SARAH ASHLEY

(Margaret  1843)

By Helen Ménard

 

Introduction

Sarah was the oldest of five children born in Nantwich, Cheshire, England to William Davenport and Ann Ashley.[1] Sarah’s mother died in 1836 when Sarah was only twenty and, around this time, it seems Sarah left home and went to live in Liverpool, Lancashire[2] where she ended up ‘on the town’ for several years.[3] Within a year of her mother’s death Sarah’s father remarried and, in 1840, emigrated to the USA with his new wife and Sarah’s three younger sisters. Sarah was never to see her father – and most probably her sisters – ever again.

What prompted Sarah to leave home, change her age and her name from Davenport to Ashley, her mother’s maiden name? What type of relationship – if any - did she have with her father and step mother? How did she feel about her father and younger siblings moving to America? Was she ever invited to join them?

Sarah’s crimes were typically trivial and she was young – as such, she was one of the thousands of females who became victims of the prevailing British government economic policy to populate the colonies with ‘tamers and breeders’.[4] Evidently no one petitioned on Sarah’s behalf to mitigate her sentence. Conversely, did Sarah see this as an opportunity to escape the social ravages of the industrial revolution in England? Did her family in America ever know she had been transported to Van Diemen’s Land (VDL)? Did any of them care?

Sarah’s hometown and family

William Davenport (1793-1862),[5] a cordwainer (shoemaker) by trade, married Ann Ashley (1791-1836) on 24 October 1814 in Nantwich, Cheshire, England. They had five children – Sarah (1816-1900), Mary (1820-), John (1823-1892), Emma (1825-1911) and Martha (1929-1907) all born in Nantwich.[6]

Nantwich is an old town close to the Welsh border on the river Weaver and, in the 1800s, was an important coaching route from London to Wales and Ireland. Most of the town was destroyed by fire in 1583 and was rebuilt under the reign of Elizabeth I. The town was also an important strategic post in the English Civil War in 1644.[7]

Historically, salt production was a major activity in the town and by the 19th century Nantwich was one of the biggest salt producers in the country.   In the days before refrigeration, salt was the main method of preserving food but, eventually, competition from mined rock salt made the process uneconomic, and the industry died out in the 1850s. Nantwich was also an important location for tanneries and the manufacture of leather goods.[8] By the 1860s, shoe making reached its peak and one third of men and a sixth of women were involved in the production of shoes and workman’s boots. Nantwich boots and shoes were transported to other cities including Manchester, Birmingham and even London.[9] In 1825, an industrious workman could make one pair of men’s shoes in one day, for which he received one shilling and ten pence. The principal manufacturers [in Nantwich] were John Davenport (presumably William’s father), William Davenport and Thomas Barker.[10] Clearly, William was a successful businessman who was able to afford to relocate his family overseas.

William’s first wife Ann died in 1836 and the following year he married Mary Moyes (1801-) who was of Scottish descent.[11] Together they had four children – Clementine (1838-1908), David (1842-1933), Wesley Clark (1844-1923) and Henry William (1846-~1855).[12] Clementine was born in Nantwich but the three boys were born in Rockport, Massachusetts, USA after the family emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts in 1840. By 1850 the family had relocated to Salem, Massachusetts and Rev. William Davenport died in Salem in 1862 from rheumatism.[13]

It is unknown why William Davenport decided to move to America but it might well have been to escape the difficulties of the industrial revolution in England. As a shoemaker he may have elected to go to Boston, Massachusetts which, in the 1800s, had revolutionised the shoemaking industry in America. This small state found itself at the heart of the nation’s shoemaking industry by attracting and retaining skilled shoemakers and shoe machinery engineers. Even with the spread of industrialisation, Massachusetts remained the largest producer of shoes in the United States through World War I.[14]

For whatever reason, William departed England with his new wife and his daughters Emma, Martha and Clementine, leaving his eldest children Sarah, Mary and John behind. Sarah had already left the family home and gone to Liverpool; there are no available records of Mary’s life; and John, still a teenager, moved to Annan, Scotland to live with his step uncle David Moyes.[15] William also practised as a Wesleyan clergyman in America.

