherd.

West Hythe is on the fringes of the Romney Marsh, which was then home to thousands of sheep and to their shepherds who here were known as ‘Lookers’.  These men tended huge flocks of sheep over a vast area which meant that they had to spend long periods away from home, sleeping and sheltering in small, brick-built huts.  The Marsh is now dotted with these ruined huts, with around a dozen remaining from more than three hundred and fifty . Built of brick, about ten feet square, with Kent peg-tile roofs, bare rafters and a chimney, they were very functional.  All had a small window and a fireplace, but with very little in the way of domestic comforts.

A Looker’s hut near New Romney

Lookers were self-employed, hiring themselves out to graziers. One man might work for two or three . They were more in demand at some times of year than at others – at the lambing season and at shearing time for example.  Outside these times, they may have had to seek other seasonal work.

The wages of many agricultural workers were falling during this period. John now had a wife and two small children, too young to work, to support.  Workers could take several courses of action when destitution threatened: protest (as did the Tolpuddle Martyrs); succumb to the Poor Law and go into the workhouse; become terrorists (as did the Swing rioters) or turn to crime.

John was tried for sheep-stealing  at Hythe in 1837 but acquitted, but on 7 April the following year he was convicted of stealing two bushels of potatoes and sentenced to be transported for seven years.

He was sent to the hulks and sailed on board the ss John Barry from Sheerness on 12 November that year, arriving in Sidney on 22 March 1839. He was unwell on the way out and was treated by the surgeon for pneumonia. He left behind a British winter which would be especially bleak for his wife and children.

Destitute, they were sent to the Romney Union workhouse at New Romney in December (1). Ann was set to knitting stockings and, later, picking half-a-pound of oakum a day. At least the boys could be educated, as they attended the National School in the town, though workhouse children were not always welcome. For one thing, they were frequently scabby, or as, the chaplain put it, suffering from a ‘cutaneous infection, calculated to excite the fears of the Managers of the School and the parents of other children’.  The medical officer said they had, ecthyma, a type of impetigo caused by poor hygiene and crowded living conditions – but not infectious.

 

See the source image

New Romney National School, opened in 1821

The family were still in the workhouse in 1843, when little Charles died there, aged eight of an intestinal complaint.

In Australia, John was assigned to a master named Robson in the Yass district, well-known for its production of fine merino fleece. His  skills as a shepherd would have been valued in this sheep country of New South Wales, where only one in five convicts assigned to masters had any agricultural  experience at all.  He was also used to the long hours of solitude of the Looker system on the Romney Marsh. The difference was that while the meadows in the Marsh are lush, here grass was hard to find and he could be away from the station for days.

He got his Ticket of Leave on 9 May 1843 (2). This allowed convicts to hire themselves out or be self-employed rather than work for the Government on the condition that they remained in a specified area, reported regularly to local authorities and if at all possible, attended divine worship every Sunday. They could also acquire property.

The marriage of John and Ann did not survive their separation.  John could read and write, so could send letters to his wife without having to pay a scribe ( convicts were often able to earn a little personal cash by working overtime). Communication between the couple was possible, though terribly slow – and we don’t know if Ann was literate.  John would have got Certificate of Freedom after seven years servitude in 1845. He could have returned home (if he could get together the fare), or arranged for Ann to join him – Poor Law Guardians would sometimes pay for the passage and Romney Union looked favourably on such applications, which relieved them of the necessity of providing for the family.

Neither of these things happened and by 1851 Ann was living with William Webb, a coal miner, in Yorkshire. They told the census enumerator they were married, but no record of a marriage exists, and would in any case have been bigamous.  It must have been hard for Ann after John’s conviction: years in the workhouse, a widow yet not a widow and the mother of a dead child. Her remaining son, John, worked alongside his step-father in the mines.

Did John senior know of this arrangement, or had communications between the couple broken down?  Whichever was the case, on 10 October 1853 he married a young widow, Christina Stewart, a Scotswoman, at Wagga Wagga.  Such second marriages were not unusual.  John would have known that the chances of anyone finding out that Ann was still alive  were very slim indeed.

See the source image

Wagga Wagga in its early days

Christina and her first husband had come to Australia as sponsored free immigrants. She had some money, and used it to buy land in Wagga Wagga which she and John farmed. In 1860, they had a daughter, Amy (perhaps named for John’s little sister Amy), and lived at Wagga Wagga as farmers until their deaths,  Christina’s in 1886, John’s in 1888.  It was almost certainly a materially better life than John could have expected in Hythe.

His surviving son with Ann went on to become an ironstone miner and to father three children. His Australian daughter Amy became a mother of nine.

As well as a little sister, John had a younger brother, Benjamin, who eventually travelled to Australia, too. Benjamin was born, like John, in West Hythe, in about 1828.  He worked as a labourer as an adult and  moved to Dover where in 1848 he married Jane Bass. The couple returned to Hythe where they and their three children lived in Stade Street.  There was another child, too, Thomas Bass, Jane’s illegitimate son.  In February 1853,  Benjamin secured sponsorship from James Egan, who owned a sheep station in Victoria, and the family sailed on board the ss Calliope from Southampton on 3 February 1853. The ship’s records show that Benjamin and Jane had been contracted to work for Egan at the Major’s Line station near Heathcote in Victoria for a period of six months, for which they were to be paid fifty pounds plus rations.

They completed their contract and then followed hundreds of others to the Maryborough goldfields. The goldfields of Victoria may very well have been the lure in the first place.  Gold had been discovered in Ballarat, only 58 km from Maryborough, in 1851 and the area became a magnet for anyone with dreams of a quick fortune.  All that was needed was a licence to prospect, at a cost of thirty shillings a month. When the Maryborough venture proved unproductive, Benjamin and his family moved on to Ararat, where gold had been discovered in 1857.

Edward Roper, Gold diggings, Ararat, ca. 1854–58, oil on canvas, State Library of New South Wales – here, as at Maryborough, prospectors lived in tented accommodation. 

Then Benjamin disappeared or died, though there are no records of his death. His wife, or widow, went on to have another relationship and lived until 1888.

Their eldest son, Alfred, worked as a woodcutter and splitter, an occupation which guaranteed him employment. Australian settlers were busy at the time putting up hundreds of miles of post and rail fences round their sheep stations to control their grazing stock.  For three years, he worked in New South Wales, based at Wagga Wagga, where his uncle John lived with his wife Christina. His wife and children went with him and must have met the elder Cheesemans:  Alfred’s next two children, born in Wagga Wagga, were called – John and Christina.   They returned to Victoria in 1877, where they raised their family of twelve children.

His half-brother Thomas, who now used the name Cheeseman, also married and had seven children and Frances, his sister (who was known as Annie) also married and also produced seven children.

John and Benjamin Cheeseman had between them at least thirty-three grandchildren who reached adulthood.  There must be huge numbers of descendants of these Hythe brothers in Australia and England and who knows where else.

  1. Kent Archives G/Rm/AM2

2.     New South Wales Archives 4/4176; Reel 948

Details of John’s second marriage and Benjamin’s life in Australia have been taken from http://www.graemecheeseman.com