Poacher turned gamekeeper

Van Diemen’s Land

John was sentenced for stealing two geese, but had been imprisoned before: two months for poaching; three months and then four months for assault; and six months for breaking, including theft of bacon. The geese were apparently the last straw.

Founders and Survivors  John Dennis 2 crop (640x611)
From convict records.  Tasmania Archives & Heritage (CON18-1-12), via Founders & Survivors.

His description upon arrival included, fresh faced, grey eyes, greyish hair, brown whiskers, bald head, height five foot six and a half inches. His age was again estimated as 26 years.

Under social and family: “Married 1 child Wife Charlotte”, but marital status “Single”!, Collier & Farm Labr. I can find no record of a John Dennis marrying a Charlotte at anything like the right time and place, nor a Charlotte Dennis in the 1841 census. Unfortunately the original image is not published online to check for any transcription error.

The Appropriation List of Convicts 1837-1838 records John Dennis, 5/6 1/2, 27, Plough Reap Milk & Collier, Derby, Measham Derbyshire, Mr Willm Broadribb Hunting Game. This smacks of poacher turned gamekeeper; or at least the hunting was legal.

William Broadribb had also been a convict. Born 1793 Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Convicted of grand larceny – stealing 4 sacks of wheat – on 12 Jan 1818 and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation. He gained freedom in 1825 and was granted 1,550 acres in the parish of Staffa in 1829, and further lands up to 3,780 acres, some in Yarlington. He became one of the wealthiest men in Tasmania. He died in 1874 at his home in Paradise Valley.

Founders and Survivors  John Dennis 1 - Crop (2) (640x318)
From convict records.  Tasmania Archives & Heritage (CON 31/11), via Founders & Survivors.

According to the convict records (above) John Dennis continued to offend, placed in solitary confinement on bread and water for absence from master’s premises and being drunk and disorderly. The Hobart Town Courier and Van Diemen’s Land Gazette, 6 September 1839, reports John Dennis among several others absent from the service of Mr E M Horne, Ratho, on the 29th ult., but who had been apprehended. There was a reward offered of £2.

tasmania 1842 census william broadrib 1 (2) (451x640)
Tasmania Census 1842, parish of Staffa.  Tasmania Archives & Heritage.

Nonetheless, a Ticket of Leave was granted on 15 December 1843. This would allow him to seek work, marry, bring his family from England (though he would have to pay back the cost of passage, which, in any case, was expensive), acquire property, but not bear arms or board a ship. This seems limited to Campbell Town, Tasmania.

The Cornwall Chronicle, 28 Mar 1846, advertised that the Lieutenant-Governer had directed tickets of leave to be cancelled for misconduct, including “John Dennis, Sarah”.

The Launceston Examiner 25 September 1847 announced the granting of Conditional Pardons for a large number of convicts, including “John Dennis, Sarah”. The Memorandum of Conditional Pardon lifted all conditions of captivity except that he could not leave the colony and had to attend an annual muster and church. All but a free man.

Finally, he was granted a Certificate of Freedom on 24 February 1863 with the place “C Town” for Campbell Town, Tasmania. This was just less than twenty six years after sentencing.

What sort of life did he make for himself?

John had only six and a half years of freedom; he died on 2 September 1869 in the district of Morvern, near Campbell Town, Tasmania. The cause was a strangulated hernia, which must have been very painful. Although the age given was 53 (not 59), this could easily have been in error. There were no other convicts named John Dennis of about the right age sent to Tasmania. The informant was Thomas Laskey, also a former convict, of Kirkdale, a property just north of Campbell Town.

Thomas Laskey, 23, was born about 1817 in Selverton, Devon. He was tried at the Exeter County Sessions of 23 February 1841 for larceny and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. He was then sentenced to fifteen years’ transportation at the Exeter Assizes on 21 July 1842. He sailed on 5 October 1842 from Plymouth on the Earl Grey and arrived in Tasmania on 14 January 1843. His crime was highway robbery, with two accomplices, Maunder and Webb, on board for the same offence. He had also “rescued [his] wife from a policeman”, for which he was fined eight shillings. His trade was gardener and nurseryman. Ticket of Leave granted 26 August 1850.

Sources (all online):

  • Founders and Survivors, inc http://founders-and-survivors.org/pub/ands/collections/shipIndex/tei/362.39/
  • Australian Convict Transportation Registers – Other Fleets & Ships, 1791-1868
  • England & Wales, Criminal Registers, 1791-1892, via Ancestry.
  • UK, Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849
  • Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office – inc. digitised record Item: CON31-1-11
  • Trove – Launceston Examiner
  • Archives Office of Tasmania
  • RootsWeb
  • Derby Mercury 14 Jan 1835 p4 col 3 and 26 Oct 1836 p2 col1, via Findmypast.
  • Rootschat: SaraShip, giblet and tedscout.
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