John Davenport was a painter by trade and, in 1856, married Jane Little (1837-1876) in Moffat, Scotland and had a family of six children – William (1858-1937), John Little (1860-1918), James (1862-), Annie Ashley (1865-1935), George Little (1868-1936) and Thomas Johnson (1875-1970).[16] After a long illness, Jane Davenport died of breast cancer in 1876 leaving John with a family of young children.[17] Four of their children produced a total of fourteen grandchildren but neither John Little nor Thomas Johnson had any children. After their father died in 1892, William and Thomas eventually emigrated to Canada and George to the USA.[18]

Emma Davenport was married by her father (then Rev. William Davenport) in 1845 when she married an Irishman Irvine Remick in Boston, Massachusetts. They had five children – Josephine (1846-1866), William (1849-1857), Martha (1854-1916), Emma (1857-1885) and Frank B (1865-1884). None of Emma’s children had any children of their own. Only her daughter Emma ever married[19] but died in her parents’ home from consumption a year later. Emma died in Salem in 1911 from a cerebral haemorrhage.[20]

Martha Davenport married Thomas Morgan in Salem, Massachusetts in 1853 but did not have any family of her own. She died in Salem in 1907 from chronic nephritis.[21]

Clementine Davenport married Martin McClausland in Salem, Massachusetts in 1867 and together they had two sons – Charles H (1871-1877) who died from diphtheria aged 6 and Willis Howard (1877-1918) who never married. Clementine died in 1908 from injuries sustained in a fire in her own home in Salem.

David Davenport, a currier (leather tanner) by trade, enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and fought with the Massachusetts 5th Infantry in the American Civil War.[22] In 1864 he married Annie Green in Salem and they had two sons – Frederick Morgan (1866-1956) and Ernest Warren (1871-) both born in Salem. The family moved to Pennsylvania in 1874 and onto Manhattan, New York in 1905. Son Frederick, a university graduate, served in the New York Senate from 1909-1911 and 1919-1925, after which he was elected as a Republican Congressman and served under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1925-1933.[23] He was a member of the political science faculty at Hamilton College, New York from 1904-1929, authored several books and was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Medal of Honour in 1951. He married Edith Jefferson Andrus in 1899 in New York and over the next ten years they had two sons and two daughters.[24] Son Ernest, on the other hand, became a banker, never married and lived with his parents until after his father died in 1933 in Washington D.C.[25]

Wesley Clark Davenport, also a currier, married Harriet Rowell in Salem in 1875 and had two children – Harry A (1876-) and Alice Clark (1878-). Harriet died sometime before 1910 and Wesley went to live with his daughter Alice and her family in Salem until his death in 1923.[26]

Henry William Davenport, born in Rockport, Massachusetts, was the last born of Sarah’s step siblings and about whose life there is very little available information.

Crime and punishment

The details of Sarah’s first legal encounters involving drunkenness and pledging (using security for a loan) a coat are not recorded but earned her 14 days and two months imprisonment respectively.[27] Presumably, she left home after her mother died in 1836 and was purportedly ‘on the town’ for seven years.[28] This pattern of life suggests some level of alienation and distress and a need to survive outside the confines of a supporting family.

When Sarah came before the Liverpool Court of Quarter Sessions in 1842 she stated her age as 22 when, in actual fact, she was 26.[29] She was tried and convicted of ‘stealing £6.15 shillings the property of Christopher Bolt’ and sentenced to 7 years’ transportation.[30] For a young girl struggling to survive on the streets of Liverpool without any family support, such a punishment did not, it would seem, fit the crime. On the other hand, was it a strategic manoeuvre on Sarah’s part in an attempt to find a happier life?

