In the early 19th Century Exeter, ‘by the standards of the time [it] was a large and important town’, however, the industrial revolution largely by-passed the town as the ‘traditional industries of wool manufacture and tanning declined’ and moved north. Exeter, despite the efforts of the Improvement Commissioners in 1810 ‘to pave, clean and light the streets’, still remained dirty and unsanitary.’ The slums were appalling and ‘in 1832 a cholera epidemic killed 440 people.’ This was where Sarah Holley was born in 1817, grew up and plied her trade as a servant and who undertook some extracurricular activities ‘on the town.’

Sarah was 21 years old when she was sentenced to ten years goal and transportation at the Devon/Exeter Quarter Sessions for stealing a watch on 2 July 1838.There is little doubt that this five foot two inch, freckled-faced brunette was resentful and very unhappy about the severity of her sentence – although it was just slightly more than the average of nine years. The gaolers reported her conduct was ‘bad’ before she was sent off to London to board the Majestic.

Read more of the story of Sarah Holley 1817 - 1895.


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