John and James Popjoy of Bath and Australia:
Theft
Pobjoys and the Law

The usual souces for family history in England and Wales - parish registers, civil registers of birth, marriage and death, census returns - tell us very little about these two. Their involvement with the law, however, gives a more detailed picture of them than almost any family member before the days of photography.

John, son of John and Mary Popjoy, was baptised in Woolwich, Kent, in 1816. John the elder may have worked at the naval dockyards, or perhaps he was a seaman, a Greenwich Pensioner even. He had moved back to Bath by 1832 when his teenage daughter Ann Hannah Popjoy, also baptised in Woolwich, was given a paupers' burial by the Parish of St James in Widcombe, across the River Avon from Bath.

In December 1835 John Pobjoy, pensioner, and James Pobjoy, labourer, were bailed for 50 pounds to give evidence against William Bourn and Hester Cottle at the Quarter Sessions. Their address is given as 8 Back Street, Bath, just behind the Avon quay. In January 1837 John Pobjoy, the son of John and presumably brother of James, was sentenced at Wells to a month's inprisonment for stealing a smock frock - the traditional dress of the countryman.

Six months after appearing at Wells John Popjoy was again indicted, this time for stealing a cartwhip, value 2s, the property of John Cottle. The name is not uncommon locally, but it is tempting to suppose a connection with Hester Cottle, and even with the Hannah Cottle who had married John Pobjoy - first cousin to John the pensioner - in 1791 and settled in the ancestral village of Norton St Philip a few miles away. At any rate, a second conviction for felony meant transportation for John.

John Popjoy the elder died of dropsy in February 1838, aged 72: his widow Mary registered the death. A week later, a 3 month-old John Popjoy was buried by the parish at Widcombe.

John the younger sailed for New South Wales on the Theresa in September 1839 with 265 other convicts. The manifest describes him as a single farm labourer, able to read and write, 5ft 2in tall, with brown hair, grey eyes and ruddy and freckled complexion. His tatoos included a woman, two stars, sun, half moon, M Fry, a quart pot, J+P, two glasses, C+S, an anchor and a man. He wore a ring on the middle finger of each hand.

John was given his Certificate of Freedom in July 1843 at Newcastle. In 1844 he married Jane Atkinson there, but in 1850 she died in Camperdown at the age of 40. I do not know what became of John after that; but he does figure in one other set of records. In June 1840, Sarah Popjoy, formerly Ellis, registered the birth of her son Walter at Mile End, across the Thames from Woolwich. The father is given as John Popjoy, plasterer. John had been in prison for three years at this point, but although there is nothing to suggest he had been a plasterer like his Bath cousins, it is hard to see who else might be meant. At any rate, neither Sarah nor Walter Popjoy appear in the records again. Nor, for that matter, does John's mother Mary.

I have no record of James being baptised or married, but he appears in the 1841 Census Returns with Ann Popjoy, 20 like himself, at "a cottage at the rear of 82 Avon Street" - Back Street, in other words. This is the only reference I have to Ann.

Four months later James was admitted to the County Gaol in Gloucester, charged with stealing a quantity of bones from an outhouse at Marshfield near the Somerset border. The Gaol Register describes him as a labourer aged 21, 5ft 4 3/4in height, with light brown hair, blue eyes, a long face and fresh complexion. Tattooed on his left arm were J.S., S.A., J.P. and M.H. - perhaps his own initials among those of his mates. He had a large scar on the rump.

James was tried at the Summer Assizes and sentenced to four months' penitentiary, with the third, sixth, ninth and last weeks in solitary confinement. His conduct while on remand was described as orderly.

This spell in prison does not appear to have reformed him, for in June 1842 he was convicted for a second time. The Bath Journal reported the case:

Bath Quarter Sessions

THURSDAY... James Pobjoy, 21, was charged with stealing 3s and a purse, the property of Elizabeth Parfitt. It appeared that the prosecutrix was at the Fountain in Avon-street, where the prisoner was drinking in company with five or six more.The prisoner asked her to give him two sixpences for a shilling; she took out her purse for the purpose of doing so, when one of the prisoner's companions snatched it out ot her hand and ran away; the prisoner holding her to prevent her following. The man who took the money away escaped, but Pobjoy was taken into custody. Guilty. Ten years' transportation.

He was held in the hulk Justitia and embarked for Van Diemens' Land on September 26th in the Earl Grey, arriving in mid-January. Besides the 3-month sentence for stealing the purse, the Tasmanian inventory records that he had been sentenced to 2 months for assault, 1 month for assaulting police and fined 1 and costs for driving furiously. The Serjeant's report of him is not flattering. Whereas other convicts are described as diligent scholars and helpful, James is described as "Very Indifft." In addition to the tattoos noted at Gloucester Gaol, James now had an anchor and a fish and, like John, rings on the middle finger of each hand.

James' log-sheet does not show him serving his sentence patiently. In July 1843 he was admonished for asking the military for tobacco. In the September he was given 24 lashes for disobedience of orders and the following month admonished for being absent from the station without leave. In November he was sentenced to 3 months' hard labour in chains and transferred to the mines after a second case of disobeying orders and insolence.

In May 1844 he received another 24 strokes for abusive language and in August 1845 he was given six days' solitary confinement for concealing some meat at the cookhouse. In February 1846 he went AWOL again and was sentenced to a month's imprisonment with hard labour and a recommendation for what looks like the treadmill. In Nov 1847 James absconded again and received two months' imprisonment. In January 1849 he appears to have served another period of imprisonment for larceny, but was granted his Ticket of Leave in March that year.

This was revoked after only three weeks. In April James was given seven days' solitary for talking in the ward and was reprimanded for improper language in the July. Another 14 days' solitary came in August for refusing to obey orders and eight months' imprisonment with hard labour the following February for insolence and "misrepresenting his capacity". In August 1850 he was given 12 months' hard labour in chains for assaulting his overseer and another 3 months' hard labour for absence withut leave in December 1851.

In June 1852 James was released, having completed his 10-year sentence. He then disappears as completely from the records as before his first court appearance in 1835. The gold-rush was now in progress in mainland Australia, and perhaps he tried his luck there.


Pobjoys and the Law