Transportation and beyond

Sarah Ashley left London aboard the Margaret on 5 February 1843 arriving in VDL on 19 July 1843.[31]  The voyage, which cost four women and two infants their lives, was described (in part) by Surgeon Superintendent McAvoy, who left the ship after the Cape of Good Hope due to illness, as follows:

the behaviour of the convicts with few exceptions were as good as could be expected from people of their class, it is true their Morals were rather loose, and they thought stealing from each other no crime. The passage to the Cape of Good Hope was long & protracted the wind unfavourable added to the wet & leaky state of the Ship made it anything but comfortable.[32]

Sarah was treated for rheumatism for three days while on board and her conduct was described by the ship’s surgeon as ‘good’.[33] Arriving during the probation period, Sarah would have served a six month probation term, although this is not on her record.[34] Upon arrival in 1844, most women were sent directly to the Anson probation station but those on board the Margaret were sent

to a house in Liverpool street (the nursery) opposite the hospital, where they will be classed, and undergo a probationary term of imprisonment prior to being allowed the privilege, for such it may be considered, of being sent to private service.[35]

Unlike the crime class classifications (third class being the lowest or worst and first class the highest or best), the probation passholder system was the reverse. The regulations issued on 1 July 1844 stipulated that passholders 1st Class required consent of the Lieutenant Governor before a master could engage the services of a passholder. This restriction did not apply to 2nd or 3rd class passholders. The regulations also stated that:

Passholders of the 3rd, or highest, Class will receive from their masters the whole amount of their wages; those of the 2nd Class two-thirds of that amount; and those of the 1st, or lowest, Class one-half the amount.[36]

So, in September 1844, Sarah, who had risen to the ranks of a 3rd class passholder,[37] commenced a 12 month assignment on a shared basis between Margaret Lofty of Government House[38] and Richard Lewis,[39] Hobart.[40] By November 1844 she had been reassigned to an E.A. Midwood,[41] 1 Davey St, Hobart for 12 months.[42] Each of these was an exceedingly respectable assignment and it can only be inferred that Sarah was considered highly amongst her contemporaries.

Sarah had a completely clean conduct record during her time under sentence and was granted a ticket of leave in January 1847, meaning she could now choose for whom she worked and earn a full wage. In September 1848 she petitioned for a conditional pardon which was refused in February 1849[43] but she was granted her certificate of freedom in December the same year.[44] Sarah was finally a free woman.

Sarah and Benjamin

Sarah was given permission to marry Benjamin Lewis Bentick on 5 March 1847[45] and they were married in St George’s Church of England, South Hobart on 22 March 1847.[46]  

Benjamin, born 1818-1819 in Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, England and a carpenter by trade,[47] arrived in VDL as a free settler sometime around 1845 - possibly earlier.[48] In December 1845, he was living and working at Government House as a servant to the Governor.[49] At this time, James Forbes, a constable also working at Government House, was convicted of larceny and transported for 7 years after breaking into Benjamin’s room on the government premises, stealing various goods and later selling them at auction.[50] It is more than likely that Sarah and Benjamin’s paths crossed while they were both working at Government House.

Perhaps on a reconnaissance mission to the Victorian goldfields, Benjamin travelled from Hobart to Geelong in March 1852 aboard the Jenny Lind.[51] At the end of October the same year, a Mr and Mrs Bentick travelled from Hobart to Melbourne aboard the Jane Catherine.[52] There are no records of either Sarah or Benjamin returning to Tasmania and it seems they set up life in the goldfields around Ballarat. In 1855 a notice was published in the newspaper from Mailer, McKersie and Love drapers in Collins St, Melbourne, asking Benjamin to contact them about a parcel sent from his brother John Davenport.[53]

Benjamin’s occupation was listed as ‘miner’ on his death certificate[54] and he may well have been mining for gold in Eagle Hawk, Victoria in 1858.[55] In 1859 he joined a local committee to support the election of George Harker for the electoral district of Maldon;[56] in 1861 it seems he was working for the Maryborough Mining Association mining quartz and living in the area at Mariner’s Reef;[57] and in 1869 he was listed as a shareholder in the Bay Horse Quartz Mining Company.[58] Otherwise, Sarah and Benjamin’s lives did not attract public comment. Nonetheless, it seems Benjamin was a well-respected member of the local community as described on his death in October 1872:

