2015 is the year I intend to devote to completing the story of the life of my ancestor, Richard Boothman. I thought it may be good to recap on how I started this journey and where I am so far, for those of you who may not have seen the earlier posts.
Convict in my tree – part 1
I started researching my family tree almost ten years ago and today, like thousands of other people across the world, I am still trying to find my story; where I came from and what shaped me. I started where all good ancestry researchers should, with my living relatives. From them I got a lot of basic, necessary information like dates and places of birth and names of spouses etc which was a great place to start.
As I built my family tree, with more and more information gleaned from various sources, not least of which was ancestry.co.uk a story from my childhood kept coming back and niggling at the back of my mind. My paternal grandmother was a great storyteller; I used to sit at her feet enthralled, listening to stories ranging from fairies at the bottom of my grandfather’s allotment to the tale of the man who, being wrongfully accused of a very, very bad crime, was sent far, far away from his family and friends to a desolate place across the sea, never to return. I remember my sister and I having very bad dreams about him and my mother telling us not to fret as it was only a story and not true.
Over the years my research dragged on. Then one day, I got a letter from my aunt, in response to a plea for help with the seemingly endless list of children borne to my great grandparents. She listed all the children that she knew of and then, at the bottom of the last page, mentioned just how bad life had been for some people in those days and gave as an example, the visits made to Lancaster Castle by female members of my great great grandmother’s family. She had been told the stories as a little girl, about women walking miles to visit a male relative imprisoned in the jail there.
This must be the man in my grandmother’s story. He was real! I knew then that I wouldn’t rest until I had found out all I could, I just had to know who this man was and if indeed he was one of my ancestors…………….(to be continued)
Convict in my tree – part 2
The story of the convict stayed with me and I spent many nights on the computer, searching the family history sites trying to find out anything I could. I decided to write to the librarian in Colne, explain what information I had and see if they had any documents that could throw some light on the story my aunt had told me.
I eventually had a reply, telling me there was only one man from the town who seemed to fit the bill. His name was Richard Boothman and, at a riot in Colne on 10 August 1840 he killed a policeman.
I went onto the Lancaster prison website and typed his name into the database, nothing. There were long lists of prisoners who had stolen bread, horses, murdered their neighbours, husbands and wives, but no mention of Richard Boothman. Then one morning, whilst trying to sort out all the papers and folders I had on my family tree, I came across a package at the bottom of the box. It contained an old book, all about the history of Colne, that had belonged to my great grandmother and had been given to me when my grandmother died. It was written by a local historian in 1878. I had scanned it briefly when I received it, but the writing style was very staid and after a while, just plain boring, so I had not got very far and had stopped not long after the bit about a supposed Roman settlement!
I picked it up again, wondering if there could possibly be anything in it about this case. I sat on the floor of the study, slowly turning the thin, dry pages of small print until, towards the back of the book, in a chapter entitled “Guilty or Not Guilty” I found the story of Richard Boothman, weaver and murderer.
Since then I have spent hours trying to piece together his story and I am still working on it. I have transcripts of letters he wrote from prison to his father, who never got over the shock of what happened to his son. I read of him protesting his innocence and begging his father to find townspeople who would speak on his behalf at his trial and in one letter telling his father that ” the Assizes commence the 20th March” and could he please have a new pair of shoes. Later, in February, he tells his father that he is” preparing to meet his fate with fortitude and courage”. Some townspeople do make the long journey to speak for him at his trial, but he is found “guilty of wilful murder”.
However, very strenuous efforts were made on his behalf for many believed in his innocence, and on 7 April 1841 there was success of a kind as a reprieve was issued. But any hope was dashed on 14 April as he was served with an order for transportation for life. Shortly after that he was taken from Lancaster prison to the prison hulks at Woolwich. He and the other prisoners were kept in squalid conditions and sent ashore to work across the river, unloading cargoes at the docks. He worked there until he was transferred in shackles to the Barossa which set sail for Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and arrived in Hobart on 13 January 1842.
