When I was bound apprentice in famous Leicestershire, I soon took up with poaching … with apologies to that most prolific of composers: Trad.
This is an example of having to go forwards to work backwards. It is also a case of changing administrative boundaries that can confuse: In the 1841 census Measham was in Derbyshire, but now it is in Leicestershire. The scene of the key incident in this story was also in Leicestershire at the time; hence the title.
In the Derby Mercury 14 Jan 1835 is an article about John Dennis, of Measham, Derbyshire, who was accused of stealing some bacon from the Union Inn. There were two pieces of information that helped to fit John into Andrew’s Kindred. His age was given as 22 and he had a sister named Susannah, who was old enough to give evidence.
The verdict was: “Guilty, but recommended to mercy. — Six months imprisonment and hard labour”.
This was a harsh penalty for a first offence, which led me to suspect some previous misdemeanours that would be more likely to attract a fine. There seems to be nothing in the online newspaper records, but confirmation of this theory would come in time.
All of the images in my banner are pertinent to some aspect of family history and the goose would prove to be the most dramatic downfall. John in trouble again! He was not a direct ancestor, but his experiences tell of the brutality of the English judicial system in the nineteenth century.
The Derby Mercury 26 Oct 1836 reported on the Derby October Sessions that took place at the Crown Court on Wednesday, 19 Oct 1836.
HENRY DENNIS, aged 38, and JOHN DENNIS, aged 24, indicted for stealing at Appleby two geese, the property of Thomas Hall. — Both Guilty. The prisoner, John Dennis, had been before convicted at the January sessions in 1835, which was put in evidence. — Sentenced to be transported for 14 years. Henry Dennis to be confined in the house of correction for six months and hard labour.
What happened next is remarkably well-documented; part two – the prison hulk Justitia to come.
So who were they?
The key genealogical information from the 1835 trial is that John had a sister named Susannah. There was only one Susannah Dennis who could fit: baptised 29 June 1818, daughter of Samuel and Ann. Pallot’s Baptism Index records John 1810 to “Saml and Ann”.
Henry (1799-?) was a butcher and his relationship to John was second cousin once removed, the common ancestor being John Dennis (1689-1728). Measham was a small town where everyone knew everyone else. Henry was also well known to the local judiciary: his life of crime to come.