Tragedy and Farce – The Hyhams

James and Anne Hyham of Hythe 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