The funeral of the late Mr. Benjamin Bentick took place on Sunday last, at Egerton. The unassuming, useful virtues of the deceased had gained him many friends, who came from long distances, and, with members of the Church of England, Roman Catholic, and Wesleyan Churches, and children of the Sunday Schools, to the number of about 300 persons, formed the last procession that conveyed the remains of their departed friend to his last resting place in the Egerton Cemetery. The members of the Wesleyan and Church of England Choir united, and preceded the coffin (which according to Egerton custom, was carried by hand) singing hymns suitable to the sad occasion. An intimate friend of the deceased Mr. Tregaskus (Wesleyan local preacher) read the burial service.[59]

There is an unexplained entry on Benjamin’s death certificate stating ‘Issue: William and Martha deceased’[60] suggesting he may have had two children who predeceased him. However, there are no birth or death records in Tasmania or Victoria for any children born to Sarah and Benjamin so it could quite possibly be a transcription error. Census records for Victoria from 1854-1901 were ‘pulped’ in 1892,[61] so it’s not possible to determine exactly where Sarah and Benjamin might have been living during their time in Victoria or with whom.

What happened to Sarah?

Sarah and Benjamin had been married for 25 years before Benjamin’s untimely death from heart disease aged 53. It is clear that Sarah had some communication with her brother John while she was in Victoria and it was about 1874 when John’s wife Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer and, presumably, struggling to care for a family of young children. Records suggest Sarah left Victoria aboard the Carlisle Castle for London in July 1874[62] and went to live with her brother in Scotland to help care for her nieces and nephews. Jane died in 1876 when her youngest child was only a few months old. By 1891 only Sarah, John and a servant were living in the family home in Buccleuch Place, Moffat, Dumfriesshire.[63] John died the following year of liver cancer. Sarah died at West House, Moffat in 1900 aged 84.[64]

In the end

Evidence suggests that Sarah came from a respectable family, albeit undoubtedly strict with the head of the household a clergyman. None of her siblings followed her into a life of crime. Was her brush with the law circumstantial, fortuitous or calculated? Was it precipitated by the premature death of her mother? Having paid the ultimate price of banishment to the other side of the world devoid of family contact, she had an unblemished record in her new home and married a reputable man – a marriage that lasted 25 years.

After Benjamin’s death, Sarah returned to Scotland and lived with her younger brother John for almost twenty years helping him raise his young family – her own nieces and nephews. In the end, was this the better life she might have been looking for when she left the streets of Liverpool?

All Sarah’s other siblings appear never to have left American shores – did any of them ever wonder what happened to their oldest sister? Despite having led a respectable life in the colonies and returned home a free woman, was she still a source of shame for the family? What, if anything, did congressman Davenport know of his aunt Sarah?

 

[1] The late Mary Halliwell (Liverpool, England) generously provided an enormous amount of detailed research in relation to Sarah and her family. Thank you Mary. Much of the material can be found on the FCRC database /research notes and has been collated from a variety of sources including ancestry.co.uk; findmypast.co.uk; www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk; familysearch.org; findagrave index; various national census records from Scotland, England, USA and Canada; birth, death and marriage records from church registers and state records in Scotland, England, USA and Canada. Where there are discrepancies between sources the most consistent information has been cited. For ease of reference individual citations have not been provided but are available in the research notes. Only limited material in relation to the family tree has been covered in this story and those seeking further information should refer to the FCRC database.

[2] Liverpool is on the coast about 37 miles west from Nantwich, Cheshire.

[3] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON15/1/2 p138-139 DI 140

[4] Transportation Act 1717 Great Britain (4 Geo. 1 c. 11); Transportation Act 1768 (8 Geo. 3 c. 15); Swiss, Deborah J., The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women, (2010), The Berkley Publishing Group, London. Extracted from

 https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2018/06/the-founding-mothers-the-little-known-story-of-australias-convict-women/ 

[5] Father John, mother Mary; see footnote 1

[6] See above footnote 1

[7] https://www.nantwichtowncouncil.gov.uk/local-history/#:~:text=Nantwich%20is%20an%20ancient%20town,name%20'Castle%20Street').

