JUDY Davies gave a talk to the Andover Genealogy Society called ‘A journey in search of Convict Ancestors’.

There was a story in her family that one of their ancestors, James White, had been transported to Australia for being a lookout for a gang of sheep stealers. However, the Houghton Regis parish records showed a George (not James) White born in 1824 in Thorn, a small village near Houghton Regis. He was the 12th of 14 children and in 1847 had married Sarah Cook and they had one child, Eliza.

Eliza is Judy’s great-grandmother. Eliza was only three-months-old when her father was arrested so she never knew him. Judy went to the Bedfordshire records office to look at the local newspapers. She was shocked when she found the headline ‘Murderous attack on Policemen’ and the names of Thomas Dockerill, William White and George White listed as the culprits.

Apparently two policemen had lain in wait outside Thomas Dockerill’s house and seen three men go out and then come back with sacks containing barley, peas, meal and fowls. When they tried to arrest the men, there was a struggle and the policemen suffered concussion and one was shot but not killed. The men escaped. The three men were finally caught and arrested.

At the trial in 1849 many witnesses said that the Whites had been at home on the evening in question but there were no witnesses for Thomas Dockerill. However, the jury found all three men guilty and Thomas Dockerill was sentenced to transportation for life. George and William were both given 15 years transportation. George was sent to Portland Prison where he quarried stone to build breakwaters. In 1850 George sailed on the convict ship ‘Mermaid’ to Australia via Spithead.

On a visit to Australia Judy found a lot of information about George in the Freemantle prison records. He had worked in Northampton, north of Perth Western Australia, in the Geraldine lead mine. He was later sent to Freshwater Bay where he became a wheelwright. While at Freshwater Bay he met Maria Gardiner. Judy could find no proof that they had married but they went on to have six children.

On visiting Chiverton House museum she discovered a plaque stating that one part of the building was George White’s home. George never returned to England and died in Australia. The small graveyard was in disrepair but she found a headstone for his son, also named George White. She was able to contact one of their descendants who had passed information to the museum. Another descendant denied any connection and did not want to admit to a convict ancestor.

Judy found documents at the National Archives showing the appeals issued by Thomas Dockerill and William White. They were both pardoned. In William’s case many people thought that there had been a miscarriage of justice, among them the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, Squire Humphrey Brandeth. William finally received a pardon in April 1849. Thomas was put on the convict ship ‘Cornwall’ in 1851 which was sailing to Van Diemen’s Land via Gibraltar. He was eventually shipped back to Dartmoor due to an injury in Gibraltar and worked on the prison farm. After submitting several appeals, he was finally released but was not allowed to live in Buckinghamshire. The 1881 census shows him living in Hertfordshire as a grocer.

Judy finished her talk by telling the meeting of the harsh conditions suffered on the convict ships and by the convicts once they had reached their destinations. Transportation ceased in 1867.

The next meeting of the society is on 9 November at the Fairground Hall, Weyhill, at 7.15pm for 7.30pm. Members will be sharing stories of what their ancestors were doing in 1917.