The National Archive in Hobart were very helpful and I obtained a lot of information from them, including reports that he served his sentence at Impression Bay, Westbury, Quamby, Peth and Launceston; that he was considered a good worker; that in January 1844 his original term of probation expired and on 5 February 1850 he was granted his “Ticket of Leave”. Finally on 7 June 1853 his conditional pardon was approved. He married another prisoner, Mary Brown who had left London on the convict ship St Vincent and it seems he settled in Launceston where he farmed until his death in 1877. He is buried just outside Launceston.
The times he lived in were incredibly hard, he was a weaver at the time of the Chartist riots, a period of great unrest and yes, he probably did fight to defend his livelihood. I am glad that he survived transportation when so many convicts perished; I believe in his innocence and feel sad that the punishment he received was so harsh and that he never saw his family again.
I have helped others find a place in their family tree for Richard Boothman and also fill in a few gaps in the lists of the convict ships, but as much as I would dearly love to find a place for him in my family tree, I can’t yet . I know that some of my great great grandmother’s family lived in the same street as the Boothmans, could it be that the story that has come down to me, is one of the women of the street coming together to support the family in a time of great need? Could it be that the women who walked those long, long miles to Lancaster prison with food and clothing for Richard were his sisters and their close friends from the street? Perhaps I’ll never know, perhaps we are not related, but I know I will go on looking
Extract from ‘Chartist Ancestors’
Richard Boothman: A Lancashire weaver, Boothman was convicted of killing a policeman (named Joseph Halstead) in a riot at Colne on 10 August 1840. George Rude argues that Boothman’s Chartist credentials are not necessarily clear, but that the circumstances of the incident suggest a “better than even” chance of a political motive. Boothman maintained his innocence, but after his original sentence of death was commuted to transportation for life, sailed for Tasmania on the Barossa, arriving in Hobart on 13 January 1842. After two years at Impression Bay, Boothman went to work at in the north of the island. He continued to deny responsibility for the crime and to ask relatives to petition for his return in letters home, but was to die in Launceston, Tasmania, in 1877.
17 thoughts on “Tracking down ‘my convict’”
Just reading about your story and for sure I’m also directly related to John Boothman. I’m grandson to Sally Boothman born in Colne 1904’ish
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Great to hear from you. I was born in Colne and stayed there until I was 11, then we moved. I still have family there and though my aunt, who has since died, was adamant that we are related to the Boothman family, the link is improving hard to find. Not having as much trouble with the other side of my family, thank goodness. Dee
Hi Dee, I enjoyed your blog post about Richard Boothman. I can assist with additional information concerning his life in Tasmania. I hope we can exchange information. Please get in touch!
(writing from Australia!)
Great to hear from you and sorry about the delay in replying. I’ve had numerous problems with connectivity and other family issues during the past few months, so have not spent much time here.
I have found out a great deal about Richard Boothman but anything you can add about his life after being released would be very appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you.
Apologies once again.
Thank you so much for your reply. I was hoping we could swap information. I am working on a convict thesis at the University of Tasmania so I’m in the right place to research Boothman.
I was hoping that you could send me transcripts of his letters and copies of the original letters (as these usually contain small details not always evident on a transcript). I tracked down the letters to a local council archive in the UK and they quoted me over 100 quid 😞 to send me copies! (An archive in Sydney, NSW also has copies, but they will be equally expensive). I have delayed paying for that, hoping I would hear from you in the meantime.
The types of information that I can locate about Boothman will be:
1. original convict records from Tasmania (I assume you will have most of these. Usually there is a description, indent and conduct record).
2. marriage certificate
3. birth records of any children
4. census returns (these are quite patchy in Tasmania in the 19th century)
5. property ownership.
6. interactions with local police (after sentence).
7. references in local newspapers.
8. references in local history works.
9. death record.
10. journal articles re the agricultural rioters (although these may not specifically mention Boothman).
11. family tree information.