[8] Ibid

[9] https://nantwichmuseum.org.uk/permanent-exhibitions/shoe-clothing-industries/

[10] Cheshire Magazine – Shoemaking in Nantwich; http://www.cc-publishing.co.uk/Archives/shoemakers.html

[11] See above footnote 1

[12] See above footnote 1

[13] See above footnote 1

[14] https://dp.la/exhibitions/shoe-industry-massachusetts

[15] See above footnote 1

[16] See above footnote 1

[17] See above footnote 1

[18] See above footnote 1

[19] Lewis A Butman in 1884 in Salem; see footnote 1

[20] See above footnote 1

[21] See above footnote 1

[22] See above footnote 1

[23] See above footnote 1

[24] See above footnote 1; Frederick Morgan Jnr (1900), Margaret Dykman (1905), Winthrop (1907) and Barbara Bourne (1910).

[25] See above footnote 1

[26] See above footnote 1

[27] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON15/1/2 p138-139 DI 140; CON40/1/2 p27 DI 29

[28] Ibid

[29] Liverpool Mail 29 October 1842; Liverpool Mercury [Liverpool, England] Friday October 28th 1842 Issue 1642; see footnote 1

[30] Ibid; LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/2 p27 DI 29

[31] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/2 p27 DI 29

[32] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/docs/ships/Margaret1843_SJ_McAvoy.pdf

[33] Ibid

[34] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/2 p27 DI 29

[35] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/convict-ships/disposal-on-arrival

[36] https://www.femaleconvicts.org.au/administration/probation-system

[37] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/2 p27 DI 29

[38] Margaret Lofty was responsible for hiring about 14 convict women for work at government house in the 1840s; see FCRC database / various locations / HTG

[39] This may well have been the commercial shipping business merchant, Richard Lewis, who was a JP and despite not taking an active role in politics was said to have exercised indirect influence in the community.  https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lewis-richard-2356

[40] FCRC database / locations / HTG

[41] This could well have been Edward Midwood, Information clerk, Police Office, Hobart; https://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/tpl/PPWeb/1874/HA1874pp58.pdf; https://thomasnevin.com/category/newspapers/

[42] FCRC database / locations / HTG

[43] There appears to have been no reason given for this refusal as prima facie she met the all regulatory requirements – good behaviour, ticket of leave for 12 months and, under a 7 year sentence, having served 4 years in the colony.

[44] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON40/1/2 p27 DI 29

[45] LIB TAS: Names Index: CON52/1/2 p326

[46]  LIB TAS: Names Index: RGD37/1/6 No 771 DI 85

[47] VIC/BDM death registration no 10044/1872; Father Webb Bentick, Mother Harriet Amos

[48] Ibid; TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Observer (Hobart, Tas., 1845 -1846) Tue 27 Jan 1846 p3 Supreme Court Criminal Side

[49] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Observer (Hobart, Tas., 1845 -1846) Tue 27 Jan 1846 p3 Supreme Court Criminal Side

[50] Ibid

[51] LIB TAS: Names Index: CUS36/1/303 DI 5

[52] LIB TAS: Names Index: CUS36/1/296

[53] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Argus (Melbourne, Vic., 1848-1957) Fri 30 Mar 1855 p1 Advertising; this would be Sarah’s younger brother John.

[54] VIC/BDM death registration no 10044/1872;

[55] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Age (Melbourne, Vic.: 1854 -1954) Thu 1 Jul 1858 p6 Mining Intelligence

[56] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: Mount Alexander Mail (Vic.: 1854 -1916) Mon 12 Sep 1859 p3 Advertising

[57] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: Maryborough and Dunolly Advertiser (Vic.: 1857 -1867; 1914-1918) Wed 23 Oct 1861 p2 (To the Editor of the M and D Advertiser)

[58] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Ballarat Star (Vic.: 1865 -1924) Wed 26 Aug 1869 p4 Advertising

[59] TROVE: Newspapers & Gazettes: The Bacchus Marsh Express (Vic.: 1866 -1943) Sat 26 Oct 1872 p3 Egerton and Gordon

[60] VIC/BDM death registration no 10044/1872;

[61] https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/census-records

[62] See footnote 1

[63] Scotland census 1891; See footnote 1

[64] See footnote 1

 

 

 

 

 


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For academic referencing (suggestion only) Database: [http address], FCRC Female Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land database, entry for xxxx ID no xxx, accessed [date].

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