Generally the English convicts who remained in Tasmania who became farmers usually lived quiet lives and did not leave a large imprint on the history books. I would be over the moon if we could share information. It would help me if you let me know specifically what type of information you need (so I don’t duplicate what you already have) – even if it is “anything about his life in Tasmania after sentence” etc.
any luck with the transcripts and copies of the Boothman letters?
I have found some new bits of local information that you might not have
I am in the middle of sorting out all my family tree paperwork in order to get the copies to you. I’ll also send other family Info you may find useful. Thanks for the photo of the gravestone but unfortunately I can’t open it. Be back in touch soon.
OK that sounds great.
I’ll reformat the gravestone photo and get another copy to you. I have a copy of his will which I can send (you may already have it?) though I haven’t transcribed it yet.
I hope to do some work on Boothman’s children and grandchildren soon. I *think* he had daughters only but don’t quote me. It is quite possible that he has living relatives in Tasmania and they are unaware of the family connection. (There are no ‘Boothman’s’ in the Tasmanian phone book today).
I’ve managed to sort out loads of paperwork and have lots that may interest you. I too have a copy of his will, it came with some other papers I ordered from archive in Tasmania gets ago which to tell you the truth I had completely forgotten about! I have copies of the letters Richard wrote from prison and also details is his family – census,
attached is a photograph of Richard Boothman’s headstone, 1876, from the Sheffield cemetery, Tasmania.
… sorry sent before I was ready, there is a great deal of paperwork, don’t think they will scan and email, happy to post to you if you like. Best wishes
You can post to me at:
Mr. John Shepherd
26 Riverside Drive
I’m really interested in his letters – I would be interested in transcripts and photocopies of the originals if you have them.
If you have a postal address I am happy to airmail any info to you. (I’m wondering if email attachments are going through the blog).
I have transcripts of his letters, his will and a few other pieces of information I think you will find useful. I will get them off to you on Friday, so hopefully they will be with in a few days. The only thing that comes through are your comments on here, you could try emailing at email@example.com if you wanted to, or I’ll send you my postal details with the papers I send to you on Friday.
I know he married Mary Brown, a fellow convict, and that he married again and his second wife died. I wasn’t aware of any children as none are mentioned in his will. Just loving this ‘detective worlk’
Hi – My name is Judith Wilson, also born in Colne, my grandma was Doris Boothman born in 1900. Family stories always were that Richard was a member of our family, I don’t think direct, but somewhere I think he is one of our family. I was in touch with a man in Australia who was a descendant of his, sadly he died a while back from leukaemia. One day I’ll get properly stuck into my family tree and see where he fits into my family.
Hi Judith, good to hear from you. Its very time consuming tracking down your ancestors, hope you make time for your research, life has a nasty ha it of getting in the way,
Best wishes Dee
Just come across your posts and would like to introduce myself. My name is Nick Spencer and Richard would be my great great uncle. His brother John being my great grandad. My paternal side of the family all being from Colne. Don’t think I can add much more to your research but I seem to remember that my grandma’s niece (Edna Emmet) emigrated to Australia in the 60’s/70’s did some research and had his name added to a list of pioneers of Australia and Tasmania. She also talked of a TV documentary all about him but I don’t know if that ever came to fruition. I remember being told that Richard sent some money over to John for him to join him but John merely spent it.
I would be fascinated to find out more about him.
I’m not sure how I lost your comment, but just found it in the spam box!! Many apologies for never getting back to you before now.
Richard was transported to what is now Tasmania, arriving in 1842. He spent time at Impression Bay and other convict areas, before getting his ticket of leave some two/three years later.
He married a convict called Mary Brown whilst he was imprisoned, I don’t know what happened to her, because he later moved up to the north of the island and married again, a lady called Christina Jeffries who was a widow. They then farmed near Sheffield and they are both buried in the cemetery there.
On holiday to Australia in March, we went to Tasmania and I found his headstone in the cemetery just outside Sheffield. He died aged 56 in 1876 and Christina died soon after.
In his will he left money for his brothers and his nephew ( I think). I have more information should you want it. Again, apologies for very very late response.